Archive for September, 2009

Doc’s Winter Holiday

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Late in July, Roy Halladay almost landed right in the middle of a late-summer pennant race in Boston. Instead, the nasty Doctor threw his last 100 filthy pitches of the season on Wednesday at Fenway Park in a 12-0 blanking of the Red Sox.

One of those 100 drilled David Ortiz in what seemed a fairly obvious retaliation for Jonathan Papelbon hitting Adam Lind the night before. While Lind was out of the lineup on Wednesday, if Ortiz went down for any time, it could drastically change the complexion of the Red Sox batting order heading into next week’s Division Series against the Angels.

But Ortiz came out of it okay, much to the relief of the Red Sox and their fans.

How and where Halladay will come out of this winter are questions that are far more uncertain. Based on various reports, Halladay was close to being shipped to either Boston or Philadelphia but both deals never materialized at the deadline. Still, with a year and $15 million remaining on his contract, does Toronto decide to re-visit that issue this winter.

“I think there’s going to be a little bit of that just because of some of the events that happened during the year but I think for the most part a lot of it is kind of going to be out of my hands,” Halladay said after his three-hitter. “You never want to have that uncertainty but sometimes that’s part of it. You do what you can to make the best of any situation and move on at that point. I don’t really know what the winter’s going to hold but I’m going to do the best to try to make the right decisions, if that’s presented to me, and go from there.” (more…)

Advancing the Angels

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Ever since he launched the Red Sox into the 2004 American League Championship Series with a homer over the Green Monster, David Ortiz has always had a special place in his heart for the Angels.

But he also has a great deal of respect for the opponent the Red Sox will be facing in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight postseason and the fourth time in six years.

Ortiz says he’s not banking on any confidence from Boston’s dominance over the Halos dating back to the 1986 ALCS.

“I don’t pay attention to any of that,” Ortiz said of the 4-0 mark in playoff series lifetime. “When you play Anaheim, you better bring your ‘A’ game. Those guys can wear you out anytime. They run, they hit, they play good defense and they have good pitching. Don’t let yourself get caught in the situation where you played well in the regular season or you played well 20 years ago before in the playoffs. This is a whole totally different situation.”

The Red Sox won the ’86 ALCS, 4 games to 3, while taking care of the Angels in the ALDS in 2004, ’07 and last year.

Theo takes time to smell the roses

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein has been through long enough and often enough in the last seven years to know that while the intensity of October baseball is quickly approaching, it’s still a good idea to take a moment or two to look back on another season that resulted in the playoffs.

And so he did just that prior to Wednesday’s game with the Blue Jays at Fenway Park, less than 24 hours after his club clinched their sixth postseason berth in seven years when Texas lost at Anaheim on Tuesday night.

“It’s something the organization is very proud of and our ultimate goal is still ahead of us and hasn’t been accomplished yet but I think you have to take time, even a small amount of time, when you qualify for the playoffs to look back at the path and how difficult it was and recognize it was an accomplishment,” he said.

“I’m in a unique position where I can see the hundreds of different people who played a part in making it happen, from the players, management, coaching staff to ownership to our player development people and scouts and I’m proud of all of them. You take a small, brief amount of time to appreciate that and you move on and work hard to advance scout for the postseason, where we hope we can do something that is truly noteworthy.” (more…)

The Blue Jays Blueprint: Toronto’s Way to Beat Clay

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

The Blue Jays slammed Clay Buchholz for seven runs (matching a season high) in five innings to deal the pitcher his first loss since Aug. 13, an eight-start run in which the right-hander was 6-0 with a 2.44 ERA. After yielding just one homer in his prior six starts, Buchholz allowed a stunning five longballs on Tuesday. The run-down on those blasts:

–Jays leadoff man Jose Bautista set the tone by blasting the first pitch of the game, a 92 mph fastball, over the Wall.

–Adam Lind, with a runner on first and no outs in the first, crushed a 1-2 changeup for a two-run homer to center.

–In the top of the second, Aaron Hill fell behind 0-2, then worked back to a full count before going deep to left on a changeup.

–In the top of the third, Kevin Millar fell behind 0-2, but sat on a 1-2 changeup that he drove out to left field.

–Finally, in the top of the fifth, Lind (who ended the game with a career-high three homers, the first such game a Fenway Park visitor since Frank Thomas accomplished the feat as a member of the White Sox on Sept. 15, 1996) smashed a 94 mph fastball on a 1-1 count.

So: two homers on early-count fastballs, and three on late-count changeups. The Blue Jays appeared to follow a blueprint in their fourth game against Buchholz, and they unloaded on his off-speed offerings with two strikes.

“They’ve faced him quite a few times this year. I thought they were sitting soft, especially late in the count. They got some change-ups up,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “I thought they did a good job of picking out one speed with Buc and he was elevating a little bit and they hit it a long way.”

Buchholz threw 20 pitches with two strikes. Of those:

–Six were changeups (all in the first three innings). The Blue Jays blasted three homers on the pitch, took one for a ball, grounded out on one and lined out on one. They did not swing-and-miss at a two-strike changeup.

–One was a curveball, resulting in a single.

–Seven were fastballs: four balls, two groundouts, one strikeout looking

–Six sliders: two swings and misses, one called third strike, two balls, one foul

In other words, when Buchholz threw hard stuff (fastballs and sliders) in two-strike counts, the Jays primarily took the pitches. When they swung, they either missed or made poor contact.

When he threw off-speed pitches, namely his Bugs Bunny changeup and curve, Toronto swung at all but one pitch, and typically made hard contact.

“I felt like I did a pretty good job with the majority of the guys getting ahead in the count and two-strike counts. The execution of the two-strike pitches weren’t near as sharp as they needed to be,” said Buchholz. “Obviously, they had a game plan and they stuck to it and they beat me tonight.

“The home runs, or a couple at least, they were sitting soft with two strikes. All year I’ve been throwing my changeups with two strikes to get outs with. Even though a couple of them were in decent locations, they sat back on it. They did a good job of following their game plan and sticking to it.”

Of course, such a claim represents a potential danger with the playoffs soon at hand. Postseason opponents zero in on such vulnerabilities, and typically do a tremendous job focusing on a pitcher’s weaknesses. Scouts for the Yankees, Angels, Tigers and Twins were all in attendance at Tuesday’s game; no doubt, all of them noted the success of looking for changeups on two-strike counts and making him use his fastball.

That being the case, with Buchholz representing an almost-certain member of the postseason rotation, he will have to counteract the tactic. He has the tools to do so, namely the ability to change his pitching patterns by leaving opponents guessing as to what pitch will be thrown in what count, and by executing his breaking stuff so it disappears on two-strike counts, rather than staying thigh-high.

“When you throw up in the zone and pretty much in the middle, I think anybody can hit those kind of pitches, even with the stuff Clay has,” said catcher Victor Martinez. “I think it was one of those days he didn’t have his best stuff and they really made him pay.”

“There are other teams who have sat on [Buchholz’ slow stuff], too,” Francona added. “His changeup’s so good they don’t hit it. It’s just the ball was elevated a little bit [on Tuesday].”

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Preview 9/30

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

After a dramatic late rally that fell short in their 8-7 loss to the Blue Jays Tuesday night, the Red Sox had to postpone their playoff celebration until the final out was made on the West Coast, giving the Angels a 5-2 victory over the Rangers and ending Texas’ postseason hopes.

With the wild card now secure, the Red Sox (91-66) can finally exhale and begin to prepare for their playoff run with only five regular-season games remaining. Tuesday night was bittersweet, as the Sox first watched Blue Jays batters tee off on right-hander Clay Buchholz. Lasting only five innings, Buchholz was pounded for seven runs on eight hits, five which were home runs.

Looking to end a five-game skid, the Red Sox send knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (11-4, 4.33) to the mound to make his fourth start after being activated from the disabled list Aug. 26. An All-Star based on the first half of his season, Wakefield has yet to record a win in his return from the DL, going 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA.

In his two starts against Toronto (74-84) this season, the 43-year-old has had one brilliant outing and one miserable one. On May 19, Wakefield was nearly flawless in turning in eight strong innings of one-run ball in a Sox win. On May 29, the veteran was slammed, giving up six runs in 4-2/3 innings of work. In 50 career appearances (40 starts) opposing the Jays, Wakefield owns a 17-12 record with a 3.81 ERA.

A Cy Young candidate and a hot topic in the days leading up to the July trade deadline, Roy Halladay (16-10, 2.90) makes what could be his last start of the year for the Blue Jays. After having a rough August, Halladay has dominated during the month of September, composing a microscopic 1.80 ERA in five starts.

Facing the Mariners last Friday in Toronto, Halladay was overpowering, whiffing 11 and allowing no runs to post his major league-best eighth complete game of the season and career-best third shutout. In his three starts against the Red Sox this year, Halladay has not shown his usual lights-out form, recording a 2-1 mark with a 4.05 ERA. Kevin Youkilis has had plenty of success against Halladay, batting .352 with a home run in 62 career plate appearances.

Here is how both pitchers match up vs. opposing batters:

Tim Wakefield vs. Blue Jays batters

Vernon Wells (67 career plate appearances) .246 AVG, .343 OBP, .281 SLG, 7 walks, 6 strikeouts

Kevin Millar (35) .419, .486, .903, 4 home runs, 4 walks, 3 strikeouts

Aaron Hill (33) .290, .333, .323, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts

Rod Barajas (29) .259, .310, .370, 1 home run, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts

John McDonald (26) .240, .231, .320, 2 strikeouts

Marco Scutaro (25) .333, .360, .458, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts

Lyle Overbay (23) .286, .348, .333, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts

Adam Lind (12) .167, .167, .167, 1 strikeout

Edwin Encarnacion (3) 1-for-3

Roy Halladay vs. Red Sox batters

David Ortiz (105 career plate appearances) .281 AVG, .333 OBP, .531 SLG, 6 home runs, 7 walks, 13 strikeouts

Jason Varitek (84) .205, .262, .333, 2 home runs, 6 walks, 23 strikeouts

Kevin Youkilis (62) .352, .419, .519, 1 home run, 7 walks, 8 strikeouts

Dustin Pedroia (41) .211, .250, .368, 1 home run, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts

J.D. Drew (34) .300, .382, .400, 1 home run, 4 walks, 6 strikeouts

Mike Lowell (31) .233, .258, .533, 3 home runs, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts

Jacoby Ellsbury (29) .259, .259, .630, 2 home runs, 5 strikeouts

Rocco Baldelli (19) .353, .421, .706, 2 home runs, 5 strikeouts

Jason Bay (19) .278, .316, .667, 2 home runs, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts

Joey Gathright (18) .063, .167, .063, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Casey Kotchman (18) .222, .222, .222, 1 strikeout

Victor Martinez (18) .333, .444, .467, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts

Alex Gonzalez (10) .375, .400, .375, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Nick Green (9) 1-for-9, 6 strikeouts

Jed Lowrie (6) 0-for-6, 2 strikeouts

Brian Anderson (3) 2-for-3

Chris Woodward (3) 1-for-3, 1 strikeout

Scenes (sort of) From a Celebration

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Fenway Park had long since been vacated by 12:50 a.m., the people drastically outnumbered by the garbage bags that marked where a game had been played. But there were a few people left in the hidden recesses of Fenway Park to react when Rangers first baseman Hank Blalock struck out looking to conclude Texas’ 5-2 loss to the Angels.

And with that, it was official. A bit more than two hours after their fifth straight defeat, this one an 8-7 decision to the Blue Jays, the Red Sox were left to celebrate. Never mind the recent losing streak. With a 91-66 record, the Sox had clinched the American League Wild Card, marking the team’s sixth trip to the playoffs in the span of seven years, a remarkable run of success that only one other team (the Yankees) can claim in that timeframe.

And so, the Sox celebrated. Behind the closed doors of the clubhouse, the muffled sounds were of players hollering and, as manager Terry Francona had suggested just a couple days earlier, grown men behaving like little boys. Because the ballpark was empty save for team employees and the couple dozen remaining members of the media, there were no snapshots of a celebration: no Riverdance, no opportunity to spray the fans with champagne, no occasion to storm nearby watering holes and pour drinks for the celebrating fans.

The clubhouse was never opened to the media, instead a steady drip of six bubbly- and beer-soaked players (Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Bay, Tim Wakefield, Takashi Saito and Junichi Tazawa) making their way into the concourse just outside of the clubhouse to offer their reactions to the accomplishment. The exchanges were a bit awkward, as the players left the thumping bass of the clubhouse for the silence of the empty ballpark, but the enthusiasm, sense of achievement and anticipation for another October run nevertheless came through.

Some of the postgame reactions:

MIKE LOWELL

“It’s up there, man. We play from the first day of spring training, this is the goal. I know it wasn’t the ideal thing and you’d probably much rather do it on the field after a victory but you know, we battled hard all year to get to this point. I don’t care how it comes. We deserve to celebrate just like the other teams that have made the playoffs. We’re excited to be here. This is hopefully step one. I think we’ve got our team where we want it to be and we’re excited.”

“It’s wet. No, guys I think just feel the ultimate satisfaction of starting out in spring training, you have this goal. The season always brings ups and downs but you fight through it collectively and you enjoy the good times. Like I say, we deserve to enjoy this time. Not every team gets to go to the playoffs and I know my first five years in the big leagues, I was home right after the last day of the season so any time I have to celebrate a great team accomplishment, I think we should.”

“I think, you know, there’s a decent core of us that have now reached the postseason three years in a row. That consistency is something that we’re really proud of. I think there’s a lot of expectations playing in this market that you have to reach the postseason. To meet those expectations, I think you feel very satisfied but with that being said, I don’t think we want to be complacent just reaching the postseason. We want to go deep.”

(How many guys are in the clubhouse?) “I’m saying 90 percent. Some guys live kind of far away. They’ve got families. Everyone’s got their own situation. I’d say a big handful of us. Everyone was kind of asking around, what happens if we don’t win? Do we stick around. I think the overwhelming response was absolutely. We came into this together and we should celebrate together.”

Different feeling? “It’s a little different because we didn’t do it on the field but I don’t think that takes away the joy we have. It’s still a great accomplishment for us.”

What about the fans? “I think you can notice today, we were down 8-2 and they’re all on their feet looking for a rally. They get us going. They’re a big part of why we succeed here at Fenway and they’re a big part of why we have such great support across the country.”

What about Papelbon? “He’s probably in a thong right now with goggles and drinking Budweiser. Anheuser Busch.”

DUSTIN PEDROIA

We’re excited.

Any time you make the playoffs, it’s a great accomplishment. It’s a good season. Now we just have to go out there, play well and win a championship.
It doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you’re in.

I went home, put my son to sleep and came back. We all watched the game.

(What were you doing upon the Rangers’ final out?) We were all yelling at each other. That was pretty much it.

We like our chances. We have a great pitching staff. It’d be nice to have some momentum. We’ve lost a few games in a row. But when playoff time comes, a lot of guys have been through it. That’s a positive thing.

[Where's the celebration?] Just in the clubhouse.

[Weird to clinch while not winning?] Got swept in New York, lost the first two games against Toronto, so we definitely wanted to get in. We’ve got some guys banged up, guys that can take a couple days off, get rested and ready to go. We’re excited.

[Would you like to be on a roll] We’d like to have played better.

The last few games haven’t been good. But we’ll be alright. I don’t think anybody is [excited] over the last couple losses, but we’re excited to be in the playoffs and make a run at everything.

JASON BAY

“It’s a little different waiting around for another game to end but at the same time, any time you get to the playoffs, ultimately that’s where you want to be. I don’t see how this would ever get old.”
“I think it was maybe a little more subdued than walking off the field but at the same time, like you said earlier, when you’ve got Pap on your team, it definitely isn’t boring.”

“I left for a little bit, but I was following the GameCast on my phone and got back before the end of the game.”

[Is it weird to celebrate despite the team's recent struggles?] “I don’t think so. I feel like three in a row in the New York series and now this, a couple tough games, but this was something we just wanted, I don’t want to say get over with, but it was something on the horizon that we wanted to put it behind us and look forward now that it’s locked up.”

“You play an entire season, spring training included, to get to this point. One night, you get to throw champagne around, and have a little bit of fun.

I think that everyone is entitled to that.”

[How many players are in there?] “I don’t have a head count, per se. I’d say – we’ve got a lot of guys, probably about 85, 90 percent of the guys. I don’t know exactly how many. But I would say most of them, for sure.”

“I was on a team where this would have been a luxury, going to the playoffs.”

“You construct a team, you put it a certain way, a lot of things still have to go right. Four teams from each league get to go to the playoffs. That’s the big thing – everyone’s pulling in the same direction.”

A lot of people expect good things, big things.

They deserve it.

It’s kind of like that reward at the end. You get to go to the playoffs. That’s what you wanted to do. Not ultimately: there’s still a lot more to do.

[When do you start thinking about the Angels?] Probably in the next couple days. I’ll admit that a couple people probably already have, especially since we played them a couple weeks ago. It’s pretty fresh in our minds.

There’s some history in this wild card and what have you, so it shouldn’t be a dull one. No question. But I think right now, enjoy it and we’ve got a week to get ready.

TIM WAKEFIELD

“It’s always good to get in the postseaon. I’ve been a part of a lot of these and I’m happy to be going again.”

[Weird the way it happened?]

No because we watched NY lose to Baltimore that one year [2007] we won the East. That was I can’t remember … two years ago? I’ve been here too long. My years are running together. We’d have like to have won tonight and celebrated on the field, but we’ll take it any way we can get it.

[ever get old?]

Never. Never. There’s so much work that goes on from the offseason into spring training with one goal in mind and that’s to get to the postseason and win the World Series. It doesn’t matter how you get in as long as you get in.

[what makes this team special?]

It’s a different group of guys than what we started the year with. That’s what makes this special. The organization did a great job of picking up guys like Victor and Wags and putting pieces together when we were struggling for a little while and we came through tonight to get in the postseason.

[what’s it say about guys sticking around?]

That says a lot about our team that we really care aobut where we’re going. Most of the team is here, 99 percent. It says a lot about the character of this team.

Varitek drops out of Type B status?

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

According to Eddie Bajek of Detroit Tigers Thoughts and MLB Trade Rumors, who has thought to have reverse-engineered the Elias Rankings which determine classification for arbitration compensation, Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek has dropped out of ‘Type B’ status for catchers.

The demotion means that if the Red Sox did not pick up the catcher’s $5 million option, or if Varitek chose not to exercise his player option of $3 million, the Sox would receive no draft picks in return if another team signed the team’s captain. Varitek had been classified as a ‘Type A’ free agent after last season.

The formula to rank each player is a combination of two years of production, with each position being ranked separately.