Tagged: Jon Lester

Pressure Rising

I’ve been optimistic about the Red Sox all season long. I’ve promised friends and family that they will hit. I’ve promised rivals that they will make a run for a World Series title. I’ve promised myself that I will trust in Theo’s plan.

But today, the Red Sox dropped their fourth straight game. They are 4-8, four games below .500 and in fourth place in the division. They have only won one series all season. This is the worst start for the Red Sox since 1996, when they went 2-10 through their first 12 games. The Sox finished the season that year at 85-77, good enough for third in the AL East behind the Yankees and the Orioles.

Yes, the Red Sox are not scoring runs. In worse news, the team that was supposed to be about run prevention is about, well, run allowance. They are ninth in the American League with a 4.05 team ERA, and eleventh in the AL with a .981 fielding percentage. They have given up nine unearned runs in 12 games. Their supposed weakness at the plate is actually their strong point, as they are sixth in the AL with a .260 team batting average.

They have seven errors in their last five games, and have recorded at least one error in four straight games. Mike Cameron, who was supposed to be ridiculous in center field, dropped an easy catch last night. While I understand that he had a kidney stone, if he couldn’t play, he wouldn’t have.

Victor Martinez, who was supposed to be an improvement over Varitek behind the plate, is practically handing over the job to the captain. He’s currently batting .244, Varitek is hitting at a .444 clip. He’s 1-for-14 in caught stealing. While Varitek is 0-for-8, 1-for-14 isn’t much of an improvement.

And then there’s the pitching staff. Oh, the pitching staff. The Sox are supposed to have one of the best rotations in baseball. In reality, Lester, Buchholz and Wakefield are all struggling. The three combined have given up 21 runs in their last 21.1 innings. Prior to his last start, Beckett had been struggling as well, earning a 6.17 ERA over two games while only striking out five batters.

To say it has not been going well in Boston is an understatement. Yes, injuries to Ellsbury and Cameron have thrown the Red Sox a little bit off track, but they are not devastating enough to cause the Red Sox to go 4-8.

Frustrations is already mounting in the clubhouse. Pedroia told reporters last night that the Sox are throwing away games they should be winning. Nobody is hitting in big situations. Fielding has not been great. Pitching has been mediocre.

So where do they go from here? Is it time already for a line-up shake-up? Do they try to work out a trade? Part of me says that it is still very early in the season, but the team seems to just be getting worse instead of getting better. Could one player really make a difference here?

I think what the Red Sox really need to do is some serious soul searching. They need to decide to play tight and to play hard. If they can find a groove where they start winning, rhythm could start to do some work for them. It’s definitely time to re-examine their game plan, but I don’t think one trade would make a huge difference. Lester must figure out what he needs to do to pitch better, Varitek might need to play in more games to put pressure on Martinez to play better. J.D. Drew needs to start hitting. The Red Sox need to start trying harder.

For now, things just look bleak.

Odds and Ends before Marathon Monday

Tomorrow here in Boston is a holiday called Patriots Day. It is technically a commemoration of the Battle of Lexington and Concord (Country, say thank you to Boston for starting the Revolutionary War. You’re welcome) but we here in Boston know it more as Marathon Monday. The famous Boston Marathon occurs annually Patriot’s Day. The Sox (because you can’t have a Boston holiday without the Red Sox) play at 11 AM and finish up just in time for fans to go down to the finish line of the marathon. It’s a great way to remember the Revolutionary War. Hopefully, Mark, our resident marathoner, will be running it next year.

Anyways, I spotted a few gems in the news today that are great reads:
Recession-proofed by the Red Sox

This article makes a lot of sense, actually. It discusses how the Red Sox have already killed our hearts many times over, so Sox Nation is pretty much recession-proof.

Yankees’ statistical chances of winning on Saturday

 This features a great graph showing the Yankees’ statistical chances of winning on Saturday. I think the slope of the line circa 2nd inning is great. Seriously, the Red Sox could lose for the rest of the week and I could care less because the Yankees stunk so badly yesterday. Epic fail.

Jon Lester had a great game today. He finally looked like the Jon Lester of last season again. He struck out 9 over 7 shutout innings with a velocity topping off at 96 mph. Last week, Lester was barely reaching 90. Way to go, Les!

Nick Green continued to play great. He had a nice double off of the wall, showing some good speed on the basepaths. Pedey drove him in for the winning run of the game. Saito gets the save, which was nice considering Saito has done little to impress me so far this season. Mikey Lowell got an RBI, which is always nice to see, and Mike Timlin threw out the first pitch. His wife, Dawn, will be running the Boston Marathon tomorrow as she does every year.. 

For the best news of all (well, second to the Yankees stink-fest at their new stadium), the Red Sox have now won four straight. Yay for .500 baseball!

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In other sports news, we have two playoff teams right now in Boston. The Celtics lost a heartbreaker against Chicago yesterday afternoon, which isn’t totallly unexpected considering the team is starting to look like the walking wounded.

The real controversy came from the Bruins’ rout against the Canadiens last night (5-1 win . . . GO Bs!)

In the waning minutes of the third period, Milan Lucic, recognizing the Bs were up 5-1, decided it would be a great time to conduct a science experiment against the Habs’s Maxim Lapierre. The hypothesis was: “If I take my stick and smash it against this hoser’s head, will my stick break?” It turns out that Lucic’s hypothesis was correct, the stick broke, and Lucic celebrated by promptly punching Lapierre in the face.

Now, the league thinks this was a bit over-the-top, calling it “a reckless and forceful blow to the head.” While this is somewhat true, can’t we just categorize this hit as something in the name of science? I mean, it’s kind of common knowledge that hockey players aren’t always the best students, so I feel we should reward them for any type of academic activity, not suspend them for a game.

Nevertheless, the Bruins head up to Montreal with a 2-0 lead over the Canadiens. I’m saying Bruins take this series in 5.

photo from boston.com

Red Sox Season Preview

So here we are on Opening Day Eve, anxiously awaiting the start of organized religion in New England for the next 6-7 months. (Spring Training is disorganized religion, FYI) Anyways, I have my own predictions ready for this season, so I guess I can take time out of anxiously patiently awaiting tomorrow’s ballgame and Thursday night’s hockey festivus as well as all that school work that I so meticulously complete in order to share my thoughts with all of you.

Let’s start with the infield.
I think this may be where the Red Sox are strongest headed into the season. An well-timed unfortunate Spring Training injury to Julio Lugo opened up a spot for Jed Lowrie in the 25 man roster, and I doubt anybody will be missing good ol’ Julio. Lowrie had the best spring out of anyone on this team. He finished March with a .343 average, .400 OBP and a staggering .657 slugging percentage. This kid has a bat on him. I’m predicting him to get off to a slow start in April, much like Dustin, but within a few weeks, this kid should be brightening up the lineup.

What could be better for a rookie shortstop than to be surround by an all-star infield? Lowrie will be greatly helped by Youk and Mike Lowell on the corners and reigning MVP Dustin Pedroia right there at second base. Expect the status quo out of those three, which is of course fantastic seasons all around. Mike Lowell will be the biggest wild card out of the three of them based on his age and injuries, but even his play should not be too much of a question mark, what with his immaculate fielding skills and seemingly consistent bat. His spring was not as glorious as Lowrie’s, but I would rather have him give it his all during the season. As a veteran, he does not need to have a good spring.

Re-signing Jason Varitek, as controversial as it may have been, will greatly help this team. Varitek’s leadership is unparalleled, and though his bat definitely will not be the best in the lineup, his presence and intelligence at the plate and on the basepaths should help the team get someone on base.

Additionally, Varitek is integral to the succes of the starting rotation. The top of the rotation for the Sox this year is still pretty good. Lester, Matsuzaka and Beckett are three of the best talents in baseball. It is difficult to really get a feel for pitching during Spring Training because most pitchers are not consistently unleashing their full-effort arsenal, so inconsistent starts for all three in March should not concern anybody.

Lester simply needs to continue with what he did last season. This kid has a lot of potential, and he could even contend as a Cy Young prospect in upcoming seasons for the Sox.

Matsuzaka is a little bit more complicated. He was once again the MVP of the World Baseball Classic, but he accompanied his return to the Sox with some shaky bullpen sessions. Daisuke needs to learn to be consistent. When he is on, he is nearly unhittable, but Daisuke can become unraveled quickly. Matsuzaka will pick up at least 15 wins with the Sox this year if he can stay healthy and well-rested.

Beckett is another case of “if he stays healthy.” He earned the top spot in the rotation to begin the season, and he is arguably the ace of this staff. However, Beckett has a history of calluses and fingernail issues which the Sox cannot afford to battle.

The biggest weakness of this rotation is its depth. Clay Buchholz looked phenomenal in the spring, ranking amongst Lester in Buchholz in terms of ERA (2.52) and Ks (19). However, he has been left out of the rotation in favor of Brad Penny, a veteran battling all sorts of injuries. Penny had some shoulder soreness earlier in the spring but says he is pain-free now. His velocity is higher, and if Penny can stay healthy he’ll be a decent addition to the rotation, but it does not seem like he will last the full season without a stint on the DL.

Adding to the patchwork end of the rotation are Tim Wakefield and John Smoltz. Wakefield is an old-timer to say the least who will be most effective during the middle of the season. He still has the ability to pitch a few gems, but his glory days are over. Wake will serve more as a supplement than a impact player in the rotation. Smoltz seems to be on the team for the postseason rush. If he can get himself healthy, this will be a great addition for the Red Sox come September, but until then Smoltz will be a non-factor.

Overall, this rotation may not be enough to completely overpower that of the Yankees, but it should be decently solid barring severe injury.

The bullpen is okay and better than last year, but it definitely will not be the best bullpen in baseball. Papelbon speaks for himself and he should have another great year, but it will take the emergence of Manny Delcarmen and the re-emergance of Hideki Okajima for the Red Sox to have a solid bullpen this season. One of the biggest impact players on the 2007 World Series team was Okajima. The Sox had the insurance of not one but two suitable closers to shut the game down. Last season, Okajima was basically a non-factor. He is key to end-of-ballgame success for the Red Sox.

Manny Delcarmen needs to heat up and become a reliable reliever for the Sox to use as a bridge to Okajima and Papelbon. Justin Masterson is still developing as a pitcher, but he looked very good late last season as a reliever, so if Masterson and Delcarmen can take care of the 6th, 7th and 8th innings, the bullpen should be fine. If not, look for a trade mid-season involving Delcarmen and possibly Buchholz. 

Way out in the outfield, the Sox have an exciting trio of actual players. The Manny saga is over, so the team knows what type of effort they will be getting from Bay, Drew and Jacoby on an every day basis. All three are solid fielders, and all three have moderate to good bats, so there should be mostly good things coming from these three. Again, a big question mark is J.D. Drew’s health. At times his effort has been questioned, but that will be insignificant compared to all that happned with Manny.

The lineup needs a big year from David Ortiz. Although almost every bat (excluding Varitek) is is solid, the team lacks the superstar presence they got from Manny Ramirez. If Ortiz can see good pitches and have a monster year, this lineup could do some serious damage. If not, the Sox may have to rely on Youkilis, Drew and Bay for big hits, something that this team cannot rely on every game. This lineup could either be explosive or just mediocre, so that’s another question mark for fans.

Overall, the Red Sox have a solid but not superstar team this year. Obviously, their biggest competition will continue to be the Yankees and the Rays. The Red Sox and Rays are completely overpowered in terms of talent by the Yankees, especially since the Yankees seemingly bought all of baseball this off season and greatly improved their pitching.   However, the Yankees will have to suffer through the A-Rod drama this season. He will start the year on the DL, but once he comes back it will be a circus in the Bronx. That could potentially really hurt the team.

The Rays are a very solid all-around team, but their pitching staff and the Red Sox pitching staff is about equal. The Red Sox may come out as the better team over the Rays this season simply because of the coaching staff and veteran presence, but as the world saw last year, the Rays can take charge of this division.

Game time is at 2:05 tomorrow for the Red Sox at Fenway, but heavy rain is in the forecast so festivities tomorrow may be a wash. All is well, though. We have 162 more games of this left! 

Playoffs

So, thinking back on a successful (we did, after all, make the playoffs) season, it’s amazing to remember everything that’s happened in 2008.

There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad, as cliched as it is.

Who could have imagined Jon Lester being at the level he is now? Back in January, he was only a 4th starter behind Schilling, Beckett, and Matsuzaka. Now, he’s battling Beckett for the ace of the staff, threw a no-hitter in May, was the September player of the month and is starting the first game of the 2008 postseason for the Sox. He’s gained respect not because he came back from cancer, but instead because he is arguably the best left handed pitcher in baseball.

Then there is Dustin Pedroia. Yes, he won rookie of the year last year, but he’s been one of the best hitters and fielders in baseball. He’s still a human vacuum at second base. He’s got the highest batting average on the team, and is the first Red Sox player with over 200 hits in a season since Mo Vaughn did it in 1998. And it’s only his second year in the Major Leagues.

Jed Lowrie has also been unbelievable. The Red Sox are better with him at shortstop than Julio Lugo, and he’s also been able to fill in for Mike Lowell at third.

Speaking of versatility, what about Kevin Youkilis? He’s simply been consistent all year long. He’s played first, third, and outfield, and I’d bet he’d pitch if the Sox let him. He’s hitting just as well as ever and is certainly an amazing fielder.

This team has been resilient, has stared adversity down  and beaten it to a pulp, has had some bad losses, rought trips, and devastating injuries. However, they’re still here. They’re one of eight to continue playing baseball. They won’t be sitting at home like the Yankees. They’ll be in Anaheim, in Boston, and hopefully in Tampa Bay or the midwest in the coming weeks.

It’s Soxtober once again.