Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, May 22, 2008

MATSUZAKA KEEPS "WINNING UGLY"

Daisuke Matsuzaka just keeps on whistling his way though the graveyard.

Matsuzaka became the AL's first eight-game winner today, despite his continuing control issues. In just 5.2 innings, he allowed a whopping 12 baserunners (6 hits and six walks), in what has become a customary outing. His 38 walks this season lead the Majors.

The Japanese righty overcame a 34-pitch first inning, but still wound up tossing 118 pitches in less than six innings (67 for strikes).

But the walks and high pitch counts haven't hurt Matsuzaka so far. After all, he's still undefeated and his 2.40 ERA is seventh best in baseball -- fourth in the AL. But it makes you wonder, how long he can get away with it? As long as the Red Sox score 11 runs when he pitches, probably indefinitely.

More good news was Matsuzaka's seven strikeouts, which give him 53 this season -- seventh in the AL.

Watching a Dice-K start can be ugly -- even stomach-turning. In fact, a fine argument can be made that he is the best sloppy pitcher in baseball. Matsuzaka wins ugly. But he wins, nonetheless.

As the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

But fixing the high walk and pitch totals would really hurt, would it?

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

LESTER REACHES RED SOX IMMORTALITY

Johan who?

The Red Sox have always believed in Jon Lester. That is precisely why they wouldn't pull the trigger on a proposed trade for the then Minnesota ace. The Sox may not have predicted a no-hitter from the young lefty, but they expected great things nonetheless. After all, he'd just pitched the Game 4 clincher in the 2007 World Series.

When the Sox selected him in the second round of the 2002 draft, they hoped he'd be something special. And when his career took off like a rocket in 2006, going 7-2 in 15 starts, he looked special indeed. Then, when he started 2007 by going 4-0, he looked like a wunderkind.

But there have always been concerns; the lack of accuracy, leading to all too many walks and high pitch counts. Lester has typically been at 100 pitches, and done for the night, by the fifth inning. Yet the Sox saw something they liked, and still they believed.

Then came the cancer diagnosis and all the life-threatening drama that followed. Suddenly baseball seemed small and insignificant. At that point, all the Red Sox really hoped was that he'd survive and be well. But Lester did more than just survive; he's flourished.

Now 3-2, with a 3.41 ERA, Lester has shown flashes of brilliance this season -- even before last night. On April 29th, against Toronto, Lester out-dueled the great Roy Halladay, throwing eight innings of one-hit, six strikeout ball.

But Lester's season, much like his brief career, has been marked by inconsistency; less than a month ago his ERA was 5.40, and two starts ago it was still over 4.00.

Through it all, there was the belief that Lester was something special. And the Red Sox were not alone. After their ALCS defeat at the hands of the Sox last season, the Indians had an organizational meeting in which the consensus was that, after Josh Becket, Lester was the best pitcher on the Red Sox staff. That seems prescient now.

The no-hitter -- the masterpiece that all pitchers covet -- has eluded some of the best to ever play the game. Seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens never did it. Nor has four-time winner Greg Maddux, or three-time winner Pedro Martinez, among others. In fact, of the 59 pitchers in the Hall of Fame, only 31 -- or roughly half -- have pitched complete-game no-hitters.

In 108 years of club history, there have only been 18 no-hitters thrown by Red Sox pitchers. To get a sense of how rare the feat is, at one point 33 years lapsed between Sox no-hitters, and at another point 27 years passed between such brilliant performances. Before Lester, the last Red Sox lefty to pitch a no-hitter was the greatest Sox lefty of them all, Mel Parnell. That amazing performance was delivered on April 14, 1956 -- 52 years ago.

But in this decade no-hitters have suddenly been occurring at a more regular pace for the Sox. Hideo Nomo and Derek Lowe pitched no-hitters in 2001 and 2002, respectively. And then, of course, just eight months ago, Clay Buchholz -- in only his second career start -- accomplished the feat. And now we can add Jon Lester to the list.

His remarkable performance last night is a stunning addition to his remarkable story. And consider how many chapters have yet to be written; Lester is only 24-year-old. In a decade he'll still be considered virtually in his prime. One can only imagine what he has yet to accomplish.

A no-hitter in just his 37th career start, a World Series clincher, and a sparkling 14-4 career record can only make us wonder in amazement, and watch with great hope.

With Lester, Becket, Matsuzaka, and Buchholz all so young, and so good, the future looks bright for years to come for the Red Sox.

Congratulations, Jon!

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

ORTIZ & RAMIREZ: FOREVER LINKED

Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are widely recognized as the most potent power-hitting combo in the game today. In fact, the pair are often compared to legendary teammates Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. And for good reason; Boston's dynamic duo have combined for 477 home runs during their tenure with the Red Sox.

Ramirez, with 498 career longballs, is about to become just the 24th member of baseball's 500-home-run-club; 262 of those homers have come as a member of the Red Sox. That puts him firmly in fifth place on the team's all-time list, a spot he will likely hold on to for the reminder of his career with the Sox. The names ahead of him are a veritable who's who of Red Sox greats; Williams, Yastrzemski, Rice, and Evans. Evans, the longtime right fielder, has 379 career homers with the Sox, and it's hard to imagine Ramirez surpassing him for fourth place. Manny would need 118 more blasts to do so.

Meanwhile, Ortiz, who hit his eighth homer of the season yesterday, has 215 dingers with the club. Sox greats, Jimmy Foxx, Bobby Doerr, and Mo Vaughn are just ahead of him, and with just 16 more knocks Ortiz will jump ahead of Vaughn -- and into sixth place -- on the club's all-time list.

It's very fitting that one the greatest home run combos in Red Sox history (the other being Rice and Evans) will reside in fifth and sixth place, respectively, on the much vaunted list, forever connected as Rice and Evans are. Indeed, it's quite appropriate that the two will be bound together, just as they are in the batting order, for years to come.

Boston's modern-day slugging sensations will be remembered as much for what they did as teammates as for what they did individually. The pair have homered in the same game 47 times, which ties them for 15th all-time among any set of teammates. For comparison's sake, Rice and Evans accomplished the feat 56 times, Ruth and Gehrig 73 times, while Aaaron and Matthews did it 75 times.

For two of the most popular players in Red Sox history, who've enjoyed so many successful and productive seasons together, and who've shared such a special bond, it's appropriate that they will be paired together in the Sox record book, just as they are in the present.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

SOX/ROX TALKS CENTER ON AA PITCHER

The Red Sox/Rockies negotiations continue. The Sox have eight days remaining to get a deal done for Julian Tavarez before they have to release him.

Indications are the Red Sox are interested in Rockies Double A pitcher Brandon Hynick in exchange for Tavarez. The 23-year-old Hynick is 2-2 so far this season for the Tulsa Drillers, posting a 4.89 ERA.

Numbers of this sort wouldn't seem to make the 6'3", 205 lb., right-hander untouchable, yet the Rockies claim they are unwilling to move him. In 46 innings Hynick has given up 55 hits to go along with 31 strike outs. And opposing hitters are batting .286 against him.

All of this leads one to wonder why both teams see him as so valuable?

Perhaps it was his performance last year with the Rockies Single A affiliate, the Modesto Nuts. There Hynick -- who was drafted by the Rockies in 2006 -- went 16-5 with a 2.52 ERA. In 182.1 innings, he allowed just 170 hits and only 31 walks, to go along with 136 strike outs. And opposing batters only managed to hit .243 against him.

For his efforts, MiLB.com named him Class A Starting Pitcher of the Year.

That's the kind of potential that both the Rox and Sox see as they assess Hynick. It's still early in the season, but so far the better Double A hitters have proven more difficult for him to handle. The question is, as the competition increases up the minor league ladder, will he be able manage it and make the jump? That's still an unknown.

Right now, the Rockies have to weigh their immediate needs against their belief in Hynick as a potential big league pitcher down the road.

That's a much easier decision for the Red Sox at present.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

SOX & ROX STILL IN TALKS

The Rockies/Red Sox trade talks regarding Julian Tavarez aren't dead yet. Now that Tavarez has been designated for assignment, leaving him in a virtual limbo, the Red Sox have nine days to trade or release him. Though discussions cooled when the Sox asking price was deemed too high, apparently they are heating up again, with a swap possibly coming within the next few days.

Colorado has said it is willing to deal from its outfield depth, in particular, at Triple-A, where Cory Sullivan is making $1 million. But Sullivan will be 29 in August and his stat line with the Rockies is hardly tantalizing.

In 2005 Sullivan hit .294, with 4 HR, 30 RBI, and 12 stolen bases in 139 games. The Rockies saw enough potential to grant him the center field position, as well as the lead off spot in the batting order, for 2006. That season he hit .267, with 2 HR, 30 RBI, and 10 stolen bases in 126 games. As if those numbers weren't lackluster enough, Sullivan actually went backwards the next year. In 2007 he hit .286, with 2 HR, 14 RBI, and 2 stolen bases in 72 games.

The sad truth is that Sullivan has only regressed as he's gotten older. He's simply not a Major League caliber player and obviously should be avoided.

The Red Sox are prepared to eat the majority of Tavarez's remaining $3.85 million salary this season, which could leave them in position to receive a better prospect. We can only hope.

One has to wonder why the Rockies think the Red Sox would want Sullivan and how he would serve the Sox needs? The answer is he wouldn't. They already have reserve outfielders Brandon Moss and Bobby Kielty, both of whom will come off the DL and become available shortly. So getting Sullivan wouldn't expedite a Coco Crisp trade. Sullivan couldn't possibly replace Crisp. Tavarez, while no pitching treasure, is an experienced big leaguer who can fill any roll asked of him. He is worth more than Cory Sullivan. Pitching is scare and sorely needed all over baseball.

The Rockies are simply floating Sullivan's name and hoping that someone -- anyone -- will bite. They're desperate to dump the excessive salary of an underachieving minor league player, and surely the Sox will be too smart to take the bait.

My best guess is that the Sox will wait for the best player they can get, regardless of position. Aside from additional bullpen help, they have no pressing needs right now. They'd be better off with a solid, young prospect who will help them in the future.

Cory Sullivan is not that guy.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

THE ERROR OF HIS WAYS

JULIO LUGO'S MISHAPS ARE ALL TOO COMMON. AND IF YOU'RE FRUSTRATED BY THE SOX' SHORTSTOP -- GET USED TO IT. HE AIN'T GOING ANYWHERE.

How much do you regret Theo Epstein's free agent signing of Julio Lugo? How much do you think Epstein regrets it?

Lugo single-handedly blew the game last night in Detroit. And it came after his teammates -- particularly Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis -- made super human efforts to erase a four-run Tiger lead in the late innings. So much for their effort. So much for the Sox five-game win streak. And so much for Jonathan Papelbon's 10-game consecutive saves streak this season. In fact, Papelbon hadn't blown a save since last September against the Yankees. Oh well.

The Red Sox, as a team, now have 20 errors in 2008, and Lugo is responsible for exactly half that total all by himself. Yes, by May 7th, Julio Lugo already had 10 errors. His manager, always quick to defend his players, blames the three error game that Lugo had in Toronto.

"You know what happened is he made the three in Toronto that are going to bite him for the rest [of the season] 'cause he has a lot now," Francona said Monday. "He made those errors in Toronto. That's a bad day. That's going to up his total. We stay on him all the time about being that guy that's aggressive and fearless because that's when he's a better player."

It's hard to say when Lugo is a better player. He's committed more than 20 errors in a season three times and had 19 last year. He's on pace for about 45 this year.

Even if he had made just one error that dismal night north of the border, he'd still be tied for first in the Majors with eight errors. Let's be honest; that night wasn't really the problem. It was merely emblematic of Lugo's poor fielding ability. He's a great athlete, and his athleticism has carried him through his career. But his fundamentals -- the things he should have learned and polished as a teenager -- are terrible.

It's hard to explain Epstein's "man crush" on Lugo. Just what was it that made him bid against only himself, and offer a pretty average player a four-year, $36 million contract? I mean Lugo had just hit .219 with the Dodgers when Eptein made his bid. Is he really better than Error Renteria or Alex Gonzalez? I think not.

And the Sox are stuck with him. Wouldn't you just love to have Jed Lowrie as the everyday shortstop right now? Don't you think the Red Sox would be better off? And forget the idea of dumping or trading Lugo; no one will touch a human error machine -- who doesn't hit well -- at $9 mil per season. The Sox are in a pickle. And if they ever do find a taker, they'll be paying him to play for someone else -- just like Renteria.

Lugo hit a paltry .237 last year. This year he's off to a better start (.293), but I don't anticipate that it will last. Sure, he had 73 RBI last season, but considering how well the Red Sox hit as a team, there was almost always someone on base whenever he went to the plate. Make contact and you'll drive in runs. But so far this season, Lugo has eight RBI and no homers. Yeah, he's stolen four bases, but was caught twice. That's a one-third failure rate.

Bottom line; no glove, no love.

Yes, the Red Sox are stuck with Lugo. And we're stuck watching as his errors mount. If he cracks 20 homers or steals 40 bases it will help make up for his miscues in the field. But he's never done either before, and there's no reason to believe he'll start now.

If you can't reasonably help your team win with your bat, the least you can do is not help it lose with your glove.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

WAKEFIELD REACHES MILESTONE

With his first strike out tonight, Tim Wakefield became just the second pitcher in Red Sox history to record at least 1700 career strikeouts. The 41-year-old veteran struck out a total of six Tigers, giving up just two hits and no walks, in eight shutout innings. That brings Wakefield's strikeout total to 1705 with the Sox, and counting.

Cy Young never reached 1700 strike outs in his legendary career with the Red Sox, and neither did Pedro Martinez, Luis Tiant, or Smokey Joe Wood. In fact, the only other Sox pitcher to reach the milestone was Roger Clemens, who fanned 2590 batters while with the Sox. It appears that Clemens mark will be safe for years to come.

Wakefield, the crafty knuckleball pitcher, dropped his ERA below four during his eight dazzling innings of work. However, he did pass Clemens in one area he probably would rather not have; he is now the Sox all-time leader in hits allowed, at 2361. Entering tonight's game, the two had been tied.

That's part of the mixed bag that you get with Tim Wakefield. You take the bad with the good.

For instance, Wakefield's 135 losses are the most in team history; his 324 home runs allowed are by far the most in team history; his 923 walks are the most in team history; and his 1177 earned runs are the most in team history. Much of that is the by-product of his longevity; if you stick around long enough the numbers pile up -- for better and for worse.

After earning his 157th career victory with the Red Sox tonight, Wakefield has an outside shot of surpassing Young and Clemens, who are tied with 192 wins apiece. He'd likely have to pitch another two seasons to do so, but for a knuckleballer that is possible. If he plays even one more season -- which seems likely at this point -- he will pass Clemens in in both innings pitched and starts, becoming the club's new all-time leader in both categories.

We may hold our collective breath whenever he starts, or when one of his knucklers flutters away from the catcher and toward the backstop. But we're used to it by now. Aren't we?

Enjoy it for what it's worth. Statistically speaking, we're watching one of the Red Sox all-time greats. And there's no doubt that we're watching one of the finest, most gracious men to have ever worn the Red Sox uniform.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

PAPELBON MAKES HIS MARK

YOUNG CLOSER SETTING STAGE FOR RED SOX HISTORY

In just his third season as the Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon is already poised to make Sox history. After his 10th save in 10 chances on Monday night, Papelbon now has 82 career saves. And before this season is over, Papelbon could very well move into second place on the team's all-time saves list.

Possessing a fastball that has been clocked at 99 miles per hour, plus a nasty split and changeup, Papelbon is arguably the premier closer in baseball right now. Surely, he is the best closer most fans have ever seen in a Red Sox uniform. Perhaps that's because he is. At the least, he's creeping up on the best that preceded him in Boston.

As it stands, Papelbon is in sixth place on the Sox' all-time saves list. With just four more saves he will overtake Derek Lowe and move into fifth place. That could happen in the space of a week or so. With seven more saves he will move past Jeff Reardon into fourth place. And with 10 more saves he will pass Ellis Kinder for third place. Expect all of that to happen sometime this summer.

But here's what is truly impressive; if Papelbon -- who has averaged 36 saves over the last two seasons -- holds true to form, he will surpass Dick Radatz and become #2 on the team's all time saves list by the end of this season, just his third in the Majors.

The present "King of the Hill" is Bob "The Steamer" Stanley, who amassed 132 career saves over 13 seasons with the club. Though Stanley has held the team record since retiring in 1989, at this point he is not long for that distinction. If history is a guide, Papebon will become the new Red Sox all-time saves leader before the conclusion of the 2009 season.

That would be a truly amazing feat, considering that it would only be Papelbon's fourth season in the role of closer.

Papelbon is at the top of his game and notes that he feels stronger than ever before. "I just feel that I know my body more and more and what I'm capable of," said the closer. "It's amazing what my program has been able to do for me. I stick to it. I'm really committed to it and it has helped me stay strong."

For opposing hitters, just making contact probably feels like an accomplishment. Papelbon has gone 14 appearances without walking a batter. In fact, the last time he walked an opposing hitter was on March 25, against Oakland, in Japan. In that same period, he has struck out 21 batters.

The young phenom is both respected and feared throughout the baseball, and every team would rather have him than have to face him. The Sox, and their fans, consider themselves lucky.

And with each additional save, Papelbon continues to stake his place in the Red Sox storied history.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Monday, May 05, 2008

THE MARVEL OF MATSUZAKA

Exactly how Daisuke Matsuzaka earned a "W" tonight is tough to figure.

The unpredictable pitcher's stat line was schizophrenic to the point of unbelievable; just two hits, but EIGHT walks, resulting in just one run, over five innings. In that span he threw 109 pitches. And when all was said and done, the hurler -- who is ninth in the AL in strike outs -- had just one K.

As I said, tough to figure.

As one might imagine, the eight walks were a personal high for Matsuzaka, whose career spans less than two seasons. It also tied the major league high for walks this season. It's hard to imagine a pitcher with even seven walks being left in a game.

Matsuzaka went to three-ball counts on five of the first seven batters he faced. Through three innings, though he had allowed no hits, he had posted five walks. In fact, the Tigers didn't notch their first hit against him until the fourth inning. By the end of the fifth, Matsuzaka had allowed a stingy two hits, yet a staggering 10 Tigers had reached base. How he managed to surrender just one run is anybody's guess. If he had given up any more hits it may have lead to a blowout.

The issue of walks has plagued Matsuzaka all season. Tonight's struggle highlighted a larger problem; Matsuzaka is tied for the Major League Lead with 27 free passes. That makes his 5-0 record rather amazing. But since he only surrendered one run tonight, his ERA dropped to a meager 2.43 -- fourth best in the AL.

Say what you will, but the guy is a study in contrasts. You've got to give him credit; getting a win under those circumstances was quite remarkable. The last Red Sox pitcher who gave up eight walks and still got a win was Oil Can Boyd back in June of 1985.

Matsuzaka is a determined competitor. He won't give hitters anything to hit, and even when behind in the count, he won't back down. That kind of stubbornness has lead to the high walk total. He gets himself into jams, and more often than not he gets out of them.

A Matsuzaka start is often an adventure -- one that raises your blood pressure and keeps you on the edge of your seat. But ultimately it's tough to criticize 5-0 and 2.43. It may be unconventional, and heart-racing, but he gets the job done.

Remember tonight. It could be at least another 23 years before a Red Sox pitcher gives up eight walks en route to a victory. At least let's hope so.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

SOX RISE TO CHALLENGE IN APRIL

Despite a 30,000-mile road trip that included three nations, injuries, and a flu bug that invaded their clubhouse, the Sox still finished April in first place in the AL East, with the second best record in the league.

Josh Beckett. Mike Timlin, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Manny Delcarmen, Coco Crsip, JD Drew, Alex Cora, Sean Casey, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury all missed various amounts of time due to injury or illness.

The Sox had to call on Triple A players, such as Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, David Pauley, Justin Masterson, Craig Hansen, and Joe Thurston, because they were so decimated and undermanned. To win in the face of these challenges is very impressive. And that's not all.

The Sox lead the Majors with eight wins in their last at-bat this season, and are 8-2 in one run games.

However, while the Sox travel schedule was indeed challenging, the majority of their opponents were not. In April, the Sox played series' against Oakland, Toronto, Detroit, New York, Cleveland, Texas, Anaheim, and Tampa Bay. Of all those teams, only Tampa Bay, Anaheim, and Oakland had records of .500 or better. So the Sox clearly benefitted from a weak schedule.

Here's how the Sox stacked up in April versus last year:

2007 - 2008

16-8 Record 17-12

.262 Team Avg. .288

27 Home Runs 22

3.28 Team ERA 4.40

69 Walks 112

.228 Op. Bat Avg. .246

First the good news: The Sox are second in the Majors in hits and batting average. But the pitching could be a concern.

Here's the not-so-good news: The Sox team ERA is 19th in baseball, and 10th in the AL. They are fourth in walks -- second in the AL. They are also fourth in the AL in runs allowed. If you're looking for the upside on the pitching staff, they are tied for second in the majors with three shutouts, have allowed the ninth fewest hits, and are third in strikeouts -- first in the AL.

David Ortiz was mired in a slump for much of the month, but has finally come around and found his stroke. Mike Lowell was injured and couldn't produce while on the DL. Despite the struggle/absence of these two key leaders, the offense largely thrived. With both of them healthy and performing to their capability, the Sox offense will only get better.

Indeed, if there is an area of concern, it has got to be pitching. Walks have hurt the Red Sox, costing them runs and games. The only starter with an ERA under 4 is Dice-K (2.52). And the middle relief has been ugly and costly.

However, Jon Lester and Clay Bucholz should get better and more confident as the season progresses. Dice-K looks like the pitcher everyone had anticipated last season and is leading the team in ERA and strikeouts. Josh Beckett will compete for the Cy Young Award once again. And the combination of Bartolo Colon and Curt Schilling could add depth later this year. Their veteran presence and experience could also help in a playoff hunt. But for Schilling to pitch, and be effective, again will require a minor miracle.

In the meantime, we can only hope that the starters stay healthy. And if someone goes down, Justin Masterson gave us a reason for hope. And there is little doubt that Theo Epstein will be looking for bullpen help once again at the trade deadline (isn't he always?).

Despite their difficulties in April, the Red Sox gave us reason to believe that they will compete for a Championship again this year. But it won't be easy. The division has gotten stronger due to the improvements of Baltimore and Tampa Bay. Nine of fourteen AL teams have at least a .500 record. They're all beating up on one another and the competition, so far, has been fierce.

It will likely remain that way as the season continues to unfold.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.