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Closing Time: Red Sox 5, A’s 3

04.20.11 at 6:47 pm ET
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After much searching, the Red Sox discovered the magic formula for winning baseball. Though he gave up a home run on the first pitch he threw, Clay Buchholz settled down and did not permit another A’s run over the rest of his outing. While strike zone difficulties knocked him out of the game in the sixth inning, Buchholz nonetheless became the fifth straight Sox pitcher to throw five-plus innings while allowing one or no runs, as the Sox beat the A’s, 5-3.

The run of Sox starting pitching is historic. The last time that the Sox went five straight starts in a single season with one or fewer runs allowed in five or more innings was 1947. Unsurprisingly, the Sox have enjoyed their best stretch of the year in the process, winning four of the five contests.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Jed Lowrie apparently brought the cape with him to the West Coast. One day after the shortstop went 0-for-4 to see his seven-game hitting streak end, he started a new one in impressive fashion, going 2-for-4 with a two-run homer. In fact, his day could have been even more impressive, but in his first at-bat of the game, Lowrie was robbed of an extra-base hit when A’s right fielder David DeJesus made a leaping catch in the right field corner. (DeJesus later continued his anti-Lowrie campaign, making a tremendous diving catch in foul territory down the right field line against the infielder.) Even though he sat for much of the first two weeks of the season, Lowrie — who started at third base for the Sox, with Kevin Youkilis serving as DH and David Ortiz out of the lineup — is now second on the Sox with three homers and leads the team with 11 RBI.

–Buchholz was effective if not overpowering. The right-hander gave up a homer to Coco Crisp on his first pitch of the game (the first time that Crisp has ever homered on a game’s first pitch), but then prevented the A’s from further damage. The A’s had their opportunities, but Buchholz held them hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Buchholz did, however, struggle with his command (though it’s worth noting that he appeared to take issue with the strike zone of home plate ump Mike DeMuro). One outing removed from walking a career-high five, he issued four free passes, resulting in his pitch count getting run up to 102 in his 5 1/3 innings. That, in turn, left him without a quality start through his first four turns on the mound.

Daniel Bard reinforced his place as the reliever entrusted with getting the Sox’ most important outs. Manager Terry Francona went to him with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the sixth inning, with the Sox in possession of an increasingly shaky 4-1 lead. Bard blew away Pennington with three straight 96 mph four-seam fastballs, and then, after Crisp hit a ball that sliced foul by inches down the left field line, Bard retired the Oakland center fielder on a pop up. He pitched another scoreless inning as well.

Bard, who has now stranded all five inherited runners he’s received this year, entered a game as early as the sixth inning for the first time since last April 23. That he can impact a game in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings adds to the case that he is the most valuable reliever in the Sox bullpen.

Marco Scutaro, who had been on the bench for the prior four games, swung well in his return to the lineup. He went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles, and was stopped from collecting a third hit only by a terrific diving stop by shortstop Cliff Pennington.

Kevin Youkilis is driving the ball with consistency, having collected five extra-base hits (three homers, two doubles) and driving in six in his last half-dozen games. He gave the Sox a 2-1 lead with a solo shot in the top of the fourth. Youkilis also has seven runs in his last six games.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–Just hours after Peter Gammons suggested that “one of the things that’€™s killed [the Red Sox] is that Jacoby Ellsbury has forgotten what his job is in baseball, which is to get on base and run,” the center fielder (batting ninth once again) matched a career high by striking out three times, all looking. Ellsbury now has 14 strikeouts in 54 at-bats this year, and after an 0-for-4 day, is hitting .182.

There was an upside to Ellsbury’s struggles, however. J.D. Drew impacted the game from the leadoff spot, hitting a solo homer (his first of the year).

–Sox pitchers continued to perform in spectacular fashion with Jason Varitek behind the plate, as the team now has a 2.33 ERA with the catcher behind the plate. However, Varitek’s offense has remained virtually non-existent thus far. After an 0-for-4 day, he is now hitting .050 (1-for-20).

Bobby Jenks had his second terrible outing in his last three appearances. Last Friday, he set one career high by allowing four earned runs and matched another by permitting four hits. Entrusted with a 5-1 lead in the eighth, Jenks recorded just two outs and allowed another run while allowing three singles and walking a batter. That, in turn, forced the Sox to bring Jonathan Papelbon into the game in the eighth inning.

Read More: bobby jenks, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Jacoby Ellsbury

Peter Gammons on M&M: ‘Jacoby Ellsbury has forgotten what his job is’

04.20.11 at 4:42 pm ET
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MLB Network and NESN analyst Peter Gammons joined the Mut & Merloni Show on Wednesday to discuss the state of affairs with the Red Sox. He suggested that the issues with Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate may require some kind of change in the coming weeks, discussed Jed Lowrie‘s potential as an everyday shortstop and gave his view of where the Sox might find left-handed help for their bullpen.

He also discussed the Sox’ leadoff woes, which became pronounced while Carl Crawford was occupying that spot for eight games. Gammons suggested that the Sox never envisioned having Crawford hit leadoff, and that the situation was forced by the fact that Jacoby Ellsbury was not taking the approach needed to occupy the top spot in the order.

“I don’€™t think there was ever an intention to hit [Crawford] leadoff. Never did. I thought it was third or fifth,” said Gammons. “I think one of the things that’€™s killed them is that Jacoby Ellsbury has forgotten what his job is in baseball, which is to get on base and run. His four home runs, to me, are one of the worst things that’€™s happened to this team early in the season, because I think it’€™s encouraged him to get wider and wider with his swing.

“They need him hitting leadoff. They need him to get on base 37 percent of the time or 38 percent of the time. I think he’€™s kind of gotten away from that. I appreciate he didn’€™t play for a year, and I understand how difficult it is to come back, but I think that’€™s sort of been overlooked. The guy who’€™s supposed to hit leadoff isn’€™t getting on base.”

Ellsbury entered Wednesday’s game hitting .196 with a .281 OBP, .451 slugging mark and .732 OPS, along with a team-leading four homers. He has walked five times and struck out on 11 occasions in 57 plate appearances this year.

Gammons also suggested that the defensive struggles of Jarrod Saltalamacchia could soon reach critical mass. Given the questions about how often the 39-year-old Jason Varitek can catch while remaining healthy and productive, the Sox may be in a situation where they are left with few desirable alternatives if Saltalamacchia doesn’t improve behind the dish.

“The Saltalamacchia question is something that’€™s going to continue to be raised here. I know that [Sox manager Terry Francona] is trying to give him a breather, get him established again, but it’€™s a problem,” said Gammons. “You look around, though ‘€“ where do they go to get someone else? Their doctors never would have passed Russell Martin (who signed with the Yankees as a free agent) last winter. They red-flagged him as soon as he became a free agent, as much as some of the people in their front office liked him.

“So the question is going to be, if they really feel that this is an issue, and not hitting, but the defensive part, the throwing, do you just go immediately to (Double-A catcher) [Tim] Federowicz, who’€™s the best catch-and-throw guy in the organization, and hope that he pulls a [Doug] Mirabelli, and just hits fastballs in the middle half of the plate into the screen once in a while? This is an issue that in the next two weeks is going to be addressed, and I don’€™t know which direction it’€™s going.”

Gammons expressed dismay that Saltalamacchia’s struggles have quickly become an issue for the Sox.

“He’€™s such a good guy. He cares so much. He tries so hard,” said Gammons. “[But] you just can’€™t have this on a championship team, especially when a big part of that championship team is built around power pitchers who are in a couple of cases struggling for their identity. I would be shocked now if Varitek doesn’€™t catch [Josh] Beckett all the time now. Clearly, they’€™ve made the decision that he’€™s going to catch [Daisuke] Matsuzaka, whose earned run average is massively different with Varitek catching. But I don’€™t think they can afford to let Jason go out and try to catch 120, 130 games.”

Yet while Saltalamacchia’s defense (and, for that matter, offense) have both been concerns, and the Sox don’t have a catcher who is clearly ready to assume an everyday major league role in their system, Gammons noted that there aren’t viable alternatives on the trade market. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bengie Molina, Jacoby Ellsbury, jarrod saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek

Red Sox vs. A’s Live Blog, 4/20/11

04.20.11 at 3:35 pm ET
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It’s afternoon baseball for the Red Sox today, and WEEI.com’s cast of characters (and friends) will be giving updates from the contest between the A’s and Red Sox. Click below for updates and on-the-spot analysis as the game unfolds and as the Sox look to salvage a split of the two-game series in Oakland.

Red Sox vs. A’s Live Blog

Wednesday’s Red Sox-Athletics matchups: Clay Buchholz vs. Gio Gonzalez

04.20.11 at 11:00 am ET
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After dropping their first game of the Series to Oakland Tuesday night, the Red Sox fell to 0-7 on the road this season, making them the only winless team on the road in the majors. They’ll look to rebound quickly with a mid-week afternoon game that pits Clay Buchholz against Oakland’s Gio Gonzalez.

After a bad start agains the Yankees in which Buchholz gave up four earned runs and only lasted 3.2 innings, his last start was certainly an improvement. He lasted five innings in his third start, allowing only three runs against the Blue Jays.

This Oakland lineup has had limited at-bats against Buchholz, but most hold above .300 batting averages against him. The most impressive of which is former Yankee Hideki Matsui, who is hitting .429 off Buchholz with a double and three walks.

Gonzalez has done very well for the A’s thus far this season with a 2-0 record and a 0.47 ERA. He has allowed only one run all season, and in his last outing pitched an impressive six innings of work against the Tigers on Thursday, striking out six and not allowing a run.

Read the rest of this entry »

Francona: Sox are trying to play Jason Varitek as Saltalamacchia tries ‘to earn those stripes’

04.19.11 at 3:15 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona, in his weekly interview on The Big Show, acknowledged that he has been trying to increase Jason Varitek’s playing time in recent games because of his strengths in working with a pitching staff. Francona said that he talked with starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia about the idea that it would take time for members of the pitching staff to become as comfortable with him as they are with the longtime Sox catcher.

“I don’€™t think that is a knock on Salty. I told Salty last week, ‘€˜Right now, you’€™re trying to earn those stripes,’€™” said Francona. “I think sometimes a catcher can put down the same signs, but depending on who it is, the pitcher throws with a little more commitment. I think Tek has earned that. It’€™s always going to be hard for the next guy to come in to compare themselves, the way the game’€™s being run, with Tek. That’€™s been Tek’€™s strength for so long. He certainly didn’€™t get dumber. … You’€™re talking about one of the very best who’€™s probably ever played this game. They don’€™t come along very often.”

Francona noted that Varitek’s workload needs to be managed at this stage of his career, but noted that he has been increasing his recent usage of him. Saltalamacchia started eight of the Sox’ first nine games, but Varitek has been in the lineup for four of the last seven games. Entering Tuesday, Sox pitchers had a 2.40 ERA throwing to Varitek, and a 7.29 ERA with Saltalamacchia.

Asked to what degree he was trying to balance Varitek’s age with the desire to have him work with pitchers, Francona responded, “I’€™d be lying about that if I didn’€™t say I was thinking about it right now. We’€™ve obviously tried to get him in there a little bit more just because of some of the strengths you guys were talking about. I’€™ve got to be a little bit careful about running him out there too much. He has gotten a lot of wear and tear. We don’€™t want to reach for too much and get him hurt. Then we’€™re really in a bind. We’€™ve tried to not have him go back to back days so we can keep him fresh and do the things he can do.”

Saltalamacchia will be behind the place for John Lackey’s start on Tuesday in Oakland.

Francona also addressed several other topics. Among them: Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: jarrod saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie, marco scutaro

Tuesday’s Red Sox-Athletics matchups: John Lackey vs. Brett Anderson

04.19.11 at 1:52 pm ET
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Heading into a week-long West Coast swing, the Red Sox finally seem to have put some of the puzzle pieces together after taking three of four games from the Blue Jays over the weekend. After an impressive start by Daisuke Matsuzaka on Marathon Monday, John Lackey will look to prove his worth to this rotation as well, as he takes on Brett Anderson and the Oakland Athletics.

After a rain-out during the Rays series last week, manager Terry Francona chose to skip Lackey’s third start in an effort to keep the rest of the pitching rotation intact.  This start will be an important one for Lackey, who has suffered lackluster results thus far this year. Going 1-1 so far and being hit hard in both of his starts has garnered him an unimpressive 15.58 ERA on the young season.

However, Lackey has fared well in Oakland throughout his career. With a record of 8-4 and a 2.92 ERA, he has more road wins in the Oakland Coliseum than any other park. Overall, he’s 17-5 with a 2.90 ERA in 202 innings (31 starts) against the A’s, his most wins and innings against any club.

Of the current Oakland roster, Mark Ellis has the most experience against Lackey with 69 plate appearances. Ellis is hitting .254 against him with seven doubles but has also struck out 10 times against the Sox right-hander.

Brett Anderson has been impressive in his five career starts against the Red Sox, going 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA and 28 strikeouts against Boston — his second-highest strikeout total against any major league team. With an 0-1 record so far this season, Anderson has been the victim of poor run support as his ERA on the year is an outstanding 2.29 over 19 2/3 innings. In no game has he allowed more than two runs. Read the rest of this entry »

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John Kruk on M&M: Carl Crawford ‘thinks he’s the worst player in baseball’

04.19.11 at 12:59 pm ET
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ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk, in his weekly interview on the Mut & Merloni Show, suggested that the Red Sox‘ three-game winning streak against the Blue Jays gave up glimpse of what he expected from the club.

“Everyone wants to count them out after 10 games, but they’€™re too good,” said Kruk. “They’€™re too good to count them out at any time of the season.”

Even so, Kruk acknowledged that he does have some questions about the club, including the team’s catching situation.

Through the first 15 games of the season, Red Sox pitchers have a 2.40 ERA with Jason Varitek behind the plate and a 7.29 mark with Jarrod Saltalamacchia calling signals. Kruk suggested that he doesn’t think the disparity is a coincidence.

[Josh] Beckett and Daisuke [Matsuzaka], their best starts of the year just happened to be with Varitek behind the plate? I don’€™t think so,” said Kruk. “First of all, the thing with Jarrod Saltalamacchia is this. He’€™s never established himself as an everyday catcher. All we heard about when he was in Atlanta was, ‘€˜Oh, this guy is going to be the second coming of Johnny Bench ‘€“ switch-hitter with power to both sides, he can call a game, he can throw.’€™ He’€™s never proven it. You wonder why a guy who was supposed to be this great has been with his third organization already at such a young age. There has to be something there where two other organizations felt this guy isn’€™t an everyday catcher, we can get by with someone else.

“To me, the thing that Varitek does back there with that pitching staff, they trust him. They know that when he puts a finger down, there’€™s a reason why he wants that pitch and they throw it,” Kruk added. “Saltalmacchia puts a finger down and they’€™re like, ‘€˜Uh-oh, why does he want this?’€™ There’€™s questions. Everything is questioned with a catcher you don’€™t trust. You don’€™t have full faith in him because you haven’€™t spent a lot of time with him. Can he develop into that? I don’€™t know.”

At the same time, Kruk said that manager Terry Francona has a difficult decision about how to manage his catching situation, given that Varitek (at age 39) is at a stage of his career where his playing time needs to be limited.

“Francona has to be really smart with [Varitek],” said Kruk. “If he tries to throw him out there four, five days in a row, that could be devastating to the rest of his career.”

Kruk also expressed surprise that Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez appeared to be trying to pull the ball during the series against the Jays, rather than using his natural swing to drive the ball the other way. Even so, Kruk expected that Gonzalez would make an adjustment to achieve his typical results.

Carl Crawford was another matter. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, carl crawford, jarrod saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek

Nuggetpalooza: Three Straight Wins!

04.19.11 at 12:08 pm ET
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Just a few notes following the Red Sox‘ first three game winning streak of the season:

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* – Over the last three games, Boston hitters forced Toronto starters into high pitch counts in the first inning: 37 on Saturday, 19 on Sunday, and 32 on Monday. Those 88 first inning pitches seen is the most in the majors over a three game stretch since 2006:

91 – Boston (June 27-28-29, 2006)
88 – Boston (April 16-17-18, 2011)
86 – Colorado (April 2-3-4, 2007)
80 – San Diego (April 8-9-10, 2009)
79 – Arizona (July 17-18-19, 2010)

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* – The Red Sox won the final two games of the series by seven and eight runs. The last time the Red Sox won consecutive games by seven or more runs was last June 11-12, against Philadelphia. In August of 2007, Boston beat the White Sox four straight by seven runs or more (11-3, 10-1, 14-2, 11-1).

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* – From 2007 through 2010, Dustin Pedroia had the lowest swing-and-miss percentage in the majors for any player with at least 25 home runs in that span. But he is swinging-and-missing more than ever so far in 2011:

2007 –  8.5% (82-of-969)
2008 –  8.1% (98-of-1207)
2009 –  7.4% (81-of-1097)
2010 – 11.0% (71-of-644)
2011 – 21.6% (25-of-116)

Realizing that his .900 OPS is plenty good, Pedroia has struck out 10 times already, the earliest that he’s ever reached double figures in whiffs:

2011 – April 18
2010 – April 22
2009 – May 4
2008 – April 22
2007 – June 4

June fourth!

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* – Opposing batters have a .108 OPS against Josh Beckett’s breaking stuff this season, the lowest in the majors (min. 100 breaking balls thrown):

.108 – Josh Beckett, BOS (1-for-27 with 10 K, 1 BB)
.135 – Josh Johnson, FLA (1-for-28 with 9 K, 2 BB)
.163 – Jaime Garcia, STL (2-for-30 with 14 K, 1 BB)

Breaking balls include curves, sliders, changeups, splits, and knuckleballs.

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* – David Ortiz versus lefty fastballs so far: 7-for-11 (.636) with one double, one home run, no strikeouts, and two walks. Versus lefty non-fastballs: 0-for-8 with 2 strikeouts.

Overall, Papi’s 1.079 OPS against lefties this season leads all left-handed hitters in the majors (min. 20 PA vs. LHP):

1.079 – David Ortiz, BOS
1.046 – Juan Pierre, CHW
1.023 – Alex Gordon, KC

Last season, his .599 OPS against LHP was the second worst in the majors among left-handed hitters (min. 160 PA vs LHP):

.575 – James Loney, LAD
.599 – David Ortiz, BOS
.611 – JD Drew, BOS

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* – JD Drew tripled as the first batter of the game for the Red Sox yesterday. Drew was also the last Red Sox player to open up the game with a triple (2009). Since 1950, the Red Sox have had their first batter hit a triple 63 times, with Jerry Remy and Billy Goodman leading the way with five each, followed by Johnny Damon and Rick Burleson with four.

Of course, Drew has done it twice in just 38 plate appearances as the team’s first batter of the game. Remy led off 541 games for the Sox.

The all-time leader in triples when leading off the first inning is Tim Raines, who tripled 26 times out of 1,398 plate appearances as his team’s first batter.

Oakland has not allowed a leadoff triple in the first inning since July, 2007, the longest such streak in the league.

For Scutaro, playing time takes a back seat to winning

04.18.11 at 4:01 pm ET
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The striking emergence of Jed Lowrie has come at the expense of playing time for Marco Scutaro. With Lowrie amidst a seven-game hitting streak in which he is hitting .625 (15-for-24), he has cemented himself — at least for now — as an everyday player for the Sox. As a result, Scutaro (hitting .188 with a .547 OPS) has been left to sit for three of the last four games.

But despite the fact that Lowrie has effectively supplanted him for now, Scutaro is not complaining.

“It’s all about winning here,” said Scutaro. “I’m fine. It’€™s special being on a winning team. Being on a losing team is no fun at all. Right now, [manager Terry Francona] is just trying to put the best guys out there to win games.”

Scutaro said that it wasn’t necessary for Francona to explain the playing time division to him.

“You don’€™t have to [talk to the manager] to understand what’€™s going on,” said Scutaro.

He made clear that he was not upset about his current role. Though it took him years to become an everyday shortstop as a 32-year-old with the Blue Jays in 2008, Scutaro suggested that he is not concerned about playing time at this point.

“There’€™s still a long way to go,” said Scutaro.

In many respects, Scutaro and Lowrie complement each other very well, and in some respects are interchangeable depending on their performance. Lowrie is capable of playing all four infield positions; but should the Sox continue to use him as an everyday shortstop, Scutaro could be used as a player capable of giving the Sox depth at shortstop, second and third.

For complete Red Sox coverage, visit weei.com/redsox.

Read More: Jed Lowrie, marco scutaro,

Kevin Youkilis found the booing of Daisuke Matsuzaka ‘a little shocking’

04.18.11 at 3:59 pm ET
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As Daisuke Matsuzaka was being booed as he took the mound for the start of Monday’s game, Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis couldn’t believe his ears. Seven innings of one-hit, shutout pitching later, those boos turned to cheers as he left the mound. The pitcher who gave up seven runs and eight hits over two-plus innings seven days earlier turned in a great outing to lead the Red Sox to a 9-1 win over the Blue Jays.

Youkilis couldn’t help but find the irony in the situation.

[Click here to hear Kevin Youkilis ask for a little patience and understanding from the fans.]

“One thing that was a little shocking was before the game he got booed,” Youkilis said. “It’s funny how he came off the field, everyone was cheering. It’s kind of foot-in-the-mouth right there but it’s good how he responded to that, too.”

Youkilis went on to explain that he and the team understand the frustration of the bad start but that it’s still early in the season.

“That’s one of the things that’s tough right now,” he said. “We’re starting to play a little bit better and we know it’s frustating for all the fans out there and we’re just as much frustrated, too. Be positive and good things will happen and that’s just the message about everyone. We just got to stay positive in here, outside the clubhouse, and good things will happen.”

Read More: Boston Red Sox, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kevin Youkilis, MLB
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