Champions on Display MLB

Friday, May 29, 2015

Eduardo Rodriguez Makes His Debut

During last year's debacle, the Sox traded Andrew Miller to Baltimore for an (at the time) unknown left-handed pitcher in Double A named Eduardo Rodriguez. The book on him was that he was very talented but his control wasn't the best. At the time he hadn't been able to get his K/BB ratio above 3.00 and his WHIP hovered between 1.207 and 1.440.

Since that trade Baltimore lost Miller to free agency and the Yankees (where he has excelled). And Boston debuted their newest pitcher last night. Rodriguez gave Boston one of the best first outings in team history, a 7.2 inning shutout with three hits, seven strikeouts and just two walks. Boston beat Texas 5-1 and all of a sudden people are a lot more positive in Red Sox country.

The temptation after a debut like this is to believe that everything has changed and this new savior will lead the team to the promised land. Which is a pretty crazy way to look at this, but it does happen. What is fair to think is that Rodriguez may well be better than Joe Kelly and should take over his slot in the rotation. Because I am pretty sure that if the Sox brass send Rodriguez back down to Pawtucket, Boston fans will collectively lose their minds.

And I have to admit I was wrong about whom the Sox would call up. I really thought Brian Johnson would get the nod since he was older and arguably pitching better than Rodriguez down in Pawtucket. But if this is what happens when I am wrong, then I hope to be wrong more often.

It also helped that Boston provided Rodriguez with actual run support. Three of the five runs came with two outs, a situation in which Boston has struggled all year long. Hanley Ramirez launched his 11th homer of 2015 as the DH, with Ortiz taking a breather. Really, the only negative from the plate were the five double-plays Boston hit into.

We also have to mention the Ortiz "situation". I use the quotes because we don't really know what the heck is going on there beyond that he has been in a brutal slump. It could be an injury. It could be a flaw in his swing. It could be that, at age 39, Father Time has finally caught up with Big Papi. What we do know is that Ortiz has a .679 OPS, a batting average approaching the Mendoza Line and a negative WAR. And in a season where the Sox are still in the race only because the rest of the AL East has also been exceedingly mediocre, you can't let anyone hitting like that stay in the lineup indefinitely. Hopefully it is nothing more than a flaw in his swing that he can identify and fix.

Tonight the knuckleballer Steven Wright takes the mound. It is supposed to be humid down in Arlington tonight with a possible passing thunderstorm. That should mean a bit of wind as well. Both those factors should help Wright's knuckleball move around and hopefully give Boston back-to-back wins.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Red Sox Rollercoaster

The one thing Boston has been consistent about in 2015 is being consistently good on defense. The Red Sox have hovered between 8th and 10th for team fielding across all 30 teams all season. That, and a bizarrely weak AL East, are the two reasons that Boston sits in fourth place and yet just 2.5 games out of first.

Other than that, it's been impossible to guess which Boston team will show up. Is it the team that pounded the Angels and took two of three games? Is it the team that pitched well but couldn't score any runs, like the one that dropped two games to the Rangers? Or is it the team that couldn't do anything well, like the one that lost to the Twins 7-2 on Memorial Day?

What is most disappointing about yesterday's defeat is not that it derailed what looked like a bit of momentum for Boston, but that it sent Joe Kelly back to Square One. In his last two starts he had gone six innings or longer and surrendered two runs or less in each. It looked like he had found his groove.

Then yesterday he gives up seven runs in less than two innings and the game is over before it begins. It was his worst outing of the season. And it is becoming painfully clear that this is closer to the Joe Kelly we can expect than that guy from the previous two starts.

The question isn't "How do you fix Joe Kelly?" It is "How much longer do you wait on sending him to Pawtucket?" Brian Johnson and Eduardo Rodriguez are waiting in the wings. Rodriguez is the better player, but at 22 you may not want to rush him in yet. Johnson is older (24) and even if his upside isn't as high, he is probably more prepared for Boston than his younger battery mate.

I would personally pull the trigger on this now, rather than ride out one more Kelly start. Especially since other pitchers in Boston seem to have figured things out. Like Wade Miley.

In his last three starts Miley has given up a total of three earned runs. He has gone six innings or more in all three starts. He has allowed no home runs. His ERA is now 4.47, the lowest it has been since April 10. He has figured something out, and now we are seeing the Miley that Cherington expected when he traded for him last year. Hopefully he can continue on this path and provide the rotation with some added stability.

Meanwhile, Boston's bats continue to have trouble generating consistent power. As of right now, no Boston starter has an OPS of .800 or higher. Only one starter has an OBP of .350 or higher (Pedroia at .360). In Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC27) Pedroia has the highest number for Boston at 5.39, which is good for 32nd in the AL East. He is the only Boston player in the AL Top 40. Boston is one of only two AL teams to have a single representative in that list. Seattle is the other, but their guy is Nelson Cruz, who leads the list at 10.30 and basically counts as two players.

Until Boston's hitters get out of their funk, it really doesn't matter how well Miley pitches or how lousy Kelly pitches. If you aren't putting runs on the board, you are going to lose a lot more than you win.

But Kelly sure isn't helping.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Slowly Climbing...Slowly Falling

I have been saying for most of this season that the Red Sox and Yankees are both performing at unexpected levels, just at opposite ends of the spectrum. I have also said that the only silver lining for Boston was that they had a lot of room to improve. And that the danger for the Yankees is that they were already hitting close to their ceiling.

As of today, the Yankees have lost seven of their last 10 games while Boston have won six of their last 10. The Yankees are tied for first with Tampa Bay while Boston sits just 2.5 games back in third. The Yankees just lost Jacoby Ellsbury to a knee injury. Boston changed their pitching coach and Wade Miley looks competent on the mound.

The latest turn of bad luck for the Yankees - besides the Ellsbury injury - was Andrew Miller giving up the game-winning homer to Washington in their 8-6 defeat of New York last night. One of the keys to New York's unexpected good start was the combo of Betances and Miller holding opposing teams to doing little more than getting outs. That has since been undone to some degree. Overall, they are still one of the best 1-2 punches late in a close game. But tiny cracks in their armor are starting to show. That will make it harder for New to regain the form they had early in the season.

Injuries will also make that job harder. Ellsbury getting injured kind of goes with the territory; it's one of the reasons Boston fans weren't that upset when he jumped ship. And he has definitely been one of the better bats in New York's lineup. He currently leads New York in Offensive WAR at 1.6 and that means New York is going to miss him. Chris Young may be an adequate replacement but he'll be a step back. Slade Heathcott is an interesting call-up. A 2009 first-round pick whose career appeared to be derailed by alcohol, Heathcott has turned things around and now could be starting in New York's outfield. Whether his numbers in AAA will carry over into the MLB is, as always, the big question. At the least, things will be interesting in New York.

The Red Sox fired pitching coach Juan Nieves on May 7. They hired pitching coach Carl Willis two days later and he officially joined the team on May 10. From that day on the Sox have gone 6-3. Wade Miley has cut his ERA by almost two whole runs. Joe Kelly's outing on May 14th was his best since April 11. And Clay Buchholz threw a masterpiece against the Mariners five days ago that was wasted thanks to Boston's bats going cold.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Lot Can Change in Three Days

In the last three days, the Sox have won two of three while the Yankees dropped three straight to the Rays. Boston's first win was thanks to a gritty, surprisingly decent performance from Wade Miley. New York's first loss was due in part to a surprisingly poor appearance from Dellin Betances, who allowed two inherited runners to score.

Yes, a lot can change in three days.

Boston won again last night with another gritty outing, this time courtesy of Joe Kelly. And while it would be a stretch to say he pitched well (more walks than strikeouts is never a good thing) it would be fair to say he pitched well enough. One run on five hits over 6.1 innings gave Kelly just his second quality start of the 2015 season. That was enough to keep the Sox in the game. Matt Barnes worked around two hits in the eighth and, thanks to some quality at-bats from the Sox in the top of the ninth, got his second win of the young season. Uehara worked a perfect ninth for his eighth save of the season.

Wade Miley's win on Wednesday afternoon was, in many ways, even more surprising. It was his first win since April 21. And although he had the same walk/strikeout problem that Kelly had yesterday, he was able to keep the A's off-balance while Boston's hitters were able to scratch Sonny Grey just enough for the 2-0 win.

In watching that game, I can see where Miley can be an effective pitcher. Miley works fast, to the point that the cameramen sometimes seemed to hurriedly cut back to the game. When Miley is pitching poorly that speed can be a detriment, because it reinforces bad habits. But if he is pitching well, then it keeps the batters from getting settled. They have no time to guess at what Miley may be throwing.

More than once the Oakland batters got their bats on a pitch and hit it well...but to fielders directly or near enough for the fielder to make the play. And that, in part, comes from being hurried a bit and not settling in properly. Miley is only 2-4, but he has gone 6 innings or more in his last three outings. That is something Boston must get from Miley going forward.

Meanwhile, the shine has come off of the Yankees' start somewhat. Losing three in a row to the Rays is hardly what New York was looking to accomplish.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sox Start to Turn Around, Yanks Continue to Win

Boston beat Oakland last night 5-4 in eleven innings to register their first back-to-back wins since April 20-21. It definitely wasn't easy. Once again, the Boston starter (Porcello this time) failed to make it at least six innings. The bullpen was heavily leaned upon. But this time, the Sox had a fresh arm in Matt Barnes.

Barnes made a handful of appearances last year in September call-ups and this was just his third appearance in 2015. But he has impressed, with just one earned run in 5.1 innings of work. Last night, his two scoreless innings of relief gave Boston the space they needed to manufacture that fifth run and get the win.

As a Boston fan, the Barnes outing is encouraging as he is the first of the highly touted young arms in the system to make an appearance in 2015. I also think he isn't going back; as of right now he is one of the most effective relief pitchers Boston has had in 2015.

Pablo Sandoval continues to prove that his signing was a good move. He only got one hit last night but it was a solo homer that gave Boston their 5-4 lead. For the year he has an .820 OPS, trailing only Hanley Ramirez on the Boston roster.

Porcello had a tough outing; his five innings of work marked his shortest appearance in almost a month. The notable difference, however, is that in that April game he gave up eight runs on 12 hits. Last night he only gave up three runs on nine hits. Not great, but even while Porcello struggled on the mound he left Boston in a position where they could still win the game. That's an important difference.

Over these past two games, the Sox seem to be scrapping more, fighting to win. That's a good quality and hopefully these two wins will keep that attitude going.

Then you have the Yankees. As a Boston fan, I want them to go 0-162 every year. But as a baseball fan, I am fascinated to see how long they can keep this going.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Rough Weekend, Rough Rotation

For the first time since 2006, the Yankees swept the Red Sox in a series. Boston is now 12-13, four games out of first. They have gone 3-7 in their last 10 games.

As a whole, Boston's pitching staff is 28th out of 30, one of three teams with a collective ERA over five. The starting rotation is dead last, with a collective 5.70 ERA.

Meanwhile, Boston's defense is solidly in the top third of the league. So is their offense overall. So it is obvious that to turn things around, Boston has to figure out their pitching situation sooner than later.

The relative weakness of the AL East this year has allowed Boston to survive despite their poor pitching. But if New York's bullpen keeps performing as it has been and the rest of their team maintains their productivity, the window for Boston to turn it around in 2015 will close and close soon.

The Boston bullpen has not given the Sox nearly enough, though part of that can be explained by their overuse due to the starters not getting deep enough into games. Some of the big bullpen signings people thought would strengthen the pen (Robbie Ross, Alexi Ogando) have been disappointing. If management thought this bullpen was strong enough to cover for an average rotation (as New York has done quite successfully with Betances and Miller leading the way), they miscalculated and in grand fashion.

But as stated before, Boston's true problems lie in their rotation. Rick Porcello is 2-2 with a 5.34 ERA. In his defense, however, his last two starts have been solid and he almost cut his ERA by almost 1.5 runs in the process. If any pitcher looks to be turning a corner, it's Porcello.

And a nod must be given to Justin Masterson as well. Over his last three starts he has lowered his ERA by almost three runs. He should have gotten a win on Friday but Boston's offense failed to exploit a run-down CC Sabathia. He needs to be consistent as well going forward, not being dominant but good enough to give the Sox a chance to win in his games. If Porcello and Masterson can continue their performance, then Boston will have something of a foundation to build upon.

But it will be a shaky foundation thanks to the other three starters. Buchholz's inconsistency has been well-documented here. His last outing against the Blue Jays was atrocious. Wade Miley has gotten past the sixth inning exactly once, though to be fair he did pitch decently against the Yankees on Saturday. And Joe Kelly...for a guy who can hit 100 on the radar gun, he doesn't seem to know how to pitch. His ERA has risen in each of his five starts, from 1.29 to his current 5.72. He has surrendered five earned runs in each of his last three starts. But he has great stuff which makes him all the more frustrating. In my fever dreams I like to pretend that Kelly is like Nolan Ryan; great stuff, mediocre at first but after a few seasons somehow puts it all together.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Top Five Red Sox Players to Wear Number 11

Turns out the last one of these I did was about a year ago (The Top Five Red Sox Players to Wear Number 10). So at this rate I should finish around 2040 and then have to start again. But since the Sox didn't play yesterday I thought it would be fun to trot out another one of these. We may start doing a Yankee one as well.

The '11' has been worn by 36 players in Red Sox history, from Billy Connolly, Sr. in 1931 through Royce Clayton's "Cup of Coffee and Championship Ring Tour" in 2007 to the current wearer, Clay Buchholz . It doesn't exactly have the pedigree of some of the other numbers, but two of the better third-baseman in franchise history have worn it as well as a legend at the end of his career

Honorable Mention: Hideo Nomo (2001) - He played only one season in Boston, but it wasn't a bad one by any stretch. He went 13-10, pitched 198 innings and struck out 220 batters. And he threw that no-hitter to start his season. He ended up leading the AL in strikeouts and K/9 IP that year, as well as giving up the fewest walks (96). Yet he didn't make the All-Star team.

The problem in 2001 was that the staff ace (Pedro) had injury issues and only threw in 18 games. After that you had to depend on 38-year old David Cone and Frank Castillo. The only other pitcher besides Nomo who cracked 150 innings was Tim Wakefield. The Sox ended up at 82-79. Nomo had issues adapting to Boston and that off-season he went back to LA.

5. Dave Stapelton (1980-86) - Dave split most of his time between first and second base during his career in Boston. He was second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1980, losing out to Cleveland's Joe Charboneau. That year he also finished in the Top 10 for doubles. After that he was more of a "super-sub", especially in 1986 when he would replace Buckner at first for defensive purposes....


Sorry, but it still sticks in my craw. Anyway, here's a interesting note: the only major league player to have played for a minimum of seven years and have their batting average drop each season is one David Stapelton. So the question is obvious: how does he beat out Nomo? Well, I take service time into account. And Stapes was here a hell of a lot longer. He also had the ROY voting as well. But mostly it is because he signed my program when I was a kid and so I am making an editor's choice.

4. Clay Buchholz (2010-Current) - Clay had a breakout season in 2010, going 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA and making his first All-Star squad. Clay also finished sixth in the AL Cy Young voting. This was all especially impressive considering how many people were calling for him to be traded prior to the start of 2010. Kind of He is transcendent talent mixed with frustrating indifference. His 2013 season was poised to be one for the ages. This season is poised to be disappointing as hell.

3. Bill Mueller (2003-05) - Mueller was only here for three seasons but he exemplified everything we want in our players. He played tough, left it all on the field and cared about the team. His first year in Boston was amazing; he batted .326 to lead the AL, he was Top 10 in OPS and OBP, he was Top 5 in doubles, won the AL Silver Slugger Award for third base and finished 12th in the AL MVP voting. And while he never recaptured that form his last two years, he was a solid cornerman and a vital part of the 2004 World Series winners (he batted an obscene .429 against the Cards.) Just a class act all around and by all accounts one of the great guys in baseball. We were lucky to have him.