The Road to October

It’s been a long time since I have sat down to write about the state of the Red Sox.  A lot has happened in that time.  But the more things change, the more they stay the same.  The Red Sox are in first place, just like they were on July 17.  They sit atop the American League East with a 3 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays.  According to my calculations, the magic number to clinch the division is 49.

Perhaps the biggest change to the Red Sox is the addition of Jake Peavy.  Peavy was excellent in his Red Sox debut at imagesFenway Park against the Diamondbacks.  He went 7 innings allowing 1 run in the victory.  He was not as good in his next appearance against the Royals where he was only able to get through 5 innings.  I love the Peavy deal.  Jose Iglesias is nothing more than a gold glove shortstop with a below average bat.  Turing Jose Iglesias into Jake Peavy is the equivalent of turning water into wine, Ben Cherington should be worshiped by the apostles of Red Sox Nation for performing this miracle.  Peavy is under contract through next season.  When healthy he adds a quality arm to the rotation.  I hate to use tired clichés, but nothing is more true than the old adage, “You can’t have enough pitching.”  With guys like Xander Boegarts, Will Middlebrooks, and Garin Cecchini in the pipeline, Iglesias was more than expendable.  If the Red Sox are able to get into the playoffs, I believe Jake Peavy is your Game 3 starter behind Lester and Buchholz.

 

Speaking of Jon Lester, his season has continued to be a roller coaster ride.  In April he was lights out going 4-0 with a 3.11 ERA.  He had an ok May going 2-2 with a 3.91 ERA before a brutally atrocious June.  In June Lester threw up a 7.62 ERA in five starts.  I have actually been encouraged by what I have seen from Lester lately.  He recovered nicely after a difficult first inning against Kansas City.  His defense wasn’t very helpful in that one either.  Since the All Star Break, Lester is 2-1 with a 3.28 ERA.  He is using his fastball a lot more than he has in previous months.  His command is coming back.  I believe the addition of Jake Peavy will help Lester immensely.  Many people in Red Sox Nation are down on Lester.  I am not among them.  I believe Lester is your Game 2 starter when the playoffs commence.

Believe it or not, I like the way the bullpen is starting to shape up.  Koji Uehara is your closer.  His WHIP this season? A mind images-1blowing 0.69.  I don’t understand why his 89-90 MPH fastball is blowing the opposition away.  He has 74 strikeouts in just 53.1 innings!  Junichi Tazawa is your right-handed set up man.  He has been fairly consistent all season long.  What’s best about Tazawa? He rarely gives his opposition a free pass.  He has walked just 8 men in 54 innings.  Ruby Delarosa is another right-handed option aside Tazawa.  He featured an impressive 98 MPH fastball and a diabolical changeup. Craig Breslow and Drake Britton are your left-handed options in the pen at the moment.  I am interested to see what the Red Sox do with Franklin Morales now that he is eligible to come off the disabled list.  Will the Red Sox carry 3 lefties in the pen?  Maybe they will make Morales the left-handed long reliever with Brandon Workman as the right-handed long man.  I have said it time and time again.  Workman reminds me of Justin Masterson and Bronson Arroyo with his ability to give the Sox 3 innings out of the pen.  The last idea for the bullpen will be Ryan Dempster.  When Clay Buchholz returns, someone will get moved to a relief role.  My money is on Dempster.  He has had success out of the bullpen in years past, and I believe his slider and sinker are weapons that can be used when the Red Sox need a double play late in the game.

I could go on a long diatribe about the frustrations of owning Mike Napoli in fantasy baseball have brought me.  The fact is Napoli is striking out way too often as of late.  I don’t want to get to down on Napoli because he is one of the streakiest hitters in baseball.  Optimistic me says Napoli will be okay and a power display is coming soon.

Count me as one of the few happy to see Will Middlebrooks get one final chance before the arrival of Xander Boegarts.  I images-2loved WMB last season before he broke his hand.  The kid can hit.  I am hoping he has the mental problems worked out after a stint in Pawtucket.  Middlebrooks reached base 4 times in his first two games back with the big club.  He knocked in two runs and scored twice.  The Red Sox could really use the Middlebrooks of last year at this point.  Brandon Snyder and Brock Holt are nice and all, but they are utility guys off the bench.  Nothing more.  If Napoli continues to struggle, the Red Sox will need a bat to put behind Ortiz.  Middlebrooks would be that guy.

The Sox have a somewhat easy schedule before they meet with the red-hot Los Angeles Dodgers (which will be an interesting series for a variety of reasons).  They travel to Toronto for a three game set, come home to Fenway for three against the Yanks, before flying out to San Francisco to take on the Giants.  In the same stretch, the Rays have the Mariners, Blue Jays, and Orioles.  Hopefully the Sox can maintain or even extend that three game lead.

I CAN BE FOLLOWED ON TWITTER @SCOTTIENTCF

Advertisements

2011 American League Regular Season Preview

With the Celtics and Bruins playoffs still about 3 weeks away, the NCAA tournament winding down, and the weather warming up, it is fair to say that most people are craving Opening Day.  Opening Day is a symbolic of the first day of spring.  With baseball starting up everyone knows cookouts, days at the beach, and beautiful weather is upon us.  For me, baseball is my favorite sport, and with the moves the Red Sox have made in the off-season, you can only imagine what my level of excitement and anticipation is at.

I very much want to blog regularly this season.  I am in a competitive fantasy baseball league for the first time since high school and I feel I will be paying very close attention to the diamond this year.  However, I will make no promises about posting with any consistency because it seems every time I make a promise on here, I break it.  On the bright side I do have time to give you a layout of the 2011 MLB Season.  I will give you my predictions on how the divisions will play out, in parenthesis will be where I rank the team overall in the MLB. I will also predict the major awards.  I will do the National League Preview tomorrow.

AL East

Boston Red Sox (1)

New York Yankees (2)

Toronto Blue Jays (4)

Tampa Bay Rays (10)

Baltimore Orioles (12)

The Red Sox have the most complete roster on paper.  If they are able to avoid the injury bug they should be able to put up over 100 wins.  The Yankees still have one of the most potent lineups in baseball but did not do anything to address their need for starting pitching in the offseason.  Yanks have to hope for CC and Hughes and 3 days of rain. The Blue Jays have the foundation in place to make some noise in the AL East this year.  They have a solid young rotation and a lineup that will put up plenty of runs.  Tampa Bay is in a bit of a rebuilding mode this season.  Joe Maddon will keep the Rays competitive but they don’t have the horses to compete in the AL East.  The Orioles have a manager that will keep his squad motivated but when your pitching is dependent upon Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Matusz, you are in trouble.

AL Central

Minnesota Twins (3)

Chicago White Sox (6)

Detroit Tigers (9)

Kansas City Royals (11)

Cleveland Indians (14)

I have learned over the past 5-6 years to never count out the Minnesota Twins.  They were able to make the playoffs without Justin Morneau last year and that convinced me that Ron Gardenhire knows how to keep his team competitive.  The White Sox added some pop to one of the best 1-9 lineups in the league when they signed Adam Dunn this offseason.  But their pitching is suspect at best. Detroit has a nice 1-2 to head their rotation with Verlander and Scherzer but they will have trouble putting runs on the board with only Miggy and VMart putting any fear into opposing pitchers. Kansas City has some of the best prospects in baseball and have drafted rather well the past 3 seasons.  Maybe this time around the prospects will pan out and do some damage in coming seasons, just not this year.  Watch Major League and stop watching before the team learns that Rachel Phelps assembled the team just so they could move to Miami.  That is how bad the Indians will be this year.

AL West

Oakland Athletics (5)

Los Angeles Angels (7)

Texas Rangers (8)

Seattle Mariners (13)

The Oakland A’s have a solid rotation and an even better bullpen this year that will help them leap-frog the Texas Rangers for division winners. The offense may not put up a ton of runs but the pitching will be good enough to get them to the playoffs. The Angels benefit from having the best manager in baseball in Mike Scioscia. They have a good enough rotation and an ok lineup to make a run at the wild card.  They will falter because their bullpen is terrible. Texas will be hurt by the loss of Cliff Lee as their rotation is now led by CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis.  Adrian Beltre will bolster the lineup but don’t expect him to put up the same numbers he did with the Red Sox a season ago.  The only reasons to talk about the Mariners are Felix Hernandez and Ichiro.  Hernandez won the Cy Young award last season in spite of being on the Mariners.  That is a telling statement about the franchise.

Wild Card: New York Yankees

Red Sox over Athletics in 4

Yankees over Twins in 5

Red Sox over Yankees in ALCS in 6

American League MVP: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees

Cy Young: Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox

Manager of the Year: Bob Geren, Oakland Athletics

Rookie of the Year: Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals

Love it? Hate it? Be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Coming tomorrow: My National League Regular Season Preview

I can be followed on Twitter @ Scottientcf




Fever Pitch…ing

Amazing! Shocking! Flabbergast-ing?(if thats a word)

All three words could be used when describing the Red Sox off-season moves. 

The Red Sox have no doubt put themselves in position to climb back atop the AL East and they did it in aggressive fashion. Theo and Co. wasted no time targeting the people they wanted, and did whatever it took in getting them.  There was a definite need in this lineup for some pop once Martinez and Beltre left or were assumed gone.  In come Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.  I don’t have to get into what these two bring to the lineup, that is not my focus.

I really want to look at the pitching of this team, because believe it or not, that is what they needed the most!

In case you don’t believe me, here are some offensive stats for the Red Sox last season. In the true spirit of “the rivalry” I will include the Yankees stats as well.

Rankings reflect both AL and NL:

Batting avg.- Boston 7th  NY- 8th

Slugging% – Boston- 2nd  NY- 4th

On Base%- Boston- 4th  NY- 1st

Stolen Bases- Boston- 25th  NY- 12th

HR-  Boston- 2nd  NY-3rd

Runs- Boston- 2nd  NY- 1st

To recap, Boston’s offensive numbers were just as good and in a lot of cases better than the Yankees. Stolen bases will improve with a healthy Jacoby and even though Crawford can’t run against Varitek anymore he can still face Jorge’s squirt gun for an arm. When you think of the players that contributed to these statistics it is even more impressive, Darnell McDonald and  Ryan Kalish are the first two that come to mind. With the injuries throughout the lineup this team will no doubt be able to repeat and exceed last seasons numbers.

Pitching last season was not as great. Here are the rankings for how the Red Sox staff, yes the Yankees too.

ERA- Boston- 22nd  NY- 15th

Complete Games- Boston- 22nd  NY- 24th

WHIP- Boston- 16th  NY- 11th

Wins- Boston 10th  NY- 3rd

Opposing Batting Avg- Boston 17th  NY-12th

K/BB Ratio- Boston 22nd  NY- 16th

As you can see, and I realize you didn’t need these stats to know that, the Red Sox pitching staff was the problem last year. I love what the front office did with the bullpen. Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler have been closers and have pitched in big situations before. To help with the middle innings Boston acquired Matt Albers who was 1st among relievers that pitched more than one inning in a game. Albers will eat up middle innings and believe it or not he pitched some quality innings for the Orioles last season, yes I know that sounds like an oxymoron. I am praying that another lefty arm comes into the fold, one not named Lenny Dinardo. Sorry Lenny but the only thing cool about you is that we are kind of eskimo brothers, TRUE STORY.

With Beckett and Lackey into their 30’s a strong bullpen will no doubt help to keep them healthy, especially in the early part of the season. I full anticipate a strong comeback from both veterans.  The further development or Lester and Buchholz will be the key to this whole team. Big statement but no truer words have been spoken.  If Beckett and Lackey return to form and these two young pitchers improve on last season, this rotation will return to a top-tier unit. The fifth spot of the rotation will likely go to Dice-K by default by I would personally like to see FDub, yes that is his new name, start the season in the rotation this year.

Red Sox Nation seems to be back to full force and the expectations could not be higher in Boston. I am asking Santa for a lefty reliever for Christmas, what are you asking for?

Playoff Baseball is Here

With 34 games remaining in the Boston Red Sox season, and with them being 5.5 back of a playoff spot, it is fair to say that playoff baseball has arrived in New England.  The Red Sox will be in Tampa Bay for the weekend for a pivotal, make or break the season series against the Rays.  If the Sox are swept, the season is over.  It is imperative that they take 2 if not 3 games from the Rays.  These facts are not lost on Sox management.  This was evident by moving Jon Lester back in the rotation to tonight’s game instead of having him pitch Wednesday night against the Mariners.  Dice-K conveniently came down with a back issue, Kevin Cash was conveniently brought back to the active roster on Tuesday so he could catch Tim Wakefield Wednesday night.  This allowed the Sox throw 2 of their aces in Lester and Buchholz against the Rays instead of just Buchholz.

The Sox will throw Lester, Buchholz, and Lackey against David Price, Matt Garza, and James Shields.  All 3 of these matchups are marquee matchups but none is better than the gift we have tonight.  Jon Lester and David Price to open the most important series of the season is perfect for the severity of the situation.  Lester is fresh off getting smacked around by the Blue Jays in his worst career start while Price is trying for that elusive 16th win as he has been dealt no decisions his last 2 times out.

While this series is going on, the Yankees will have their hands full with the Chicago White Sox this weekend.  There is a lot of potential for the Red Sox come Monday to be in a prime position as is related to a playoff spot.  Unfortunately, there is also a ton of potential for them to be out of the thing altogether when they wake up Monday morning. 

There are several key aspects to this series but there are two that are most concerning to me.  The Red Sox need to limit the Rays’ running game.  It seems every time the Sox go down to Tampa they are victims of larceny.  Tampa loves to steal bases and with Victor Martinez behind the plate it will be of the utmost importance for the Sox pitchers to keep Tampa baserunners close to the bag and stop the Rays from creating scoring opportunities.  The other main concern is the bridge to Bard and Papelbon.  Is there any reliever in the bullpen that a Red Sox fan can trust?  I even have a hard time trusting Papelbon! It is crucial for the Sox starting pitchers to get through the seventh inning.  If they can’t then, there will be a lot of bars in the New England area collectively holding their breaths on each pitch with the likes of Delcarmen, Atchison, and Doubront on the mound.

Lastly, I will leave you, the faithful readers of NTCF, with some food for thought.  Many of you know that I was a huge Johnny Damon fan when he was with the Red Sox.  I, like many of you, felt betrayed when he went south to suit up in pinstripes. When I heard the Sox won the waiver claim on Damon, I was ecstatic and hopeful he would comeback to Fenway.  We all know how that worked out.  Yes, I was somewhat disappointed.  But then I stepped back from the situation and did some thinking.  Here are Johnny’s stats this season:

In 115 games Johnny has hit .269 with 7 home runs and 41 RBI’s with an on base percentage of .359.

In 94 games Darnell McDonald has hit .273 with 8 home runs and 31 RBI’s and an on base percentage of  .340.  Not to mention that Darnell races horses and smashes windshields.

Would Johnny have been an upgrade or a downgrade?

Who Will Step Up in June?

April wasn’t the best month for the Boston Red Sox.  We can all do ourselves a favor and forget about it.  We were too busy paying attention to the Celtics and the Bruins anyways.  It also helps that pennants aren’t won in April.  However, it is fair to say, there was nervous tension throughout April as many fans questioned the approach of pitching and defense.  David Ortiz and JD Drew had sub .200 batting averages and there was panic, although no one was paying attention.

May came.  And with it the emergence of Big Papi, JD Drew, and Adrian Beltre.  Papi showed that slow starts happen and he was a man possessed in May, hitting 11 home runs with 27 RBI’s and hitting over .360.  Screw the shift!  JD Drew who has the prettiest swing in all of sports actually used it to hit the ball and not just look pretty.  He upped his average from sub.200 to .280.  Beltre has quietly produced all season long hitting over .340.  Not bad for an acquisition that was used purely for defensive purposes.  Jason Varitek has made the Sox faithful happy he came back for one more year.

Also in May the starting pitching has come up big.  Jon Lester showed why he is the true ace of the Sox and possibly the best left handed pitcher in baseball.  Clay Buchholz has been a stud, tied for first in the American League in wins.  Dice-K has even shown glimpses of what he is capable of.  Because of this the Sox are 5 back of the Rays in the toughest division in baseball and 2 back of the Yankees for the wild card.

Now it is on to June.  Who will step for the team this month?  John Lackey has 5 wins coming into June but an ERA north of 4.50.  Josh Beckett hasn’t shown why he was worth his contract extension as he has struggled prior to going on the disabled list.  These are the two prime candidates to turn things around from the pitching staff and help shoulder the load that Lester and Buchholz have managed thus far.

Victor Martinez is having a 5 for 5 night at the time of this writing and is showing signs of heating up along with the weather.  Dustin Pedroia is in the middle of his annual slump but history has told us he will catch fire and tear up the league at any given point.  Jacoby Ellsbury will never be confused with Trot Nixon.  But whenever he decides to play through his nagging ribs injury he will help out the team greatly by just being in the lineup, allowing Marco Scutaro to go to the nine spot.

The June schedule is a soft one, one in which the Sox can make up significant ground in the Pennant Race.  Someone is bound to step up just like Ortiz and Lester did in May.  The Sox will be in the thick of things come September which is dangerous for Major League Baseball.  I hate to use the cliché but this team is built for the playoffs and we have seen what a solid rotation and timely hitting has done before.  Twice actually.