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Tag:Tim Wakefield
Posted on: December 14, 2009 7:04 pm
Edited on: December 14, 2009 7:06 pm
 

Big Day of Baseball Means Big News for Sox

Phew!

Baseball is recovering from the biggest day of this off-season thus far. The Boston Red Sox were at the middle of a lot of the day’s news, even if they were not involved with the biggest name.
 
The Sox were considered the top bidders in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes and that the GM’s winter meetings came and went with Halladay still donning the baby-blue uniforms came to some insiders as a surprise. When Curtis Granderson went to the New York Yankees in a three-team trade last week, many thought that that removed one a top competitors, as the Yankees gave up two young pitchers and a top prospect to land their new centerfielder.
 
But the Sox did not swing a deal for Halladay as the asking price was ultimately too high. The Philadelphia Phillies made the big splash, acquiring the high priced right-hander in yet another three-team deal that is reportedly sending Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners .
 
The Sox were however able to land a very valuable right-hander in John Lackey. Lackey came to Boston to undergo a physical and it was reported hours alter that he had agreed to a five-year contract.
 
The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it is believed it is similar to the contract given but the Yankees to A.J. Burnett , who received $82.5 million over five years (16.5 per year). Both pitchers have had similar success, but Lackey is younger and has been more consistent over his career.
 
Lackey has put together five straight seasons with at least 10 wins and a sub-4.00 ERA, which is tied with Halladay for the second longest active streak (Johan Santana ). Lackey also has solid post-season experience having played in October ball regularly with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Lackey owns a 3.12 ERA in 78 post-season innings pitched.
 
Lackey would begin the season as the Sox third starter behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester . Daisuke Matsuzaka becomes the fourth starter, with Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield vying for the fifth spot.
 
The impact of Lackey’s signing is big for Boston. For several seasons, we have been able to say that the Sox possess a great deal of depth in the rotation. But when July comes around, injuries and trades combined with players that do not pan out (see Penny, Brad and Smoltz, John), the Sox have realized that solid starting pitching is a scarce commodity.
 
Behind the trio of Beckett-Lester-Lackey, the Sox have one of the elite rotations in baseball. And if Matsuzaka can return to the 2007-08 form when he won 33 games, and Buchholz can pitch the way he ended 2009, then the Sox have the best starting five in baseball.
 
The strength of the rotation and the siging of Lackey also takes some of the burden off of the offense, and indeed, the ability of Theo Epstein to sign a big-time hitter, which leads us to the other big news for Red Sox nation.
 
It was reported that Jason Bay has declined Boston’s most recent offer, believed to be around 4 years/$60 million. The New York Mets offered Bay $65 million over four years earlier this week, but were not considered real players to acquire Bay.
Bay is looking for five years, and it seems like whichever team is willing to invest that money in him will be where he lands.
 
Bay will be 31 years old next season, and a five year deal will mean that he is 36 in the final year of his contract, which is older than both David Ortiz and Mike Lowell , who is practically on the Texas Rangers roster as we speak.
 
The Sox foresee Bay having to move to designated hitter possibly as early as the third year of his next contract, which means that the Sox will be paying upwards of $15 million for yet another aging DH. An extra year means the Sox have to commit a significant amount of money to a very limited player, while home grown players like Lester, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis all will be up for new long term deals by that time.
 
Bay’s agent has stated that he and his client are moving on from the Sox. Given Bay’s talents and his excellent power numbers last year, there will always be suitors. But the Yankees are likely off of that list after trading for Granderson, and the Mets will return several players from injury with an already swollen payroll.
 
Matt Holliday still remains available and he is likely the next target on Epstein’s list. Holliday would be a slight upgrade from Bay, but is represented by Scott Boras, so any contract will likely reflect it. Epstein has typically shied away from Boras-represented players (that he didn’t draft), but without Bay, there is a gapping hole in the Sox lineup.
 
The Sox also made a $15.5 million offer to Cuban right-hander Aroldis Chapman, considered to be the most prized foreign player. 

Chapman is 21-years-old and recently defected from Cuba. He is known for regularly recording triple digits on the radar gun with his blazing fastball.

Posted on: July 31, 2009 5:11 pm
 

Recapping the Sox' Deadline Deals

The Boston Red Sox were one of the busier teams leading into today’s 4pm trading deadline.

The major deal was the Sox acquiring Cleveland Indians All-Star catcher Victor Martinez, and the minor deal was swapping first basemen to get Casey Kotchman from the Atlanta Braves.

Martinez is the biggest offensive pickup of the 2009 trading deadline. Martinez had a injury plagued 2008 season that lead to mediocre numbers, but he has picked it up again in 2009 and reestablished himself as one of the best offensive catchers in the game.

A switch-hitter, he gives the Sox excellent versatility in the line-up and on the field. While not official, it is expected that he will play predominantly at catcher and designated hitter. He is a better left-handed hitter, and that will allow the Sox to rotate Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek in the line-up against lefties.

The Sox gave up RHP Justin Masterson, who had been splitting the year in the bullpen and rotation, and minor league pitchers Nick Hadagone and Bryan Price.

Masterson was a solid cog of the Red Sox team, but often found himself as the odd man out. The Indians will probably utilize him as a starter, which is where most scouts see him headed, but the Sox were never in the position to give him a chance to develop in that respect.

Hadagone was the biggest chip the Sox gave up. A left-hander in class-A Greenville, Hadagone underwent Timmy John surgery and recently returned from the disabled list and was very impressive. Price is a right-handed pitcher also in Greenville.

The other trade, while it possesses less excitement, was much more peculiar. The Sox obtained Kotchman, traded as the major component of the deal that brought Mark Teixeira to the Angels, for recently acquired Adam LaRoche.

It is odd not because LaRoche only spent a few days with the Sox, or that the Sox traded him because of the surplus of first basemen the Sox possess after getting Martinez. It is strange that the Sox would trade him, an everyday player, for another left-handed first basemen used to playing everyday.

Terry Francona is going to have to do an incredible job of juggling the line-up to make sure everyone gets enough at-bats to be happy. Kevin Youkilis has to play everyday, an one would expect that Martinez is also going to be in the line-up everyday.
 
This means that somehow Francona has to rotate them so that Varitek, Mike Lowell and David Ortiz get playing time. Lowell’s time figures to be cut the most, as Youkilis will likely play most of him games at third base for the rest of the season.

Given Martinez’s poorer numbers against lefties, and Lowell and Varitek’s success, they will be playing against left-handers. But while Varitek has been described as a walking ice-pack and Lowell is coming off of hip surgery, they can’t be thrilled at the prospect of their playing time being reduced.
Kotchman has likely drawn the shortest straw. His playing time will be significantly reduced as virtually every other player in this rotation can play multiple positions, where Kotchman is relegated to first only.

Back up catcher George Kotteras will return to triple-A Pawtucket. He is the personal catcher for knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield, who is on the disabled list. He won’t be activated for a few weeks, at which time the Sox will have to decide who should catch him.
   
To replace Masterson, the Sox have several immediate choices to pick from. Southpaw Javier Lopez was optioned down at the beginning of the season because of terrible struggles, but he has turned his season down in the minors. The Pawtucket Red Sox’ closer Fernando Cabrera is mowing down hitters with an ERA under two while being perfect in save chances. Lefty Hunter Jones and righty Michael Bowden have already pitched out of the bullpen this season for the Sox, and they also have Japanese prospect Junichi Tazawa.

Until Wakefield comes back from the DL, one of those triple-A relievers figures to replace the gap in the bullpen.

Heading into tonight’s game against Baltimore, the Sox are a significantly upgraded team both offensively and defensively. The only problem will be getting a group of good players fair playing time, which any manager will tell you is a good problem to have.

Posted on: June 2, 2009 5:37 pm
 

Not Your Typical Six Man Rotation

The Boston Red Sox have the deepest rotation in baseball. If the top eight starters from each team were rolled out, the Sox's eight would be the best in baseball. The five that currently sit in the rotation, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Brad Penny, are all proven starters, and it is arguable that these five, though they have not performed that was thus far this season, are the best five in baseball, on paper at least.

It is the next three that propels the Sox to the top spot when it comes to having the deepest rotation in baseball. Justin Masterson has already filled in the rotation when Matsuzaka went on the disabled list, although he is probably the eighth best starter in the organization. John Smoltz completed his third rehab start, going five innings of one run ball with six strikeouts, and he cannot stay with class-A Greenville much longer. Clay Buchholz meanwhile is dominating the hitters at the triple-A level.

Fans across Red Sox Nation have speculated about the switch from a five-man to a six-man rotation. The Sox starters have disappointed thus far, although recent performances by Beckett, Lester and Penny have buoyed hopes for future success.

Most people then dismiss the idea of a six man rotation, saying that it would disrupt the order of the starters, particularly Beckett, who clearly would want the ball every five days. Beckett leads the A.L. in pitches per start and has the strength and stamina to be a workhorse and go deep into the rotation.
   
So, instead of a traditional six-man rotation, where each starter makes a start every six days, the Sox should implement a different kind, which we will call a “wheel rotation.”

With the wheel rotation, Beckett will make his scheduled starts every five games. He gets the usual amount of time off in between starts, including scheduled off-days. The other five starters then pitch in order around Beckett, but pitching every six games, instead of five. Here’s what I mean:
When the wheel rotation is implemented, the rotation would look like this:
Beckett – Game 1 (first game of the wheel rotation)
Lester – Game 2
Matsuzaka – Game 3
Wakefield – Game 4
Penny – Game 5
Beckett – Game 6
Smoltz – Game 7 (for discussion purposes; could be Masterson, or Buchholz, etc.)
Lester – Game 8
Matsuzaka – Game 9
Wakefield – Game 10
Beckett – Game 11
Penny – Game 12
Smoltz – Game 13
Etc...

What happens with the above schedule is that Beckett remains on his usual amount of rest. He pitches once every five games. The five remaining starters pitch on an extra day of rest and have five games in between starts, rather than four.
Both Smoltz and Wakefield are over 40 years of age, and they would benefit from the extra day of rest. Wakefield has been slowed by injuries in recent years, and Smoltz is returning from shoulder surgery.

Matsuzaka benefits most from the extra day of rest, because teams in Japan also use a six-man rotation, and there is a day off every week. Lester is a younger, left-handed version of the type of pitcher that Beckett is, and he likely needs the rest least. But, his statistics nose dive terribly in the later innings of ballgames this year, and the extra day of rest could give him an extra boost.

This wheel rotation will fit nicely with the Red Sox structure of their pitching staff. If Beckett ever needs an extra day of rest, it will be easy to accommodate that. If Penny is traded or any other starter goes on the disabled list, it allows for one of the younger pitchers like Masterson or Buchholz to have more rest in between starts as they build up their arm strength for the rest of the season.

While a traditional six-man rotation has become almost taboo in baseball, this scenario gives the Sox a great way to utilize their talented arms and depth.

Posted on: May 22, 2009 11:18 am
 

Smoltz: Starter or Reliever?

John Smoltz is a baseball anomaly.

Everyone is well aware of the career that Smoltz had during his 20 seasons with the Atlanta Braves. He compiled 210 victories during his tenure in Atlanta while also racking up 154 saves. While these numbers are very impressive, and no one denies the inevitability of Smoltz’s induction into the Hall of Fame, there have been others who have made the switch from starter to reliever as their career ages.

Red Sox fans are well aware of one such pitcher. Dennis Eckersley spent six and a half seasons in the late 70s and early 80s as the Red Sox top-of-the-rotation starter, and recorded a 20-win season in 1978. He later returned to Boston in his final year in baseball in 1998 after spending the last decade establishing himself as one of the best closers in baseball. Eckersley finished with 197 victories and 309 saves, with career bests of 20 and 51, respectively. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.

But, through his work with the Red Sox television network NESN, Eckersley will speak to the uniqueness of John Smoltz. Why?

While Smoltz is not the only player to have great success in being both a starter and then a converted reliever, but he is the only player to have great success in making the conversion back to the starting rotation after spending time as a reliever.

From his rookie season in 1988 to 1999, Smoltz compiled very impressive numbers like a 157-113 record with a 3.35 ERA in 356 starts, and no appearances out of the bullpen. But after undergoing Tommy John surgery following the 1999 season, he missed the entire 2000 campaign, and returned in ’01 coming out of the bullpen. In 2002, his first full season as a closer, he recorded 55 saves, breaking the then National League record of 53. In slightly more than three seasons as a closer, Smoltz racked up 154 saves and a 2.65 ERA.

So far to this point, Smoltz’s career almost mirrors Eckersley. But following the ’04 season, the Braves need for pitcher fell more to the rotation than it did in the bullpen. So Smoltz returned as a starter, and in the following 2006 season, at the age of 39 no less, Smoltz lead the N.L. with 16 wins at 35 starts.

Shoulder injuries forced Smoltz to the disabled list last season and eventually to season-ending shoulder surgery. But in the three full seasons after his return from the bullpen, Smoltz put together a 44-24 record, for a .647 winning percentage, with a 3.22 ERA. Although a significantly smaller sample, the numbers after his return are better than his numbers during his original stint as a starter (.647 winning percentage to .581).

After the Sox signed the just-turned 42 year-old Smoltz to a one-year, $5.5 million contract, the discussion of what role he would play as a member of a new team for the first time in his career was somewhat mooted by the fact that he was still rehabbing from the surgery and he was not going to be ready for Opening Day.

Well, Smoltz took a big step to returning to the big leagues after tossing three scoreless innings for the Red Sox single-A affiliate in Greenville. Smoltz three 29 pitches, and reported that while he was throwing about 85%, he touched 92 MPH on the radar gun with his fastball. Smoltz’s target date during spring training was to return to the team in early June, and it certainly seems as though that was a good estimate.

Now that his return seems eminent, we have to wonder what role Smoltz will be contributing in this season. Certianly the bullpen, leading the A.L. in ERA, does not need help. They are already bolstered by prospect flame-thrower Daniel Bard, who replaces Javier Lopez. Also Justin Masterson returns to the pen now that Daisuke Matsuzaka is back from the disabled list tonight against the New York Mets.

So the place that most needs Smoltz’s help and experience is the starting rotation, as the Sox’s starters ERA is last in the majors. Tim Wakefield is the only starter among the opening day rotation that has pitched well, and some, like Brad Penny, have been very poor at times. But, the question then becomes, whom does he replace?

Penny is likely the first starter to be given the axe because he was a gamble, by the admission of the Red Sox front office. Wakefield is pitching well, so he will remain. As for the other three, Josh Beckett, John Lester and Matsuzaka, they are all tied to long-term contracts and supposed to be the Sox’s front of the rotation for many seasons.

So while Penny is a likely candidate to be replaced, it may be possible that if Beckett or Lester do not show signs of improvement, and Lester certainly showed some last night, then one of them might find themselves on the disabled list ala Matsuzaka. The Sox, and certain other teams like the Yankees, are getting a reputation for placing players on the disabled list with mystery injuries so that they are not embarrassed by sending them down to the minors to work things out. So, if things don’t improve for Beckett or Lester, they may come down with an “injury,” paving the way for Smoltz to contribute.

So, what do you all think, is Smoltz a starter or reliever in 2009? (If you are thinking about a “both” option, bear in mind that he is 42, and that arm is not a durable as that of the 23 year old Masterson, who can flip flop back and forth easily.)

Posted on: May 20, 2009 6:13 pm
 

Red Sox First Quarter Report Card

Tonight is the 40th game of the season for the Red Sox, which means they have now completed one quarter of the 2009 season and here’s one look at how Boston has stacked up:

Offense:

Offensively, the Red Sox have been solid in most areas, despite injuries and slumps to significant players. However, after one quarter, the Sox find themselves fifth in the A.L. in batting average, first in on-base percentage, fourth in OPS, fifth in home runs and fourth in runs scored. These are all good numbers and averages, but unfortunately for the Sox, the are often trailing in these categories to the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays and in some of the statistics, the New York Yankees (needless to say, the A.L. East is a stacked division). Individually, the Sox are getting huge contributions from the people that we would most expect, with Jason Bay (second in the league in home runs, RBIs; third in OBP) leading the way. Mike Lowell has been much better than anticipated, not only ranking 12th in the A.L. in RBIs, but also playing in all but one of the Sox games, surprising after undergoing surgery in the off-season. Kevin Youkilis was the best hitter in baseball through the first 25 games of the season (leading the A.L. in BA, OBP, OPS) before landing on the disabled list with an oblique strain. While he has just returned to the Sox, it will be interesting to see if he continues being productive, as oblique injuries are some of the toughest to gauge and return from. Predictably, the Sox are getting sub-par performances from some players. Jason Varitek has showed some good power with five home runs, but his other numbers reflect last year’s offensive debacle. J.D. Drew is now in his third year of not producing his value, but a juggle of the lineup may increase his statistics. Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia are stalwarts at the top of the lineup, both hitting over .300 and setting the table for the offense. On the other side of things, the Sox bench and bit-players Rocco Baldelli, Jed Lowrie (before going on the disabled list), George Kotteras and Jeff Bailey (filling in for Youkilis) have all struggled offensivly. And that brings us to David Ortiz. Ortiz, as we all know, was benched for the Sox entire series with the Seattle Mariners because of his abysmal start to the season. Although now playing again, the Sox will have to make changes if Ortiz continues to struggle, and that means bumping him down in the lineup. The most likely scenario is switching him with Drew, who has done very well in his career in the no. 3 hole in the lineup. If the struggles continue, the Sox will need help from outside the organization because the bench is not getting the job done.

Grade: B     - The Sox offense has won them games early on, but will need Youkilis and Bay to remain productive to pick up the slack for other hitters.

Starting Rotation:

The starting pitching for the Sox has been, well, terrible in relation to pre-season expectations. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Sox top three starters, all have ERAs well above five. Matsuzaka went on the disabled list with “shoulder fatigue” which was more likely an excuse to simply get him properly rested and ready for the start of the season which was interrupted by the World Baseball Classic. Beckett has pitched better than Lester has thus far, but both are struggling with command issues and leaving too many pitches up in the zone. Lester has already given up 10 home runs (he gave up 14 all of last year). If the top three in the rotation have been bad, then the Sox number five starter has been even worse. Brad Penny was thought of as a low-risk, high reward signing for the Sox when he came to Boston on a one-year contract. He has been knocked around in almost all of his starts and despite a 3-1 record, his ERA is an unsightly 6.69. With Michael Bowden and Clay Buchholz ranking 1 and 2 in the International League in ERA, the time may come very soon when Penny finds out what a “low-risk” contract is all about. Tim Wakefield has been excellent all season, and the one starter that has really pulled his weight. He tossed back-to-back complete games earlier this season, one of which was a no-hitter for seven innings. He leads the rotation in ERA and in innings pitched. Justin Masterson has filled in well for the injured Matsuzaka, but inconsistent; in four of his six starts he has yielded two runs or less, while he has given up six in each of the other two starts.

Grade: C-        - The Sox have their top three starters are performing well below average, one starter performing well, and one performing badly. Change will come to the rotation if some of these starters continue to struggle.

Relief Pitching:

The Sox bullpen was tabbed in spring training as one of the best in the majors, and they have certainly lived up to expectations. The overall bullpen ERA is second best in the A.L., and are getting key contributions from talented young arms. Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez have appeared in 37 games entering tonight, and both have ERAs under 1.00 and 26 holds between them. Hideki Okajima (2.89 ERA and 12 holds) and newly acquired Takashi Saito (3.86 ERA and 16 holds) have both been dependable in the late innings. The Sox’s bullpen overall ERA (3.01) is somewhat skewered by Javier Lopez, who is no longer with the team after being designated for assignment and now pitching for Pawtucket, and Hunter Jones, who was brought up as a long reliever to eat up innings after Masterson went to the rotation. Jones figures to be sent down now that Matsuzaka has returned and Masterson will be back in the bullpen. Uber-prospect Daniel Bard has been called up recently after Lopez’s demotion and will also contribute solid innings. Bard was the closer for Pawtucket, and posted a 1.12 ERA and six saves in 16 innings pitched while racking up a remarkable 29 strikeouts (16.3 strikeouts per nine-inning). Meanwhile, Jonathan Papelbon has closed the door with the same results as we are used to, leading the A.L. with 11 saves, but has had to labor significantly more through some of his appearances. Papelbon changed his deliver slightly so as to incorporate an off-speed pitch to compliment his fastball and splitter, but the result has been some wildness as he has already walked two more batters this season than he did all of last season. But again, the results have been fine, as he is always able to get himself out of seemingly any jam.

Grade: A        - The Sox bullpen has been nothing short of outstanding, and with Bard and Masterson replacing Lopez and Jones, it will only continue to be one of the stronger aspects of this ball club.

Defense:
Defense has been a bit of a concern for the Sox thus far, as they rank 11th in the A.L. in overall team fielding percentage. But, most of the problems are coming from the shortstop position. With Lowrie out for a couple of months, and Lugo also hurting, the job fell to Nick Green for much of the month of April. Green is a natural second basement, and it has shown in his defense as he has racked up an A.L. leading eight errors. Since his return, Lugo has been little better, if not worse, recording four errors in only 12 starts at the position. Mike Lowell has played better than his numbers will indicate, and has made several higlight reel plays at the hot corner. Bailey has played above average defense in the place of Youkilis. The outfield has been excellent, with Drew committing the only error among them, and Ellsbury will once again be a serious contender for a Gold Glove. George Kotteras does have six passed balls, but has done an excellent job handling Wakefield all season.

Grade: B         - The defense has been solid at times, but shortstop, like catcher and centerfield, is a critical position defensively and that the Sox have a huge hole there is a problem that likely won’t be addressed until Lowrie’s return.

Bench:
Due to injuries, the Sox bench has become at times the Sox starting lineup. There was not many other options that Bailey at first, and despite his .190 average, he does provide a source of power at the bottom of the lineup. Green is a good hitter, and will be a solid backup later in the season to several positions, including in the outfield. Rocco Baldelli has had to play probably more than was expected, and struggling subbing as the designated hitter, but he is much better suited to play occasionally and in the outfield. Kotteras is having his struggles offensively, but the time has long been since the Sox looked for offense from the catcher position.

Grade: C+       - The bench has had to play more than they should at this point, but Green and Baldelli will provide offense off the bench later in the season, and the return of Mark Kotsay will also bolster the Sox’s depth.

Overall Grade: B+
The Sox find themselves a few games back of the Toronto Blue Jays, but ahead of both the Yankees and Rays. The Sox desperately need better performances from their starting rotation, but otherwise find themselves at the level of production they expected. The rash of injuries to begin the season seems to be clearing up, and it is essential to keep the players healthy and within their roles on the club.

Posted on: January 3, 2009 1:54 pm
 

Boston is the Best Place for Bard

Until ten days ago, Josh Bard seemed destined for infamy in the eyes of Red Sox fans. His named was becoming cliche, with phrases like "That player is so bad, Josh Bard could catch better than him," or "That trade hurt us even more than Josh Bard." When Boston signed Bard in the 2006 off-season, they were looking for a more dependable back-up for Jason Varitek than Doug Mirabelli, who in parts of six seasons with the Red Sox managed only a .237 batting average and 48 home runs in over 1,000 at-bats. Bard's performance in Boston was vividly nightmarish.

He started only five games in 2006, all of which were starts by knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Bard proceeded to allow ten passed balls in only 53 innings, leading Wakefield to start the season 1-4. A few days into May, Bard was traded to the San Diego Padres in exchange for Mirabelli with, most notably, Pawtucket Red Sox reliever Cla Meredith, who was called up by the Padres upon his arrival, and finished his rookie year 5-1 with a microscopic 1.07 ERA in over 50 innings pitched. Bard, meanwhile, backed up Mike Piazza and hit .338 in 231 at-bats for the Padres.

Needless to say, Bard left Red Sox fans with a bitter taste in their mouths.

So, imagine the surprise when GM Theo Epstein announced that, in a year in which the Sox have likely lost all three of last season's catchers to free agency, the Red Sox have resigned Josh Bard to a one-year contract.

But Red Sox fans should not dismay. Yes, we have seen a number of players come through a revolving door labeled "talented, but cannot play in Boston," but seldom do they get a second chance. Bard is one of the better hitting catchers in the major league, and he brings with him the fifth-highest career batting average among active catchers.

For Bard, Boston was a shocking dose of reality. Professional athletes have a tendency to take a lot for granted, but Bard has emphasized after his signing that playing in Boston taught him nothing is ever guaranteed. He will be a pleasant surprise for the Red Sox next season.

First, the expectations are extremely low. Because of his last stint, there is nowhere to go but up. Second, he was not around long enough to show that his offense abilities allow him some slack for his defensive shortcomings. In the same way that Varitek's abysmal offensive production was dismissed because of his defense and play-calling ability, so too will the opposite be true for Bard. And thirdly, Bard is by far the best available option. There is no point for the Red Sox to empty their farm system for a player like Jarrod Saltalamacchia when Bard is available through free agency.

Posted on: May 11, 2008 11:52 pm
 

Red Sox Recap and 1st Quarter Report Card

As promised, here is the Red Sox first quarter report card for this season after 40 games.

Starting Pitching: A-
The Red Sox starting pitching has been better than anticipated, with the younger pitchers delivering better performances than was predicted. Josh Beckett missed a few starts, but has rounded into All-Star form and seems poised for another run for the Cy Young Award. Daisuke Matsuzaka has made a lot of improvements from his first year in the majors and has jumped out to a 6-0, but, leading the league in walks, he has still been shaky at times. But together, they look to be as dominant as any 1-2 punch in the A.L. Tim Wakefield has had a typical season thus far, and at 41 years old, that is all the Red Sox had hoped for. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have both flashed the signs that they are ready to be front end of the rotation starters, but also showed that they are in their first full season in the majors. There is no question about their stuff, but if the Sox want to go deep into the playoffs, they need more consistency from the back end of the rotation.

Relief Pitching: C
And this may be generous. The Sox have had very few arms in the bullpen where they feel secure that they can hold the lead. Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon have been very good for most of the season, although they are likely being overused due to the lack of any other relievers stepping up and getting outs. Manny Delcarmen was supposed to help with the late innings, but he has struggled heavily and has fallen from Terry Francona’s repertoire for tight contests. David Aardsma has been a pleasant surprise, but has struggled with his command. Javier Lopez has also performed well, albeit in very limited duty as a primarily left-handed specialist. A rotation of Craig Hansen and Bryan Corey (who the Sox traded to the Padres today) has shown that neither was ready for major league duty to this point. Mike Timlin started the year on the disabled list and has shown that he has in fact pitched in more games in the history of the major league with the expectation of about a dozen players. Julian Tavarez has been used very sparingly in long relief and has struggled because of his lack of work. The starters have produced a good number of seven inning starts, but that will not always be the case. Someone needs to fill in the middle innings and pitch when Okajima and Papelbon cannot, and those pitchers have not yet distinguished themselves.

Offense: A
The Red Sox have had the best offense in the majors through the first quarter of the season. Their team batting average is above .290 and they have a very good balance of power, run production and speed. Jacoby Ellsbury is doing everything that a leadoff hitter must do, which is get on base and score runs, and Dustin Pedroia leads the league in hits. David Ortiz was the only player to start slow, but he has gotten his swing back. Manny Ramirez should have been the player of the month, and Kevin Youkilis capped the first quarter by having a ridiculous week that vaulted him into the top ten in virtually every offensive category. J.D. Drew has played better so far, and Mike Lowell has come back well from the disabled list. Jason Varitek is, as he should be, focusing on the pitching staff, and the Sox have never looked for much production from him anyway. Julio Lugo has played better at times, but still continues to undercut expectations. If Ellsbury and Pedroia can continue to set the table, the Sox will have an excellent year offensively.

Bench: A
The bench players have been one of the strengths of the team this year. Coco Crisp has been sharing time with Ellsbury in center, and has played with good intensity and has hit over .300. Sean Casey filled in exceptionally when Lowell was on the disabled list, and his replacement, Jed Lowrie, also showed that he was capable of playing on the major league level. Brandon Moss did nothing wrong during his time, and should be able looking for another call-up before the year is over. Even Kevin Cash has performed very well, both in his first year handling Wakefield’s knuckleball, but also at the plate, batting near .400. It is a very comforting luxury for Francona to be able to look to his bench whenever he needs and still feel confident, and also in the young call-ups in the chance of injuries.

Defense: B+
The Sox defense has been good, expect for one man, and that would be Julio Lugo. The Sox have 21 errors, and Lugo has 11 of them. He just seems very reluctant fielding grounders. Most of Lugo’s errors before this season were due to his throws over to first, but this year’s errors have been fielding balls hit to him. Other than Lugo, the rest of the infield’s defense has been good, and Youkilis has been perfect as usual. In the outfield, there have been few mistakes. Ellsbury and Crisp provide Gold-Glove caliber defense and the ability to cover a lot of ground. Drew plays right field well, and Ramirez’s defense in left is sometimes convoluted but for the most part satisfactory. Without Lugo’s errors, the Sox would have a much more respectable overall fielding percentage near the league lead.

Overall: A-
They do have the best record in the A.L., and are likely the best team in the majors right now. They get a minus next to that A because the Diamondbacks have a better record, and because their relievers have struggled so much. They have good enough offense and starting pitching to get them through a seven game playoff series right now, but that could change come October. If they can add another reliever at the trading deadline, it would go great lengths to help the Sox out, but we saw that backfire last year. Considering the injuries, the illnesses and beginning the year in Japan, the Sox are sitting in a pretty good spot right now.

I am putting this report card on my blog, which I do with every recap, and you can access at the last link at the bottom of the recap. Feel free to respond to this report card here, or go to my blog.

Concerning tonight’s game, the Sox received their worst start of the year. Tim Wakefield did not make it out of the third inning. While he normally does well in indoor stadiums, he struggled mightly in the Metrodome. His knuckleballs were frequently left up in the zone, and the control of his fastball was off all night. Wakefield threw an astonishing amount of fastballs, or as Joe Morgan aptly called them “straightballs” because, at 74 MPH, they are hardly blistering. One of the home runs he gave up was on one such fastball that was nicely grooved, belt high. But, Wakefield looked like he was laboring from the first inning, and in this case, the knuckleball just did not flutter in the Sox favor.

Look for this recap following the series finale against the Twins as the Sox go for the split. (To view all previous recaps, follow this link to my blog.)
Keep the Faith.

Posted on: May 7, 2008 12:12 pm
Edited on: May 7, 2008 12:14 pm
 

Red Sox Recap 5-6-08

The Red Sox won their fifth straight game behind an excellent start by Tim Wakefield. Some thoughts on the game:

Tim Wakefield delivered his best start of the year thus far, throwing strikes early and often, and dominated the Tigers’ stagnant offense. The Tigers took an approach to Wakefield that the Rangers took earlier this year, as they swung early in the count and did not wait for Wakefield to throw too many pitches. In the game against the Rangers, Wakefield gave up eight hits and five runs, but the Tigers were much less effective making contact. Tonight was the only other night, besides the Rangers game, that he did not yield a walk. Even though his delivery does not change with runners on base, almost anyone can steal a base against him, and with the occasional passed ball, a runner on first who reached on a walk can easily come around to score without the opposing team recording a hit. Wakefield settled in and worked fast as he normally does, and retired at one point 16 straight Tigers. Wakefield lowered his ERA to 3.33, and now Josh Beckett (4.19 ERA) is the only starter with an ERA above 4.00. With the back end of the bullpen a little taxed, Wakefield’s eight innings were that much more helpful. It also allowed for a rare occurrence, as both pitchers for the Sox tonight were both over 41 years old, since Mike Timlin pitched a scoreless ninth for the Sox fourth shut-out this season.

Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz went back-to-back in the seventh inning to provide most of the offense. Ramirez has been in a mini-slump, entering the game with just 5 hits in his last 32 at-bats. But, more importantly, he broke out of a bad power slump, as his home run was his first since April 20. A lot of players tend to be pressing when they get close to a milestone, and with Ramirez on the edge of one of the most historic milestones in all of baseball, he has been racking up the strikeouts with alarming frequency. Alex Rodriguez went through a similar funk last year as he approached 500 home runs, but after a week or so, the great players tend to get back in their groove. Ramirez had an excellent batting practice session today, and the home run capped a very good offensive night. It is very encouraging to see Ortiz drive the ball with explosive force, and his home run was likely between 440 and 450 feet. He has been given a few days off over the past few weeks, and he has responded well going 11-25 (.440) with two doubles, two home runs and seven RBI over his last six games. Since he really seems to be having trouble with his knee, look for him to be given more frequent off days, especially after Sean Casey comes back off of the disabled list, which he is eligible to do on Friday. Also, Ramirez and Ortiz have now hit home runs in the same game an astonishing 45 times in their career with the Red Sox, and seeing as they have only played together for a little over five seasons, that number is even more impressive. Not only are they the “gold standard,” as ESPN commentator Joe Morgan refers to them, for productive 3-4 hitters in the game today, but they may be the best of all time.

The Sox entered the Tigers series with a very surprising statistic: they had had as many home runs as they did stolen bases (26). The Sox also recorded two stolen bases in one game recently, and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, that was the only time such an event has occurred for the Sox for at least the last 50 years. With Jacoby Ellsbury, Coco Crisp, and Julio Lugo, the Sox may have more speed now than they ever have, and we would have to go back to the 1910s-1920s with Sox teams that included Hall of Famers like Tris Speaker. If he starts to play more regularly, Ellsbury may break Tommy Harper’s club record of 54 steals. But, if not this year, then the Sox may as well already begin penciling in Ellsbury’s name.

There was a poll on today's recap about where Ramirez and Ortiz stand in history in terms of 3-4 combinations. 
I'll throw some other combos out there to keep in mind:

Look for this recap after tomorrow’s game as the Sox try to make it three straight against the Tigers. (To view all previous recaps, follow this link.)

Obviously, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

Willie Mays and Willie McCovey

Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. (although Maris did not sustain the numbers that Mantle did)

Mickey Cochrane and Al Simmons

Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews (hold the record for most times two players for the same team hit a home run in the same game, 75)

Fred Lynn and Jim Rice

These are just a few, to get the juices flowing...(no pun intended)

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com