Monthly Archives: May 2014

This Week in Boston Baseballing, May 23 – 29

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The Red Sox snapped a brutal, offense-starved 10-game losing streak in Atlanta on Memorial Day. Boston won the next night as well for only its second series sweep of the 2014 season – both of which have been of two-game variety. Back home in Boston, the Sox won their 10th game of the month Wednesday behind a very strong start from John Lackey and reaped the benefit of a variety of gifts courtesy of the sloppy Atlanta Braves defense. The team’s four-game win streak is its longest of the season.

Boston needed somebody in the lineup to get hot and it appears Xander Bogaerts will do just fine in that role for now.

 

The 10-Year Anniversary of the 2004 World Series Champs
On Wednesday night, the Red Sox held a ceremony celebrating the (almost) 10-year anniversary of the 2004 World Series victory. The highlight of the evening was Manny Ramirez’s return to Fenway. His tenure as a Red Sox was complicated. Fans loved him. Reporters mostly appreciated his talent but were incapable of discussing said talent without bringing up the baggage he’d acquired along the way to becoming one of the best right-handed hitters of his generation.

The severity of Manny’s transgressions depends on who you ask. The Boston media liked to portray him as a clubhouse cancer. There is more than anecdotal evidence that Manny was a malcontent at the end of his time in Boston. However, it’s worth noting that the former general manager of the team, Theo Epstein, recently brought Ramirez on as a hitting instructor for a young, “impressionable” Chicago Cubs team. Perhaps time heals most wounds. Or the wounds weren’t nearly as grave as the talking heads wish to believe. Either way, there’s nothing media members love more than an apology.

Manny came out of the left-field wall…

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And Manny threw out the ceremonial first pitch…

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And everybody just had a grand time reuniting.

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Clay Buchholz Heads to the DL
Fans can only hope that the embattled right-hander’s ineffectiveness over the first two months of the season truly is due to some physical ailment. The player and the team had not identified any tangible injury that was contributing to the struggles. That is, until this week. Clay apparently hyperextended his right knee on Monday during his start against the Braves. Tweaking his knee could be a blessing in disguise since it seemingly gives the righty a credible opportunity to actually skip a couple of starts. From the ESPN Boston story:

Buchholz said he’ll spend the next few days watching video and trying to refine his delivery. He thinks he’ll be back on the mound throwing bullpen sessions in the next four or five days. … Buchholz appeared confident that he’ll be able to fix what’s wrong. “I know it’s not an injury to my arm like it was last year, so first and foremost is health of that area of my body and the ball’s coming out of my hand fine; it’s just a matter of getting that little fire that I had last year, as far as throwing pitches in the zone, pitching to contact instead of pitching to swings and misses,” he said.

The bellyaching last year that Buchholz took his time coming back from a shoulder injury is likely to return at some point in June if Clay misses more than a few starts. The difference is the Buchholz many wanted to rush back on the mound last year was a Cy Young candidate during the first two months of the season.

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Rubby De La Rosa Gets the Call
With the Sox in need of another starter for at least a couple of weeks, De La Rosa heads north from Pawtucket. Rubby has been impressive in AAA this season. His strong peripheral statistics (sorry, Bob Ryan) suggest it’s fine time to see if the results in the minors may translate to success in the majors.

 

NESN’s Jenny Dell Is Moving on to Bigger, Better Things Maybe
With the high school homecoming dance season a mere four months away, Jenny hath been freed to spread her wings and fly away.

 

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Local Man’s Game Recap (Red Sox 4, Braves 0)

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BY FRANCIS FLYNN*

CARVER, Mass. – Good to see the ol’ gang back together again. First time since 2004 since all the champs were in the same place. (Had my eyes peeled but couldn’t find Leskanic, though.)

I was especially happy Keith Foulke was at the Fens. That guy had ice water in his veins all year and was automatic in the playoffs. Au-to-ma-tic. Makes me want to check the sked over at the Cape Cod Melody Tent. Maybe Danzig’ll get back together again and tour. I bet they do a kickass live version of “Mother.” I’ll show up with my lawn chair, wearing my No. 29 Foulke jersey tee (sleeves cut) and a bagful of BK Whoppers.

Manny’s Mr. T mohawk wasn’t surprising. Yah, he was a punk but he was a modern day Hack Wilson and yous can all call me an old fogey if ya want for talking about ribbies. Manny was like an automatic two RBIs every time he stepped to the plate.

The best part was they helped keep the Sox rolling. Three straight against Atlanta now. That’s what they get for leaving Mass. I don’t give a care how long ago that was.

Johnny Lackey was on his game tonight. Brought the A stuff to the table just when the team needed it. Had to keep it going and Lack was just on point. Nine K’s. No walks. I thought he was gonna kill Farrell when he came out to get him in the middle of a jam in the 7th. He’s a bulldog so he just doesn’t know any better. He’s gonna fight giving up that ball – even when he knows his arm is turning to dogshit. Love that as a fan.

All that being said, I’ve also got a bone to pick with Johnny Farrell that I’d like to put out there for mass consumption: Brock Holt leading off? The guy goes 0-for-5 basically every night he starts. I swear I’m not just saying that because he went 0-for-5 last night. His diminished stature at third base has already costed a game in the standings. And he gets to lead off in a game at Fenway as a reward.

That’s not to say the guy has no talent. In fact, I know he’s got his moments – Some day somebody at MIT’s gonna find a bunch of his equations written all over a empty classroom’s chalkboard. (Dude’s a dead-on ringer for Will Hunting!) But until that time…well, let’s all hope Steve Drew’s getting close to being about done horsing around in the minors.

*Ed. Note: Carver man and friend of the site Francis Flynn is an avid Red Sox fan, Boston-born and bred. Flynn’s day job is maintaining a 10-acre cranberry bog and tract of farmland that has been in his family for three generations. But his passion is following his region’s most beloved baseball team. Flynn recently agreed to provide Fenway Pastoral readers with his own recaps throughout the 2014 regular season. All we had to do in return was promise to publish his pieces unedited and to send him a case of Miller High Life (bar bottles were specified) every week.

This Week in Boston Baseballing, May 2 – 8

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The Red Sox took two of three at home last weekend against the Oakland Athletics, who were one of the best and most consistent teams in the American League in April. Last at-bat heroics from Grady Sizemore (Tuesday in 12 innings) and Will Middlebrooks (Wednesday) earned Boston its first “sweep” of the season in a two-game set against the Reds in interleague action. The Red Sox begin a three-game series against the Texas Rangers tonight in Arlington.

The AL East Pennant Race Is Looking Historically Tight
Writing for ESPN Insider, ZiPs projection system creator Dan Szymborski noted that at the beginning of the week, the Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles and Rays were projected to finish with 83 wins while the Blue Jays were on pace for 81 wins. As things stand right now, this could be the most exciting finish since the 1988 Morgan’s Miracle Red Sox.

Among tight races, where does this possible one rank historically? Going through the million sims of the ZiPS-projected AL East final standings for 2014, the average standard deviation for the teams in the division is 3.27 wins. To compare this historically, I repeated this simple measure of spread for the top five teams in every divisional and league race going back to 1901 and found that, yes, this projects to be an unusually open race.

….

1. 1988 AL East, 1.48

2. 1973 NL East, 1.92

3. 1964 NL, 2.00

4. 1967 AL, 3.21

5. 1915 Federal League, 3.24

6. 2014 AL East, 3.27 (projected)

7. 1987 AL West, 3.35

8. 1933 NL, 3.56

9. 2005 NL East, 3.81

10. 1940 AL 3.90

The projections don’t take into account all the moves, demotions and promotions that these teams will make over the summer. Boston could go the route of bludgeoning its middling competition by dealing away a number of its prospects for somebody like Giancarlo Stanton. Or Ben Cherington may opt to ride it out with his solid core of veterans and hope that a handful of the youngsters provide the adequate complementary pieces for another title run.

The Jon Lester Contract Saga
It’s becoming clear that Boston’s reported 4-year, $70 million offer to Jon Lester earlier this spring was nothing close to a beginning overture for where the negotiations will ultimately travel. Lester’s dominant 15-strikeout performance on Saturday rekindled the debate about his worth. Fenway fans got to see what six years and $100 million got the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night, when their “ace” Homer Bailey came into town and underwhelmed in battling Felix Doubront to a stalemate that ultimately took 12 innings to settle.

From Buster Olney’s column on Wednesday:

Homer Bailey’s career ERA is 4.30, and he’s had two seasons in which he has thrown over 200 innings. He has not pitched to the level of a Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, or even a Matt Cain. He’s never had any kind of a vote for the Cy Young Award, and has never been picked for an All-Star team.

But Bailey has managed to shift perceptions in the market, when he got a six-year, $105 million deal from the Reds in February. To agents and players, this deal seems to represent a new benchmark that has ratcheted up their expectations. For some club officials, the Bailey contract represents one giant wrench dropped right into the middle of salary machinations.

So if you’re sitting in Jon Lester’s position, as a star left-hander with two championship rings just five months from free agency, a $70 million offer from the Red Sox might appear almost ridiculous, within the context of the Bailey contract.

MOOKIE!
On Sports on Earth, Matthew Kory writes that Portland Sea Dogs second baseman Mookie Betts may be the most exciting player in the minor leagues right now.

A year ago, Betts was in Single-A hitting .145/.340/.263. He had some on-base ability (nothing wrong with a .340 on-base percentage), but as a hitter he was rarely squaring the ball up and had no power to drive it when he did. He was just another athlete with few baseball skills, another small guy in a big man’s game. He looked overmatched. Had he been on any top prospect lists at the time (he wasn’t) that would have pushed him off. One year ago, Mookie Betts was an afterthought in Boston’s minor league system.

… what he has done over the last 365 days (hit .360/.429/.557) is tremendous.

… The numbers themselves are staggering. Here’s a bullet point list:

  • More walks than strikeouts last season…

  • … and this season, too.

  • Almost as many extra base hits as strikeouts (55 to 57) last season.

  • More doubles than strikeouts this season, let alone homers and triples.

  • An on-base streak of more than 60 consecutive games.

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With Dustin Pedroia signed through the end of the decade, there is plenty of discussion already among fans and scouts about whether Betts could be a viable outfielder. While his value would be diminished if he were to move off his defensive position at 2B to go to right field, it’s hard not to selfishly hope the Sox try it out if it means he contributes to the club sooner. Perhaps the more intriguing option would be to trade Middlebrooks (look, he had a walk-off hit!) and explore moving Betts to third base. That option could create yet another dilemma with Garin Cecchini still regarded as a top-tier prospect, albeit one with a lot less power than what would be ideal for a corner infielder.

Betts’ hot start is just another reminder that even as the big-league club hovers around .500 and underwhelms in the early going of the 2014 season, the organization remains in an enviable position with its depth and roster of exciting youngsters.

Local Man’s Game Recap (Rays 6, Red Sox 5)

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BY FRANCIS FLYNN*

CARVER, Mass. – Had to watch Game 2 of the Sox/D-Rays twinbill tonight on the crappy-ass tube TV in my 10-year-old step-daughter’s room. Felt sorry but still sent her out to the kitchen to do her homework or probably play with her cell phone. She’s gonna be tired as hell in school tomorrow but she can tell her teacher its her moms fault for having a gaggle of her disastrous excuses for friends over for the B’s game. Not my decision that they went to overtime.

Pretty sure every single one of the “ladies” in my house showed up in a Chara jersey. Only one had enough class and respect to put on a old school Neely sweater. One of ‘em kept shouting about how much she loved Marchand. As I’m carrying my sixer of tall-boy MHL into my stepkid’s bedroom, I go, What’d daddy do to you?

Sorry finally on to the Sox. Getting real sick of everybody talking about infield shifts. Like nobodies ever done that before. Teams shifted in the 1980s and 1990s. TV people didn’t make such a fricking thing out of it back then though. Bearing all that in mind, nice to see Papi get two ribbies with a seeing eye single through the shift. Just the Lord’s way of saying sometimes being a big freaking dweeb works against you, Joe Madden.

Thought the Sox had it at 5-2. Right around the time the Rays tied the game 5-5, there was just absolute haywire coming from the other room. So I go, What the hell is going on? Apparently the Broons scored to get the game to overtime. Meaning I had to watch the Sox blow it while slugging High Life cans on my step-daughter’s bed. She barged in right about the time Koji gave up the dinger. Looked at me like I was Chuck Stewart or something. Oh well. Nothing I can do about that.

The only other bright spot in a frustrating evening in my view was Bill Middlebrooks working three walks. Can’t deny the guy is less antsy at the plate right now. Wonder if getting some on a regular basis off that Jenny Dell when he was on the DL helped bring about some patience on his side of things? Just thinking out loud on that one. I don’t know and it’s not for me to say I’m not a expert.

*Ed. Note: Carver man and friend of the site Francis Flynn is an avid Red Sox fan, Boston-born and bred. Flynn’s day job is maintaining a 10-acre cranberry bog and tract of farmland that has been in his family for three generations. But his passion is following his region’s most beloved baseball team. Flynn recently agreed to provide Fenway Pastoral readers with his own recaps throughout the 2014 regular season. All we had to do in return was promise to publish his pieces unedited and to send him a case of Miller High Life (bar bottles were specified) every week.