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Closing Time: Red Sox keep rolling over Tigers

05.27.11 at 9:48 pm ET
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They didn’t score 14.

Even so, the Red Sox offense once again struck quickly, plating five runs in the third inning to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 6-3 victory. But the Sox’ fourth straight win was about more than just offense.

Once again, Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield delivered as much as the Sox could have hoped for. The knuckleballer was incredibly efficient, needing just 83 pitches to sail through seven innings of work. Though he was touched for a run in the first and a solo homer in the second inning, the Tigers could do nothing with him thereafter, going 2-for-19 (both singles) over the rest of his outing.

In four starts this year, he has a 3.80 ERA; the Sox are 3-1 with him in that role. Wakefield also collected his 195th career win (most among active pitchers) and he has 181 victories as a Red Sox, moving within 12 of the team record.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–Wakefield continued a run in which the Sox have received significant contributions from players who either weren’t in the majors to start the year or whose roles have been redefined. Since both Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey were placed on the disabled list last Monday, the tandem of fill-ins Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves has gone 2-0 with a combined 2.87 ERA in four starts; the Sox have won three of those contests. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: carl crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, josh reddick, Tim Wakefield

Sixth sense: Crawford may have found a new lineup home

05.27.11 at 8:05 pm ET
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Until Wednesday, Carl Crawford had never started a game as the No. 6 hitter in a lineup. Now, it appears that he might be ready to occupy that spot for a while.

When the season began, the Sox had Crawford batting third; that lasted all of two games, until he went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts. He then began something of an odyssey, making stops in the No. 7 spot (1 game; 2-for-4), the No. 2 spot (3 games; 2-for-12), and leading off (7 games, 3-for-32) before settling into a place near the bottom of the order, where he spent 32 of 33 games batting either seventh or eighth.

It was there that Crawford slowly began to restore his season’s credibility. He was hitting .127 with a .318 OPS when he was bumped out of the leadoff spot. Though his results were unspectacular batting seventh and eighth, he was better, hitting .248 with a .638 OPS.

But even though Crawford delivered some important moments from that portion of the batting order — most notably, three walkoff hits — he delivered his first electrifying performances over his first two games in the sixth spot in the order. Moved up to that position on back-to-back games with J.D. Drew sidelined, Crawford went 4-for-4 with a homer on Wednesday and 4-for-5 with a pair of triples on Thursday.

Put another way: Crawford had as many hits (8) over nine at-bats in his last two games as he did over the course of 60 at-bats in the first 14 contests of the year.

That being the case, it was little surprise to see Crawford back in the sixth spot on Friday night, with Drew still sidelined. For that matter, it appears unsurprising that Crawford is likely poised to remain in the sixth spot once Drew (hitting .232 with a .705 OPS) returns.

Manager Terry Francona has maintained throughout the year that he wants Crawford hitting somewhere near the top of the order. While moving Crawford to sixth doesn’t quite fulfill that vision, with the top five all but set with Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz, the sixth spot seems to represent the most obvious lineup promotion for Crawford.

“I think I kind  of like the idea of moving him up in the order,” Sox manager Terry Francona said before Friday’s game. “First of all, I think it’€™s justified. He’€™s hot as can be. I didn’€™t want him to hit eighth for the whole year. I think that was pretty obvious. I don’€™t want to move Pedey out of the two-hole. I can see that being that way for a while, yeah. as soon as I say that, something will happen. That’€™s the way it works. [But] I like the idea of him hitting up there a little bit higher.”

It’s not necessarily a perfect spot. Whereas Crawford would have been hitting behind a couple of players (Ellsbury and Pedroia) who can take part in an aggressive running game in his season-opening third spot, he is now stationed behind Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz — players whose lack of speed could occasionally block Crawford on the bases.

Nonetheless, with the likes of Jed Lowrie and Drew hitting behind him, Crawford is hitting in a spot that will feature hitters who are comfortable working deeper into counts and permitting him opportunities to steal. Moreover, Crawford is giving flashes of the idea that his bat has potential as a run-producing weapon while hitting behind three players — Gonzalez, Youkilis and Ortiz — who figure to be on base with some frequency.

That being the case, while Crawford had never had his name written into the sixth spot of the lineup before Wednesday, he is likely to have that experience quite a bit going forward.

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Friday’s Red Sox-Tigers matchups: Tim Wakefield vs. Rick Porcello

05.27.11 at 8:00 am ET
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Detroit starting pitcher Rick Porcello will have the toughest job in all of baseball when he takes the mound Friday night. He’€™ll be charged with trying to halt a Red Sox offense that is running on all cylinders. The Boston bats have scored 14 runs in consecutive games coming into Friday and perhaps could have scored more in Thursday’€™s 14-1 rout of the Tigers had it not been shortened by rain after 7 1/2 innings. The Red Sox will counter with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield for his fourth start of the season.

For his part, the 22-year-old Porcello (4-2, 3.08 ERA) has been pitching well on the bump for the Tigers, especially as of late. After allowing five earned runs in each of first two starts, Porcello has rebounded with quality starts in five of his last six starts and hasn’€™t allowed more than two runs in any outing over that span. His best start of the season was his last when he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the Pirates before allowing a double to Ronny Cedeno. The righty ended up going eight innings while allowing just the one hit.

No Red Sox hitter has been at the plate more than seven times against Porcello, who hasn’€™t faced Boston since facing it twice in 2009. Carl Crawford has the most experience with him, going 2-for-6 in his career, but at a perfect 3-for-3, Jacoby Ellsbury has had the most success.

As for their own starter Friday, the Sox could not have asked for more out of Wakefield (1-1, 4.50) in his last start on May 26, his first since being put back into the rotation following injuries to John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. The 44-year-old ageless wonder gave up just four hits and one earned run over 6 2/3 innings in a 5-1 win over the Cubs. It was Wakefield’€™s longest outing of the season thus far and undoubtedly his best as well.

With a 16-10 record and 4.25 ERA against the Tigers all-time, the knuckleballer has enjoyed some modest success his Friday opponent in his career, but against these current set of Detroit ballplayers, he’€™s had his fair share of troubles. As a team, the Tigers are hitting .290 against Wakefield with five home runs. Ramon Santiago (.455, 1 HR, 6 RBI in 13 plate appearances) leads that pack.  Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: carl crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ramon Santiago, rick porcello

Closing Time: Red Sox put up two touchdowns for second straight game

05.26.11 at 5:01 pm ET
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Detroit starting pitcher Max Scherzer had allowed just three earned runs in five starts at Comerica Park this season coming into Thursday. Then, he ran into a white-hot Red Sox offense.

Fresh off a 14-2 win over Cleveland on Wednesday, Boston piled on seven runs against Scherzer in the second and third innings to chase the Detroit righty before coasting to a 14-1 win over its Motor City hosts. All nine Red Sox starters got a hit in the win with each outfielder (Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Reddick) producing three RBI to pace the offense.

The continued offensive production nearly overshadowed a quality outing from Alfredo Aceves in his first win as a starter this season. For the second straight start as an injury replacement, Aceves kept opposing batters at bay, throwing six innings of one-run ball while allowing five hits and two walks and striking out six.

The game was called following a 55-minute rain delay after the teams had completed 7 1/2 innings.

Here’€™s the many things that what went right in the Red Sox win along with one very minor thing that went wrong.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

–Crawford (4-for-5, 3 RBI) struck a two-run triple in the third and had another RBI three-bagger in the seventh. After knocking in two in Wednesday’€™s onslaught in Cleveland, Crawford now has two multi-RBI games in a row for the first time in a Red Sox uniform and the first time since knocking in seven over a two-game stretch back in June 2-4 of last year as a member of the Rays organization. After entering the game with just one triple over the first 47 games of this season, Crawford, who led the American League in that category last season, also had his first game with multiple triples since July 26, 2008.

With his second four-hit game in a row, Crawford has raised his average 32 points, from .212 before Wednesday’€™s game to .244 following Thursday’€™s win. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, alfredo aceves, carl crawford, drew sutton

Red Sox live blog: Sox open series with Tigers at Comerica Park

05.26.11 at 10:45 am ET
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Red Sox/Tigers Live Blog

Thursday’s Red Sox-Tigers matchups: Alfredo Aceves vs. Max Scherzer

05.25.11 at 6:13 pm ET
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The Red Sox have beaten the Tigers in both of their meetings this season, but both contests came down to a battle of the bullpens. It’s fitting, then, that reliever Alfredo Aceves will take the mound on Thursday in Detroit.

Before last weekend’s start against the Cubs, Aceves (1-0, 2.42 ERA) had started only five games in his three-year career, and four of those came as a rookie back in 2008. The right-hander pitched well in his last outing, allowing just one run on three hits through five innings.

Aceves left the game with a 2-1 lead and was in line for the win, but the Cubs rallied for eight runs in the eighth inning off Matt Albers and Franklin Morales, forcing Aceves to take a no-decision. The former Yankee now has a lifetime ERA of 3.18 in 31.1 innings as a starter, but he’€™s never gone deeper than seven innings.

Part of Aceves’ success in his last start may have been due to a lack of familiarity on the part of the Cubs — only two of their hitters had ever faced him — an advantage he will also enjoy against the Tigers. Only three hitters on Detroit’s roster have seen Aceves, and former Boston catcher Victor Martinez is the only one to face him more than once. In five plate appearances against Aceves, Martinez is 1-for-5 with a strikeout.

Jim Leyland will send Max Scherzer to the hill as the Tigers fight to catch up with the Indians in the AL Central. Nine Red Sox batters have faced Scherzer (6-1, 2.98 ERA), who is having his best season in his fourth year in the big leagues. The Tigers won seven out of Scherzer’s first eight starts this season, and the right-hander was undefeated until he took a loss against the Pirates on May 21. In his outing on May 16, Scherzer tossed seven innings without surrendering an earned run, but took a no-decision as the Tigers fell to the Blue Jays, 4-2.

Although most of the Red Sox lineup has seen Scherzer before, no Boston hitter has faced him more than nine times. In just five plate appearances, David Ortiz has dominated the Tigers’ starter, with two home runs, a single, and four RBI. Dustin Pedroia (1-for-3) has the only other homer off Scherzer.

While the old guard has had some success against the 26-year-old, Scherzer has all but shut down two of Boston’s newest acquisitions. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have combined for just one hit in 15 plate appearances, although Gonzalez does have two walks and an RBI. Scherzer has been able to keep these two Red Sox lefties in check, but has allowed left-handed opponents to hit .279 this season, while holding righties to just .246.

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Read More: alfredo aceves, Max Scherzer, Red Sox, tigers

Closing Time: Red Sox demolish the Indians

05.25.11 at 3:08 pm ET
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It was batting practice.

The Red Sox lineup teed off on the Indians, flashing the sort of muscle that team decision-makers no doubt anticipated seeing from time to time when they assembled the club in the offseason. The team exploded out of the blocks with a seven-run first inning (the most runs the team has scored in an inning since last August) in which it collected nine hits, most since they racked up 10 in a memorable 25-8 win over the Marlins in 2003. The Sox then kept adding on.

The team’s 10 extra-base hits were its most since last June 3, and represented the team’s biggest output on the road since June 20, 2007, in a game against the Braves. Of the members of the starting lineup, every one scored at least one run. Only one (shortstop Jed Lowrie) failed to collect either a hit or an RBI.

That set the stage for a 14-2 wipeout of the Indians, the most lopsided Sox road victory since a 14-2 win over the White Sox in 2007.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–The list of accomplishments by the Sox batters in Wednesday’s game is long. Before getting to that, then, it’s worth taking stock of the performance of Jon Lester. Lester started slowly, allowing a pair of singles in the first (marking the career-high eighth straight inning, spread over three starts, in which he’d allowed at least two baserunners). But he escaped without any harm, and then did what a good starting pitcher should do when entrusted with a huge lead.

Lester, primarily on the strength of fastballs and a very good cutter, retired 15 straight Indians in one stretch. After working to a 7.27 ERA over his previous three starts, Lester ended up delivering six shutout innings on a day when the ball was evidently jumping in Cleveland.

His pitch efficiency (97 pitches in six innings) left something to be desired, and he did issue a walk in the sixth (extending his career-long streak of games in which he permitted a walk to 19). Even so, he allowed just three hits while punching out seven over six shutout innings, lowering his ERA to 3.36. He became the first pitcher in the American League to reach seven wins.

Moreover, he has now held opponents scoreless in 26 of his 134 career starts (19.4 percent) — or roughly one out of every five outings.

He continued a fine run by a rotation that now has a 1.95 ERA over its last eight starts. It was the Sox’ major league-best 12th game this year in which a starter didn’t allow a run.

As for the offense…

Carl Crawford went 4-for-4 with a homer and two doubles. It was the first time in his Red Sox career that he’d collected more than two hits in a game. It was Crawford’s 30th career four-hit game, and his fifth career game with three or more extra-base hits.

Dustin Pedroia put the Sox on the board with a two-run homer in the first. It was his first homer since April 15, ending a drought that had reached 136 at-bats. Pedroia went 2-for-5 with 3 RBI.

Adrian Gonzalez continued his electric May, going 2-for-6 and driving in yet another run. He’s driven in 28 this month, most in the majors; he also leads the AL with 21 multi-hit games this year.

David Ortiz continued his explosive May. He went 2-for-6 and launched a homer to deep right. He is hitting .337 with a 1.056 OPS, eight homers and 16 extra-base hits (most in the majors) in the month.

–Two Sundays ago, Red Sox catchers did not have a single homer on the year. But then, Jarrod Saltalamacchia went deep on May 15 and he hasn’t stopped crushing the ball since. He now has four homers in a six-game stretch, and the Sox now are tied for 11th in the majors with five homers from their catchers. Saltalamacchia, after going 2-for-4 with 3 RBI, now has a .240 average and .716 OPS on the season, better than the AL averages of .229 and .673 at the position.

Drew Sutton, a late addition to the lineup when Kevin Youkilis was scratched due to a sore left hand, matched a career high in hits and set a new career high for extra-base hits by going 3-for-5 with two doubles.

Jacoby Ellsbury (3-for-4 with two walks) had his fourth three-hit game in his last 16 contests. His five times on base matched a career-high, achieved twice before — both in the 2009 season. Since returning to the leadoff spot on April 21, he’s hitting .341 with a .395 OBP.

Mike Cameron got his first double of the 2011 season. His streak of 19 straight games without a double — dating to last year — was the sixth longest of his career. He did, however, have a pair of homers this year.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Jed Lowrie was the only Sox member of the lineup without two hits. Indeed, he was the only one not to collect a single hit, going 0-for-5 with a walk. Over his last 24 games, Lowrie is hitting .233. His average for the year has now fallen to an even .300.

–While Franklin Morales did touch 97 mph with his fastball, the left-hander allowed a pair of runs on three hits in his inning of work, thus denying the Red Sox a shutout.

Read More: carl crawford, Cleveland Indians, David Ortiz, drew sutton

Red Sox Live Blog: Sox take on the Indians in series finale at Progressive Field

05.25.11 at 11:18 am ET
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Red Sox/Indians Live Blog

Wednesday’s Red Sox-Indians matchups: Jon Lester vs. Mitch Talbot

05.25.11 at 10:59 am ET
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The Red Sox will look to Jon Lester to sustain the momentum of Tuesday’s victory over the Indians, a team against whom the 27-year-old lefty has had quite a bit of success. Lester (6-1, 3.68 ERA) hasn’t taken a loss in his last seven starts, and six of those games have been wins for Boston.

He had one of his best outings of the season in his last start against Cleveland, but took a no-decision in a 1-0 loss on April 7th. In that start, Lester struck out nine and allowed just three hits over seven shutout innings, but was removed after his pitch count reached 109. The Indians scored in the eighth against Daniel Bard, when Asdrubal Cabrera squeezed in a run.

Cleveland’s hitters have had plenty of experience against Lester over the past five years, hitting a combined .284 in 113 total plate appearances. Former Red Sox Orlando Cabrera has a team-high six hits, two doubles and four RBI in 21 plate appearances.

The Indians have driven in 14 runs against the left-hander, but Lester has yet to give up a home run to any of the current Cleveland batters. Still, he’s already allowed nine long balls this season, after surrendering just 14 all of last year. Lester has managed to hold two of the Indians’ most talented hitters — Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo — to just one hit in 26 combined plate appearances.

The Indians will send another 27-year-old to the mound, as Mitch Talbot will get the start. Due to an early-season elbow injury, Talbot (1-0, 1.46) will be making just his third start of the season, and his first since April 11th, when the right-hander threw eight brilliant innings of five-hit ball in a 4-0 win over the Angels.

Talbot’s other start came against Boston on April 6th, when the Red Sox fell, 8-4. It was the fifth of Boston’s six straight losses to open the season. Talbot received a no-decision in the outing, surrendering two runs on five hits in 4 1/3 innings. Carl Crawford, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew and Marco Scutaro all had singles off Talbot, while Adrian Gonzalez added a double.

The Sox have had success against Talbot in his three-year career. In 47 total plate appearances, Boston has hit a combined .324 against the Indians starter, and posted a .468 on-base percentage. Only two Red Sox — Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury — have homered off Talbot, but Youkilis also has a double and three RBIs against the Cleveland starter. Dustin Pedroia has contributed three hits and two RBIs, and is the only Red Sox player to get hit by a Talbot pitch.

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Minor Details Ep. 11: Development in the Red Sox front office

05.25.11 at 9:33 am ET
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The Indians and Red Sox might seem like polar opposites as franchises. They possess very different fan bases and very different resources; as a consequence, their roster-building strategies necessarily diverge.

Yet philosophically, the two organizations converge in an important way. Indeed, the Indians served as something of a model for the Red Sox in their attempts to create their current organizational structure.

In the late-1990s, Ben Cherington — now the Red Sox Assistant GM — was a video advance scout in the Indians front office. It was his first full-time job in baseball. While working in excess of 100 hours per work, he made next to nothing — he ended up eating little besides mac and cheese that year — he was exposed to one of the most influential front offices in baseball of the last two decades, a group that yielded numerous future GMs.

The Cleveland front office at the time offered a glimpse of what the Sox (in no small part due to the influence of GM Theo Epstein and Cherington) have tried to do with their own front office, chiefly, identifying talented individuals and letting them grow and advance in their roles. In essence, the team applies its player development principles to its own front office.

“You need to take the same approach with young people in your office that you do with a minor league player. There should be a development plan for them. You want to challenge them to improve on their weaknesses. You don’€™t want to put them into a position to fail,” said Cherington. “The focus on developing our own people in the front office is really a priority for us, just as it was in Cleveland.

“In some ways it was the Moneyball theory looked at through a different lens. It was finding undervalued assets, finding people who could make an impact on the team through good decisions, and finding them when they were young, finding them when they would work incredibly cheap, when they would work incredibly long hours, and putting them in an environment where they could learn enough about the game and where they would interact with the staff and scouts to eventually be in decision-making positions and impact the team. … It wasn’€™t finding guys with high on-base percentages, but it was finding people who were undervalued.”

In this episode of Minor Details, Cherington offers a glimpse behind the curtain of how development and decision-making work in the Red Sox front office.

To listen to the podcast, click here.

PREVIOUS EPISODES

Ep. 10: Hall of Famer Peter Gammons discusses Red Sox prospects and player development challenges

Ep. 9: The winding path of Andrew Miller: A look at the unique sets of career choices that the 25-year-old left-hander has run into during his baseball career, and how he ended up signing a minor league deal with the Red Sox.

Ep. 8: Key prospect issues in spring training: Five key spring training storylines of note for Red Sox minor leaguers.

Ep. 7: The Red Sox’€™ Cuban connection: A look at the talent base that has inspired the Sox to spend heavily on players who defected from Cuba, along with the professional and cultural challenges that those players face once in the U.S. Guests are Red Sox minor league outfielder Juan Carlos Linares, minor league hitting coach Alex Ochoa (who spent 2010 helping prospect Jose Iglesias adjust to professional baseball in the U.S.) and agent Edwin Mejia of Athletes Premier, an agency whose stable of clients includes some players from Cuba

Ep. 6: Why the Red Sox draft football stars, with Red Sox scouting director Amiel Sawdaye and Red Sox minor league outfielder Brandon Jacobs, who was recruited to play football at Auburn and could have taken part in the 2011 BCS title game

Ep. 5: The human side of the Adrian Gonzalez trade, with Padres (and former Red Sox) prospect Anthony Rizzo, Sox scout Laz Gutierrez and Sox farm director Mike Hazen. The episode also includes a discussion with Baseball America’€™s Jim Callis about the state of the Sox farm system following the trade for Adrian Gonzalez

Ep. 4: Evaluating prospects and making blockbusters, with former Diamondbacks GM/Red Sox Assistant GM Josh Byrnes and former Red Sox manager Butch Hobson (who was Jeff Bagwell‘€˜s manager in the Red Sox system when he was traded to the Astros)

Ep. 3: Red Sox catching prospects, with Sox roving catching instructor Chadd Epperson, as well as a conversation with Arizona Fall League manager Mike Sarbaugh about the Sox’€™ prospects in the AFL

Ep. 2: Red Sox trade chips with Keith Law of ESPN.com

Ep. 1: Baseball America’€™s list of the Top 10 Red Sox prospects, with Mike Hazen and Jim Callis

Read More: ben cherington, Cleveland Indians,
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