Monday, July 13, 2009

Leaving On A High Note

As the Sox enter the All-Star break, things are remarkably well. Despite a recently-imploding bullpen and nights where the bats are quieter than a mime convention, Boston finds themselves 20 games over .500 and holding a three game lead in the AL East. That is thanks, in part, to New York's continuing inability to win in Anaheim. But it also has to do with the dominance of Boston's starters.

Note: My wife has said that my posts can be a little...long-winded. Henceforth I am adding a feature known as "The Beth Take." This will be a one-paragraph sum-up of the game at the end of the post. So if you aren't interested in my opinions and thoughts, you can cut to the chase. I have a bad feeling this will become a very popular feature... The Beth Take

Yesterday afternoon was no exception as Josh Beckett pitched a gem of a game. A complete game three-hit shutout with seven strikeouts and no walks, it was one of the most dominant performances by any pitcher in the AL so far this season. I've talked about the Bill James metric known as the Game Score (details at the end of the post) more than once. Beckett's Game Score was 88, fourth highest in the AL this year. While it's a rough metric, it gives you a good handle on how well (or poorly) a pitcher performed. Suffice it to say, anything 80 or higher is a phenomenal job.

If you watched Beckett yesterday, you don't need the game score to know how well he pitched. His fastball was humming all day. His curve was vicious; in the second inning Beckett used it to strike out the first two Royals and made them look like Little Leaguers. He used only seven pitches to get through the fifth inning. Even when the Royals loaded the bases in the seventh you knew Beckett would get out of it. And he did with a nice double-play ball that quashed the only serious scoring opportunity KC ever had. The end result was Beckett needed only 97 pitches to finish the game (70% were for strikes) and he earned his 100th career victory. He's earned 59 of those with Boston, putting him 38th all-time with the team. By season's end Beckett should be passing Jim Lonborg for 29th.

What made the game extra-nice was that Boston's bats decided to join the party. They notched a run off of the immortal Bruce Chen in the first when Pedroia walled a double and then Youk drove him in. Then they blew great scoring chances in the second and third innings. But in the fourth Aaron Bates, who is just killing the ball in his first callup to Boston, hit his second double of the game and scored Nick Green. Bates later scored on a grounder from Ortiz and Ellsbury crossed the plate on a bases-loaded walk to Varitek. They tacked another run on in the fifth and one more in the eighth. Not that they needed most of them, but it's nice to see the lineup producing.

Special note should be taken of Aaron Bates. He'll be heading back to The Bucket now that Lowell is rejoining the team. But he proved that he can hang in the majors. In five games he hit .364 with a .962 OPS. He even made a couple of nice plays in the field. It will be interesting to see what happens with Bates going forward. He and Chris Carter seem to be the first choices when a 1B callup is needed. I still think Carter has the better bat, but Bates is closing that gap and he definitely has the better glove.

And that presents an interesting question: If Bates keeps improving...where does that leave Lars Anderson? Keep in mind that Boston has another first-base prospect (Anthony Rizzo) who is rocketing up through the farm system. Combined with Bates, the Sox are a little crowded when it comes to first basemen. Not that anything will happen, but I think that Anderson is a little more expendable than some people realize.

Couple of other notes...Pedroia will be skipping the All-Star game to be with his wife, who went into premature labor last week and is in the hospital. She encouraged him to play the past week, but Pedroia is definitely making the right call to be with his wife during the break. The whole team supports his choice, as well they should. Family first.

And then there is the news that Clay Buchholz will be starting the first game after the break against the Blue Jays. This will be Clay's first major-league start since he got shellaced by the Orioles last August. He's been chomping at the bit to get back and show what he can do. This is a one-game shot, since Francona is doing this to get the rotation back in sync. Wouldn't it be interesting if there was some way to get Halladay to start that game? Imagine the trade talk...

And that's it for the next few days. I'll find something to write about, but it won't be the farce that calls itself the All-Star game.

Game Score: Start with 50 points. Add 1 point for each out recorded, (3 points per inning). Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. Add 1 point for each strikeout. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract 1 point for each walk.

The Beth Take: Beckett was awesome. Chen still can't pitch. Aaron Bates looked good in his five-game stint. Sox are 20 games over .500 and three up on the Yankees, who looked weak in Anaheim. Buchholz starts Friday.


Beth said...

See, that wasn't so hard now, was it? :)

Dave said...

I hope you enjoyed it. :) If I could track an anchor as a link, I have no doubt it'd get the most hits.