Daisuke Matsuzaka’s 2009 season is one that, so far, has been mostly on the DL- not necessarily the disabled list, but more like the down-low.
The “injury” that landed him on the disabled list for the second time over the weekend remains a mystery. The ability to work out of jams that was the hallmark of his great 2008 season has mysteriously disappeared. And exactly how long will the Boston Red Sox be without their Japanese star? That remains a mystery as well.
But what is certainly not a mystery to anyone who has seen Dice-K pitch this season is that he is not the same pitcher who won 18 games with a 2.90 ERA just last season. His walk rate is actually lower (4.6 per nine innings) than in 2008 (5.0), and his strikeout rate is about the same. The difference is he’s getting hit much, much harder.
Upon first glance, it would be easy to say Dice-K is falling victim to bad luck in 2009. His opponents are batting an absurdly high .443 against him on balls in play, almost 1.5 times the league average. But his opponent’s OPS is 1.091, a far cry from the paltry .645 OPS against him in 2008.
His opponents’ 101 total bases so far in 2009 are almost at the same amount he allowed all last season (197), an alarming total considering his walks have not gone up. His 59 hits allowed in just 35 innings, which averages out to just over 15 per nine innings, has to be the most eye-popping statistic.
Dice-K has not looked like his familiar self all season. He had already gained a reputation for at times being frustrating to watch, but was tolerated because his style translated to success. This season, his mistakes are hurting time big-time.
Manager Terry Francona is aware of the apparent fatigue in Dice-K’s arm, but is still baffled as to how out-of-whack he truly is this season. He expects a long recovery time for his No. 3 starter.
“We’re going to have to figure this out. We have a lot of work ahead of us trying to get him back to being Daisuke,” Francona told John Barone of RedSox.com. “We’ll try to do what’s in his best interest, and to be honest, I think we’re still trying to figure that out.”
The light at the end of the tunnel for the Red Sox is that they can afford to give Dice-K a two-month vacation. It’s unlikely he’s suffering from anything more than fatigue, so substantial rest seems to be the best thing for him at this point.
The Red Sox can afford to do this because, of course, they have John Smoltz taking the mound for his season debut on Thursday against the Washington Nationals. They can seamlessly move him into the rotation without changing it.
More importantly, the Red Sox will not have to employ a six-man rotation, which may seem like a good idea for giving pitchers extra rest but comes with the risk of disrupting the routines of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and the rest.
A healthy Smoltz will more than likely provide the Red Sox with an above-average bottom-of-the-rotation starter. And let’s not forget, the Sox also have this kid named Buchholz pitching pretty well down at Pawtucket.
The Dice-K injury probably only makes it more likely that the Red Sox will deal one or more of Penny, Smoltz and Buchholz to acquire depth in areas of need, most notably shortstop. With David Ortiz swinging the bat very well recently (.333 with five home runs since June 5), they may not need to dish out a hefty package for someone like Matt Holliday or Adrian Gonzalez after all.
I’m still holding out hope for a Penny-for-shortstop deal happening soon, so they can simultaneously improve at their weakest position and give Buchholz a chance to pitch in the major leagues. Until then, everything is just speculation.
But as long as Smoltz pitches well, the AL East-leading Red Sox can rest easier knowing the weakest link in their rotation is recharging for the stretch run without being too much of a detriment to the staff.
The trade rumblings for the Boston Red Sox have steadily increased in recent weeks, mainly due to their surplus of starting pitching. But now that all of their potential starters are healthy and working, rumors of potential deals have begun to surface.
The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Jack Wilson is the latest in the rumored possible acquisitions for Boston, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting.
It was a somewhat well-kept secret through April and May that the Red Sox had at least seven Major League-ready starters. But now that John Smoltz is healthy and rehabilitating at Pawtucket, it’s become quite apparent.
What has also become apparent is the Red Sox’s deficiencies in the field, particularly at the shortstop position. While presumptive starter Jed Lowrie has missed significant time with a wrist injury, the Red Sox have platooned Julio Lugo and Nick Green. The result has been less than spectacular.
Lugo and Green’s 14 combined errors this season have dragged the Red Sox all the way to the bottom of the American League in fielding percentage. For comparison’s sake, J.D. Drew, Jason Bay, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek and Dustin Pedroia have six errors between them.
Having that kind of a liability at arguably the most important defensive position on the field can cost a team games, and it already has for the Red Sox; remember Green’s throw that sailed into the stands at Seattle?
It can also cost you a World Championship; Sox fans need not forget that it was the defensive overhaul that sparked the 2004 Red Sox to become one of the league’s elite teams and end their World Series curse.
Now we come to the player in question: Pittsburgh’s Jack Wilson. In terms of defensive ability, the Red Sox would be receiving a major upgrade here. It is comparable to the defensive upgrade that Orlando Cabrera brought over Nomar Garciaparra in 2004.
The Red Sox have been asking around the clubhouse, most notably former Pirate Jason Bay, about Wilson’s abilities and character, and apparently they have heard enough to pursue the shortstop in a trade. It’s important for fans who aren’t familiar with National League players to understand that the Red Sox would be bringing in a solid defensive shortstop should they acquire Wilson.
The 31-year-old Wilson may not bring the flash-and-dash that Alex Gonzalez brought to the team in 2006, but he is certainly well above-average with the leather at short and could have a Gold Glove or two if he was a better hitter.
About his offense…He wouldn’t be an upgrade in that department. He certainly couldn’t be much worse than Lugo or Green has been, but Wilson is a career .269 hitter with much left to the imagination in terms of pop or speed. At best, he’s the same as Lugo or Green at the plate.
Another concern is Wilson’s recent injury problems. He’s already made one trip to the 15-day disabled list with a finger sprain. He’s also injured his knee, calf and shoulder, causing him to miss 95 games since 2008.
Those things aside, the Red Sox would be acquiring Wilson for his defensive prowess above all else. They can absorb his lack of offense as long as he plays the great defense he’s known for; they could not absorb the offensive woes of Lugo or Green with their defensive misgivings.
What’s most important at this point is that Wilson has proved to be a serviceable everyday player at the major league level, and would likely be the starter if he heads here. Lugo would still get occasional playing time but be replaced by Wilson in the late innings for defensive purposes.
Green would likely head back to the minors and be replaced with Smoltz, or possibly Buchholz. If Brad Penny is not involved in the trade talks that are apparently taking place, the Red Sox could employ a temporary six-man rotation. But a more likely result is to see Penny be traded.
Is Wilson worth Penny straight up? Or more importantly, do the Pirates need a player like Penny when it’s becoming more and more apparent that they once again won’t contend for anything this season? The answer to both of those questions is probably no, which means the Red Sox could dip into their farm system to acquire Wilson.
Penny is more likely to go to a contending NL team in need of a starting pitcher; the Cubs, Mets and Phillies immediately come to mind. And Buchholz is one of the top prospects in the game, and would be good enough as part of a package to lure a Matt Holliday or Adrian Gonzalez to Boston. So for Wilson to come to the Red Sox, it will take something else.
With the depth in their farm system, and the obvious need for a shortstop who can play consistent defense, the acquisition of Wilson looks more and more every day like a move the Sox ought to make.
Just two innings earlier, Alex Rodriguez smashed the hopes of Red Sox fans who wished to see their team sweep the Yankees with his two-run double. But when A-Rod stepped back to the plate in the ninth to face Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox had rallied from a two-run deficit to take the 4-3 lead. So Sox fans naturally felt comfortable showering A-Rod with boos and a “YOU DID STE-ROIDS!” *clap* *clap* *clap-clap-clap* chant. Here’s a quick clip of the amusing chant (well, amusing for all non-Yankee fans):
(C.J. Gunther/European Pressphoto Agency)
As C.C. Sabathia continued to mow down Red Sox hitters, working in all of his pitches and consistently hitting the mid-to-late 90s with his fastball, it looked more and more inevitable to Red Sox Nation that the Yankees may finally prevail after seven straight losses against Boston to begin the 2009 season. Brad Penny pitched a gem to maintain the 1-0 lead for the Red Sox, but that lead never felt comfortable, nor should it have.
Alex Rodriguez, who certainly felt due to inflict some damage on the Red Sox, silenced the Fenway faithful with his two-run double in the eighth inning that missed the center field bleachers by about three feet. A-Rod’s hard line drive felt like a cannon blast the way it broke open such a tight game in the late innings.
Even then, in the torrential downpours, the fans remained. But with the game being Red Sox-Yankees, they were pretty much obligated. And in one big inning, they were handsomely rewarded.
The Yankees’ bullpen, which had been taxed by the dismal outings of A.J. Burnett and Chien-Ming Wang earlier in the series, imploded with a chance to close the Red Sox out. Sabathia had been overpowering the Red Sox lineup, the one blemish before the eighth inning being David Ortiz’s fourth home run of the season.
But he simply ran out of pitches in the eighth, getting worked as hard as he had been all night by Dustin Pedroia, who drew a walk in an eleven-pitch at-bat, and J.D. Drew, who singled to begin the scoring rally.
“I was just fighting,” Pedroia told Ian Browne of RedSox.com of his subtly game-changing walk. “I haven’t been feeling that well at the plate. Obviously, facing C.C., he’s one of the best in the game. I’m just trying to put a good at-bat together and hit the ball hard — just trying to find a way to get on base. That’s pretty much it.”
Yanked after 123 pitches, Sabathia could not finish what he started, and the bullpen could not save him. Alfredo Aceves took the ball to try and get to Mariano Rivera for the save chance, but he loaded the bases with a Kevin Youkilis single then allowed another hit to Jason Bay to tie the game at three.
The only out Aceves made was a sacrifice fly by Mike Lowell. J.D. Drew instinctively broke for home on Lowell’s shallow pop-fly knowing it would be very tough for center fielder Brett Gardner to make a strong throw in the treacherous rain, and scored easily. It was at that point that Fenway officially made the transition from agony to ecstasy.
“We get down by a couple, and then all of a sudden, Greenie gets the hit and Pedey has an extended at-bat and things happen like we’ve seen happen here before — good players doing some pretty special things in a pretty special place,” said manager Terry Francona. “It was electric. You could feel it.”
Sabathia took the tough-luck loss as Jonathan Papelbon pitched a 1-2-3 night to secure the sweep for the Red Sox. Boston is now 8-0 to start the season against the Yankees. They haven’t had this kind of win streak against New York to start the season since April 1912, days before the Titanic sunk. The sweep left them in first place in the AL East and the entire league at 36-24.
The Red Sox continue to assert their dominance over the Yankees this season, and also continue to dominate at Fenway Park, heading to Philadelphia with a 21-8 home record. And in a season where only two AL teams are over .500 away from home and the collective road record of the league is 180-242, home play is especially important.
The Red Sox will now take part in an exciting weekend for all of baseball as extended interleague play kicks off for the 2009 season. We got ourselves a taste of interleague action in May, which has become customary for Major League Baseball. But now the meat of the AL vs. NL schedule takes place, as has become a June tradition.
This weekend features some highly-anticipated matchups, including the New York Mets’ first trip to the new Yankee Stadium and the Bay-area showdown between Oakland and San Francisco at Petco Park. But the series that stands to be the most competitive and interesting- at least for east coast fans- is the three-game series between the Boston Red Sox and the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.
Boston and Philadelphia own the third-best and second-best records in baseball, respectively. The Phillies are 7-3 so far in June and are coming off two straight victories against the Mets.
The Phillies have struggled at home (12-14) and achieved most of their success on the road (23-9). They are also dealing with key injuries, as starter Brett Myers and All-Star closer Brad Lidge are currently on the disabled list and won’t be back for this series.
The biggest surprise for the Phillies this season has to be left fielder Raul Ibañez, who signed a free agent contract in the winter. On a team that includes big-time hitters like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley producing like the All-Stars they are, Ibañez has risen above them all.
His 21 home runs are the most in his career before the All-Star break and two off his total from last season. His career-high is 33, and he should easily eclipse that total this season barring an injury, even if and when he slows down. But that slow-down period I speak of has yet to happen for the veteran outfielder.
Rollins has been the biggest disappointment thus far for the Phillies, posting a .226 average and .596 OPS through 57 games. He hit well in the just-completed Mets series, though, going 4-for-13 with a home run and four RBI. He briefly hit sixth in the batting order and hit well there, but Phillies manager Charlie Manuel insisted it was a matter of sparking Rollins to assume his role as leadoff man and offensive catalyst.
“The only thing I was trying to do was give Jimmy a different look, a little different feel,” Manuel told Todd Zolecki of Phillies.com. “I also think Jimmy knows his hitting.”
Rollins and the rest of the Phillies have a tough challenge ahead of them tonight as Jon Lester takes the mound for the Red Sox. Lester has allowed one
run or fewer in three of his last four starts and compiled 23 strikeouts in his last 15 innings. He is beginning to consistently show the form that made him a breakout star in 2008.
His most recent outing against Texas was a near-perfect game that broke up in the seventh, but Lester completed the game allowing one run on 107 pitches to improve his record to 5-5. He will try to bring his ERA below 5.00 for the first time since April 24 as he faces a tough Phillies lineup, albeit one loaded with lefties.
The Phillies will send default No. 2 starter Joe Blanton to the mound. Blanton has also pitched well of late, allowing just four earned runs in his last 20 innings. He has not lost a decision since May 9 against Atlanta, and after a rough start his record stands at 4-3.
Both teams are hitting their stride in June after somewhat inconsistent starts to the season. The Red Sox’s rotation woes are beginning to settle into a groove, and the Phillies continue to mash the ball while ace Cole Hamels recovers from a disastrous start to the season.
Francona is always excited to return to Philadelphia, where he managed the Phillies from 1997 to 2000. But it’s even more exciting knowing his team is entering Philly for a potential World Series preview.
When asked by Jim Silverman of the Boston Herald about the upcoming series, Francona said, “It’ll be a fun series for the fans, but from our standpoint, it’s just another part of the grind to see if we’re good enough to be there at the end.”
It’s still premature to deem any sort of triumphant return to glory official for David Ortiz. But the Boston Red Sox designated hitter has shown more signs of turning it around in the past ten days than he has through the first ten weeks of the season. He’s driving the ball to gaps, driving it to the opposite field, and most importantly, driving it out of the park.
Big Papi has two home runs in his last 13 at-bats after hitting just one through his first 193. He has six RBI in his last seven games, and has hit safely in each of them.
He lined his second home run of the season off the Rangers’ Kris Benson into the right-field seats in his strongest showing since moving to the sixth spot in the order. He had already shown signs of a turn-around by the time he hit that home run.
“That’s how you getting back to hitting balls and start hitting well, put a good swing on a ball,” Ortiz told Ian Browne of RedSox.com. “Even though you don’t get the good luck, it will come.”
Then the real good sign came Tuesday against the Yankees, when he took a pitch from A.J. Burnett on the outside edge and drove it into the center field seats for his third home run of the season. And this one was a true bomb.
Like Ortiz’s first home run of the season, it was 400-plus feet and landed comfortably in the bleachers. But it was more of an opposite-field drive off a pitch that was almost off the plate, as opposed to something in his wheel-house.
This recent six-game snippet of success doesn’t guarantee that Ortiz is going to tear it up and have 20 home runs by the All-Star break. But a streak is a streak, and right now Big Papi is on a good one.
The home run off Burnett showed that he still has the ability to drive the ball out to the deep part of the park. He hit several deep fly ball outs in Detroit’s cavernous Comerica Park that may have been home runs at Fenway, Yankee Stadium and several other ballparks.
Despite failing to homer in Detroit, Ortiz still delivered his share of production, shooting a long double into the gap in right-center to score two runners.
Again, Papi’s recent success still doesn’t mean he’s going to produce like the 2003-2007 Ortiz for the rest of the season. And in all honesty, it wouldn’t shock me or many others if he went right back to slumping horrendously. But considering he’s produced more in the last six games than he has pretty much all season, it’s reasonable to believe Big Papi is back.
The New York Yankees should almost be synonymous with “early-season struggles” these days. Their combined record in April since 2006 stands at 48-49, not a stellar figure for a team with as consistently deep a roster and high a payroll as them.
The Yankees’ 12-10 April record this season doesn’t look bad on the surface, but that included a three-game winning streak to close out the month. The three-game sweep of them at Fenway Park by the Boston Red Sox left them at 9-9 and looking for scapegoats.
But the Yankees are 25-14 since the last game of that series, and come into Fenway tonight in first place by one game and having won their last four series.
It’s not too much of a coincidence that the Yankees reversed their fortunes around the same time Alex Rodriguez returned from his hip injury. His presence in the lineup alone has proved to be a big help for Mark Teixeira, who hit 13 home runs in May after hitting just three in April, and leads the league with 18 bombs.
Perhaps more importantly for the Yankees is that the pitching has stabilized. C.C. Sabathia is 4-0 with a 3.26 ERA in his last six starts, one of which was a complete-game shutout at Baltimore on May 8. His presence at the top of the rotation is essential to the Yankee’s success, and he looks to have found himself after a rough April.
A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain, and Andy Pettitte have also delivered quality outings in recent weeks. Both pitched well enough against the Tampa Bay Rays to win the last two games of that series leading into tonight’s series opener.
Despite the Yankees’ correction of early-season struggles, the Red Sox also appear to have turned a corner at the top of their rotation. Josh Beckett, who takes the mound for the Red Sox tonight, has been dominant since allowing seven runs against the Rays on April 30.
Beckett is 4-0 in his last six starts with a 1.94 ERA. He has thrown over 110 pitches in each of his last five, but has shown no signs of wear or fatigue. His last start, in fact, was his most dominant of the season, as he took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning and ended up allowing two hits and two walks in seven-and-two-thirds innings.
Jon Lester also appears to be turning the corner after a wild start to his season. In his last two starts, Lester is 2-0 and has allowed two runs in 15 innings with 23 strikeouts. He made a bid for his second no-hitter in as many years last time out against Texas, but had to settle for the complete-game victory.
Though these two teams are not without their flaws, they seem to be correcting the major problems that plagued them in April and May, which is the main reason for their places at the top of the American League East standings. While the Blue Jays have fallen back to Earth and the Rays continue to underachieve, the Red Sox and Yankees continue to win games and build momentum for their legendary rivalry to take the stage once again.
Tonight’s series opener, which pits Beckett against Burnett, will obviously depend on the performance of the pitchers. To say the two struggled last time they faced each other would be an understatement; they combined to allow 16 earned runs in ten innings, in a game the Red Sox eventually won 16-11.
Considering how much better Burnett and Beckett have been in recent starts, it’s reasonable to assume a slobberknocker like that Apr. 25 game would not happen again. It seems more likely that tonight’s game would either be lop-sided or a pitcher’s duel.
Since we wanted it last time and didn’t get it, let’s hope we get the duel this time.
(Photo courtesy of Boston.com)
John Smoltz is getting stronger and stronger in his return from shoulder surgery, most recently pitching five strong innings for Class A Greenville in a rehab start on Sunday. He will make the jump to AAA Pawtucket for a couple more starts before finally joining the Red Sox. His arrival will only add fuel to the burning question of the Red Sox’s 2009 season:
What to do with this surplus of quality starting pitching?
Clearly, something needs to be done. The Red Sox have a great problem on their hands, perhaps the best problem they could possibly have. They have five rotation spots, and seven quality pitchers who could fulfill those roles.
Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield decidedly have their spots locked up. The final spot has been occupied by Brad Penny thus far, but it would be hard to ensure he’d hold down that spot forever with Smoltz and Clay Buchholz waiting their turn.
Buchholz has been outstanding in the minors this season as he battles to earn a spot in the Boston rotation. He went 2-0 with a 1.12 ERA in May, including coming within three outs of a perfect game. He would certainly face a much greater challenge in major league hitters, but Buchholz is nonetheless doing what he needs to do to pitch his way to the big leagues.
On just about any other team, Buchholz would easily lock down a rotation spot. But he happens to be on one of the deepest teams in baseball.
In his way is Brad Penny, who has pitched well as the No.5 starter. He allowed eight runs in three-plus innings in his second start against Baltimore, which inflated his current ERA (5.63) by over a run. Overall, seven of Penny’s ten appearances have been quality starts. Opponents are still hitting .310 against him, but he has walked only two in his last 24.1 innings.
Matsuzaka has struggled mightily this season, posting an 0-3 record and spending time on the disabled list. Dice-K is frequently frustrating to watch with his refusal to give in to hitters and throw the ball over the plate. Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald expounds upon the magic act Matsuzaka put on in 2008, in which he held opponents to batting average under .200 with men in scoring position and hitless with the bases loaded.
But Matsuzaka has certainly earned himself a spot in the rotation. Despite his tendency to get himself into trouble more often than not, he has been able to get out of it, earning himself a 33-15 record in his first two big league seasons.
However, this season has been painful to watch for Matsuzaka, as the baserunners he has always allowed are scoring at an alarming rate. His ground-to-fly ratio is about 0.58:1, another very disturbing trend for a pitcher like Matsuzaka who has shown trouble keeping the ball in the park in the past.
A big positive is that the 1-2 punch of Beckett and Lester has shown signs of turning it around. After a laborious stretch of two starts each against the Rays and Yankees, Beckett has settled down in his last three starts, allowing just three earned runs in his last 22 innings. He has also thrown over 110 pitches in each of his last three starts, but has only shown signs of getting stronger.
Lester pitched brilliantly on Sunday against the Blue Jays in arguably his strongest start of the season. Despite only making it through six innings on 111 pitches, Lester struck out a career-high 12 and scattered three infield singles and three walks. The lone run he allowed came on a Vernon Wells sacrifice fly in the first inning. The strikeouts are certainly a great sign, but the Red Sox would probably be more satisfied seeing Lester get deeper into games.
After an excellent start to the season, Tim Wakefield has come back down to Earth, just like he always seems to do. He mixed eight brilliant innings against Toronto in with three rough outings, most recently unraveling against those same Blue Jays late in the fifth inning. Wakefield has been around long enough where Red Sox Nation knows what it’s going to get from him. All I would ask of him is to finish the season over .500.
With four spots in the rotation locked down (barring injury), it comes down to asking what the Red Sox do to consolidate this deep pitching staff. Before making any drastic moves, the Sox ought to give both Smoltz and Buchholz chances to pitch. Penny is no lock to stay healthy, as is Matsuzaka, so things still have a chance to work themselves out.
But what’s certain is that Buchholz has earned his chance. After pitching extremely poorly in 2008, he has come out blazing this season. He had an outstanding spring in hopes he would earn the fifth rotation spot, and has continued to pitch extremely well overall.
Smoltz is still a few rehab outings away from joining the Red Sox, but the veteran hurler clearly deserves a chance to see what he can still do in the big leagues. It’s unlikely his stuff has gone anywhere, so it becomes a matter of Smoltz making sure he’s 100 percent before joining the Red Sox, and remaining healthy once he is.
It likely won’t be until July when the Red Sox even think about making a move. But once that time comes, it’s also likely they’ll still have the same glaring holes: shortstop and designated hitter.
It’s too bad to have to deem David Ortiz a “hole” in the Red Sox lineup, but it’s gotten to that point. Through 178 at-bats, Ortiz has 15 extra-base hits and a .570 OPS. He has gone 2-for-21 in five games batting sixth. Clearly, the lack of protection is only making it worse for Big Papi. His only promising-looking at-bat came against Toronto when he hit a double to the center-field wall, but that’s about it these days.
Despite Ortiz’s struggles, the Red Sox still have enough patience to wait him out another month or so before deciding to do something drastic with him. The shortstop issue is a little more glaring, and a little more urgent at this point.
Julio Lugo has been up to the usual shenanigans on defense, and Nick Green is simply not a major-leaguer, let alone a starter for a team like the Red Sox. These two have played poor-enough defense to cost the Red Sox some games (Remember Green’s throw ten rows into the stands at Seattle?), and have not compensated for it on offense.
The Red Sox will need to assess their options at both of these spots. While the offense could certainly use a big boost, either by way of a Matt Holliday trade or perhaps moving Buchholz among others for a prized young hitter like Matt LaPorta.
But in my opinion, the infield defense is the biggest issue that needs to be solved. Shortstop is about as important a position as any on the field in terms of defense, and Lugo has shown no signs of progress or improvement upon his below-average fielding in over two seasons in Boston. Green can’t last too long in any kind of regular role.
There are few good, economical options out there for the Red Sox at shortstop, but Jack Wilson of the Pittsburgh Pirates is a possibility. Wilson has been pedestrian at the plate this season, as he usually is, but he couldn’t do much worse than Green or Lugo in that regard. The big upgrade Wilson brings is on defense. The slick-fielding shortstop would probably have a Gold Glove or two by now if he was a more prominent hitter.
But at this point, all the Red Sox need at shortstop is someone who can field. And Wilson can not only make the standard plays, he can flat-out dazzle. The offense could survive having his bat in the lineup if he is preventing runs at a high rate.
As far as trade options for Wilson, that’s where it gets tricky. He certainly isn’t worth one of the Red Sox’s top prospects like Buchholz, Michael Bowden, Daniel Bard or Lars Anderson. But if Theo feels it’s important enough to shore up the defense (and he may think so, remember 2004?), he may move someone like Josh Reddick or 22-year-old Junichi Tazawa, who is 5-3 with a 2.82 ERA at AA Portland this season, to get Wilson.
For a team like the Pirates, who all things considered will not need a rental like Penny or Smoltz, moving a middle-tier prospect seems to make the most sense for the Red Sox. To acquire an impact player like Matt Holliday, however, would take something more. A big-time trade would make at least one, probably two out of Penny, Smoltz and Buchholz the top candidates to move.
The Red Sox have their problems, that’s for sure. Some good ones and some bad ones. The positive thing is that they can use the good problems (pitching surplus) to solve the bad ones (shortstop defense, mid-lineup power), which is likely what they will do.
With the way the Yankees have been playing, and how competitive the AL East and the entire league looks this season, it looks more and more everyday like a necessary move.
The Boston Red Sox were just 15-14 in May, going through some tough road swings and suffering from inconsistency on both sides of the ball. They could have easily finished 14-15 if not for yesterday’s 8-2 victory at Toronto, and who knows how the game would have ended up without the changes manager Terry Francona made to the lineup?
The Red Sox entered Sunday’s game 1-4 in their previous five games, and they scored only 13 runs in that span. Francona felt it was time to make a radical change in order to spark the offense to produce like they had as recently as the beginning of May. He mentioned how the lack of production from the majority of the lineup was becoming more prevalent.
“When everybody is hitting on all cylinders, that can maybe not be noticed,” Francona told Ian Browne of RedSox.com. “But when we’re not, it becomes a little more noticeable.”
It certainly helped that Jon Lester had perhaps his strongest outing of 2009 on Sunday, allowing just one run and striking out a season-high 12 in six innings. But with everyone’s new spot in the batting order came a sudden abundance of power.
The biggest hit of them all came off the bat of Dustin Pedroia, who busted open a 1-1 game in the fourth inning with a three-run home run to left field. What looked to be a pitcher’s duel changed completely as the second baseman pulled the ball just barely over the wall between the foul pole.
It was Pedroia’s first home run since his first at-bat of the season on Opening Day. It had almost been long forgotten that Pedroia, who hit 17 home runs in his MVP 2008 season, has a little pop to his bat.
“It’s in him,” Francona said of his power. “I think when his groin was bothering him, I think it was hard for him to do that. He finds ways to still be a good player. It was easier for him for a time period there to just use the whole field and not take those swings. In [Sunday’s] game, that was huge.”
Kevin Youkilis, who batted third for the first time this season, hit two home runs of his own, his eighth and ninth of the season. The first bomb came in the first inning into the second deck in right-center. The other was a hard line drive into the left field bullpen in the eighth inning.
Jason Bay immediately followed Youkilis with his 15th dinger of the season into almost the exact same spot. Bay is off to one of the best starts of his career, putting up elite numbers (.288/.415/.627, 49 RBI) and not yet experiencing a prolonged slump.
David Ortiz, still batting sixth after moving behind Mike Lowell, nearly hit his second home run of the season when he hit the ball all the way to the center field wall to lead off the fourth inning. He settled for a double and scored on Pedroia’s home run.
Perhaps the most curious move in the lineup was Jacoby Ellsbury dropping to eighth in the order rather than his customary leadoff spot. He went 1-for-3 with a walk and a sacrifice bunt in the fourth to put runners in scoring position for Pedroia’s eventual home run.
Because the changes were so radical, and that Ellsbury is infinitely more valuable leading off rather than hitting in the lowly 8-hole, it’s likely the Red Sox will revert back to a similar lineup they had been fielding as they head to Detroit to take on the first-place Tigers.
With his speed, Ellsbury is the clear leadoff man. With their high contact rates and on-base percentages, it’s only natural that Pedroia and J.D. Drew would remain 2-3. And Youkilis and Bay are about as good a 4-5 combination as any in the league right now.
Needless to say, the Red Sox offense is not in dire straits. But a reboot was needed, and it looks like Francona did just the right amount of fiddling with the lineup to get the spark they were looking for.
Legitimately one of the most hyped prospects in the history of baseball, catcher Matt Wieters will finally make his major-league debut with the Baltimore Orioles tonight at Camden Yards against the Detroit Tigers.
Wieters, 23, hit .305 in 39 games with AA Norfolk, with five home runs and 30 RBI in 39 games this season. In 2008, Wieters decimated AA pitchers, batting .365 with 12 homers and 51 RBI in just 61 games. He is a 6’5″, 230-pound switch hitter with advanced plate discipline and legitimate power from both sides of the plate, which has drawn him comparisons to Mark Teixeira.
He joins an Orioles team that already has young superstars Adam Jones and Nick Markakis coming into their own, and a deep farm system that includes top pitching prospect Chris Tillman.
Despite his obvious abilities at the plate, Wieters has also been heralded for his prowess behind it. There will certainly be questions about such a big dude manning the controls behind home, but Wieters is known to have quick feet and fluid movement in addition to a powerful throwing arm, which should translate to above-average defense in the majors. He also said that he learned how to call games from watching the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz Atlanta Braves with his father.
Needless to say, the 2008 Minor League Player of the Year is a hefty package of a player that should be the Orioles’ starting catcher for quite some time. He will immediately supplant Gregg Zaun as he starts tonight, and will also likely bat somewhere in the middle of the order.
Zaun told Tim Kurkjian of ESPN, “There is a serious learning curve to catching in the major leagues. He’s not going to just come right in here and hit .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs, and anchor a staff. If you want him to do well, leave him alone, and let him play.”
That sounds more like a plea from Zaun to the Orioles to let him platoon with Wieters, but that’s highly unlikely. He seems to be realizing- if he didn’t already- that he was merely a stop-gap catcher before Wieters got the inevitable call-up.
Even though Wieters has never stepped into the box against major league pitching, it’s not much of a stretch to consider him this year’s Evan Longoria or Ryan Braun in that he would immediately make a big impact with his bat. The kid has hit literally everywhere he’s been and there’s no reason to believe that won’t translate to major-league success.
He’s been described as “Joe Mauer with power,” but I guess this season that would just make him Joe Mauer. That’s some lofty praise for someone who hasn’t played a single major league game. But in a few short months, everyone tuned in to the sports world will know the name Matthew Richard Wieters.
Obviously I was going to find a way to get this video on the blog! I didn’t want to simply post a link to another site; I’m a fan of embedding video. But since all solid versions of the video of the incident, in which Carlos Zambrano appears to get a tag on Pittsburgh’s Nyjer Morgan as he attempts to score on a wild pitch, I decided to promote LeagueOfClutch.com for this amusing mock-Gatorade commercial they made out of it. You’ll see why near the end.
This video was so funny it made it on my other blog as well as this one. Former Red Sox and Athletics great Dennis Eckersley is the victim of a little Freudian slippage as he accidentally calls Red Sox pitcher Justin Masterson by what he likes to do in the booth when he’s alone. My simple analysis of Eckersley as a fill-in commentator for Jerry Remy is that he talks too much, and I guess this comment would be exhibit A.
Even funnier is at the end if you listen closely he says “Balls dippin’ down” to only further promote the accidental sexual innuendos. Thank the lord for TiVo and Youtube!
I pointed it out last week as an alarming trend in Jon Lester’s starts this season for the Boston Red Sox. But I wasn’t totally convinced it was something he needed to fix, and Lester rewarded my optimism with a good start against the Blue Jays. But Tuesday night was back to the same bad habit for Lester, as the Twins derailed the Red Sox lefty in a single inning with much of the damage done on one bad pitch.
Justin Morneau capped a five-run fifth inning with his 14th home run of the season as the Minnesota Twins defeated the Red Sox 5-2 Tuesday night to split the first two games of their four-game series at the Metrodome.
Lester made it through six innings and 100 pitches, but the bad inning that has haunted him for much of the season reared its ugly head once again. He breezed through the first four innings, allowing only three baserunners before unraveling once again in the fifth.
The Twins began chipping away at Lester with three singles and an RBI groundout. Joe Mauer drew a walk before Morneau came to the plate with
two men on. Morneau didn’t waste much time drilling a 1-0 fastball out of the park to right field, instantly blowing the game wide open 5-0.
Minnesota batted around in the inning, with Delmon Young getting a second at-bat. But Jacoby Ellsbury robbed the Twins left fielder with an excellent running catch deep in center field to save Lester and the Red Sox from even more damage.
Lester certainly seems lost right now, and Terry Francona shared his sentiment on the disturbing and baffling frequency of bad individual innings in his starts.
“He looks like he has a chance to get out of it, and then one pitch and all of a sudden there is a crooked number on the board,” Francona told RedSox.com. “I know he is frustrated.”
It is a frustrating season indeed, so far. Lester has now allowed four or more runs in a single inning in six of his ten starts this season. He is 3-5 with a 6.07 ERA and opponents are hitting .306 against him.
The fifth inning looks like a specific point of deterioration in many of Lester’s outings. He has allowed 19 fifth-inning runs this season- including six of his 11 home runs- while yielding 19 in all other innings combined.
When asked by RedSox.com reporter Thor Nystrom if his single-inning struggles are a point of concern, Lester said, “Yeah, I guess…I don’t know what to tell you guys. I don’t really have any answers for you.”
There were bright spots for the Red Sox in Tuesday’s loss. Jacoby Ellsbury extended his career-high hitting streak to 21 games, the longest for the Red Sox since Kevin Youkilis hit for 27 in a row in 2007.
David Ortiz also had a solid night at the plate while batting sixth in the order, the first time he batted anywhere other than third since May 2005. Ortiz went 1-for-3 with a walk, legging out a line-drive double in his first at-bat in the second inning.
His resurgence would obviously be a boon for the Red Sox offense, which is close to firing on all cylinders right now. But the more important issue is solving the inconsistency issue with Lester and the rotation.
If a drastic problem or unexpected injury arises, the Red Sox do have the luxury of quality pitching looming in the minor leagues. Clay Buchholz took a perfect game into the ninth inning Tuesday and finished with a one-hitter, lowering his ERA to 1.30 in the minor leagues so far this season. Buchholz continues to dazzle at AAA and put more pressure on the Red Sox to make room for him.
John Smoltz is also making progress in his rehabilitation, and could arrive by mid-June. If the Red Sox suffer mightily due to Ortiz’s prolonged struggles, their surplus of pitching could lead to a mid-season trade to solidify the middle of the lineup.
The acquisition of an immediate-impact hitter like Matt Holliday would not surprise, nor would a top-tier prospect like the Indians’ Matt La Porta or the Pirates’ Pedro Alvarez. And let’s not forget that the Red Sox also have first baseman Lars Anderson getting some seasoning at AA before possibly making an appearance sometime this season.
I guess my point is, the Red Sox are one of the deepest organizations in baseball. They have some issues to work out, team-wise and individually, but if anyone’s capable of plugging all the holes, it’s them.
The Red Sox had to at least have a feeling that good fortune was on their side heading into their first series with the Toronto Blue Jays when they found out they wouldn’t have to face Roy Halladay. It turns out that it was, as just about everything the Red Sox could ask for went right.
The three-game sweep of Toronto (27-17), which leaves the Red Sox (25-16) only a half-game out of first place in the American League East, almost goes without mentioning. In the series, Red Sox Nation was treated to the first home run of the season for David Ortiz, a franchise record-setting 11th consecutive multi-run homer by Jason Bay, a strong return to the lineup for Kevin Youkilis, and an even stronger bounce-back outing for Jon Lester (3-4), who picked up the win in Thursday’s series finale.
Big Papi’s slump has been the most well-documented story so far this season for the Red Sox. But Ortiz is in the best mindset he’s been in all season after lifting the burden of his first home run off his shoulders in Wednesday’s win.
“I feel good, man,” Ortiz told Ian Browne of RedSox.com. “Let’s keep it that way.”
Ortiz didn’t homer again Thursday night, but he did get enough wood on the ball to scratch home a run with an RBI groundout in the first inning. The real story of Thursday’s game, however, was Lester’s performance.
The Blue Jays worked Lester hard all night, with eight hits and two walks and at least one runner reaching base in each of the first five innings. But Lester battled through every jam- including a two-on, one-out situation that ended in a 4-6-3 double play- and did not allow a run until the seventh, when Ramon Ramirez allowed the inherited Jose Bautista to score on an Aaron Hill single.
Lester finished with 109 pitches in six-and-a-third innings, striking out four. He clearly wanted to finish the seventh inning, but Terry Francona- weary that Lester’s start could end up like his last two, when he unraveled in the late innings- removed him before it got out of hand.
With a 3-4 record, a 5.91 ERA, and 1.61 WHIP, Lester still has a hole to dig himself out of to return to his 2008 form. But his Thursday outing allowed him to only think positively going forward.
“I just wanted to make sure that everybody knew I’m not throwing in the towel,” Lester told Browne after the game. “It’s a long season. You’re going to have some bumps in the road, and sometimes those bumps are pretty deep and you’ve got to dig yourself out of them. Tonight was definitely a step towards getting out of that hole.”
Also a very encouraging sign for the Red Sox was the return of Kevin Youkilis from an abbreviated stint on the disabled list with oblique soreness. In two games in the series, Youkilis went 4-for-8 to raise his batting average from .393 to .402.
“I just went up there and tried to get my timing down,” Youkilis told Adam Kilgore of the Boston Globe. “You’ve just got to work on your timing. Once you get back in there, your body feels good, you should be fine. The timing is going to be off just a little bit. You’re just hoping to find a rhythm and get your body back in sync.”
The timing apparently is not a problem for Youk. Despite none of his hits in the series being for extra bases, he singled in the third inning Thursday to drive Dustin Pedroia home. He doesn’t quite qualify for the batting title after his time out, but a few more games should change that.
Bay’s 13th home run in the first inning Thursday tied the Red Sox franchise record for consecutive multi-run home runs at 11. He is one off the major league record, shared by some pretty decent company: Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey Jr.
In a contract year, Bay is off to one of the best starts of his career with 13 home runs and 44 RBI in his first 42 games. While his home run streak is quite impressive, he acknowledged that only some credit is due to his own work.
“Well, I can’t do that without guys getting on,” Bay told Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald. “I can’t do it on my own. It’s a testament to [the rest of the lineup].”
Next up for the Red Sox are the New York Mets in the first interleague series of the season Friday night. Boston immediately gets a big test in two-time Cy Young award winner Johan Santana, who is 5-2 with a league-leading 1.36 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 53 innings.
Santana is coming off his first start of the season in which he let up more than two earned runs, allowing four on 11 hits in seven innings at San Francisco. This will be his first start at Fenway Park since Sept. 21, 2006 when he took the loss, allowing two earned runs in five innings. Perhaps a good omen for the Red Sox is that Ortiz smacked his 51st home run of the 2006 season- which gave him the single-season franchise record- in that game on the first pitch of his first at-bat off Santana.
Boston will counter with the returning Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is back from the disabled list after recovering from arm fatigue, likely stemming from his MVP performance in the World Baseball Classic. On facing Santana for the first time, Matsuzaka expressed his excitement over the opportunity. But he made sure we knew his focus was completely on his own performance.
“He is one of the greatest pitchers in the game, and I always thought there would be an opportunity to one day face [Santana],” Matsuzaka said. “I just have to concentrate on my pitching.”
The relief, satisfaction and glee that poured through Red Sox Nation Wednesday night was palpable through our TV sets. David Ortiz finally broke out of his home run drought with a near-400-footer to center field, and sent the city into a frenzy. But the cruel reality of the blast soon set in: Big Papi just hit his first home run- on May 20.
For any designated hitter in the third spot of a major league batting order, zero home runs after 20 at-bats is kind of crazy. But after 149 at-bats is just absurd. Ortiz hit only eight extra-base hits in 87 at-bats in April. He entered Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays homerless and batting .203.
Numbers like that, under any circumstances, are unacceptable for a player in Ortiz’s position. It wasn’t long before every kind of scrutiny unearthed itself and reared its ugly head at Big Papi. Talk of Ortiz’s lingering injuries, diminishing bat speed and yes, possible past steroid use, dominated the media when discussing the Red Sox.
Credit is due to Terry Francona for remaining faithful to his designated hitter, knowing his breakout would come. He had made it clear that Ortiz’s benching for the Seattle series (after an 0-for-7 performance against the Angels in which he left 12 men on base) was for the purpose of giving him a mental break, and that moving him to any other spot in the order was not an option.
“If I said I hadn’t thought about the lineup, that’s not true,” Francona told Ian Browne of RedSox.com Tuesday. “But I knew all along I really didn’t [want to move Ortiz]. David and I talked about that a little bit.
“This is hard, because I don’t want to tell a player, ‘Hey, if you keep struggling, we’re going to move you down.’ I don’t want to do that. I want him to hit. I think our best lineup is with him hitting third. Now, saying that, when you’re looking for production … and I told him, if I ever decide to change that, I’ll tell you first. And he understood that. The one thing I don’t want to do is start bouncing the lineup all over the place.”
The west-coast relaxation looks to have paid off, at least for now. Ortiz looked like his same-old slumping self Tuesday as he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, but he busted out Wednesday night for his first homer and a 2-for-5 night at the plate.
I’m going to play the role of “reality check” for Red Sox Nation right now: Ortiz is still mired in an early-season slump. The whole first home run thing was great to finally see him achieve, but it’s only the first step to regaining the form of the Ortiz we all know. If he goes the next five or six games without a home run, what then will we think of him?
We probably won’t be as hard on Ortiz as we have been, but we do need to stay on his case if he keeps failing to deliver. Terry Francona remains supremely confident in Ortiz’s ability, and was even back when he was still homerless. But it’s his job to have confidence in his players. We as fans aren’t so obligated.
Ortiz surely heard the boos resonating throughout Fenway when he was still pressing and struggling to get anything out of the park. Despite all Ortiz has done for the Red Sox, he deserved to be booed off the field with the way he was hitting. As long as he’s hitting third in the order, he can’t continue being a near-automatic out.
Perhaps getting the proverbial monkey off his back was all he needed. Although it will take more time and at-bats to know whether Ortiz is really out of his slump, but one thing he knows is that we’ll let him know about it if he’s not. But he can rest assured that if he finds the form he thinks he finally has, we’ll be the first to stand and cheer.
“The fans, they’ve always been so supportive since I’ve been here,” Ortiz told Browne after the game. “That’s unbelievable. There’s not too much I can say about it. I try to come every day and get it done for them.”
We will remain supportive, as long as he continues to get it done. Not just this one time.