Friday, August 21, 2009

Swept Clean

You know the Sox are starting to roll when the starting pitcher doesn't have his best stuff but gets the win and their oft-injured, under-performing right fielder knocks the cover off the ball. You know that good energy is flowing when an 8-1 slaughter completes a three-game sweep of the Jays and give the Sox a 7-3 record in their last 10 games.

The slumbering giant may finally be awakening.

Let's look at the pitching first. Jon Lester dominates the AL East (20-5 lifetime after last night). So most of us were expecting a win. But Lester didn't have his best stuff last night. He only threw 57% of his pitches for strikes and only threw first-pitch strikes to 30% of the batters he faced. Lester's K/BB ratio for the game (2.5) was his worst since a July 30 outing against Oakland where he walked more batters than he struck out.

And yet he went eight innings and gave up just one run on three hits. How? He made a lot of second-pitch strikes. He faced a 1-0 count 19 times in the game; in 15 of those instances, he threw a strike. That's a 79% success rate. Of the 38 pitches Lester threw when he was behind in the count, 31 were for strikes. That's an 82% success rate. Lester was able to constantly extract himself out of a bad count and get the out. This is what good pitchers do on a day where they aren't at their best.

Cabrera came on in the ninth and just surrendered one walk. But that was of little importance by that time. Cabrera has made four game appearances and has allowed no runs in three of them. He is developing into another solid part of the bullpen.

J.D., a game like last night is a joy and a frustration at the same time. It's a joy because Drew owned the game. He went 4-4 with a pair of homers, scored two runs and drove in three. Drew kicked off Boston's scoring and then threw it into overdrive in the fourth. And he make it look easy, which speaks to his talent.

It's a frustration because Drew rarely displays his talent like this. He should be one of the best batters in the league and he isn't. He's a decent batter who flashes his inherent greatness now and again and then refuses to embrace it. I don't know why. But if Drew would play at even 80% of the talent level he displayed last night on a regular basis, he'd be worth every penny of his bloated contract. Instead, it's just another reminder of what he should be to the team...and isn't.

But in many ways, the biggest help the Sox had last night was Toronto starter Brett Cecil, who made one of the most boneheaded plays I have ever seen in my life.

As early as Little League, if you are a pitcher the first thing you learn is to never let go of the ball unless you're pitching it or throwing it. Unless you call time, the ball is live and any runner can try to advance. Brett Cecil forgot this basic rule last night.

With the score tied at 1-1, Jason Bay drew a walk to lead off the fourth. Cecil went 2-0 to Ortiz and then dropped the throw back to the mound from Rod Barajas. No big deal, right? Pitchers drop throws back to the mound all the time. You just pick it up and keep going. Except Cecil saw a scuff on the ball.

Okay, so you just call time, request a new ball and the game continues, right? Wrong. If you're Brett Cecil you request a new ball, forget to call time, and then huck your ball into the dugout. The ball that is currently the live game ball. Big ol' error right there for Cecil.

The result was Bay hustling his butt to third base*. Two batters later, Mike Lowell drove him in with a single. And that was followed by Drew's second homer of the game. The score was 4-1 Boston and that was about all she wrote.

I also want to praise once more the trade for Victor Martinez. He went 1-5 with a homer, his third in five games. Since joining the Sox at the trade deadline, he has five homers and 14 RBI in 17 games. He's batting .324 with a .979 OPS over that same period. More often than not, Theo's deadline trades work out. There was this one, last year's deal for Bay, the two-fer back in 2004. On the other side of the ledger is the useless 2007 deal for Eric Gagne and the god-awful 2003 deal that sent Mike Gonzalez and Freddy Sanchez to the Pirates for Jeff Suppan. So it really is "more often than not." Theo's free agent signings...we'll leave those for another day.

And so the Sox come home riding a sweep of the Jays to face their constant nemesis, the New York Yankees. That is, if the weather decides to co-operate. There's a 50%-60% chance of rain all weekend, with the occasional thunderstorm throw in for fun. But if the games get off the ground, it starts tonight with Andy Pettitte going against Brad Penny. I'd wager it'll be a stolen base fest for New York tonight since it takes Penny the better part of an hour to get a pitch into his catcher's glove. Still, Penny has it in himself to throw a good game and Pettitte has thrown a clunker or three in his time. So this is a winnable match for the Sox. And if they want to get back in the AL East race (not a requirement for the post-season but still nice), then Boston had better make them all winnable matches.


* Does Manny make this play? I say we'd be lucky if he made it to second base. Once again, if you look at the defense and situational awareness that Bay brings to his game, the Sox made out big-time in that deal.


Anonymous said...

Great write up as always. I love the Manny thought; it speaks to the composition of a team I can truly relate to.

Dave said...

Thanks for the compliment.

I think people focus on the bat too much in the "Manny vs. Bay" debate. Bay is a much more "heads-up" player and that is worth runs to the team on both sides of the ledger.