|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.
|Is it Lowrie’s time? Should it be?||04.10.11 at 12:08 pm ET|
Amidst the pitching woes, there’s an overlooked truth. The Red Sox need more offense, too.
The Sox’ offensive struggles haven’t been quite as pronounced as their mound issues. Even so, they’ve been significant and surprising through this still-relatively brief eight-game stretch.
The Sox have scored 29 runs, tied for 21st in the majors; their average of 3.6 runs per game is tied for 18th. The team’s .215 average is 27th, the OBP is tied with Adrian Gonzalez‘ old team, the Padres, for 21st at .297, and the Sox’ .611 OPS is 25th in the majors.
In scoring opportunities, the Sox’ struggles are even more glaring. With runners in scoring position, they are hitting .197 (tied for 24th) with a .250 OBP (29th), .239 slugging mark (25th) and dismal .489 OPS (28th).
Certainly, the offense will get better. It’s a trust-the-track-record thing. That said, the fact that the Sox have had seven batting orders in eight games reflects the fact that they are actively searching for a formula that works, and that they have yet to settle upon one.
On Saturday, they made a move that should become more commonplace if they want to maximize their offensive potential. The Sox started Jed Lowrie at shortstop in place of Marco Scutaro. Read the rest of this entry »
|The dirt on the new Red Sox infield at Fenway Park||04.09.11 at 3:58 pm ET|
The complaints about the Fenway Park infield have been legendary.
From Eric Chavez calling it the “worst he ever played on” years ago when he played with Oakland to Dustin Pedroia ripping it last year for its inconsistencies, the infield on Yawkey Way has been notorious among major league infielders for decades.
But all of that has hopefully changed this year as the infield is brand new.
‘It looks beautiful,” Terry Francona raved before Saturday’s game. “A couple of things that excite us are, the texture of the dirt is really good, and I think it’ll get better as we get into a couple of homestands and it’s get played on, it’ll even get better. But everybody was really excited.
‘The hardest thing for players is inconsistency. But, again, when I walked it [Friday], it had a real nice texture to it. How’s that going to hold up? We’re one game in, and [head groundskeeper] Dave Mellor needs some days, too. He’s got to check with everybody and see how it plays and see how it digs up, if it clumps. But the initial reviews were really good.’
Pedroia was all aglow after Friday’s game, raving about how the ball bounces much truer and stays down lower to ground without coming up unexpectedly.
‘It was new,” Francona added. “There’s five infields that have this same surface. You’d have to ask Dave. But I believe it’s five. I’m sure those guys talk. Cleveland has the same one.”
Someone may have forgotten to tell Jed Lowrie. Making his first start on the new infield Saturday, he put his glove down on a grounder by Alex Rodriguez. He expected to come up like the old infield. It stayed down on the new one. Result: E-6. It was an error that opened the door for a two-run Yankees second, one of which was unearned.
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