Caught Off Guard

The Red Sox looked flat tonight and their starter, Tim Wakefield, struggled for the 2nd time in 2 starts, not a good trend.

 

What was most frustrating was the amount of called strikes the Red Sox took. Lugo, Manny and Drew were in fact called out on strikes, looking.

 

I suppose the most encouraging thing was that Wang went 6.1 innings yet the Yankees still used 4 relievers. Mike Myers (22 – 51%), Brain Bruney (23 – 53%), Scott Proctor (24 – 56%) and Kyle Farnsworth (19 – 44%) have been used a ton this year. I included their total # of appearances and % of games in which each has appeared.

 

The Red Sox used relievers Romero (18 – 42% ), Pineiro (14 – 33%) and Delcarmen (1 – 2.3%). Hideki Okajima is their most used reliever with 20 appearances (47%).

 

If the Joe Torre keeps the bullpen usage at the level he has, many Yankee relievers will need new careers.

 

Round 3

It seems like too much too soon what with the Red Sox and Yankees squaring off for the 3rd time already in 2007.

 

The drama here is that Boston is 10.5 games ahead of New York. This is unfamiliar territory for most Red Sox fans. People are pretty well divided on what to make of this. One the one hand, the Yankees will have to play some very good baseball the rest of the way and the Red Sox will have to play some average at best baseball for the gap to be closed whilst on the other hand, Boston does have a past history of coughing up such leads.

 

But is the lead really in jeopardy? Over the past few weeks I’ve heard many reasons for why the Yankees are scuffling:

 

– The Yankees are old – Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, Clemens, Mussina, Damon, the list goes on
– The Yankees lack any fire – Paul O’Neill, where are you?
– There’s no chemistry – ARod vs. Jeter
– The auro of the 90’s Yankees has been chipped away -loss at Arizona, 2004, etc
– The Yankees lack depth (catcher, utility IF, starters)
– George Steinbrenner is a shell of his former self. 10 years ago people would get fired
– Joe Torre and Brian Cashman have lost direction
– Injuries to the rotation – 11 starters so far

 

Whatever the reason or reasons, the Yankees are not playing well now. I’ll stop short of calling them bad, because the talent suggests otherwise.

 

But if I had to put my finger on one of the reason above, I think it has to be injuries. You can blame the strength and conditioning coach (former) for some, but how can he be held accountable for broken bones, mystery elbow ailments and an assortment of others? This team is snakebitten right now and its a good thing for Red Sox fans.

 

The Yankees do have their top 3 (Wang, Mussina and Pettitte) against Tim Wakefield, Julian Tavarez and Curt Schilling.

 

Game 1 tonight: Bronx, NY. 7:05pm start. Wang v. Wakefield

Am I Crying Wolf?

As I write this, the Red Sox and Tigers are in the 7th inning of the final of their 4 games. Curt Schilling looked old. He had command issues and lacked velocity (an ongoing theme). When pitchers start doing things frequently that they have rarely done previously (like walk in a run. Schilling has done it twice this year, 5 times previously in his career), it makes you wonder.

 

Do I think Schilling is done? No, but he may be entering a new phase of his career. It’s like the old age process.

 

Phase One – Independent Living Facility
Phase Two – Assisted Living
Phase Three – Nursing Home Care
Phase Four – Phase Out

 

Schilling might not be ready for Phase Out, but he might have made the leap from Assisted Living to Nursing Home Care. Let’s hope not. The stats certainly suggest otherwise:

 

Entering Thursday’s game: 52 IP, 54 H, 21 ER, 11 BB, 41 K, 3.63 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 4-1 record.

 

I’ll take that I suppose. He did manage to battle his way through 6 tonight all the while giving his team the chance to win.

 

So the Red Sox are up 9 games on the Yankees. There are so many that think this is an insurmountable lead. I disagree. I’ve written this before, but last year they gained 5.5 games on the Red Sox in only 13 days and overcame a 1.5 game deficit and turned it into an 11 game lead in about 45 days. And given the Yankees budget and current talent, it could happen if the Red Sox lose focus.

 

Enough wolf crying. Let’s enjoy some good Red Sox baseball.

 

One transaction that caught my eye today was the signing of Michael Tucker to a minor league deal. Tucker hasn’t been good since…well, ever, but his best years are behind him. He is a decent defensive outfielder with some speed (114 career SB’s) and average pop (.423 career slg). At his age, he’d be a bench player at best.

 

Why did they sign him? Certainly Pawtucket doesn’t need help. My guess, and you read it here first, is that Boston is packaging Wily Mo Pena for a trade. A trade for what/whom? I don’t know, but my guess is Pena, due for another hefty arbitration pay hike this off-season, will be sent packing, a clear admission that Boston made a big mistake trading Bronson Arroyo. There, etched in stone.

 

Then again, Pena might be the starting LF for Boston in 2009 and hit 40 HR’s. Pena certainly is an enigma. He has 50 HR power and 200 K’s plate discipline.

 

While the game isn’t over, Eric Hinske has had a great game. His first few innings were filled with challenging defensive plays, followed by one of the best catches I’ve seen this year in terms of athletic ability and also in terms of importance, and he hit a go-ahead 2-run home run in the 7th.

 

Let’s hope they hold the lead.

 

Atlanta this weekend, assuming the rain holds off.

 

Man Down

What a comeback. Baltimore’s Chris Ray looked lost and it turns out he was lost. He walked 2, gave up a key double and made the game ending error. I’m guess he wasn’t allowed to shower with the team after the game.

 

The Red Sox looked foolish at the plate with journeyman Jeremy Guthrie only allowing 3 hits all day, but the 9th inning was one of those once a decade comebacks.

 

The bigger potentially long-term issue Sunday was the loss of Josh Beckett. He left in the 5th with an avulsion of his right middle finger. I had never heard of an avulsion before and from what I gather, nor had most others. Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy were trying to figure it out on air and the Boston Globe’s Amelie Benjamin.

 

My guess is the team doctor figured he had to prove to people he worked hard for his degree and decided that dropping "avulsion" on us would do the trick.

 

No matter what the injury, it sounds like something he won’t bounce back from in the next day or two. An avulsion sounds like it’s essentially a cut or skin seperation. If so, the Red Sox might have to put him on the 15-day DL and the depth of the Red Sox organization will be tested.

 

For the first 6-7 weeks of the season, all we’ve read and heard about is how great the Red Sox rotation is and how lousy the Yankees rotation is. Well, the Yankees are back at reasonable strength with Pettitte, Wang, Mussina and soon to be Clemens. The Red Sox just went down to Schilling, Matsuzaka, Wakefield and then 2 question marks in Julian Tavarez (I guess him stinking makes him not a question mark) and whoever takes Beckett’s spot.

 

I don’t feel quite as good anymore. Jon Lester might be back soon, but let’s face it, he doesn’t have a ton of MLB experience and I fear Red Sox fans have dubbed him the next great lefty. He might just struggle, not only with things rookies or near rookies struggle with, but with the aftermath of having just beaten cancer.

 

My guess is Devern Hansack will get the chance to start in Beckett’s place should Beckett get shelved. If so, it’ll be a very interesting challenge for Boston.

Down on the Farm – I

The Red Sox 2006 draft was widely considered a great draft. Of course only time will tell if the player selected will provide some stank in Boston. Here are some updates on how the 2006 draft class is fairly thus far in 2007. Let’s focus on the positional players.

 

Greenville Drive – A

 

Lars Anderson (2006, 18th round) – .262/.339/.398 – The tall and powerful Anderson has not shown the power I’d like to see at this point. The season is early and I’m not too concerned.

 

Jonathan Still (2006, 4th round) – .286/.383/.514 – The NC State catcher has put together a nice start to his season, but struggled badly at Single-A Lowell in 2006.

 

Jason Place (2006, 1st round) – .175/.243/.361 – The 1st round pick has struggled badly after posting solid numbers in the Gulf Coast League in 2006.

 

Lancaster JetHawks – A

 

Aaron Bates – The rather large 1b has been cranking it in 2007: .288/.430/.604.

 

Zach Daeges (2006, 6th round) – .349/.425/.532 – Daeges has hit for average so far in 2007, but with limited power.

 

Nice W for the Red Sox Tuesday night. Josh Beckett has looked great so far and certainly appears to be a difference pitcher.

 

Wednesday features a Japanese showdown in Toronto. Daisuke Matsuzaka (Red Sox present) goes against Tomo Ohka (Red Sox past).

Balance of Power – Clemens a Yankee

Roger Clemens is a Yankee.

 

He apparently announced it live at the Yankees game today.

 

Wow, it is clear the Yankees emptied their vault to get him onboard. It has been reported he was going to get a prorated $20m to sign with whomever, but b/c his announcement came far earlier than expected, I have to assume the Yankees said, "here’s a blank cheque."

 

This is a major boost for New York and yet another reason to not count them out.

 

UPDATE: ESPN is reporting that Clemens will be paid $4.5m a month. Assuming he is ready June 1, he’ll make $18m to pitch for 4 months. That’s a pro-rated salary of $27m, compared with his $22m in 2006.

 

Clemens will work his way back into pitching shape via stops at the various levels of the Yankees minor leagues.

 

Red Sox fans, should we be worried? I think so, a least a little bit. Let’s say Roger debuts on June 1st, he has the potential to impact the rotation for 2/3 of the season. In addition, the mere mention of his signing has to inject the Yankees with confidence.

 

Some facts and figures on Clemens in 2006:

 

19 starts, 113.1 innings, 89 H, 29 BB, 102 K’s, 7-6 record, 2.30 ERA.
That works out to 5.98 innings per start. That is good news for Boston. The Yankees have had to abuse their bullpen already and adding Clemens won’t help if he cannot give them more than 6 a start. Then again, his vitals are solid enough that Joe Torre can trot in his mop-up guy after Clemens is done assuming they have a big enough lead.

 

Clemens did all those great things against the NL. While I think talk radio makes it seem like the NL is Little League baseball compared to the AL, I will say there is a difference. The 9th hitter in the NL is a lay-up vs a far more competitive at bat in the AL, so I think that will inflate Roger’s numbers a bit. Add to it he will be pitching in the AL East, a tough place to make a living as a pitcher.

 

Regardless of all the above analysis and statistics, Clemens joining the Yankees is a coup and probably not good news for Boston. Hopefully the addition of Jon Lester in a few weeks will prove a similar boost to the Red Sox.

Kid Gloves

Terry Francona, or team doctors, opted not to let Jonathan Papelbon close Thursday’s game. With the Red Sox up 8-7 in the top of the 9th, Francona instead used Brendan Donnelly (walk), then J.C. Romero (induced double play, ground out to 3rd).

 

What concerns me is that Francona gave Papelbon 2 nights off after having thrown 35 pitches Tuesday night. This sets interesting precedent as if 1 night off isn’t enough, surely Francona can’t change that philosophy with Papelbon as the season progresses. After all, wasn’t the theory as to why Papelbon had the slight shoulder dislocation last year the result of over-use? If the Red Sox are worried about that happening again, certainly they can’t think increasing his workload as the season progresses is a good thing.

 

I guess we’ll have to live with the idea of Papelbon not being available for 2 nights after a high-pitch outing.

 

In addition, I would not have allowed Romero to pitch to Richie Sexson. Coming into the game, Romero had allowed righties to hit .471 against him! 8 hits in 3 innings. Righties hit .382 against him in 2006. Seriously Terry!

 

Lastly, Daisuke Matsuzaka did not have his A, B or C game tonight. He was terrible in fact, allowing 5 hits and 5 walks, 7 earned runs while only striking out 1 in 5 innings. Matsuzaka’s ERA now stands at 5.45. Seattle isn’t generally considered a good hitting team, so this was not a good night for Matsuzaka, but somehow, he did keep the Red Sox in the game, mostly thanks to the opposition.

 

His command of his breaking/offspeed stuff was abysmal and his velocity on his fastball, his best pitch Thursday, was in the low 90’s. I’m not too concerned as all pitchers are allowed an off-night, but it wasn’t a good outing. His home/road splits are night and day, so perhaps a few road games will be good for Matsuzaka.

 

Oh, did I mention the Red Sox won? Jim Rice said it best in the NESN post-game show when he said "the Red Sox stole this game." There was lousy defense (Lugo x 2) and lousy starting pitching, generally not a good combo.

 

Francona in his post-game press conference said he overrode Papelbon’s desire to pitch Thursday night and said it was because it is such a long season he wanted to be cautious. Fair enough Terry, fair enough.

 

Notes: Mike Timlin is down and out with shoulder tendonitis and Devern Hansack is back with Boston. Hansack has pitched well at Pawtucket: 28.2 IP, 30 H, 6 BB, 34 K, 3.77 ERA. You know the Red Sox brass is fired up with his K/9 and thus he is now with Boston.

 

Timlin has been a great player, but clearly hasn’t brought much to the table since mid-season 2006. I don’t know if he is done, but he isn’t helping right now.

 

Boston flies to Minnesota tonight to face the Twins over the weekend.

 

Fri, May 4 8:10 pm Wakefield (2-3, 2.59) vs. C. Silva (2-1, 3.10)
Sat, May 5 7:10 pm Tavárez (1-2, 7.58) vs. J. Santana (3-2, 3.60)
Sun, May 6 2:10 pm Schilling (3-1, 3.15) vs. S. Ponson (2-3, 6.67)

 

2b Dilemma

With Dustin Pedroia struggling with the bat and Alex Cora hot, hot, hot, there have been cries from the Red Sox fanbase to sit Pedroia and start Cora.

 

My take is that Alex Cora is a utility guy for a reason. He just so happens to be a fundementally sound hitter, but not overly loaded with talent with the bat. He can bunt, move runners along, but he lacks in an important catagory…the ability to hit well. His career average of .245 and obp of .311 and slg of .349 prove that out.

 

Don’t get me wrong, he is great in his role and an important asset for Boston, but he is not meant to hit everyday.

 

Pedroia on the other hand is a prospect and has hit for average and good obp at every level. Now he is at the majors and is struggling. I think it a bit premature to give up on him so soon though. Give him everyday play as long as A.) he doesn’t become a defensive liability and/or B.) his presence in the line-up doesn’t sink the team’s run scoring ability.

 

As someone pointed out today on the radio, the top AL prospect in baseball is Kansas City Royals 3b Alex Gordon, and he is hitting .167 with a .314 obp. So even the best struggle.

 

Further Examples:

 

Derek Jeter – .250/.294/.375 in 1995
Mike Schmidt – .206/.325/.294 in 1972
Joe Morgan – .240/.367/.320 in 1963 and
Joe Morgan – .189/.302/.189 in 1964
A-Rod – .204/.241/.204 in 1994 and
A-Rod – .232/.264/.408 in 1995

 

The players above are Hall of Famers or on their way to the Hall. Imagine if their managers had decided they weren’t good players and buried them on the bench for good? Before you pounce, I’m not suggesting Pedroia is going to be a Hall of Famer, but I don’t think he is destined to be as bad as his average reflects at the moment.

 

What do you think?

Series Win

I’ll take 2 of 3 in the Bronx. The Yankees are wounded and the Red Sox have taken advantage by taking 5 of 6 thus far in 2007. The Yankees will rebound and have proven they can make up 10 games in about 2 weeks time, so it was really important for Boston to kick them when they were (and are) down.

 

Hats off to Julian Tavarez, he didn’t pitch a gem, but he pitched 5 solid innings and kept Boston in the game. The bullpen, especially Hideki Okajima did a great job holding the win.

 

It was also nice to see 3 home runs from Boston. Alex Cora certainly has played well, but if you look at his career stats, there is no reason to believe he is taking over fulltime at second. Dustin Pedroia will get his at bats and deservedly so.

 

With the Red Sox playing well, it is tough for me to criticize Terry Francona. I initially had worried about Eric Hinske starting for J.D. Drew until NESN pointed out Drew was mired in a 1-21 slump and he does after all have a history of injuries.

 

Coco Crisp had a nice triple in the 3rd and appears to have recovered from his early season slump. Let’s hope this is a sign of things to come. Crisp also displayed a nice arm (I know, I sound drunk…which I am…bombed in fact…barely consciouxceeoey……………..whoops, fell asleep on the period) on a ball hit to the gap. His throw was low and hard, rather than his normal cream-puff offerings.

 

I’m happy Francona has limited his use of Joel Pineiro and J.C Romero. Oh wait, he has used them a ton! Pineiro has a good ERA so far, but has allowed 1.66 runners per inning and Romero is at 2.05 runners per inning! I suppose he has to do so as you can’t trot Brendan Donnelly, Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon out every game.

 

The bullpen has been solid, but I wonder how it would perform if the starters weren’t so solid.

 

Off-day Monday and then they host Oakland for 3.

 

Lastly, RIP former Red Sox Josh Hancock. Sad news.

What Gives?

Today’s game was set-up nicely. The Yankees were sending out Jeff Karstens who was making his 8th career start. To make things even better, Karstens had to leave after 2 batters (I’m not celebrating Karsten’s injury by any means, just saying him having to leave the game put the Yankees’ already troubled pitching staff in a more troubled situation).

 

Kei Igawa took over and this after he had just been banished to mop-up duty by Joe Torre days earlier. Things looked great!

 

But Tim Wakefield walked 6 and the offense took the day off. This was a major disappointment. The Red Sox offense has been Jekyl and Hydeing it all year. Only their solid pitching and their occassion hitting has delivered the best record in baseball.

 

All the credit should go to Kei Igawa. He gave a glimps today why the Yankees bid $26m for his rights. Granted this is the first time he has impressed and for that price, much more will be expected from him.

 

So Saturday proved a major let-down and Sunday the match-up is tough. Julian Tavarez goes against Chien-Ming Wang.

 

Some good news, Jon Lester pitched 5 innings of 3 hit, no walk, shutout ball Friday night in a AAA match-up in Buffalo. Lester only threw 84 pitches, so I bet he’ll need at least one, maybe 2 more starts at Pawtucket before Boston brings him up.

 

Even better news was that Lester was told by doctors he is still cancer free.

 

Sunday, Tavarez (0-2, 8.36 ERA) vs. Wang (0-1, 5.68 ERA). 1:05pm start on NESN (no more Joe Buck and Tim McCarver).