Champions on Display MLB

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Bumpy Ride

Just when it looked like the Red Sox had figured everything out, it turns out they haven't figured out much of anything. Losing four in a row and five of their last six has dropped them into fourth place once more, three games out of first.

Dropping a 10-inning game to the Twins followed by a 1-0 loss to Scherzer and the Tigers was tough but not inexplicable. Scherzer is 6-1 now and one of the best pitchers in the AL. Lester would have to have been at his absolute best to out-duel him and he simply wasn't. It happens.

It's the next two losses that were a bigger problem. Because in those two games the Sox looked borderline inept.

The starting pitching was atrocious, with both Lackey and Peavy giving up five earned runs while not getting past six innings. The Tigers got 26 hits in two games while the Sox only managed 13. Boston was only 1-9 with runners in scoring position over the two games. That is bad not only because they got only one hit but it means they couldn't even get people into scoring position to begin with.

It was a bad home series. And it continued a disturbing trend where the Sox do not play well against good teams. They are 0-6 against the Tigers and Brewers, both of whom lead their respective divisions. If you add the Yankees in the mix, that record becomes 2-11.

Do the math. Take those three teams out of the picture and Boston's record is 18-12. The fact that Boston is still in the AL East race has more to do with the mediocrity of the overall division than it does with the Sox being a solid team.

I said earlier that maybe 2014 will be the bridge year we all thought 2013 would be. A year where the Sox never hit great heights but never really plummet either. They are beating the teams they should beat, for the most part. But they struggle with the leaders like the Tigers. It feels more like a 84-78 season than a 96-66 one at this point.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Top Five Red Sox Players to Wear Number 10

The '9' jersey was easy to write about. Out of circulation for some time and worn by one of the greatest players ever makes for an easy entry. Then you have the '10' jersey. No less than 30 players have worn this number since 1931. The '10' may have gotten around a lot (worn by Andre Dawson, Luis Alicea, Lee Tinsley and Scott Hatteberg in successive seasons) and doesn't have the most impressive pedigree (who can forget the immortal Mike Brumley?) but some fine players have worn this number.

5. Coco Crisp (2006-2008) - The starting center-fielder for most of 2007, what Crisp brought to the Sox more than anything else was stellar defense. He was flat-out robbed of a Gold Glove at the end of 2007, a season where he made insane catches look routine. 2007 was a good season overall for Crisp. He did rank in the Top 10 in the AL for doubles and triples, and was 9th in the AL in stolen bases with 28. Add that to his excellent glove (ninth in Defensive WAR in the AL | Led AL CF in range factor for 2007) and you can see why he was solid trade material at the end of 2008. It's just a shame that the player the Sox got back was Ramon Ramirez.

4. Gerald Moses (1968-70) - A lot of you are probably going "Who?" and no one could blame you. Moses was a back-up catcher for the Sox in 1968 and 1969 before becoming the starter in 1970. That year he went to the All-Star game, his sole achievement of note in the major leagues. That fall he was traded to the California Angels. I know some of you will say "Why isn't Coco fourth?" All-Star games matter, my friends. Moses went to one and Crisp didn't.

3. Rich Gedman (1981-1990) - Geds had the utterly unenviable task of taking over for Carlton Fisk after management completely fucked up his contract signing and split time with Gary Allenson for a couple of years before the Sox finally went with Gedman full-time in 1984. What people seem to forget about Rich is that he wasn't a bad catcher. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1981, losing out to Yankee pitcher and Sox torturer Dave Righetti (as if 8-4 is some big deal.) He did win The Sporting News Rookie of the Year honors, however. Gedman went to two All-Star games (1985-86) and finished in the Top 25 for AL MVP voting in 1985. Plus, he was a local kid from Worcester and that was always a cool thing to see. Unfortunately, after 1986 Gedman had a lot of injury problems and was never a full-time catcher again for the Sox. In 1990 he was dealt to the Houston Astros for the proverbial "player to be named later."

In a cool turn of events, Rich Gedman is a hitting coach with the Sox Double-A affiliate in Portland, ME. I got to meet him at a Sea Dogs function and basically act like a six-year-old, stammering about how I saw him play for Boston's AA affiliate in Bristol, CT in 1979. He was gracious and genuinely appreciative that I remembered something like that. Bottom line: Rich Gedman is awesome.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Starting to Roll

On May 4, after losing a 3-2, 10 inning heartbreaker to the A's, the Red Sox were 15-17. They sat two games out of first in third place. They had two games at home against the Reds before going to Texas for three games, a place they tend to struggle.

Today they are 19-18. They are still in third place and still two games out of first. But the vibe around this team is quite different than it was only a week or two ago.

Boston has four of their last five games and six of their last eight. Two weeks ago you'd have seen Mike Napoli leading most every major batting category. Now we are seeing Big Papi and Pedroia starting to show up as leaders as well. Their on-base percentage as a team has shot up to third in the majors. Their team OPS is a more modest 12th, but that is far ahead of where they were in April.

Their pitching has remained relatively solid. The staff has 25 quality starts, fourth in the majors. Their team ERA is 14th in the majors but fifth in the AL. Boston's save percentage of 79% is best in the AL. But they have seen a dip in their staff WHIP and their staff OPS is starting to rise.

You could argue Lackey is Boston's best starter.

Now, you combine those two things and you get a team that can hold their ground but that's about it. I think the critical element to Boston's improvement has been in the field.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Surviving the Grind

Starting April 18, the Red Sox played 13 games against AL East opponents and another three against the Oakland A's, a team they could potentially be fighting with for a wild-card spot come October.

Over those 16 games, the Sox went 8-7. And yet somehow they went from last place and three games out of first to third place and 1.5 games out of first. Though since they are tied with Tampa and Toronto at 15-17 you could say they are still in last. But let's say third instead.

And while the Yankees are in first you could argue that the cracks are starting to show. 4-6 over their last 10 games. Their -19 run differential is tied for second-worst in the AL. And their pitching is starting to lag. Only 15 quality starts and a staff ERA of 4.31 is not the foundation for a playoff run.

But enough about the Yankees. Let's focus on Boston for a moment.

Last Saturday, Jon Lester reminded everyone that he has a hell of a lot of talent in that left arm of his. He put on a straight-up pitching clinic. Eight innings, one hit, 15 strikeouts.

I have said here before that Lester is a #2, that the Sox don't have a true ace. And I still believe that - Lester can be a little inconsistent. But being able to do what he did against the A's...maybe he is more like a 1.5. A very good pitcher who can reach great heights but not with consistency.

Lester was outstanding against Oakland

Which is frustrating. Especially when you look at his post-season numbers. 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA and a 1.043 WHIP. Never mind the World Series where he becomes Pedro-esque: 3-0, 0.43 ERA, 0.762 WHIP. If Lester could be that pitcher in the regular-season, we wouldn't even be wondering if Boston would sign him to an extension because it'd have been done a long time ago.

Lester is the best lefty the Sox have had since Bruce Hurst. You could argue that he is the best left-handed starter for the Sox since Lefty Grove, although I think Mel Parnell fans may dispute that idea. And good left-handers are a rare commodity. Which is why at the end of the day I think Boston pays up to keep Jon around. He's the best pitcher with a 3-4 record in the game today, because he should be 6-1.