Results tagged ‘ Terry Francona ’

Looking Back on 2011 & Assessing the Off-Season

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are ‘it might have been.’”

It’s truly heartbreaking to imagine what “might have been” had the 2011 Red Sox not suffered their historic collapse. Fans and reporters alike anointed the Red Sox as World Series champions before pitchers and catchers even reported. It wasn’t a positive attitude that permeated spring training last season. It was assumption. This led to the insidious sense of entitlement that plagued the players, fans, and media.

After the overwhelming success the Red Sox had this past decade–two championships in four years–fans and media started to expect championships. Everyone has expectations, but it is the attitude that fans, players, and media have toward these expectations that can affect on-the-field performance.

There is no doubt that Epstein assembled an exceptional team. But I think things started to go wrong when people started to prematurely compare them to the 1927 Yankees before a game had even been played. People forgot that baseball is not played on paper. The 2011 Red Sox suffered from entitlement issues.

The collapse was slow and painful. After an less-than-thrilling April that inspired doubt, the Red Sox turned around and had an incredible summer. I spent many summer nights watching Adrian Gonzalez litter opposite-field doubles; I watched Josh Beckett have his typical odd-year success (including a one-hitter), and I watched Jacoby Ellsbury earn himself second place in the American League MVP race. It was almost too good to be true. When the Red Sox started to struggle in September, I tried not to get too concerned because they always stumble a bit in September. I wasn’t as confident that they’d win the World Series without cornerstone players such as Clay Buchholz and Kevin Youkilis. I was 100% confident they would make the playoffs though.

September 28th, 2011 is a day that will live on in infamy. It was like watching an Aristotelian tragedy, but I doubt that Aristotle himself could write something of this magnitude. I thought I was still bitter about Vladmir Guerrero ending the Red Sox’s 2009 campaign, but I will never, ever be able to erase Robert Andino’s fly ball that should have been caught by Carl Crawford. But I was still confident that the Yankees wouldn’t blow a seven run lead to the Rays.

I still maintain my conspiracy theory that the Yankees blew their seven-run lead on purpose. You don’t just leave a fastball up in the zone to Evan Longoria. I try to be objective as a fan who hopes to be a sports writer, but that was the day I lost my objectivity. I cried. It was an awful combination of disbelief, shame, and shock.

As much as I have always thought that Terry Francona is overrated as a manager, I will not assign the blame to him. I don’t think he managed his pitching staff well (you and I both know that he always leaves pitchers in too long), and I think he plays favorites. Maybe I just love national league baseball, but there are so many times where a bunt would have been effective. And there is no excuse for Jacoby Ellsbury only having 39 steals when he had a career high on-base percentage. (Obviously Crawford should be mentioned when it comes to base stealing, but he had a career low on-base percentage).

I will also not assign blame to Theo Epstein. I know he has made some mistakes with free agents (see: Julio Lugo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, Bobby Jenks, no Carl Crawford is not on this list), but those signings were made with good intentions. Julio Lugo terrorized the Red Sox when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays, John Lackey was dominant in the AL West, and Daisuke Matsuzaka had the same amount of hype as Yu Darvish had this year. I guess the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.This is why I hate long-term contracts though. I don’t know why, but I feel like I’m the only person in favor of incentive laden contracts. It’s risky to base a contract on the past, no matter how consistent the numbers are. Would incentive-based contracts really be that radical? If a player performs as he has been, he’ll get the money he wants. But it’s not fair to pay guys like John Lackey ridiculous amounts of money if he’s not performing the way he did in the past (which is why he earned the contract in the first place). I digress.

I will, however, shamelessly assign blame to the pitching staff. There is no denying that everything went wrong at once. But the beer and chicken incidents that surfaced exemplify the entitlement issues that I talked about earlier. As unacceptable as it was, one has to wonder if the same reprimanding reaction would have occurred had the Red Sox advanced in the playoffs.

Josh Beckett can argue all he wants that the 2004 champions drank whiskey in the dugout. We have to assign context to these situations, though. Kevin Millar encouraged everyone to take a shot of whiskey before Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS to loosen everyone up. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and others lackadaisically drank during the game on days when they were not pitching. I know it only happened once or twice, but from a fan’s perspective, it just doesn’t look good.

Changes needed to be made, and I firmly believe that change will come in the form of Bobby Valentine. I was admittedly skeptical at first (though I was delighted that I no longer have to listen to him on Sunday Night Baseball), but I think that Valentine is the perfect man for the job. Go ahead and complain about his less-than-impressive managerial record (.510), but Francona had a managerial record of .440 when he came over to the Red Sox.

The thing that really corroborated my confidence in Valentine was his attitude towards spring training. There are more PFPs, he has already added two B games (my favorite thing–I prefer them over A games), and players will now ride the bus to away games rather than driving themselves. Baseball is a team sport, and the Red Sox did not play like a team last year. Valentine doesn’t even think, like many of his colleagues, that spring training is too short. You all know that I wish spring training lasted loner, too.

I don’t think that I am the only person that notices the tension that pervades the atmosphere of this year’s spring training. Josh Beckett won’t name the players he had issues with last season, and it’s not hard to tell that Crawford was disappointed with Red Sox owner John Henry’s remarks that he did not support the signing.

It was always clear to me when I attended spring training that Josh Beckett is the ring-leader. He has an enormous influence over the younger players, and this concerns me because I don’t think he is the greatest example. I think he’s a great pitcher, but I have issues with his attitude.

There is no doubt in my mind that Carl Crawford will bounce back this season. He is the quintessential five-tool player and an incredible athlete. I’m not trying to make excuses for Crawford, but I can understand why he struggled. Transitioning to a big market team is difficult enough, but Crawford also lacked the permanence with his spot in the lineup when he was with the Rays. For some guys that matters, others it doesn’t. I’ve gotten different responses when I have asked minor league players their opinions about this, and that is what makes baseball so interesting to me: it’s all relative.

I can tell that Red Sox players are sick of discussing the collapse, which is fair. But the success of the 2012 Red Sox relies heavily on the players learning from their mistakes, which I think they have. It’s also important to leave the past in the past, and focus on the future. That being said, before I discuss the minor leagues, I’d like to go through a couple of the (major) off-season additions, and how they impact the roster.

Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney

The Red Sox sent Josh Reddick, Miles Head, and Raul Alcantara to Oakland for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney. I really like this trade, and I think the Red Sox got the better end of the deal. It was tough for the Red Sox to lose Jonathan Papelbon, but we all saw this coming. He kept signing one-year deals, and it was obvious that he wanted to test free-agent waters unlike Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Clay Buchholz who signed multi-year deals before reaching free agency for the first time.

Trading for Bailey, who is still under arbitration, was the perfect way to avoid spending a lot of money on closers like Ryan Madson or Heath Bell of similar caliber. Not to mention the fact that Bailey is fantastic when he is healthy. There’s a reason that he was voted 2009 AL Rookie of the Year.

Ryan Sweeney is the perfect guy to platoon in right field with Cody Ross until Ryan Kalish returns to form. I think that trading Josh Reddick shows the confidence the organization has in Kalish. I think that Kalish is Fenway’s future right fielder if he can maintain his health.

Miles Head had an incredible campaign with Single-A Greenville the first half of the season. He hit .338 with 15 home runs and 53 RBIs in 66 games. He struggled, however, when he advanced to High-A Salem where he hit .254, and suffered significant drops in his on-base and slugging percentages. Obviously the pitching becomes a lot more sophisticated in High-A, but if Head tweaks his mechanics a little bit, I think he has the potential for success.

Raul Alcantara is still extremely raw with his mechanics, and the highest level he has pitched in is Short-Season A. It is unclear to me at this point how effective he can be, but he certainly intrigued me when I watched him at extended spring training as well as the Gulf Coast League.

Mark Melancon

The Red Sox traded Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland to the Astros for relief pitcher Mark Melancon. Melancon had a terrific 2011 campaign with the Astros, and he is the perfect set up man. This trade obviously had personal repercussions for me since Jed Lowrie was my first “project,” and Kyle Weiland was my favorite pitching prospect, thus marking the second year in a row that the Red Sox traded my favorite pitching prospect.

Lowrie was always a health liability, and even though Weiland didn’t have success when he was in Boston, he showed a lot of promise in the minor leagues, and I think he will have more opportunity to succeed in a small market like Houson.

The Marco Scutaro trade

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m a huge Marco Scutaro apologist. I think he was completely under appreciated during his time with the Red Sox. He didn’t choose the right time to commit his errors. He quietly batted nearly .300 last season, and he has always had a great eye. The Red Sox traded him to the Rockies for the irrelevant Clay Mortenson (though he is a former first round pick). I think the Red Sox could have gotten more for Scutaro, but they got what they really wanted, which was a salary dump, so I digress.

Mike Aviles and Nick Punto will platoon at shortstop. Jose Iglesias is not ready yet after struggling so much at the plate in 2011. No one expects Iglesias to put up numbers like Hanley Ramirez (ignoring 2011) or Troy Tulowitzki. He is heralded for his glove, not his bat. I think that the Red Sox were a little too aggressive in throwing him into Double-A his first professional season. Iglesias undoubtedly needs to see more pitching at the Triple-A level. His glove alone will not keep him in the majors. 

I’m not going to beat around the bush: I do not like Nick Punto. For those of you that wanted Scutaro gone, I’m telling you right now that you are not going to like Punto. He is overrated, and I will NOT be a happy camper if I ever see him facing a left-handed pitcher.

Free Agent Additions:

The biggest free agent additions were probably Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Nick Punto (whom I have already discussed), Vincente Padilla, and Aaron Cook. Ross had a down year last season, but his swing suits Fenway Park, so that will benefit him. He and Sweeney are perfect guys for platoon roles.

Kelly Shoppach is an alright addition for a catcher (he was actually initially drafted by the Red Sox). There won’t be much there with his offense, but he is superb behind the plate. Just wait for Ryan Lavarnway to come up, it won’t be long (I’m assuming he will start the season in Triple-A). It looks like Saltalamacchia will be the leader of the catching staff. I thought he improved A LOT last year–especially in the middle of the season when he actually started to throw out runners.

Vincente Padilla and Aaron Cook figure to be in the battle for the last two spots of the rotation. Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Ross Ohlendorf, and Andrew Miller also figure to be in those talks.

I don’t know if I can see Bard in the rotation. Bard consistently throws 97-100, and relies on the speed of his fastball to get hitters out. He is not going to be able to throw 97-100 for seven (ideally) innings. That being said, his changeup is typically 87-90 mph, so if he has to tone down his fastball for the sake of longevity, he’s going to have to adjust his changeup accordingly. He’s also going to have to use his secondary pitches more. He has a fantastic slider, but he lost confidence in that pitch in his abysmal September. If he can bring back the cutter, I think there’s potential for success. What bothers me, though, is that Bard resembles Aroldis Chapman and Neftali Feliz (both known for their speed), and neither have had success in the starting rotation. (Why the Rangers are trying Feliz there again, I do not know). C.J. Wilson had success in his transition because he didn’t rely as much on his speed as those pitchers do. It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out, but I have my doubts.

Aceves belongs in the bullpen, in my opinion. His long-term relief is invaluable, and he was so effective out of the ‘pen last year. He can be a spot starter as we saw, but I think his spot is in the ‘pen.

If Bard is successful in his endeavors, then Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, and Bard would be an incredible rotation. If it doesn’t work out though, I’ll be nervous. I can’t say much about Aaron Cook and Vincente Padilla until I see them pitch in spring training, and I have no idea why the Red Sox re-signed Andrew Miller. I know he is a tall lefty with a high ceiling, but after a certain point (and a certain WHIP), you just have to let it go.I also cannot explain to you the logic behind the Ross Ohlendorf signing.

This offseason was extremely different from last year’s. There were no high-profile signings, just a lot of low-risk high reward type signings. It reminds me a lot of the offseason going into the 2008 season with the John Smoltz and Brad Penny experiments. Those did not work out. I’m confident in the offense, I feel pretty good about the bullpen, and Daniel Bard is pretty much the determining factor when it comes to my feelings about the starting rotation.

 

 

Series Win is a Step in the Right Direction and Minor League Roundup

The Red Sox may have won their first game–and series–over the weekend against the Yankees, but not everything has clicked in one game yet.

To start out on a positive note, Adrian Gonzalez cemented my approval when he bunted down the third base
line when the Yankees put the shift on him. Gonzalez has one of the most
seamless swings in the major leagues, but I’m a sucker for small ball. I
wonder if that bunt was his intuition or Francona’s.

John Lackey hardly kept the Red Sox in the game on Friday night giving up six runs over five innings on seven hits, but the offense was finally able to string some hits together when it mattered (ie. with runners in scoring position).

Such was not the case on Saturday night. On the eve of the announcement of his four-year contract extension, Buchholz only lasted 3.2 innings giving up five runs (four earned) on eight hits. Somehow, I’m not too concerned about Buchholz getting his act together like I am about some other pitchers. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect Buchholz to put up the kind of numbers he did last year (specifically the ERA), but I do think it’s realistic to anticipate great numbers.

Looking back to 2008, Buchholz is a completely different pitcher. He is far more comfortable with pitching from the stretch, and he commands an aura of confidence on the mound. There is no question he deserves a four-year contract extension.

Going back to the offense, though, the Red Sox stranded around 11 runners on Saturday night. The next night, the Sox left around 15 runners on. This is unacceptable, but the Red Sox were able to get away with it on Sunday night because it was finally a game where they weren’t trailing going into the bottom of the first.

On the bright side, though, Dustin Pedroia collected three hits in each game against the Yankees.

I don’t think anybody was expecting Josh Beckett to have the kind of night that he did, but he really proved a lot of people wrong. Clearly, he is not past his prime. He retired the side in order six out of his eight innings, and retired 14 straight after putting two runners on in the fourth inning.

Beckett’s velocity was great, but it was his off-speed stuff that was really fooling hitters. Nevertheless, he was throwing all of his pitches for strikes. There is no doubt that Beckett has what it takes to find the overwhelming dominance he had in his 2007 Cy-Young-caliber season or his 2003 World Series MVP season. It’s just a matter of executing and throwing all of his pitches for strikes. I don’t think he has turned into the Wakefield or Matsuzaka type of pitcher where he is either really on or really off.

Beckett has a lot to prove or reprove for that matter. There is no doubt that Jon Lester earned and deserved the honor of starting Opening Day, He is the ace of the pitching staff. I still think that Francona moving Beckett from the one-hole to the four-hole was a demotion of some sort. It cannot have been a match up issue with Texas because Lackey has historically struggled in Arlington. 

Perhaps Beckett will fare better this season without the pressure of explicitly leading the Red Sox’ pitching staff. When a team names their starting pitcher on Opening Day, there is an implicit statement that follows: this is the ace of our staff. Well, in his two best seasons to date (2003 and 2007), he was not the Opening Day starter.

I know this is a lot to say after one start. But this flash of Beckett’s characteristic brilliance of old erased all qualms I might have had.

Matsuzaka’s start, on the other hand, only confirmed my qualms. Giving up seven runs over two innings isn’t pretty, but it’s not like I have not seen the Red Sox come back from a 7-0 deficit against the Rays before. It’s certainly easy to blame Matsuzaka, but it is also important to notice that the Red Sox bullpen gave up a combined nine runs after Matsuzaka’s departure (only Alfredo Aceves is pardoned from this mess).

Despite Matsuzaka’s consistent struggles, I have a feeling the Red Sox will stick with him because of his contract. I know it’s frustrating to have him on the team now, but there is no doubt that it was a brilliant signing at the time (even though spending millions just to talk to him was ridiculous). The Red Sox don’t win the 2007 World Series without him. He was the Ichiro Suzuki of pitching in Japan. 

There is no doubt that Dan Wheeler has been brought into some tough situations thus far: mop-up duty last night, and lying in the bases loaded, no outs bed that Dennys Reyes made. I think that people have failed to notice Wheeler’s lack of dominance because of these already-out-of-control situations that he has been brought into. He has been tagged for hits in his outings. I think that Wheeler will prove to be a valuable asset down the line, but I think Francona has to define his role a little bit more. 

Minor League Updates

Greenville: On Saturday night, 36th overall pick Bryce Brentz went 3-4 with two triples and a double. Brandon Jacobs went 1-2 with a home run. In his professional debut, 39th overall pick Anthony Ranaudo threw five innings of shut out ball. He gave up three hits, walked one, and struck out four.

On Sunday, Brandon Workman made his professional debut. He gave up no earned runs over two innings. He gave up two hits, walked two batters, and struck out four. Felix Sanchez went 3-5, and Brandon Jacobs went 2-5 with a double and another home run.

On Sunday, Miles Head had an absolute monster game. He went 4-4 with two home runs, a double, four RBI and four runs scored.

 Salem: Salem’s home opener–and Drake Britton’s first start of the season–was pushed back a couple of games due to rain. Britton didn’t have a great outing, but I would attribute this to the weather and the uncertain process of warming up just to sit down again. Salem’s offense didn’t hit much on Saturday, but Dan Butler went 3-3 with a home run.

In their later game (the played a double header), Matt Spring went 2-3 with two doubles.

Portland: On Saturday, Will Middlebrooks went 4-4 with two doubles, a home run, and three RBI.

On Sunday, Stephen Fife, Seth Garrison, and Blake Maxwell shutout Reading. Alex Hassan went 2-3.

On Monday, Michael Lee gave up three hits over 3.2 innings and struck out four, giving up no earned runs. Ryan Lavarnway went 3-5, and Oscar Tejeda, who was off to a relatively slow start to the season, went 2-4.

Alex Hassan has gotten at least one hit in every game so far. Middlebrooks also had a hit in every game until last night’s. Who said the transition from Advanced-A to Double-A was the hardest? Not these guys.

Pawtucket: Tony Thomas, who was competing for a spot in Pawtucket during Spring Training, has hit two grand slams this week. In fact, he has nine RBI in his first three games of the season, and a hit in each of his first three games.

On Saturday night, Matt Fox threw six innings of one-run ball. He gave up four hits, one walk, and struck out four. In his second appearance of the season, Okajima threw another scoreless inning.  He also appeared in a game on Monday in which he threw a scoreless inning. 

Lars Anderson was 3-4 on Saturday.

On Sunday, Andrew Miller started and threw 3.2 innings. He gave up two runs (one earned), walked four, and struck out four. Rich Hill and Clevlan Santeliz combined to throw 4.1 innings of scoreless relief. Hill struck out four.

On Monday, Pawtucket exploded for 15 runs. Ryan Kalish went 3-5, and Juan Carlos Linares went 3-5 with a home run and a double. Jose Iglesias also collected a hit after taking some precautionary rest due to a sore thumb.

Brandon Duckworth threw five innings of shutout ball, striking out three, and giving up four hits. Jason Rice pitched the ninth and threw a scoreless inning, striking out one.

Elsewhere:

On Saturday, Dustin Richardson threw 2.1 innings for the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs. He gave up one hit, one run, struck out three, and walked none. On Monday, he threw 1.2 innings giving up two hits, a walk, but striking out three.

I actually had the chance to catch up with Richardson during a spring training game. He said he wasn’t real excited about
the trade (ie. Andrew Miller trade) at first, but that he was happy and liked the organization. He said he was particularly excited because he thought he had a legitimate shot of making the team out of spring training.

Unfortunately, he was optioned to Triple-A, but I don’t think it will be a bad thing for him. Richardson was brought in sporadically last year and into tough situations for a guy fresh out of Triple-A. He dominated in Pawtucket last year during the first half of the season, leading the team in strikeouts if I remember correctly. Nevertheless, he never pitched the amount of innings in Triple-A that he did in Portland, so a little extra time will only help him. I have no doubt that the Florida Marlins will call him up soon, and when he makes the club, I have a feeling he will stick. The thing is, Richardson is capable of being far more than a lefty specialist. The thing that troubled him last year with the big league club was that they would bring him in, he might face one guy, walk him, and then they would take him out. He mentioned it was tough mentally.

It’s all about confidence with him. If he can get ahead in the count with his first pitch strike, he throws his curveball and changeup a lot more.

Casey Kelly started the season in Double-A for San Diego. In his first start of the season, he threw 4.1 innings, giving up three runs on five hits, and striking out one. Kelly spent all of 2010 in Double-A, but I think he could use some more time there simply because he didn’t dominate hitters last season the way he is capable of doing so. Plus, it was his first full season as a pitcher, so I’m not surprised that he is in Double-A.

Reymond Fuentes has gotten a hit in all of his games so far, and is batting .333 for the Advanced-A Lake Elsinore Storm.

Anthony Rizzo has gotten multiple hits in all of his games thus far save one. He is also hitting .333 with two doubles and a home run for Triple-A Tucson.

September: The Hunt for Red (Sox?) October

I think that I speak on behalf of many baseball fans when I say that my favorite day of the year is Opening Day. Because, well, there’s something about opening day. I have a second favorite day of the year, though: September 1. In fact, September might just be my favorite month of the season.

Towards the end of August, it becomes quite clear which teams are in the hunt for October. The month of September is all about the final push. I see it as the most crucial month of the season. However, that doesn’t mean that the games in September are any more important then they were in, say, May, for example. I think what I’m trying to say is that each team is in a certain position at the beginning of September. What each team has done until that point has affected their respective playoff berth chances. Some teams have an almost definite chance at making it, some teams are on the line, some teams’ hopes are slowly, painfully dwindling away, and some teams simply won’t make it. From that point at the beginning of September, the outcome of each game will affect where you are in October: on the field, or watching from the couch.

I won’t beat around the bush here: the Red Sox have a very slim chance of making it into October. I know that there is nearly an entire month of baseball left, but statistically speaking, it is highly improbable. Not only would the Red Sox have to win nearly every game from here on out, but also, the Yankees and Rays would have to cooperate and lose some games, which they simply don’t do.

Regardless of whether or not the Red Sox make the playoffs, I will not consider this a wasted season, or even a disappointing season. Rather, I would consider it frustrating. The Red Sox are in no way, shape, or form a bad team. They are a very unlucky team. Everyone I have spoken with this season is absolutely flabbergasted by the copious amount of injuries. I’m usually not one to make excuses; in fact, I’ll be the first to admit if the Red Sox play bad baseball, which they sometimes do. However, when Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia–4/9ths of the opening day lineup–are out for the rest of the season, that certainly hurts. When Josh Beckett–the man considered by many to be the staff’s ace–is out for 10+ weeks, it doesn’t help.

I won’t blame everything on injuries though. I’m happy to speak of instances where the Red Sox haven’t played smart baseball. I’m not here for harsh criticism, I’m here for constructive criticism. When you have runners on first and second with no outs, there is no excuse for not bunting. Small ball wins games. You sacrifice an out to get two runners into scoring position. Also, the Red Sox have been absolutely sparse on the base paths. As soon as Ellsbury comes out of the lineup, we stop stealing! There have also been some mental slips on Francona’s part as well. One of the most obvious instances, in my opinion, was when he brought Clay Buchholz out for the eighth inning when he was over 100 pitches. Next thing that happens? A home run to tie the game. He has done that on many an occasion this year.

Francona also is obsessed with lefty-lefty match-ups. I have discussed this with @TheRealMBB many a time. We don’t hire Francona to read a book full of statistics. I can do that. We hire him to trust his gut. Baseball goes beyond statistics. You go with the guy who is throwing the ball the best, and that is final.

A playoff berth is improbable. But in baseball, things that are improbable tend to become probable more than often. Take yesterday (Sunday), for example. The Red Sox took a 5-3 lead into the top of the ninth. In fact, they had a two run lead in the top of the ninth with two outs, and their storied closer, Jonathan Papelbon, was on the mound. Be honest with yourself. When you were watching that game, you thought the Red Sox were going to win. There was no way the White Sox were going to come back and tie that game–let alone score four runs.

I always say that I like baseball because anything can happen. Literally. Anything. That came back to bite me in the **** yesterday. The Red Sox are 10 games back from first place. They are 7.5 games out of the wild card. Statistically speaking, it’s improbable. But as I said earlier, baseball goes beyond statistics. There is so much in this game that goes beyond baseball. Anything can happen.

There is another thing that I really like about September, though. Perhaps even more than the hunt for October: expanded rosters. This is where my projects come in and make a difference, just like I predicted all the way back in Spring Training. This is when I feel like a proud mother every time I get a tweet saying that somebody is en route to Boston.
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It’s surreal for me to see Dustin Richardson, Felix Doubront, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Josh Reddick, Lars Anderson, and Michael Bowden (soon, anyway) on the roster at the same time. It’s even more surreal to realize that I’ve had a conversation with each and every one of them. I had the chance to tell them, in person, that I was impressed with what they had done in the minors, and that I knew that they were going to be good, and that I had faith that they would be up in Boston soon. I feel like a proud mother. There is nothing in this world that could top that for me.

Lack of Offense Isn’t Hurting the Red Sox…

Yesterday, I received an email from the Red Sox Insider blog that I’m subscribed to, and it had some interesting statistics: 

The Red Sox are first in the Majors in both runs scored and hits. They are second in the Majors in homers and total bases; and they are third in the majors in slugging percentage and On Base plus slugging. 
However, when they look up, they see three teams in front of them: The Rays, the Yankees, and the Blue Jays. The Red Sox are in fourth place right now, and it doesn’t really make sense. Before the season even started, people were panicking about our supposed “lack of offense.” However, neither the Red Sox nor myself (among others) were too worried about the offense. As far as offense goes, there is not much to improve upon with those statistics. The Red Sox are in the top three in some of the most important categories. 
I must admit, though, these statistics took me by surprise; especially leading the Majors in home runs. I was expecting key hits and a little more small ball to get us through the season, not the long ball. I have also lamented many a time about the Red Sox’s struggles with runners in scoring position. Yet they are first in runs scored! 
So if the offense is so good, then why are the Red Sox in fourth place? It’s because the pitching and defense have not lived up to their expectations, and this is not Theo Epstein’s fault. He went out and acquired the best people he could find. Adrian Beltre is arguably the best third baseman in the league, but he already has an unacceptable amount of errors. Marco Scutaro is also in a similar situation. His eye and ability to draw walks from the leadoff spot has been invaluable and often overlooked, but some of his throws to first base have simply been atrocious. 
Now I don’t want to hear any of this “we should have kept Alex Gonzalez stuff.” Yes, he has been off to a hot start offensively, but his defense has been anything but pretty. Ever since Nomar Garciaparra’s departure, the Red Sox’s least solid position has been the shortstop. And it will continue to be this way until Jose Iglesias is called up. 
Mike Cameron has also made some critical errors in the outfield. Some of you may remember that start that Clay Buchholz had, and the easy fly ball that Cameron missed cost the Red Sox four runs. Honestly, I think that the Cameron signing was unnecessary. The Red Sox could have kept Jacoby Ellsbury in center field, and they could have platooned Jeremy Hermida and Josh Reddick in left field. 
Those of you who follow the Pawtucket Red Sox know that Josh Reddick is struggling with a sub .200 average. He literally had the best Spring Training of all of the Red Sox, and I think not making the team probably took a bit of a mental toll on him, which is totally understandable. I think that he was ready to be with the big league club this year (even if it was just coming off the bench), so when the Red Sox signed Mike Cameron, that probably came as a bit of a slap in the face. On the other hand, Hermida has had some clutch hits for the Red Sox so far this season. Many of the Marlins fans that I have spoken to were so glad to get Hermida off their hands, but I think that having him come off the bench has helped him out. The only problem is that his fielding is sloppy. 
The other problem the Red Sox have had is inconsistent pitching, as I have mentioned before. Josh Beckett, the supposed ace of our staff, was placed on the 15-Day DL yesterday; and our most consistent starter has been Clay Buchholz. A consistent, dominant Josh Beckett is essential to the starting rotation. Luckily, Jon Lester has significantly improved after his first couple of starts in April, but this seems to be a trend for him. John Lackey has been disappointing thus far. The Red Sox signed him to be like Josh Beckett, but at this point in the season, do they really want him to be like Josh Beckett? I just want him to be himself. 
Daisuke Matsuzaka is another story entirely. He had one extremely dominating start in which he struck out ten batters and walked none, but he was not able to carry that over into the following start. For the most part, he has had one bad inning in which he simply falls apart, and the Red Sox cannot have this in the starting rotation. Perhaps Tim Wakefield would be more effective in the starting rotation. Perhaps the only reason that it is Tim Wakefield in the bullpen and Matsuzaka in the rotation is because of the significant contract disparity. 
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A couple of roster moves have occurred over the last day or so. With Josh Beckett moving to the DL, reliever and man of the Vulcan pitch Joe Nelson was called up to fill that roster spot. Scott Schoeneweis, who has not been effective out of the bullpen at all this year, was designated for assignment. To fill his roster spot, SS Angel Sanchez was called up. By the way, I was very impressed with Angel Sanchez during the spring. In the minor leagues, Bryan Peterson was called up to Salem to fill Anthony Rizzo’s spot on the roster. Felix Doubront, who was 4-0 to start the season in Portland, was called up to Pawtucket. 
In spring training, there were about four guys competing for a spot in the bullpen: Scott Atchinson, Scott Schoeneweis, Joe Nelson, and Brian Shouse. I was not impressed with any of them. You all know what is coming: my argument for my projects. 
Tim Wakefield will be moving back to the starting rotation. This makes sense, but another option that the Red Sox have is calling up Michael Bowden for a spot start or two. Remember how I compared him to Justin Masterson? I remember Masterson making some starts in early 2008 and 2009, and he was really effective when the Red Sox needed him, and I have no doubt in my mind that Michael Bowden would do the same. 
The Red Sox could also use a solid, left handed reliever like Dustin Richardson in the bullpen. He has been nearly untouchable in Pawtucket, and I think that he could be exactly what the Red Sox need coming out of the bullpen. 
The last problem that the Red Sox have is an internal one. On Tuesday, Mike Lowell confessed his true feelings about his situation to WEEI. He basically said that he knows that he does not have a role on the team, and that he literally fills a roster spot. I know that this type of “attitude” can be detrimental to a clubhouse, but I think that Lowell is perfectly justified in voicing his opinions. He has had such a good attitude through all of this, and I do not think that it is going to have a real effect on how others play. Whenever he is put into a game, he puts in 110% effort. The problem is, he is rarely put into a game. 
With the re-surging David Ortiz, Mike Lowell’s playing time will diminish even more. Yet as he was speaking to WEEI, the said that he agreed that David Ortiz should get as much playing time as possible
so that the Red Sox can see if he is just going through a funk, or if his career is actually coming to an end. He obviously wants what is best for the team, which is why he mused that the team might be better off without him. 
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Look, I really like Mike Lowell. My dad and I call him the black hole at third base, and he is known as Mr. Double. *Tangent*: My physics teacher told me that he gave his Physics Honors class a question on momentum that had to do with Mike Lowell. The basic point of the question was whether or not the ball went over the green monster, or if it was a double. Without even thinking about the necessary calculations involved, I said that he would hit a double because he is Mr. Double. Unfortunately, I would have only received partial credit. 
Anyway, I think that Mike Lowell is right. I am sure that there are a lot of teams out there that could really use Mike Lowell if he was only given the chance. Consider the following hypothetical situation: having Mike Lowell play third base and having Adrian Beltre DH. I am willing to bet that we would see some pretty incredible plays from Lowell. Terry Francona was platooning Lowell and Ortiz for a little while when Ortiz was struggling depending on the matchup. But like I said, if Ortiz can maintain some consistency, then this will no longer happen. 
The Red Sox obviously want to remedy their situation. But going out and buying another bat or trading precious prospects for it is not the solution, and the statistics show you that.It is not realistic for the Red Sox to trade for a starter because four of our five starters are under big contracts. This is why I say we give Michael Bowden a chance. I know he can do it. 
The fact that the offense is performing so well and yet the Red Sox are still in fourth place further reinforces the concept that pitching and defense are among the most important components of a solid team. Hopefully those components, which look absolutely fantastic on paper, will being to look fantastic where it matters: on the baseball diamond. 
Before I go, I just wanted to inform you guys about a couple of things: First of all, I will be at the Red Sox vs Rays game next Wednesday night! This is exactly what I wanted for my birthday. My parents asked me what I wanted, and I said, “Tickets to the Red Sox game.” I have tickets 12 rows behind the Red Sox dugout, so I will be getting there when the gates open to get autographs. The only downside is that it is right in between my finals, so I have a French final the next day (four hours away), but as you can see, I have my priorities straight. And as far as summer plans go, I have been lucky enough to get a few opportunities. If all goes according to plan, I will be shadowing Dan Hoard and Steve Hyder, the broadcasters of the Pawtucket Red Sox, for a week; and Mike Antonellis and others in the media relations department with the Portland Sea Dogs for a week (or maybe more). 

A National League Team in the American League East

Amidst all of the stress that I’m dealing with right now, I figure writing about baseball is the best way to relieve it. Most of you who read my blog seem to be a bit older than me, so let me ask you something: Was May of your junior year the worst time of your life? Or is that just me? 

If it wasn’t for baseball, I don’t know where I would be right now. Not only do I have my two AP exams next week (Psychology and English Language), but the administration decided it would be a good idea to also make quarter testing next week, which further ruins my life. Not to mention the fact that I still have to worry about standardized testing because–like the Red Sox’s overall performance so far this season–my scores are mediocre and not good enough to get me into the schools that I would like to attend. I just can’t wait until the summer. 
On a significantly brighter note, I’m going to be president of my senior class next year. I only share this with you because the entire premise of my speech was baseball. Being a baseball fan gives you some of the qualities that are necessary to hold a position like that: dedication, persistence audacity, loyalty, hope, etc. 
Minor League Roundup: 
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The Pawtucket Red Sox moved Kris Johnson back to the starting rotation, and that has certainly paid off. In his first start of the season, he pitched five innings without allowing a run and struck out three. In his last outing, he went five innings and gave up three runs. I personally think that he is more of a starter, so I would like to see him continue for at least a while in this role. This will help the organization decide whether or not he will be a starter or a long-term relief guy. I think they need to decide his role relatively quickly so that he can continue his development without ambiguity. 
In Pawtucket’s relief department, both Dustin Richardson and Robert Manuel have fared exceptionally well. I have no doubt that Richardson will be called up at some point this season; hopefully sooner rather than later! I don’t hear about Robert Manuel as often even though he has pitched spectacularly. I think that he could also positively impact the Red Sox’s bullpen as well. 
Lars Anderson was recently promoted to Triple-A! He was quite literally destroying Eastern League pitching, so a call-up was inevitable! When he was called up to Portland last year, he struggled with the adjustment, so I was a bit nervous that he would have some problems in Pawtucket. Of course, an adjustment period is necessary with a promotion to any level, but Lars has fared well so far. 
Daniel Nava is someone you should keep your eye on. With a powerful bat, he his hitting .305 on the season with 29 hits, 5 doubles, a triple, and four home runs. I don’t hear as much about him as I do Josh Reddick, but his performance certainly warrants a call up soon! I would really like to see Ryan Khoury with more playing time in Pawtucket. I think he is a great player, but he has only played in nine games so far. The Paw Sox designated Kevin Fransden for assignment, so I hope we see more of Khoury. 
In Double-A, reliever Eamonn Portice has been very impressive. Starter and top prospect Casey Kelly has also been doing well, though he is on a very tight leash because his innings are being limited (since this is his first full year as a starter). 
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Catcher Luis Exposito has been on fire during the past week or so after going through a minor slump. Ryan Kalish has also been very consistent at the plate. 
In Salem (High-A), Will Middlebrooks and Tim Federowicz have had a great week and a half. Anthony Rizzo has been consistent at the plate for the season, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he got promoted soon. 
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Daisuke Matsuzaka is finally back in the Red Sox starting rotation. In his first outing, he pitched fairly well until the fifth inning. In his most recent outing, his first inning was atrocious, but the rest of his outing was virtually flawless. 
While having a couple of solid innings are certainly commendable, it’s tough to say that I feel completely confident in Matsuzaka when he has barely pitched into the sixth, and he still has problems with walking tons of people. First of all, Terry Francona should have been more aware of the situation in Dice-K’s first outing. Typically, Dice-K starts struggling around the fifth or sixth inning, but it was also his first start of the season. That was just an ugly game, and Wakefield’s first appearance out of the bullpen since 2004 did not stop the bleeding. 
Like I’ve said, Francona always waits a batter too long to take his starter’s out. When your starter is around 100 pitches and he puts two men on, it’s a sign to take him out! Is it just me, or is that especially evident this year? 
This is also the first year of Francona’s stint with the Red Sox that he really has to put deep thought into the lineup and the pitching staff. It isn’t obvious where everyone should hit this year, especially with the demise of David Ortiz. The Red Sox look more like a national league team this year. Some of you may take this as a negative connotation, but I actually think it has a positive one! Admittedly, assembling a team like this in the American League East is a bit risky, but I do think it has the potential to work if it is managed in the correct way. 
Just because Jacoby Ellsbury is out of the lineup with an injury, doesn’t mean the Red Sox should stop running. Dustin Pedroia has stolen a couple of bags, and Marco Scutaro and Darnell McDonald certainly have speed as well. And honestly, Big Papi should start bunting more because his presence in the lineup will be much more effective. I would also like to see Jeremy Hermida in the lineup over Bill Hall. Hermida has been pretty effective as the plate and Bill Hall has not. 
Jon Lester has certainly started to turn it around in his past couple of starts by turning out very dominant performances. Buchholz has also been spectacular, which I love to see. I just hope Beckett can find his consistency, because he is an essential part to the starting rotation. 
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Lincecum struck out his season high of 13 batters. His slider and changeup are probably the most beautiful pitches I’ve ever seen. He might just be my favorite pitcher in the league. He is also one of the better hitting pitchers I’ve seen. He can lay down a perfect bunt! Maybe the Red Sox should take some lessons. 
I must say, I feel much more complete as a person now that I’ve seen Lincecum pitch in person. His delivery is one of a kind. I have heard that when he was drafted, one of the conditions was that the Giants would not change his delivery or his routine. Retrospectively, maybe the Red Sox should have done this with Dice-K. He was so dominant in Japan, but besides his 2007 season, his others have been subpar. I know that American baseball is different from Japanese baseball, but perhaps Dice-K would have fared better if he was allowed to do it his way. 
The Red Sox dropped the first game of the series to the Yankees last night. Beckett looked fantastic until the sixth inning. His only mistake was the hanging curve to Nick Swisher. Beckett simply lost his command. He should have been out after he hit Francisco Cervelli, not four batter later and five runs too late. I do not understand the rationale behind that! 
I fear that the Yankees might retaliate today, especially because Sabathia seemed to take personal offense when Jeter was hit by a pitch. Beckett clearly wasn’t doing that on purpose, so I hope he realizes that. Nevertheless, it’s all a part of the rivalry, and I’m ready for part two!
One last thing before I go. I would like to share with you all that I have been recruited to be a reporter for KidPitch, a show that airs every week on FSN. I filmed a report from about David Ortiz’s slow start to the season, and it will be debuting this Sunday. All of the other reporters are much younger than I am, but you have to start somewhere, right? If you would like to check it out, you can find your local listing here

There and Back Again

After all the fun that I had during Spring Training talking to some of the best Red Sox prospects, how could I not keep up with them during their respective seasons? From Single-A to Triple-A, I’ve been keeping up with these guys. The Lowell Spinners (Single-A) do not start their season until June, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of them are still in Florida at the minor league complex (I might just have to go back). 

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I will start with the Greenville Drive, the Single-A team in South Carolina (not that far of a drive, right?). This team includes prospects like Derrik Gibson, Reymond Fuentes, and Jeremy Hazelbaker. He started off the season pretty strongly, but he seems to be in a bit of a slump right now. He spent his entire season with Lowell last year, so I think that this might just be a small adjustment period. I have no doubt that he will be a big contributor for this team. I think the same goes for Fuentes and Hazelbaker. Fuentes was in the Gulf Coast League last year, and Hazelbaker was in Lowell for the most part. It’s the beginning of the season, and these guys are in the next level of the season. It’s normal that they are adjusting. 
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The Red Sox might have a 3-4-5 combination of the future with the Salem Red Sox. Anthony Rizzo, Ryan Lavarnway, and Will Middlebrooks have been tearing up the Carolina League. Rizzo is a fantastic clutch hitter, and has already collected eight RBIs on the season. Ryan Lavarnway leads the Carolina League with his powerful bat, collecting 21 RBIs, and has hit five home runs already. Middlebrooks also has eight RBIs with seven doubles. Tim Federowicz is a player to keep your eyes on. He is another great catcher that the Red Sox have in their minor league system, and he has also collected eight RBIs on the season. Pete Hissey and Ryan Dent have also been hitting well. Stolmy Pimentel is 2-0 with a 2.30 ERA.
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Remember how Lars Anderson had a “disappointing” season when he advanced to Double-A last season? Well, he is back and better than ever! He is batting .321 with four home runs, five triples, and 12 RBIs. He has only gone hitless once during his last ten games. Luis Exposito has collected 10 RBIs, with two doubles and a home run so far this season. Despite having only one RBI, Jose Iglesias is able to get on base pretty consistently. Remember this is his first year in professional baseball. He never played in Single-A. Ryan Kalish has three home runs, seven RBIs, and a .391 OBP. As far as pitchers go, Felix Doubront is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA; Stephen Fife is 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA; Casey Kelly is 0-0 with a 1.08 ERA (he is on an inning count so he hasn’t gone more than 3.1 innings). Kyle Weiland struggled in his last start, but has pitched well otherwise. Eammon Portice and Tommy Hottovy have both been solid in relief, and TJ Large, who just joined Portland, worked 2.1 innings of solid relief last night. 
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The Pawtucket Red Sox are having Star Wars Day today. Star Wars and minor league baseball are pretty much my two favorite things in the world, so it deeply saddens me that I cannot be there. Darnell McDonald was tearing up Triple-A, so his call up to the show was appropriate, and he certainly made an impact (which I’ll get to later). Aaron Bates and Daniel Nava have both been hitting very well. Josh Reddick was struggling at the plate, but I honestly think that comes from how far he got during Spring Training. He’s on the 40-man roster, but he was pretty much the last man in Spring Training to be sent down. Even if he knew it was coming, that has to be very hard. He was also called up to the show recently (which I will address later). Michael Bowden has pitched effectively in his starts, though he hasn’t been getting much run support. Adam Mills’ last start was absolutely incredible: he pitched five shutout innings. Robert Manuel has been a star out of the bullpen. In nine innings over seven appearances, he has yet to give up a run. Dustin Richardson has also been effective out of the ‘pen. He is a lefty, so I think he will be up very soon. Kris Johnson has struggled out of the bullpen, but I think we have to remember that he was a starter last year. Now he is a reliever, and that’s a pretty big transition. I think it was a smart move to make him a reliever, but still, that transition takes time. 
On another note, Ryan Khoury is up with Pawtucket, which is great, but he hasn’t been getting many at-bats. I hope he gets more at-bats; he deserves it! 
With the unfortunate injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron, some of my favorite prospects had their chances to shine. 
The five game losing streak that includes sloppy playing and terrible situational hitting prompted me to stage a hunger strike. I did have to sneak a bowl of cereal in the morning because I felt like I was going to faint. It was Darnell McDonald who allowed me to eat again. In his debut in a Red Sox uniform, he hit a home run to tie the game, and a single off the monster to win it. I have known the name Darnell McDonald since the spring of 2009 when he was playing for the Reds. Walk off wins are always fantastic, but they’re even better when they come from prospects (in my opinion, at least). 
Josh Reddick also collected a two run double that night. He has already been sent back down, but I think he should have gotten more playing time. Although he is not used to the monster in left field, I think he can still provide better defense than Bill Hall can because Reddick has an incredible arm. And although he has a powerful bat, he is also good for small ball purposes because he is a great bunter. I have no doubt that Reddick will return soon. 
Jonathan Van Evry has returned to the Red Sox. He started with the Pirates this Spring, and he was part of that amazing triple play against the Pirates. I’m glad that he has returned. He has done really well for the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate, and I think he can serve the Red Sox well. 
I’m pretty sure three teams have had back-to-back walk offs this year–and April is not even over yet! The Pirates,
the Red Sox, and the White Sox have all had back to back walk off wins. While the first of the Red Sox’s walk off win was definitely cause of celebration, it was not the cure. Think about who had all of the RBIs: Jeremy Hermida, Josh Reddick, and Darnell McDonald. Either a bench player, or minor league call ups. We still weren’t getting production from the everyday lineup.That has started to change as of late; the Red Sox are starting to be more productive with runners in scoring position. 
Someone whom I didn’t address with Pawtucket was Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K has been very effective for the Pawtucket Red Sox. He only walked one batter in his three outings. His excessive walks have characterized him the past two years. He will be added to the Boston rotation this week, and Tim Wakefield will be going to the bullpen. 
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I think this move is smart. Wakefield is a versatile guy, and he provides the long-term relief that we have been lacking in the bullpen. Having a knuckleballer coming out of the ‘pen who can go 2-3 innings is quite valuable. His knuckleball simply hasn’t been effective in the starting rotation, though I think part of that comes from rushing to get the ball to the plate because so many runners steal on him. I also think this is a good move because Buchholz simply does not belong in the bullpen; he belongs in the rotation. 
*Update after finale to Orioles series* Wakefield’s knuckleball looked great today, and he should have been able to finish the seventh. His knuckleball was effective today, but like I said, he could be really valuable out of the ‘pen. You have hitters who are used to seeing fastballs in the 90′s with spin, and then suddenly, a guy comes in throwing knuckleballs. And since he is a reliever, opposing hitters won’t be able to tie him down. This could work. 
Despite Buchholz’s latest loss, he still turned out a stellar performance; including a career high ten strikeouts. I think that Terry Francona has to be a little more conscious of when to take his starters out. He always waits too long. When it’s the seventh inning and your starter has just put two men on and is over 100 pitches, it might be time to take him out. 
Finally I want to address David Ortiz. After constant frustrations and struggles, Francona finally pinch hit for him, and even kept him out of the lineup for consecutive days. Ortiz is despondent, embarrassed, and frustrated among other things. I have no doubt that he is trying his hardest, but sometimes it is simply necessary to bench players despite their efforts if they are not being effective. After being benched for two games, Papi responded with a home run in his first at-bat off of Jeremy Guthrie. Again, this does not mean that everything is OK, but it is an improvement from last year’s home run drought. I think the fact that he was pinch hit for signals the start experimentation at the designated hitter position. We are going to see a lot of different lineups. 
The finale of the Orioles vs Red Sox series is going to start in about 20 minutes. While I wait for the game to start, I would just like to share with you the latest baseball statistic. There is a fascinating negative correlation between the start of baseball season and my grades (especially Physics). This is especially remarkable in Physics because afternoon games tend to fall around the same time that Physics does. Not to mention I hate Physics almost as much as I hate the Yankees. 

Skeptics and True Believers

Skepticism and analysis surround every team as the second week of the season comes to an end. I guess I’m here to join the party–mainly for analysis, not for skepticism. It’s easy to analyze halfway through the season, but only two weeks into the season seems a little rash, doesn’t it? Is it appropriate to analyze, criticize, and skepticize (yes, made up word) already? I don’t know the answer, but I think it’s appropriate to offer some analysis because the Red Sox have made some easily preventable mistakes that have led to run scoring. And even though it’s early on, there are some serious, and unfortunately controversial issues that need to be addressed. It may be the beginning of the season, but every game counts. These games count as much as they do in September. Each game is of vital importance as each team tries to avoid the obstacles on the road to the postseason. I don’t agree with those who say, “It’s the beginning of the season, they’re just adjusting.” That’s what Spring Training is for. Ideally, teams should work out their kinks during Spring Training. Inevitably, obstacles will arise during the regular season, so I’m here to try and work those out. 

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Let’s tackle the obvious topic first: David Ortiz. I think he has felt under pressure to perform since the first game of the season. Because of the dismal numbers he put up last season, all reporters ever asked him about during the Spring was his rebound. It is easy to tell how insecure about this situation he is. He snapped at reporters the second day of the season; he got ejected from a game for arguing about a strike; and it is easy to spot the frustrated grimace on his face each time he strikes out. I don’t blame him for feeling pressure, but I’m surprised about how much it’s getting to him. 
I won’t ignore the few hits that he has gotten: some have been solid contact, but others were pure luck. He even picked up the golden sombrero one game where he struck out four times: that’s the problem. He strikes out, and for the most time, he strikes out looking. I’m no hitting guru, so I’m not here to talk mechanics. The fact of the matter is that having him in our lineup is ineffective, and at times, detrimental. So why does Terry Francona put him in the lineup day after day? I think that part of it comes from seniority. Maybe Terry Francona thinks that maybe Big Papi is just going to get out of his funk because of what he has done in the past. But this is the third year in a row that this has been going on. As much as it pains me to say this, he is done. 
I’m sure it will be tough to sit him, but it is necessary. It is important to put the best lineup out there, and putting Big Papi in there does not get the job done. I like the idea of platooning Mike Lowell and Jeremy Hermida at that spot. Hermida has proved himself to be a fantastic pickup coming off the bench for Jacoby Ellsbury while he is injured. I can see him hitting a lot of doubles off the Green Monster. 
Issue number two: The Bullpen. 

Last year, the bullpen was considered our strongest asset. This year, it has been one of the weakest. I don’t think that the loss of Takashi Saito or Billy Wagner really affects that; however, the loss of Justin Masterson does. I’m sure you all know exactly what I’m going to say. Bring up Michael Bowden! We need a long-term middle relief pitcher; especially if our starters are done after the fifth inning because they throw 30 pitches in an inning or two. The Red Sox obviously expect to use him as a middle reliever, so what I don’t understand is why they’re still treating him as a starter in Pawtucket. I think that for a pitcher to be completely effective, they have to know their role (no matter how good they are). Just look how good Justin Masterson is doing with Cleveland now that they have explicitly deemed him a starter. I have no doubt that Bowden has the ability to flourish in either role, but he will be more effective once they tell him what his role actually is so that he doesn’t have to keep switching. 
Ramon Ramirez has been struggling so far, so I really hope that he finds his stuff because he was the unsung hero of last year. Manny Delcarmen still struggles to be consistent, but he has the ability to go multiple innings, which is important. I prefer him over Scott Atchinson anyway. I think that Robert Manuel, now pitching in Pawtucket, could be really effective in the bullpen if he was given a chance.
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I know Daniel Bard is very good, but the Red Sox need to use him a little more sparingly. The poor guy has been used so much already this season. He has a wicked slider, but I’d like to see him add a changeup to his repertoire because the radar gun is almost always 90 mph or above, and having that speed constantly will almost surely lead to giving up more home runs. 
My final issue with the bullpen includes Victor Martinez as well. When it comes to Jonathan Papelbon, all he ever calls are fastballs. Papelbon also has a slider and a changeup in his arsenal, so I think that it’s important that he incorporates those as well to avoid meltdowns. I’m sure you all remember his most infamous blown save, and all Victor Martinez called was fastball, after, fastball, after fastball. 
Issue Number 3: Throwing people out
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Neither Victor Martinez nor Jason Varitek have the ability to throw runners out, and every team knows it. Victor obviously needs to work on his mechanics considering all of his throws are high and to the right. This could create a serious problem. First of all, because the runners can steal so easily, the possibility of inning ending double plays are eliminated, which means that our pitchers will have to work longer, and that we might have to use our bullpen earlier. 
Also, pitching from the stretch is a tough thing for lots of pitchers. I especially noticed that with Clay Buchholz during the Spring, and even he has admitted that it’s something he needs to work on. The pitchers obviously don’t want the runners to steal, so they might feel added pressure to get the ball to the plate quicker. This situation could have disastrous consequences. It is important that the pitchers don’t think about anything but hitting their spots. 
If this becomes a serious problem, the Red Sox do have some catching talent in the minors (with arms) in both Mark Wagner and Luis Exposito. Luis is definitely someone to get excited about, but he still needs some seasoning. Mark Wagner, on the other hand, is in Pawtucket, and I think he is ready to go. 
Issue Number 4: Leaving runners on
Some bats have been quiet (Big Papi), some have been loud (Dustin Pedroia), but the Red Sox have left so many runners on, but I think there is an easy solution that Terry Francona hasn’t seen yet because he is an American League manager: small ball. 
Because the Red Sox focused on improving defense during the offseason, they aren’t full of the 30-40 HR power bats. However, that’s not to say that they aren’t offensively sophisticated. They have the ability to score a lot of runs this season, but it won’t come from lots of long balls. Rarely, if ever, do you see the Red Sox lay down a solid bunt. Perhaps the Red Sox wouldn’t leave as many runners on if they started sacrificially advancing runners more often. I LOVE this kind of baseball; I find it to be the most exciting, and I think that it is a method that the Red Sox must begin to incorporate. 
Those are the biggest issues that I see so far. The defense hasn’t been as spotless as expected, but I think that these acquisitions will pay off in the long run (despite some costly errors early on). Perhaps they’re still adjusting the the eccentricities of Fenway. It’s the big errors that stand out, not the rest of the times that they make the often spectacular play. The last issue I notice (though it hasn’t made much of a signifiant impact) is that sometimes, Adrian Beltre simply swings at terrible pitches. He has been hitting really well thus far though, so I’m not complaining yet. 
Amidst all of my criticisms and analyses, I do have some praise (some of which I have already mentioned): 
-Dustin Pedroia is off to a monstrous start. Contrary to popular belief, he can hit the high inside fastball! 
-Jeremy Hermida has been an extremely valuable asset off the bench. I think he will flourish in Fenway Park. 
-Daniel Bard has been a workhorse. 
-Josh Beckett’s 75 mph curveball his a thing of beauty. I’m so glad we signed him to a 4 year deal. 
-Jacoby Ellsbury was really catching on fire before that unfortunate collision between him and Beltre that has sidelined him since. I really hope that he heals soon, because I really like having him in the leadoff spot. 
I may be skeptical, but I’m a true believer in this Red Sox squad. 
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One more thing before I settle down to watch the final game of what has been a frustrating series against the Rays so far. Ubaldo Jimenez threw the first no-hitter of the 2010 MLB season, and the first in Rockies history. Thanks to the twittersphere, I was clued in, and I was able to watch the final three outs of the bottom of the ninth inning. Of course, MLBTV froze up right as Brian McCann hit the ball to second, but I heard it, and that’s just as special. He has been compared to Pedro Martinez, and considering the velocity he had on his fastball so late into the game (and after so many pitches), I have no doubt. As I watched the bottom of the ninth inning, I could feel my heart beating quicker with each out, and my hands shaking  more and more before each pitch was thrown. 
April 17th was an incredible day to be a baseball fan. Tim Lincecum had three hits and three RBIs. The Pirates walked off for the second game in a row thanks to Garrett Jones. The Mets vs Cardinals game went into the 20th inning. The Mets scored both of their runs on sacrifice flies. And Ubaldo Jimenez stunned the Braves lineup. This is what we live for 

Post Trade Deadline Analyses

I think that I have realized something about myself during the summers, and perhaps you all have too: I don’t have too much time to blog during summer vacation. I am fortunate enough to do a lot during the summers, and whether I’m at camp, or on a family vacation, I don’t have good quality time to compose a thoughtful blog, so I apologize for that. 

I wish I had been a more active blogger during the trade deadline, and the days following it, but I was in Maine, removed from electronics and mlb.tv and just appreciating nature. However, there was a radio that was available, and every night we would sit in the living room and listen to the Red Sox. It was such a different perspective for me, because I have always been provided with the luxury of watching baseball on TV, on a computer, or my favorite location: in person. I really loved listening to it on the radio, it was a different way of seeing… or maybe hearing baseball. 
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So the trade deadline came and went, and if you remember my last entry (which was quite a while ago), I thought that it would be best if the Red Sox had just quietly backed out of the trade deadline, and make do with what they have. Retrospectively, the trades that were made, most importantly the Victor Martinez one, was quite necessary. I had said that shortstop and catcher were our weakest positions, and we have vastly improved that situation (mainly the catcher one). 
The problem for me was that I was very hesitant to give away any of our star prospects, but all-star catchers like Victor Martinez don’t come cheap. In order to improve a weaker aspect of the team, we had to take from probably our strongest aspect of the team: the bullpen. It was hard to part with Justin Masterson because I saw so much potential in him, but I think that in order for a team to be good, they need to be proportional. 
The Red Sox had a stellar, almost impeccable bullpen, but the offense was slumping and not scoring runs. A bullpen cannot be effective if it does not have runs to protect. Thus, the Red Sox were disproportional in that sense. Without Justin Masterson, our bullpen is without a doubt weakened. Masterson was a guy that could go many innings when our starters didn’t do their jobs; he could thrive in the starting rotation as well. Is our bullpen still legitimate? Absolutely. Is our starting rotation still legitimate? Absolutely. Is our offense improved? Yes, and that is exactly what we needed. 
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That expression: “We hardly knew ya” can seriously apply to the Adam LaRoche situation, but I am satisfied with the solid defensive abilities of Casey Kotchman. It seems that the Red Sox have an abundance of first basemen now considering that Victor Martinez is a man of may occupations and can play first base. This makes Terry Francona’s job as a manager a bit more difficult, and the lineup is not as predictable as it used to be. It means that some players’ playing time will be less, and not everyone may be happy with that. Guys like Kevin Youkilis pout when they have the day off, and he’d rather play left field than sit on the bench. As a baseball fan, I think you have to love that mentality that a player wants to help his team every single day, even if you don’t like Kevin Youkilis’ personality. 
I think that one of the biggest questions the Red Sox face will come when Tim Wakefield returns from the disabled list. I have not fully educated myself on Victor Martinez’s capabilities, but I am wondering if he is educated in the art of catching a knuckleball. I am not a very big George Kottaras fan because for me, his only use is the fact that he can catch Tim Wakefield (and not that well), and his offensive abilities are mediocre at best. If Victor Martinez can catch a knuckleball, then I think George Kottaras is no longer needed. 
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I like the acquisition of Alex Gonzalez as a defensive shortstop since Jed Lowrie is on the disabled list. It’s funny how there have been a turn of events since the start of the season: the Red Sox went from having three shortstops to one. It’s nice to see Gonzalez back in a Red Sox uniform since he was a wonderful defensive shortstop in 2006. A question that will come soon is: What will be the next move when Jed Lowrie returns? 
Going back to the pitching situation, I found out that John Smoltz was designated for assignment while I was on my trip. I have a lot of respect for John Smoltz, and what he has done over the course of his career. It is unfortunate that he didn’t do what the Red Sox hoped he would. I think that the acquisition during the offseason was a very wise one. It was very similar to what the Red Sox hoped Curt Schilling would have done in 2008. Unfortunately, neither of them worked out, but the incentives for signing them were obvious. 
I haven’t forgotten about Dice-K either, and the comments that he issued about the Red Sox pitching procedures. I don’t think that he was right, but I’m going to go for a little empathy here. He was phenomenal when he was in Japan, and he was very good his first two years with the Red Sox. There is obviously some gray areas when it comes to training. Dice-K has his way, and the Red Sox have their way. Dice-K should have trained better for the 2009 season, the World Baseball Classic was not the way to go because technically, that is the true World Series, and it has a playoff atmosphere. Dice-K didn’t have the more lax spring training that others went through. He went from the 2008 playoffs to pre-season 2009 playoffs. I think that he has to accept responsibility for that, and conform (for now) to what the Red Sox want him to do. 
By the way, while I was on my trip I was lucky enough to have some baseball experiences. I have some analyses on the Portland Sea Dogs to share with you, and some great pictures from the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Back, yet not at peace.

There is only one time of year, and one place on Earth that I can deal with being separated from nightly Boston Red Sox games, and the continuous MLB Network. That place was, as I explained in my previous (and by previous, I mean a month ago) post, California. Although the state itself does not constitute my isolation (considering the fact that there are five baseball teams in that state, I would hope not) the summer program that I attended to did. 

As usual, it surpassed my expectations, and being isolated from the incessant updates of pop culture, baseball, and oh yes, world events is actually a nice change. I have mentioned before that I live in a baseball bubble, but for me this program is a utopian bubble. It is the only place that I can truly be myself, and people accept me for it. Granted at Fenway Park, I am undoubtedly accepted as a Red Sox fan, but it is nice to be accepted in a place where not everyone is a Red Sox fan, or a baseball fan for that matter. 
My friends actually wanted to listen to me talk about the Red Sox and baseball, even if they had no previous knowledge of it whatsoever. One of the best friends that I made there, Caroline, did not even know what a grand slam was before we had our little talk. By the end of our two, short weeks together, she was throwing pennies from the year 1986 on the ground because they are cursed. 
This made me truly happy that I could bring a smile to someone’s face just by talking about baseball. It made me realize even more that this is exactly what I want to do with my life. While I would love to convert everyone into a Red Sox fan, I think it is more important to appreciate the beauty of baseball. 
She truly appreciated that passion that I have for it, and she told me she wished “she could love anything as much as I love baseball”. I hope that others will be able to see this when they talk to me. 
Considering I have been gone for a month, I have missed out on a lot. As I was leaving, Dice-K was on his way out of the rotation, and I was trying to come up with a creative injury for his trip to the DL. 
I remember getting updated about John Smoltz’s first start, I was on my way to dinner at Lagunita (the cafeteria at Stanford). I knew he was starting against the Nationals, which is a very nice team to start against for that transition period (from the minors to the majors) considering the Nationals remind me of a minor league team. I was notified that the score was 9-1, Nationals. 
My first thought was, “Have the Nationals even scored nine runs in a game before?” I actually wasn’t angry with Smoltz. I understand the whole need for an adjustment period after talking to my good friend Michael. Even though he is a 20+ year veteran, I was really delving into my empathetic side. 
For his next few starts, I was probably too busy reading about cultural relativism, how altruism and morality don’t exist, or maybe some form of ekphrasis. One of the first games that I watched upon my return was the opening game of the series against the Rangers. 
Our lack of an offense was cruising along nicely for a while, before John Smoltz decided to give up three home runs in one inning, which is quite the rarity for someone of his stature. I was already experiencing separation anxiety/book camp withdrawal, so this did not add to my chipper mood. 
I screamed at my computer screen for the first time in about a month, and yielded more profane tweets than ever before. Generally, I don’t question Terry Francona’s moves, but I thought Smoltz was taken out a little late. I was quite happy to be reunited with Justin Masterson though. I think he was holding a small grudge against my absence considering his ERA was near 5.00. 
The offense seemed to be fine in my absence, I don’t know why they’re acting up now. Big Papi really resurged, and if I need to close my eyes while he is at-bat, then I’ll do it. I’m sad to see that Jason Bay’s average has plummeted, and that Drew and Varitek are in slumps. 
I found it interesting that when Jeff Bailey went on the DL, that Aaron Bates was called up instead of Chris Carter. Aaron Bates is an imminent project of mine, and like Josh Reddick, he is an automatic project for next Spring. Believe me I saw the potential his first two nights in Triple-A Pawtucket. I am just a bit perplexed as to why we are bringing someone up to the Majors who has just barely adjusted to Triple-A. As I said before, when he came up, he had a Triple-A swing with a Double-A eye. I think Chris Carter needs to be given another chance, but I would advise everyone to keep their eye on Bates. 
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Speaking of projects, I have to tell you all how thrilled I am to see Buchholz back on the Red Sox for an extended period of time. I was very pleased to see that his first performance this year went well. I know his numbers imply that he has been tearing up Triple-A but he, like Jon Lester, is one of those guys that needs to focus on every single pitch, not the final outcome. He needs to not get frustrated by his mistakes too. If he gives up a home run, fine, but just move on. I think that Ramon Ramirez does a great job of doing that. However, I do not expect Buchholz to be performing perfectly. He is still very well entitled to that adjustment period. 

Shipping Up to Boston

The song that signals Jonathan Papelbon’s entrance into a game at Fenway Park can also be applied to what I did the other day. I did not fly up to Boston like I normally do. Nor did I literally “ship” up to Boston (though I thinkthat we all wish that we were ‘on a boat’). In fact, I drove up to Boston.

Anyone who is remotely familiar with a map of the continental United States can tell you that it is not a short drive. We trekked through some serious torrential downpours. I’m pretty sure that the storms came down form DC and Atlanta. I only say that because I know that those games were delayed Thursday night because of rain. We basically spent 28 straight hours in the car making stops for food, and rest stops to take a quick nap.

As far as the agenda goes for the week, I’m pretty excited. On Monday and Tuesday, I will be going down to Pawtuket to see some PawSox games. The thing is, I won’t just be getting there two hours early for autographs this time. I’ll be getting two hours early because Dan Hoard and Steve Hyder, a radio broadcaster and a beat writer for the PawSox, have agreed to let me interview them. I look forward to interviewing them about their careers as well as what they see as far as the future goes.

I think a lot of people disregard minor league baseball because it is seemingly insignificant and it is full of raw, not-yet-perfected talent.. Admittedly, I used to be that way too. But once you go to a few Spring Training games, and you see the kind of work these guys do, and the mentality that they approach the game with, you really being to appreciate that aspect of the game.

Plus, as you watch it, you have to realize that you might be looking at the next Josh Beckett, the next Jonathan Papelbon or the next Dustin Pedroia. Maybe it’s just because I’m the “future blog of the Red Sox” that I’m interested in the “future of the Red Sox” because I want to know who I’ll be writing about (hopefully), but I think that these guys are the real deal.

So even though the Sox cooled down a bit during the middle of May and towards the end, they are begining to turn it around thanks to Terry Francona’s brilliance when it comes to the everyday lineup. Plus the fact that the starting rotation is starting to come together.

Slowly but surely, Big Papi is starting to come out of his funk. I think that the most impressive part of this entire situation is the perpetual support that he is receiving from Red Sox fans. I know that there is a lot of “underground” criticism, which there should be, but every time he comes up to the plate, I hear cheers. Only in Boston. When Mark Teixeira got off to his terrible start in April, he was getting booed in New York.

It’s not like Boston is the paragon of mercy though. I hear vicious complaints about Julio Lugo everyday. So why aren’t fans becoming hostile towards Papi? Personally, I think it’s because we can never forget what he did for us in 2004. If it wasn’t for him, I honestly believe that we would not have broken the curse. His formidable bat, and his clutch hitting was such an essential part. We cannot just abandon our love for him after what he did for urs.

Anyway, I’m starting to like this lineup. It’s weird not seeing Ellsbury at the top because he seems like the prototypical leadoff guy: consistent bat, speed, run scorer. The problem was the lack of that at the bottom of the order, which was why we weren’t scoring runs. And while I’m generally a supporter of the Youkilis-Drew punch, I enjoy Bay hitting in the four hole.

I’ve talked about Bay being Mr. Dependable and the new Mr. Clutch-Hitter, but it’s not like he just came out of no where. His numbers were quite comparable during his Pittsburgh years, it’s just that Pittsburgh doesn’t get the kind of media attention that it deserves. I know that they just aren’t that good, and that they just traded away Nate McLouth, but they deserve attention. They’ve got that young, raw talent that I like. Maybe I’ll start calling it future talent.

I am also thrilled that Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are starting to have consistently solid outings. They both flirted with no-hitters quite recently (in fact, Lester was flirting with a perfect game). I’m done with flirting though, it’s time to court that perfect game! Lester’s ERA and record is not truly indicative of how his year has been, though. Like I’ve said, it’s just been that one annoying inning that has ruined the first part of his season.

Recently, Lester has been having the kind of outings that everyone said that he was going to have. I think our little talk really paid off: he is concentrating on making each and every pitch. And have you seen the number of strikeouts that he has been racking up? 12 K’s in 6 innings and then 11 in 7 I believe was the last one. And Josh Beckett has just been dominant his past few starts. It is all coming together now. All we have to do is get Dice-K away from these mediocre outings. I have no complaints about Wakefield– only praise for his durability. As for Brad Penny, what can I say? The guy has a winning record. I don’t like him very much because I think he only has decent outings, if that, and he just gets very lucky with the run support.

I think that covers what I haven’t been covering as often, and I am sorry for my lack of presence. I think you’ll like the next few entries though. My friend will be guest blogging and writing a “Top Ten Reasons Never to Watch or Go To a Baseball Game with Elizabeth’. I will also be blogging about the PawSox game and the Yankee vs Red Sox game I will be attending on Thursday night.

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