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Closing Time: Sox winning streak stopped by ‘Big Game James’ in Tampa Bay

06.14.11 at 9:36 pm ET
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The Red Sox lineup had battered all opponents over the first 10 games of the month, pounding out 87 runs in bludgeoning one opponent after another. However, the team’s lumber continued to slumber in Tampa Bay, one day after the team enjoyed an off day.

The Sox managed just five hits against Rays starter James Shields, who was dazzlingly efficient through the first seven innings before his command faltered in the eighth.

The 4-0 loss marked the sixth time the Sox had been shut out this season, and the first since May 29. The unexpected silence of the lineup led to a hard-luck loss by Boston starter Tim Wakefield on a night when the Rays could muster little against him.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–The Sox appeared poised to strike early against Shields, putting runners on the corner with one out in the first inning for Kevin Youkilis. But Youkilis, who has been surprisingly wretched with runners on third and fewer than two outs this year, continued to struggle in those run-scoring situations. Youkilis swung and missed at a 2-2 changeup. For the year, he is now 1-for-15 (.067) with 10 strikeouts in 20 plate appearances in situations where contact would likely result in an out.

That was simply the beginning of a dreadful night for Youkilis, who grounded into double plays in each of his next two plate appearances. It was just the second game in his career in which he’d grounded into two twin killings, with the other having come almost five years ago, on July 7, 2006, against the White Sox.

–Shields was terrific against a number of hitters against whom he had struggled in his career. Though Dustin Pedroia carried a .433 average against Shields into the game, he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and a surprising (and unsuccessful) bunt attempt in the first inning, in which Pedroia — who was bunting for a hit — popped the ball back to Shields. David Ortiz, who entered the proceedings with a .364 average and three homers against Shields, was likewise 0-for-3 with a walk.

–In an indication of how good Wakefield’s knuckleball was inside the Tropicana Dome, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia committed a pair of passed balls, both in the sixth inning, in permitting the Rays to score an insurance run without benefit of a hit. Wakefield issued a one-out walk to Evan Longoria, who advanced to second on the first passed ball. After a walk and a groundout, Saltalamacchia’s second passed ball permitted Longoria to cross the plate to give Shields some breathing room in what had been a 1-0 game.

Tommy Hottovy, against whom hitters were 0-for-6 entering Monday, permitted his first major league hits (both on soft liners) and also hit a batter in allowing his first two big league runs in the eighth inning.

–In his first game in Tampa Bay as a member of the visiting team, Carl Crawford went 0-for-3 with a strikeout. In his first at-bat — in which he was heavily booed as he stepped to the plate, before a wave of cheers overtook the initial hostilities — he grounded out with the bases loaded to end the Sox’ only real threat of the game.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–Wakefield turned in an outstanding outing. Though his knuckleball moved so much that it became an issue, at times, to command the ball (resulting in five walks), he logged seven innings and allowed just two runs (one earned) while permitting four hits. He matched a season-high in innings pitched. Meanwhile, Wakefield also logged 119 pitches, the most he’s thrown in a game since 2003.

Adrian Gonzalez saw his streak of nine straight games with an RBI come to an end, but he collected three hits in four at-bats. It was his 11th three-hit game of the year, tied for the most in the majors.

Tuesday’s Red Sox-Rays Matchups: Tim Wakefield vs. James Shields

06.14.11 at 3:11 pm ET
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The Red Sox will be seeking their tenth straight win when they take on the Rays at Tropicana Field Tuesday night. The Sox have swept the Athletics, Yankees and Blue Jays en route to nine straight wins. They outscored the Blue Jays 35-6 in their series over the weekend.

It will also mark Carl Crawford‘s first visit back to Tampa following signing with the Red Sox this past off-season. Veteran Tim Wakefield (3-1, 4.84) will take to the mound for the Sox, while the Rays will counter with James Shields (5-4, 2.85).

Wakefield, who is only four wins shy of 200 for his career will look to extend the Sox winning streak and get him even closer to the milestone. He has appeared in 45 games lifetime against the Rays, including 34 starts. He has had a great deal of success as well, compiling a 21-6 record.

He has won three out of his last four starts, including a 11-6 win over the Yankees last week in his last start. In that game Wakefield didn’t have his best stuff, but the Sox bats bailed him out. He pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing five runs and three walks, but it was good enough to earn the win.

His counterpart Shields, has struggled when facing the Sox. Over the course of his six year career Shields has faced the Red Sox 16 times, going 5-9 over those 16 starts. Shields is coming off of a no decision in his last outing. He went 7 innings, allowing three runs in the Rays win over the Angels.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, james shields, Tim Wakefield

Andrew Miller, Red Sox arrive at potential crossroads

06.14.11 at 2:21 pm ET
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It is time for The Decision.

The partnership between Andrew Miller and the Red Sox has been everything that both sides could have hoped for to date. When Miller decided to pass on major league deals this winter in favor of a minor league contract with the Sox, the two sides considered the arrangement one that was meant to be in the long-term best interests of both the player and club.

Miller would be able to work on developing mound consistency without the limitations of roster considerations, such as the prospect that he would need to be exposed to waivers and potentially change organizations. At 26, he was willing to work in the minors with one organization and one pitching coach to find the mechanics that would best allow him to harness his considerable gifts ‘€“ a 6-foot-7 frame, a mid- to high-90s fastball, a slider that can make left-handed hitters weep ‘€“ into results.

With Triple-A Pawtucket, Miller has done just that. He has not been the disappointing pitcher who was taken with the sixth pick of the 2006 draft and rushed to the majors en route to a 15-26 record and 5.84 ERA in 79 big league games. Instead, he has been dominating on the mound. He has a 2.54 ERA and 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Opponents are hitting just .175 against him, and he’€™s permitted just one homer in just over 60 innings all season.

He has been particularly sharp in his last three starts, after he and PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur tweaked his routine to have him simulate an inning before the start of games. Miller, who had walked 32 batters in his first 40 1/3 innings this year, particularly his last three starts in which he’€™s walked just two batters and struck out 16 in 20 innings. For a pitcher whose chief limitation has been his lack of command, it’s been an eye-opening stretch. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: andrew miller, opt-out,

Nuggetpalooza: 30 Clubs/30 Nuggets

06.14.11 at 2:19 pm ET
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Before we get into the 30 clubs, 30 nuggets, here are a couple of additional notes:

* – The Indians beat the Yankees, 1-0, last night at Yankee Stadium, snapping a streak of 193 straight losses by the Tribe when they score fewer than two runs on the road, dating back to 1992. They were within two of the all-time record of 195, set by the Tigers from 1988-2003.

* – By June 1, every team in the majors had a shutout this season. It’s the first time that’s happened since 1992.

Now, on to the nuggets:

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Boston Red Sox

After leading the majors with a team OPS of .820 in May, the Red Sox offense is again leading the majors in June:

.941 – Red Sox
.847 – Tigers
.827 – White Sox

If the Red Sox’ OPS holds up for the remainder of the month, it would mark the second highest in MLB history (since 1946), trailing only the June by the 2003 Red Sox (.945).

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New York Yankees

The Yankees allowed triples to coco Crisp and Andy LaRoche of the A’s on May 31, snapping a club record streak of 276 consecutive games without allowing multiple triples.

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Tampa Bay Rays

Wade Davis has induced misses on just 13.5 percent of swings against him this season, on pace to be the lowest ever by the Rays pitcher (min. 1,500 pitches in full season):

13.5% – Wade Davis, 2011
14.0% – Paul Wilson, 2002
14.0% – Albie Lopez, 2001

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Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles have allowed 19 home runs to opposing cleanup hitters, the most in the majors and more than twice as many as they’ve surrendered to any other spot in the opposing lineup. They’ve been outhomered 19-6 at the #4 spot in the lineup this season.

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Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays pitchers have walked the first batter of an inning 71 times this season, far and away the most in the majors:

71 – Blue Jays
58 – Rangers
55 – Red Sox

That’s 11.8 percent of leadoff batters faced that have walked against Toronto, on pace for the highest percentage since they began tracking the stat in 1974:

11.8% – Blue Jays, 2011
11.6% – Rangers, 1986
11.5% – Reds, 1988

—————————————————————————————————————————– Read the rest of this entry »

Lavarnway continues steady rise in Red Sox system

06.13.11 at 5:59 pm ET
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The Red Sox‘ decision to trade minor league catcher Mike McKenry was driven less by anything that the 26-year-old had done since being acquired from the Rockies at the end of spring training than by the performance of one of the top hitters in the Sox’ minor league system.

McKenry, acquired in exchange for right-hander Daniel Turpen at the end of spring training, had put together a respectable line in Triple-A Pawtucket. He was hitting .274 with a .369 OBP, .421 slugging mark, .790 OPS and three homers in 29 games. But the Sox were willing to send him to Pittsburgh (in exchange for a player to be named or cash) because Ryan Lavarnway gave them little choice but to promote him.

Lavarnway started slowly in Double-A this year, hitting .216 with a .272 OBP, .365 slugging mark and .636 OPS in 18 games in April. Yet those numbers were misleading.

“He wasn’€™t hitting at all in April, but we were getting reports saying, ‘€˜Don’€™t worry about it ‘€“ this guy is smoking the ball,'” said Sox VP of Player Personnel Mike Hazen. “Things started to fall ‘€“ more often, over the wall ‘€“ in May and June.”

Indeed, the 6-foot-4 23-year-old has dominated Double-A pitching after the season’s first month. In 37 games since the start of May, he was hitting .343 with a .408 OBP, .590 slugging mark, .998 OPS, 11 homers and 19 walks. He was hitting for average, hitting for power and controlling the strike zone, something he’s done almost from the moment that he was promoted to Portland almost a year ago.

In 99 games with the Sea Dogs since last summer, Lavarnway had a .284 average, .375 OBP, .503 slugging mark, .878 OPS and 22 homers — marks that are strikingly in line with his performance in parts of four pro seasons, during which he’s hit .281/.373/.503/.876.

“I’€™d say he has a pretty good handle on the competition there. It’€™s time to challenge him,” said Hazen. “This is a pretty good bat here, and he needs to face better pitching.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: mike mckenry, ryan lavarnway,

Sox near deals with seven draft picks

06.13.11 at 12:13 pm ET
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The Red Sox are close to signing their first members of the draft class of 2011.

The team expects to finalize agreements today with three players whom it selected in the 2011 draft, two seniors and a fourth-year junior: 11th-rounder Kevin Brahney, 14th-rounder Mike McCarthy and 24th-rounder Drew Turocy.

UPDATE: The Sox also have agreements in place with sixth-rounder Miguel Pena, ninth-rounder Travis Shaw, 13th-rounder Matty Ott out of LSU and 15th-rounder Braden Kapteyn. All will need to undergo standard physicals and drug tests in order to finalize their agreements; assuming they do so, all seven players are expected to open the year with the Lowell Spinners of the New York-Penn League.

A brief look at each:

6th round (No. 202): Miguel Pena, LHP, San Jacinto Junior College

This marks the third straight year in which Pena has been drafted. He was selected by the Nationals out of high school in the fifth round of the 2009 draft, and by the Padres in the 13th round out of San Jacinto (where Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte both pitched) of last year’€™s selection process. In his second year at San Jac, Pena went 10-3 with a 1.91 ERA, 93 strikeouts and 24 walks in 85 innings.

At 6-foot-2 and 160 pounds, he’€™s slight, but scouting reports suggest that he has a clean delivery that allows him to throw strikes with his fastball (described by Baseball America as an 88-91 mph pitch; though this report suggests that he tops out at 94 mph), curve, slider and changeup. He did reportedly get sent home from the Cape League last summer due to disciplinary reasons.

However, Pena decided that he wanted to move forward in his career, and made clear to the Sox that he was willing to sign quickly for $85,000 — accepting less than he’d been offered the previous two times that he was drafted — in order to begin his professional career. He was particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of doing so in the Sox system, in part based on the glowing recommendations of Sox minor leaguer Garin Cecchini, with whom Pena played during his high school career. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2011 MLB Draft, braden kapteyn, drew turocy, kevin brahney

Report: Red Sox eighth-rounder Senquez Golson unlikely to sign

06.13.11 at 11:48 am ET
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The Red Sox have invested aggressively in recent years to draft and sign two-sport star athletes away from football scholarships at prominent national programs, having done so with players such as Will Middlebrooks (2007 5th round, $925,000), Casey Kelly (2008 1st round, $3 million), Brandon Jacobs (2009 10th round, $750,000) and Kendrick Perkins (2010 6th round, $600,000). But one of the team’s most intriguing draftees of the 2011 draft is showing an initial inclination to go to school.

The Sox selected Senquez Golson out of Pascaguola High School in Mississippi with their eighth-round pick this year. Golson hit .325 with three homers and 25 RBI as a prep senior. He was also a highly regarded cornerback in high school, resulting in a two-sport scholarship offer to Ole Miss.

He has tremendous speed (he was timed running from home to first in 4.0 seconds) and bat speed that creates significant upside, even if his skills are at an early stage of their development since he hasn’t been playing baseball year-round due to his football commitments. The Sox scouted him heavily this spring, and drafted him with the idea that his tools create a significant ceiling.

“This is the athlete that baseball needs. This is the athlete, the football player, that has played baseball, that has skills. He has unbelievable bat speed. He’€™s an 80 [on the scale of 20-80 used by scouts] runner,” said one talent evaluator. “He plays center field like a strong safety. He doesn’€™t have the advancement yet in the outfield or a lot of parts of his game, but that ball goes up and he’€™s running straight to the ball. He doesn’€™t get a good jump on it. He doesn’€™t get good routes. But he has makeup speed. It’€™s almost like he runs to the ball to tackle it. He’€™ll get better at it, but he’€™s just such an exciting athlete out there. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2011 MLB Draft, ole miss, senquez golson,

Closing Time: Red Sox overpower Jays to win ninth straight

06.12.11 at 4:01 pm ET
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It is getting ridiculous.

There was a time this year when the Red Sox offense was failing to fire on all cylinders. In fact, through the first five weeks of the season, the Sox ranked in the bottom half of the American League in runs scored, and were left to rely on the pitching staff to carry them to victories.

No longer. Sox starter Jon Lester was overpowering on Sunday, but really, he could have been terrible and it wouldn’t have mattered in his team’s 14-1 victory. The Red Sox continued an offensive surge that has established them as the best lineup in the majors. In 10 games in the month of June, the Sox are now averaging an unbelievable 8.7 runs per game.

The team has scored at least eight runs in 15 contests this year, most in the majors. Put another way: Through 65 games, the Sox have scored at least eight runs in almost a quarter of their contests. Their record in such games is 15-0.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

David Ortiz continued to to deliver damage from the middle of the lineup, eviscerating a Kyle Drabek fastball for  a three-run homer to right-center and run-scoring double to left-center against left-handed reliever Luis Perez. He is now slugging .624 for the season; in his career, he’s only had one season in which he’s had a higher slugging percentage, having punched in at a .636 mark in a 2006 campaign that saw the slugger hit 54 homers. He’s hit 11 of his 17 homers this season on the road.

Jon Lester turned in an outing that was both dominant and efficient, allowing just one run on two hits while striking out eight batters. He needed just 102 pitches to navigate through eight innings of work. He is now 9-2 on the year, and his ERA dropped a quarter of a point to 3.73.

The left-hander was perfect through the first 3 2/3 innings before giving up a solo homer to Jays slugger Jose Bautista, and the left-hander walked just one hitter, marking the second straight start and third in four outings in which he’s allowed just one free pass. The two hits he allowed also represented a season-low.

Lester had terrific command of a 93-95 mph fastball on the outer half of the plate against right-handers (save for one mislocated heater that Bautista hit out to straightaway center field), and he also featured a devastating cutter that resulted in five swings and misses.

Adrian Gonzalez went 2-for-4 with a homer while driving in a pair of runs. He extended his streak of consecutive games with at least one run batted in to nine, all Sox wins. It is the second longest streak of games with an RBI that the Sox won, behind only a 10-game stretch by Dwight Evans in Sept. 1989.

Gonzalez has now driven in 60 runs in the Sox’ first 65 games, a pace that would yield 150 RBIs in the year. That has only been done three times in Red Sox history, and not since 1949, when both Ted Williams and Vern Stephens plated that many runners.

Kevin Youkilis went 3-for-4 with a two-run homer, double, 4 RBI and two walks. He matched a career-high by reaching base five times in a game.

Dustin Pedroia clubbed an early two-run homer and reached base twice on walks. He now has reached base at least three times in a career-best four straight games, reaching base 14 times in 22 plate appearances during that stretch (.636 OBP). In nine games this month, he has a .522 OBP; he has raised his 2011 OBP by 37 points (from .341 to .378) during the run.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia went 3-for-4 to improve his average to .400 in the month of June.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

J.D. Drew went 0-for-5 while matching a career-high with four strikeouts. He was the only member of the Sox lineup not to have a hit. His average for the season has fallen to .227, while his OPS is at a lowly .667.

Read More: adrian gonzalez, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, J.D Drew

Red Sox at Blue Jays Live Blog — Going for nine straight

06.12.11 at 1:16 pm ET
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The Red Sox and Blue Jays conclude their three-game series in Toronto on Sunday, with the Sox looking to claim their ninth straight victory. For the latest updates and analysis, join the Virtual Pressbox below.

Red Sox at Blue Jays

Sunday’s Red Sox-Blue Jays matchups: Jon Lester vs. Kyle Drabek

06.12.11 at 9:00 am ET
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May 10 seems like eons ago when it comes to the bipolar Red Sox season. With a 17-19 record, the team had yet to reach the .500 mark and was mired in third place, 4 1/2 games behind the rival Yankees in the division. But as much as the Sox don’€™t want to return to the scenarios of May 10, they will be forced to so on Sunday when Jon Lester faces the Blue Jays and their starter Kyle Drabek for a rematch of a 7-6 extra-innings walkoff Blue Jays win back on that day two months ago.

The game was eventually decided by the bullpens (David Cooper hit a walkoff sacrifice fly off Matt Albers in the bottom of the 10th), but that’€™s only because neither starter was especially strong. Neither Lester nor Drabek went past the sixth inning, and in fact Lester’€™s 5 1/3 innings pitched represented his shortest outing of the season thus far although he threw for a similar span in his first start on Opening Day. The Boston lefty allowed three runs in the first inning and two more  on Jose Bautista and J.P. Arencibia home runs the rest of the way in his no-decision. The righty Drabek, pitching in his debut against the Red Sox, allowed four runs, three of which came on an Adrian Gonzalez two-run home run and a solo shot by David Ortiz.

The outing broke Lester’€™s streak of quality starts at Rogers Centre, dating back to the beginning of the 2009 season. In four starts in Toronto between the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Lester had not allowed more than three earned runs while pitching fewer than six innings. His start Sunday will be his 10th start in that ballpark, the most he has made in any stadium outside Fenway Park.

That stat is undoubtedly aided of course by Toronto’€™s place in the AL East as is the fact that each hitter on the Blue Jays active roster has faced Lester at least seven times. That being said, the team’€™s production against Lester is all across the board. For instance while Corey Patterson (7-for-15, 1 HR) and Jayson Nix (4-for-9, 2 HR) have rocked the left-hander, Bautista (7-for-31, 8 strikeouts), despite his bomb on May 10, and Aaron Hill (.069, 9 strikeouts) have struggled at the plate against Lester.  Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Jon Lester, kyle drabek,
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