Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Saturday, June 30, 2007



The Red Sox offense has been sleep walking its way through long stretches of this season. For a team that led the majors in runs for three straight seasons (2003-2005), 2007 has been a disappointment and a surprise. Certainly, we all expected more.

This year, compared to other AL teams, the Sox offense ranks sixth in runs scored; sixth in RBI; sixth in hits; seventh in home runs; sixth in total bases; and fifth in batting.

The Sox 2-1 victory over the Rangers last night was no fluke. The offense is squarely middle-of-the-pack in almost every offensive category. Low scoring affairs have become customary this season. Here's a prime example; in Daisuke Matsuzaka’s past five starts, the Red Sox have scored the grand total of five runs.

The Sox have scored only 21 runs in their last seven games, and have scored two runs or fewer a staggering 12 times in their 26 games so far this month. They are 7-16 when scoring three runs or fewer.

Oddly, the Sox have hit just 31 homers at Fenway Park this year. And whether home or on the road, the Sox have gotten into the bad habit of putting runners in scoring position and then leaving them stranded.

What gives? What's become of the offensive juggernaut we'd come to know and love over the past few years? The Sox were the first team since 1951-54 Brooklyn Dodgers to lead the majors in runs for three consecutive seasons, and the first American League team since the 1936-39 Yankees to score at least 900 runs in at least three consecutive seasons.

The truth is, the decline began last season. In 2006, the Red Sox hit .269 for the season, which was third worst in the American League. And after three straight seasons of leading the majors in runs, they finished sixth in that category. The falloff in production was particularly stark after the All Star break; the Sox ranked last in the league in batting average, last in slugging, 10th in on-base percentage, and ahead of only the Devil Rays in runs.

Part of the problem the last two years was a very uneven offense. In 2006, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez accounted for 30 percent of the team's RBIs and 45 percent of its home runs. And in 2005 the pair were responsible for driving in nearly a third of the team's runs. This year the team hoped to have more balance, and they've gotten it. But instead of other players stepping up to match the production of Ortiz and Ramirez, unfortunately the Dynamic Duo have seen their production drop to something closer to the rest of their teammates.

So far this season, the two sluggers have been rather underwhelming. Ortiz has just 13 homers and 48 RBI, while Ramirez has just 11 homers and 43 RBI. Those are not the kind of numbers we've come to expect from these two. Neither is on pace for even 30 homers or 100 RBI this year.

Consider this; Mike Lowell not only has more homers than Ramirez, but also a higher slugging percentage, a higher batting average, more doubles, and more total bases. And just as unexpectedly, Lowell leads the team with 54 RBI.

But highlighting the Red Sox offensive inefficiencies so far this year is the fact that Julio Lugo has a major league-worst batting average of just .190, which is, at best, very disappointing.

One key component from the offensive "Wonder Years" that can't be overlooked is the absence of former hitting coach Ron "Papa Jack" Jackson. Under his tutelage, the Sox offense thrived. In each of Papa Jack's first two years with the club, the Sox led the majors in runs, batting average, doubles, extra-base hits, total bases, on-base percentage and slugging.

This season the Sox have a new hitting coach, Dave Magadan, and while all the offensive woes certainly can't be laid at his feet -- since the decline began in the second half last year -- his approach doesn't seem to be helping.

However, while a coach can instruct and provide tips, ultimately the hitters have to hit. And right now, the Sox hitters just aren't going that. The Red Sox are 13-14 in their last 26 games and have benefitted from the early lead they built, which, despite their recent ineptitude, still stands at 10 1/2 games.

They may win the AL East, but to win the Pennant and the World Series they'll have to do a whole lot better. In order for that to happen, they'll need the full complement of their offensive fire power to get it done.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


The possibility of Mark Buehrle coming to the Red Sox to bolster an already potent rotation has some Sox fans salivating and must worry other A.L. contenders. With Curt Schilling's future status unclear, the Sox could use some insurance.

The following illustrates Schilling's inconsistency this season; he has made five starts in which he has allowed five earned runs or more, for an ERA of 8.89. In his other 10 starts, he has allowed just 18 earned runs in 68 innings, for an ERA of 2.38. So far this season, a Schilling start is like a box of chocolates -- you never know what your gonna get.

However, fifth starter Julian Tavarez has been a pleasant surprise. Though he was roughed up by the Mariners last night, giving up six runs (three earned) in 4 1/3 innings (his shortest outing since a four inning effort against the Rangers on April 7 in Texas), Tavarez has certainly pitched beyond all expectations.

Going into last night's contest, Tavarez was unbeaten in his last seven starts, and had a 4-0 record over that span. His previous outing had given the Red Sox their first back-to-back shutouts since July 2006, and seven through their first 71 games -- more than all of last season.

That said, Tavarez still sports a 5-5 record and a 4.60 ERA. It has been assumed from the beginning that Tavarez was simply keeping the fifth spot warm until Jon Lester returns from his rehab assignment. But Lester has struggled as of late, the low light coming last night in Louisville.

The young lefty lasted just 4 1/3 innings for Pawtucket, giving up eight earned runs on nine hits in a 12-7 loss. In that brief outing, Lester threw an inefficient 100 pitches, walking four and striking out four. The beating inflated his earned run average from 2.49 to 3.78.

Yet, Lester showed his true colors last year, and he's probably disappointed that he still hasn't been promoted, though the All Star break is fast approaching. But he’ll join the Sox soon enough. The Sox would love to move Tavarez back to the bullpen, and at 40, Schilling won't heal as quickly as he once did. That's why the Sox are interested in Buehrle.

But the Sox have two younger and much cheaper lefty alternatives in Lester and Kason Gabbard, who will make his second start of the season tonight. In his first outing against the Braves, Gabbard allowed two earned runs in five-plus innings, earning a win in the 6-3 victory.

It was a performance that led Sox shortstop Alex Cora to proclaim, "He looked like a crafty lefty, like a veteran.... At the end of the year, if he comes back, we know we can count on him."

It's got to inspire and encourage a rookie pitcher when a veteran teammate gives him a vote of confidence like that.

On the other hand, Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley doesn't have that same confidence in Buehrle.

"I'm not a big Buehrle guy at all. Talk about pitching to contact. Everybody hits him. The only thing good about him is that it doesn't take very long to pitch a game, one way or another. He throws a lot of strikes. I mean, not to get on him, lefthanders have always amazed me how they get by. He knows how to pitch, obviously. He threw a no-hitter. He's one of the best lefthanders around. I just... I'm afraid of him. I'm afraid of him because he throws too many strikes. I just, Fenway Park, I really don't know. You're only renting him for a couple of months, but beyond that, I'm just not a big fan of his because I think he's very hittable ... to me Gabbard's like Buehrle, but younger and throws harder."

Like Buehrle, both Gabbard and Lester are lefties. But not only are they both younger, they're a whole lot cheaper, and provide greater payroll flexibility, as well. Other needs will have to be addressed. Though he's just 28, Buehrle is rumored to be looking for a five-year deal in the neighborhood of $70 million. Five years from now, both Gabbard and Lester combined won't cost that much.

However, there should be some reasonable concern about Gabbard. Though impressive at Pawtuckett this year with a 7-2 record and a 3.24 ERA, the young pitcher has already had four elbow surgeries before the age of 25.

Yet, the Sox could have both of their young lefties in the rotation before too long, and that might be a good thing. Sending Tavarez back to bolster an already strong bullpen would be a great move. Beyond Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima, things get pretty sketchy. Does anyone really trust Joel Piniero, Manny Delcarmen, Kyle Snyder, or even the veteran Mike Timlin at this point?

If the Sox can shift Tavarez back to the bullpen, it would keep them from having to deal for another righthanded setup man. Timlin used to be that guy, but his best days are quite obviously behind him now. Last night in Seattle, Timlin gave up home runs on consecutive pitches to Kenji Johjima and Adrian Beltre.

So far this season, the once reliable Timlin has appeared in 16 games, covering 16 2/3 innings. In that span he has surrendered 23 hits and five walks, resulting in 13 runs and a 6.48 ERA. To make matters worse, a staggering 22% of those hits (5 of 23) have been home runs. And then there's the matter of his meager nine strikeouts this year.

Now 41, Timlin suddenly looks like he got old overnight. Over the past four years, Timlin was quite durable with the Red Sox, appearing in an average of 74 games a year. But that workload appears to have taken its toll.

Once known for a 92-95 mph sinking fastball and also a slider, Timlin kept the ball down in the zone and induced a lot of ground balls. His good control meant few walks and not too many homers. At least that used to be the scouting report on him.

Timlin has suffered through shoulder problems in each of the last two seasons, and while that's troublesome for a pitcher in his 20's, for a pitcher in his 40's it's devastating and even career threatening.

We're not even halfway through the season yet, and Timlin has already had two stints on the DL. The first came late in spring training and resulted from a strained muscle in his left side. The second stint was due to tendinitis in his right shoulder that resulted in him missing 34 games. Last year, a right shoulder injury led him to miss 16 games.

Over the years, Timlin has displayed a bulldog’s tenacity and has overcome whatever obstacles have come before him. A pitcher doesn't last 17 years in the majors without great confidence and competitive spirit. But considering his age, and the injury history to his throwing arm, I think we shouldn't expect much more from Timlin this year or in the future. If I were a betting man, I'd say that this season will likely be his last.

With the 23-year-old Lester and the 25-year-old Gabbard at their disposal, the Sox just might not need the services of the veteran Buehrle. But with a career stat line of 101-70, 3.80 ERA, 345 walks, 880 K's, and 200 innings for six straight years, he sure is enticing. And keeping him from the Yankees is surely part of this equation. Perhaps the Red Sox are simply trying to bid up the price on Buehrle to make him less desirable to others.

One way or another, the Sox are in a position of strength due to their great farm system depth. They have won 48 of their first 75 games for a .640 winning percentage, and are 21 games over .500 before the All Star break. Those are luxuries their competitors would love to have.

No Red Sox team has won as many as 100 games since the 1946 AL Champions went 104-50. But with Mark Buehrle or without him, a 100-win season is certainly within reach for this current team as it now stands.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


What to make of Daisuke Matsuzaka?

With a record of 9-5, and at least two starts remaining before the All-Star break, Matsuzaka could be halfway to 20 wins by the start of the second half.

Considering that there wasn’t a single 20-game winner in the majors last season, such an achievement for a first-year pitcher would be quite remarkable.

With his win against the Padres, in which he allowed just one run, Matsuzaka’s ERA dropped to 4.01.

Though he allowed just the single run over six innings, Matsuzka didn’t make it easy on himself. Granting the Padres five walks and five hits, the 26-year-old allowed 10 Padres’ hitters to reach base. And he threw 126 pitches in those six innings of work. When you throw that many pitches in so few innings, that’s just what it is – work.

It’s a troubling habit that Matsuzaka has gotten himself into, throwing an average of 110 pitches per start. That’s not economical and not good for one’s longevity.

But then there were the nine strike outs, adding to his season total of 102, third best in the American League.

Matsuzaka has gotten a decision in 14 of his 15 starts. And he’s a workhorse; his 98.2 innings leads the Red Sox rotation, and are 15 more than Josh Beckett and 24 more than Julian Tavarez. Barring injury, Matsuzaka will certainly give the Red Sox 200-plus this season.

Dice-K is nothing if not a series of contrasts as a pitcher. With 102 strike outs and just 93 hits in his 98.2 innings, Matsuzaka has revealed himself to be a front end starter and a challenge to opposing hitters.

But if you include the 35 walks he’s issued to those batters, Matsuzaka has allowed a staggering 128 base runners. With that in mind, it’s amazing that a lot more of them haven’t scored. It makes you wonder just how low his ERA would be if not for all the walks. And by the way, Tim Wakefield -- not exactly a master of control or location with his ‘throw it toward the plate and see where it lands’ knuckleball -- has just one more walk this season than his Japanese teammate. Add to that the fact that Matsuzaka has also hit more batters (6) than any of rotation mates, and it’s just another indication that his control has been problematic.

But none of that has stopped Matsuzka-san from winning. Sure, it helps playing on a balanced team with a solid, reliable bullpen. But, for a pitcher so new to the big leagues, he has showed plenty of grit and determination. Three A.L. pitchers have 10 wins (Beckett, Lackey and Sabathia), while Matsuzaka and Dan Haren both have nine. And Matsuzaka is the only rookie of the bunch.

But a pitcher’s win/loss record can be deceiving. Does that apply to Dice-K?

Consider this; on five occasions Matsuzaka has gone at least six innings, but his offense scored no more than one run while he was in the game. In his five losses, the Red Sox scored a total of six runs, or 1.2 per game.

On the other hand, in his nine wins, the Red Sox scored an average of 7.11 runs per game. And in his lone no-decision, the Sox scored eight runs. Apparently, it’s feast or famine for this guy.

Crunch the numbers and you see that Dice-K is a study in contrasts. In some regards, he stacks up quite nicely against his A.L. peers: second in wins (9); third in strike outs (102); and 9th in innings. But in others, he doesn’t fare nearly as well: 10th most walks; 21st in ERA; 22nd in WHIP; and only 14 pitchers have allowed more earned runs.

Opponents are batting .246 against Dice-K, 18th in the A.L. That may seem pretty good until you realize that the Red Sox fifth starter, Julian Tavarez, is 20th at .252. Perhaps that just speaks well of the surprising Tavarez.

Ultimately, Matsuzaka plays for a team with the best winning percentage in baseball, which benefits him greatly. But then again, having him on the staff has benefited the Red Sox as well. Matsuzaka is an innings eater who doesn’t put pressure on the bullpen when he pitches. And he strikes out batters at the stunning clip of 9.3 per 9 innings, fourth best in the A.L.

However, his 319 OBA (on-base percentage against), tied for 23rd, will need to come down for him to remain successful. A pitcher cannot allow so many base runners without it eventually coming back to haunt him. Sooner or later that luck will run out. Matsuzaka’s 1.30 WHIP is another reflection of this problem. He’s been whistling through the grave yard and getting himself out of jams, but he’s also melted down in at least one inning in almost every start.

It all comes down to location and control for Dice-K. He needs to become more economical with his pitch counts and throw more strikes. If he gets those issues sorted out, he’ll be even more successful and continue to frustrate and humble opposing hitters. If he does, the Red Sox will be even more successful as well. Imagine that.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


No, the sky isn't falling.

Yes, the Sox have seen a one-time 14 1/2 game lead (on May 29) shrink to just eight.

But, clearly, there are problems. On their recent West Coast road trip, the Sox finished 3-4, and scored two runs or fewer four times. They batted just .222, with seven home runs, and had almost twice as many whiffs as walks. Against Colorado last week, the Sox scored just five runs over three games.

But when the offense has faltered, the Sox have often been able to count on solid pitching. After all, the team is 44-25 and its .638 winning percentage is still the best in baseball.

At 9-1, the resurgent Josh Beckett has led the way. And the club has gotten some nice performances from rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has pitched better than his 8-5 record would attest. Matsuzaka has more strike outs (93) and fewer hits (88) than innings pitched (92.2). Plagued - once again - by poor run support, veteran knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield has gone 7-7, but has surrendered just 78 hits in 88.1 innings. Even Julian Tavarez has surprised some, if not himself, and usually given the club a chance to win, or at least compete.

Curt Schilling was expected to be the staff stalwart, but his 6-4 start this season has to be considered a disappointment -- so far. Though he sports a winning record, it doesn't tell the whole story. Monday night against the Braves was just the latest example.

Schilling's outing was brief and not what he expected. In fact, it was his shortest since opening day.

Boston's one-time ace lasted just 4 1/3 against the Braves, getting shelled for a season high six runs on 10 hits. In the fifth, Schilling blew up, surrendering three runs - including a homer - on three hits. But some of his most glaring problems were these; Schilling, legendary for his control, issued two walks and had no strikeouts (if you're counting, that's 12 baserunners allowed). That's likely due to the fact that his once-dominant fastball topped out at 89 mph. It was only the second time in his lofty career that he failed to strike out at least one batter, the last coming in July of 1993. Consider this; the man is fourth among active pitchers in strikeouts. Folks, there is reason for concern here. This isn't an isolated incident.

In his last start, on June 13 against Colorado, Schilling lasted just five innings - in which he threw 98 pitches - giving up six runs (five earned), on nine hits. In that game, Schilling had a more Schilling-esque strikeout/walk ratio of 5/1. But, nonetheless, he still followed up his dominating one-hitter in Oakland with an ugly loss.

After the impressive outing against the A's, the Globe's Nick Carfado wrote that the time was now to offer Schilling the one-year, $13 million extension he desires. But Schilling has surrendered 109 hits this season, most in the American League and second most in baseball. This is a pitcher who looks old, though he still has moments of brilliance.

In his post-game interview, Schilling sounded confused and distressed. "I'm not pitching well. That's what chisels away at your confidence -- when you suck. I didn't even give us a chance." The 40-year-old veteran said that he has no explanation for why he pitched so poorly, but that his health is not a factor. "I struggled. These last two starts have been terrible, and I'm better than that. It's just frustrating."

Schilling's pitches blended together and all looked the same. His fastball had nothing on it and was indistinguishable from his slider. Right now he looks totally lost, which certainly isn't what the Sox need. In his last two starts combined, Schilling has lasted just 9.1 innings and surrendered 12 runs. The result has been his first back-to-back losses since last August. Things have gotten ugly. After tonight's beating, Schilling's ERA shot up from 3.80 to 4.20.

But this hasn't come out of nowhere. In 94 1/3 innings this season, Schilling has allowed a whopping 109 hits while striking out just 71 batters. This is very unlike the pitcher that hitters have always feared and respected.

But the team's problems of late haven't really been the result of poor pitching. The hitters haven't been hitting.

Incredibly, Mike Lowell leads the club with 12 homers and 50 RBI. If you're scratching your head, you're not alone. This is a team with two of the best power hitters of their generation in David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. That's not to say that the Dynamic Duo aren't holding their own in other ways. Ortiz is leading the team with a .333 average, a .450 on-base-percentage, a .596 slugging percentage, and 27 doubles. Manny is hitting a respectable .293, despite his surprisingly low 10 homers and 39 RBI.

Of course there has been one particularly bright, if unexpected, spot this season. Dustin Pedroia has been a revelation and a surprise to everyone -- except, perhaps, to himself. Hitting an impressive .322, the rookie has proven to be a tough out this year, striking out quite infrequently. In fact, Pedroia has struck out just 16 times in 177 at-bats. By comparison, most of his teammates have a much higher strike out ratio. For example, Wily Mo Pena has 35 strike outs in just 91 at-bats; Eric Hinske has 17 strike outs in just 63 at-bats; and Doug Mirabelli has 20 strike outs in just 61 at-bats.

However, the struggles of JD Drew, Julio Lugo and Coco Crisp have been well documented. Everyone has been waiting for them to come around, but many are now wondering if that will ever happen this year. Entering Monday's game, Drew was batting .242, Crisp just .233, and Lugo a hapless and unfathomable .207 this season. To make matters worse, Lugo went 0-3 against the Braves on Monday, dropping his average to a woeful .205. That's just brutal.

Of greatest concern, this is the continuation of a disturbing trend that goes back to last season. Lugo hit just .219 in 49 games with the Dodgers after being traded by Tampa Bay.

But if you're looking for signs of life, there have actually been a few for this listless group.

Of Drew's five homers this year, three have come in the last week, including one tonight.

Crisp belted a pair of solo homers, both from the right side, for the first multi-homer game of his career. That's twice as many long balls as he had all season. Crisp's drought had resulted in just one homer in 227 at-bats. The speedy center fielder finished 4-for-4, and hopefully this is the catalyst that he -- and everyone else -- has been waiting for.

And there's even a ray of light for Lugo. Despite his pathetic average and .270 OBP, Lugo has struck out just 36 times this year. By comparison, Kevin Youkilis, one of the league's best hitters at .331, has struck out 35 times. So, Lugo is hitting the ball -- he's just hitting at people. What's more, Lugo has an unexplainable 34 RBI, to go along with 19 stolen bases in 19 attempts -- good enough for second in the AL.

Expect Schilling to continue having his ups and downs. He's 40-years-old and his best days are behind him. But every couple of starts he will wow us with an impressive performance that reminds us of how good he used to be on a consistent basis. Jon Lester will buoy the staff when he returns and will inject some much needed life. Tavarez has gone beyond most reasonable expectations, but his 4.97 ERA will make Lester seem like a Godsend. At the least, he will represent an upgrade.

Wily Mo Pena will never be anything more than a designated hitter, and in Boston he is stuck behind the greatest one to ever play the game. He will be trade bait at the deadline. Coco Crisp has played stellar defense -- better than anyone else in the Sox outfield -- but the team may weigh his value and listen to any compelling offers, should there be any for him. Crisp's greatest asset, besides speed and defense, it his relatively cheap contract.

The Sox could use another bat, and Crisp and Pena could be packaged, either together or with a pitcher like Kason Gabbard or Devern Hansack, to get one.

But one way or another, the Sox have built a nice lead in the AL East, and they should be a playoff team once again. A monumental meltdown is almost unthinkable, although we've seen it before in Boston. But that was then, this is is now. The 2007 Red Sox are a solid team with good chemistry. If all the hitters just start hitting up to their potential - consistently - and if the pitchers give their best efforts at the same time, this team will win 100 games this year, and perhaps even the World Series.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Is Curt Schilling an eventual Hall of Famer? Perhaps.

One of the best pitchers of his generation, Schilling's resume is impressive: two World Series rings; one World Series co-MVP; 213 wins, and counting; an average of nearly a strike out per inning over his more than 3000 innings pitched; 20 career shutouts; a career 3.44 ERA; and one very famous bloody sock.

But the one thing that Schilling's resume is missing is one thing he would undoubtedly love to finally add -- a no-hitter. He's come close on a couple of occasions, but never more so than on Thursday in Oakland. On this day he was tantalizingly, frustratingly close.

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Schilling shook off catcher Jason Varitek, who called for a first-pitch slider to Shannon Stewart. Instead, Schilling threw a fastball to Stewart, who promptly lined a a clean single to right field.

And with that hit, Schilling's bid for a no-hitter was washed away once again. In the end, Schilling ended up with the third one-hitter of his career, as he'd previously done in 1992 and 2002.

The 40-year-old would have been the third-oldest pitcher to pitch a no-hitter. Nolan Ryan did it as a 43- and 44-year old, and Cy Young was 41 when he pitched a no-hitter for the Red Sox in 1908.

But it was a tremendous outing, nonetheless, that helped the Sox break a season-high four-game losing streak. The outstanding performance marked Schilling's first shutout since May 14, 2003 (as a member of the Diamondbacks), and first complete game since 2004.

The veteran righty needed the victory personally about as much as the Red Sox did as a team. Coming into the game, Schilling had just won just once in his previous five starts. But throwing a very efficient 100 pitches, Schilling struck out four and issued no walks in his complete-game shutout. With the win, Schilling improved to 6-2 and showed that on his best days he's still among the game's best.

It was just the kind of reminder that Schilling and the Red Sox needed. This season has been a bit of a mixed bag for old # 38. The 6-2 record looks good, but there have been some rough outings this year that have made Schilling look old. The 90 hits and 66 strike outs in 85 innings this season are below Schilling's high standards and very impressive career history.

At this late point in his storied career, Schilling may not be as consistent as he once was. But on days like this he reminds everyone of just how great he still is from time to time.

Schilling and his rotation-mates haven't been the club's concern in recent days.

In the three games against Oakland, the Red Sox have scored a grand total of three runs. Maybe it's the West Coast jet lag, but whatever it is the Sox bats have been sound asleep.

When the Red Sox finally get their potentially potent offense going, and start getting the kind of production they expect from Julio Lugo, Coco Crisp, and JD Drew, the best team in the American League may eventually reveal itself to be he best team in the world in 2007.

And Curt Schilling has been, and should continue to be, a big part of that success.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.