|05.20.11 at 12:11 pm ET|
A few items from Thursday’s walk-off win:
* – Carl Crawford’s walk-off hit was his third this month. He becomes the second Red Sox player to record three walk-offs in a calendar month and I assume you can guess the other. David Ortiz had three in June, 2006 (vs. Texas on the 11th and against the Phillies on the 24th and 26th). He also had a fairly memorable October in 2004.
* – So Crawford smoked a fastball from the Tigers’ Al Albuquerque for the game winning hit last night. His OPS this season against fastballs from right-handed pitchers? .678. His OPS on breaking balls from RHP? .481. Fourth lowest in the AL vs RHP batting left-handed (min. 50 such PA):
* – In the 7th inning, David Ortiz cleaned out a changeup from Justin Verlander for a home run, giving the Red Sox a 3-1 lead at the time. Big Papi entered the game just 2-for-12 (with a HR) against changeups from right-handed pitchers. It was the first HR allowed on a changeup by Verlander this season. He’s thrown 18% changeups (his second favorite pitch after his four-seamer which he throws 46% of the time), but it’s been his least effective pitch according to my quality points system:
+0.75 – Curve
+0.64 – Two-Seam Fastball
+0.61 – Four-Seam Fastball
+0.49 – Slider
+0.47 – Change
Verlander and Roy Halladay are the only two pitchers in the majors who so far this season have put up a +0.45 or better with FIVE different pitches (min. 50+ of each pitch). Even the list of those with FOUR such pitches reads like a who’s who: Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Josh Beckett, James Shields, Josh Tomlin, Jered Weaver, and Tim Hudson.
* – Dustin Pedroia now has a .146 average (8-for-56) with 14 strikeouts (.383 OPS) on non-fastballs from right-handed pitchers this season, the fourth lowest such OPS in the majors (min. 60 such PA):
Since Pedroia is at .689 on fastballs from righties, expect him to see a steady diet of slop until he shows that he can handle it again.
|05.20.11 at 8:51 am ET|
With the Red Sox and Cubs playing in Fenway Park this weekend for the first time since the 1918 World Series, the two teams will sport uniforms that replicate the style from that era on Saturday night. From the Red Sox press release:
The Red Sox home uniform will be a blank button-up with no lettering and a slight off-white or ivory color. The hat will also have a blank off-white tint, and the socks will be a three-part white/red/white composition. The Red Sox used this uniform and hat combination as their primary home look for most of the 1910s, and did not have any lettering on the front of their uniform for the bulk of that decade and the entire 1920s. The team did not wear the familiar blue cap with a red ‘B’ until the early 1930s.
The Cubs will wear navy blue pinstripes and lettering on a grayish uniform. On the front left-hand side of the uniform, there will be a horizontal outline of a ‘C’ enclosing ‘UBS’ in smaller, navy blue letters. The Cubs will sport a five-part sock with grey, blue, white, blue and grey color sections. The road hat will have a navy blue bill and pinstripes (but no ‘C’ or any other lettering on the cap). The Cubs used this uniform for only one season, as they changed their road uniforms on an almost-yearly basis during the 1910s.
The uniforms were made by Majestic Athletic, the official apparel provider of Major League Baseball, and are made of the same 100% polyester material as the teams’ current uniforms.
Each Red Sox player will sign his replica uniform after the game, and all uniforms will be auctioned to support the Red Sox Foundation. More information will be announced soon.
There are also plans for additional elements of the Saturday pre-game ceremony and game presentation that will be reminiscent of the fans’ experience in 1918.
The Red Sox and Cubs last played at Fenway Park on September 11, 1918, in the sixth and final game of that year’s World Series. Concluding a season that was abbreviated because of the ongoing World War I conflict, the Red Sox won two of the series’ first three games in Chicago. Boston returned home to take Game Four, before the Cubs staved off elimination in Game Five. The Red Sox then closed out the series in Game Six with a 2-1 victory, clinching their fourth title of the decade and their third championship in the preceding four years.
The picture below of the 1918 World Series-winning Red Sox offers a glimpse of the spare style of uniform that will be worn on Saturday night:
|05.20.11 at 7:50 am ET|
Friday will mark one of the biggest games on the MLB schedule in 2011 when the Cubs travel to Fenway Park to visit the Red Sox for the first time since the two sides squared off in the 1918 World Series. As you all remember quite vividly, Carl Mays defeated Lefty Tyler, 2-1, in Game 6 to give the Sox the 4-2 Series victory. Nearly one century later when the two teams meet again, it’ll be Jon Lester dueling with Doug Davis in a battle between two modern-day lefties.
Together with Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz, Lester (5-1, 3.28 ERA) has become part of a solid core of three at the front end of the Red Sox starting rotation. With his win on Sunday against the Yankees (6 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 7 K, 4 BB), the Boston left-hander grabbed the highest win percentage in major league history among pitchers with at least 50 decisions at .717 (66-26). But he has struggled slightly as of late. Sunday’s performance was the second game in a row in which he allowed more than four earned runs after he allowed five over 5 1/3 innings in a 7-6 loss to Toronto on May 10. He’ll be best served by avoiding the long ball if he can. Lester has surrendered a team-high nine home runs in 2011, third most in the American League. He’s allowed at least one bomb in his last four starts, matching a career-long stretch.
Only four players on the Cubs have ever stepped up to the plate against Lester, but those on the roster who haven’t may be best served picking the brain of Carlos Pena, who has 49 plate appearances against the lefty dating back to his days with Tampa Bay. The lefty slugger has a .275 average and five home runs against Lester but has also struck out 13 times.
The 35-year-old Davis was signed by Chicago in the offseason to provide rotation depth and has already been called upon to do so in the first quarter of the season. With Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells injured, Davis was needed to make his first start of the season last Saturday against the Giants and fared pretty well, allowing just one earned over five innings of work while striking out six. Unfortunately for him, the Cubs provided zero run support in a 3-0 loss and Davis was saddled with his first loss of 2011.
Expect lefty bat J.D. Drew to get the night off in right field for the Sox in favor of righty Mike Cameron, who has faced Davis 64 times in his career and has a .333 average against him. Adrian Gonzalez has just a .206 average against Davis in 37 plate appearances, but don’t expect the only AL player in the top five in all three Triple Crown categories to sit against the lefty. Read the rest of this entry »
|05.20.11 at 7:47 am ET|
After a brief hiatus (since we no longer blame anything on Claude Julien, let’s go ahead and assign the Kendrick Perkins trade as responsible for the three-plus weeks of Power Rankings inactivity) here we go with the return of the 2011 WEEI.com Major League Baseball Power Rankings. Every Thursday (or as close as we can get) throughout the season we will be bringing you an updated version of the list, which will be determined by record, ranking within each team’s division and which team would have the best chance at winning if participating in a best-of-seven series.
Feel free to pick apart the admittedly imperfect rankings by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or sending a message via Twitter to twitter.com/kirkmin. Have at it.
(Note: Team record and last ranking are in parentheses and all stats are through 5/17.)
1. Indians (26-13, 6). Not exactly a tough choice, and I think we’ve past the point of questioning if this team is for real. They might not win 95 games, but with a five-game lead in a mediocre division is there anyone who really believes they won’t — at the very least — be in the AL Central mix all year?
2. Phillies (25-16, 3). Lost four straight to Atlanta and St. Louis despite only allowing a total of 13 runs. Marco Scutaro (.625) has a higher OPS than Raul Ibanez (.618) and Wilson Valdez has played 36 games at second base with a .298 slugging percentage (looks like Chase Utley will be back next week).
3. Braves (25-19, 13). A run differential of plus-44, second only to the Indians, the Braves are 17-8 since the last edition of the power rankings. The starting pitching has carried this team (the Braves are 11th in the NL in OBP, ninth in OPS) with a group ERA of 2.83.
4. Reds (25-17, 8). Joey Votto (leading the NL in walks, OBP, second in OPS and fifth in slugging) looks like a legitimate candidate in his quest to win back-to-back MVP’s. If he accomplishes the feat, he’ll be just the second Cincinnati player to do so, joining Joe Morgan (1975, 1976). Ironically, if Votto says something so something stupid on television that leads me to throwing my remote at the screen he’ll be just the second person to do so, joining Joe Morgan (1989-2010).
5. Marlins (24-16, 9). Of the 93 NL players currently eligible to qualify for the batting title, Hanley Ramirez ranks 89th in slugging percentage.
6. Cardinals (24-19, 16). As good as Votto has been, Lance Berkman is the quarter-pole leader in the NL MVP race. He leads the league in RBI, slugging (.688, 92 points higher than second-place Ryan Braun) and is hitting .352. In 37 games with the Yankees last year Berkman had a combined total of 18 runs and RBI. In his first 38 games with the Cardinals he has a combined total of 66 runs and RBI.
|05.20.11 at 12:32 am ET|
An Adrian Gonzalez walk-off two-run double on Monday. A Jarrod Saltlalamacchia RBI double in the eighth that scored the only run of the game on Wednesday. A Carl Crawford walk-off single with the bases loaded on Thursday.
Over his team’s last three games, Red Sox manager Terry Francona has become no stranger to dramatic finishes in Fenway Park, and he believes a lot of it is tied to the pros of playing at home in baseball. Had Thursday’s game been played under similar circumstances on the road, perhaps Crawford’s RBI doesn’t prove to be a game-winner because the Tigers would still have another chance to bat in the bottom of the inning. What’s more, Jonathan Papelbon wouldn’t have preserved the tie in the half inning before the winning rally because Francona would need to save his closer for a potential save in either the bottom of the inning or extra frames.
“I think I’m glad we’re playing at home,” Francona said. “You know how we feel on the road sometimes. You get into games like this [at home], and if there’s a mistake or something, you go home. That’s the luxury of playing home. And you can use your closer where you can’t normally on the road.”
Starting pitcher Josh Beckett added that although close wins aren’t always best for the heart, they’re necessary for a team’s psyche.
“Sometimes, it’s nice to have a laugher,” he said. “But sometimes a team needs something like that. Three out of the last four wins, that’s pretty exciting.”
As for Crawford, his walk-off hit was his third of the season (all of which have come in May) and ninth of his career. In a year when he has struggled to produce at the plate, moments like this can only help the left fielder, whose average bumped seven points to .212 with a 2-for-4 showing at the plate Thursday. In the 10 games following his first walk-off, Crawford hit .341. After dipping again with a 2-for-19 overall performance in his last five outings before Thursday, Francona and the Sox hope it’ll jumpstart another resurgence in Crawford’s bat.
‘It’s got to be good for his confidence,” said Francona. “It’s a good time to hit. The infield’s playing in. The outfield’s playing in. He stayed on the ball really well. That’s the one thing you don’t want to do is roll over or pull off, and he stayed on it really well.’
|05.20.11 at 12:07 am ET|
It has been a challenging year for left-hander Hideki Okajima. The 35-year-old, an All-Star in 2007, was non-tendered by the Red Sox in December, making him a free agent so that the team would not have to give him a raise over the $2.75 million he earned in 2010. But Okajima ended up returning to the Sox, signing a one-year, $1.75 million deal.
But the left-hander has been subjected to some confounding firsts in 2011. The club optioned him to Triple-A Pawtucket to open the year. He remained in Pawtucket until mid-April, when the team recalled him after optioning Felix Doubront.
But Okajima was seldom used by the Sox since his return to the majors. He appeared in seven games over roughly a month in the majors, and had not seen game action since May 9 against the Twins (a game, incidentally, in which Okajima claimed the victory after tossing two scoreless innings). He has a 4.32 ERA, six strikeouts and five walks in 8 1/3 innings, and had seemingly been passed by Rich Hill as the go-to left-hander for the Sox.
And so, when the Sox made a deal for another left-hander, Franklin Morales, on Thursday night, they cleared a spot on the major league and 40-man rosters by designating Okajima for assignment. GM Theo Epstein said that the Sox would explore the trade market for Okajima; if none materializes, then the club will return him to Pawtucket.
For Okajima, this latest turn of his season represents uncharted territory.
‘I started the season down in the Minor Leagues, so I know I had to regain the team’s confidence in my pitching,” Okajima told reporters through an interpreter. “It is my first time in this situation so I’m not sure of what happens next.’
That said, Okajima did not begrudge the Sox’ decisions, and suggested that he did not regret re-signing this winter with the only club for whom he’s pitched since coming to the U.S. in 2007.
‘Having re-signed with Boston during the offseason, it is disappointing that this is happening but signing here was not a mistake,” said Okajima. “I am very grateful to the opportunity the Red Sox have given me over five years.’
|05.19.11 at 11:54 pm ET|
When Josh Beckett took the mound Thursday night against the Tigers, everyone thought it would be a battle. The thing is everyone thought the battle would be against Detroit ace Justin Verlander, he of the fiery fastball and two no-hitters. Instead as it turned out, Beckett’s biggest battle would be with his own neck.
The right-hander took the hill and lasted six strong innings, during which he allowed just one hit on five hits and two walks, before telling his manager about some stiffness in his neck that had persisted throughout the game. At that point, it seemed like the best move for both Beckett and Red Sox manager Terry Francona was to remove him from the game before the malady got any worse.
“Yeah, it was pretty tough to get loose,” Beckett said. “Battled through the first few innings. I actually went down in the third and the fifth and was throwing between innings because I was just trying to get loose. It just would never loosen up.”
With John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka on the disabled list already, any other potential injury to a Sox starting pitcher is enough to startle any member of the organization, including Beckett, who downplayed the injury but understood its place in the grand scheme of Boston’s season.
“I think it’s just a little muscle spasm in there,” he said “I don’t think it’s anything serious at all. But it’s better to be cautious especially with the situation we’re in with starters.” Read the rest of this entry »
|05.19.11 at 11:14 pm ET|
After the Red Sox‘ 4-3 walkoff victory over the Tigers, Sox GM Theo Epstein said that the team had acquired left-hander Franklin Morales from the Rockies in exchange for a player to be named or cash. In order to clear a roster spot for Morales, the team designated left-hander Hideki Okajima for assignment.
“Morales is going to come in and be the second lefty in our bullpen,” Epstein told reporters. “He’s somebody we think has some upside, throwing strikes consistently. He’s a really hard thrower, a former top prospect. Think he’s got some upside there as the second left-hander position. We needed a 40-man spot for him so Oki’s going to be designated. We’ll see if there’s a fit for him with a trade somewhere. If not, we’ll get him through waivers and he’ll end up back at Pawtucket.
“We weren’t using Oki all that much, the way things have evolved lately,” Epstein added. “Morales is somebody with significant upside. If we can get him to repeat his delivery and throw strikes, he could be tough to hit. He’s going to take that second lefty in the bullpen spot, and we’ll see if we can capture some of his upside.”
Morales, 25, was 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in 14 games (spanning 14 innings) for the Rockies this year, striking out 11 and walking eight. In parts of five seasons, he is 7-11 with a 4.83 ERA, 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings and 5.3 walks per nine. He has been far more effective this year against right-handed hitters (.172 average, .595 OPS) than lefties (.250, .935), but in his career, he has enjoyed significantly greater success against southpaws (.185, .624) than right-handed hitters (.272, .788).
He is a hard thrower (according to Fangraphs.com, his fastball this year was averaging 93.9 mph) who also features a curveball and changeup. He was ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects in both 2007 (No. 30) and 2008 (No. 8), but his command difficulties had resulted in his move to the bullpen and his move down Colorado’s depth chart. Still, the Sox saw a risk worth taking.
“When he throws strikes, he’s really effective. He’s a guy who was one of the top prospects in all of baseball a few years ago,” said Epstein. “He’s been a little bit erratic with his strike-throwing, but there still is plenty of upside there. We feel, at a very reasonable acquisition cost, we get somebody who, if things go right, can be a real effective weapon for us from the left side.”
Okajima was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA, six strikeouts and five walks in seven games (8 1/3 innings). But the Sox had seldom used the 35-year-old, having last put him in a game on May 9, with Rich Hill (four scoreless appearances) having surpassed him on the depth chart. Indeed, because Hill had been effective, it permitted the Sox to acquire a pitcher who is a low-risk, high-reward lottery ticket.
“Rich’s emergence made us more comfortable making this deal,” Epstein said. “Rich has been throwing the ball well all year down at Pawtucket and has gotten off to a nice start up here, so he’s certainly somebody who matches up well against lefthanded hitters. That second spot, it’s not that we’re experimenting with it, but the chance to capture some upside there makes some sense for us, given what Hill is done for us.”
|05.19.11 at 10:50 pm ET|
Red Sox starter Josh Beckett was lifted from his start against the Tigers after just six innings and 83 pitches due to neck stiffness. But manager Terry Francona suggested that the move was largely precautionary, and did not seem to think the problem was a long-term one.
“I’m never going to talk to most pitchers [during the game], especially Beckett, but he gave us a head’s up after that [sixth] inning, so we got [reliever Matt Albers] up in a hurry,” manager Terry Francona said after the game. “Neck got stiff, and that’s not something to play around with, especially on his side with his throwing shoulder. He pitched a whale of a game, but he got stiff and he was getting stiffer. That’s not something to mess around with. He’ll be OK.”
Beckett had pitched six strong innings, allowing just one earned run on five hits and two walks while striking out three to drop his ERA to 1.73 on the year.
|05.19.11 at 10:18 pm ET|
For the second straight evening, the Red Sox got the best of the Tigers bullpen. Detroit reliever Al Alburquerque allowed a walk-off single to Carl Crawford in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded to give Boston a 4-3 win. It was Crawford’s third walk-off hit in the month of May. The Red Sox have now won six straight.
The night was supposed to be an old-time pitchers duel between Josh Beckett and Justin Verlander, and indeed it was for six innings. Over that span, Beckett allowed just one earned run on five hits and two walks while striking out three.
But the righty was lifted for precautionary reasons with neck tightness after having thrown just 83 pitches over those six innings. In the eighth inning with a 3-1 lead, set-up man Daniel Bard allowed back-to-back home runs to Brennan Boesch and Miguel Cabrera to open the frame and tie the ballgame, thus spoiling the terrific Beckett start.
Verlander lasted eight innings of his own, allowing three earned on six hits with nine strikeouts and no walks before being replace by Alburquerque in the ninth.
J.D. Drew and David Ortiz added home runs of their own in the fourth and seventh innings respectively. Drew had another RBI on a sacrifice fly in the second inning.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
–Beckett was at his best when he had to work out of his own self-made jams. In the second with the bases load and one out, he got Brandon Inge to fly out to left ‘ the not-so speedy Victor Martinez chose to stay at third instead of trying to tag up and score ‘ and then forced Austin Jackson to foul out to short right. In the fifth inning with a 2-1 lead, he got Detroit two and three hitters, Scott Sizemore and Boesch respectively, to fly out and ground out while runners stood at first and second. Add those big outs in big situations to the long list of reasons why Beckett should be considered the Sox’ best starting pitcher at this point in the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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