Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

OH NO, THE SKY IS FALLING

What an adventure for the Red Sox bullpen this weekend.

Rudy Seanez's three walks in the ninth on Sunday were a disaster in the making, and when Julian Tavarez walked in two runs later that inning it was the sad culmination of their combined ineptitude. Many of us had never seen anything quite like it. Neither pitcher could throw strikes.

The Red Sox bullpen has proven itself to be thin and quite suspect. Neither the starting rotation or the bullpen has the depth of a playoff team, much less a World Series Champion. They will be a busy team at the deadline.

Though the Sox swept the D-Rays in four straight over the weekend, and sit atop the AL East with a 30-19 record, there's still reason for concern.

With ten pitchers on the staff, the team can only rely on four -- Schilling, Beckett, Timlin, and Papelbon -- and Timlin is on the DL.

Timlin landed on the DL with a "tired arm," and at the age of 40 that's worrisome. After all, it's still only May. Keith Foulke is a roll of the dice each time he takes the mound. There's been no consistency in any of his performances.

At this point, the Red Sox are in the unfortunate position of relying on David Wells, and his ability to return to his former self. That's a lot to ask of an overweight 43-year-old with a bad knee. As of now, Terry Francona says there are no plans to put Wells back on the DL, where he's already spent 43 days due that surgically repaired right knee. At the least, Wells will miss his next scheduled start tomorrow, and the team has yet to announce who will take his spot.

Sure, the Sox could turn to Lenny DiNardo, Jon Lester, or even Craig Hansen, but the major consideration is that none of them has yet proven himself to be an effective big league pitcher. In fact, DiNardo has shown himself to be mostly ineffective. As for filling out the unreliable bullpen, Manny Delcarmen and Jermaine Van Buren will see action, but neither of them has proven himself a reliable big league reliever as of yet either.

With Papelbon's success as the closer, combined with the fact that he loves the role and says he doesn't even think about starting anymore, the Sox are attempting to covert Hansen to a starter.

Hansen made his third start of the season Saturday for Triple A Pawtucket, allowing only one hit and no runs over four innings, walking four and striking out three while lowering his ERA to 2.29. In his three starts he's 0-1 with a 1.54 ERA.

The organization is being very careful with his pitch counts and the number of innings he works. The plan is to move him along slowly since he's not used to pitching extended innings. He may be needed in Boston before the year is over, and they don't want him to have a tired arm.

In the meantime, the Sox are going to need some outside help, and where they've begun their search isn't encouraging. Word is they've been scouting the Minnesota's Kyle Lohse, who was recently demoted to Triple A after being totally ineffective for the Twins this season. Before being sent down, Lohse had compiled a record of 2-4, to go along with a frightening 8.92 ERA. In 38-1/3 innings, Lohse had surrendered an appalling 57 hits for 38 earned runs. He'd managed just 24 strikeouts, to go along with 19 walks, and opponents were batting .420 against him.

However, for what its worth, Lohse has pitched very well against minor league hitters since the demotion. The Sox were looking at him last year in deadline trade talks.

So it would appear that the Sox had better have a good contingency plan. As always, every competitive team will be seeking pitching help in the coming months, and there's only so much talent to go around. And what is available will likely be free agents that will cost the highest bidder some valuable prospects. There will be no shortage of suitors for Dontrelle Willis, Barry Zito, and Jason Schmidt, should they be available. Kelvim Escobar's name has even been mentioned, though it's difficult to imagine what would provoke a big market, big money team to part with such an outstanding young talent. The Angels are having an off year, but the club has been competitive the past few years and is only three seasons removed from a World Series Championship.

Because of the cost in young talent that any trade will result in, the free agent signing of Roger Clemens is all the more appealing to both the Sox and Yankees. That puts Clemens squarely in the driver's seat, and he'll get whatever he wants. The Sox will have to wait and see. We should know of Clemens' decision in a week or so, but the odds are he'll stay in Houston.

In the meantime, the Sox can only hope that Wells has a remarkable recovery, and that Matt Clement discovers something deep inside that even he isn't aware he possesses right now.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

SCHILLING'S QUEST FOR 200

Only 103 pitchers in Major League history have won at least 200 games. Sitting atop 199 career wins, Curt Schilling will be next to join them. And that could come as soon as tonight, against the Devil Rays at Fenway.

The crop of current major league pitchers with 200 wins includes Greg Maddux (323), Tom Glavine (282), Randy Johnson (269), Mike Mussina (230), David Wells (227), Jamie Moyer (207) and Pedro Martinez (202). With 341 victories, Roger Clemens has not pitched this season and has yet to declare if he intends to return or retire. Interestingly, MLB has not removed Clemens' name from the active career leaders list.

The most recent member of the 200 win club is Martinez, who became the seventh current major league pitcher to accomplish the feat on April 17. The three-time Cy Young Award winner is 202-84, the fewest losses for any of the 103 pitchers with 200 wins.

Over the course of his 17-year career, playing for five different teams, Schilling has pitched with three of the pitchers in that elite, and still active, cadre -- Johnson, Martinez, and Wells.

When Schilling notches his next win, he will become just the fourth pitcher to earn his 200th career victory in a Red Sox uniform, joining Lefty Grove (Aug. 8, 1938, over Philadelphia), Ferguson Jenkins (July 27, 1976, against Cleveland), and Luis Tiant (Aug. 16, 1978, against California). But no pitcher has ever won 200 games playing for the Red Sox; Cy Young and Roger Clemens each won 192 playing for the club.

Most pitchers would be extremely fortunate to pitch 10 years in the Majors. The mean career length for pitchers is just 4.8 years. Obviously, a pitcher would have to win 20 games a year for ten years to reach the 200 plateau -- an incredible feat. The point is that as rare as it is for a pitcher to win 200 games, it's just as rare for most of them to ever pitch enough seasons to even begin approaching the milestone. In fact, only 31 pitchers have had careers of 20 years or longer, which explains why so few (22) have reached baseball immortality by earning 300 career victories.

But Schilling's effectiveness is not relegated to the past. The 22 hurlers in the "300 club" had an average age of 38.5 the last time each won 10 or more games in a single season. Schilling is going for win number eight tonight, and it's only late May. The big righty is 39.5 and still going strong, even after major reconstructive surgery just a year-and-half ago.

Because of the modern five-man rotation, an adherence to 100 pitch outings, and relief pitchers, 300 wins is a milestone that has become evermore difficult to reach. A cursory look at the active wins list, and you'll see that the Mets' Tom Glavine may well be the last pitcher to ever reach 300 victories.

Even 200 wins is hard to come by these days. Kenny Rogers (197) will get there, as will John Smoltz (181), and perhaps even Andy Pettite (175) -- but don't count on it. And after that, it's anybody's guess. So enjoy Schilling's accomplishment for what it is; an extraordinary feat in the modern era.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

STAND OR FALL

The Red Sox were advertised as a team built on pitching and defense this year. So far, that's been mostly, but not entirely true.

To begin with, their starting pitching has been good, thanks to Curt Schilling (7-2. 3.80 ERA) and Josh Beckett (7-1, 3.80 ERA), but not great. After all, Tim Wakefield, the designated number two starter, is 3-6 with a 4.57 ERA. Some would argue that he hasn't been given adequate run support, but that doesn't explain the ERA. Then there's Matt Clement, with his 4-4 record and disturbing 6.31 ERA. And the Lenny DiNardo experiment didn't fare so well.

Yet, the Sox have battled through, not knowing who their number five starter will be. Instead they've relied on Schilling, Beckett, and the incredible defense that ranks number one in the AL, with only 15 errors in 45 games. But that isn't all. The Sox have discovered a surprisingly potent offense to go along with their stellar defense.

For all the talk of how much offense the Sox sacrificed to put a greater emphasis on pitching and defense, the offense has been quite similar to last season's explosive team. The Sox are hitting .281, sixth best in baseball, and slightly better than the average they had through this time last season. They're averaging 5.5 runs, nearly identical to last season's 5.6 average, and have hit home runs at roughly the same pace as well (53 in 45 games this season).

But questions about the starting rotation persist. Does anyone really believe that this staff, as currently constructed, can advance to the World Series, much less win it? I'd say they're clearly one starter short of that objective.

So, tonight was a big night in David Wells' quest to prove that, at age 43, he still has what it takes to pitch in the Bigs -- namely an indefatigable left arm, plus pinpoint accuracy and control.

And Wells didn't disappoint. In 4 1/3 innings, Wells gave up five hits, and only one run. Wells customary accuracy was once again on display, as he didn't issue a single walk. Forty one of his fifty three pitches were strikes, an impressive 77% ratio.

But then disaster struck, or more namely a line drive off the bat of Travis Lee in the fifth inning, and Wells was down for the count. Initial reports are that the injury is just a deep bone bruise to is surgically repaired right knee, and it may not be career threatening. We'll know more in the coming days, but let's hope for the best. Boomer looked impressive in his short stint on the mound at Fenway.

Even if he is able to return, whether or not Wells is the long-term solution for the remainder of the 2006 season is entirely unknown. His worn knee could still fail him, and the team, at any time.

There's always the possibility, or fantasy, of Roger Clemens coming back to Fenway as a Red Sox. But how old and stale has that story become? Clemens has been perpetually set to retire since 2003, and he still can't seem to make up his mind. And it should be noted that although he had great success in the NL, his last five seasons in the AL (all with the Yankees) resulted in an ERA of 4.01. That's certainly better than Wakefield and Clement, but Clemens will also be 44 in August. Simply put, he'll never again be the pitcher he once was, and to expect as much is to welcome disappointment. The legendary pitcher he was in the 80's and 90's is no longer. Clemens will be a shadow of his former self if he returns to the AL once again, even if he pitches for only half a season. That's not to say that Clemens wouldn't help the Sox, but there may be better alternatives available.

It would be nice to see the Sox to make a run at Dontrelle Willis. The D-Train would be a fine addition to the Sox staff, and would anchor the rotation for the next decade. But to get him they'd need to part with highly touted prospect Jon Lester.

In nine starts at Pawtucket this season, Lester is 3-4 with a 3.13 ERA. In 37 innings, he's given up just 33 hits and 13 earned runs. If that's not impressive enough, Lester has 37 K's and only 17 walks. Lefthanders are hitting just .120 (3 for 25) against him, righthanders .254 (30 for 118), and 60% of his pitches have been strikes. Impressive numbers. His losing record is clearly deceiving. Since he's averaging more than one strikeout, and less than one hit, per inning, it's evident that Lester isn't getting much run support. We could see him in the rotation before the year is out, if he's not traded for Willis.

Willis is the only kind of player the club could conceivably move Lester for. But why would the Sox trade one 22-year-old lefty for another 24-year-old lefty? It's simple. One is already a proven Big League commodity, while the other simply possesses potential. There are plenty of "can't miss" kids in Triple A who miss in the Majors. Does anyone remember Brain Rose? How about Carl Pavano? Other than one good season, his career has been marked by nothing but hype, and injuries.

So, the Sox will have to maintain their hot bats, and their remarkable defense. We'll wish the best for David Wells, meanwhile hoping that Clemens shows up in a Sox jersey or, even better, that the Sox can ride the D-Train to World Series glory.

Barring any of that, Jon Lester may be able to -- may have to -- make a meaningful contribution before the year is over, much like Jonathan Papelbon did last year. But putting such outsized expectations on a rookie is both unfair and unrealistic.

The more likely scenario is that the Sox will need to go out and make a trade for a veteran pitcher -- likely a free agent -- at the trade deadline, just like every other contender will be attempting to do.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

WAS THAT THE MEASURE OF A CHAMPION?

It's hard to imagine that Ricky Hatton won over very many American fans in his pursuit of the WBA welterweight crown against Luis Collazo on Saturday night at the "new" Garden. (I refuse to call it by any of its other corporate names).

Hatton looked more like a wild street brawler than a highly trained professional boxer. There was very little skill on display during his quest for Collazo's title. The Manchester, U.K. native looked sloppy and overanxious as he threw wide, looping punches that left him wide open and quite vulnerable. A better boxer -- such as Oscar De La Hoya or Floyd Mayweather Jr. -- would have picked him apart. Hatton's defense -- or what passed for it -- looked awful. If we're grading on aggressiveness, determination and a dogged pursuit of one's opponent, then he looked, well... aggressive, determined, and dogged. His opponent, Collazo, hardly gave a better account of himself. Mostly he looked confused and at times exasperated.

Both fighters were guilty of far too much holding. The bout looked more like a wrestling match than a contest between two skilled, world-class boxers. There was an outrageous amount of hugging going on, to the point that it appeared the pair were slow dancing. Ultimately, it was a very disappointing match up. Quite deservedly, we who watched had a right to expect more from a championship fight, and the combatants who participated.

Hatton was very lucky to have been granted a decision, and his record remains unblemished. Though he can now call himself a champion, what amounted to a horribly disappointing, and amateur looking, contest should have been declared a draw.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

THE REPLACEMENTS

After becoming World Series champions in 2004, the Red Sox decided to tinker with what got them there and replaced starting pitchers Derek Lowe and Pedro Martínez with David Wells and Matt Clement.

Those decisions seem highly dubious, in retrospect.

Despite his 12-15 record last year, the 32-year-old Lowe made a career-high 35 starts and pitched 222 innings for the Dodgers, finishing the year with a respectable 3.61 ERA.

And though his 1-2 record might indicate otherwise, Lowe has pitched very well again this season, as evidenced by his 2.98 ERA. In his last seven starts, Lowe hasn't allowed more than two earned runs, and in his last five starts has a 1.57 ERA.

Martinez, the 34-year-old former Cy Young winner, is now 5-0 with a 3.19 ERA. In 53.2 innings, he's given up just 30 hits while striking out 62 and walking just 16.

Last season, he went 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA. Despite concerns about his overworked shoulder, Pedro made 31 starts and pitched 217 innings. And as usual, he struck out over 200 batters yet again. Pedro proved himself durable, and can still fool hitters with a variety of pitches other than just his fastball.

Meanwhile, the 31-year-old Clement is 3-3 with an unimpressive 5.58 ERA. In 40 innings he's surrendered 45 hits with 29 strike outs and 21 walks.

Last season, after an encouraging start, Clement nosed dived following the All Star break and finished the year at 13-6 with a 4.57 ERA. The record was deceiving, however. Clement went 9-1 before the break and 4-5 after.

Clement received an average of 6.88 runs of support per 9 innings, 3rd-highest in all of baseball behind teammate David Wells (7.97) and the Rangers' Chris Young (7.32). Clement benefited from the fact that the Red Sox scored 146 runs when he pitched, the 5th-highest total in baseball.

And after posting an impressive, 15-7 record (albeit with the aid of the best run support in baseball), Wells is now on the DL with a bum knee, an 0-1 record, and a frightening 15.75 ERA, after just one start. Wells was even shelled against minor league hitters in his single rehab start following spring training.

The 43-year-old lefty has a continuing weight problem, and seems allergic to exercise. Training and conditioning are clearly not part of his off season repertoire. The team kindly lists him at 250 pounds, a very conservative report to be sure. The 6'3" Wells is probably more like 275, if we're being honest. Put it this way, Jonathan Papelbon is listed at 6'4", 230. Does anyone really believe that Wells is only 20 pounds heavier? The reason this is an issue is because Wells knee can't support his girth, and as a result, it may have ended his career. Though his rubber arm likely had more than enough good innings still left in it, Wells right knee may never again allow him to pitch effectively at the Major League level.

So the Sox are left hoping that Roger Clemens will come to their rescue, or perhaps even Dontrelle Willis, in a trade deadline deal.

But the young lefthander Willis, who won 22 games last season, has a 9.97 ERA (24 earned runs in 21 2/3 innings) in his last four starts, all losses. Willis hasn't looked good since the start of the season, continuing a trend that began during the World Baseball Classic.

Sure, it's easy to to be a Monday morning quarterback, but the Sox management are the professionals who get paid professional money to foresee these types of things before they come to pass. From where the Sox stand today, Clement and Wells for Pedro and Lowe seems to be an utterly failed experiment.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

CLEMENS' NEW MOTIVATION

On Thursday night, Randy Johnson became just the third pitcher to reach the 4,400-strikeout plateau when he fanned the Devil Rays Nick Green in the fourth inning. The 5-2 Johnson trails only Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Roger Clemens (4,502) on the career list.

Knowing just how competitive Clemens is -- and how important his stats are to him in relation to his place in baseball history -- Johnson's achievement may be all the incentive he needs to return for yet another go around. If Clemens decides not to play, Johnson will pass him and move into second place before this season is over.

It's hard to imagine Clemens letting the 42-year-old Johnson surpass him, knowing that the Yankee lefty is nearing the finish line in his career as well. Clemens surely thinks he is the better pitcher of the two -- even now, at this late stage of their careers.

If a 37 or 38-year-old pitcher was closing in on him, one who appeared to have at least a few good years still in reserve, then Clemens would likely accept the inevitable with a begrudging acceptance that everyone gets old and eventually has to retire. But there's no way he's going down to one of his peers -- certainly not another 40-something.

So bet on Clemens returning. The only question now is, to which team?

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELLS

A week ago, Sox left-hander David Wells sounded like a defeated man who was ready to hang 'em up and call it a career. But the Boomer has suddenly had a change of heart.

Wells, believes he may have turned the corner while rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. The rotund lefty said he had good day while throwing on Tuesday, and there haven't been many of those since he went on the DL on April 15. Perhaps the latest round of Synvisc joint lubricating shots did the trick.

"I'm getting a lot better," Wells said. "It's been two days in a row and I've thrown all my pitches off flat ground and I wasn't able to do that after the Toronto series. To do that and feel nothing, that's pretty positive for me."

But could the Synvisc alone be responsible for this renewed motivation? Or could it be the incentive-laden contract that could pay him as much as $8 million this season, based on appearances? Wells is suddenly raring to go, and he doesn't want to waste time in Pawtuckett with a silly tune up.

Wells said he plans to throw a side session next, and if his knee responds well. "Then, go to a start. Throw me out to the wolves. I've done that before, I don't mind it. Why waste a start?"

What would be a waste is putting an ill-prepared, out of shape pitcher on the mound to face big league pitching -- especially when it went so miserably last time (4 2/3 innings, 10 hits and 7 ER in an embarrassing loss to the Blue Jays).

Wells has been grossly overconfident since spring training, when he asserted he was ready to immediately join the rotation -- even though he'd had limited preparation due to his injury and rehab. But after being forced to accept a tune up start he felt was below him, he proceeded to get shelled by AAA hitters (7 runs and 6 hits in 5 innings) last month.

The Sox should've seen this coming during the winter and traded Wells for a prospect -- even a bag of balls -- when there was some semblance of a market for him. Anything would've been better than this. Though he may say otherwise, Wells hasn't shown any genuine evidence that his desire to pitch is motivated by anything other than money. And even that hasn't been particularly motivating. Wells has consistently shown lack of commitment to training and conditioning and doesn't even begin to resemble a top-flight professional athlete. That's very unfortunate, and it's what separates him from a contemporary like Roger Clemens who, at the same age, continues to perform remarkably due to his dedication and commitment.

Wells would rather sit home, drink beer, and count his millions.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

COULD GONZO BE A GONER?

There are rumblings that the Red Sox are growing impatient with shortstop Alex Gonzalez's offensive ineptitude.

The Sox committed to a one-year deal with Gonzalez due to his defensive prowess, knowing that his career .243 average could be a liability at the plate. But in his first month with the Red Sox, Gonzalez hit just .186 with no homers and four RBIs. His paltry .275 on-base percentage has virtually assured an automatic out in each plate appearance. That weak presence in the order can be a rally killer, and only exacerbates the Sox disturbing trend of leaving men on base this year.

Reports have surfaced that indicate the Sox may engage in trade talks with the Dodgers for Cesar Izturis as soon as he comes off the disabled list. The 26-year-old Izturis, an All-Star last year, saw his season cut short when he was diagnosed with degenerative arthritis in his right elbow, which required season-ending Tommy John surgery. In 2004, Izturis earned his first Gold Glove award, so defensively he would be on par with Gonzalez. Izturis and Alex Cora were a fantastic double play combo for the Dodgers before Cora left as a free agent.

Aside from the degenerative elbow condition, the other concern is Izturis's career .261 average and .295 OBP. If the Sox are looking for more offense, it would seem they should look elsewhere. However, Izturis was on a torrid pace before getting hurt last season. The switch-hitter is still young and appeared to be developing offensively, having compiled 75 hits in just the first two months of the season. Showing signs of maturing into a fine contact hitter, Izturis had missed on just 8.8% of his swings at the time of his injury.

In the meantime, the club is concerned enough about Gonzalez's offensive shortcomings that he is in jeopardy of losing his starting job to Cora. The question is, what difference would it make? The two players are essentially the same; great defense, no offense. Why go from one .240 career hitter to another?

While Sox manager Terry Francona is publicly backing Gonzalez right now, the player's manager has always been loyal his guys. But Francona backed Josh Bard as well, and we all know how that turned out.

So whether it's Izturis or someone else, unless Gonzalez is a tiger who can change his stripes, the Sox may soon be in the market for a more potent offensive replacement to fill out the bottom of the order. After going through four starting shortstops in just two years, the Sox find themselves in yet another uncertain situation.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.