|04.29.11 at 11:57 am ET|
MLB Network analyst Kevin Millar made his weekly appearance on the Mut & Merloni show Friday to talk about the Red Sox and news from around the major leagues. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
Jacoby Ellsbury seems to have settled into the leadoff spot while Carl Crawford has dropped toward the end of the order while he continues to struggle. Even when Crawford gets in a groove, Millar said he’d prefer to see Ellsbury batting first.
“I think he’s your leadoff hitter,” Millar said. “That needs to be his role ‘ to get on base, steal bases, slap the ball around, play good defense. Carl Crawford and him are very similar players. Obviously, [Crawford] having more of a track record and probably hits for more power, but they’re very similar players. But I think Ellsbury’s your leadoff guy.”
Millar said he expects the Sox bats to heat up along with the weather. Said Millar: “The ball flies in the summertime. ‘¦ Fenway Park when it’s cold, it doesn’t play as small as people think, but summertime comes around, that beautiful weather, that wind starts flying off the Green Monster.
“The ballpark plays really small. So, I think it just has to do with summertime the ball flies. Wintertime, it’s not fun. You look at Minnesota, it was snowing the other day. It’s not fun to hit in that.”
Jon Lester has regained the form that made him one of the league’s most feared pitchers last season. “He throws to the inside part of the plate to right-handers, has command of that side of the plate, dominates with power stuff, he’s got 95-96 in his back pocket, he’s got a great cutter,” Millar said. “But to me, what makes Lester effective is that he can dominate right-handers. There’s no living away-away-away. He has in-in-in, and I’m coming back in again and I’m going to come back in there again. Then he mixes in his curveball and throws a nice little changeup to the outside part of the plate to right-handers. Now, he’s got both sides of the plate.
“Those are the good pitchers. Jon Lester is by far one of the top five pitchers in the big leagues because he dominates right-handers on the inside part.”
|04.29.11 at 11:18 am ET|
Let’s see what’s in the old bag of stats today, shall we?
* – After the game last night, Terry Francona was raving about Jon Lester’s change-up. How good was it? Ridiculously good. He threw 17 of ’em and here’s what he got: Six swinging strikes (one for a strikeout). Two called strikes. Two balls. Seven batted balls, all turned into outs. Average points per change-up thrown based on my scoring system: +2.59. That’s the highest single game average in the AL this season for a single pitch (min. 15 thrown):
+2.59 – Jon Lester, BOS (Change-up, April 28)
+2.55 – Felix Hernandez, SEA (Change-up, April 16)
+2.47 – Phil Humber, CHW (Curve, April 9)
+2.39 – Dan Haren, LAA (2-seam fastball, April 12)
And here are Lester’s average points per change-up in each start this season:
-0.11 – April 1 (9 thrown)
-0.85 – April 7 (13)
+0.09 – April 12 (23)
+1.56 – April 17 (9)
+1.00 – April 22 (8)
+2.59 – April 28 (17)
Gotta like that trend!
* – The home run allowed by Lester last night came on a 3-and-2 pitch. It was his 13th allowed on a full count in his career, the most on any count. He’s allowed 12 homers on first pitches (0-and-0 count).
The real rarity was that it was Vladimir Guerrero that hit it. Of his 440 career homers, only 13 (three percent) have come on full counts. That’s the lowest percentage in the majors since they began tracking the stat in 1988 (min. 200 career home runs):
* – Lester tossed 108 pitches last night, the 13th time this year that Boston’s starter has thrown 100 or more pitches. Is that a lot? Not really. Here’s how many times Red Sox starters have broken the century mark by April 30 in recent seasons:
2011 – 13
2010 – 16
2009 – 12
2008 – 12
2007 – 12
Note this: The 125 pitches thrown by Josh Beckett last Wednesday in Anaheim was the most by a Red Sox pitcher since Jon Lester’s no-hitter in May, 2008, and the most by a Sox pitcher in April since Curt Schilling threw 133 in 2006. Those are the only two instances of 120+ pitches in April since Pedro Martinez did it TWICE IN A ROW in 1999.
* – So far in 2011, the Red Sox rank 12th in the AL with runners in scoring position with an OPS of .622. However, they rank third with runners in scoring position AND TWO OUTS (.722).
So what does that tell us about how they’ve done with RISP and less than two outs? Dead last, with an OPS of .540:
.540 – Boston
.557 – Oakland
.633 – LA Angels
Last night, they went 2-for-11 (.182) with 2 walks and 2 GIDP’s with RISP and less than two outs. With two outs and RISP, they went 3-for-5 (.600) with a walk, including Ellsbury’s huge two-run single that broke it open. Remarkable.
* – The Red Sox’ 13 hits Thursday night matched their season high. It was the ninth time in the last 23 games at Baltimore that they’ve rapped out 13 or more hits.
* – Boston hitters struck out six times on Thursday, extending their streak to 13 consecutive games with six or more whiffs. It’s just three short of the club record, which was set in September/October, 2004. They’ve got a ways to go before they threaten the league record, though:
47 – Tampa Bay (2007)
40 – Arizona (2010/2011, ended 4/16)
38 – Arizona (2010)
* – In case you were wondering: The Red Sox have now allowed five sacrifice flies this season (tied for the fewest in the AL), and three of them came on Tuesday.
Clay Buchholz was just the sixth Red Sox pitcher to allow three sacrifice flies in a game, the last being the impossible to forget Dan Smith, against Florida in 2000.
I found it interesting that in three of those six games, the ONLY runs allowed scored on sacrifice flies. On two occasions (including Tuesday), the pitcher allowed four runs, and he allowed six runs once.
* – The Mariners are coming in this weekend, and here’s something to keep an eye on: Seattle has scored BY FAR a league high 51 runs in the late innings this year (innings seven through nine):
51 – Seattle
41 – Kansas City
34 – Baltimore
34 – Cleveland
That’s exactly 50 percent of Seattle’s 102 total runs scored in 2011. Boston has scored 30 runs during innings 7-9, 29 percent of their total.
* – Minnesota has been outscored 16-1 in the first inning this season.
Thanks to Baseball-Reference and JoeLefkowitz.com for their awesome statistical resources that make this stuff possible.
Got a comment, gripe, or suggestion? I’d like to hear it! Leave a comment here, shoot me an email (GMarbry@weei.com), or call me out on twitter (@nuggetpalooza). Enjoy your weekend!
|04.29.11 at 9:46 am ET|
After a nine-game road trip, the Red Sox kick off an 11-game homestand Friday night when they take on the Mariners and Jason Vargas. The 28-year-old lefty is 0-1 in two career starts against the Red Sox, but he has pitched well in both outings. He gave up one earned run over 5 1/3 innings in his first start (a no decision) against the Sox back in 2009. In his only start against them last season, he allowed two earned runs over seven innings in a loss.
Current Sox are hitting just .233 against Vargas. Carl Crawford and Marco Scutaro have struggled with him the most, as they are 0-for-9 and 0-for-4, respectively. J.D. Drew has had the most success against Vargas. He is 2-for-4 with a home run and a pair of walks, giving him a 1.917 OPS.
Vargas has yet to break into the win column this season, as he is 0-2 with a 5.53 ERA in five starts thus far. The Mariners have lost each of his last four starts, most recently dropping a 9-1 contest to the Athletics on Saturday. Vargas gave up six runs on six hits and three walks over five innings in that game. His previous two outings were both quality starts, though.
Daisuke Matsuzaka will take the mound for Boston with his eye on a third straight win. He has been virtually untouchable in his last two starts, allowing just two hits and four walks while striking out 12 in 15 innings.
Matsuzaka is 2-1 with a 4.11 ERA in eight career starts against Seattle. Current Mariners are hitting an eye-opening .310 against him, though. Chone Figgins has done the most damage, as he is 7-for-13 (.538) with five walks and a 1.359 OPS against Matsuzaka. Jack Cust, who is hitting .286 in 14 at-bats, is the only Mariner with a home run off Matsuzaka, although he also has eight strikeouts in those 14 ABs.
|04.28.11 at 9:47 pm ET|
The equation added up to a 6-2 win for the Red Sox over the Orioles Thursday night at Camden Yards, allowing the Sox to come home with a 6-3 road trip while sitting two games under .500.
Besides Lester, who saw his ERA drop to 2.52 after allowing just two runs on four hits over eight innings while throwing 108 pitches, Carl Crawford and Jarrod Saltalamacchia each came through with big hits, leading the Sox to their 11th win of the season.
Here is what went right and went wrong in the Red Sox’ win:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
– Lester was his dominant self, going his fifth straight start of not allowing more than three runs. The eight innings was the deepest hte lefty has gone into a game this season, having made it through seven on two occasions.
– Crawford only had one hit, but it proved to be one of the most important of the game. The struggling outfielder led off the seventh inning with a double, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from Marco Scutaro and proceeded to come home on Dustin Pedroia’s infield hit. He finishes the road trip 5-for-30 with a batting average of .160, having last left Fenway with a .133 average. The Red Sox are now 3-3 when Crawford scores a run.
– Saltalamacchia, who was playing in his fourth game on the road trip, ripped one of his most important hits as a member of the Red Sox in the eighth, lining a RBI single into center field with nobody out and the bases loaded. It was the catcher’s fifth hit in 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position, and raised his average to .191.
– Pedroia, who had struggled throughout the road trip, benefited from some good fortune with a pair of infield singles. He almost had a third, but Orioles starting pitcher Brad Bergensen sprung off the mound just quick enough to edge the Sox No. 2 at first in his first at-bat. The second baseman came into the game hitting .179 in the first eight games of the road swing, although he had walked nine times.
– Jacoby Ellsbury came away with his second straight three-hit game, with his average now at .264 after leaving home at .200. Ellsbury,who knocked in a pair in the Sox’ three-run eighth with a two RBI single, has now notched three or more hits in a game 34 times in his career, with the Red Sox going 26-8 during those contests. He hadn’t had back-to-back three-hit games wince Aug. 30-31, 2008.
WHAT WENT WRONG
– The Red Sox, who came into the game with the third-worst batting average with runners in scoring position (.210), squandered a great opportunity to bust the game open in the sixth. Leading by a run, Pedroia led off with an infield single, and was followed with Adrian Gonzalez‘ double to put runners at second and third with nobody out. But strikeouts by Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz was followed by a deep fly out to center from Saltalamacchia, ending the threat.
– One of Lester’s few mistakes tied the game at 2-2 in the sixth inning. After getting Vlad Guerrero to once again expand his strike zone by chasing a changeup, the Sox starter left a 2-2 cutter out over the plate, resulting in the designated hitter’s fourth home run of the season. It was the first home run allowed by Lester since Opening Day, when he gave up three long balls in Texas.
|04.28.11 at 1:32 pm ET|
The Red Sox have announced that their April 13 game against the Rays, which was postponed due to rain, will be made up as the opener of a day-night doubleheader on Tuesday, August 16 at 1:05. The second game of the doubleheader will be played at 7:10 p.m.
Fans holding tickets to the April 13 game may use those tickets for the 1:05 p.m. game on August 16.
For more Red Sox coverage, see the team page at weei.com/redsox.
|04.28.11 at 12:51 pm ET|
The Red Sox will wind up their nine-game road trip in Baltimore on Thursday as they throw their ace, Jon Lester, against Brad Bergesen. After a very successful West Coast swing in Oakland and Anaheim, where the Sox won 5-of-6, they have struggled in dropping the first two games of the series to the Orioles. If anyone can break the two-game skid against the O’s, it’s Lester.
Lester has dominated Baltimore throughout his career, going 13-0 with a 2.33 ERA in 16 starts. He also has won his last 13 starts against Baltimore, which is the longest active wining streak for any pitcher against any club. Lester has 87 total strikeouts against the O’s ‘ his second-highest strikeout total against any team ‘ and is a very impressive 6-0 with a 2.50 ERA at Camden Yards.
With Lester’s command over the Orioles throughout his career, there have been few offensive bright spots for the Orioles in games which he has pitched. Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts and Adam Jones have the most experience against Lester but also have the most strikeouts with 22 combined. The most successful Oriole has been young catcher Matt Wieters. Hitting .381, he is the only Oriole with more than eight plate appearances to be hitting above .300 against Lester.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Bergesen is off to a rocky start in 2011. In his last outing Bergesen allowed six runs over six innings against the Yankees on Saturday as he suffered his third loss of the season. Bergesen is 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA and has failed to pitch past the sixth inning in any of his three starts. Look for the Red Sox to get into the bullpen early, as Bergesen’s pitch count tends to rise very quickly.
With Bergesen’s tendency to give up the long ball ‘ he’s given up at least one in each of his starts this season ‘ Boston’s power hitters will look to take advantage. J.D. Drew may be the most likely candidate to hit one deep, as he is hitting .368 off Bergesen with two home runs. Also keep an eye on Dustin Pedroia and Carl Crawford. While they both have limited at-bats against Bergesen, they’ve combined for three doubles, one home run and three RBI.
|04.27.11 at 11:20 pm ET|
BALTIMORE — Yes, the needle can still tilt into the red zone for Josh Beckett.
The pitcher is not one to suffer showmanship at his expense. He has had his fair share of verbal altercations and run-ins with opponents whom he thought were not playing the game the right way. And so, it came as little surprise to see him take umbrage when Luke Scott stood at home plate in a moment of self-approbation after unloading on a two-out homer to right — a towering shot that landed on Eutaw Street, some 426 feet from home plate — in the bottom of the fourth.
Beckett glared at Scott as he rounded the bases. He then promptly fell behind Adam Jones before leaving a fastball down the middle of the plate, which Jones deposited into the left field stands to put the Orioles ahead, 3-0, in an eventual 5-4 win. As Jones rounded the bases, Beckett shouted at home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth to throw him the ball; at the conclusion of the inning, Beckett had another animated conversation with Culbreth.
Beckett was in little mood to answer questions about his evident displeasure. Of Scott’s behavior, Beckett tersely offered, “Those things have a way of working themselves out.” Other Sox suggested that Scott’s gesture was unimportant.
“I don’t watch that,” shrugged manager Terry Francona. “Our guys do it sometimes, too.’
“Honestly, most of the time, I don’t look [at a hitter’s reaction],” said catcher Jason Varitek. “We’ve got to turn the page and go to the next thing.’
That being the case, it seemed fair to wonder whether Beckett successfully did so, or if the homer by Jones might have been related to Beckett’s suddenly heightened emotional state.
“He threw a decent curveball that could have went either way early in that count [to Jones],” noted Varitek. “I don’t think [the Scott situation] pulled in any way from Josh’s focus.’
When asked a question about his conversation with Culbreth, Beckett was in no mood to engage the subject.
“Is this TMZ? I thought we were talking about a baseball game. You want to know about bat-flips and talking to umpires,” said Beckett. “I think we should probably just stick to the game. I thought we did a good job battling back, and we came up one run short.”
Beckett ended up taking a no-decision in an outing in which he allowed four runs in six innings, striking out four and walking none. But for his brief lapse — the back-to-back homers in the fourth, followed by another run manufactured in the fifth — the Sox could have emerged with a win. Ultimately, that was likely the greatest source of agitation and distress for Beckett on the evening.
|04.27.11 at 9:54 pm ET|
The Red Sox had dug their way out of a season-opening hole on the strength of dominant starting pitching. Still, the team’s offense had shown little ability to bolster the starters on days when they faltered.
That changed on Wednesday night against the Orioles. Josh Beckett had left the game with the Sox trailing, 4-0. Through seven innings, Boston’s offense seemed pulseless.
But in the top of the eighth, the Sox mounted their most impressive — and really, their first — comeback of the year. Jacoby Ellsbury led off the inning with a single, advanced to second on Dustin Pedroia‘s walk and scored on an Adrian Gonzalez single. Then, against Koji Uehara, Kevin Youkilis jumped on an elevated fastball for a three-run homer to left that tied the game, 4-4.
Daniel Bard gave the game away in the eighth, allowing singles to the first three hitters he faced and permitting the Orioles to score the game-winning run. Even so, it was a night on which, for the first time this year, the Sox offense showed the capacity to bring the team back, something that, at this stage of the season, may have mattered more than the game outcome.
That said, the loss was in fact heartbreaking for the Sox, who thought that the tide of momentum had swung strongly in their favor only to see the game boomerang on them after their rally.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
–Pitching for the first time in four days, Daniel Bard appeared rusty out of the gate, on a night when he was thrust into a tie game with no margin for error. The Orioles collected three straight knocks against him, resulting in Bard’s third loss of the young season.
—Through 3 1/3 innings, the Josh Beckett bulldozer remained in full effect. The right-hander had allowed just 14 total baserunners over a 26-inning stretch that spanned his prior three starts and the first three innings of Wednesday’s outing against the Orioles, during which Beckett had permitted just one infield single to Derek Lee.
But then, the pitcher’s night quickly unraveled with one misplay. Lee hit a fly to shallow center, and as Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury converged, both backed off, allowing the ball to drop for a double. Though Beckett settled to retire the next hitter (Vlad Guerrero), he soon gave up a mammoth homer to Luke Scott, who parked a ball on Eutaw Street for a 426 foot home run.
After Scott lingered at home plate while admiring the flight of his rocket, Beckett glared at him as he rounded the bases. Whether he became unhinged or not is a matter of conjecture, but the pitcher followed the Scott homer by falling behind Adam Jones, 2-0, and then leaving a fastball over the middle of the plate that Jones launched into the left field bleachers. Beckett snapped at home plate umpire Fielden Culbreth as Jones rounded the bases, then after notching the final out of the inning, Beckett again had heated words with Culbreth, this time while gesturing at the Orioles dugout.
A pitcher who had seemed so completely in control of the game over a stretch of three-plus starts seemingly crumbled in a matter of moments.
Beckett’s lapse proved costly. Setting aside the emotion of the situation, it was noteworthy that he was victimized for back-to-back homers. Beckett had allowed just one homer in his first 31 innings of 2011 before allowing the two longballs in the fourth. A year ago, Beckett often fell prey to the quick-strike offense in a year when he allowed a career-high 1.4 homers per nine innings. If he can keep the ball in the park, clearly the likelihood of his sustained success for the year will increase dramatically.
Though his final line (6 innings, 7 hits, 4 runs, 4 strikeouts) was unimpressive, Beckett did feature arguably his best changeup of the year. He threw the pitch 14 times for 10 strikes, including six swings and misses.
–Absent the miscommunication between Ellsbury and Pedroia, Beckett gets out of the fourth inning unscathed. It was Ellsbury’s ball to call, and it was a play that a center fielder simply has to make.
–As Terry Francona has noted, Jason Varitek‘s offense doesn’t matter that much so long as the Red Sox win. But the Sox have now lost the last two games he has been behind the plate, and so, after an 0-for-3 night that dropped his average to .091, his offensive futility was harder to overlook. Varitek is expected to get the day off on Thursday, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia the likely catcher for Jon Lester.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
—Kevin Youkilis went 1-for-4, and his average now stands at just .214 on the season. But in recent games, he has been making his hits count. Of his last nine hits, seven have been for extra bases, including five homers, the latest being his game-tying blast.
—Jacoby Ellsbury used the entire field in collecting his first three-hit game of the season. He went 3-for-5 with singles to right and left and a double to straightaway center. Ellsbury did, however, take a called third strike, marking his 12th looking strikeout of the year, most in the majors.
–The Sox, who have had more than their share of struggles with runners in scoring position this year, were 3-for-6 in such opportunities on Wednesday.
|04.27.11 at 7:38 pm ET|
BALTIMORE — Yes, Jed Lowrie has been starting nearly every day at shortstop. That said, when both he and Marco Scutaro have been on the field at the same time, it is Scutaro who has played shortstop and Lowrie who has moved to accommodate him.
The reason has been straightforward enough. Lowrie prepared to be a utility infielder prior to the season, playing all four positions around the diamond during spring training. Scutaro meanwhile prepared solely for everyday duty as a shortstop.
But that dynamic may soon change. Lowrie entered Wednesday hitting .400. For all practical purposes, even though the Sox haven’t called a press conference to announce it, he has become Boston’s everyday shortstop. While it made sense to Francona to have Lowrie move around the diamond to start the year, that seemingly is less the case as Lowrie becomes more and more acclimated to playing short.
Scutaro, of course, has experience as a utility man, having played short, second and third (as well as a smattering of games in left, right and at first) in his career. That being the case, while Francona did not commit to that alignment, he suggested that Scutaro could morph into the versatile backup role for which Lowrie was originally slated.
“I thought coming into the year the right thing to do was play Scutaro,” said Francona. “I kind of said we think Jed is a starting player but not right now. But when you hit .450, it’s my responsibility to put him in the lineup ‘ at least a lot of the time. I don’t think Scut likes it very much and I don’t blame him because he’s done everything we’ve ever asked.
“I would say early in the year because Jed moved around so much that he was the obvious guy to move around,” Francona continued. “As Jed plays short that’s something I’ve got to think about. The first week a guy sits a little bit, that’s probably not the best time to say, ‘Hey, let’s’¦’ I’ve got to pick my spot.”
Francona suggested that Scutaro is comfortable as a second baseman; he would seemingly be an easy choice to start at second on days when Dustin Pedroia sits. At times when Kevin Youkilis is out of the lineup, however, the dynamic might be slightly different, since the Sox might have a superior defensive team with Scutaro at short and Lowrie at third. Read the rest of this entry »
|04.27.11 at 2:02 pm ET|
A recurring theme in the discussion was the financial restraints the Red Sox and other major league teams are dealing with this season. Gammons took a question about Marco Scutaro accepting a utility role (now that he’s been replaced by Jed Lowrie as starting shortstop) and showed how the finances will play a key role in Scutaro’s future in Boston.
“I think he’d accept [the utility role].” Gammons said. “I think the question is going to be: Do the Red Sox feel they need to clear his money to be able to get a catcher or another pitcher in time if they need one. I think that would be a question. I think a lot of teams ‘ I know the Mets would love to have Scutaro play second base, but they don’t want to pay him. There’s one of the problems that you run into. He’s an ideal utility guy, because he can play second, short and third, and he’s so great around the clubhouse. But the question is, Do you want to pay that kind of money if indeed ownership doesn’t want to go any further until the trading deadline and you need another catcher and it costs 5, 6 million dollars.”
Asked if the Red Sox have extended themselves close to their financial limit, Gammons said: “I think so. And I think that will change in the middle of the season. The Phillies are going through the same thing. [Phillies general manager] Ruben Amaro said last week ‘ the question was posted actually about Scutaro, because they still don’t know when [injured second baseman] Chase Utley‘s coming back. They can say bravely, ‘He’ll be back at the end of May.’ They don’t know that. The thinking was Scutaro’s the perfect guy. And Ruben said, ‘I have no more money. We can’t make any moves.’
“I think a lot of teams went right to the luxury tax threshold and spent a lot of money and said, ‘OK, we’re not spending any more until we desperately need something. So, figure out what’s wrong.’ I think the Red Sox, the Angels, the Phillies, Texas, the White Sox, I think a lot of them are in that position right now.”
Added Gammons: “I think most teams in baseball this winter, I think most of the big-market teams spent to their limit before the season. I hear that from the Phillies, I hear it from the White Sox, I heard it from the Tigers, I hear it from a lot of people. It’s not unusual, but people don’t want to add money right now. And they’re not sure where the economy’s going, they’re not sure where the labor agreement is going ‘ although I still don’t believe the labor agreement is going to greatly impact the game. But a lot of teams just are holding. It’s not just the Dodgers and Mets, it’s a lot of teams.”
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