Monday, July 25, 2011
For Red Sox, Justin Masteron Remains the 'One That Got Away"
Going into their 100th game of the season today, the Red Sox find themselves leading the AL East, three games ahead of the Yankees.
The Sox lead the majors in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. If there's a problem with the offense, I can't find it.
The Red Sox clearly aren't hurting with the combination of Josh Reddick, JD Drew and Darnell McDonald in right field.
Yes, a right-handed outfielder would be a nice complement. But all of the early concerns about the Red Sox' lineup being being too lefty-dominant were overblown, as the above offensive statistics prove. What's more, the Sox have the fourth-best OPS against lefties in the majors.
Clearly, offense is not the Red Sox' issue.
Of greater concern is the health of Clay Buchholz, who hasn't pitched since June 16.
The 26-year-old's back woes proved to be much more problematic than first diagnosed and no one seems sure exactly when he'll return to the mound, much less how effective he'll be once he gets there.
If Buchholz doesn't return in full health, the Red Sox current pitching depth could prove problematic.
John Lackey has been erratic, at best, and sports an eye-popping 6.28 ERA. The same could be said for Time Wakefield (5.15 ERA), Andrew Miller (4.65 ERA) and Kyle Weiland (8.10 ERA in two starts).
None in that group inspires confidence, nor would any be an effective No. 3 pitcher for the Red Sox down the stretch, much less in October.
The Red Sox high-powered offense has been out-slugging opponents, obscuring the club's starting pitching deficiencies. But the same trend can't be anticipated in the playoffs. Pitching wins championships.
Expect the Red Sox to work the phones this week in search of some pitching help.
However, while the team will make all reasonable inquiries, there isn't any available starting pitcher that would be a real difference-maker. The Sox will not ransom their top prospects for a No. 5 starter, or a two-month rental with no future in the rotation.
There are currently 14 teams within five games of a division lead, meaning most will be players at the trade deadline. While the competition may be fierce, the pickings will be slim, making this a seller's market. Prices will be high, while the talent pool will be shallow.
Additionally, the Sox have traded away some of their top prospects in recent years, including Nick Hagadone and Justin Masterson (for Victor Martinez), as well as Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly and Reymond Fuentes (for Adrian Gonzalez).
Four of those five players were selected in the first-round or sandwich round, while Masterson was taken in the second-round.
The trade that enabled the Red Sox to acquire Martinez from Cleveland has become a cautionary tale. Masterson has a 2.57 ERA and 1.17 WHIP for the Indians, while reliever Nick Hagadone has 31 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings and a 1.18 WHIP for Triple A Columbus.
The 26-year-old Masterson throws a sinking fastball at 95-96 miles per hour and has emerged as one of the top young pitchers in baseball. It appears the Red Sox gave up at least one gem in that deal, which could haunt them for years.
Regrettably, the Sox had to throw $82.5 million at Lackey to fill a spot in the rotation and Martinez turned into a year-and-a-half rental.
Meanwhile, Masterson’s 2.57 ERA is top-10 (ahead of pitchers named Sabathia, Hamels, Lee and Lincecum) and his 8-7 record is due, in part, to his team being shut out in four of those losses.
It's safe to say that Theo Epstein would like a do-over with that deal. With this memory fresh in mind, the Red Sox' GM will wade into this year's underwhelming trade market.
The good news for the Sox is that the Yankees and other playoff hopefuls will be faced with the same shallow and over-priced talent pool. Boston's advantage is that they are in first place, have a dynamic offense, and will finally see the return of Jon Lester tonight after an 18-day stint on the DL.
That's welcome news, given that the Sox' pitching staff has been decimated by the losses of four of its five Opening Day starters to the DL at various points this season.
The Sox will hold out hope that Buchholz makes a healthy return, particularly for the September stretch and hopefully a triumphant October run. In the meantime they will rely on the unpredictable combo of Wakefield, Miller and Weiland.
While some are still holding out hope that we'll see Felix Doubront at some point. the 23 year old lefty has been sidelined by elbow, groin and hamstring injuries much of the season.
Doubront made three relief appearances for the Sox in April and has made just 14 minor league appearances this season. He is both unhealthy and unproven and will not be riding to the Red Sox' rescue this year.
So, while Theo Epstein may make a move for a pitcher this week, it won't likely be big, bold or costly.
If anything, Epstein would love to find a way to pry Masterson back from the Indians.
Good luck with that, Theo.
Thursday, July 07, 2011
Among active Major League pitchers, Red Sox' knuckleballer Tim Wakefield is second with 2,103 strikeouts.
Included in that total are the 110 strikeouts Wakefield recorded during his first two seasons in the Majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
However, the 44-year-old Wakefield, now in his 17th season with the Red Sox, is poised to become just the second pitcher in club history to record 2,000 Ks.
After fanning seven batters on Wednesday night, Wakefield sits atop 1,993 strikeouts and should reach the milestone sometime shortly after the All Star break.
The Red Sox are a team with 100-plus years of history, so Wakefield's accomplishment will be significant.
Speaking of significant, Wakefield also recorded his 184th win with the Red Sox on Wednesday night, putting him just eight behind the legendary Cy Young and Roger Clemens.
Including his two years with the Pirates, Wakefield now has 198 career victories and before the month is over could reach 200.
While it once seemed quite improbable that Wakefield would ever catch or eclipse the two Red Sox legends, it now seems imminently possible.
On Wednesday evening, Wakefield gave the Red Sox his fifth quality start of the season and posted a season-high seven strikeouts.
If he continues to pitch this effectively, Wakefield still has a half-season of baseball ahead of him — and a potent Red Sox offense behind him —— in his quest for 193 wins with the Sox.
At this point, that milestone seems entirely possible.
Having gotten this far on essentially one pitch, Wakefield is obviously a very determined man. Besides, one doesn't get too many opportunities to make history.
At present, the Red Sox are in a very unique period of team history in that three of club's Top-10 strikeout leaders are on the current roster.
While Wakefield is in second place and will retire there (he'll never match Clemens' 2,590 Ks), Josh Beckett is ninth, with 930 strikeouts, and Jon Lester is 10th, with 822 Ks.
Who knows where Beckett and Lester will end up on that list? Both pitchers are young and highly talented, so the sky seems to be the limit.
The Red Sox' record book is filled with names like Cy Young, Mel Parnell, Luis Tiant, Smokey Joe Wood and Mel Parnell — players from long ago whom many Sox fans have only heard of and never saw play.
And though players like Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez are from more recent history, they are still history nonetheless.
However, at present, Red Sox fans of all ages can watch Tim Wakefield stake his claim to the club record book. And what a claim it is.
Wakefield is currently first in starts and innings, and second in wins, strikeouts and games.
Enjoy the moment, folks. Though he is not a Hall of Fame-caliber player, someday we'll all be able to tell our kids and grandkids that we saw the legendary Tim Wakefield pitch for the Red Sox.
Granted, Wakefield may not be a truly elite pitcher. But before his career is over he will have certainly become legendary in the annals of Red Sox history.
In fact, he already is.