Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Saturday, September 30, 2006

LOWELL ESTABLISHES NEW CAREER MARK

With his his first inning double last night, his 47th of the season, Mike Lowell established a new career high. Lowell's total is the second highest of any third basemen in Sox history. Wade Boggs had seasons of 47 and 51. With two games to go, it's not unimaginable that Lowell could notch 50.

Only five players in club history hit as many as 50 doubles in a single season. Here's a look:

Earl Webb - 67 (1931) (MLB Record)
Nomar Garciaparra - 56 (2002)
Tris Speaker - 53 (1912)
Nomar Garciaparra - 51 (2000)
Wade Boggs - 51 (1989)
Joe Cronin - 51 (1938)

Playing for a club with a 106-year history, Lowell has already joined an elite few. On just 17 occasions has a Sox player hit as many as 45 doubles in a season. And now Lowell is poised to join an even more illustrious group.

Already safely in third place with 19 home runs for the Sox this season, Lowell could notch 20 for the fifth time in his career if he can go deep again this weekend. The quests may give some fans additional reasons to watch the season's final two games.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

CRISP DONE - FOR GOOD?

Red Sox manager Terry Francona has confirmed reports that Coco Crisp will undergo surgery on his left index finger Monday, which will effectively end his season much as it began. Crisp has a a bone fracture that will require a pin or a screw to be inserted. The speedy center fielder originally injured the finger while stealing third base in April. That resulted in Crisp going on the DL after just five games in a Sox uniform, and limiting him to only 105 games this season.

The question is, will we ever see him in a Sox uniform again?

According to the Rocky Mountain News, the Red Sox are determined to find a way to acquire center fielder Andruw Jones from Atlanta, but first must find a way to unload the disappointing Crisp. Much was expected, perhaps unrealistically, of the Sox new leadoff hitter, but he finishes the season with a .264 average, a .317 OBP, 58 runs, 8 home runs, and 36 RBIs in 105 games. His .293 on-base average is the lowest among American League leadoff men.

Despite that, the Denver post says that Crisp is just the type of player that Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd would like to have patrolling center field next season. Crisp’s current deal has three years remaining, at a grand total of $15.5 million (plus an $8 million club option for 2010). At that price, there could be a number of potential suitors.

Another possibility is that the Sox will pursue Twins center fielder Torii Hunter, the former teammate and friend of David Ortiz. Big Papi may back such a move for the five-time Gold Glove winner, which might be an easy sell after Hunter's potent offensive production this season. The 31-year-old Hunter is hitting .276 ( eight points above his carer average), with a .337 OBP, 28 homers and 90 RBI. If the Twins decide not to pick up the $12 million option on Hunter's contract, or buy him out for $2.5 million, the Sox may pounce.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

MIKE LOWELL: DOUBLES MACHINE

Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell started the 2006 season on fire and seemed to hit a double in nearly every other at bat. Though he cooled in the season's second half and is now hitting just .286 (after being over .300 for much of the season), Lowell has 17 homers, 69 RBI, and 42 doubles.

Early on, Lowell set a pace that made him seem destined for at least 50 doubles this season, something that has only been accomplished six times, by five different players, in club history.

Incredibly, the Red Sox record for doubles in a single season is also the Major League record. Red Sox outfielder Earl Webb hit an astounding 67 two-baggers in 1931.

The gap between Sox players who've hit 40 doubles in a season and those who've hit at least 50 is canyon-like.

A Red Sox player has hit 40 doubles in a season 11 times, and players have hit between 41 and 47 doubles in a season on 31 occasions. The list includes Hall of Famers like like Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Tris Speaker, and Wade Boggs, as well fan favorites like Johnny Pesky, Fred Lynn, Nomar Garciaparra, and David Ortiz.

But there are some modern Sox players on that list that might surprise some: John Valentin hit 47 doubles in 1997, Bill Buckner hit 46 in 1985, Bill Mueller hit 45 in 2003, and Jody Reed hit 45 in 1990.

Some players made the achievement a habit. Wade Boggs leads the list, notching at least 40 doubles an amazing 8 times. Nomar Garciaparra did it 4 times. Williams, Yastrzemski, and Valentin each hit the mark 3 times. And Tris Speaker, Joe Cronin, Eddie Bressoud, Fred Lynn, Jody Reed, and David Ortiz all hit at least 40 doubles twice.

But the list of players who've hit a whopping 50 doubles or more is quite short and reads like a who's who list of Sox greats:

Earl Webb - 67 (1931) (MLB Record)
Nomar Garciaparra - 56 (2002)
Tris Speaker - 53 (1912)
Nomar Garciaparra - 51 (2000)
Wade Boggs - 51 (1989)
Joe Cronin - 51 (1938)

Should Lowell accomplish the seemingly impossible, and hit eight more doubles in the next 18 games, he would join this illustrious group. Though that seems unlikely, he has a good shot at hitting 45 -- a number that has been reached by a Sox player only 17 times in the club's 106-year history.

That, in itself, would be quite an impressive achievement.

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

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

SOX MAKE POSITIVE MOVE FOR THE FUTURE

In signing North Carolina righthander Daniel Bard on Monday, the Red Sox took a positive step in securing a potential fixture of their future pitching staff.

Baseball America ranked the 21-year-old pitcher as the No. 13 pitching prospect, and the No. 15 overall prospect, in this year's draft. The Sox obtained the pick as compensation for losing center fielder Johnny Damon to the Yankees via free agency.

Bard was the 28th overall pick in the draft, and the Sox second overall pick (high school outfielder Jason Place was chosen at No. 27). No terms were announced, but Bard implied, during a conference call, that the Sox gave him a bigger signing bonus than the $1 million or so that had been slotted for the No. 28 spot.

There had been a concern that the Sox and the young hurler wouldn't come to an agreement. Had he attended classes last week at North Carolina, the Sox would have lost all negotiating rights, and Bard would have gone back into next year's draft. Originally drafted in the 20th round by the New York Yankees in 2003, Bard had already shown a willingness to turn down a Major League offer in favor of returning to North Carolina. But fortunately a repeat of that scenario did not take place and the good news is that Bard will report to the Florida Instructional League in Fort Myers on September 18.

Bard went 3-3 for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League in 2005, recording an impressive 82 strikeouts in just 65 innings of work. As a result, he led the league in strikeouts and ranked third with a 1.25 ERA. Bard's gaudy stats impressed scouts and made him a highly touted, and much-sought-after, prospect.

After going 8-3 with a 3.47 ERA this season, Bard gained big game experience by pitching the Tar Heels into the finals of the 2006 College World Series in Omaha. He earned two playoff victories en route to the CWS Finals versus Oregon State. "I guess I kind of thrive in that situation. It's added pressure, but it's really just all fun," said Bard. However, his hot streak ran out when he lost the third and deciding game of the Championship Series, allowing six hits and three runs (1 ER) in 7 2/3 innings in a 3-2 defeat.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound pitcher, who touches 97 mph on the gun, will join the Sox trio of young power arms led by Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon and Craig Hansen.

While he won't likely help the rotation for at least another 2-3 years, his signing is a positive step for a Red Sox farm system that has sought to groom its own big league talent. If he develops as expected, Bard could impact the Sox rotation for years to come at a relatively low cost.


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

Saturday, September 02, 2006

THE REBUILDING WILL BEGIN WITH PITCHING

After his most recent loss, Curt Schilling -- the Sox best pitcher -- is now 14-7. The veteran righty dropped his third straight decision and hasn't won in five starts since beating Tampa Bay on August 4.

The Sox ace was out-dueled by Oakland's ace, the 28-year-old Barry Zito, who improved to 15-8 and is undefeated in his last three starts.

The one bit of good news was that Schilling became the 14th pitcher with 3,000 career strikeouts. But after his recent performances, Schilling appears to be in the twilight of a great career, one he intends to end after next season. Though Schilling isn't always the dominating pitcher he once was, remove him from the rotation and the Sox suddenly look like a basement dweller.

Knowing that, and that pitching has been their achilles heel all year long, the Sox will have to make some significant moves this offseason. The starting rotation needs to get younger in a hurry.

The Red Sox have used 27 different pitchers this season -- a new club record -- including 13 starters. The last time the team used 13 different starters was the 2000 season. The Cleveland Indians hold the AL record with 32 different pitchers, set in the 2000 season, and the ML record is 37, set by the San Diego Padres in 2002.

Going forward, and until Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling are able to return, the Sox rotation looks like this: Josh Beckett, Julian Tavarez, Kevin Jarvis, Lenny DiNardo, Kason Gabbard, and Kyle Snyder. That won't inspire confidence in the rest of the team, or instill fear in opposing hitters.

Josh Beckett has proven himself to be anything but a potential ace in his first year in the AL. David Wells is gone. Tim Wakefield is 40 and coming off a significant injury. Matt Clement has been inconsistent, unreliable and expensive; the Sox may have to cut ties with him at any cost. The up and down Kyle Snyder has reminded everyone was he was released by the woeful Royals earlier this year. Jon Lester may be a bright spot for the future. Though he's young and still has some rough edges, he's shown potential and even moments of brilliance. Unfortunately, his latest health scare could possibly jeopardize his promising career. Jarvis, DiNardo, and Gabard are, at best, number five starters and really don't belong in the Sox rotation.

The end result is that the Sox, like many other teams, will have to turn to the free agent market this offseason to upgrade was has been an old, injured, and unproductive staff.

Some of the big-name free agents this fall will be: Barry Zito, Jason Schmidt, Mark Mulder, Jason Marquis, Greg Maddux, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Vicente Padilla, Brad Radke and Mark Redman.

Zito, the 28-year-old lefty, is the cream of the crop and will be the prize free agent this offseason. The former Cy Young winner is 15-8 this season with a 3.57 ERA. His best season was 2002, when he went 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA and won the award as the league's top pitcher. Since that time, Zito has struggled, going 14-12, 11-11, 14-13. This year is shaping up to be his best since 2002. Zito is not a power pitcher and has only passed the 200-strike plateau once, notching 205 in 2001. But his career 3.51 ERA, all in the AL, make him highly coveted and will earn him a top dollar, multi-year contract. One of Zito's most appealing qualities is that he's been injury free throughout his career, likely the product of not being a fireballer.

Jason Schmidt will be another hot commodity this offseason, but unlike Zito he comes with a history of injuries. He had elbow surgery in 2003, which may have caused the shoulder strain that forced him to the disabled list in 2004. He also missed a total of 14 games with a shoulder injury, as well as 15 games with a groin injury, in 2005. But the hard-throwing righty has made at least 29 starts every season since 2002, and is poised to do so again this year. A strike out pitcher, Schmidt fanned 196 batters in 2002, 208 in 2003, and 251 in 2004. He has a career 2.90 ERA, but that has to be viewed through the lens that it was accomplished entirely in the NL. The three-time All Star relies on a mid-to-upper-90s heater and a hard slider for outs. He also throws a change-up that helps to keep hitters off balance.

In 2001, Schmidt turned down a four-year, $32 million offer from his home-state Seattle Mariners, the team he'd grown up rooting for. Instead, he opted for a four-year, $30 million deal with the Giants that had a $10 million option for this season. Many feel that he won't turn the Mariners down again this year and will finish his career at home if given the chance.

At the time Schmidt said the decision was, "one of the hardest decisions of my life," especially after "thinking back to when I was 8 years old and going to Mariners games, knowing this is what I've wanted to do all of my life." "When you get that opportunity, and to think you're not going to take advantage of it, that's hard."

He's already proven once that money isn't his sole motivation, and it may be difficult for the Red Sox, or Yankees, to persuade him otherwise this time. It also worth noting that Schmidt, who will be 34 at the start of next season, has never been a 20-game winner in his career.

There have been red flags with Mulder this year. After spending time on the DL due to shoulder problems, Mulder has been rocked in his last two stars and may be shut down for the rest of the season. He underwent an MRI which was very similar to the first one taken in June when he went on the DL with impingement and rotator cuff fraying.

After undergoing extensive rehabilitation without success, surgery is a viable option. Mulder is now 6-7 with a 7.14 ERA after entering the season as the winningest pitcher in the majors the previous five seasons.

The Sox faced those same problems with Wade Miller last year and that didn't fare too well. With that experience, they'll be unlikely to go down that road again, especially since Mulder will be a considerably more expensive investment.

After that the talent gets a lot thinner, or a lot older.

Jason Marquis has won 15 games just once in his career. Furthermore, his 4.48 career ERA is uninspiring and doesn't exactly seem tailor made for the AL. Greg Maddux is 40 and is finally pitching closer to home on the West Coast. Assuming he continues playing, he'll likely remain with the Dodgers. The 34-year-old Andy Pettitte is home in Houston, and seems determined to stay put. He's also suffered injury problems and is just 13-13 this year with a 4.44 ERA. After losing Pettite, the Yankees aren't likely to give up on the still able Mussina due to an absence of depth in their rotation. And after that, the pickin's are slim. Padilla, Radke and Redman aren't the answers to the Red Sox problems.

The Red Sox need two solid, front-line pitchers to join their rotation. Anything short of that will be a failure and will lead to more of the same next year. Red Sox fans pay the highest ticket prices in baseball and expect a winner year in and year out. The organization has its work cut out for it, but the money saved on Pedro and Johnny can now be spent on the rotation.

With Lester's health problems, and future unknown, the Sox will enter next season only able to rely on the 40-year-old Schilling, the underwhelming Beckett, and the 40-year-old, and inconsistent, Wakefield. That won't get it done.

While Wakefield is a model citizen and teammate who says and does all the right things in the clubhouse and off the field, he is a mediocre, and old, pitcher. Whenever he pitches, the Sox are constantly undermined by the threat of passed balls/wild pitches. And any pitcher who needs his own personal catcher had better be an ace. On top of that, his personal catcher needs to be younger than Doug Mirabelli (36 next month), and has to at least hit his weight (Mirabelli weighs 220 and is batting .188).

Once again, as in each of the past couple of years, the Red Sox entire pitching staff needs a major overhaul, and that is a monumental task indeed. Considering management's past history, rebuilding the bullpen will be especially tricky. The Sox won't be the only competitive players in the free agent market this offseason. But luckily for them, they have deep pockets and resources that many of their competitors don't have.

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