|John Kruk on M&M: Carl Crawford ‘thinks he’s the worst player in baseball’||04.19.11 at 12:59 pm ET|
ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk, in his weekly interview on the Mut & Merloni Show, suggested that the Red Sox‘ three-game winning streak against the Blue Jays gave up glimpse of what he expected from the club.
“Everyone wants to count them out after 10 games, but they’re too good,” said Kruk. “They’re too good to count them out at any time of the season.”
Even so, Kruk acknowledged that he does have some questions about the club, including the team’s catching situation.
Through the first 15 games of the season, Red Sox pitchers have a 2.40 ERA with Jason Varitek behind the plate and a 7.29 mark with Jarrod Saltalamacchia calling signals. Kruk suggested that he doesn’t think the disparity is a coincidence.
“[Josh] Beckett and Daisuke [Matsuzaka], their best starts of the year just happened to be with Varitek behind the plate? I don’t think so,” said Kruk. “First of all, the thing with Jarrod Saltalamacchia is this. He’s never established himself as an everyday catcher. All we heard about when he was in Atlanta was, ‘Oh, this guy is going to be the second coming of Johnny Bench ‘ switch-hitter with power to both sides, he can call a game, he can throw.’ He’s never proven it. You wonder why a guy who was supposed to be this great has been with his third organization already at such a young age. There has to be something there where two other organizations felt this guy isn’t an everyday catcher, we can get by with someone else.
“To me, the thing that Varitek does back there with that pitching staff, they trust him. They know that when he puts a finger down, there’s a reason why he wants that pitch and they throw it,” Kruk added. “Saltalmacchia puts a finger down and they’re like, ‘Uh-oh, why does he want this?’ There’s questions. Everything is questioned with a catcher you don’t trust. You don’t have full faith in him because you haven’t spent a lot of time with him. Can he develop into that? I don’t know.”
At the same time, Kruk said that manager Terry Francona has a difficult decision about how to manage his catching situation, given that Varitek (at age 39) is at a stage of his career where his playing time needs to be limited.
“Francona has to be really smart with [Varitek],” said Kruk. “If he tries to throw him out there four, five days in a row, that could be devastating to the rest of his career.”
Kruk also expressed surprise that Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez appeared to be trying to pull the ball during the series against the Jays, rather than using his natural swing to drive the ball the other way. Even so, Kruk expected that Gonzalez would make an adjustment to achieve his typical results.
Carl Crawford was another matter. Read the rest of this entry »
|For Scutaro, playing time takes a back seat to winning||04.18.11 at 4:01 pm ET|
The striking emergence of Jed Lowrie has come at the expense of playing time for Marco Scutaro. With Lowrie amidst a seven-game hitting streak in which he is hitting .625 (15-for-24), he has cemented himself — at least for now — as an everyday player for the Sox. As a result, Scutaro (hitting .188 with a .547 OPS) has been left to sit for three of the last four games.
But despite the fact that Lowrie has effectively supplanted him for now, Scutaro is not complaining.
“It’s all about winning here,” said Scutaro. “I’m fine. It’s special being on a winning team. Being on a losing team is no fun at all. Right now, [manager Terry Francona] is just trying to put the best guys out there to win games.”
Scutaro said that it wasn’t necessary for Francona to explain the playing time division to him.
“You don’t have to [talk to the manager] to understand what’s going on,” said Scutaro.
He made clear that he was not upset about his current role. Though it took him years to become an everyday shortstop as a 32-year-old with the Blue Jays in 2008, Scutaro suggested that he is not concerned about playing time at this point.
“There’s still a long way to go,” said Scutaro.
In many respects, Scutaro and Lowrie complement each other very well, and in some respects are interchangeable depending on their performance. Lowrie is capable of playing all four infield positions; but should the Sox continue to use him as an everyday shortstop, Scutaro could be used as a player capable of giving the Sox depth at shortstop, second and third.
|Closing Time: Red Sox 9, Blue Jays 1||at 1:56 pm ET|
“We’ve got everything you possibly need. We’ve got speed, we’ve got power, we’ve got pitching. Once it all goes together, it’s scary,” he said. “Every single day, we’ve got to go out there and do the same thing. We haven’t proven anything. We can’t go out there and have one good game, one bad. We’ve got to be consistent, and that’s what we’re working on.”
The Sox took another very impressive step towards that goal on Patriots’ Day. With a game that commenced at a time of day when a team could almost be expected to look sloppy, the Sox were sterling in their 9-1 victory over the Blue Jays. And the person most responsible for one of the cleanest Sox wins of the year was unexpected: Daisuke Matsuzaka.
After one of his worst starts as a member of the Red Sox, Matsuzaka turned in one of his best. On the strength of a 91-93 mph fastball, a cutter with good late life and a slider that he could throw for strikes at will, Matsuzaka had a remarkably efficient outing, churning through seven shutout innings and allowing just one hit and one walk.
And so, the Sox head west for the start of a nine-game roadtrip armed with the confidence of three straight victories and three straight outstanding starts from Matsuzaka, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. The trio combined to allow the Blue Jays just two runs in 20 innings, a sterling 0.90 ERA. The offense, meanwhile, enjoyed an eruption, giving the Sox their most comprehensive win of the year.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX Read the rest of this entry »
|Patriots’ Day notes: J.D. Drew is atop the order||at 11:03 am ET|
Gut morgen! (Nothing says Patriots’ Day like a hearty German greeting.)
A bleary-eyed group of Red Sox players made their way into the clubhouse very, very early this morning. J.D. Drew might have had to rub his eyes a couple of times to verify that he was indeed the leadoff hitter against the Blue Jays and Ricky Romero. Drew has enjoyed tremendous success in his career against Romero (.450 average, .560 OBP in 26 plate appearances), and the Sox felt that his general approach at the plate — see a lot of pitches, don’t expand the strike zone — made him a good candidate to helm the top of the batting order, at least against Romero.
Carl Crawford, meanwhile, moves down to the seventh spot in the lineup. His average is now down to .127 for the season (second-worst in the majors), and he’s 2-for-14 (.143) in his career against Romero. Manager Terry Francona reiterated his sense that the Sox “are going to like Carl wherever he hits,” but that right now, in the interests of balancing matchups and structuring the lineup in a way that didn’t fill the entire bottom of the order with left-handed hitters. Francona also considered other alternatives, including Jed Lowrie, but felt that Drew was the most sensible option.
Drew has not put up good numbers in the leadoff spot in his career (.229 with a .336 OBP and .727 OPS), but Francona suggested that in some respects, those numbers miss the point about Drew, who has averaged 4.01 pitches per plate appearance in 346 career plate appearances from the leadoff spot. Read the rest of this entry »
|Francona on Crawford: ‘He’s going to be a huge part of our offense’||04.17.11 at 1:19 pm ET|
It was virtually certain that Carl Crawford was going to return to the Red Sox lineup on Sunday, after sitting on Saturday. But it was less clear where he would return.
Crawford is hitting .137 with a .342 OPS this year; as a leadoff hitter, he is hitting .107 with a 138 OBP, .281 OPS and no walks. Yet a day after Jed Lowrie went an impressive 3-5 in the leadoff spot against the Toronto Blue Jays, Crawford returned to the top of the order against the Blue Jays and starter Jesse Litsch (against whom Crawford is 5-for-10 in his career).
Manager Terry Francona sat Crawford on Saturday not as a punishment but in attempt to give his struggling leftfielder a bit of rest.
“I just wanted to do a couple things, reassure him how we feel which I think it pretty obvious, and to find out if I can help,” said Francona. “This is certainly not a guy that when he doesn’t hit you run from. He’s going to be a huge part of our offense.”
Francona is hoping the day off relieved some of the pressure Crawford has felt through the beginning of the season.
“I think a day like yesterday after being in the cage and not having to take it right to the game sometimes can help,” said Francona. “I know he was itching to play yesterday too’¦.which I’m really glad about’¦.I just think that hopefully this will help him a little bit.”
After talking with Crawford, Francona felt that it was necessary to get him back in the lineup as soon as possible and try to get him in a groove offensively.
“Once he gets going — I think we all know it, at least I do — he’s gonna get real hot. I just hope it starts today,” said Francona.
–Jed Lowrie celebrates his 27th birthday Sunday and will make his fourth start this season at shortstop. After going 3-for-5 with a homer on Saturday to improve his average for the season to .500, Francona said that Lowrie’s, “so hot right now I don’t know how to keep him out of the lineup.”
Instead of batting leadoff, Lowrie will hit sixth and occupy the slot between David Ortiz and J.D. Drew. Francona felt that having the switch-hitting Lowrie slotted between the two left-handed hitters would give the Blue Jays some pause about the idea of bringing in a left-handed reliever.
–Lineup changes are nothing new for this team. Sunday will represent the 12th batting order the Sox have used in 14 games. Francona elaborated a little bit on the method behind the lineup madness.
“If we had one or two lineups, everything was going right. I don’t know if that makes sense right now,” said Francona. “I’ve talked a lot about being consistent. We’re trying to do everything we can to play as well as we can and put guys in the best position. We’ll see. I do know as we get into the season, things normally settle down.”
-With the recent lineup changes due to Wednesday’s rainout, Francona chose to skip John Lackey‘s start on Wednesday in favor of keeping the rest of the pitching rotation on schedule. While Francona empathizes with with Lackey’s frustrations he said he felt it better to affect one one of his pitchers rather than all of them.
“This is not easy for [John] Lackey right now and we understand that,” said Francona. “We felt as a staff it’s better to take one guy, try and make him adjust than take all five guys because then you’re really doing a disservice to the staff. I told Lack to do whatever he felt. Whatever he wants to do to get ready, that’s up to him. … Lack doesn’t do a lot of moaning and groaning. I think he was mad he wasn’t pitching. I would have been, too. But he’ll take it and go with it.”
-While the offense continues to struggle Francona is putting his focus on getting quality pitching out of his starters every day.
“If you have consistent pitching you can have inconsistent hitting and still win,” said Francona. “I think we all know once we get our lineup squared away, we’ll be pretty good, we’ll score some runs. But if you pitch well then you give yourself a chance to win every night.”
|Closing Time: Red Sox 4, Blue Jays 1||04.16.11 at 4:23 pm ET|
Josh Beckett‘s second consecutive strong outing gave the Red Sox a much-needed victory over the Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Beckett pitched seven strong innings, fanning nine batters and allowing just three hits. The win was a confidence booster after falling to a 2-10 start. The final game between the division rivals will decide who wins the series. An absent Carl Crawford turned out to be for the best in the Sox first win since the Yankees series.
Here are a few things that went right and wrong in Saturday’s game:
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
–Jed Lowrie filling in for Carl Crawford at the top of the batting lineup proved to be a genius move by the coaching staff. Lowrie singled to start the game, hit a two-run home run (his first of the season) in the second inning, and continued to make solid contact all day long, even when he was making outs. He continues to have the hottest bat on the team, and in terms of productivity was an upgrade from Crawford’s slumping numbers.
–Josh Beckett had his second straight dominant outing, throwing seven complete innings and only giving up one earned run on three hits. Beckett commanded his pitches with ease and kept his fastball up in the mid-90s for the duration. In his last start, Beckett threw eight innings, allowing just two hits and no runs against the Yankees. We saw that same Beckett on the mound again today. Maybe there is something to be said about the starter’s performance when Jason Varitek is behind the plate. In any case, with a productive offense and a pitching performance like Beckett’s, the formula adds up to a win.
–Defensive awareness was prevalent in the victory. Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez anchored the right side of the infield with sliding stops and hustle plays that kept the Blue Jays offense at bay, and Beckett on the mound for more innings.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
–The Red Sox stranded yet again a large number of players on base. Through just four innings, the Sox left eight men stranded, and were 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position, but still held a 4-1 lead. Although there was no need for a sense of urgency, it has to be a little concerning that this isn’t the only game in which the Sox have left plenty of runners in position to score.
–Through seven complete innings, the Blue Jays had struck out five Red Sox batters, most of them on swings and misses. Though the Sox had eight hits, many pitches within the strike zone were swung on and no contact was made.
–The cold weather and gusty winds didn’t help anybody out on the field, but the Sox seemed to shake it off well for the victory.
|Peter Gammons on M&M: ‘I’m a big Jed Lowrie believer’||04.13.11 at 12:52 pm ET|
Hall of Fame baseball reporter and MLB Network analyst Peter Gammons made his weekly appearance on the Mut & Merloni show Wednesday to talk about the Red Sox‘ struggles. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
Gammons speculated that the Red Sox will attempt to call off Wednesday’s game early due to both the rain and the team’s need for a break. “A couple of days of breathers wouldn’t be a bad thing at this point,” he said.
Regarding the 2-9 start, “I think everyone is completely shocked,” Gammons said of the team’s reaction, adding, “I don’t get a sense of anger as much as, ‘What in the world is going on here?’ I liken it to what’s going through Albert Pujols‘ mind when he’s hitting about .170 right now, going, ‘This is impossible.’ A lot of weird things have happened.”
Gammon said Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s performance on Monday appeared to show that the pitcher is frustrated with the team’s request to throw more strikes. “It was one of the strangest games I’ve ever seen pitched,” he said.
As for the possibility of moving Matsuzaka to the bullpen, Gammons said: “With all the pressure he feels from Japan, where he is such a big star, if the Red Sox asked him to become a reliever, I don’t know how he’d react to that. I worry about that tremendously, that he would kind of go, ‘That’s a demotion. I’m a star. I’m not doing that.’
“I know they’ve said that there’s no way they’d trade him, but I still think if this thing doesn’t get any better, maybe they could ship him and deal him for a big contract somewhere else. ‘¦ It’s a very difficult situation.”
Remy noted there have been signs that indicate the Red Sox will break out of the slump soon. “You’ve got to believe it,” he said. “They’re just too good to be playing like this. It’s frustrating for everybody.”
Added Remy: “The catalyst to me is [Carl] Crawford. When he gets going, I think everybody’s going to get going.”
Jed Lowrie has had the most success at the plate among Red Sox hitters, but he remains in a part-time role while the struggling Marco Scutaro starts at shortstop. “I still think Jed Lowrie has a chance to be a very good player,” Remy said. “And I think he’s showing that. He’s finally healthy. He’s finally come into spring training strong. He looks good when he’s playing, especially at shortstop, and he’s swinging the bat well.
“And I think if Scutaro goes into an extended slump, I think they’ll make that move. I don’t think they’re going to make it yet. I think they like the idea of getting Scutaro on track and then having Lowrie be this utility guy that can play all four positions in the infield.”
Remy, like most other people, remains confounded by Daisuke Matsuzaka. “I can’t figure it out,” Remy said. “The other night it was just fastballs right down the middle of the plate. It was like batting practice. ‘¦ It makes you sick to watch.”
However, Remy said: “They can’t take him out of the rotation just yet. They’ve got to give him a chance to get straightened out because they’re not that deep in the starting pitching department. ‘¦ They’ve just got to keep their fingers crossed and hope that the guy pitches better than what he has right now. Whether that’s going to happen or not, nobody knows.”
Remy isn’t buying the theory that Matsuzaka tanked his start Monday to prove a point to the team. “I have a hard time believing that,” he said. “I just read that in the paper this morning. Are you kidding me? I can’t imagine any professional athlete in any sport saying, ‘OK, here’s what you want me to do? Well, I’m going to do it, and watch the results.’ That’s hard for me to believe. I just don’t think that’s accurate at all.”
Touching on the Manny Ramirez situation, Remy said he enjoyed the slugger’s time in Boston, but he has little sympathy for a player who apparently ran afoul of the league’s drug rules for a third time before announcing his retirement late last week. Said Remy: “In my mind, that’s just stupid. I don’t know how else to describe it. … I don’t think it’s sad, I think it’s just stupid.”
|Sox looking to give Lowrie more playing time||at 1:29 am ET|
At a time when the Red Sox are struggling for offensive consistency, infielder Jed Lowrie has been red hot. The infielder was 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles (both off of starter David Price) in the Sox’ 3-2 loss to the Rays, and he is now hitting .438 this season.
In his career, Lowrie owns better numbers as a right-handed hitter (.314 average, .919 OPS) than as a left-hander (.226, .685), though some of the switch-hitter’s struggles as a left-hander can be pinned on the broken bone he suffered in his left wrist and his lengthy rehab from surgery to fix it. This year, Lowrie is 5-for-8 batting left-handed, and 2-for-8 with two doubles and two walks batting right-handed.
“The results are there. That’s always nice,” said Lowrie, who also lamented the fact that in his biggest at-bat of the night — a two-on, two-out situation against right-handed reliever Joel Peralta in the bottom of the eighth, he flied out to center. “But I’m really, really happy with the way that I’m working right now and my approach. I’ve always believed that if I keep that approach the results will be there, and they’re there right now.”
While Lowrie has been playing the role of a utility infielder who backs up all four Sox infielders, manager Terry Francona acknowledged after the game that he will try to find more playing time for the 26-year-old.
“He’s really swinging it,” said Francona. “He’s having some pretty professional at-bats. That’s what we saw at the end of last year. … When he’s swinging like this — and we think he’s a good player — but when he’s swinging like this, you probably look for ways to get him in there.”
While Lowrie played third on Tuesday (with Kevin Youkilis serving as DH and David Ortiz sitting against Price), the most logical place for him to get more playing time would be in favor of shortstop Marco Scutaro. Not only is short the position where Lowrie suggests he feels most comfortable, but in an infield that features Youkilis, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Scutaro (hitting .172 with a .480 OPS) would appear in the greatest danger of losing playing time.
|Closing Time: Rays 3, Red Sox 2||04.12.11 at 10:07 pm ET|
On the strength of a spectacular cutter that headlined a full array of swing-and-miss pitches, Lester struck out seven Rays through four shutout innings, navigating a 1-0 lead into the fifth. But at a time when the little things have not gone well for the Sox, that trend continued, leading to the unraveling of the evening for both the pitcher and his team.
A mist started falling in the top of the fifth inning, and the Rays started rallying. The Rays amassed three straight one-out singles, and then, unstoppable Granite Stater Sam Fuld hit a slow chopper to first. Adrian Gonzalez charged and gloved it cleanly, but then (perhaps due to the rain?) struggled with his grip. The extra fraction of a second was the difference between the runner at the plate (lumbering Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach) being safe and out on the fielder’s choice grounder. Johnny Damon then followed with a two-run single to give the Rays all the runs they would need en route to a 3-2 victory.
The Sox now sit alone in last place in the AL East at 2-9.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
–The Red Sox couldn’t muster any offense against Rays starter David Price. Perhaps more importantly, they could do nothing to drive up his pitch count, in no small part due to Price’s ruthless efficiency. The left-hander threw first pitch strikes to each of the first 13 Red Sox batters he faced. He relied primarily on a mid-90s four-seam fastball, low-90s two-seamer and an effectively unbalancing changeup en route to his first victory of the year. He allowed just five hits in 7 2/3 innings.
–Once again, the Sox were terrible with runners in scoring position. They were 1-for-7 in such moments, and are now 7-for-52 (.135) with runners in scoring position dating to Saturday. For the year, the team is hitting .192 (20-for-104) in such scoring opportunities.
—Carl Crawford‘s challenging start to his Red Sox career continued. He reached base in his first plate appearance after getting hit by a pitch, but was promptly erased when Price picked him off. He then went hitless in his remaining three at-bats, and is now hitting .152.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
–Aside from the brief hiccup in the fifth, Lester was tremendous. Though he permitted seven hits in his seven innings of work, all were singles. Lester struck out eight, and now has punched out 15 in his last 14 innings while permitting just 10 hits in that span. The first game of the season — in which Lester did not strike out a single member of the Rangers lineup — is now a distant memory.
—Jed Lowrie enjoyed a tremendous night against Price, collecting a pair of doubles and lining out hard to third. In part-time duty, he is now hitting .438 (7-for-16). However, in his most meaningful at-bat of the game — batting left-handed against reliever Joel Peralta with runners on first and second and the Sox down, 3-2, in the eighth — Lowrie flied out to center.
—Darnell McDonald offered exactly the sort of thump the Sox were hoping for when they stacked their lineup with right-handers against Price. McDonald slammed a hanging curve into the Monster Seats in the bottom of the third to give them a 1-0 lead. That, however, was the team’s only offense against the Rays.
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