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Dennis Eckersley on M&M: John Lackey is ‘disturbing to watch’

06.28.11 at 2:57 pm ET
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NESN baseball analyst Dennis Eckersley talked with Lou Merloni and Tom Caron on Tuesday’s edition of the Mut & Merloni Show about the Red Sox pitching staff and the upcoming showdown with the Phillies. (To listen to the complete interview, click here.)

In advance of the series in Philadelphia, Eckersley said that the Phillies rotation has lived up to its lofty expectations so far.

“I think you have to have [Roy] Oswalt there pitching as good as he can pitch to be the best [rotation] of all time, but you’ve got three guys right now [Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels] that should be in the All-Star game,” Eckersley said. “You could argue they could go 1-2-3 right at you, three best pitchers in the National League. So how good does it get? The two left handers [Lee and Hamels], they’re over the top, but Halladay to me … it’s hard to do what he’s done over the period of time that he has. And I think it’s really helped him that he’s changed leagues. I think there’s a chance for him to get to 250-300 wins.”

While the Phillies have certainly impressed on the mound to this point in the season, Eckersley said Tuesday’s starter [Josh] Beckett has been just as good.

“You think about Beckett, you watch him pitch, nothing goes straight. He’s cutting it … then the change up … one ball’s going that way, one’s going the other,” he said. “He’s got a hook, a consistent hook. What’s forgotten in all this is Beckett — because I’ve been there before, you know when you’re hurt, when people go back to the season and say, ‘Oh this guy stinks.’ Well, stinking has a lot to do with not being 100 percent, which is what happened last year.”

On the other end of the Sox rotation, Eckersley struggled to find a silver lining in John Lackey‘s season to date.

“He’s disturbing to watch. He just is. It’s a tired act when he’s not going well or doesn’t get a pitch,” said Eckersley. “That being said, he didn’t forget how to pitch. He’s got a good little hook. He doesn’t bring it anyway, he’s got to paint a little bit. I can’t imagine he’s going to keep stinking it up and then they’re going to put him in the bullpen. It’s human nature, the guy’s making [$15.25 million]. It’s on your mind when he’s not performing very well, but I think the guy’s been around too long to just forget how to pitch.”

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Read More: Daniel Bard, Dennis Eckersley, john lackey, Josh Beckett

John Kruk on M&M: ‘Feeling-out’ process during Red Sox-Phillies series

06.28.11 at 1:01 pm ET
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ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk joined the Mut & Merloni show on Tuesday afternoon for his weekly appearance, and Lou Merloni and Tom Caron talked to the former Phillies first baseman about what it’€™s like to play in the high-pressure environment that is Philadelphia, the Red Sox‘€™ destination for an upcoming three-game series. Kruk said that not every Joe Ballplayer can handle playing in such a city.

‘€œNo, not at all,’€ he said. ‘€œA good example is Andy Ashby, a guy who pitched when I was playing there and he struggled. He really struggled. Because of the criticism, whatever, he didn’€™t pitch well. Then when he went to San Diego, he was a Cy Young candidate one year. The Phillies brought him back, and he couldn’€™t pitch again. It was just a mental block that Andy went through about playing and pitching in Philadelphia that really got to him.

‘€œBut I loved it. I think anytime you know the slightest mistake you make is going to be noticed by Boston fans, New York fans, Philadelphia fans, I think to me it makes your concentration so much better. You look statistically I had my best years in Philly just because I think for that reason. Playing in San Diego, sometimes you have mental lapses. There you couldn’€™t because the last thing you wanted was the scorn of 30,000 or 40,000 people on a daily basis.’€

As for the Red Sox-Phillies matchup itself, you don’€™t have to look hard to find someone in the stands or press box calling the series a preview of this year’€™s World Series. That being said, Kruk wouldn’€™t say that anyone should look too hard into who wins this late-June set.

‘€œThis is more of a feeling-out thing for me between these two teams,’€ he said. ‘€œIf [Jed Lowrie] was healthy, that may be a different story. If [Carl Crawford] was healthy, that might be a different story. The Phillies, we don’€™t know what they’€™re going to be because all the rumors are that they’€™re looking to get a right-handed bat, they’€™re looking to get some bullpen help. Heath Bell‘s name’€™s been thrown around. Josh Willingham, Michael Cuddyer. So you’€™re talking about a three-game series in June that might be different players by the time the postseason comes around on each of these teams.

‘€œBut as far as the pitching goes, oh my gosh. Cliff Lee and [Josh Beckett]. That’€™s special. We’€™re dialing that one up tonight. We might have to invite Mark Mulder in to break this one down.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, John Kruk,

Scouting the Phillies: Position-by-position breakdown

06.28.11 at 11:22 am ET
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This is as exciting as interleague play is supposed to get. The Red Sox (45-32) take on the owners of baseball’€™s best record, the Phillies (49-30), for a three-game set at Citizens Bank Park to start the week. After an offseason in which Boston acquired some offensive firepower in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford and Philadelphia inked Cliff Lee to a free-agent deal to give it arguably the best rotation in the game, media and fans alike both predicted that the two teams would see each other again in this year’€™s World Series. Although the end of June is way too early to be thinking about the Fall Classic, the timing is still right to look at how the Fightin’€™ Phils have done at this juncture heading into Tuesday’€™s series opener.

Offense

Despite boasting two former MVPs and a perennial All-Star in its lineup, Philadelphia has struggled for the most part at the plate. The Phillies rank eighth in the National League in runs scored, averaging 4.05 runs per game (the Sox lead the majors with a 5.31 average), and are 10th of the 16 senior circuit teams in OPS at .693. That’€™s led to some speculation about the Phillies looking for a bat before the trade deadline, especially a right-handed one that can play the outfield. But GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told the media not to expect such a move, although he also said that the team wasn’€™t going after Lee before signing him last season.

Here’€™s a more personal position-by-position breakdown of the Phillies’€™ performance at the plate this season:

C: Carlos Ruiz

The 32-year-old Panama native is in his sixth season in Philadelphia and is coming off his best statistical year in 2010 in which he set career-highs in every major offensive category, although his greatest value may have come in his .400 OBP. The walks are there again this season ‘€“ he’€™s on pace for 51 this season, which would be only four fewer than a year ago, and has a .360 OBP ‘€“ but the rest of the offense is not. Ruiz, who bats primarily out of the seventh spot in the order, has seen his average drop from .302 last season to .253 in 2011 while his slugging percentage is the lowest among Phillies starters at .346. When he hit a home run last Tuesday against the Cardinals, it was his first bomb since April 14.  Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies, ryan howard

Nuggetpalooza: Interleague Quickies

06.28.11 at 10:17 am ET
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Some rapid fire interleague nuggets today!

* – If I asked you which two batters had struck out more than anyone else in interleague play history, you might correctly guess Jim Thome (205). Maybe. But who has the second most (hint: he picked up number 200 last night). Answer at bottom.
 
* – With 6 interleague games left, Red Sox slugger Adrian Gonzalez is hitting .512 in interleague play and has a chance to eclipse the all-time mark of .508, set in 1999 by the Royals’ Joe Randa.
 
* – At .033 (1-for-30), the MarinersChone Figgins has a chance to post the LOWEST interleague average ever. Currently, that mark is held by Andruw Jones of the 2007 Braves (.061).
 
* – The Red Sox are hitting .329 in interleague play, one point off the all-time single season high of .330, set by the Dodgers in 2007. They’ll have to earn it this week in Philly.
 
* – The lowest team average ever in an interleague season is .208, by the Blue Jays in 1997. The Phillies are currently at .204.
 
* – The Phillies are averaging just 1.89 runs this interleague season. The all-time low is 2.53 by 1997 Yankees.
 
* – Phillies’ lefty Cliff Lee has 38 career interleague at bats without a run or an RBI, the most in interleague history.
 
* – The Cubs Ryan Dempster (0-for-28) has most career interleague at bats ever without a hit.
 
* – A’s pitcher Guillermo Moscoso has 12.2 career interleague innings without allowing an ER, the most ever.
 
* – The Marlins’ Javier Vazquez has allowed 41 career interleague HR, the most ever. Boston’s Tim Wakefield is fifth among active pitchers with 36.
 
* – The Phillies have allowed 315 HR all-time in interleague games, more than any other team.
 
* – The Twins all-time interleague ERA is 4.06 in 259 games. It was 4.02 before last night’s 15-0 drubbing at the hands of the Dodgers.
 
* – All-time in interleague games the Phillies have converted just 57% of save opportunities, the lowest percentage in the majors. They are 5 for their last 6 though.
 
* – The White Sox are working on their third straight interleague season with a sub-3.00 ERA. Only two other teams ever had two such years in a row (2001-02 A’s; 2002-03 Mariners).
 
* – The Red Sox 3.94 interleague ERA this season would be their 7th consecutive under 4.00, tying the all-time longest streak, set by the Mariners from 2000 through 2006.
 
* – Seattle has not allowed 10 runs in an interleague game since 2007. Their 69 game streak is the longest ever in interleague play.
 
* – The Nationals homered twice last night, snapping the Angels 20 game interleague streak of allowing one or fewer HR, the 2nd longest ever.
 
* – The Dodgers’ 15-0 shutout of the Twins last night was their first ever road shutout in an interleague game. Their streak of 115 consecutive interleague games of allowing at least one run on the road is the longest ever. 
 
* – The Rays pitching staff allowed fewer than 10 hits in 19 consecutive interleague games through Saturday, coming within one game of the all-time longest streak set by the A’s in 2002. Then they allowed 10+ on Sunday and Monday.
 
* – Milwaukee has never been shut out at home in 104 interleague games. The second longest current streak of home interleague games without getting blanked is 55, by the Angels.
 
* – Oakland has not hit multiple home runs in any of their last 25 interleague games, easily the longest such streak ever. No other team has ever gone more than 18 in a row. The A’s have only 10 home runs in those 25 games.
 
* – The Red Sox have managed 10 or more baserunners in each of their last 13 interleague games, the longest current streak in the league. Makes you appreciate the THIRTY game streak by the Indians in the late-90’s.
 
* – Johnny Damon is one double away from tying the interleague career record of 58, held by Jermaine Dye. He is two triples away from the record of 14, held by injured Red Sox’ outfielder Carl Crawford.
 
Answer to trivia question: Bobby Abreu of the Los Angeles Angels struck out Monday night for the 200th time in his interleague career. He and Thome are the only two players with 200 or more interleague strikeouts.

Tuesday’s Red Sox-Phillies Matchups: Josh Beckett vs. Cliff Lee

06.28.11 at 7:46 am ET
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The Red Sox and Phillies will play the first of a three game series Tuesday night in Philadelphia. This will be the fourth game of a nine game road trip for the Sox, all of which are against National League teams. The Sox are coming off of a win Sunday in the final game of a weekend series with the Pirates, where the Pirates took two of three.

Tuesday night’€™s game features two of the best pitchers in the respective leagues. Josh Beckett (6-2, 1.86) will take to the hill for the Sox and will be opposed by Phillies southpaw Cliff Lee (8-5, 2.87). Both have plenty of experience as Beckett is in his ninth season, while Lee is in his tenth.

Beckett has not pitched since June 15 as he was scratched from last Tuesday’€™s start with an illness, and his start Saturday was pushed back until Tuesday.

In his last outing, Beckett had his best game of the season as he threw a complete game one hitter, with six strikeouts in a 3-0 win over the Rays. Beckett’€™s gem went seemingly unnoticed, as that was the night the Bruins won the Stanley Cup.

The Sox have won seven out of the last eight of Beckett’€™s starts and Beckett has earned four wins during that stretch. The only loss came on May 29, when the Tigers bested Beckett and the Sox 3-0.

Lee is pitching his best baseball of the season. He has won six of his last seven starts, including four in a row. His last two outings have been complete game shutouts’€”a 4-0 win over the Cardinals on June 22 and a 3-0 win on June 16 against the Marlins. Lee has only allowed one run in his last four outings combined.

The left-hander is third in the National League in strikeouts with 112. He trails only teammate Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.

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Read More: adrian gonzalez, Cliff Lee, David Ortiz, Josh Beckett

Rehab stint in Lowell a familiar place for Futures Game All-Star Will Middlebrooks

06.28.11 at 12:27 am ET
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In the midst of a solid 2011 season at Double-A Portland, one of the top Red Sox prospects, third baseman Will Middlebrooks, was forced to go on the disabled list with a right triceps strain on June 11. At the time he was batting .297 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs.

Middlebrooks was sent to Short-Season Lowell on June 26 for a rehab assignment to get ready to return to Portland. He only expects to be with Lowell for their six-game home stand before returning to the Sea Dogs.

‘€œI’€™m good to go,’€ Middlebrooks said before Monday’€™s game. ‘€œI’€™m going to DH a couple of days, just to get a few at bats under my belt. I should be able to play third base in a few days.’€

In his first game in nearly three weeks, Middlebrooks didn’€™t seem to miss a beat as he went 1-2, with a home run, a stolen base and a sacrifice fly in the Spinners 4-1 win over the Vermont Lake Monsters Sunday night.

‘€œIt felt awesome,’€ he said. ‘€œIt was a lot better than I expected. I thought I would be a little rusty, but I picked up right where I left off.’€

He followed Sunday’€™s performance with a 1-for-3 night Monday in the Spinners’ 4-2 win over the Lake Monsters. Middlebrooks had a towering two-run home run to left field, which gave the Spinners a 3-0 lead at the time.

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Read More: Will Middlebrooks,

Red Sox face outfield dilemmas

06.27.11 at 4:58 pm ET
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It is an offensive position.

In the American League, right field is a spot where teams expect to get some thump. Players such as Jose Bautista and Carlos Quentin and Nelson Cruz have made right field one of the positions upon which teams are most reliant for run producers. The average team in the AL features a .264 average, .340 OBP, .425 slugging mark and .764 OPS from that spot on the field; only one position (first base) has yielded a higher OPS in the American League.

That, in turn, makes the Sox’ deficiency at the position all the more glaring. Among the 14 American League clubs, Sox right fielders had the worst average (.220), OBP (.304), slugging percentage (.336) and OPS (.640) of any team. It was a position where, entering the year, the Sox expected a platoon could offer them fairly strong production.

J.D. Drew was expected to deliver his usual impact against right-handed pitching, while Mike Cameron and/or Darnell McDonald were viewed as capable of offering above-average production against left-handers. But clearly, it hasn’t worked out that way.

“We need more out of that position,” a team source acknowledged. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: carl crawford, darnell mcdonald, J.D Drew, josh reddick

How Bill Hall’s pants have defined Andrew Miller’s season (sort of)

06.27.11 at 1:51 pm ET
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Bill Hall may be gone, but, at least in Andrew Miller‘€™s world, he is hardly forgotten.

Hall will always offer Miller two important reminders: 1. In the major leagues you get your own pants; and 2. Fashion among big leaguers has gotten out of control.

Here is Miller’€™s response when Alex Speier recently asked him if he had a hard time finding uniform pants ‘€¦

‘€œNo,’€ he said. ‘€œThey came up to me and said, ‘€˜You wouldn’€™t believe some of these guys, they’€™re (pants) so much longer.’€™ The pants they gave me in spring training were Bill Hall’€™s and they were plenty long enough. How tall is Bill Hall? Five-foot-9? He’€™s certainly not a tall guy. With the style being the long pants I can usually track down a pair.’€

So what has led to Miller getting his own pants (or, more specifically, carve out a niche in the major leagues)? A big reason, according to the pitcher, has been the adjustment of his pregame routine. Let him explain:

‘€œI go out there about 10 minutes earlier and sit down for five minutes when I get done. I then get up and basically get up to as close to game speed as possible so when I get out there I’m not making adjustments for the first time.

‘€œFor me, I’m trying to get as close to game intensity as I can when I’m doing it as opposed to just warming up. You typically pick it up at the end, but it’s not quite game speed so I’m trying to get as close to that and make adjustments off of that.

‘€œIt’s something that just kind of made sense. We tried it once and it worked so why change it?’€

Pants. Routines. Results. Change has been a good thing for Andrew Miller.

Adrian Gonzalez: More likely to be hurt at first base than in outfield

06.27.11 at 8:01 am ET
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PITTSBURGH — Prior to Saturday night’s game at PNC Park, Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez downplayed the risk he might face if switching from first base to left field, suggestion such concerns shouldn’t be the impetus for not making the change.

“If I happen to do it everybody knows I’m not going to be great at it but I’ll make the routine play and I don’t see any fear of getting hurt for any reason,” Gonzalez said. “Guys make errors in the outfield the same way they make errors in the infield.

“I can get hurt the same at first than I can get hurt in the outfield. I actually think I can get hurt more at first base because I’m not thinking about it, where in the outfield I would be cautious. I think there’s a greater chance of me getting hurt at first base, but then again you never play the game thinking about getting hurt. If you get hurt, you get hurt. It just happens.”

Red Sox manager Terry Francona reiterated Saturday that he was struggling with the decision regarding possibly playing Gonzalez in right field in order to get David Ortiz playing time at first base. The manager cited the risk of injury as one of the chief concerns when contemplating the idea of playing his No. 3 hitter in the outfield.

“I’m just hung up. I’m struggling with it, and I don’t want to do something I’m struggling with,” Francona said. “If we put Gonzie out there and he got hurt, I’m just not ready to do it. Maybe three, four games into this road trip, maybe I will. We’ll see.”

Gonzalez, who is perplexed by all the attention the potential move has garnered, downplayed how difficult the switch might be.

“You have guys who play multiple positions and they move around all the time. Nobody seems to care about that,” he said. “Even moving around the infield, guys that move around from short to second there’s different ways of moving your feet that is a lot harder than going from first to the outfield.”

Closing Time: Pedroia, Red Sox pitchers fight back to claim win over Pirates

06.26.11 at 4:57 pm ET
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It wasn’t exactly an emphatic response, but ultimately, there is little question that Dustin Pedroia and the Red Sox were satisfied with the measure of revenge that they enacted in the series finale against the Pirates.

Pedroia became irked when Pirates starter James McDonald went up and in to him in three straight at-bats. The second baseman shouted at the pitcher, and Sox starter Andrew Miller appeared to try to settle accounts in the bottom of the sixth, when he fired a couple fastballs at the feet of catcher Eric Fryer en route to a walk (with Miller’s pitches resulting in warnings being issued to both benches).

But in the top of the seventh, Pedroia stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs in a 2-2 game. He bounced a run-scoring groundout to short up the middle, giving the Sox a 3-2 lead en route to a 4-2 victory to salvage the final contest of a three-game series in Pittsburgh.

With the win, the Sox — who lost in Pittsburgh on both Friday and Saturday nights — averted their first sweep at the hands of a National League team since they dropped a two-game set to the Phillies in 2003. The Sox, who typically use interleague play to pad their wins total, have now evened their record against the senior circuit at 6-6 this year.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Andrew Miller (1-0) continued to show promise in the Red Sox rotation, claiming his first victory with Boston and dropping his ERA in two outings to 3.09. In his second start since being called up to the majors, the 26-year-old tossed six innings, allowing just two runs (one earned) on five hits (all singles) while walking two, hitting a batter and striking out four for his first win in the Sox’ rotation.

For the second straight start, 65 percent of his pitches (74 of 114) were strikes. Notably, of his eight swings and misses, five came on fastballs, on a day when he averaged 92 mph and topped out at 95 mph.

–The Sox took advantage of terrible fielding by the Pirates, who committed a season-high four errors that resulted in three unearned runs. Even so, while the team had some productive outs (including a pair of sac flies and Pedroia’s run-scoring groundout), the Sox went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

–For all of the concerns about Pedroia’s foot entering the season, it is notable that he is stealing bases as never before. He swiped second in the first inning, giving him 15 steals (in 17 attempts) on the season. He is on pace for 32 steals, a mark that would shatter his previous career high of 20 (achieved in both 2008 and 2009).

Adrian Gonzalez notched two singles, giving him 36 multi-hit games this year. He is on pace for 76 games with at least two hits this year, giving him a chance to break the mark of 72 multi-hit games by Wade Boggs in 1985 that represents the most by a member of the Red Sox since at least 1919.

Jonathan Papelbon, pitching for the third time in 16 days and first time in five days, looked a bit rusty when he took the mound for the ninth inning, walking the first batter he faced (Ronny Cedeno) on four pitches. However, he recovered quickly, punching out Fryer on seven pitches (all fastballs, the last a 96 mph offering) en route to his 14th save of the year and first since June 16. His scoreless ninth concluded three innings of hitless relief by the Boston bullpen, following perfect frames by Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–The Red Sox’ defense struggled. Josh Reddick misplayed a fly ball into an error, and a bad hop prevented Marco Scutaro from fielding a potential double-play grounder. The error resulted in an unearned run charged to Andrew Miller. Later, Kevin Youkilis couldn’t convert a pair of tough plays in the sixth, as his throw to first on what appeared to be a sac bunt attempt by Chase d’Arnaud was late, resulting in a single, and he also failed to glove a smash single off his glove by Andrew McCutchen.

Darnell McDonald continues to make little impact. After entering the game as a replacement for injured right fielder J.D. Drew, McDonald went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. The punchout came with runners on first and second and two outs in the third, and McDonald later popped out with runners on second and third with two outs and ended the ninth with a two-out, bases-loaded groundout, dropping to 1-for-20 with seven strikeouts with runners in scoring position and two outs, dating to last year.

McDonald did reach on an error when his cousin, Pirates starter James McDonald, threw away a comebacker (a misplay that helped the Sox to score their second run of the game), but he was cut down trying to steal to end the sixth inning.

J.D. Drew had to leave Sunday’s game in the second inning due to a left eye contusion. The right fielder had a foul ball bounce off his eye during batting practice. Initially, he remained in the lineup, but after striking out in his only at-bat, he left the game.

Read More: adrian gonzalez, andrew miller, darnell mcdonald, Dustin Pedroia
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