|05.14.11 at 12:04 am ET|
NEW YORK — Sports nutritionists may cringe to know what fueled Adrian Gonzalez in his latest dazzling exploit as a member of the Red Sox. Gonzalez went 1-for-3 with a homer (his fourth in three games and seventh in his last 10 contests), a walk and a sac fly, playing a huge role in the Sox’ 5-4 win over the Yankees.
And after the contest — after he had turned on a Bartolo Colon fastball up and over the middle and driven it into the right field stands — Gonzalez had an explanation.
“I had a great cheesesteak before the game that got me ready. They make some great cheesesteaks here. They definitely rival the Philly ones. I told them if I did good, it was going to be because of that cheesesteak,” said Gonzalez. “I feel good at the plate.”
Right now, even Gonzalez’ double-entendres are flying effortlessly into the night. But obviously, it is more than plays on words that have the Sox dazzled.
Gonzalez is hitting as well as anyone in the majors. His success is clearly a byproduct not just of incredible natural talent — hand-eye coordination and a powerful, graceful swing — but also a remarkable approach. The homer against Colon was evidence of the latter.
Gonzalez is typically looking for a pitch up and away to drive to the opposite field. His three homers in two games in Toronto all left the park to left field. But on Friday night, he altered his approach not to the ballpark (Yankee Stadium has an infamous jet stream to right field) but instead to the pitcher’s approach.
“Bartolo was going to pound me in. I knew that. he wasn’t going to give me much to go the other way with,” said Gonzalez. “My gameplan was to pick and choose my spots to look for a pitch middle-in that I could drive to right field. After ball one, I thought that would be a good spot, and I think he left it more middle than he wanted to.
“Success or not is not going to be because of the park,” Gonzalez added. “This is a game of execution. If a pitcher doesn’t execute his pitch, I’m going to be able to put a good swing on it. If eh executes pitches, pitching dominates hitting everytime. If a pitcher is able to make his pitches, they’re going to get me out more often than not. So I’m just going up there looking for a pitch I can handle, looking to put a good swing on it. I’m never worried about the ballpark. I learned that early, playing in San Diego, that you can’t let the ballpark get in your head. So I just go out there, try to execute a gameplan.”
Read the rest of this entry »
|05.13.11 at 10:43 pm ET|
But he has still mustered his share of timely hits even amidst this slump, and on Friday, he delivered a huge one against a pitcher against whom he has enjoyed tremendous career success. With Jacoby Ellsbury on first in the top of the seventh, Pedroia came to the plate against reliever Joba Chamberlain. Ellsbury took off for second, and Pedroia shot a single to right — through the hole that Robinson Cano had vacated at second to cover the bag.
The hit improved Pedroia to 12-for-20 (.600) in his career against Chamberlain, and more importantly for the Red Sox, positioned the team for its key game-winning rally. Ellsbury was able to advance to third on Pedroia’s hit and score easily when Adrian Gonzalez delivered a sacrifice fly to deep left. Then, with two outs, Kevin Youkilis gave the Sox breathing room by launching a fastball into the right field seats for a two-run homer.
And with that, thanks to the dazzling work of Clay Buchholz, the Sox claimed an impressive 5-4 road win against the Yankees that brought the Sox within three games of their AL East rivals in the standings.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
—Clay Buchholz was, for much of his night, exceptional. The right-hander featured a remarkable array of swing-and-miss pitches, getting the Yankees to come up empty on 15 hacks. There were swings and misses on changeups (5), cutters (4), four-seamers (3), two-seamers (2) and one on a curveball. Over seven innings, he permitted just two runs on five hits, and of his 21 outs, seven came by punchout and 11 more were on groundballs.
That continued the pitcher’s recent excellence. He has won each of his last three starts, forging a 1.93 ERA while striking out 15 in 18 2/3 innings. He has also walked just one hitter in back-to-back outings. The seven punchouts represented a season high.
—Adrian Gonzalez continued to be a force for the Red Sox in the month of May. He launched a Bartolo Colon fastball into the second deck in right field for his major league-leading seventh homer of the month of May, and he drove in a pair of runs to improve his American League-leading total to 31. Right now, his plate coverage is tremendous, as he is driving pitches on both sides of the plate. The Yankees, out of respect for that fact, issued an intentional walk to Gonzalez in the top of the ninth.
–Prior to Friday, Kevin Youkilis had found little success on the road. He entered the day with a .317 average, .481 OBP and 1.014 OPS at Fenway. On the road, his marks were .154/.286/.651. (His average was 210th of 218 major leaguers with at least 50 plate appearances on the road.) But Youkilis unloaded on a fastball from Chamberlain, hammering it to the opposite field for his first career homer against the Yankees reliever for what proved to be vital insurance runs.
It is worth noting that Youkilis had never actually been hit by a pitch from Chamberlain, but he had been buzzed several times by the hard-throwing right-hander. That being the case, there was no doubt satisfaction to be derived from delivering a blow that ultimately proved decisive.
On another count, however, Youkilis was less productive. He had a golden opportunity to give the Sox another insurance run in the ninth, with runners on the corners and one out. But he stuck out, and so the Sox cleanup hitter is now 0-for-10 with seven strikeouts with a runner on third and less than two outs this year.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
—Daniel Bard, entrusted with what should have been a relatively clean eighth-inning situation, could not command any of his pitches. He gave up a leadoff triple to Curtis Granderson (the only hitter with a three-bagger against Bard — Granderson, in fact, now has two triples against the reliever), couldn’t throw his fastball for strikes in walking Alex Rodriguez with one out and hit Robinson Cano with a slider to put two on with one out — a situation that became even dicier when the Yankees executed a double steal.
But Bard ultimately recovered to stifle the rally, punching out Nick Swisher with a 99 mph fastball and getting Jorge Posada (now 0-for-6 against Bard) to ground out to second. Even so, Bard has now allowed runs in back-to-back outings for the first time in 2011.
—Jonathan Papelbon, in his first outing since suffering a tough blown save on Monday, endured a choppy ninth inning. He got two quick outs, punching out Russell Martin on a 94 mph fastball that painted the outside corner and then getting Brett Gardner to ground out to first. But with two outs, Derek Jeter lined an opposite-field single to right, advanced to second on defensive indifference and scored on a single to left by Granderson.
But Mark Teixeira skied a first-pitch fastball to third for the final out of the game, with Papelbon collecting his sixth save of the year.
–Buchholz continued to be a victim of Yankees catcher Russell Martin, giving up a two-run homer to him. Interestingly, of the seven homers that Buchholz has allowed this year (nearly matching his 2010 total of nine — in about 130 more innings), only two have come with men on base. And both of those have been with Martin at the plate. He hit a three-run homer against Buchholz at Fenway Park on April 9, and drilled a two-run homer just to the left of straightaway center in the fifth inning of Friday’s game.
–Though Crawford had an RBI groundout, he went 0-for-4 to end his hitting streak at 11 games. The outfielder is now 1-for-19 (.053) against the Yankees this year.
–Though he stayed in the game, Jacoby Ellsbury came up limping in the top of the ninth inning. He stole second base on a pitchout, and when catcher Russell Martin‘s throw bounced into him, Ellsbury started to break for third. However, he quickly recognized that the ball didn’t stray for enough for him to advance and so the leadoff hitter broke back to second. As soon as he changed direction, Ellsbury grabbed at his leg, just below his right knee.
|05.13.11 at 8:14 pm ET|
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 »
|05.13.11 at 7:03 pm ET|
|05.13.11 at 6:41 pm ET|
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 »
|05.13.11 at 3:01 pm ET|
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.
RED SOX VS. COLON
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
YANKEES VS. BUCHHOLZ
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.
|05.13.11 at 2:18 pm ET|
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.
|05.13.11 at 12:31 pm ET|
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.”
|05.13.11 at 10:53 am ET|
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):
What about the other Red Sox pitchers?
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.
|05.12.11 at 2:05 pm ET|
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.
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