Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

SOX/ANGELS SERIES PREVIEW

Historically, the Red Sox have fared well against the Angels.

The Sox swept Orange County's favorite sons in the 2004 and 2007 AL Division Series, going on to win the World Series both times. So history is on their side.

But what does that matter? The past is behind us. This is a new season. The Angels should have tons of confidence based on their success against Boston in 2008; they absolutely owned the Sox this year, going 8-1. In fact, they owned everybody, finishing with an MLB-best 100 wins.

The playoffs are all about being simultaneously hot and healthy. The Angles were all banged up last year. They had a MASH unit taking the field against the Red Sox during the 2007 ALDS. It's a different story this year. This time it's the Sox who are all banged up.

Mike Lowell and JD Drew will either be absent or limited, at best. And as a result, the Sox will suffer from diminished offensive power.

Lowell had 17 HR and 73 RBI this season, in limited action due to two stints on the DL. His hip is in such bad shape that it will require offseason surgery. And if the Sox weren't in the playoffs, he'd probably be under the knife this week. That will have to wait, for at least a little while longer.

Drew has had just four at-bats since August 17. He's suffering from an aggravation of an old herniated disc injury. This season Drew stroked 19 HR and 64 RBI. His speed, defense, and hitting will be diminished, if not lost entirely.

The Sox will try to take up the slack by utilizing Mark Kotsay in right and Sean Casey at first. It probably won't help much; the pair combined for just six homers and 66 RBI this season -- that's just six more homers than Johnny Pesky. You get the point.

Then there's Josh Beckett and his strained oblique. Beckett is arguably the best big-game pitcher of his generation (6-2, 1.73, in nine starts), but this was a down year for him. He went from 20 wins in 2007, and a runner-up finish in the Cy Young balloting, to a 12-10 record with an ERA over 4 this year. That's solidly mediocre, and now he's hurt too. Beckett had his second-worst outing of the season on July 30 against the Angels, when he allowed eight runs in 5.1 innings of a 9-2 loss.

Meanwhile, Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21) looked like the staff ace this year, throwing a no-hitter, and leading the team with two complete games and 210 innings.

However, with a team-leading 18-3 record and 2.90 ERA, Daisuke Matsuzaka would seem to be a Cy Young candidate. Crazy stat: Opponents are 0-14 against him this season with the bases loaded.

The guy sure does whistle his way through the graveyard, doesn't he? He's got to be the sloppiest 18-game winner, sub-3 ERA pitcher, I've ever seen.

In last year's ALDS, Dice-K went just 4.2 innings, allowing seven hits, three walks and three runs, in a no-decision. His cumulative post-season pitching line looks like this: 2-1 (with 1 no decision), 5.03 ERA, 17 strike outs and 22 hits, in 19.2 innings over four starts.

The Angels hit .305 and averaged 6.8 runs in the nine regular-season meetings, while the Red Sox batted .252 and averaged 3.7 runs. Los Angeles' ERA was 3.60, Boston's was 6.23.

The bottom line is that Red Sox pitchers haven't fared well against the Angels this year; the Red Sox no longer have Manny Ramirez in the lineup; and two of their most potent and important remaining bats are questionable, at best. On top of that, the Angels have home field advantage.

It's for these reasons that I predict an Angles victory in the ALDS. After losing nine consecutive playoff games to the Red Sox, they're due to turn it around and come out on the winning end.

That said, I really hope I'm wrong.

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

SOX MVP: PEDEY OR YOUK?

Over the past five years, with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez carrying the bulk of the offensive load for the Red Sox (not just the stats, but the big, key hits as well), the team MVP was generally a toss up between either member of the Dynamic Duo.

But last year Mike Lowell had a career year and, with Ortiz injured and diminished for much of the year, Lowell picked up the slack and was undoubtedly the Sox’ MVP.

This season, Manny started strong, then had another of his annual mental meltdowns, forcing a trade. Ortiz was injured yet again, missing almost two months with a wrist problem. And Lowell has also been hobbled by injuries, doing two stints on the DL.

Into the void leapt Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. Both players are having career years, and far exceeding any and all expectations.

Pedroia, presently second at .324, could win the A.L. batting title; Joe Mauer is currently the leader at .329. The Boston second baseman leads the league in runs scored (117), as well as leading the Majors in hits (208).

After winning the A.L. ROY in 2007, Pedroia has proven that he was just getting warmed up. This year he became the 23 rd player in the Red Sox storied 108-year history to record as many as 200 hits in a season. He is just the seventh Sox player to record at least 50 doubles in a season, and is now tied for third, at 53, with Tris Speaker (1912). And he is just the third to accomplish both feats (Speaker in 1912, and Wade Boggs in 1989).

Simply put, Pedroia is having the best season of any Sox second baseman—ever. The player who formerly held that distinction, Bobby Doerr, is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Pedroia now holds the club record for hits, doubles, runs, extra-bases, and total bases by a second baseman.

Pedroia leads the Majors in hits (208) and doubles (53), is second in multi-hit games (58), first in the AL in runs, second in batting, fourth in total bases, and sixth in the AL in extra-base hits. That puts him in the top-ten in seven different offensive categories.

And on top of all that, he’s played stellar defense and prevented runs. He’s the total package.

And then there’s Youk.

In a season when the Sox usual (or expected) power-hitters and run producers (Ortiz. Lowell and JD Drew) have been slowed by injuries, on the DL, or simply dogging it (Manny), Youkilis has picked up the slack and delivered. The smooth-fielding first baseman has been a force and has carried the offensive load.

Youk is third in the AL in slugging, fourth in homers, fourth in OPS, fourth in extra-base hits, sixth in batting, sixth in OBP, seventh in doubles, eighth in multi-hit games, and ninth in total bases. That puts him in the top-ten in nine separate offensive categories.

Not only is he hitting .314—26 points higher than is carer average—he also has a career-best 27 HR and 111 RBI. With five games remaining, those numbers are already 11 HR and 28 RBI better than his previous bests. He has done more than the Sox ever could have hoped for or imagined. As stated, he is having a career year. He has finally arrived. His All Star selection and the gaudy numbers attest to it.

On top of all the offensive production, this year (extending from last) Youkilis set the MLB record for errorless chances and games by a first baseman. He has just four errors at first this year and should earn his second-consecutive Gold Glove Award.

Before the season began, the Bill James Handbook had these projections for the Sox young infielders:

Kevin Youkilis, 1B
Handbook projection:
Avg. - .290
HRs - 15
RBIs - 78
Runs - 89
BB - 84

Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Handbook projection:
Avg. - .300
HRs - 9
RBIs - 57
Runs - 77
2B - 40

As you can see, the pair have blown away the projections. They’ve both nearly doubled the anticipated home runs.

Who the team MVP is seems to be a toss up. League MVP Awards are generally given to players with eye-popping power numbers. Youkilis’ power numbers are certainly better than Pedroia’s. But Pedey is a diminutive second baseman from whom power is not expected. In fact, his 17 homers are shocking. And as much as Youkilis has exceeded expectations and projections, his power numbers are not beefy enough to win him the MVP.

If Pedroia finishes strong, wins the AL batting title, and leads the Majors in hits, doubles and multi-hit games, his other top-ten AL stats, his stellar defense, and the Sox entry to the playoffs could actually earn him the League MVP—or at last serious consideration.

For that reason, I’d say that Dustin Pedroia is the Red Sox 2008 MVP.

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

Sunday, September 14, 2008

PEDROIA'S STAR SHINES BRIGHTLY

This has truly been a remarkable year for Dustin Pedroia, who is setting the standard for Red Sox second baseman. Pedroia is the best Sox second baseman since the great Bobby Doerr, who is a member of the Hall of Fame.

After so many years with an ever-changing array of second-baseman each season, Pedroia is anchoring the position and adding some much-needed stability.

The position was anything but stable from 1999-2001, when Jose Offerman held the position, splitting time with Jeff Frye, Rey Sanchez, Mike Lansing, Lou Merloni and Chris Stynes along the way. Todd Walker had the reigns for just one year, 2003. Mark Belhorn held down the spot in ‘04, and split it with Tony Graffanino in ‘05. Then came Mark Loretta in ‘06, before Pedroia arrived last year.

And what an arrival it was. Pedroia's excellent play earned him the A.L. Rookie of the Year Award. But that was merely a hint at what he was truly capable of.

Pedroia now has 200 hits this season and is just the 23d player in club history to do so. Mo Vaughn was the last, when he hit 205 in 1998. What's more, Pedroia has also smacked 50 doubles this season, just the seventh Sox player to accomplish the feat. The only other Red Sox players to reach the combined marks were Hall of Famers Tris Speaker in 1912, and Wade Boggs in 1989.

Earlier this summer, Pedroia set the record for doubles and runs by as Sox second baseman, both previously held by Doerr. And his 69 extra-base hits this year are now tied with Doerr (1940) for the most by a Red Sox second baseman. Further, his 305 total bases broke Doerr’s second base club mark set in 1950.

The 25-year-old has also been a revelation in the field. as well as at the plate. Pedroia holds a .991 fielding percentage this season, and earned his first All Star selection do to his consistently excellent all-around play. We should get used to it; there will surely be many more Mid-Summer Classics in his future. Last year he made a name for himself, this year he became a star.

Pedroia's name will likely be listed throughout the Red Sox record book, and his legacy a part of fan lore, before his days in Boston are through. Get used to it, enjoy it, and be thankful that he's ours.


Red Sox players with 200-hit seasons (notice the striking absence of Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski):

Year Player Hits
1912 Tris Speaker 222
1934 Bill Werber 200
1938 Joe Vosmik 201
1940 Doc Cramer 200
1942 Johnny Pesky 205
1946 Johnny Pesky 208
1947 Johnny Pesky 207
1977 Jim Rice 206
1978 Jim Rice 213
1979 Jim Rice 201
1983 Wade Boggs 210
1984 Wade Boggs 203
1985 Wade Boggs 240
1985 Bill Buckner 201
1986 Wade Boggs 207
1986 Jim Rice 200
1987 Wade Boggs 200
1988 Wade Boggs 214
1989 Wade Boggs 205
1996 Mo Vaughn 207
1997 Nomar Garciaparra 209
1998 Mo Vaughn 205
2008 Dustin Pedroia 200

Red Sox players with 50-double seasons:

Earl Webb - 67 (1931) (MLB Record)
Nomar Garciaparra - 56 (2002)
Tris Speaker - 53 (1912)
David Ortiz - 52 (2007)
Nomar Garciaparra - 51 (2000)
Wade Boggs - 51 (1989)
Joe Cronin - 51 (1938)
Dustin Pedroia - 50 (2008)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Red Sox MASH Unit

After winning the World Series in 2007, the Red Sox were certainly expected to contend again this year. Before the season began, many prognosticators even thought they had a very solid chance of repeating. But the strength and performance of a team is often directly related to the health of its players. And in that respect, the Red Sox have faced genuine adversity in their quest to repeat as Champions this year.

Case in point, before the season had even started, the Red Sox had lost their staff leader, Curt Schilling, for the year. Additional bad news was quick to follow.

The Sox suffered another blow in March when they lost their new ace, Josh Beckett, to the 15-day DL due to a lower back strain. Beckett, the appointed Opening Day starter, didn't even make the trip to Japan with his teammates. Yet another bit of adversity to start the season for the defending Champs.

But that wasn't all; the Sox have suffered multiple losses to the starting rotation this year. Clay Buchholz was lost to the 15-day disabled list with a broken nail on his right middle finger in May. Later that month, the Sox lost Daisuke Matsuzaka, their wins leader, to the DL due to a mild right rotator cuff strain. Then in June, Bartolo Colon was lost due to back stiffness. In August, Tim Wakefield went on 15-day DL because of posterior shoulder tightness. And, also in August, Beckett went back on the DL once again due to elbow inflammation that caused numbness and tingling in his hand.
But the trouble for Sox pitchers hasn't been relegated to just the starting rotation.

Mike Timlin, who began the season on the DL with a laceration on his right ring finger, went back on 15-day DL in June because of tendinitis in his left knee. And fellow reliever David Aardsma was lost to the DL in July with a right groin strain. That same injury put Aardsma back on the DL again this month. The Sox' shakey bullpen was already looking undermanned most of the year as it was.

And the offense and defense suffered their own losses as well.

Third baseman Mike Lowell also had two stints on the disabled list. He missed almost three weeks in April with a sprained left thumb, and then went on 15-day DL with oblique strain on August 13. The Sox really missed Lowell's leadership, steady defense, and offensive production. Yet they've managed to win without him.

The Sox also lost utility infielder Alex Cora to the 15-day DL in April with an elbow sprain to his throwing arm. Not good for a middle infielder. They lost backup first baseman Sean Casey to the DL that month with a hip strain. Now Casey finds himself back on the DL once again due to neck stiffness. And Julio Lugo went on 15-day DL on July 12 with quadriceps strain.
But perhaps the biggest blow to the Red Sox offense came when David Ortiz went on 15-day DL in June with wrist injury. Ortiz missed 45 games from May 31 to his reactivation on July 25.

That has amounted to 17 separate stints on the DL for 13 different players. It's taken its toll on the team. The Sox have paid a price for those losses, namely the division lead. But they are not just fighting to win the division; they are fighting for their playoff lives in a very tight Wild Card race. Who knows how many losses have resulted from the assorted injuries and missed time, but you can bet the Sox lost more games than they would have otherwise.

Injuries are part of the game. And the Red Sox have played the game pretty well, and contended, despite them.

There's been a lot of talk about the Yankees' disappointing season being the result of injuries. And there's also been a lot of talk about the Rays' success being all the more amazing due to the injuries to Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and Troy Percival.

While that may be true in both cases, the Red Sox continued success - in the face of these extensive injuries - is quite remarkable itself.

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

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

SOX STREAK INTO HISTORY

The streak began in May of 2003. That year was a turning point in the history, and the fortunes, of the storied Olde Towne Team.. Red Sox fans obviously knew they were on to something -- a hot, competitive team -- when they launched a streak of 456 consecutive sellouts at Fenway Park, en route to a new MLB record.

That year, the Red Sox won 95 games for the first time since 1986 -- the last time they'd won the A.L. Pennant. Since 2003, they've never won fewer than 95 games. And in that frame, the Red Sox have, of course, won two World Series titles.

Red Sox fans were there to see all of the highlights in every game at Fenway along the way: a historic comeback against, and eventual defeat of, the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS; David Ortiz set the Red Sox single-season home run record; Dustin Pedroia win the AL Rookie of the Year Award; Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz pitch no-hitters before their 25th birthdays, and on and on.

It took Red Sox' fans the better part of six seasons to break the mark previously set by Cleveland Indians' fans between 1995-2001, a seven-season span. Sox fans were clearly rewarded for their patronage and passionate commitment. And the Red Sox organization was also rewarded -- both financially, and with the tremendous energy that results from a Fenway sellout.

The historic park is the not only baseball's oldest, but also it's smallest. With a fan-base that expects a competitive team each season, and a resulting payroll among the highest in baseball, that has resulted in the game's highest ticket prices.It makes the streak all the more impressive. But those high prices have resulted in rewards for attending fans; a consistently great team and the intimacy of Fenway.

Boston sports fans are among the most passionate and most committed in America. In fact, two of the top-six longest sellout streaks were set in Boston. Here's a look:

Pro Sports Longest Sellout Streaks

Number Team Years
744 Portland (NBA) 1977-1995
567 Boston (NBA) 1980-1995
515 Chicago (NBA) 1987-2000
456 Boston (MLB) 2003-2008
455 Cleveland (MLB) 1995-2001
407 Colorado (NHL) 1995-2006

The Red Sox amazing streak shows no sign of letting up and, with a likely playoff run this fall, should extend through next season and beyond. At about the midway point next year, the streak should surpass that of the Chicago Bulls. And early in the 2010 season, it should also hurtle past the Celtics mark, set over a 16-year period in the '80s and '90s.

Could the Portland Trailblazers' mark be broken by the Red Sox and their fans? It's entirely possible. That could happen during the 2012 season, the same year that the club will be celebrating its 100th anniversary at the legendary Fenway Park. Interest in the team, and the park, will likely be at an even more fevered pitch at that point, if that's even possible.

It makes you wonder how much more intense it can get? After all, there are only so many seats, and the team can only sell each of them once per game.

For some fans, who've never had the pleasure of attending Fenway, it's not enough.

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