Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Francona #2 in Wins Among Red Sox Managers

But He's #1 in the Post-Season, When it Really Counts

Red Sox manager Terry Francona notched a milestone last night, moving into a second-place tie for most wins by a Red Sox skipper (560).

The Red Sox also reached 90 wins for the third consecutive season, and the fifth time in Terry Francona's six seasons at the helm.

Francona's even-tempered professionalism has a lent a sense of ease and calm to a club playing in a city not traditionally marked by ease and calm.

Baseball is a virtual religion in Boston, and the Sox rabid fan base can at times be described as dour, pessimistic and reactionary. Francona's steady presence has unquestionably been a significant aspect of the team's success since 2004.

The Sox skipper is known as a player's manager and is sometimes loyal to a fault, sticking with his players long after the fans and media have called for them to be benched, traded, or released.

Francona stood by players such as Mark Belhorn, Kevin Millar, Trot Nixon and, most recently, David Ortiz, as they struggled. His confidence and commitment to his players often pays off, and he seems to have earned the loyalty and trust of all.

Rarely has Francona had public run-ins with his players of the type that are at times seen with less level-headed managers.

Jay Payton had to force an uncomfortable confrontation to manipulate his way out of Boston. Francona didn't take the bait; he simply gave Payton the exit he desired.

Francona also took the high road with Pedro Martinez's prima donna act. And the same goes with Manny Ramirez's insufferable, selfish behavior. Francona was happy to be rid of the cancer and move on for the betterment of clubhouse chemistry.

Ever the true professional, Francona keeps team business private and within the clubhouse. How much the fans and media never hear about can only be speculated.

Joe Cronin, the winningest manger in club history, had a 13-year tenure as Red Sox manager and is the only skipper in team history to have exceeded Francona's six years of service.

Despite amassing the second most managerial wins in Red Sox history, Francona's success is without precedent. He won two World Series Championships in his first four seasons, and is the only Boston manager to reach the postseason more than twice; Francona has done it four times and this year will mark the fifth.

No previous Red Sox manager had won 90 games as many as four times, and Francona has now done it in five seasons. And Francona's .583 winning percentage the best winning percentage in team history among managers with 400 or more games.

For all he's achieved, hat's off to Terry Francona. And a hearty thanks from Red Sox Nation.

Most wins by Red Sox managers

Joe Cronin 1,071
Terry Francona 560
Pinky Higgins 560
Bill Carrigan 489
Jimmy Collins 455

Francona's Record with Red Sox

2009 90-61
2008 95-67
2007 96-66
2006 86-76
2005 95-67
2004 98-64

Total 560-401

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jason Bay Set to Become Very Rich Man

Jason Bay has had a productive week. A memorable week. A milestone week. And, likely, a very fortuitous week

On Sunday, Bay turned 31 and, to celebrate, set a new career best with his 110th RBI. Then last night he set another career-best, with his 36 home run.

Bay picked a good season to have a career year; he will become a free agent after the World Series. And he will celebrate once again when he cashes in and signs a very lucrative, long-term pact during the offseason.

The left fielder has been on a tear and could conceivably hit his 40th home run in the Red Sox remaining 13 games. That could push his asking price even higher. At this point, one has to figure that Bay will looking for a minimum of five years and $75 million.

But Bay says he isn't concerned about hitting 40 homers this year, or any year. He says walks and RBI are more important to him. With 89 walks (plus four IBB) and 113 RBI, Bay has plenty to be proud of.

And his 181 HR since 2004 (his Rookie of the Year season) are 15th most in baseball during that period.

For Red Sox fans who didn't follow the National League, or the Prates more specifically, Bay has been a revelation. The guy is hella good.

And that will make him one of the most sought after free agents this offseason. Bay is younger and better than most of the other left fielders who will be vying for contracts.

Here's an alphabetical listing of the upcoming free agent left fielders, with their ages in parenthesis:

Garret Anderson (38)
Marlon Anderson (36)
Jason Bay (31)
Emil Brown (35)
Marlon Byrd (32)
Carl Crawford (28) - $10M club option with a $1.25M buyout
Johnny Damon (36)
David Dellucci (36)
Cliff Floyd (37)
Matt Holliday (30)
Reed Johnson (33)
Jacque Jones (35)
Gabe Kapler (34)
Greg Norton (37)
Wily Mo Pena (28)
Manny Ramirez (38) - $20M player option
Gary Sheffield (41)
Fernando Tatis (35)
Randy Winn (36)

Garret Anderson, Damon, Holliday, and Ramirez are all Scott Boras clients. Considering their age and other factors, it's hard to imagine any of them coming, or coming back, to Boston.

Crawford, Pena and Holiday are the only players younger than Bay in this group. But Holliday appears better suited for the NL after his underwhelming stint with Oakland this season. Pena hardly appears suited suited for the Majors Leagues—period—and the Sox already gave up him. Crawford is fast, great defensively, and is a career .295 hitter (.307 this season). But he doesn't hit for power, which is what the Red Sox need from their left fielder.

Despite his 21 home runs this season, JD Drew is not a true power hitter; he hadn't hit 20 since 2006 (with the Dodgers) and has hit 30 just once. In addition, Jacoby Ellsbury also isn't a power hitter (20 career HR). So the Red Sox need some thump from their left fielder.

Bay seems comfortable in Boston and has said he enjoys playing there. Being on a contender has got to feel rejuvenating after suffering through the continual grind of a languishing Pittsburgh team for 4 1/2 years.

Most of Bay's fellow free agents will be too old, or not of high enough caliber, for the Red Sox to give them serious consideration. Marlon Byrd could be an exception.

Byrd is 32, and is having a solid season; 17 HR, 79 RBI, 42 2B, .283/.325/..472

Yet he simply isn't as talented as Bay.

And that's why the Red Sox, short of a blockbuster trade, are going to re-sign Bay. The Sox' left fielder started the season scorching hot, cooled after the break, and has since resumed his torrid pace. He will have a lot of leverage in contract negotiations this winter.

For whatever reason, Bay and the Red Sox were unable to reach a mutually beneficial agreement during in-season negotiations, and that will be to Bay's benefit this winter.

The Red Sox used the potential of a widespread economic collapse as their reason for not extending Bay during last offseason. Oddly, they will have to hope for such a calamity to avoid paying Bay a significant salary this time.

Ask yourself this; if JD Drew is worth five-years and $70 million, just how much is Jason Bay worth?

That's the question Bay will surely pose to the Red Sox this winter.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Red Sox Rotation Appears Locked In & Locked Down

With 14 games remaining in the regular season, the Red Sox finally seem to have their starting pitching in order, and perhaps even their playoff rotation set.

It's been a long time coming.

The Red Sox started the year reputed as having the best pitching depth in baseball. Yet, that notion seemed patently absurd over the past few months.

From the very beginning, Brad Penny was never cut out for the AL, particularly the AL East. Daisuke Matsuzaka was ineffective before going on the DL with a weakened shoulder. John Smoltz looked old, lacking in command, and utterly baffled on the mound. And Tim Wakefield broke down for the third year in a row, likely the result of being in his early 40s.

All of a sudden, the Red Sox had fallen out of first place, were slumping badly, and their playoff hopes razor thin.

But over the past month or so, the rotation has settled into a rhythm, and the Red Sox ship has been righted as it sails toward October.

What happened to account for this change for the better?

Smoltz and Penny were jettisoned, Clay Buchholz started to deliver on the promise that had been held out for so long, and Matsuzaka has returned rested and fresh.

But most importantly, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have established themselves as a premier one-two punch in a rotation that desperately needed stability and consistency. They are the foundation that the rest of the staff is built upon. And their confidence and leadership seem to be having a positive affect.

Over their last two starts each, this is how the Red Sox quartet of young pitchers have fared:

Beckett
5 innings, 1 ER
8 innings, 3 ER

Lester
8 innings, 0 ER
6 innings, 3 ER

Buchholz
7 innings, 1 ER
6 innings, 1 ER

Matsuzaka
6 innings, 0 ER
5.1 innings, 3 ER

Cumulatively, the four Red Sox starters have combined for 51.1 innings over eight starts, allowing just 12 earned runs.

Odds are, that group comprises the Red Sox post-season rotation.

Tim Wakefield, who will pitch tonight, likely can't be relied upon. Despite his impressive first half, Wakefield has been weakened and sidelined by sciatica. He returned gamely for an excellent start in is last outing, only to be shelved once more. Tonight is another test.

It may break Terry Francona's heart, but it's hard to imagine Wakefield making the playoff roster, much less starting in the post-season.

The real question then is who will comprise the three-man rotation that Francona will likely utilize in the playoffs? Will is be the greener, less experienced, but red hot Buccholz, or the more experienced, yet still unproven (in 2009, at the least) Matsuzaka?

My guess is that Francona will go with Buchholz, given Matsuzaka's issues this year, and his less than stellar start yesterday (5.1 innings, nine base runners allowed, 110 pitches). Of course that could change if Buchholz blows up in his next start, or if Matsuzaka shines in his next appearance.

One way or the other, as long as Matsuzaka's shoulder issues are behind him, the Sox will enter the post-season with three young, healthy, and potentially dominant pitchers. That bodes well for a team with genuine World Series aspirations.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Matsuzaka's Arrival: Better Late Than Never

Watching Daisuke Matsuzaka shut out the powerful Angels lineup for six plus innings was undoubtedly heartening to the Red Sox.

For starters, Matsuzaka made it into the seventh inning for the first time this season. Matsuzaka, who turned 29 just two days earlier, had failed to do so in any of his previous eight starts.

The reason he was finally able to get that deep into the game was effectiveness; 70% of the hitters Dice-K faced tonight had two strikes on them within the first three pitches.

And on those rare occasions when Matsuzaka got behind in the count, opponents batted just .167 against him. In his first eight starts it was .391.

The other reason Dice-K made into the seventh for the first time was economy; the righty threw just 93 pitches, 52 of them for strikes.

Matsuzaka's average fastball was clocked at 91 mph, the same as in his first eight starts before before going on the DL.

On six occasions the Angels put a runner in scoring position against Matsuzaka, and all six times he kept them from scoring.

With Tim Wakefield's status uncertain, Matsuzaka's great outing was the good news the Red Sox needed right now. The playoffs are just over three weeks away, and Wakefield may not pitch again this year.

The strength disparity between Wakefield's legs is obvious to his coaches, and Terry Francona said of his injury, "it's certainly not getting better."

So, Matsuzaka's first quality start of the season couldn't have come at a more opportune time. For his part, Matsuzaka returned lighter and in better shape than at any other point this season.

The Red Sox will need this version of Matsuzaka down the stretch.

Incredibly, aside from Wakefield, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, Red Sox starters had a total of just three outs after the sixth inning this entire season.

But now, over the last four games, Beckett, Buchholz, Lester and Matsuzaka have allowed a total of just one run, as they prepare for the post-season.

It appears that the Sox staff is getting in synch at just the right time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lester Securing His Place Amongst Red Sox Lefties

In just four seasons (only two of them full campaigns), Jon Lester has already put a few notches in his belt: a no-hitter, World Series Game Four winner, and club record for strikeouts in a season by a lefty (204).

Bruce Hurst, the last great Red Sox lefty prior to Lester, previously held the mark for 22 years with 191 Ks.

Having already surpassed Hurst's team record, Lester moved into even more elite company in his last start, becoming just the 10th pitcher in team history to record 200 strikeouts in a season, and the first lefty to do so.

Here's a list of those 10 Red Sox pitchers with 200 K seasons:

Jon Lester
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Curt Schilling
Pedro Martinez
Hideo Nomo
Roger Clemens
Luis Tiant
Jim Longborg
Joe Wood
Cy Young

Lester's 204 Ks are third in the AL and fifth in the Majors. His 3.44 ERA is eighth in the AL and his 20 quality starts are tied for third in the AL.

Having clearly established himself as one of the top lefties in the game today, Lester's rapidly growing list of accomplishments—achieved in such a brief period—already qualify him as one of the best in Red Sox history. In fact, his 7.8 K/9 innings is the best of any lefty in club history.

Other notable Sox lefties have included: Mel Parnell (123 wins), Lefty Grove (105 wins), Bill Lee (94 wins), Dutch Leonard (90 wins), Babe Ruth (89 wins), and Hurst (88 wins).

Parnell's club record for wins by a lefty seems to be within Lester's grasp. At age 25, Lester already has 39 victories. No lefty in team history had won as many games by the age of 25.

With 16 wins last year and 12 so far this year, it seems reasonable that Lester could average 15 wins per season. If he manages that rate, he would surpass Parnell in 2015 at the age of 31.

That would surely secure his status as the best Red Sox lefty of all time.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Crunch Time for Beckett and the Red Sox

For much of the season, Josh Beckett has been totally dominant and looked like a Cy Young candidate.

Beckett leads the Sox' rotation with 175.1 innings, and has allowed just 155 hits while fanning 163 batters.

But then, in August, Beckett began getting rocked.

Coming into his last start, Beckett had been battered in two consecutive outings, resulting in an 0-1 record and 10.12 ERA. In 13 1/3 innings, he had allowed 18 hits, 15 runs, and 8 homers. Opponents had batted .316 against him with an .807 slugging percentage and a 1.129 OPS.

Incredibly, in the midst of these beatings, Beckett had issued just one walk, meaning that opposing hitters were simply teeing off against him.

The Sox were hoping Beckett would return to form in his most recent start against Toronto last week. Instead, they got more of the same from him.

In that start, Beckett lasted just five innings, giving up five runs on five hits, while issuing a season-high five walks. While he did strike out nine Blue Jays, Beckett didn't look like the pitcher who had dominated opposing hitters most of the season.

What's going on?

The Red Sox believe his problems are rooted in his mechanics, the same problems that plagued him earlier this season. Beckett has been over-throwing, which has affected his delivery. The depth on his curve ball has diminished, as has the command on his fastball, which has been staying up in the strike zone. That's resulted in the wealth of home runs he's allowed in his recent outings.

Over his last four starts, Beckett has allowed a whopping 12 homers, after surrendering just 10 in his previous 22 starts this season.

The big righty is 0-1 in his last three starts, and his ERA, which had been 3.10 in his first 23 starts, has reached a whopping 9.82 over his last three outings. These three consecutive dismal performances have likely dropped him out of Cy Young contention.

It's as if he completed a 180˚ turn in August, forgetting all that had led him to success earlier in the season.

That does not bode well for the Red Sox post-season aspirations. As Beckett goes, so go the Red Sox. Without an effective Beckett on the mound, the Sox don't stand a chance in October, assuming they even get that far.

Undoubtedly, pitching coach John Farrell has been working furiously with Beckett to get his mechanics sorted out, and the process has been going on for weeks. Now it's crunch time. The calendar has turned to September and the regular season ends just one month from Friday.

That leaves little time to get it right. But considering Beckett's history and his tough and determined nature, it's hard to bet against him. Beckett is simply suffering through a late season swoon. Yet, while a slump was easier to contend with in April, if it continues in September it will be crushing to the Red Sox and their playoff hopes.

We'll know more tonight, as Beckett makes his 27th start of the 2009 campaign against the Rays in Tampa.

The defending AL champs should pose an interesting challenge for Boston's ace; they are fourth in the AL in runs, home runs and on-base percentage, and fifth in slugging.

They are also just 3.5 games behind the Red Sox in the Wild Card standings.

Will the real Josh Beckett please stand up?