|04.25.11 at 2:18 pm ET|
Now, THAT was a pretty nice Boston sports weekend! And here are some random Sox nuggets as they take a breather after their four game sweep in Anaheim:
* – Red Sox starters have allowed zero earned runs in three straight starts. It’s the first time they’ve done that since April 25-29, 2004 (Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Byung-Hyun Kim). It’s the first time they’ve done it ON THE ROAD since August 24-26, 1990 (Dana Kiecker, Roger Clemens, Greg Harris).
* – Since Torii Hunter’s home run off Josh Beckett in the 7th inning on Thursday, Sox starters have tossed 24 consecutive scoreless innings.
* – Carl Crawford hit his first home run as a member of the Red Sox on Sunday and is now tied with 137 other Red Sox who have hit one career bomb with the team. The list includes Adrian Gonzalez, Daniel Nava, Doug Mientkiewicz, Creighton Gubanich, Billy Jo Robidoux, Ed Jurak, Stan Papi, Ted Cox, and the immortal Arquimedez Pozo.
* – Twice in the last five seasons, Crawford’s first homer came later in the season than April 24. In 2006, his first jack came on April 30, and in 2009, he didn’t get off the schneid until May 7.
* – Crawford’s homer came after he fell behind 0-and-2. That’s significant because his last HR after falling in an 0-and-2 hole was back in 2007, a stretch of 311 such plate appearances without one.
Note this: The only player with 30 or more HR since the start of the 2008 season and more 0-2 chances than Crawford without a homer? Texas’ Michael Young, who has not hit a bomb after being down 0-and-2 since 2005 (617 such plate appearances).
* – Jon Lester has induced seven groundball double plays already this season (in just 27 DP situations), the highest GIDP percentage in the AL (min. 20 DP situations faced):
25.7% – Jon Lester, BOS (7-of-27)
21.1% – Josh Tomlin, CLE (4-of-21)
18.5% – Zach Britton, BAL (5-of-27)
Note: Britton is Baltimore’s scheduled starter on Tuesday night.
* – Jacoby Ellsbury averaged 5.0 pitches per plate appearance on April 1 and again on April 2. In the 18 games that he’s played since then, he’s averaged just 3.6 pitches per plate appearance and averaged five or more in a game just once (April 18).
Note this: Kevin Youkilis has had six different games in which he’s averaged five or more pitches per plate appearance and is averaging 4.57 for the season, second highest in the majors behind Oakland’s Daric Barton (4.65; min. 70 PA).
* – Opponents are batting just .188 on groundballs against the Red Sox this season, the second lowest such average allowed in the AL. Texas has held opponents to a .181 average so far. Last year, the Red Sox allowed a .220 average on grounders, ranked fourth.
* – John Lackey has faced 20 batters in the first inning this season without recording a strikeout. That’s the second most in the majors without a K:
23 – Javier Vazquez, FLA
20 – John Lackey, BOS
18 – Alexi Ogando, TEX
On the flip side, opponents are 1-for-17 with nine strikeouts and no walks in the first inning this season against the Angels’ Dan Haren. Haren retired the Red Sox in order (with one strikeout) in the opening inning on Friday night.
* – Lackey’s turnaround: In his first two starts, Lackey averaged -0.44 “points per pitch” (using my pitch results grading scale), the worst in the majors through April 8. In his two starts after he was skipped over, he’s averaged +0.65 points per pitch.
* – Here’s a clip-and-save for this week: Through 20 games, the Orioles have scored only two total runs in the first inning, the second fewest in the AL. That’s right, the Twins have only scored ONE first inning run in their first 21 games this season (and it scored on a throwing error so there was no RBI).
Note this: The Orioles haven’t scored a first inning run in their last 14 games. Their leadoff batter in the first has reached base only twice in the last 17 games. Wow.
* – The Red Sox needed only 128 pitches on Saturday and 118 on Sunday. It’s just the second time since the ’08 season that they’ve thrown fewer than 130 pitches in consecutive wins (home or away). They haven’t done it in three straight road wins since 2002.
|04.24.11 at 7:08 pm ET|
One game away.
That’s what the Red Sox find themselves from hitting the magical .500 mark after completing a four-game sweep of the Angels courtesy of a 7-0 win Sunday afternoon in Anaheim. The Sox now stand at 10-11, the identical mark they possessed after 21 games last season.
The win marked the first time since 1980 the Red Sox completed a four-game sweep against the Angels in Anaheim since 1980. The victory also made the Sox’ 8-1 since April 16, the best mark in the majors over that time. During the eight games leading into the series finale, the Sox starting pitchers had combined for a 6-1 mark with a 1.01 ERA, limiting opponents to a .152 batting average.
The Red Sox starters also matched a stretch not seen since 1946, allowing two runs or less while totaling more than five innings or more in each of the last nine games.
Sunday it was John Lackey who carried the torch. The starting pitcher was one of more than a few things that went right for the Sox in their latest win.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
— Lackey was in control all day, notching 23 first-pitch strikes to his 32 batters, while going to just three three-ball counts. When it was all said and done, the righty had gone eight innings, giving up six hits, and one walk while striking out six. It marked the second time in Lackey’s Red Sox career that he came out of a start without giving up a run.
— Reliever Dan Wheeler, who had allowed at least one run in four of his seven previous appearances, cruised through the ninth to keep the shutout intact.
— Carl Crawford actually smiled. The grin game after his third at-bat of the game, when the outfielder worked his way back from an 0-2 count, made it 3-2, and proceeded to launch his first home run as a member of the Red Sox over the right-field fence. Crawford, who raised his average to .171, capped his day with a single in his next at-bat.
— The Red Sox answered a persisting problem by going 4-for-8 with runners in scoring position. The Sox, who were last in the majors in such situations, were helped mightily by Adrian Gonzalez, who went 3-for-5 with two RBIs.
— Jacoby Ellsbury continued to show signs of life out of the leadoff spot, coming away with a pair of hits, along with the Red Sox’ first run. His strikeout rate continued to be somewhat of a concern (2 more), but the outfielder now has his highest batting average (.219) since the third game of the season. He also finished the series 6-for-18 with two walks and four runs.
WHAT WENT WRONG
— While Ellsbury has been more of a presence in the leadoff spot of late, his stolen base percentage isn’t what he would probably like. The speedster was thrown out for the third time this season, having made eight attempts.
— Mike Cameron is still getting used to a new role, going 0-for-4 while replacing J.D. Drew in right field Sunday, with the veteran’s average dropping to .136. It was just Cameron’s seventh game, which has included three hits (no extra-base hits) in 24 at-bats.
|04.23.11 at 11:36 pm ET|
Both, of course, entered the year facing significant questions after disappointing 2010 seasons. But at least Beckett had All-Star campaigns in both 2007 and 2009 — as well as the explanation of injuries in 2010 — to lay the basis for some belief that he could bounce back. But as recently as mid-April, many had given up hope on Matsuzaka, following more than two years of injuries and inconsistencies, along with a singularly horrible outing against the Rays on April 11.
But the enigmatic right-hander has now delivered consecutive starts in which he was nothing short of overpowering. On Patriots’ Day, he allowed just one hit in seven shutout innings against the Blue Jays, striking out three and walking one. A single dominant outing would have been intriguing but might not have changed the perceptions of Matsuzaka that significantly.
But on Saturday night in Anaheim, Matsuzaka backed up that outing with an even better one. He again allowed just one harmless hit (that was actually almost quite harmful — a comebacker that he deflected with his glove just before it hit his face) in logging eight shutout innings and striking out nine while walking three. On a night when the Sox bullpen was short-handed (after both Jonathan Papelbon and Bobby Jenks had thrown on three consecutive days), Matsuzaka gave his team everything it needed in a 5-0 victory.
The Sox are now streaking on the strength of outstanding starting pitching. They have now had eight straight starts of at least five innings and two or fewer runs, leading the club to a 7-1 mark in that span. Matsuzaka has been at the heart of that success over his last two outings. Indeed, no one has been better — and really, no one could be much better than him during a stretch in which opponents have just two hits in 15 innings against him.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
–Matsuzaka, of course, was the headliner. He offered another reminder that, when on, he is among the most unhittable pitchers in the majors. Consider: Since Matsuzaka made his debut in the U.S. in 2007, he is one of five pitchers with three different outings in which he lasted at least seven shutout innings while allowing one or no hits, joining CC Sabathia (four times), Roy Oswalt (four times), Jon Lester and Mark Buehrle. He is the first starter since Freddy Garcia in 2006 to make consecutive starts of seven or more shutout innings while allowing one or no hits, and the first Sox pitcher to accomplish the feat since Pedro Martinez in 2002.
On Saturday, Matsuzaka showed a lively swing-and-miss fastball, terrific cutter, nasty slider and a changeup that he used to finish a number of Angels hitters. His pitches were darting in all directions. The Angels didn’t have a chance.
Matsuzaka has recovered from a pair of season-opening losses to even his record at 2-2 with a 4.09 ERA.
–A pair of struggling Sox hitters made noteworthy contributions to the team’s offense. Carl Crawford went 2-for-4 with an RBI single, double and a flyout to deep center field, bumping his average up from .135 to .153. Jason Varitek, who entered the day hitting .043, yanked a run-scoring double into the right-field corner and also had a hard smash to to third that resulted in an out.
—Kevin Youkilis showed no lingering ill effects from the sore shin that forced him out of Thursday’s game and kept him out of the lineup on Friday. Though he went just 1-for-4 with three strikeouts, he also drilled a two-run homer to right-center for his fourth homer of the year. As much as he has at any time in his career, he is driving the ball to the opposite field.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
—Jacoby Ellsbury went 2-for-5 with a pair of steals and a pair of runs, but he continued to strike out at a startling rate. Though he pushed his average up from .190 to .206, he has struck out 19 times in 65 at-bats, or once every 3.4 times at the plate. Prior to this year, he had struck out once every 7.7 at-bats in his career.
|04.22.11 at 2:18 pm ET|
Of the many story-lines to come out of the Red Sox‘ 4-2 win over the Angels Thursday night in Anaheim, one was the amount of pitches Sox manager Terry Francona left Josh Beckett in for — 125, the second-highest pitch count the pitcher had ever experienced.
The number was the second-most pitches Francona has allowed a starter to deliver in the season’s first month since he took over as manager in 2004. The highest? The much-scrutinized 133-pitch outing by Curt Schilling on April 25, 2006 in Cleveland. (It should be noted that Francona got caught in a 10-pitch at-bat with Jason Michaels, Schilling’s final batter.) The second-most came last season when John Lackey tossed 120 pitches.
Yet while it isn’t the norm for Francona to be going 120-plus pitches with starters in April, with history being our guide, there really shouldn’t be a huge outcry when it came to leaving Beckett in to face Maicer Izturis having already thrown 118 pitches.
Many are still stung by what happened to Schilling following that outing in Cleveland. After one start, the then-ace went on to turn in a 5.73 ERA in May. But the two scenarios really shouldn’t be compared.
The problem with leaving Schilling in was that he was 1. He was coming off an injury-plagued season in ’05; and (this is the big one) 2. The righty ended up throwing more pitches in that month (April) than any other month in his career (674). So, really, it was more about the entirety of the season’s first 30 days than it was that one game.
So, where does that leave us with Beckett?
Beckett currently stands at 435 pitches for April. With one more start to go in the month he figures to eclipse his previous biggest April workload as a member of the Red Sox, in ’09 when he totaled 530 pitches. It was that first month, two seasons ago, that should offer optimism.
Immediately after that April in ’09, Beckett tore off perhaps the best run of his career. In May he went 3-0 with a 2.38 ERA. June saw the righty go 4-1 with a 1.51 ERA. And July finished with Beckett going 3-1 with a 3.55 ERA for the month.
Moral of the story: Look at the month and look at the pitcher. Don’t just look at the game.
|04.22.11 at 1:25 pm ET|
The second game of the Red Sox and Angels’ four-game set will feature what appeared to be the premier pitching matchup of the series going in, although it will now have to be pretty special to top Thursday night’s. Jon Lester, who has been solid in three starts since his struggles on opening day, will do battle with Dan Haren, who is 4-0 and has been virtually untouchable this year.
Haren will be looking to become the second Angels starter to reach 5-0 already this season after Jered Weaver accomplished the feat with a win Wednesday. Haren enters Friday’s game with a miniscule 1.16 ERA and 0.65 WHIP. He has allowed just 18 hits and two walks while striking out 27 over 31 innings.
Haren is just 2-5 in his career against Boston, but that record isn’t really indicative of his actual success. In eight starts, he has a 3.21 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Moreover, current Red Sox are hitting just .217 against him.
Adrian Gonzalez has faced Haren the most, dating back to their days together in the NL West. Gonzalez has also been one of the few Sox to have any sort of success against him, hitting .289 with two home runs and six RBIs in 38 at-bats. David Ortiz has also done well in his 19 at-bats against the righty, as he is batting .368 with three homers and six RBIs.
Lester enters Friday’s showdown with a 1-1 record and 3.20 ERA. Since giving up five runs in 5 1/3 innings on opening day, he has allowed just four runs over 20 innings in his last three starts.
Lester hasn’t fared too well in his career against the Angels despite having a 2-1 record in five starts. He has a 5.86 ERA and 1.77 WHIP versus the Halos. Torii Hunter has the best track record against him, as he is hitting .385 with a homer and four RBIs in 13 career at-bats against the lefty. Read the rest of this entry »
|04.22.11 at 9:36 am ET|
Nuggets and notes from last night, from Wednesday, and from around baseball:
* – Red Sox starters last six games: 1.37 ERA. First 12 games: 6.71.
* – It wasn’t easy, but the Red Sox won for the 29th straight time when they allow six or fewer baserunners. Their last such loss came May 28, 2008. It was the first time that the Red Sox have allowed six or fewer baserunners in an EXTRA INNING game since 1998 (first on the road since 1992).
* – Adrian Gonzalez‘ game-winning RBI double in the 11th inning Thursday night came on a cut fastball, just the 12th cutter he’s seen this season. Six of those cutters have ended plate appearances and A-Gon is now 3-for-6. Each of the last two cutters thrown to him have been turned around for doubles, last night’s off Thompson, and Monday against Octavio Dotel.
* – The game tying homer that Beckett allowed to Torii Hunter in the 8th came off a two-seam fastball, which had been a decent pitch for him all night as he had thrown 19 of them prior to the home run (average “points per pitch” of +0.63) and the Angels were 0-for-2. Looking at all of Beckett’s pitches last night:
Four-seam fastball – 51 thrown; 2-for-13, 5K; Avg Pts: +1.08 (Third straight start at +1.00 avg pts or above)
Two-seam fastball – 24 thrown; 1-for-4, HR; Avg Pts: -0.04
Curveball – 19 thrown; 0-for-4, 1K; Avg Pts: +0.15 (Last eight curves all were balls)
Cutter – 19 thrown; 0-for-4; Avg Pts: +0.89 (Five swinging strikes)
Changeup – 9 thrown; 0-for-1; Avg Pts: -.44 (Six balls on nine pitches)
Beckett now leads the AL in average points per four-seam fastball for the season (min. 100 four-seamers):
If you have missed my earlier posts, “average points per pitch” is based on a rather elementary scoring system that I use to “grade” the results of each pitch, ranging from +6 for a strike three to -15 for a home run.
—————————————————————————————————————————– Read the rest of this entry »
|04.22.11 at 9:27 am ET|
Times continue to get tough for Carl Crawford.
The Red Sox did beat the Angels, 4-2, Thursday night, and Crawford did come away with two walks and a stolen base. But that didn’t lift the cloud that continues to hover over the outfielder, who went without a hit for the 10th time in his 17 games played, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.
Another reminder regarding Crawford’s struggles came when he put down a sacrifice bunt to get to Jason Varitek with one out and runners on first and second in a scoreless game in the sixth.
The bunt actually turned into a well-executed play for the Red Sox, with Jacoby Ellsbury ultimately driving in the game’s first run, but it also offered a dose of reality considering Varitek is hitting .043 and you’re sacrificing with the player who had been perceived as one of the team’s best run-producers at the start of the season, residing in the lineup’s No. 3 spot.
Another picture that told the story of the pressures surrounding Crawford was that of the money thrown on the field when the left fielder stepped into the on-deck circle. (Hat tip to Larry Brown Sports.) You might remember the Angels were the ones who finished second in the Crawford sweepstakes this past offseason, a notion that evidently even the laid-back Southern Californians aren’t about to forget.
Los Angeles outfielder Torii Hunter, for one, holds no hard feelings.
“Everybody had him coming here,” Hunter told the Boston Herald. “I had him coming here … He made his choice. But I’m his homeboy first.”
Hunter later added, ‘That was his business. His business plan didn’t work out for me. He made his decision and I respect that. I was a free agent once. I’m a fellow baseball player. I know what it’s like. I’m not upset at all. I love him.
‘I was in Fort Myers with Boston for years. I respect that organization like crazy. Those guys coming up with $142 (million), they really wanted him. I tip my cap.’
Before the game, Crawford told CBSSports.com that, in his mind, one solution to his problem is not listening to the wave of advice that has come his way since the struggles began.
“Right now the best advice is no advice,” Crawford said. “At this point, everybody seems to be a hitting coach. At this point, I’m just shutting everybody out.”
Of 196 qualifying players, Crawford has the lowest OPS (.371), just above the Yankees‘ Brett Gardner (.388), who did beat out Crawford for lowest batting average (.128 to .143). The Dodgers’ James Loney possesses the worst on-base percentage (.190), with Gardner and the Red Sox’ outfielder trailing just behind at .196 and .200, respectively.
|04.22.11 at 1:58 am ET|
Finally, they broke through.
The Red Sox had spent most of the game frittering away opportunities, leaving Josh Beckett with no margin for error — and a no-decision — on a night when his flirtations with a no-hitter could not earn him a victory. But after the Sox left 13 runners on base through the first 10 innings, with the game deadlocked at 2-2, they finally got a much-needed breakthrough when Adrian Gonzalez delivered a run-scoring double to right to plate the go-ahead run against the Angels in the top of the 11th.
Gonzalez’ biggest hit with his new club set the stage for a 4-2 victory against an Angels team playing as well as any team in the game. The Sox now appear to be finding their way, with five wins in their last six contests, including W’s in two of their first three road games on the West Coast.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
–The final note of Josh Beckett‘s outing was disappointment. Though he carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, he suddenly was positioned for a no-decision when his second hit of the night traveled about 420 feet, as Torii Hunter tied the game, 2-2, with a two-run homer against a fastball down the middle. And yet the fact that the standard for judging Beckett’s outings is now near perfection speaks volumes to how far he’s come.
One dominant start was eye-opening. Two represented promise. Three now qualifies as a pattern. In his last three outings, Beckett has allowed three runs on eight hits over 23 innings while striking out 24 and walking five. He is 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA in that run. He has been nothing short of a force and, even though his fastball velocity has been settling around 93 mph (rather than the 94-96 mph that he featured a couple years ago), he has been simply overpowering.
It will, however, be interesting to monitor whether Beckett experiences any fatigue in subsequent outings. He logged 125 pitches, the most he’s thrown as a member of the Sox and the most by any Sox pitcher since Jon Lester logged 130 pitches in his 2008 no-hitter.
—Dustin Pedroia set a new season-high by reaching base five times, going 3-for-4 with three singles and two walks. He now has a .450 OBP this year. His performance was all the more impressive given that he gave the team a bit of a scare in the early innings, when he jammed his left foot (the one that he broke last year) hard into the second-base bag in the third inning.
—Carl Crawford ended a two-week stretch without a walk. In fact, he walked twice, though he went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts to drop his average to .143.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
–Wasted opportunities, again and again. The Sox had plenty of chances against the Angels, but as has been the case quite frequently in the early going (particularly on the road), the team could not capitalize when they put runners on base and/or in scoring position. The Sox were 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position and left 13 runners on base through the first 10 innings.
–The most notable failure with runners on base came in the top of the eighth inning, when the Sox loaded the bases with one out against Angels reliever Fernando Rodney but could not score. Most notable was the strikeout by J.D. Drew with one out, at a time when several forms of contact would have yielded a run.
Drew has always struggled with the bases loaded in his career. In his career, he is now hitting .229/.318/.441/.759 with the bases loaded. Across the board, those are his worst numbers in any situation.
—Kevin Youkilis left after the top of the second inning, not long after he slammed a foul ball off his lower left shin in a 10-pitch first-inning at-bat. With Marco Scutaro replacing Youkilis, the Angels could approach third-hole hitter Adrian Gonzalez with extreme caution, intentionally walking him once and otherwise refusing to challenge him. Scutaro ended up going 0-for-4 while stranding five.
—Jason Varitek continued to look overmatched at the plate, going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. Though he did walk and get hit by a pitch, Varitek is now 1-for-23 (.043) this year. But, of course, Sox pitchers once again had a tremendous night with the 39-year-old calling signals. The Sox now have a 2.22 ERA when Varitek is behind the plate.
|04.22.11 at 12:14 am ET|
On Thursday afternoon, Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen took stock of the outrageously successful start to the season by Yamaico Navarro. Those familiar with Navarro only from his September big league cameo probably had few positive impressions of the 23-year-old — who hit .143 with a .317 OPS, two walks and 17 strikeouts in 46 plate appearances while in Boston last year.
But that brief performance, Hazen and other members of the Sox organization insist, was wildly misleading. Navarro, the Sox feel, has developed into a versatile, talented player who is capable of being a useful member of a big league club right now.
Navarro is off to a terrific start with the PawSox this year, hitting .315 with a .422 OBP, .444 slugging mark, .866 OPS, 10 walks and 10 strikeouts in 14 games. That follows a 2010 late-season performance in Triple-A in which Navarro, after getting bumped up from Double-A Portland, hit .283/.339/.528/.867. He also was a standout in roughly two weeks of play in the Dominican in the winter, once again striking out and walking in virtually equal measure while showing impressive pop.
In the lower minors, Navarro had a reputation as a free-swinger who didn’t have much of a plan at the plate. But Hazen insists that those who still characterize him along those lines are missing the boat.
“He’s been doing this for a year now. Look at his numbers last year. He had 47 walks last year and  strikeouts [in the minors in 2010]. As far as this year goes, it’s early, but this guy’s been doing this for a year now,” said Hazen. “For me, the real sample of this guy’s ability was what he did in Pawtucket last year when he went up for those three weeks: .285 with seven extra-base hits and even strikeouts to walks. Read the rest of this entry »
|04.21.11 at 10:02 pm ET|
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