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Epstein: Path to improvement for Red Sox isn’t the trade market (yet)

05.13.11 at 8:14 pm ET
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NEW YORK — Red Sox GM Theo Epstein would rather be on the road right now, continuing to scout amateur talent in anticipation of a 2011 draft in which his club has four of the first 40 picks. Instead, he is in the Bronx for a first-hand look at his 17-20 club which is, by his own account, “underperforming as a team.”

The question that he and the Sox decision makers have been puzzling over for the season to date is how (whether?) can the team improve? How can the pattern of underperformance and the inconsistency be fixed?

For now, the trade market offers few solutions. The Sox look for upgrades on a year-round basis — whether the offseason, spring training, the first month of the season, the days leading up to July 31. But the trade market has yet to truly take shape. And so, even if there were an opportunity for the club to improve by going outside the organzation, it likely won’t present itself until after May.

Only once under Epstein (in 2003, when the team traded for Byung-Hyun Kim in May) have the Sox enacted a major deal in the season’s first two months. The GM did not seem to expect that the 2011 season would mark the second such occasion. Instead, he believes that it is up to the current Sox roster to improve its play in order to vault the team from its season-long sub-.500 malaise into a level spot with the cream of the AL East crop. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: jarrod saltalamacchia, Jed Lowrie, jose reyes, Theo Epstein

Red Sox at Yankees, Live Blog — Friday the 13th edition

05.13.11 at 7:03 pm ET
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Red Sox vs. Yankees

Red Sox minor league depth updates: Kalish, Navarro, Linares

05.13.11 at 6:41 pm ET
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NEW YORK — Just three weeks ago, the Red Sox appeared to be a team for whom minor league position-playing depth would be a strength. The team featured four potential big leaguers in its outfield for Triple-A Pawtucket, where Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick were both regarded as potentially viable big league starters (if not now, then in the near future), and both Daniel Nava and Juan Carlos Linares had emerged as legitimate depth options with sophisticated approaches at the plate and, in Linares’ case, the ability to play all three outfield positions.

Meanwhile, in the infield, Yamaico Navarro had carried forward his excellent performance in the Dominican Winter League, showing an advanced approach at the plate (with level strikeout and walk totals for Pawtucket) along with the ability to play as many as six defensive positions (third, short, second and three outfield positions).

Things have changed. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: juan carlos linares, ryan kalish, yamaico navarro,

Friday’s Red Sox-Yankees matchups: Clay Buchholz vs. Bartolo Colon

05.13.11 at 3:01 pm ET
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The Red Sox and Yankees open their second head-to-head series of the season Friday night when Clay Buchholz matches up against former Sox righty Bartolo Colon. Buchholz, who is 3-3 with a 4.19 ERA on the season, will be looking for his third straight win. He has allowed just two runs on 10 hits and three walks over 11 2/3 innings in his last two starts.

Buchholz faced the Yankees back on April 9 and was rocked to the tune of five runs (four earned) on eight hits and three walks over 3 2/3 innings. That outing was punctuated by a three-run homer off the bat of Russell Martin that knocked Buchholz out of the game.

Buchholz has never fared well against the Yankees, as he is 1-3 with a 6.25 ERA in six career starts against them. Current Yankees are hitting .317 against him, led by Robinson Cano‘€™s .529 mark in 17 at-bats. Mark Teixeira has two homers and five RBIs in 12 ABs. One of the only Yankees who has struggled with Buchholz is Curtis Granderson, who 0-for-8 with four strikeouts, although he also has four walks.

Colon, who is 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA this year, came out of the bullpen against the Sox on April 8 and ended up with the loss after giving up two runs (one earned) over 4 1/3 innings. That marked the first time in six years he faced the Sox, against whom he is 8-10 with a 4.13 ERA in 23 career appearances.

Current Sox are batting just .171 against Colon. David Ortiz has had a particularly tough time, going 5-for-41 (.122) with 15 strikeouts. Adrian Gonzalez, who is 3-for-10 with a homer, is the only player hitting .300 or better against him. Jason Varitek has also had some success, as he is hitting .273 with two homers and four RBIs in 33 ABs.


David Ortiz (45): .122/.200/.146, 1 RBI, 4 walks, 15 strikeouts

Mike Cameron (38): .088/.184/.176, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 4 walks, 11 strikeouts

Jason Varitek (35): .273/.314/.545, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 1 walk, 13 strikeouts

Carl Crawford (32): .194/.219/.258, 2 RBI, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts

Adrian Gonzalez (10): .300/.300/.600, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 5 strikeouts

J.D. Drew (9): .222/.222/.222, 2 RBI, 3 strikeouts

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (4): .250/.250/.500, 1 RBI, 2 strikeouts

Kevin Youkilis (4): .000/.250/.000, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts

Jacoby Ellsbury (2): .000/.000/.000

Dustin Pedroia (2): .000/.000/.000, 1 strikeout

Jed Lowrie and Darnell McDonald have never faced Colon.


Alex Rodriguez (18 career plate appearances): .375 BA/.444 OBP/.563 SLG, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 walks, 1 strikeout

Derek Jeter (17): .357/.471/.357, 2 RBI, 2 walks, 1 strikeout

Robinson Cano (17): .529/.529/.706, 1 strikeout

Nick Swisher (14): .200/.385/.200, 1 RBI, 3 walks, 1 strikeout

Mark Teixeira (13): .333/.385/.833, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts

Curtis Granderson (12): .000/.333/.000, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts

Brett Gardner (9): .125/.125/.125, 2 strikeouts

Francisco Cervelli (6): .500/.500/.500, 3 RBI, 1 strikeout

Jorge Posada (5): .000/.200/.000, 1 walk

Russell Martin (5): .200/.200/.800, 1 HR, 3 RBI

Ramiro Pena (2): .500/.500/1.000

Andruw Jones (2): .500/.500/1.000

Eduardo Nunez has never faced Buchholz.

Read More: bartolo colon, Clay Buchholz, Red Sox, Yankees

Comparing the Red Sox, Yankees lineups (the instant gratification edition)

05.13.11 at 2:18 pm ET
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This sure doesn’t seem like the ‘Battle of the Titans,’ does it?

The Red Sox and Yankees are beginning a three-game series Friday night at Yankee Stadium, with New York standing at 20-15, one game in back of first-place Tampa Bay, and the Red Sox sitting at 17-20, five games back. In the last 10 games the Yanks are 4-6, with the Sox having played .500 ball over that span.

Still, when these sort of moments arrive, regardless of the early-season ups and downs, these are the two clubs who will always be compared and contrasted. So, let’s execute our MLB-given right and do the somewhat tired, but always interesting, position-by-position breakdown. This, however, will solely look at who is currently playing better as the teams execute another Bronx get-together.

(To make clear, this is identifying who is hotter, not better …)


Advantage: Adrian Gonzalez. Mark Teixeira is starting to heat up, riding a five-game hit streak, which has seen the almost-Red Sox go 7-for-19 with two home runs. But Gonzalez is a notch above. The Sox first baseman is hitting .458 over the stretch, with an OPS of  1.500 (only behind Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta).


Advantage: Robinson Cano. Cano hasn’t exactly been tearing it up, hitting .222 over the past five games, but he has hit in three straight games and carries a batting average of .291 with nine homers. Dustin Pedroia is showing signs of pulling out of his funk, sporting an on-base percentage of .400 with a batting average of .250 in the past five games, but is coming off a game in which he saw his four-game hit streak snapped with an 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.’


Advantage: Derek Jeter. After a horrifically slow start, the Yanks’ captain has raised his batting average to .270 by hitting .311 thus far in May. In New York’s final two games in Texas last weekend, Jeter went 6-for-11 with two homers. Jed Lowrie, who missed the Red Sox’ final game in Toronto due to sickness, has cooled off somewhat, although he has hit safely in seven of his last eight games. Lowrie has a single hit in each of his last four starts.


Advantage: Draw. After raising his average to .257 with two hits last Sunday, Kevin Youkilis only has one hit in the past three games, and still hasn’t hit a home run since April 27. Alex Rodriguez has hit safely in eight of his last 10 games, although all but one have included just a single hit. Over the past five games Rodriguez’ OPS is .654, with Youkilis’ OPS standing at .679 over the same time span.


Advantage: Yankees. After a hot start, Russell Martin has gone cold for the Yankees, having gone 1-for-15 in his last five games. The combination of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek has only been slightly better. The edge, however,  has to go to the Yanks here judging by overall performance, with New York’s catchers (Francisco Cervelli has hit in his last three appearances) managing the second-best OPS in baseball, while the Sox enter the series with the second-worst.


Advantage: Brett Gardner. Both left fielders started out terribly, with the Yankees’ Gardner and Carl Crawford of the Red Sox both sitting at the bottom of all eligible players in OPS for much of April. That has changed. Crawford is hitting .356 with an OPS of .836 for the month, while Gardner’s last 11 games has seen in him .419 with an OPS of 1.010. Most notably, the Yanks’ outfielder has hit .533 with an OPS of 1.229 in his last four games.


Advantage: Jacoby Ellsbury. A tough one considering Curtis Granderson’s continued power (he how has 12 home runs), and the fact the outfielder has multi-hit games in three of his last six starts. Ellsbury, however, has hit .360 in May, and is fresh off a 19-game hit streak.


Advantage: J.D. Drew. While 2011 has been classified as a disappointment for Drew thus far, it should be noted that his bat has started to come alive a bit. In the past four games, the Sox outfielder is hitting .333 (having hit in all of them) with an on-base percentage of .444. He reached base three times in the last game in Toronto. Meanwhile, Swisher is hitting .200 for the month, although he does have a single hit in each of the past five games.

Kevin Millar on M&M: Don’t know which way to go with John Lackey

05.13.11 at 12:31 pm ET
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MLB Network analyst Kevin Millar made his weekly appearance on the Mut & Merloni show Friday morning to talk about the still-struggling Red Sox. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Said Millar: “It’s like they’re in mud. ‘€¦ It’s like they’re not going anywhere.”

The Sox are three games under .500 as they prepare to take on the Yankees for a three-game series in New York. Meanwhile, the Yankees have fallen out of first place in the American League East. This has taken some of the shine off this series.

“I don’t know where this rivalry’s at right now,” Millar said. “I don’t know. I was just asking that question: Is this the least-hyped series against the Yankees in the last few years? They’re really kind of just there, going into a nice weekend series with the Yankees. Maybe this will ignite both clubs. We haven’t seen a good brawl in a while.”

Added Millar: “You need something in this series. Either someone’s got to come out and throw the ball unbelievable or some hitter’s got to go out and get nine hits in this series and drive in 12, but we need to see something, a sparkplug in this series.”

Millar has been preaching patience with this team, but he said the Sox can’t continue at this pace.

“It’s not early anymore,” he said. “Is it early? Of course ‘€” we’ve got a bazillion games left. But it’s middle of May. We need to start going. Someone needs to start clicking. Who’s going to lead this squad? And listen, it all starts with starting pitching.”

Much has been made of John Lackey‘s struggles. After his latest rough start in Toronto on Wednesday night, Lackey implied that personal problems are affecting him.

“We’re human beings a players,” Millar said. “There’s other things that go on in our lives. What John Lackey is battling behind the scenes is really no one’s business. Obviously, it’s a big problem. When you’re dealing with a real family situation, it’s devastating.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Dustin Pedroia, john lackey, Kevin Millar, Theo Epstein

Nuggetpalooza: Middle of the plate. Belt high.

05.13.11 at 10:53 am ET
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I’m pretty sure that this is more than you wanted to know about pitching in the middle of the strike zone. It often doesn’t end well for the pitcher and the results have been awful for the Red Sox so far in 2011:

* – Through May 11, major league hitters had seen over 28,000 pitches (about 18 percent of all pitches thrown) that could be considered belt-high and over the middle of the plate (“middle/middle”). And hitters have taken advantage of those pitches, too, hitting .315 with a .594 slugging percentage and a home run every 23 at bats. On all other pitches, the league has hit .222, slugged just .329, and homered once every 54 at bats.

Really, it’s about what you would expect.

Now let’s look at it in terms of my pitch-by-pitch scoring system: “Middle/Middle” pitches have averaged +1.47 points per pitch while all other pitches have averaged just +0.11.

“But Gary, if hitters are ripping middle/middle pitches, why is the quality points per pitch average BETTER on those pitches”? Well, because the pitcher gets credit for every strike (swinging, called, or fouled off) but never gets docked for balls, walks, or hit batsmen.

But when Red Sox pitchers have thrown “middle/middle” this season, they’ve averaged just +1.30 points per pitch, second worst in the majors:

+1.25 – Astros
+1.30 – Red Sox
+1.31 – Rangers
+1.34 – Royals

Opponents have hit .331 with 20 homers (one every 19.8 at bats) against Red Sox’ middle/middle tosses. The Giants, with pitchers like Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, and Brian Wilson, have been most effective on middle/middle pitches so far:

+1.70 – Giants
+1.62 – A’s
+1.61 – Nationals
+1.61 – Indians
+1.59 – Yankees

There are a couple of ways to be more effective than average despite middle/middle location. A pitcher can have great “stuff”, or he can be lucky.  Here are the top individual pitchers so far this season in terms of average points on middle/middle pitches (min. 100 such pitches):

+2.10 – Philip Humber, White Sox
+2.03 – Tim Lincecum, Giants
+1.98 – Kyle Lohse, Cardinals
+1.95 – Jaime Garcia, Cardinals
+1.93 – Josh Beckett, Red Sox

Also in the top ten: Josh Johnson, FLA (+1.86), CC Sabathia, NYY (+1.84), and Jered Weaver, LAA (+1.79). With an exception or two, it’s a who’s who of “stuff”.

What about the other Red Sox pitchers?

+1.42 – Daisuke Matsuzaka
+1.03 – Jon Lester
+1.02 – John Lackey
+0.83 – Clay Buchholz

Notes: Buchholz’ (+0.83) ranks fourth worst in the majors and OPS allowed on middle/middle (1.180) is second highest in AL (Carl Pavano, 1.182) …That’s quite a regression from his +1.52 average in 2010…Last year, over 15% of swings against Buchholz’ middle/middle pitches did not make contact. This year: Just 5.2%… Toronto was able to finish off 13 at bats on middle/middle pitches vs. Lackey on Wednesday night, going 6-for-13 with a home run…Lackey had allowed 6+ hits in a start on middle/middle pitches only once since joining the Red Sox prior to Wednesday… Matsuzaka has coaxed just three misses out of 70 swings (4.2%) on middle/middle pitches so far in 2011 after 11.1% last season.

Big props to JoeLefkowitz.com and his Pitch F/X resource for making this research possible.

Daisuke Matsuzaka embracing additional rest in Red Sox rotation

05.12.11 at 2:05 pm ET
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TORONTO — Speaking before the Red Sox series finale against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre Wednesday, Daisuke Matsuzaka said he embraced the idea of getting additional rest prior to his next start, which is scheduled to take place Monday at Fenway Park against the Orioles. The righty will be working on seven days rest, having last gone Sunday when he allowed four runs over six innings.

“I don’t consider any part of it negative,” Matsuzaka told WEEI.com through translator Kenta Yamada. “More rest means I get more chance for preparations. It’s more of a break so I can get better prepared for the next game.”

Matsuzaka insinuated he will use the extra time to continue to work on aspects of his game, such as fine-tuing his two-seam fastball. The pitcher identifies the pitch as the biggest difference-maker for him, allowing him to make it deeper into games, as was evidenced in him throwing it almost half the time during his eight-inning win over the Angels on April 23.

And while he said that the offering — which he didn’t possess in his repertoire prior to coming to the United States — isn’t where he would like it to be, it was the reason he was able to make it through six innings in his last start.

“What’s different from first year is that I’m using more of a two-seamer, putting more action on the ball and pitching to contact. But I don’t think it’s going well yet,” said Matsuzaka, who used the pitch as his primary weapon against the Twins, throwing it 33 times. “Like last outing I pitched 34 pitches, but after that I was able to pitch to contact and finish the sixth inning. That was a moment I could see the improvement. If I pitched like before it would have been different, maybe just getting through five innings.”

The start against Baltimore will mark the third time this season Matsuzaka has worked on six or more days rest, having totaled a 2.25 ERA over 12 innings in such situations.

“I can try out many different things throughout the pitching. I’m just trying not to think negatively about my rest,” he said.

For more Red Sox coverage, see the team page at weei.com/redsox.

Peter Gammons on M&M: ‘There’s something funny about the passion of this team’

05.11.11 at 12:50 pm ET
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Hall of Fame baseball analyst Peter Gammons made his weekly appearance on the Mut & Merloni show Wednesday to talk about the Red Sox. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Gammons said he’s trying to figure out why the Sox can’t seem to put things together and get over the .500 mark.

“There’s something funny about the passion of this team,” he said. “I still don’t see the offense. They haven’t scored 10 runs in a game all year. I don’t believe they’ve been ahead by four runs at the end of the fourth inning all year. So, games have really been struggles for them.

“They probably will click on all cylinders. But for the time being ‘€¦ Is it right to say that it’s almost like there’s a little chip missing here? I really sense that, that there’s a personality chip missing that’s different than what they maintained last year when they overachieved.”

Added Gammons: “I can’t put my finger on it. I thought about it all last week. I kept thinking, ‘Jeez, there’s just something funny about the way this team is playing.’ Whether they need one more guy to kind of come in and stir things up with [Dustin] Pedroia, I don’t know. That’s sort of the way I feel. But I don’t see anybody in that division running off and winning 100 games, so they’re in a very good position if they do get hot to make up whatever they need to make up.”

One player who does not lack intensity is Carl Crawford. “I don’t think he realized what it would be like to come to Boston and start out struggling,” Gammons said. “He cares so much, he practices so hard that I think he just drives himself into the ground. But now that he’s starting to relax ‘€¦ He’s obviously very popular. Every time he does anything, his teammates’ reaction to him is wonderful, it really is.”

John Lackey‘s failure to be a stopper has made him a target for critics. Gammons said he would like to see Lackey take more responsibility for his struggles. Said Gammons: “I’ll admit that that game [the 13-inning, 5-3 loss to the Angels on May 4], having to play that game for 16 hours or whatever it was, that deflates you. But that’s a time when John Lackey has to step up and say, ‘OK, here I am.’ ‘€¦ That wasn’t the case. They need him to be more consistent. He has not been what he was brought here to be, pure and simple.

“The only thing that surprised me is I’ve never really heard him say, ‘I’m really mad about the way I’m pitching.’ You always hear, ‘Well, the ball found a hole,’ or something happened, a bad call. He should be too good for that stuff.”

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Read More: benjie molina, carl crawford, David Ross, Dustin Pedtroia

Wednesday’s Red Sox-Blue Jays matchups: John Lackey vs. Jesse Litsch

05.11.11 at 10:41 am ET
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John Lackey will look to rebound from a horrendous start last Thursday against the Angels when he takes on the Blue Jays Wednesday night. He gave up eight runs on 10 hits and three walks over four innings in that last outing, picking up his fourth loss of the season in the process. It marked the third time this season Lackey has given up at least six runs, although it was his first non-quality start in four outings, as he had allowed just three runs in his previous three starts combined.

Lackey is 4-5 with a 4.58 ERA in 15 career starts against the Blue Jays. He faced them four times last year and did not fare well, as he came away with a 1-2 record and 8.61 ERA.

Current Jays are batting .254 against Lackey. Adam Lind has absolutely destroyed him, as he is 10-for-18 with five RBIs. Luckily for Lackey, Lind will likely miss the game with back spasms, according to the Toronto Sun. Jose Bautista has two home runs, but those are his only two hits in 11 at-bats (although he also has five walks). Six of the eight Jays with nine or more ABs against Lackey are hitting under .200.

Getting the start for Toronto will be Jesse Litsch, who is 3-2 with a 4.04 ERA this season. Litsch has gone at least six innings in five of his six starts this year, but he has yet to go more than 6 1/3 in any of those outings. Most recently, he picked up a victory over the Tigers by allowing one run on four hits and three walks over 6 1/3 innings.

Litsch won four of his first five decisions against the Sox, but he’€™s lost the last two, including his only start against them last season. Current Sox are hitting .262 against him. Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Darnell McDonald are all batting at least .333 with a homer. Jason Varitek and Jed Lowrie have struggled the most, as they are a combined 1-for-15. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Blue Jays, Jesse Litsch, john lackey, Red Sox
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