Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Friday, April 30, 2010

Red Sox Experiencing Power Outage

Twenty-two games into this season, the Red Sox have finally drawn even at 11-11, putting them alone in third place.

The Sox have won five of their last six games and seven out of nine. With the exception of Wednesday's 2-0 victory, every one of them was won by one run. That hasn't happened since 1943. Over those eight games, the Sox have scored 47 runs and their opponents 45.

That's just squeaking by.

The Red Sox are eighth out of the 14 AL teams in runs this season, and seventh in batting average, putting them solidly in the middle of the pack.

That's clearly not the sign of a playoff team.

Dustin Pedroia continues to lead the team in home runs with five, yet he hasn't hit one out of the park since April 17. That's how impotent Red Sox' bats have been so far this season.

David Ortiz, JD Drew, Victor Martinez and Bill Hall are doing nothing but making outs. Yet, thirty-one-year-old minor league outfielder Darnell McDonald is suddenly one of the team's offensive stars.

McDonald has driven in six runs since he arrived, more than Martinez and Ortiz. He is 8 for 24 with five runs scored, four extra-base hits, three walks and six RBI in the nine games since arriving in Boston.

While McDonald is a great story, he's not the solution to the Red Sox offensive woes. The Sox' primary bats need to wake up soon, or they'll need to get help elsewhere.

That's why the promotion of Lars Anderson to Pawtucket is so interesting.

Anderson was hitting .355, with five homers, five doubles, 15 RBI, and a 1.086 OPS through 17 games, when he was advanced.

His promotion is an intriguing development because it came so early in the season. Are the Sox hoping that he responds positively and can contribute to the big league team before the season is over?

Anderson is only 22, and he struggled mightily last year in Portland. Yet, you can't help but think this is a reaction to the struggles of Ortiz and the lack of a true masher in the Sox lineup.

After having built the team around its pitching staff, and with Clay Buchholz being their most consistent and effective starter so far this year, the Sox surely don't want to trade him for a power hitter right now. Yet, they're going to need an upgrade at some point if the offense doesn't come alive.

However, a trade for a premier hitter would be very costly in terms of prospects, potentially upsetting the balance of everything Theo Epstein has been working toward the last few seasons; inexpensive, club-controlled, homegrown talent.

As it stands, the team payroll is approaching $175 million.

It's hard to figure that the young Anderson can be the solution to the Sox' offensive needs, but it sure would be one hell of a story if he continues to tattoo the ball and earns his way onto the big league club this season.

The Red Sox could use some firepower from wherever they can get it. Look no further than Darnell McDonald.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Red Sox Facing Bad Breaks, Playing Bad Baseball

Coming into this season, there were many concerns — even some predictions — that the Red Sox wouldn't have the offense to prevail in the AL East, much less win the Pennant.

So far, those concerns appear valid. In the first 17 games of this season, the Sox have scored two or fewer runs seven times, including two shut outs.

David Ortiz's struggles have continued, which hasn't come as a surprise to many. What is surprising is that the heart of the Sox order has also struggled so far. No one could have predicted that so many of the Sox premier hitters would look positively anemic in April.

Consider the following:

Victor Martinez: 262, 1 HR, 5 RBI
Kevin Youkilis: .234, 2 HR, 7 RBI
JD Drew: .158, 2 HR, 7 RBI

Diminutive second baseman Dustin Pedroia leads the club with five homers, more than twice as many as anyone else.

The 2010 Red Sox were supposedly built on a foundation of pitching and defense, but so far you'd never know it.

The Red Sox have the second hIghest starter's ERA in the AL (5.31), behind only the White Sox (5.67). The Tigers (5.30) and the Royals (4.87) trail the Red Sox. Given the Red Sox talented young staff, that was definitely not supposed to be the case.

And the Red Sox came into tonight's game with the ninth ranked defense in the AL, having made 12 errors in 17 games. Errors aside, the Red Sox defense has not looked sharp. Sox fielders have often looked tentative and awkward.

The Sox have allowed the most stolen bases in the AL – by a long shot. Boston has allowed 37 steals, more than twice as many as the next closest team, the Tigers, with 17. The Yankees and Indians (15 apiece) are tied for third. What's stunning is that Red Sox catchers have caught only two of the 39 runners attempting to steal this season.

So much for pitching and defense.

With all of this in mind, it's easy to see why the Red Sox came into tonight's game at 7-10, five games out of first place. After spending $170 million on payroll (so far) this season, this is not what the Red Sox thought they were buying.

However, there is at least one encouraging sign as of late; the Sox have won their last three one-run games.

Without question, the best Sox top hitters will eventually come around; it's just a matter of time. Though it's questionable whether Ortiz will ever regain his prior form (Andruw Jones should give us hope), better things can reasonably be expected from Pedroia, Youkilis, Martinez, and Drew.

Further, the Red Sox have been significantly bitten by the injury bug. Tonight's starting outfield is comprised by Bill Hall, Jeremy Hermida, and Darnell McDonald.

Mike Cameron is on the DL with an abdominal injury known as a sports hernia. It's too soon to tell, but the injury could eventually require surgery. Though the natural suspicion is that the injury is age related (Cameron is 37), younger players such as Cliff Lee, Josh Hamilton, and Michael Young have also dealt with the same injury.

The Red Sox haven't yet gotten to witness all that Cameron can offer offensively or defensively, since he's only played in 11 games and had 30 at-bats.

But perhaps the biggest blow to the Red Sox is the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury due to cracked ribs. The injury was the result of a collision with Bill Hall, who was playing short, and should have never happened. If the two players had played together longer and communicated better, they would have avoided each other. Neither player had a sense of the other's tendencies, and the collision appeared completely avoidable.

As a result, the Red Sox have been without their leadoff hitter, which has led to a reshuffling of the lineup and poor results. Ellsbury was batting .333 when he went on the DL.

With any luck, both Ellsbury and Cameron will return soon, and the Red Sox will be able to field the team they envisioned and assembled earlier this spring.

Until then, they have to hope they don't dig themselves a hole so deep they can't get out of it. So far this season, the Sox haven't been able to put together a winning streak longer than two games.

If that doesn't change in a hurry, the Sox may find themselves looking up at the Yankees and Rays in the standings all season long.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Red Sox Offense Living Up To Pre-Season Doubts

The Red Sox were booed as they left the field today. They've suffered five straight losses, including a sweep by the Rays, and now they're six games out of first.

The Sox are now 4-9 this season. You have to go back to 1996 to find a Red Sox team that got off to worse start after 13 games than the current edition.

Of specific concern, the Sox are 1-6 against the Yankees and Rays this season, with all games played at Fenway. The Boston locals are currently facing their worst home start since the 1932 team started 1-9 at home.

Boston has scored just 17 runs over their last 65 innings. They left five runners in scoring position today, are 0-for-30 in that department over the last five games, and 12-for-91 (.103) over the last 12 games.

Over the last five games, the team has struck out 35 times, while walking 19 times. Collectively, the Sox are hitting .249, have an OBP of .313, and are averaging 3.8 runs a game.

This afternoon, David Ortiz went 0-3, and is now batting .158. JD Drew has just two hits, to go along with 12 strike outs, in his last 23 at-bats and is now batting .146. Kevin Youkilis went 0-4 and is now bating .217. Victor Martinez has grounded into six double plays and is now batting 212.

This, folks, was supposed to be the heart of the Red Sox order.

Bill Hall and his .091 average will not come off the bench and save this offense. And after a rocket-like start, Jeremy Hermida has rapidly fallen back to earth, bringing his .219 batting average with him.

And I haven't even mentioned the horrible defensive lapses of a team supposedly built on a foundation of defense. But that's another story, for another day. There's too much to focus on regarding the offense alone, at present.

The conventional wisdom coming into this season was that the Red Sox lacked the offensive fire power to win the AL East, much less the World Series. Just 13 games into the season, the Red Sox have done little to dispute that. Their 5'7" second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, leads the club with five long balls and 13 RBI.

That's a very bad sign.

Many fans and analysts doubted the Red Sox power potential from the outset, and, in fact, the offense in general. Consequently, they also believe that the Sox will eventually have to upgrade the offense via trade. San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has been the most discussed target, and perhaps the most desired, by Red Sox fans and local media.

However, watching Tampa first baseman Carlos Pena this weekend was a sad reminder of what the Red Sox once had, and what could have been.

The Sox had Pena on the roster for 18 games in 2006, after he was released by Detroit. In that span, Pena batted .273. Yet, the Sox didn't think they had a place for him with Kevin Youkilis at first, Mike Lowell at third, and David Ortiz at DH.

So Pena left as a free agent.

Imagine if the Sox had held on to the local boy when they had him four years ago, at the age of 28. They would've had a young, power-hitting first baseman/DH, with Youkilis seamlessly shifting back to third. Then, perhaps, we wouldn't be talking about the need for offense, or a big trade potentially involving Adrian Gonzalez, or any other slugger for that matter.

Under that scenario, Boston would already have a young 40-home run hitter on its roster without having to trade for one this summer.

Letting Pena walk ended up being a big mistake for the Sox; Pena hit 46, 31, and 39 homers in successive seasons for Tampa, as well as driving in at least 100 runs each year. He finished second in the AL in homers and slugging in 2007, the year after the Sox had him. What's more, Pena won a Gold Glove in 2008.

Yes, Pena is just a career .248 hitter with a .356 OBP, but he sure would help the Red Sox a lot right now, as well as over the past two years.

At this point, it seems a foregone conclusion that the Red Sox will seek some offensive help before the season gets away from them. But acquiring any big-name slugger will be costly in terms of prospects. That's what makes giving up on Pena so quickly so lamentable right now.

Indeed, it's quite early in the 2010 season, and there are still a whopping 149 games to go. The Yankees started slowly last year, were five games out as of June 23, and had lost all eight games against the Red Sox at that point.

Things worked out well for the Yanks in the end. But right now, the way the Sox offense looks, it's tough to imagine the same happy ending for them.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How Long can The Red Sox Wait on Ortiz With Hermida And Lowell In The Wings?

Red Sox manager Terry Francona currently faces two questions that are in essence one and the same; how much longer can he, in good conscience, continue to write David Ortiz's name into the lineup each day, and how much longer can he not write Jeremy Hermida's name into that lineup?

Ortiz has 13 whiffs in 26 at-bats. He has three walks and just four hits (Dustin Pedrioa had four in one game this week), one of which was a ball that bounced in and out of a Twins outfielder's glove. Another hit, an opposite-field double down the third-base line on Friday, was far more of an accident than an accomplishment given that the ball hit the top if his bat.

As of today, Ortiz is sporting a paltry .154 batting average.

Meanwhile, Herrnida notched a hit in his first game with the Sox last week. He had replaced Ortiz, who'd been ejected after arguing a called third strike. Hermida then hit a homer in his first start, which came the very next day. In all, Hermida has five hits in 17 at-bats, resulting in a .294 average. Naturally, this is a very small sample size, but four of the five hits were for extra bases and resulted in six RBI.

Hermida is just 26, and entering the prime of his career. He was the 11th player picked in the 2002 draft. He has a lot of upside and he needs at-bats. Yet, he was brought to the Red Sox to be a fourth outfielder, after being a starter in Florida.

Ortiz, on the other hand, has been in decline for two years. Though he hit 27 homers after June 6 last season, Ortiz had an abysmal first two months of the season, and finished the year batting .238. He followed that by batting .083 in the ALDS, and then proceeded to have a miserable spring training, at one point going 1-for-19.

Francona and hitting coach Dave Magadan said he was just working on his timing, and that it should be taken too seriously.

But his troubles have continued.

And then there''s Mike Lowell, who is unhappily sitting on the bench waiting his turn. In Saturday's game, he surprised many with a nifty diving backhanded stab that snared a ball seemingly destined for left field. Though he may still be a capable defender, with Adrain Beltre in front of him, time at third will be sparing.

But Lowell can still hit, and if Ortiz cannot, at-bats can be had in the role of DH. Lowell only has eight at-bats so far this season, resulting in two hits. But that's just two fewer than Ortiz in less than a third of the at-bats.

The point is, with the young and promising Hermida making a strong case for himself very quickly, and with the versatile veteran Lowell not so patiently awaiting his turn, Ortiz's days may be numbered unless he turns things around quickly.

There's no doubting that Ortiz cares; he was the first Red Sox player to arrive to the ballpark yesterday and took extra hitting,

A couple of years ago, Ortiz was one of the most feared hitters in baseball. Now, it's becoming obvious that teams are taking the bat out of Kevin Youkilis' hands by pitching around him. They no longer respect Ortiz and know he can't beat them.

It's all become so sad for Ortiz, so quickly. It's hard to watch because of all he meant to the team for so long. He was the face of the franchise, a huge man with swagger and a smiling face. Now that swagger is gone, replaced by slow, uncomfortable walks back to the dugout after each strikeout or pop out.

If Ortiz doesn't have one last resurgence very soon, a great Red Sox career will have prematurely ended. The Red Sox can't have him lingering and sulking on the bench.

The sad truth is, if Ortiz can't hit, he's useless to the Red Sox. In addition, Hermida and Lowell are waiting anxiously.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A Stressed-Out David Ortiz Melts Down On Reporters

David Ortiz went on a profanity-laced tirade against reporters who questioned his 0-for-7 start this season. Ortiz is the only Red Sox regular without a hit after two games.

But that's just it; only two games have been played and perhaps it's premature to question Ortiz after just seven at-bats.

After everything he gave the Red Sox and their fans over his first five years in Boston, Ortiz feels that he's earned the benefit of the doubt.

However, while Ortiz can expect goodwill for his past exploits, it won't buy him acceptance for his current failures. Sports are a "what have you done for me lately?" business. No one would give the love to Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, or Mo Vaughn if they suited up tonight and took a spot in the lineup–unless they produced.

All of Ortiz's problems over the past two seasons are evident once again after just two games. The left-handed hitter is still pull happy, and a simple infield shift thwarts him. If he simply went the other way and hit the ball to left or center, his problems might be solved.

However, for long stretches last season, in the ALDS, and in spring training this year, Ortiz couldn't catch up to the fastball. And he's consistently fooled by the change-up as well, so his timing is off, leading him to pop up and foul off l too frequently.

Clearly, Ortiz is feeling the pressure, something he seemed immune to for many years.

You can't help but feel bad for him. For some guys, it all just slips away so quickly. I truly hope he recovers and he may, to some degree. But my bet is that Ortiz will never again be the hitter he once was, and he can't stand living in his own shadow. He raised the bar so high that he can't get over it any more.

Sure, writing him off at this point seems premature. After all, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester had rough outings this week as well, and no one is talking about jettisoning them.

But had Beckett or Lester been on a two-year downward trend, the media and fans would be a lot more concerned today due to their poor performances. However, based on their recent histories, we're all confident that those games were just aberrations.

And Jacoby Ellsbury was 0-for-5 on Opening Night. Yet, there were no worries due to his progression over the past couple of years.

Though Ortiz was solid after June 1 last year, he still slumped again in July, and batted .083 (1-for-12) with no walks and four K's in the ALDS. Including spring training, his two-year trend reveals a regression.

We're all pulling for the guy. The team really needs him to perform to achieve success, and avoid a desperate trade early in the season. The concern is that the last two years are not just an aberration. We can't forget that Ortiz batted .238 last season.

Unquestionably, Ortiz still has power; he just has to hit the ball cleanly for it to leave the park. The Red Sox would be better served if Ortiz hits .280 this season with just 25 homers, than if he hits .240 and somehow manages to smack 35 homers. The former would likely result in more runs than the latter.

Unfortunately, neither seems very likely.

After what we've seen the past two years, we can remain hopeful, if not optimistic.

Monday, April 05, 2010

A Good Start and Some Good Signs for Red Sox

Though the first game was a bit of a mixed bag, all's well that ends well.

Red Sox resident ace Josh Beckett looked rather ordinary on the mound, throwing 94 pitches in just 4.2 innings. In that span, Beckett surrendered eight hits, three walks, two home runs, and five runs in all. What's more, he had just one strike out, his fewest in nearly two years (June, 2007).

The good news was that the Red Sox came back from deficits of 5-1 and 7-5, scoring the winning run on a passed ball in the seventh.

And the Sox bullpen out dueled the Yankee pen, an optimistic sign for Sox fans everywhere.

Red Sox' bullpen: 4.1 innings, 4 hits, 2 earned runs, 3 walks, 1 strikeout
Yankees' bullpen: 2.2 innings, 6 hits, 3 earned runs, 2 walks, 1 strikeout

It was also encouraging to see the new guys get off to strong starts.

Adrian Beltre went 1 for 3 with two RBIs. Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro were both 2 for 3. The trio accounted for five hits, two runs scored, two walks, three RBI – and no errors.

Beating the defending champs on Opening Night was uplifting for both the Red Sox and their fans, but as Kevin Youkilis noted, “We’ve still got 161 games to play.’’

Winning at home is one thing, but the Red Sox will need to get it done on the road this season as well.

The Red Sox were a very good home team last year, as they have been for much of the decade. In fact, since 2003, the Red Sox 373 wins, .294 average, 5.9 runs per game, and 1,411 doubles at home lead the Majors.

However, the team's glaring weakness in 2009 was that they were significantly better at home than on the road.

The Red Sox scored 481 runs at Fenway last year, leading the Majors. But they were ninth in the Majors (fifth in the AL) in runs scored on the road, with 391. That 90 run differential was their Achilles heel, and it was exploited by the Angels in the ALDS.

The Red Sox 2009 season can be defined as a tale of two teams; the Red Sox at home, and the Red Sox on the road.

The team's lackluster road offense haunted them all season; they were just 39-42 away from Fenway in 2009.

Much of that was due to the fact that the Sox batted just .257 on the road, a number that ranked ninth in the American League behind teams like Cleveland, Oakland and Chicago.

And they were 12th in slugging on the road, at .414. That was in direct contrast to their offense at home, where they were first in slugging, at .498, and fifth in average, at .294.

The Sox road deficiencies were especially obvious in the ALDS; the team hit just .131 in Anaheim. But they exploded for six runs in Game 3 upon returning to Fenway.

Those were the issues Theo Epstein and company hoped to address this offseason; they needed to create a team with more balance, and more offense away from Fenway.

While the consensus is that the Sox' GM significantly improved the club's pitching and defense, questions remain about the offense.

Once you get past the first four batters in the Red Sox order, the questions begin.

After batting just .238 last year, can David Ortiz still hit?

Is Adrian Beltre's shoulder fully healed, and can he recover his lost offense?

Can JD Drew stay healthy and productive for at least 140 games this year?

Will Mike Cameron's free swinging ways, low average, and high strike out rate prove to be a significant offensive liability?

Can Marco Scurato repeat his 2009 season?

Those questions are yet to be answered, and we may not know the truth until perhaps some time in late May. It should take that long to get a sense of the offense this roster can produce, and for each hitter's cold or hot starts to even out.

Last night was a good sign; the Red Sox scored nine runs with the help of just one homer, a two-run shot by Dustin Pedroia.

To be successful, they will need more road offense than last season, and more balance through batting order as well. If the 5-9 hitters can be productive, the Red Sox will be a premier team, one that can win the World Series.

But there are lots of "ifs". If every batter hits like he's capable of, this will be a very fun and interesting season for the Red Sox.

That remains to be seen, with 161 games still to play.