Posted on: November 30, 2011 9:11 pm
For all the talk about how Bobby Valentine can change the Red Sox, let's remember that he's taking over a team that spent 4 1/2 months as the best team in baseball.
"He fell into a bed of roses," another big-league manager said Wednesday, the day the Red Sox made it official that Valentine will take over as their new manager.
Valentine will try to avoid the thorns. The Red Sox front office gets to spend the next couple of months finding a few more roses.
It can't be any harder (or as time-consuming) as finding a new manager, right?
Besides, the Sox got a good long look at what needs to be done, in the form of September's painful collapse.
The problem is that we're now two months into Boston's offseason, and rather than get a start on fixing what's wrong on the roster, the Red Sox added to their issues by losing free-agent closer Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies.
Somewhere, the Red Sox will find a new closer. One rival official predicted Wednesday that the Sox will be the team that ends up trading for Andrew Bailey, the very-available A's right-hander.
But where will the Sox find two or more new starting pitchers?
If there was one biggest key to sinking the Sox in September -- yes, bigger than clubhouse beer and fried chicken -- it was the failure to find or develop enough rotation depth. Aces Josh Beckett and Jon Lester were subpar in the final month, and Clay Buchholz was hurt, but the Sox were forced to use the overmatched Kyle Weiland or the over-age Tim Wakefield to start far too many games.
The Red Sox also need another outfielder. No, they need a right-handed hitting outfielder.
Boston's collapse was mostly pitching-driven, but Kevin Youkilis' injury also left the Red Sox lineup far too weak against left-handed pitching. The Red Sox tried to add a right-handed hitter at the July 31 deadline last summer, but couldn't get it done (just as they couldn't add enough pitching depth).
More roster depth all-around wouldn't hurt. One scout who saw the Red Sox in September said Wednesday that he was surprised by how much the team seemed to be affected, offensively and defensively, by the Youkilis injury.
The problems are obvious. The solutions are out there, and maybe front-office power-broker Larry Lucchino and general manager Ben Cherington won't have as hard a time agreeing on the answers as they did on a manager.
Just remember that the Red Sox are fixing a team that is already one of baseball's very best, despite what you saw in September (and despite the chaos you've seen since then).
"They're loaded," the rival manager said.
Yes, they are.
Posted on: September 17, 2011 7:24 pm
Edited on: September 17, 2011 9:53 pm
BOSTON -- Even with Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox lineup is very left-handed.
And without him?
Well, in Boston's 4-3 loss to the Rays Saturday, Rays manager Joe Maddon used left-handed rookie Matt Moore for three innings of set-up relief. Moore, in just his second big-league appearance, entered the game with a two-run lead in the sixth, and handed a one-run lead to fill-in closer Joel Peralta in the ninth.
Moore gave up one run, but held the lead. He held the Red Sox lefties down, and he helped the Rays cut Boston's wild-card lead to just three games with 11 games remaining.
The Rays are still a real longshot; while they seemingly have an edge in Sunday's pitching matchup (David Price vs. Tim Wakefield), the schedule after that is decidedly against them.
But the Youkilis question is worth watching. It's not clear when or even if he'll play again this year, because of the combined effects of a hip problem and a sports hernia. Even if he plays, it's impossible to say what the Red Sox could expect from him.
"I'm not trying not to tell you," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Saturday. "I just don't know. Where it goes from now, we really don't know."
Without Youkilis, Francona has moved left-handed hitting David Ortiz up to the cleanup spot, with left-handed hitting Josh Reddick moving up to hit behind him. Add in leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury and third-place hitter Adrian Gonzalez, and four of the first five hitters in the Boston lineup Saturday were left-handed.
And when Francona went to hit for Reddick in the eighth inning of a one-run game Saturday, the best right-handed hitter he could summon off the bench was Conor Jackson, who was just off an 0-for-27 drought.
Maddon admitted after the game that the Red Sox lefty-dominated lineup was a big reason he used Moore the way he did.
Before we make too much of this, it's worth noting that the Red Sox have been good against lefties this season, and that Ortiz (.342), Gonzalez (.315) and Ellsbury (.287) have all hit lefties well. Average-stuff lefties don't bother them much.
It's also worth noting that the Red Sox haven't hit well against Rays pitching -- right- and left-handed -- and that Youkilis, at .184 in 11 games, is one of the culprits.
Moore, who was clocked at 95-98 mph on the radar gun Saturday, is one of baseball's top pitching prospects, maybe the best one out there.
Still, it's interesting that Maddon would use him for three innings in such a tight -- and important -- game. And equally interesting that the left-handed Red Sox weren't able to do much with him.
Posted on: April 9, 2011 6:05 pm
Edited on: April 9, 2011 6:09 pm
BOSTON -- The Red Sox scoff at the idea that they're already in trouble.
"Dire?" Kevin Youkilis said incredulously, after Saturday's 9-4 loss to the Yankees dropped the Sox to a major-league worst 1-7. "I don't think it's dire."
"Tough situation?" Adrian Gonzalez said, just as incredulously. "We're eight games in. It's not a tough situation. It's so early in the season. We're going to recover just fine."
He's right. They're right.
Seven losses in eight games is bad, and not just at the start of a season (it's only the second time in Terry Francona's Red Sox tenure that the Sox have lost seven of eight).
But the Red Sox aren't in trouble . . . unless Clay Buchholz is going to pitch all year the way he pitched Saturday against the Yankees.
The Red Sox aren't in trouble . . . unless Buchholz is going to be as useless to them as Phil Hughes already seems to be to the Yankees.
That doesn't seem possible. Unlike with Hughes, Buchholz hasn't seen his velocity mysteriously vanish. He didn't make it out of the fourth inning Saturday, but he was throwing 94 mph.
"He had plenty of stuff," said one scout who watched. "He just isn't pitching with his fastball."
Buchholz gave up four home runs in his first start against the Rangers, and he allowed a three-run home run to Russell Martin on Saturday. A year after going 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA, he's 0-2 with a 7.20 ERA.
"Good mistake-hitting teams are going to hit your mistakes, and that's basically what's going on right now," Buchholz said. "They're hitting pitches they should be hitting."
A year after going 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA, Hughes is 0-1 with a 16.50 ERA.
No, Buchholz isn't Hughes, but the comparison is still important.
First, if the Red Sox are going to lose the American League East, the Yankees almost have to be the team that beats them.
Second, if you look at the two rotations, you see similarities. Like the Yankees, the Red Sox have a dependable ace (Jon Lester plays the part of CC Sabathia). Like the Yankees, they have huge questions at the back of the rotation (with Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka playing the parts of A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia).
And like the Yankees, the Red Sox figure to hit their way to some wins on days when their pitching is bad (as they did in Friday's home opener). The Red Sox hitters are off to a slow start (a .215 team average, with Youkilis at .125 and Carl Crawford at .152), but that looks more like an early slump than a sign of bigger problems.
We all knew before the season that terrible starting pitching could sink the Yankees. Sure enough, the Yankee rotation has a 5.80 ERA through eight games, which is why they're 5-3 while averaging six runs a game.
Eight games in, the Red Sox rotation has been even worse, with a 7.46 ERA that is baseball's worst.
"We've got to pitch better," Dustin Pedroia said. "We gave up a lot of runs [Saturday]. It's hard to score 10."
It's hard for a Red Sox team this talented to lose seven times in eight games (staring at eight of nine if Beckett can't beat Sabathia on Sunday night). Since Francona took over in 2004, the only other time the Red Sox lost seven of eight was in that awful August of 2006, in the week that included the five-game Yankee sweep at Fenway Park.
That sweep dropped the Red Sox to 6 1/2 games out of first place, with just 38 games to play. Even a loss to the Yankees Sunday night would leave the Sox just five games back of the Yankees, with basically a whole season left to play.
"I think we feel like we're going to have a good team," Francona said. "Sometimes when you don't want to be patient, you have to."
Be patient. The Red Sox aren't in trouble . . . as long as Clay Buchholz is going to pitch a whole lot better than he pitched Saturday.
Posted on: August 6, 2009 6:44 pm
NEW YORK -- The Red Sox enter this weekend's big series with the Yankees with pitching problems. They also have health problems.
Manager Terry Francona admitted today that left fielder Jason Bay could miss the entire four-game series because of a sore hamstring he aggravated in Wednesday night's game at Tampa Bay.
"When you play a guy and he takes a step backwards, you don't feel good about it," Francona said.
With Bay out and with Rocco Baldelli on the disabled list after fouling a ball off his ankle, the Red Sox played Kevin Youkilis in the outfield for the first time this year and just the third time since 2006. Josh Reddick, who returned from the minor leagues to take Baldelli's roster spot, figures to play the outfield Friday night.
Posted on: October 11, 2008 4:51 pm
Edited on: October 11, 2008 5:20 pm
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- In their 2-0 loss to the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALCS, the Rays made two outs while swinging at 3-0 pitches. One of them was among the biggest outs of the game, a Carlos Pena fly ball with two on and nobody out in the eighth.
So did manager Joe Maddon err by green-lighting Pena and, before that, Evan Longoria (who flied out to end the sixth)?
Fans tend to say yes. Fans tend to complain when hitters swing at 3-0 pitches, just as they tend to complain when hitters swing at the first pitch.
But the stats say most middle-of-the-order hitters become unbelievable hitters when they put the first pitch in play. Pena is 3-for-6 in his regular-season career on 3-0, with two home runs and a double (including a grand slam off Dan Haren this year). David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Howard and Justin Morneau, among others, all hit .500 or better when they put a 3-0 pitch in play (all stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com).
OK, but wouldn't they have just as good a chance at 3-1 or 3-2?
Not necessarily. When Pena doesn't put the 3-0 pitch in play, he becomes a .190 hitter.
"It's something we've done all year," Maddon said today. "With Pena, taking everything into consideration, I felt pretty good about it actually. If he doesn't top-spin that ball, it might have hit the back wall."
Pena said Friday night that Maddon spoke to him after the eighth-inning at-bat, telling him he had taken exactly the right approach.
By the way, the stats also show that some hitters won't swing 3-0 even when given a green light. Neither J.D. Drew nor Kevin Youkilis has ever put a 3-0 pitch in play, and Wade Boggs did it just seven times in his entire career -- going 2-for-7.
While Maddon didn't second-guess his decision to let Pena swing 3-0, he also didn't dispute Ortiz's contention that the Rays had a different look in their faces Friday from what he saw in the regular season.
"I agree, and I did see it," Maddon said. "That's why I thought it primarily manifested itself in the pitches we swung at. However, (the Red Sox) had kind of the same look themselves."
Posted on: October 6, 2008 5:50 pm
Edited on: October 6, 2008 8:38 pm
Mike Lowell struggled through Game 3 of the American League Division Series, and the Red Sox took him off their playoff roster before Monday's Game 4. Infielder Gil Velazquez replaces Lowell, who now can't be added back to the roster if the Red Sox advance to the American League Championship Series.
Lowell, who has been bothered by a right hip strain since late in the regular season, would be eligible to return for the World Series.
Lowell played in two of the four games against the Angels, going 0-for-8 with three strikeouts.