Results tagged “Bullpen” from Who Made You Mirabelli?
Well a thinly stretched, yet talented bullpen will be gettins some more support in the form of one Mr. Bill Wagner. For some yet unknown reason, the 38-year-old closer waived his no-trade clause, supposedly just minutes before the 1:30 p.m. deadline.
According to Boston.com,
"The source said the Red Sox have agreed to Wagner's wishes and will not pick up his $8 million option for 2010, the final element of the four-year, $43 million deal he signed with the Mets as a free agent before the 2006 season. Notably, the club will retain the right to offer him arbitration, meaning they would get two compensatory draft picks if another team signs him. "
Now, this promises to muddy the closing waters even more - although not for a while at least. It appears that one of Boston's draws to Wagner was the promise that the team will not overuse his still delicate arm, and that he would ease into a new role as a set-up man.
Although not in any immediate fear for his job (or at least he shouldn't be, with Bard's collapse and Wagner's recovery time-table), Jon Papelbon is still a tad unhappy about the whole situation.
"What has he done? Has he pitched this year?" Is he ready to pitch or is he not? ... I think our bullpen is good where we're at right now. Don't get me wrong. But I guess you could always make it better. It's kind of like the [Eric] Gagne thing, I guess."
Wagner apparently didn't take the comments lying down according to Boston.com, telling SI.com,
"[W]hen he walks in my shoes then I'll say something. Let him be 38 and have Tommy John surgery."
This has the makings of a potential serious rift, and could serve to push Papelbon out of town even faster. As stacked as we are, this is not the time to burn any bridges, especially with a young man who has given us what appears to have been the best of his career.
But in either case, the Red Sox now have more potential closers on one team than the entire NL Central. It's rediculous. However, this Wagner move could fill one void in particular - the Veteran spot left by the departure of John Smoltz.
From the beginning of the season, it was clear that Smoltz's strongest contributions to the team could have been in a tight relief spot in extra innings on a tense October night. Now, Billy Wagner can fill that role - and that's more of a psychological advantage than anything - an advantage which this team is dying for right now.
in the 11th last night? Yeah, we don't either.
It gets into a lot of depth but here's the gist: Why start the bottom of the 11th with Mike Timlin when you could use a perfectly ready Paul Byrd?
Byrd is on the Red Sox roster for a reason. He's a crafty and clever pitcher, and while his guile can't get him out of every jam, it was good enough for him to rack up a 4-2 record with Boston since the Red Sox added him for the stretch run. Needless to say, plenty of his eight starts came against top notch competition (though, interestingly, none came against the Rays).
But wait, there's more. Another potential Byrd advantage is that the Rays haven't seen him this season at all! When Byrd was still pitching for the Indians, he missed the teams only two series against Tampa Bay early in the season. For some pitchers that might not be an advantage, but for Byrd it probably is. The 6-foot-1 righty uses a bizarre, double windup that has a tendency to throw off hitters, and might be just the kind of weapon to unnerve the Rays hitters.
Add to that Byrd's stats in his three most recent trip to the postseason -- last year's ALDS and ALCS -- where he was 2-0 while allowing a total of four runs over 14 innings against the Yankees and Red Sox, and one has to wonder why Francona decided against throwing him instead of Timlin.
As you can read, the post goes on to question whether Francona is saving Byrd for a surprise Game 6 start, given Josh Beckett's recent woes. For the record, I don't think that's the case, and I imagine Andy doesn't think that's the case, either (though he can speak for himself).
So what can Tito be thinking? Is he really considering giving Byrd a start in Game 6 and also trying to save his arm in case he has to be used some in Game 4, which will be started by the ever-terrifying dual persona of Tim Wakefield? It's possible, but given Francona's predilection to stick with "his guys", it seems unlikely.
Really, the whole issue is a head-scratcher, and that's what makes it so strange. Francona rarely makes decisions that beg for second guessing. Maybe he'll be right about this one in the long run, too, but it has us awful curious at the moment.
In fact, given the home form of both teams in this series against the other, winning one of the first two games in Tampa Bay was a huge factor. If you'd told Boston fans before the series that the Sox would win one of Games 1 and 2, it would be hard to argue that the Sox weren't right on track.
At the end of the day -- a particularly long and painful, at that -- that's exactly where Boston is: on track. The problem is that the track is a much more narrow and precarious one than they would have been on after a 2-0 series lead. Now the Sox have no room for error, and that's a dangerous position with a knuckleball pitcher taking the mound in Game 4 in chilly and occasionally drizzly Fenway Park.
Jon Lester's Game 3 start is now a must win. Tim Wakefield's Game 4 will have even more pressure sitting on it, and the Rays will certainly have their eyes trained on a win there, particularly if they can get another Andy Sonnanstine start like they got in Game 4 in Chicago.
More important to the series' complexion, however, was Josh Beckett's utter inability to compete in clutch situations. Boston got Beckett three leads, he lost all of them. Hideki Okajima, Justin Masterson and Jonathan Papelbon were all impeccable -- not to mention Manny Delcarmen, who got clutch outs again -- but those outings would have been preserving a win if Beckett had done his job.
Clearly, Beckett isn't the same pitcher everyone saw in the regular season, let alone in the 2007 postseason. Instead of three aces, the Red Sox suddenly have two and a huge question mark, and Terry Francona has to decide what to do with the rotation going forward.
Despite all of those problems, the Sox really are still on track, if barely. Now, if they can augment Dustin Pedroia's offensive awakening with more steady contributions from Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay and anything from the uber-slumping David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Sox could really be in business.
Will that happen? Time will tell. For the moment, the Sox have to think about an incredibly disappointing Game 2 for another 24 hours, hoping that the next time they get a lead, their starting pitcher will hold it.
Still, it was a sweet one for the Red Sox because it affirmed that they would win by sticking to their program, running out their young guns in key situations and winning and losing with them. Of course, had things turned out differently with the sketchy Varitek tag in the top of the 9th, this could well be a prelude to an epitaph of a Boston kind.
Instead, Jed Lowrie's game-winning single provided yet another reprieve for Terry Francona, whose golden touch kept it's postseason gild, this time in thanks to an excellent bailout performance from Manny Delcarmen and the patient bats of both Jason Bay and Jed Lowrie.
That being said, the Anaheim comeback against Justin Masterson in the eighth was more than just troubling. Masterson entered in relief of Jon Lester, whose 22 innings of scoreless postseason work is the longest streak for a Red Sox pitcher since Babe Ruth. Yes, Babe Ruth. Lester has been incomparably amazing through two postseason games, and he was more than happy to trot back out to the hill, 109 pitches into his outing or not.
Instead, Masterson struggled, putting the runners Hideki Okajima allowed on via walks into scoring position when he missed Varitek's sign and crossed him up with a four-seam fastball instead of a slider, then delivering a payoff pitch to the wheelhouse of the one Angels hitter that did damage to Boston throughout the series, Torrii Hunter.
Was it a bad outing? Surely. Was it the kind of bad outing that Masterson can learn from? Sure, and that's clearly the bright side Francona was hoping to ram home for the young reliever. Masterson has shown improvement from outing to outing since first shipping off to the bullpen way back when Clay Buchholz returned to the rotation. There's no reason to believe he won't internalize his nightmarish eighth inning, write it off as his one bad frame of the postseason and go out against a team he's faced plenty with renewed confidence.
At least he better, for the Red Sox' sake. If he doesn't, the Sox will have a serious problem. Okajima has alternated between lights out performances and full on scuffles, and Masterson has yet to truly bridge into a multiple innings shutout man in the postseason. Just as the bullpen was thoroughly worked through in the ALDS, there will be plenty of work against the Rays, who are sure to keep games close deep. After all, they won more one-run games than anyone else in baseball.
For that, there's still four more days of introspective analysis. For now, it's comforting to think back on another year and another exit for the Angels at the hands of a team named "Sox".
What did Boston get from this victory if they aren't going to be able to catch the Rays? They got a key inning from Manny Delcarmen in a pressure situation, a 1-2-3 ninth to preserve a win. And make no mistake, the Boston native needed that to restore confidence that he can dominate when it counts in the playoffs.
While Justin Masterson's emergence as a reliable set up man has made the bullpen deeper and more dynamic, Delcarmen still hadn't reestablished himself as the absolute go-to righty after the break. Sure, Terry Francona was treating him like a prototypical tight spot pitcher, but Delcarmen has flopped almost a third of the time, not exactly the kind of success rate that one looks for come the postseason.
Luckily for Tito, Delcarmen actually seems to have turned a corner. He's been tough against Tampa Bay, set the stage fairly well for Javier Lopez's lefty spot work and legitimately appeared to be one overpowering performance away from entering the playoffs with a significant strut.
Cue Wednesday night. If Delcarmen can produce quality pitches and, more significantly, locate like he did in Wednesday's win, Francona will suddenly have a quartet of key relievers to set the stage for the one and only Jonathan Papelbon. From the right, Francona can use Delcarmen and Masterson. From the left: Lopez and the resurgent Hideki Okajima. If those four are firing on all cylinders, the bullpen really can be as clutch as it was in 2007.
And, since all traditional adages point to pitching being the key to postseason success, that quartet -- plus Papelbon, of course -- behind starters Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield/Paul Byrd (depending on Wake's health) makes Boston a legitimate title contender again.
That, more than any division title, should be good news for Sox fans.
A blown 10-run lead in the first inning? No way. Two straight games with late-inning collapses? Even against a shaky middle relief corp, seems a bit far fetched.
Well, so much for screenwriters. The melodrama from the past two days has hit the roof, and that's before taking into account an abdomen strain and DL stint for Mike Lowell or the acquisition of Paul Byrd and, seemingly, subsequent demotion of Clay Buchholz.
Still, all that truly matters are the numbers on the Green Monster scoreboard at the end of the game. For the second straight night, those were pretty good this evening, despite a disappointing three run homer given up by Mike Timlin in just the latest proof that the veteran is careening down a precipitous downlslope of his career.
Meanwhile, Javier Lopez got the Sox out of trouble, then promptly put them back in it. Only Justin Masterson's performance was reassuring in relief, and that still came with plenty of drama. Sure, Masterson allowed a fluky hit and somewhat disturbing walk. The reassurance comes from how he responded, calmly fielding his position to facilitate a double play, then egging a pop-out from Michael Young to end the game.
Of course, those up and down efforts would have been worthless if not for another sparkling outing from Jon Lester, who looked like he was ticketed for a complete game until a homer and bad bounce got him in eighth inning trouble. Lester continues to be a rock in the rotation, giving the Sox something they thought would be provided by Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka; two legitimate aces who dominate opponents and almost guarantee wins.
That's not to demean Dice-K's season, nor his bulging win total. He's immensely improved over his 2007 debut season, consistently wriggling out of the jams he often couldn't last year. Those three starters are precisely the reason why Boston is so dangerous in the playoffs, but the bullpen's abhorent performance over the past two nights is precisely why it'll need to keep getting runs from David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and the shockingly hot Jed Lowrie if they're going to catch Tampa Bay and gather more momentum heading toward the playoffs.
Given the injuries Tampa's suffered in the past week -- devastating, multiple-week losses of outfielders Carl Crawford and rookie of the year candidate Evan Longoria -- and the fact that the Red Sox can block the Rays from adding personnel via the waiver wire, you have to like the position Boston is sitting in. Meanwhile, the Yankees haven't completely played themselves out of the postseason yet -- years past have certainly proven that -- but they're making yet another trip to the playoffs a pretty tall order entering the final six weeks of the season.
Oh, and in case you forgot, Jason Bay is looking awful good, and comfortable, in a Sox uniform. It just bears mentioning, particularly considering the fact that Manny Ramirez likely wouldn't have been playing half the time whatsoever.
All clever puns and hopefulness aside, it's hard to make a case for the Manny Ramirez-Bay trade based on the numbers. Of course, that's why its the other aspects of the move that made it absolutely essential to make. On WEEI this afternoon, Providence Journal Red Sox writer Sean McAdam made the case that owner John Henry had frequently defended ManRam because his productivity looked so good on paper. That meshed well with Henry's background as a millionaire stock broker, but Manny's human side -- read: "Jesus! This guy is absolutely killing our clubhouse!" -- finally hit home for Henry when he was the subject of personal attacks ManRam made repeatedly to media sources, mostly ESPN Deportes, across the last week.
Now, McAdam was quick to question some of the validity of those comments, saying that they could have been translated more harshly than intended from their original Spanish, but they were unquestionably a direct shot on Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Luchhino and the rest of the Red Sox front office when, before Wednesday's huge game against the Angels, Ramirez told ESPN Deportes that the Red Sox didn't deserve a player like himself.
That's true, but for all the reasons Ramirez didn't consider.
The Red Sox don't deserve a player like ManRam because he's a consistent headache and pain in the ass. They don't deserve a player like Ramirez because his lackadaisical outfield play costs the team at least 10-15 runs a year -- though it also unarguably saves them five or so because of his expertise dealing with the wall. They don't deserve a player like Ramirez because he can singlehandedly kill the momentum created by the rest of the team with one selfish "I'm questionable because my knee hurts" move.
No, the Red Sox deserve a young outfielder like Jason Bay, a power hitter who was the National League rookie of the year in 2004 and is still only 29. They deserve a player like Bay, a pull-hitting righty who has been driving shots toward a cavernous left field wall that's 441 feet from home plate, ridiculously farther than the 37-foot high Monster he'll be hitting them toward now. They deserve a player like Bay, who's already developed a reputation for earnest hustle and consistent defense, an All-Star who has as many homers as Ramirez, though they may be less majestic.
They deserve a player like Bay, productive without the panache, content to fit in with a contender after years slugging each night in anonymity in the baseball desert of Pittsburgh. And Bay deserves his shot to be a real contributor, a player who can make a name for himself in a season and a half before he hits the free market as a Boras client.
Don't get WMYM wrong, the side pieces in this deal hurt Boston. Bad. We're officially on the record from here on out believing that giving up on Craig Hansen may come back to haunt us, not to mention the remarkably timely contributions from Brandon Moss, a perfect September call-up if ever there was one.
But this was still the deal that HAD to happen if Boston was going to compete in '08. The Yankees may have won the trade war, particularly after getting Pudge Rodriguez. But with Bay -- and more significantly, minus Manny -- the Sox ensured that they still have a shot to catch a second wind, galvanize as a team in a way they couldn't with ManRam on board and start fighting in the division as a team on the chase rather than the reigning World Series champs.
If memory serves us correctly, that may not be a bad thing for their future. It beats being a sitting duck with a free agent to be left fielder who may or may not sit out the final third of a season because he's sick of Beantown.
Josh Beckett is brilliant, but still loses. Joba Chamberlain looks like a world beater in Fenway Park. The pitching shines, again, but the Yankees -- thanks to Mariano Rivera -- wriggle out of sticky situations with ducks on the pond in the eighth and the ninth.
What can Boston fans say, except !@$(&%&Q@#$&.
Suddenly, a second-straight division title running away is down to a two-game lead. Suddenly, the Yankees are surging while the Boston lineup wilts. Suddenly the tables have turned, with pressure squarely on Tim Wakefield to come through with an enormous outing ... or else.
If that's not the worst possible scenario, WMYM isn't sure what is, all of which goes to prove that some of the worst nightmares still come when you're wide awake.
Last night's Red Sox win, a 44-0 doozie over the Mariners highlighted by Jon Lester's brilliant eight-inning shut out and Jonathan Papelbon's Houdini impersonation in the aformentioned eighth, a two-pitch double play gem that got Lester out of a bases-loaded jam (though he could hardly be blamed for the last of the three runners), was a return to normalcy.
OK, maybe it wasn't a return to normalcy. After all, how many times this year has Jason Varitek come through with the big homer? Still, it showcased more of the offense pressure fans are used to than Boston flexed in Anaheim. The team's four runs came in two different innings, included an impressive homer and clearly benefitted from hitters showing more patience at the plate, eventually getting to Jerrod Washburn despite the pitcher's relatively impressive stuff.
That brings us to tonight, with Daisuke Matsuzaka heading to the hill for his first start of the second half of the season. His personal campaign -- you can practically call it the "Yes, I really am worth all that cash" season -- kept it's positive trajectory going in his final start before the All-Star break, yet another win with big innings and harrowing escapes more typical of a mid-summer Tom Cruise flick than an mid-summer outing on a pitching rubber.
All of those steps forward, for both Matsuzaka and Boston, will get pushed to the side if they can't put together another game like they did on Monday night. Interestingly, the tables will be turned on the Sox, with their hitters facing off against ulner ligament-less knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, whose 2-4 record comes with the asterisk of limited starting experience -- he's only started seven games this season -- and his relative youth as a knuckleballer. Dickey came up as a fireballing fastball hurler, then converted himself into a gimmick pitcher after he had his ulnar ligament completely removed when one elbow surgery turned into the next without any significant productivity in between.
Dice-K, meantime, has had mixed results against the Mariners himself. After the loss in his Fenway Park debut, in which he was famously outdueled by Felix Hernandez, Matsuzaka hasn't lost against Seattle. Unfortunately, he's only won once, with a whopping three no-decisions thrown in for good measure.
One would think he'd need a bit more run support than in his earlier outing against the M's this year, when he lasted only four innings while giving up three runs. But that all depends on whether Dickey's knuckler moves.
Here's hoping Tim Wakefield hasn't been giving any lessons in the past week.
Within the problem zone, the biggest issue may be the team's lack of a set-up man. Hideki Okajima's deceptive delivery has clearly lost much of its advantage over the AL East rivals, and it appears as if his impeccable control has slipped just a bit, as well. With Okie working his way towards a seventh inning spot -- at best -- that's left a significant void as a late bridge to Jonathan Papelbon. After major early struggles, most notably with then-Blue Jay Frank Thomas, Manny Delcarmen has put together a strong campaign to become that set-up man. Craig Hansen's improved control also makes him a logical candidate. Yet as much as both youngsters show significant potential, they also present pratfalls as a by-product of the very duality of their youth. Clearly, both are over the trauma caused by one of the more garish blown saves in AAA history last spring at Pawtucket, but neither seems to have reached the stage of their career when they can be counted on every time out. Or at least nine times out of 10.
Of course, the byproduct of those struggles are allowed runs, and for Boston relievers, inherited runners have been the catalyst for that syndrome more than anything else. None of the Red Sox relievers have been particularly successful at limiting damage set up by their in-game predecessors, with Okie providing the worst rate in the entire major leagues. It appears that Terry Francona has finally caught on to the trends, or perhaps given in to the fact that he just needs to avoid Okajima's exposure to those dangers, but he's otherwise been unable to limit the damage. Amazingly, the most effective damage-limiter has been lefty-specialist Javier Lopez, whose at least had an occasional penchant to wriggle out of jams. David Aardsma certainly has the brute power and speed to pull Houdini's with the best of them, but his control is still a bit lacking at the big league level. That being said, WMYM won't be surprised if he becomes an escapist pro sometime in 2009. In 2008? It still seems a bridge too far, at least to us.
Player-by-player: Papelbon A-, Okajima B-, Delcarmen B, Hansen B-, Aardsma B+, Timlin C+, Lopez B+
The Red Sox brass picked the wrong rookie starter.
Red Sox should have sent Justin Masterson, above, to the 'pen rather than Clay Buchholz, below.
Look, we know that Clay Buchholz's stuff is as good as anyone else on the Sox staff. We know he brings an electricity with the potential for a no-hitter every time out, and he could easily hit a second half groove that makes him an invaluable addition to the Boston rotation. As WMYM said right off the bat, we certainly hope he does. But as things stand now, we can't figure out how he's a better bet as a fourth or fifth starter than Justin Masterson, a pitcher who's shown he can maximize each outing on the hill.
Instead, it's Masterson the Sox are sending to the bullpen, arming him with the chore of re-tooling his approach in the minor leagues for a call up at a time TBD. It's precisely the type of plan they cooked up for Buchholz last year before his shoulder soreness got in the way, creating a temporary void in the bullpen that led the then-WMYM to proclaim his absence a major playoff dilemma for Boston.
There were numerous reasons to write that then, but primary among them was this: Masterson could be one of the great confounding relievers of all-time. He can challenge with a fastball, drop his curve off the table and leave batters questioning which pitch is coming on a constant basis.
That's not the case with Masterson, a sinkerballer whose success is based almost entirely on velocity and location. If Masterson is having a good night, whoever he's pitching against is going to be making a lot of contact, hitting into groundouts and pop flys and various other hits for outs. He can pound the ball inside and paint the edge of the corners for strikeouts, but that's not his game. Controlled contact is.
Buchholz, on the other hand, is a strikeout pitcher, a guy whose stuff may come and go inning to inning or, on good nights, game to game. He approaches every batter with the assumption he's going to strike him out, which -- combined with his remarkably frail physique -- is why his occasional dominance is so impressive. In short, you're taking a gamble when you bring him out of the pen, particularly with runners on (as you'd assume they would use him). But that chance comes with the possibility of high reward and a strong potential to bail out whichever arm is currently on the hook.
Obviously, that's not the case with Masterson. Think about it: contact is NOT what you want when the bases are loaded. At that point, any contact brings potential for disaster, particularly with a pitcher in his first major league season who, despite showing an aptitude for working out of jams, remains a relatively untested commodity when put under pressure.
So why are Theo Epstein, Terry Francona and the rest of the Boston brain trust making this move? That's easy: It's all about innings.
Think about it, the Red Sox developmental program is so focused on pitch counts and innings limits that they only half-joked about taking Buchholz out of his no-hitter in the eighth inning last year. As it turns out, they were clearly vindicated in their stringent limits, with Buchholz's shoulder injury coming less than a month later.
This year, Buchholz's pitch and innings limits have been extended, giving the pitcher more of a leash to work with on the mound. Conversely, Masterson finds himself in the binds that constrained Buchholz last summer, limited even in his best outings by a daily pitch count and, eventually, by the number of appearances he was to be allowed in during 2008.
That's why the move does make sense from a strategic position. Unfortunately, strategic positions don't play games on the field, like, say, the one that the Sox are currently trailing to the Orioles at Fenway Park. It's Buchholz's first start back, and his inning-to-inning schizophrenia is in full effect. We're going to go close our eyes while "watching" the rest of the game, hoping that the overpowering and mystical Buchholz gets the best of his alter-ego, waiting for Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka the next couple days. Come to think of it, Wake and Dice-K are just as likely to have WMYM looking for alkaseltzer, aren't they? Hmmmm. Must be time for the weekly CVS trip for TUMS.
You wouldn't have known it from the seventh inning of Wednesday afternoon's win.
WMYM could easily go back through the hit-by-hit, play-by-play reinactment of the carnage, but the AP's Jimmy Golen does a much better job, seeing as how he was actually sitting in Fenway at the time and all:
The Red Sox had runners on second and third when Jason Varitek hit a sinking liner to center and Denard Span slid for the ball, backhanding it and then holding up his glove as if he caught it. The base runners took off and, after the umpires belatedly signaled a catch, Span threw to second to double off Casey.
Second baseman Alexi Casilla leisurely threw to third to get Mike Lowell, who had already crossed the plate. (Lowell appeared to have tagged up, but he was rung up anyway.)
While the umpires conferred, official scorer Mike Petraglia announced that the play was an 8-4-5 triple play, "for now."
The call was reversed -- correctly, replays confirmed -- and irate Twins manager Ron Gardenhire came out of the dugout for an argument that led to a quick ejection.
Casey stayed at third and Varitek was credited with an RBI single that gave Boston an 8-5 lead. Craig Breslow relieved Boof Bonser and struck out Brandon Moss, but Julio Lugo walked to load the bases.
Ellsbury singled to drive in another run and, with Brian Bass pitching, Pedroia hit a double to left to clear the bases and extend his hitting streak to 17 games. Youkilis doubled and Ramirez followed with an RBI single to make it 14-5.
That's how quick a 7-5 contest with a trajectory to go down to the wire can snowball into a rout in Fenway Park. That's also exactly the kind of drastic turn of events Red Sox fans were used to seeing a lot more of in 2004 and 2005, with teams built to smash long balls and rack up massive amounts of runs on the bottom half of Fenway's antiquated scoreboard.
The fact that Josh Beckett didn't have his best stuff this afternoon is actually the most encouraging aspect of the victory, from a Boston perspective. By winning an 18-5 slugfest, and by pulling away rather than relying on a bullpen that has given cause for a lot of gnawed fingernails this season, this Red Sox team showed that it can flex a considerable amount of muscle when it needs to, Big Papi or no Big Papi.
That should quiet the Barry Bonds talk, at least for an afternoon. Or two, if we're all lucky. It hasn't slowed the Boston Herald yet, but there's a first for everything.
In fact, Moss may be picking his spots so admirably that he might be prime trade bait over the next couple of weeks.
That's a story for the future, not one for a deceptively important night after a second-straight Red Sox win over a Twins team that entered as hot as anyone in the major leagues. They'll exit with a lost series, and will have to beat Josh Beckett to get a win out of a three-game set.
As the case turned out, they should have beaten Jon Lester on Tuesday, a day in which he toggled between brilliance and the kind of scuffles that pockmarked his previous tenures in the major leagues. Occasionally, when listening to a play-by-play team on the radio or TV, one of the announcers will just get it right. That was the case Tuesday, when Dave O'Brien, one half of the WEEI radio crew and a weekly ESPN TV play-by-play man, said that Lester was, "just a little off tonight." It's true. While Lester was absolutely dominant over the first three innings, he was lucky to get out of the fourth allowing just three runs. He got things back under control in the fifth and sixth, but found himself struggling again in both the seventh and eighth before being relieved and bailed out by David Aardsma, who earned the win in relief.
Was the performance a bit schizophrenic? Sure, but it was hardly Lester's worst. In fact, by going deep into the game, the second consecutive night a Sox starter has lasted long enough to avoid using more than one reliever as a bridge to closer Jonathan Papelbon, Lester ensured that the Boston bullpen would be all but completely fresh for Wednesday's series finale, Papelbon aside.
just keep contributing to a lineup he's starting to crack more often
with Big Papi working his way back. (AP Photos)
Still, Ramirez was the story again, as the outfielder-come-DH showed that he can get himself re-tracked as quickly as he slips off the rails. After the win, Terry Francona reflected on Ramirez's bomb the way he's reflected on missing Big Papi from the lineup, with a proverbial, "sometimes you just need a home run."
On Tuesday, the Red Sox needed a home run. They got one, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
It's hard to say whether the earlier start time threw Josh Beckett off his usual rhythms. Something did, because he wasn't fooling ANY of the Orioles hitters. Aubrey Huff looked like a monster, which is just to say that, clearly, Beckett wasn't hitting his spots. He struggled with location, seemed to question his approach to a handful of hitters, then proceeded to get absolutely smoked when he left anything up in the zone.
Without a doubt, Beckett has spent as much of '08 looking like he did in '06 as he looked in '07. That's not a good development. After all, Inside Edge graded Beckett's performance as a C+. Again.
Equally troubling is the gradual breakdown of Hideki Okajima. The majors' most reliable set-up man a year ago, Oki was battered around for his second loss against the Orioles this year. Clearly, they've figured out some sort of a tip off from his delivery, as they routed his grooved fastballs for the the three decisive runs in Tuesday's game.
In truth, Sox fans could probably see it coming. When Okajima was summoned for the seventh, then promptly put a pair of runners on, it only seemed like a matter of time before things collapsed. His personal choke job was finished when Manny Delcarmen allowed the go-ahead run on a sac fly -- chalk up another inherited runner allowed -- the collapse was complete.
So where do the Sox go from here? Like the Celtics, they turn around and wait to play again. Unlike the Celtics, they get to turn around and throw another ace out there right away. Despite his disastrous last outing, Bartolo Colon has been impressive in three of his four starts in an XXL sized Red Sox uniform. His 3.91 ERA stacks up favorably with Baltimore pitcher Jeremy Guthrie's 3.40, particularly considering a disproportionate percentage of that 3.40 was put on him by Red Sox bats. That trend seems primed to continue with both J.D. Drew and Manny Ramirez swinging a hotter bat than they've wielded since, well, just about forever.
That, as they say, is the end. Finito. Which is precisely the great part about baseball, because there's another finito to have tomorrow. Hopefully for Red Sox fans, it'll close a bit brighter than this one. Something tells WMYM that Celtics fans are hoping for that, too.
Just hours after we questioned whether his return to the Boston lineup would re-invigorate the offense after a lackluster night, Ramirez ensured it would with a monster of a two-run homer. When combined with a blistering day from J.D. Drew, who homered to deep center in the middle of an afternoon that cemented his spot among the hottest hitters in the bigs, and a handful of resourceful plays from Alex Cora, the Sox had more than enough to even a weekend series with the Mariners.
On a normal day, those developments provide more than enough headlines in themselves. But that wasn't the case Saturday, a Tim Wakefield start where, for the first time since 2002, he was on the mound at the same time as another knuckleballer. That other butterfly specialist in question was Seattle's R.A. Dickey, the former flamethrower who, after losing his ulnar collateral ligament from long-term damage - yes, he REALLY doesn't have the ligament at all anymore - became a knuckleball specialist, now in relief for the Mariners. Unfortunately for the M's, Dickey wasn't significantly more successful than his predecessor, Miguel Batista, with the Sox adding a run during his two innings on the mound. That run came on another one of Drew's hits, a stroke to center which truly may have been the indication that he's officially on fire.
In other good news, Jacoby Ellsbury made a late appearance, the cameo giving Sox fans hope that he can return soon, thus easing some of the strain on the outfield and perhaps clearing up a rotation for when Coco Crisp's appeal of his mound charging suspension is summarily rejected. It says here that's coming a lot sooner than later.
In the meantime, the Sox can enjoy another win, with the afternoon punctuated by the ManRam and Drew bombs and a nice, throwback performance by Wakefield. They'll take that every time.
STARTING PITCHING; Tim Wakefield: √+, seven innings, two runs. All in a solid day's work for Wake.
MIDDLE RELIEF: N/A
SET-UP RELIEF; Craig Hansen: √+, one inning, no runs, one hits. Another scoreless shines more light on Hansen's evolution from mop-up man to legitimate set-up contender. He keeps improving.
CLOSER: Jonathan Papelbon: -, one inning, one hit, one run. Paps gave up another run, and while it didn't affect the final result, Red Sox fans never want to see their closer give up a run. Under any conditions. Luckily, Papelbon has a similarly potent distaste for letting runs cross the plate, so it probably won't happen again soon.
Of course, there are pleasantries to discuss, after the Sox rallied to take an extra-inning win on the road from Camden Yards last night. While Josh Beckett wasn't as dominant as he often is and struggled with his control, walking the bases full in his final inning, he also did what he tends to do best: He got the outs when he needed to and shut down Baltimore's chances at big innings.
That's what stoppers do: they stop the bleeding. And Beckett sopped the bleeding on the road pretty well last night. Of course, that begs the next question: Will the Sox be able to build on road success for a change, or will be just another blip on what has so far been a horrendous road resume. Lester certainly has the talent to do so, and if he does, he'll do so in an intriguing matchup. Baltimore's Garrett Olson has been terrific early, and the Red Sox will have to hit better than they have outside of Fenway all year to break through his teflon.
They'll also have to do it with efficient pitching, since nearly the entire bullpen made a cameo in last night's 13-inning face off. Hideki Okajima had an inning, Javier Lopez and Craig Hansen combined to put up a frame, Manny Delcarmen had his say, Mike Timlin showed up in the 12th and Jonathan Papelbon shut things down at the end of the road. Put all that together, and things start to look like a perfect opportunity for a multiple-inning Papelbon outing if Boston has a lead tonight. Remember, he'd hardly pitched in a week and a half before last night's quick 1-2-3 inning.
STARTING PITCHING: √
He wasn't perfect, but Beckett did what he's shown he's best at the past two seasons: He got the job done. Inside Edge was hardly blown away - they graded him at a B - but he did have a couple really impressive marks: Overall Effectiveness and Battle Tendency. Look, if you make WMYM pick two categories to have a pitcher excel in, we'll take Battle Tendency as one of them every single time.
MIDDLE RELIEF: √+
Manny Delcarmen, Javier Lopez, Craig Hansen ... all the young guys got the job done last night. In fact, with the exception of the melodrama brought by Delcarmen and Timlin, things cruised along quite nicely. That's exactly what you want from this bunch, and what people came to expect last year from Boston's excellent corps.
SET-UP RELIEF: N/A
Hard to call Timlin a set up reliever, since he wasn't in a set-up situation, which is why we lumped him in with the category above.
Can't go wrong with a 1-2-3 Papelbon outing, even if the lead was a bit more luxurious than he planned on, to be sure.
They just didn't take advantage of so many of the opportunities that were thrown in front of them. Whether it was squandering runners on base - didn't it seem like Jacoby Ellsbury was on the base paths all night - or blowing extra outs earlier in the game, it took the top of the 13th inning for Boston to finally come through, thanks to some horrendous Orioles defense. Accordingly, that's why you see Inside Edge grade the whole evening as a C, and to be fair, it's hard to argue otherwise. A nice game from Ellsbury, a nice game from David Ortiz and, eventually, a slump-busting hit from Kevin Youkilis aside, better things are expected from the Boston hitters, to be sure.
Well, don't tell that to 1,000s of invading Red Sox fans this weekend, transplanted from New England in hopes of watching the BoSox bounce back from a recent trend of road reluctance, or at least reluctance to score on the road. Dropping two of three in Seattle hurt, not just because it was two losses, but because if followed a sweep in Oakland and because, well, right now Seattle looks worse than just about any other team in the bigs.
Amazingly, that's not the case with this Baltimore team. The hitting is young and, at times, sketchy, but it's been coming nonetheless. The pitching is young and, at times, sketchy, but it's been coming nonetheless. The relief is young and, at times, sketchy, but - ok, it's hit some road bumps recently. But even Baltimore's patchy corps has actually been better than Boston's throughout the majority of '08. And that says something.
So, you ask, how does Boston have a chance in Baltimore this weekend? Well, there are actually a handful of factors in the Sox' corner. Tonight Josh Beckett takes the hill after losing his last start. In case you weren't already far too aware, Beckett really hates to lose. REALLY hates to lose, which tends to make the starts he makes AFTER a loss some of his most impressive. Then there's Manny Ramirez returning to the scene of his High Five double play - which, incidentally, might just be the best baseball highlight of the still early '08 season - with a shot at cranking out his 500th. Add to that a fully rested relief corps and a Boston team desperate to prove that it can hack it on the road, particularly at the plate, and you have the makings for a solid four game tussle.
Just to whet your whistle, here's the matchup for tonight's Game 1, with the equally significant lineups. Oh, and it's ManRam's birthday, too. So we all have the potential of a birthday cake and shaving cream pie double to look forward to if Manny can get hold of a good pitch. What's that? You don't think the Sox would dare toss the ol' shaving cream pie in ManRam's face? Don't you think he'd get a kick out of that? WMYM certainly does.
Why Boston can not win on the road is truly a great mystery. Friday night proved the start of tribulations, but that loss could largely be chalked up to a bad outing from Tim Wakefield, as schizophrenic a starter as there is, through no fault of his own. But the following two games, started by ace Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, coming off a no-hitter, were both pitched competently and competitively.
So what are the Red Sox to make of an inauspicious start to their latest West Coast trip? It's hard to say. Lester was far from perfect Sunday, but he settled down nicely after allowing a two-run single in the bottom of the fourth. In fact, after motoring through a 1-2-3 fifth inning, it was more than a bit surprising that he didn't trot back out to start the sixth. His pitch count had only reached 94, and it's likely that his no-hitter on Monday played heavily in keeping him from going further.
Of course, in the end that wouldn't have mattered, because the Sox only mustered three runs. Therein lies the rub, folks: These Sox are just not hitting on the road.
Consider the final scores from the past three days: 8-3, 3-0, 6-3. Six runs in three games. That's a paltry output for a lineup that's truly crushing the ball back home in the friendly confines of Fenway Park.
Oakland's McAfee Coliseum might have something to do with that, given that at least a handful of deep fly outs across the series may have gone out in a smaller park. Despite nearly 20 fly outs on Saturday night against Justin Duscherer, the Sox just didn't put the ball in play on the ground much, and THAT's what may have killed them more than anything else.
That's all fine to note, as is potential lingering distractions after the no-hitter from Lester, a young, charismatic player whose personal struggles with cancer makes such a feat an instant national story. Still, it doesn't justify six runs in three games, and Boston clearly needs a prompt rebound in Seattle or there will be a lot of sleepless nights ahead (Go ahead. It's alright to groan over that one).
STARTING PITCHING: -
Lester couldn't get past four innings because he twittering around the strike zone and, additionally, was victimized by a sloppy defense. If he'd been more efficient, he clearly would have continued through the sixth. Instead, he was done early, and had already allowed four more runs than he did Monday night. The combination makes for a sure straight -, even if another inning alone might have been enough for a small bump up.
MIDDLE RELIEF: -
Craig Hansen did his job, bringing encouragement for the team's middle relief future in the process. The same can't be said for Javier Lopez, whose horrid seventh was the death knell to any serious hopes of a Boston comeback. Mike Timlin wasn't exactly brilliant of his own accord, but - as he always seems to do - he wriggled his way out of danger. Clearly, more outings like Sunday's for Lopez would make clear one of the team's priorities heading deeper into the summer and toward the trade deadline.
SET-UP RELIEF: N/A
At this point, Jonathan Papelbon has to be getting antsy ...
Three runs behind Jon Lester isn't really enough to be safe, nor would it ever be to back up a second-year starter. That being said, this straight - is more a reflection of three consecutive days of abhorrent offense, punctuated only briefly by splashes of power - David Ortiz's 11th home run this afternoon, for instance - and, finally, a decent outing from Manny Ramirez, whose 3-for-4 looked a lot more like the ManRam everyone recognizes. A lot more of those outputs from both men would go a long way toward righting the ship in Seattle.
On an afternoon when Josh Beckett clearly didn't have his A game - he may not have even had his B game - David Ortiz had a reliable piece of lumber. Maybe that's what he was missing all through the first quarter of the season.
Regardless of where his personal piece of lucky lumber came from, Big Papi was blasting on all cylinders Sunday, connecting for two homers and another key RBI double in Boston's come-from-behind win, a victory which handed the Sox a much needed sweep over the Brewers. Unlike the previous two games, when the Sox jumped out early and held on for dear life through shaky bullpen outings, this one got started on the other foot, surprising since it was Beckett's turn to take the ball on the hill.
So what are we to make of this win? Well, it comes a day after a doubleheader exhausted nearly all the bullpen, so just getting through it required a significant amount of pitching stamina. Beckett provided that, going seven innings before giving way to Manny Delcarmen for the eighth after his 107th pitch. If there was any doubt he wasn't on top of his game, his 75-32 strike-to-ball ratio is definitely off his best, and even well off his average. There was only one walk, but the four homers dished up by Boston's ace made him look a lot more like the 2006 vintage of Beckett - his first season in Boston - than the pitcher he evolved into last summer. The 2007 Josh Beckett does not give up four homers or six runs in a start. Sunday, he did.
Luckily for the Red Sox, that didn't matter in the end. With the depth of hitting the Sox flexed back at home in Fenway, they had more than enough pop to take advantage of yet another bad start from Milwaukee's overmatched Carlos Villanueva, and then more power to feast on a taxed Brewers bullpen that just never delivered after it got to Kenmore Square.
None of this should minimize frustration over a second-staright subpar Beckett outing, or concern that three games in two days could take its toll in the coming series against the Royals, who are NOT playing like the Royals AL fans have grown accustomed to in years past. Think the Devil Rays gone midwest, with slightly less youth and pitching. It also can't minimize frustration over more bullpen struggles, as one the team's true unquestioned strengths a year ago steadily starts to look like an Achilles heel.
But a sweep is a sweep, and with projected starts by both rookie Justin Masterson (Tuesday) and Bartolo Colon (his Red Sox debut on Wednesday), wins against anyone by anyone can't be taken lightly. Even when the opposing pitcher is Carlos Villanueva.
STARTING PITCHING: -
That was Josh Beckett? Really? Do we have additional visual confirmation? The four homers looked far too much like the less-cerebral, more macho Beckett of '06, when he was just trying to overpower everyone. In case you missed that season with selective memory loss following a particular September five-game massacre, the bottom line was that the whole "I'm going to throw harder and faster than you, and nothing else" strategy wasn't such a big hit. Still, Beckett got seven innings, which was absolutely essential. If he doesn't last that long, the Red Sox probably don't win. It's worth noting, even amidst an overall air of disappointment with the rest of start.
MIDDLE RELIEF: N/A
It wasn't pretty, but Beckett made it to the finish line, which kept this all-important N/A in place.
SET-UP RELIEF: -
Terry Francona had to be praising the good lord above that Manny Delcarmen had a few runs to work with. Not only did he allow another run - and two hits - by doing so he added more questions to the ongoing internal debate over whether he can really ascend to the set-up position the organization has him targeted for. A day after Craig Hansen struggled when he had a chance to show his stripes - overcoming two errors in the same inning would have proved he was over the struggles of his first couple seasons - Delcarmen couldn't take the power relief job by the horns either. That all underscores something that Sox fans, a particular Baltimore grand slam aside, already know all too well: the quicker Hideki Okajima's wrist injury heals, the better.
What was it with this game? Not only did Jonathan Papelbon allow the ever-elusive hit, he nearly allowed a second one that could have stoked a rally, if not for the tremendous speed and athleticism of Jacoby Ellsbury in right field. Luckily, that was all the drama for the afternoon, none too soon.
Now we're talking. Vintage All-Star stuff from Big Papi made up for another relatively quiet afternoon from Manny Ramirez, who is STILL stuck on 497 in this interminable quest for 500 homers. And is anyone surprised that both Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis both had three hits apiece? They shouldn't be. That duo, now split on different slots of the order after last season as table-setting toppers, are becoming just as important to the success of the Red Sox lineups as Ortiz and Ramirez. It's the truth, even if it doesn't receive the hype.
Sure, Boston built up big leads in both legs. Sure, the got starting pitching efforts that lasted nearly a complete seven innings on both fronts. Sure, they got solid hitting early and plenty of base runners later. The unsettling thing was that Milwaukee just didn't fold.
and it helped make up for he and his teammates' sloppy night in the field.
In truth, that's what you were waiting for as a Red Sox fan. There was no reason for the Brewers to really feel like they were going to be able to mount a comeback. They fell behind early to a team that's been more dominant at home in the early season than any other, and they did it against a team that had to sit and stew about a losing streak for two days, thanks to moody rain.
Then there was the compact doubleheader, circumstances which nearly always conspire to create a split. Well, maybe not always, but that's often the case. And no sooner did WMYM tout up the advantage of having two catches split the two sides of the doubleheader than Kevin Cash puts up a stinker of a ball game, losing passed balls left and right and putting up a - rare for him in '08 - 0fer at the plate. That included a situation in the eighth when he could have taken considerable pressure off his reliever in the ninth.
Yet somehow the hits that were most important came, the relievers that were most needed came through just enough, shaky outings from David Aardsma and, worrisomely, Craig Hansen aside. And somehow, the Red Sox swept two from a team that could have been a pesky obstacle on a short homestand. The grades may not be truly reflective of that, but winning twice in a day is always impressive, and at the end of a long afternoon and evening, that actually is the most notable thing of all.
STARTING PITCHING: √-
Wakefield left the mound after allowing only one run himself, but he was responsible for two runners on, both of whom eventually crossed against David Aardsma. While that reflects as much on Aardsma as it does on Wakefield, the old knuckler had to wriggle out of a lot of jams tonight, which doesn't reflect too well on his efficiency. That's not to say that he wasn't effective; to the contrary, whenever you get seven innings (or, in this case, 6.2) out of Wakefield, that's not a bad night. It's just that with the stuff he had, it's likely that his line wouldn't have looked nearly as tidy against any team that had actually seen him before.
MIDDLE RELIEF: -
The Wakefield to Aardsma bridge has been a pretty sturdy one of late for Terry Francona, but it didn't work out that way this week. After cruising to his first out with a three pitch strikeout, the fireballer struggled to command his breaking pitches, walking the bases loaded and then giving up a key two-out hit that put Milwaukee right back in the game. Not only was it a blow to the reliever's confidence, it was a big blow to the rest of the bullpen, which clearly was hoping to get a second inning out of Aardsma.
SET-UP RELIEF: -
Oh Craig Hansen, just when we're about to slot you into a key position in the team's bullpen plans, you go out and allow an outing like tonight. In this case, Hansen was victimized by preposterously sloppy infield defense, with two errors erasing him from the fault of his runs. Still, it would have been a huge frame if he'd been able to escape unscathed, and unfortunately he didn't. Instead, he gave up the tying and leading run after a wild pitch that easily could have been ruled a passed ball. The shaky outing isn't necessarily a disaster for the reliever, but it sets the stage for a huge outing his next time out. If he comes out of the 'pen and shuts things down quickly, all signs point to the positive. If he doesn't, all bets on his future may soon be off.
Someone had to earn a top grade from the pitching ranks today. And isn't it nice when it happens to be a guy who's been about as loyal to Boston as possible? Unlike the skeens of drama provided the rest of the day, Mike Timlin's 1-2-3 ninth was a breath of fresh area, and a breath of relief for Jonathan Papelbon, who earned the save in Game 1. To say those three outs were a big boost for tomorrow and the rest of the home stand are an understatement.
No √+ because of all the stranded runners, but there was some general depth in hitting, despite sitting a handful of regulars. David Ortiz came through with more situational hitting, going with the pitch for a bloop single when the team needed hits instead of trying to yank out a deep shot. Mike Lowell was a monster early, and Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia proved once again that it's all but impossible to shut them down for an entire game. That, as much as anything else, is starting to come through as the identity of this team: The hitters just don't stop coming, ever. As long as Youkilis, Pedroia, Ellsbury and co. keep that approach, the Sox will probably keep contending and degending with real results.