Archive for September, 2012

Sunday’s Red Sox-Orioles matchups: Zach Stewart vs. Joe Saunders

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

The Sox and Orioles finish up their season series with a 1:35 p.m. start on Sunday. The Orioles look to continue their winning ways against the Sox before they head to Tampa Bay for a three-game series with the Rays, who sit just a few games back in the wild card standings. The Sox head to New York with hopes of ruining a first-place finish for the Yankees in the AL East.

The Sox on Sunday will give the ball to Zach Stewart (1-3, 7.91 ERA overall this season, 0-1, 27.00 with Boston). Steward came to Boston at the end of June as part of the Kevin Youkilis trade. Stewart started just one game for the White Sox, going 5 2/3 innings against the Cubs on June 18 and giving up six runs, including four home runs, in taking the loss.

In his only start in a Red Sox uniform, Stewart performed poorly, going just three innings against the Angels on Aug. 29 and allowing nine earned runs on 10 hits. He then was sent to Pawtucket to make room for Daniel Bard.

The Orioles haven’€™t seen much of Stewart. Shortstop J.J. Hardy has hit a home run and a double off Stewart in four at-bats. Catcher Matt Wieters, who missed Friday’€™s game due to the birth of his son, has faced Stewart once and hit a grand slam.

Joe Saunders (8-13, 4.09 ERA overall this season, 2-3, 3.62 with the O’s) will pitch for Baltimore. He was traded to the Orioles on Aug. 26 from the Diamondbacks. Saunders was 6-10 with a 4.22 ERA in 21 starts with the Diamondbacks this season. Prior to his two-year stint in Arizona, Saunders pitched for the Angels.

In his last outing, Saunders pitched against the Blue Jays on Sept. 25 and allowed three earned runs on 11 hits through 6 1/3 innings. His strongest outing of the month came Sept. 19 against the Mariners. Saunders allowed just one run through eight innings of work in that game, although he did not factor in the decision.

Of current Sox batters, James Loney has the most at-bats against Saunders, as the two previously faced each other in the National League. Loney has two home runs and six RBIs in 27 at-bats against the lefty. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia also has hit well against Saunders with eight hits, including two doubles, in 27 at-bats.


How the Indians helped turn Terry Francona into a managerial star

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

BALTIMORE — Terry Francona will interview next week for the position of manager of the Cleveland Indians, a job that became vacant when Cleveland decided to fire manager Manny Acta earlier this week.

“I’m excited and I’m honored that they would give me an interview,” Francona told the Associated Press. “I know Sandy Alomar is also a candidate. He’s a good friend of mine. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I will do my homework over the next week.”

On the surface, it might seem somewhat surprising that the Indians would represent an appealing destination for Francona. After all, in his eight years with the Red Sox, he lived constantly in the middle of pennant races, reveling in the nightly packed houses and intense passion for baseball that defined his job in Boston. He inherited a team that was built to win a World Series, won a title in his first year and, in each of his subsequent campaigns, had a squad that on paper seemed primed to compete for such a job.

That being the case, the potential fit of Francona and the Indians — a team that may have some distance to reach contention after four straight sub-.500 seasons and three out of four seasons (including this one) in which the Tribe has surpassed the 90-loss plateau — might at first seem curious. It shouldn’t.

Francona endured a beating at the end of his four-year tenure as manager of the Phillies. He was fired at the end of the 2000 campaign, and as he’s mentioned on many occasions, his self-esteem took a beating in the process. His tires were slashed in the parking lot at the old Veteran’s Stadium at the end of that season, and he was widely caricatured as an ineffectual manager.

Still, he enjoyed a solid reputation in the game, and so after that 2000 season, there were opportunities to interview for various uniform jobs. But the Indians offered something different.

After the 2000 season, Francona was hired by the Indians as a special assistant to the general manager. After spending his baseball life in uniform, he got an opportunity to see the game from a different vantage point while working closely with members of the Indians front office during the 2001 season. He scouted, he offered talent evaluations, he sat in on draft discussions and interacted with numerous people throughout the Indians organization — particularly Mark Shapiro (who was being groomed to take over the job of general manager in 2001) and Chris Antonetti. (more…)

Saturday’s Red Sox-Orioles matchups: Felix Doubront vs. Steve Johnson

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

The Sox and Orioles continue their weekend series in Baltimore on Saturday night. The Orioles continue the hunt for first place in the AL East and the Sox are trying to play spoilers.

The Sox will send Felix Doubront (11-9, 4.91 ERA) to the hill. Doubront had his best outing of September last week against the Orioles at Fenway Park. Doubront received no decision after seven innings in which he allowed four hits with a season-high 11 strikeouts. This followed a good start against the Rays, which marked Doubront’€™s first win since July 18.

Doubront has given up 70 walks this season, the most on the Sox. All of the added baserunners could explain his near-5.00 ERA.

Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis has done well against Doubront, with hits in three of his four at-bats against the Sox lefty. This is Doubront’€™s second start against the Orioles this season.

The Orioles counter with Steve Johnson (4-0, 1.62 ERA), the right-handed rookie called up in July. He’€™s been impressive in four starts as well as a number of relief appearances for the Orioles. He has recorded 43 strikeouts in just 33 1/3 innings of work.

Johnson’€™s last appearance, against the Blue Jays on Monday, was strong as he went five scoreless innings, striking out six.

Of the current Sox players, only Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Cody Ross and Jarrod Saltalamacchia have faced Johnson, and each has struck out in his lone plate appearance.


Miguel Tejada to play in Dominican, but will Manny Ramirez?

Friday, September 28th, 2012

On Monday, Peter Gammons of NESN and MLB Network reported (via twitter) that “Aguilas is expecting Manny Ramirez to play for them this winter.” Rich Sauveur, the pitching coach for Triple-A Pawtucket who will serve in the same role for Aguilas, said that he was aware of the rumor but could not attest to its veracity.

“I did hear that he was [going to play], but I’ve also heard that he is not. So I can’t verify that,” said Sauveur, who is currently assisting the Red Sox coaching staff with the PawSox’ season having concluded.

Ramirez signed a minor league deal with the A’s last offseason, but after hitting .302 with a .348 OBP and .349 slugging mark in 17 games for Triple-A Sacramento, he was released. Sauveur suggested that, if last winter is any indication, anything is possible this coming winter with Ramirez.

“I did see him a couple times last year,” said Sauveur. “Manny did not play, but he was in the dugout. He just showed up for a couple of games, but not in uniform.”

Sauveur did say that 2002 AL MVP Miguel Tejada is playing for Aguilas this winter. Tejada, 38, was released after playing 36 games this year for Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate.

Red Sox Notes: An infamous anniversary; Jacoby Ellsbury nears return; Will Middlebrooks hits off a tee

Friday, September 28th, 2012

BALTIMORE — Exactly one year after their hopes for 2011 crumbled in startling fashion, the Red Sox find themselves back in Baltimore. The Red Sox lineup on Friday night bears almost no resemblance to its predecessor of a year ago. Exactly two players (Dustin Pedroia and Ryan Lavarnway) from the Sox’ lineup last Sept. 28 are in the lineup on this odd anniversary.

Gone are Adrian Gonzalez and J.D. Drew and Marco Scutaro and Carl Crawford. Mike Aviles, the starting third baseman in last year’s season finale (on a day when Kevin Youkilis landed on the 60-day DL), resides on the bench as the Sox continue to give Jose Iglesias an opportunity to play. David Ortiz is injured.

The result is a team unrecognizable (and, judging from the lineup as posted in Camden Yards on Friday night, unspellable) from the one that saw its season end suddenly, startlingly, in a 4-3 walkoff loss to the Orioles.

The Sox have spiraled to their worst record in decades. At 69-87, they are within three losses of the team’s first 90-loss year since 1966. The Orioles, meanwhile, have gone from plucky last-place doormat last year — when they went 69-93 — to a neck-and-neck race with the Yankees for the AL East title. The O’s are 89-67, one game behind New York but with a three-game margin for error in the wild card race.

“There aren’€™t many guys who are going to be in that starting nine tonight who were playing on this team last year,” noted Sox manager Bobby Valentine. “It’€™s not like a revenge factor [is in play this weekend against the O’s.”

Still, those who were with the Red Sox are still haunted by that season-ending series in Baltimore and its consequences.

“It’s tough to believe that happened,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.”September last year, it was just one of those things — we were grinding it out, played as hard as we could but just didn’t finish it.”

That said, Saltalamacchia insisted that the end of last season was not nearly as mind-blowing as what has transpired with the Sox in 2012.

“This year was probably more shocking than what happened last year, to me. You go from every spot filled with All-Stars, Gold Gloves, to trading them all away. You never believe that’s going to happen,” said Saltalamacchia. “You think this is your team for a long time when guys sign six-, seven-year contracts. Obviously, it is what it is. It wasn’t working out. We weren’t winning. Something had to be done.”

A few additional notes from Baltimore:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury, out since Sept. 20, is expected to return to the Red Sox lineup on Saturday, according to manager Bobby Valentine. “He’€™s going to do everything today in practice. He’€™s going to actually test everything, they said, today. then if all goes well, tomorrow will be the day,” said Valentine.
  • Will Middlebrooks hit off a tee on Friday for the first time since suffering two broken bones in his wrist. The 24-year-old described swinging as “awkward,” but useful. “I’m just kind of gauging where I’m at, keep doing that, feel some progress. At this point in my rehab, I can’t feel [physical] progress. I feel like I’m fine. But swinging a bat or throwing, I can really feel day-by-day if I’m getting better. I’m not doing a lot, just enough to know where I’m at.” Middlebrooks said that he’ll probably start taking full batting practice in December.
  • Rich Sauveur, the pitching coach with Triple-A Pawtucket who is currently with the big league coaching staff, will serve as pitching coach in the Dominican Winter League for the Aguilas Cibaenas in Santiago. Sauveur said that right-hander Josh Fields — who threw 13 2/3 shutout innings for the PawSox at the end of this year, and who had a 2.01 ERA with 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.8 walks per nine in a breakthrough season — will pitch for him. Indeed, Sauveur said that he expects Fields to close for him.

Friday’s Red Sox-Orioles matchups: Aaron Cook vs. Chris Tillman

Friday, September 28th, 2012

The Red Sox hit the road for their final six games of the season with a chance to play spoiler against the AL East’s top two teams. They begin a three-game series with the surprising Orioles at Camden Yards on Friday night before heading to New York to finish out the season with three games against the division-leading Yankees. Aaron Cook (4-10, 5.13 ERA) is on the mound Friday and looks to help the Sox avoid a seventh loss in eight games.

Cook pitched last Saturday against the Orioles and allowed five runs on nine hits over 5 1/3 innings. The Sox lost that game in 12 innings, 9-6. Cook hasn’€™t fared well against the Orioles this season at 0-2 with an 8.78 ERA in three starts.

Orioles catcher Matt Wieters has five hits in eight appearances against Cook lifetime, including four doubles. Mark Reynolds, who has faced Cook the most among active Orioles, has two home runs lifetime.

Chris Tillman (8-2, 3.08) takes the hill for the Orioles. He has been strong in recent outings with a 1.64 ERA over his past four starts. He started against the Sox this past Sunday, allowing one run and six hits over six innings. The Orioles won that game 2-1, although Tillman did not factor in the decision.

Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia is 4-for-10 lifetime against Tillman. He’s the only active Sox player with double-figure at-bats vs. Tillman.

The Orioles, a game behind the Yankees and in first in the race for the wild card, lead the season series against Boston 10-5 and are 20 games ahead of the Sox.


Potential Red Sox 2013 draft pick: North Carolina 3B Colin Moran

Thursday, September 27th, 2012 will continue to offer insight and analysis regarding options that might be available to the Red Sox when it comes to the 2013 MLB draft. For the first time since 1993, the Red Sox have a top-10 selection and will be drafting seventh. Here is one in a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’€™s time for the Red Sox to make a selection.


Position: 3B

School: North Carolina

Born: Oct. 1, 1992

Height/weight: 6-foot-3, 209 pounds

Bats/throws: L/R

2013 class: Junior

Previously drafted: N/A

Achievements: 2012 CCBL All-League, 2012 No. 2 Prospect in CCBL by Baseball America, 2011 CCBL All-Star, 2011 Baseball America Freshman of the Year, 2011 Perfect Game Freshman Hitter of the Year, 2011 Baseball America All-America first team, 2011 Perfect Game All-America first team, 2011 ABCA All-America first team, 2011 Baseball America Freshman All-American, 2011 NCBWA Freshman All-American. 2011 ACC Freshman of the Year, 2011 first team All-ACC

What he brings: A decorated college athlete, Moran is said to be one of the best pure hitters in the 2013 MLB draft. He owns a wide stance and a very natural swing. Moran exhibits great plate discipline with above-average pitch recognition. He has showcased an ability to hit to all fields and has the ability to add strength and power to his bat.

Defensively, he has a strong arm. Despite a history that indicated a need to work on his fielding, Moran become a standout defensive player in 2012, and he projects to remain at third base at the major league level.

Notes: In 2012 Moran posted a .314 batting average with a .379 OBP, a .503 slugging percentage and an .882 OPS in 159 at-bats for North Carolina. All of those figures were elevated from the 2011 season when he posted a .289/.361/.371/.732 batting line.

His progress could be chalked up to hard work or the direct result of baseball literally being in his blood. His uncle is B.J. Surhoff, who was an All-American at North Carolina in the 1980s before spending 19 seasons in the big leagues.

If you consider intensity and fire in a baseball player a good thing, you can compare Moran to outfielder Ryan Sweeney. As Red Sox fans know, Sweeney, upset with a bad at-bat, punched a door and broke his hand midway through the season. Moran missed 20 games this year after punching a door following a loss to crosstown rival N.C. State.


Wednesday’s Red Sox-Rays matchups: Jon Lester vs. Alex Cobb

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Jon Lester will make the start as the Red Sox face the Rays for the 17th and final time this season after losing the opening game of their two-game set. Still, the Red Sox already have clinched the season series, leading 9-7.

It’€™s been some time since Lester (9-13, 4.96 ERA) has faced the Rays this season. In fact, Lester, who has 21 starts against the Rays in his career, made just one start against them season — back on May 25. The one start did not go well. Lester lasted just four innings and gave up all seven runs in a 7-4 Tampa Bay victory. The four innings are tied for Lester’€™s shortest outing of the season while the seven runs are tied for the second most he’€™s surrendered all season.

Fortunately for Lester, his career numbers against Tampa are much better than he’€™s shown in 2012. However, the numbers are not as strong as would be expected against a Tampa team that’€™s never boasted an elite lineup. Lester is 10-7 in his 21 starts against the Rays but has a 4.29 ERA against them, the highest against any AL East opponent. He’s given up 15 home runs, which is tied for the most he’€™s given up against any opponent. On the flip side, Lester has more strikeouts against the Rays than any other team, although he has given up the second-most walks of any opponent. Also of note: The Rays’€™ 17 steals against Lester is more than double the next closest team’€™s total of eight.

Lester has a long track record against a solid portion of the Tampa Bay lineup and has performed well against the longest-tenured portion of the roster. As a group, the current Rays are hitting .222 against Lester with an OPS of .711. Only Carlos Pena, who has an OPS of 1.169 in 50 plate appearances, has done particularly well against Lester of any player who has faced the lefty more than 10 times. Meanwhile, some of the Rays’€™ younger bats, namely Desmond Jennings, Elliot Johnson and Matthew Joyce, have posted solid numbers against Lester in limited sample sizes.

Meanwhile, the last Tampa Bay starter the Red Sox lineup will face this season is Alex Cobb, who last pitched on Sept. 17 — also against the Red Sox. Cobb was effective in that outing, pitching six innings and giving up three runs. However, he would go on to take the loss in a 5-2 Red Sox win. Meanwhile, in his first start against the Red Sox back on May 25, Cobb was much more effective, giving up one run over five innings and earning the win in a 7-4 Tampa Bay victory.

The 24-year-old Cobb (9-9, 4.27) is finishing up his first full season in the majors after making nine starts last year and has shown flashes of brilliance as well as glaring inconsistencies. In his last six starts, Cobb has alternated outings in which he went deep into games and pitched well with starts when he couldn’€™t stay in the game long. Most notably, Cobb gave up eight runs in just 2 2/3 innings on Aug. 18 before throwing a four-hit complete game shutout five days later.

The current Red Sox lineup has seen very little of Cobb so far and has hit even less. As a group, the Red Sox have three hits in 34 at-bats against Cobb (an .088 average) and one extra-base hit (a two-run home run by Jacoby Ellsbury), which boils down to an atrocious .382 OPS. Only one member of the Red Sox lineup, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, has reached base on multiple occasions against Cobb, doing so on three walks.


Pedro Martinez, Kevin Millar, Keith Foulke reflect on ’04: ‘Mission accomplished’

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

In a season that has offered few feel-good moments, the Red Sox flipped the calendar back eight years prior to the start of Tuesday’s game. As the team concludes the season-long 100th anniversary celebration of Fenway Park, the 2004 championship team, which offered an oasis after an 86-year title drought, paraded around the premises.

The pregame celebration featured numerous members of that club — with manager Terry Francona; pitchers Pedro Martinez, Keith Foulke, Tim Wakefield, Mike Timlin and Alan Embree (along with more obscure contributors such as Phil Seibel, Jason Shiell and Joe Nelson); and position players such as Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon and Kevin Millar along with Dave McCarty and Adam Hyzdu — riding around the warning track in Duck Boats, in homage to the parade that took place following that title run.

After the ceremonies, Martinez, Millar and Foulke reflected on their accomplishments of that season.

Martinez, of course, had the deepest appreciation for what 2004 meant. That was the last of his seven extraordinary seasons in Boston, during which he had experienced nearly everything imaginable while bearing the responsibilities of a franchise icon. Asked how he would have felt if he’d been unable to win a title in Boston prior to leaving as a free agent following that 2004 campaign, he suggested, “I would probably retire right after then. I would have been so disappointed that I came in here with a purpose, and that was the purpose. I’ll probably say that I was the only player out of all the players that felt like he had something to achieve for this team. I was called in to build the team around me as the ace of the team. It took me until the last year to actually finally get it, but I could easily say, ‘Mission accomplished.’

“I’ve actually been to the Green Monster many times,” he added. “Everybody normally has the history of signing the Green Monster. I refused to until I won it for Boston. I keep forgetting — every time I come back I keep forgetting — but now I feel like I can sign it, and leave my name in the Green Monster. I haven’t signed it yet.” (more…)

Tuesday’s Red Sox-Rays matchups: Clay Buchholz vs. David Price

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

In a rematch of last Thursday’€™s pitching matchup, Clay Buchholz will take on the Rays’€™ David Price as the Red Sox try to avenge a 7-4 loss in that game.

In the Sept. 20 matchup, Buchholz (11-6, 4.16 ERA) was brilliant, throwing seven scoreless innings but receiving no decision after the bullpen lost the lead in the ninth inning. The start was the best of a recent string of solid outings for Buchholz, who has pitched at least seven innings in his last five appearances. Buchholz has not recorded a win since Aug. 16 but did post a 2.95 ERA during that five-game stretch and has not surrendered a home run in his past four outings.

Tuesday’€™s game will mark the sixth time this season that Buchholz will make a start against the Rays, whom he has faced more than any other opponent this season. Despite a 1-2 record, Buchholz has pitched well against Tampa Bay this season, putting up a 3.62 ERA, giving up one home run and notching 28 strikeouts compared to just eight walks. Buchholz’€™s one win against the Rays this season came in his first start against them, on April 14, when he gave up five earned runs in a 13-5 Red Sox win. The victory was part of a lucky month for Buchholz, who had an 8.69 ERA but still managed to go 2-1.

Even more impressive than Buchholz’s numbers against Tampa Bay his season are his stats against the Rays over his career: 5-4 with 2.52 ERA, his second-lowest mark against an AL opponent. Against the lineup he will see Tuesday night, Buchholz has been dominant, posting a .222 batting average against with a .656 OPS against. Buchholz has been particularly effective against the Rays who have the longest history with him, posting a .201 batting average against vs. Rays hitters who have at least 20 plate appearances against him.

Just like last week, Price enters Tuesday night’€™s game as the MLB’€™s leader in ERA at 2.58. However, Price, who gave up three runs over 7 1/3 innings, was outpitched in his previous outing by Buchholz. While still a solid start, Price’€™s performance last Thursday was just the second time since the beginning of August that he’s surrendered three or more runs. Price’€™s ERA has actually risen during that stretch, largely in part to his outing on Aug. 27, when he gave up six runs in four innings, his worst start of the season.

In four starts against the Red Sox this season, Price has gone 1-1 with a 3.28 ERA, with the one loss coming back on April 13 in his second start of the season. Price struggled in the start, giving up three runs and completing just three innings, his shortest outing of the season. Over his career, though, Price has flourished at Fenway, going 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA in six starts. Strangely, Price has had disappointing strikeout and walk numbers at Fenway, striking out 21 while walking 18, his worst strikeout-to-walk ratio of any stadium he’€™s appeared in more than once.

The current Red Sox lineup is batting .278 against Price, whose career batting average against sits at .227. A large part of that mark against Price is due to the efforts of Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, who have OPS totals of .888 and 1.024 against him, respectively. They also have the only two home runs against him.