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Posts Tagged ‘Ben Cherington’

So we went from a week of huge news to a week of basically no news.  Papi wants a one-year contract extension, and Ben is maintaining a firm but low-key presence at the Winter Meetings.  And that’s pretty much it.

In other news, the B’s beat the Flames, 2-1, and Oilers, 4-2, but the Canucks gave us a beating yesterday, 6-2.  And the Pats dropped a close nailbiter to the Dolphins, 24-20.  I’d really like to have a landslide win.  We haven’t had one of those in a while.

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This week was momentous.  This time of year usually is.  Because this week, my friends, we celebrated Truck Day! On Tuesday, all of our equipment rolled out for the long drive down to Fort Myers.  Spring Training has officially unofficially started! Man, it’s been a long winter.  It still is a long winter.  And we have a long way to go, but we’re getting there.  It’s February already, and since Truck Day has come and gone, Pitcher and Catchers is our next milestone, followed of course by the officially official start of Spring Training and then the season! We’re well on our way.  It may be freezing outside, and there may be snow in the air or on the ground, but we know that in Florida there is baseball to be played.  I can almost taste it, especially since Farrell is already talking about lineups; expect Ellsbury to bat first this year.

Pedro Martinez is back in Boston, in the front office this time; he’s a special assistant to Ben, and he’s basically going to advise the pitching staff.  Kalish had successful surgery on his right shoulder, but we re-signed Sweeney just in case.  We signed Lyle Overbay to a minor-league deal.  Terry Francona won the Judge Emil Fuchs Award, presented by the Boston Baseball Writers, for his service to the game.

Gary Tuck, our bullpen coach, decided to retire and has been replaced by Dana Levangie.  Remember him? Levangie was our bullpen coach for eight years, the last of which was 2004.  After that, he was an advance scout.  And now he’s back where he started.  Tuck was going to be the last man standing from last year’s staff, and he surely was a fantastic bullpen coach.  He expected nothing but the best from pitchers and catchers; he made our staff great, and he will be sorely missed.  Levangie has big shoes to fill, but seems like the logical choice.

Congratulations to the Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund, who celebrate sixty years of partnership this season.  This will be the inauguration of a suite available all season long for Jimmy Fund patients and their families.  A Jimmy Fund Chorus will also perform at the park.  This is one of those occasions when you feel really proud to support this organization.

Okay.  There’s something else that needs to be said, and I’m only going to say it once and then be done with it, because it’s that excruciating.  Kevin Youkilis is now a Yankee.  Like his predecessor, Johnny Damon, he has enlisted in the Evil Empire.  He has committed himself to the aiding and abetting of New York’s success.  Baseball is a complicated business these days; it’s a rare and happy find to discover a player whose sentimental connection with a particular team is strong.  In Boston, we’ve had a long tradition of such sentimental connections, and we still expect that from our players; we give them everything we’ve got, and we like to see the same in return.  So when one of our own, a homegrown farm boy no less, goes to the dark side, it’s extremely difficult to accept.  It was difficult to accept Damon doing it, and it’s no less difficult now.  We salute Youk and everything he has done for this team and this city.  He was a potent combination of hitting and fielding, volatility and versatility.  He had his good moments, and he had his bad moments, but he has left a legacy here of a stellar player.  I already made the tribute when he left, and we all know how awesome he was.  All I’m saying now is that it hurts.  It hurts, and it’s devastating, and we have to go through that pain all over again of seeing one of our own turn away from us.  That’s all I’m saying.

In other news, the Ravens won the Super Bowl, 34-31.  What a game.  It looked like the 49ers didn’t have a chance for most of it, and then it looked like the Ravens would be hard-pressed to keep them down after the power went out.  But alas, they pulled through.  At least now we get to say that it took a Super Bowl champion to defeat us this year.  The Bruins, for their part, have been doing quite well.  Since the shortened season’s first game, the Bruins have beaten the Jets by a score of 2-1, the Isles by a score of 4-2, the Canes by a score of 5-3, the Devils by a score of 2-1, the Leafs by a score of one-zip, and the Habs by a narrow yet satisfying score of 2-1.  We lost to the Rangers, 4-3, in sudden death and to the Sabres by the brutal score of 7-4.

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Finally! Okay, now we’re in business.  I don’t want to necessarily say that the news is big news; I think a year or two ago it would have been really big news, but players age year to year, and last year’s phenom is this year’s solid, all-around acquisition who’s good but doesn’t necessarily have that wow factor anymore.  But given our needs and our situation, I’d say Ben’s moves during and after the Winter Meetings were good and much-needed ones.  He’s putting together a stable team while maintaining a healthy amount of financial flexibility, and John Farrell is happy with the developments.  All in all, I’d say we’re definitely going in a great direction.

Anyway, let’s get down to it.  We’ve signed Mike Napoli to a three-year contract worth thirty-nine million dollars.  Don’t let last season’s aggregate stats fool you.  He batted .227 with twenty-four home runs and fifty-six RBIs with an on-base percentage of .343, but look at his numbers in his new home: .307 batting average, nine home runs, twenty RBIs, and a 1.14 OBP.  Admittedly, the sample size of seventy-five at-bats is small, but numbers aside, he’s known for pulling the ball, and his swing will thrive in Fenway.  As for defense, he’s a catcher by trade, but don’t expect to see him behind the plate.  He’ll probably end up at first.

Our next name is Shane Victorino, the Flyin’ Hawaiian.  It’s another three-year, thirty-nine-million-dollar deal.  Last year, he batted .255 with eleven homers, fifty-five RBIs, and a .321 OBP.  Don’t forget that he bats switch, though, and while he batted .229 as a leftie, he batted .320 as a rightie.  But he had vastly more at-bats from the left than the right, so again, the sample size must be considered.  Still, versatility has never been frowned upon in our organization.  As for defense, like Napoli, Victorino will not field in familiar territory.  All trade rumors concerning Ellsbury are patently false, and Victorino will not be playing center.  He’ll be playing right for sure.  And it’ll be a welcome relief.  Fenway’s right field can break any veteran, but Shane has the stuff to handle it.  He has three Gold Gloves and a center fielder’s speed and arm, and that combination in right, once he learns the fatal angles out there, will be formidable.  It’ll be nice breathing easy with a steady patrol out there.

It’s worth noting that Ben and John met in person with Josh Hamilton, but don’t get too excited.  We already have Ellsbury, and Hamilton wants either Texas or a long-term deal, neither of which we will provide.

And we signed Ryan Dempster to a two-year deal worth $26.5 million.  Granted, he has spent almost all of his time in the National League aside from a few handfuls of games last season, which he started for Texas.  But his ERA was 3.38 last season, and his WHIP was 1.20; not too shabby.  Just as important, if not more important, to why we were interested in him in the first place is the fact that, before last season, his last for seasons totaled at least two hundred innings, and last season he clocked 173 innings which isn’t too far behind.  That means three things: durability, durability, durability.  On the other hand, durability doesn’t mean much unless you’re good, and his brief stint in the American League didn’t go well at all, so I’m concerned as to how he’ll make out in the AL East, which, as we all know, is the toughest division there is, basically.  So I’d say we can approach this one with cautious expectations.  But at least we got some sort of starting pitcher, which is a step in the right direction.  We also added Koji Uehara, who signed a one-year deal.  In thirty-six innings last year, he posted a 1.75 ERA and an 0.64 WHIP.  That means good late-inning work for us.

We finished the Zach Stewart trade by acquiring Kyle Kaminska from the Pirates and assigned him to the PawSox.  We also claimed Sandy Rosario from the A’s, and he has since been claimed by the Cubs.  Gary DiSarcina, formerly the Angels’ minor league field coordinator, is now the PawSox manager.

So we had gaps and voids, we identified them, and we set about filling them with solid, stable choices who will fit in both on the field and in the clubhouse.  We now have some powerful hitters and defenders in the lineup whose numbers admittedly were not great last year but who stand, given the right circumstances, to do great things, and we have some great additions to the clubhouse as well.  We also have a starter who’s spent hardly any time in the AL and whose time he did spend in the AL was nothing to write home about but who has considerable potential.  We still have a lot of work to do; we need more and better starting pitching, for one thing.  That’s a big one.  But slowly but surely we’re getting it done.  We don’t need to make the world’s biggest splash to put a team together that can go the distance.

In other news, the Pats beat the Dophins, 23-16, and the Texans, 42-14.

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Well, we’ve made it through the first half, but I can’t say I’m pleased with where we are.  The only thing I could say is that I’m glad it’s not worse than it is, but that really, really doesn’t say much.  We’re suffering from inconsistency, injuries, and just a general lack of that spark we’ve tended to see in our winning teams in recent years.  These are underlying, pervasive problems that can’t just be fixed by a trade or a snap of the fingers.  Changes have to come from within, but it’s hard to pinpoint a solution when the sources of the problems are hard to pinpoint themselves.  Either way, we know what we have to do to improve: win consistently.

As I do every year, I’ve graded the entire team at the halfway point:

Kelly Shoppach: B

As backup catchers go, Shoppach is pretty good.  In thirty-one games, he’s made only two errors and four passed balls.  His catcher’s ERA is 3.76, which anyone on our pitching staff these days would be lucky to have.  He has also hit ten doubles and four home runs, and his batting average is .269, which isn’t bad for a backup catcher, either.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: B

Salty is working out much better than we expected power-wise.  He ranks first among all Major League catchers in home runs with seventeen, which I don’t think is something many people predicted.  But all but one of those were hit from the left side, which is something he needs to work on.  He also needs to work on his fielding, which is supposed to be one of a catcher’s strong suits.  His fielding percentage is .987, which is high but, in my opinion, not high enough.  He’s made six errors and passed five balls; I’m looking for something closer to zero errors and zero passed balls.  His catcher’s ERA is 4.45, which is decent, and he’s come a long way as far as forging relationships with the pitchers and calling good games is concerned.

Adrian Gonzalez: C

I am not afraid to say that Gonzalez so far has been a huge disappointment.  He is nowhere near the powerhouse he was last season, and I was fully expecting this season to exceed last season.  He is second among Major League first basemen in doubles with twenty-seven and eighth in RBIs with forty-five, but he’s not even in the top twenty in home runs.  With only six, he’s actually last among all first basemen in the American League.  His fielding, however, is as solid as ever.  He’s made only one error, so his fielding percentage is .999.  But offensively we need much, much more from him.  The team is struggling, but he was not supposed to be one of the reasons why.

Dustin Pedroia: C

It’s always tough to grade a player who’s been plagued with injuries because you have to assume that the injuries weren’t his fault, and you have to try to compare his performance given the injuries with what you expect his ideal performance to be given the injuries.  The truth is that Pedroia is struggling across the board offensively.  Doubles, home runs, walks, on-base percentage; you name it, he’s not performing as well as he could be in it, even given the injuries.  His fielding, like Gonzalez, is as solid as ever with a percentage of .997.  But like Gonzalez, Pedroia was not supposed to be one of the reasons why the team is struggling.  He’s a phenomenal leader both on and off the field, but we also need him to lead the charge offensively and help the team win on a more consistent basis.

Mike Aviles: B

Our woes at shortstop for the most part continue.  Why we can’t get a shortstop in there who can hit as well as he fields is completely beyond me.  Aviles is making a valiant effort, but it’s not enough.  First of all, his fielding percentage is .982.  He has made seven errors.  I understand that shortstop is the most difficult position defensively, but that’s also why you need an amazing fielder to man it.  Aviles is a great fielder.  He is not an amazing fielder.  He’s not an amazing hitter, either.  He has a .260 average and .283 on-base percentage.  He’s hit twenty-two doubles, no triples, and nine home runs with forty-four RBIs and twelve walks.  Not the best shortstop material.

Will Middlebrooks: B

Middlebrooks has some big shoes to fill, so he has to go through a process of proving himself.  I will say that he’s off to a fantastic start offensively.  His performance at the plate has been phenomenal, and it’s been truly wonderful to witness the fruits of our labor on the farm in growing a power hitter ourselves.  In forty-eight games, he has fifty-one hits, eleven of which are doubles and ten of which are home runs.  He has a .298 average and a .335 on-base percentage thanks to nine walks, so he could walk more.  His performance in the field, not so much.  He has a fielding percentage of .935 and has made seven errors.  Third base is a tough place to play as well, and he needs to work on it to round out his game.

Nick Punto: B

Think about what Punto is for.  Punto is a utility infielder.  He’s supposed to be able to play any position decently well and to hit decently well.  He is not supposed to be truly outstanding at everything infield, and we’re lucky if he’s outstanding at one thing infield.  So the criteria he’d have to meet for an A is lower than it is for a starter.  Still, as utility infielders go, it’s not like he’s been that great.  His average is .212; only six of his twenty-one hits were for extra bases, and he has only eight RBIs.  And he’s played forty-nine games, which is about more than a quarter of the whole season, so it’s not like he’s had hardly any playing time.  His performance in the field is much stronger than his performance at the plate, but it still could be better.

Ryan Sweeney: C

I was on the fence about a C or a D.  But then I realized that I was only going to give him a D because Josh Reddick would have been so much better, and that wouldn’t be fair.  It’s not Sweeney’s fault that he’s in right field and not Reddick; that’s Ben’s fault, and we’ll get to that later.  Anyway, Sweeney’s .283 average is respectable.  His seventeen doubles, two triples, and zero home runs are not.  Neither are his nine walks.  His two errors in right are alright, but errors made in the outfield tend to be costly because the ball is farther away from the infield, so those two errors could probably count for more.

Cody Ross: B

Ross has been good but not great.  His thirteen home runs from the right side of the plate are a much-needed edition to our lineup, and his twenty-four walks show patience at the plate.  He also has fourteen doubles and forty RBIs to his credit, and he has yet to make an error in the field.  I’d say he’s been better than expected, but he could be better still; his .264 average and .345 on-base percentage leave much to be desired.

Daniel Nava: A

If you told me during Spring Training that Nava would play fifty-two games by the All-Star break and bat.275 with an on-base percentage of .388, I would have been extremely skeptical.  But that’s what happened.  And he has forty-seven hits to his credit, seventeen of which are doubles and three of which are homers.  He has also walked twenty-six times and has made only one error.  For a utility outfielder that has suddenly found himself in the limelight thanks to injuries, he’s been handling himself very well.

Ryan Kalish: C

In short, he’s still a kid and he needs work, in the sense that he needs to be worked, in terms of playing time, and to be worked on, in terms of training time.  He’s played eighteen games this year and has hit only two extra-base hits, both of them doubles.  He has walked only twice and batted in only five runs.  And he has made two errors, and between the fact that that’s over the course of only eighteen games and the fact that outfield errors are costly, that’s a lot.

David Ortiz: A

Nobody on this team deserves an A more than Big Papi.  He ranks tenth in the Majors in doubles with twenty-five, fifth in slugging percentage with .607, and is tied for seventh in homers with twenty-two.  Among DHs, he ranks first, first, and third in those categories.  Simply put, the man’s job is to hit for extra bases.  That’s what he does.  He’s been doing it from day one this year, and he has continued to do it consistently.  He’s just hit the four hundredth home run of his career, and he looks like he’s in line to hit many, many more.  This season, the team seems to have two constants: inconsistency and Big Papi.

Offense Overall: B

As a team, we are sixth in the Majors in average with .268, eighth in on-base percentage with .329, and fourth in slugging percentage with .441.  We are second in runs with 432, third in hits with 302, first in doubles with 208, eighth in home runs with 99, and third with RBIs with 409.  And yet somehow we fail to win consistently.  It’s because we don’t score runs consistently.  Sometimes we score a little, and sometimes we score a lot.  And of course it also has to do with the pitching, which we’ll get to later.  But like I always say, just like the pitching staff’s job is to make sure that we win regardless of what the offense does or doesn’t do, so it is the offense’s job to make sure we win regardless of what the pitching staff does or doesn’t do.

Defense Overall: B

We are sixth in the Majors in fielding with a percentage of .986.  It could be much, much better.  I guess we can chalk it up to several players in key defensive positions having had to get used to Fenway, but that shouldn’t have taken the entire first half of the season.

Jon Lester: C

Lester has not pitched well at all.  In fact, his numbers are unfortunately similar to Beckett’s.  Why must our aces struggle at the same time? Why must our aces struggle at all? These are some of the big questions for which the team does not seem to have any answers whatsoever.  He has a 4.49 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP.  In eighteen starts, he is 5-6 with fifty-six earned runs, thirty walks, and eleven home runs.  Those numbers put him in the basement of the American League, which is not where a pitcher like Lester is expected to be.

Josh Beckett: C

Like Lester, Beckett has not pitched well at all.  In fact, his numbers are unfortunately similar to Lester’s.  He has a 4.43 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP.  In fourteen starts, he is 4-7  with forty-four earned runs, twenty-two walks, and nine home runs.  He also has the lowest average strikeout total per nine innings of his career at 6.5.  And this is the mighty Josh Beckett that should have won the Cy Young in 2007? He’s like a completely different pitcher now.

Clay Buchholz: C

Buchholz has actually been terrible this year.  He has started fourteen games and is eight and two, but he has a 5.53 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP with fifty-three earned runs, fifteen home runs, and thirty-four walks.  In 86.1 innings pitched, he has given up ninety-nine hits.  It’s a miracle that he has more wins than losses, and how he managed to rack up so many wins is a mystery.  Yet another disappointment.

Daniel Bard: D

I’m honestly sorry to give Bard a D, but it’s the grade he deserves.  He was made a starter partly because his superiors wanted him to be a starter and partly also because he wanted to be a starter.  But the truth of the matter is that he has no business being a starter.  If something isn’t broken, nobody should try to fix it, and Bard was on the road to a fantastic career as a closer.  We needed him as a closer.  And instead he became this mediocre pitcher stripped of his dignity.  He started ten games and had an ERA of 5.24 and a WHIP of 1.62.  In fifty-five innings pitched, he gave up fifty-two hits, thirty-two earned runs, six homers, and thirty-seven walks.  His record was 5-6.  Let it be stated here that Bard is much more effective as a setup man or closer.  And the fact that that actually has to be stated is an embarrassment.  It should have been evident.

Felix Doubront: B

I don’t think anyone predicted in Spring Training that Doubront would become our best starter.  Then again, as we have seen, this season has been full of surprises, most of them unpleasant, so Doubront was a breath of fresh air.  Not that that says much.  In any other season, if Lester and Beckett and Buchholz pitched to their abilities, Doubront would be at the middle or bottom of the rotation at best.  Anyway, his ERA is currently 4.41, and his WHIP is 1.38.  He has started seventeen games and has a record of 9-4.  In ninety-six innings pitched, he’s given up forty-seven earned runs, fifteen homers, and thirty-five walks.

Aaron Cook: B

Compared to how we thought he was going to work out, Cook was actually a pleasant surprise as well.  Again, that doesn’t say much, but given his health when he joined the team, it does say a lot about his determination and commitment.  Plus he pitched that absolute gem a few starts ago, which can not be overlooked, especially since he’s made only four starts this season so far.  He has a 4.37 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP, which is decent under his circumstances.  And we need the extra starter anyway.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: D

I’ve been thinking that Dice-K is a problem with no solution.

Matt Albers: B

Albers has not been outstanding, but he has been pretty great.  He certainly has made a valiant effort to turn it around from last season and has a nice 2.38 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP.  In thirty-four innings, he’s given up thirteen runs on twenty-six hits with twenty strikeouts.  He’s pitched in thirty-two games and has blown only three saves.  It should be zero, but this is not the team with which to be picky.

Andrew Miller: B

Again, not outstanding but pretty great.  2.75 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 19.2 innings pitched.  Six runs on thirteen hits and no blown saves.  If he continues pitching as well as he has so far, he will have the best season of his career numbers-wise.  Granted, he spent most of his career as a starter, but he’s found this new role in which he has a chance to be really successful for a team that really needs him.

Scott Atchison: A

Here’s someone who’s outstanding.  Atchison is probably our best reliever so far.  His ERA is a low 1.79, and his WHIP is a low .99, and that’s over 45.1 innings pitched.  He’s given up only nine runs on thirty-six hits while walking nine and striking out thirty-three.  He has also given up only two home runs.  Outstanding.

Vicente Padilla: C

As a setup man, he hasn’t done as well as I would have liked.  His 3.94 ERA and 1.38 WHIP are actually terrible for a setup man, but somehow he gets through it.  In thirty-two innings, he’s given up fourteen earned runs on thirty-five hits while striking out only nine.  He’s blown two saves.  Now, a setup man is a setup man; he’s supposed to put the closer in a position where the closer can close, and he’s supposed to keep the team in a position where the team can win.  That means not blowing any saves and not giving up any runs, and if you do give up runs, giving up the bare minimum of runs.  I don’t feel he’s done that.

Franklin Morales: B

Another thing that I don’t think anyone predicted at Spring Training was Morales’s versatility.  He is both a reliever and a starter, and he is effective in both roles.  He is 1-2 with eight holds and no blown saves, and he has an ERA of 3.50 and a WHIP of 1.17.  He has made four starts and pitched 46.1 innings total, and he has given up eighteen earned runs on forty-one hits while walking thirteen.  Between all the injuries we’ve had, without Morales to fill in and start, we’d be in a very bad place.

Mark Melancon: D

Melancon doesn’t do much.  Somehow it’s happened that he and Mortensen tend to appear in games together, but he hasn’t really made much of an impact.  And that’s probably because he can’t be trusted, so he doesn’t get that much playing time.  He has a 7.04 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP and has pitched 15.1 innings.  He’s given up twelve earned runs on eighteen hits.

Alfredo Aceves: C

Let’s not forget that Aceves began the season abysmally, and we were all wondering how in the world we would be expected to continue the season with a closer like that.  Well, we didn’t, because Aceves pulled it together and turned it around.  And now his ERA is 4.33 and his WHIP is 1.19.  I mean, that’s actually terrible for a closer, especially in light of what we’ve been used to in recent years, but it could have been a lot worse.  Still, objectively speaking, we need him to be better.  He’s pitched 43.2 innings and has given up twenty-one earned runs on thirty-eight hits.  He also has four blown saves.

Pitching Overall: D

It should come as no surprise to anyone that our team ERA of 4.22 is one of the worst in the Major Leagues.  So is our strikeout total, our batting average against, our earned run total, and our loss total.  Our pitching staff is absolutely terrible this year and must somehow be fixed.  However, a distinction must be made between the rotation and the relief corps.  The latter is performing much better than the former.  On the one hand, we expect our relievers to ideally not allow any runs.  On the other hand, this is baseball, and runs are allowed, and the relief corps can not be expected to constantly clean up the messes made by the starters.  It drags the relief corps down when they give up runs that end up costing the team games because the offense doesn’t hit or score and the starters don’t limit the damage.

Bobby Valentine: C

There are those who say that Bobby V. is not effective here because the brass won’t let him be himself.  There are those who say that Bobby V. is not effective here because the brass lets him be too much of himself.  And there are those who say that Bobby V. is not the problem and that the team is the problem.  Well, I’m not in the clubhouse or the front office, so I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.  But I do know that Bobby V. is in a class by himself.  His managerial style is not one that Boston has had in a long time, certainly not in recent years.  It is a style that our players and many of our new guys are not familiar with.  It is a style that is not always the most adaptable and that probably expects more adaptation than it itself makes.  And it is a style that takes some getting used to.  This style affects his conduct both on and off the field; it affects how he makes strategic decisions before, during, and after games and it affects how he interacts with the players and the media.  And based on what I have seen, based on the decisions that he has made and the things that he has said, I don’t think that that getting-used-to process is over.

Ben Cherington: C

Let’s see.  Andrew Bailey is still on the DL, Reddick is having a pretty good year, and Bard is not a starter.  Whether the Youkilis trade was warranted remains to be seen.  I trust Ben because Theo Epstein trained him and because in the past he’s shown that he has a very intelligent and strategic mind when it comes to sabermetrics and the ins and outs of being a good general manager for a team like ours.  And he’s had only one off season and one half of a season so far at the helm, so the sample size is small.  So I clearly will be giving him the benefit of the doubt.  But I just hope that his long-term vision for the team is not compromised by any sort of impulse from anywhere to find quick fixes that may help us in the short run but will damage our future.

Team Overall: D

I don’t really know what else to say.  If I sound crushed and exasperated and frustrated, it’s because I am.  And I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that we all are.  At the All-Star break, we’re at .500, tied for fourth (or last) place with Toronto and nine and a half games out of first place, which is where the Yanks are.  We can’t win as a team, we can’t win consistently, we can’t score runs consistently, we can’t pitch well consistently.  We can’t do much of anything consistently.  We have all these problems and no solutions.  We need to pull it together in an enormously huge way and have a truly phenomenal second half if we want to avoid the consequences of having a second half just like our first half.

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On June 12, we beat the Marlins, 2-1, in an obviously close game.  Buchholz was a big part of that; he pitched seven innings and gave up only one run on five hits, while walking one and striking out two.  One of those five hits was a solo shot in the seventh.  Padilla received a hold for the seventh, and Aceves got the save in the ninth.  We scored both of our runs via small ball in the seventh; Youk grounded out, Middlebrooks singled, Gonzalez flied out, Shoppach doubled in Middlebrooks, and Aviles singled in Shoppach.  We completed our series against the Marlins with a win as lopsided as that one was close, winning by a final score of 10-2.  Doubront delivered unquestionably his best start of the season, pitching a full seven innings and giving up two runs on three hits while walking one and striking out nine.  One of those three hits was a solo shot with two out in the sixth.  Padilla, Miller, and Albers combined to pitch the rest of the game.  And our hits were really busy; Aviles scored on a groundout in the third, Papi homered in the fourth, three consecutive singles and a sac fly in the sixth yielded two more, and we put up a six-spot in the eighth, when we sent eleven batters to the plate! Punto doubled, four straight singles yielded three runs, Middlebrooks got hit, Salty scored another with a sac fly, Sweeney lined out, and two straight singles scored our last run.

On June15, we started our series against the Cubs, and I am both relieved and pleased to say that Dice-K had himself a phenomenal start! He pitched six innings and gave up three runs on four hits while walking three and striking out three.  He threw ninety-three pitches, sixty-two of which were strikes.  Atchison and Melancon finished the game on the mound.  But we were shut out and lost, 3-0.  We had better luck in the next game, which we won, 4-3.  Lester went six and two-thirds innings and allowed three runs on seven hits while walking one and striking out eight; he gave up a two-run shot with one out in the seventh.  Salty homered with Papi on in the fourth, Middlebrooks singled in another run in the sixth, and then Podsednik singled in our final run in the seventh.  We ended up winning the rubber game by a final score of 7-4.  Beckett was out with inflammation in his right shoulder, so all those times I called for the bullpen to start rather than the starter finally paid off.  Morales pitched five innings and gave up two runs on four hits while walking none and striking out five; all in all, I’d say he was spectacular given the circumstances, including the fact that it was his first start since 2009.  He threw eighty pitches.  Albers then received a blown save for giving up the tying run; Miller, Melancon, and Atchison held the fort until Aceves allowed a run in the ninth.  In the first, Pedroia doubled and Papi singled for two, Papi led off the fourth with a solo shot, we scored three in the seventh on a single and two sacrifices, and we scored one in the eighth on a force out.

We played the Marlins again starting on Monday, this time at home, and this time we swept them.  The first game’s score was 7-5; Buchholz gave up five runs on nine hits while walking one and striking out three.  Albers, Miller, and Padilla performed well in middle relief, and Aceves picked up the save.  Papi hit a two-run shot in the first, Shoppach hit a two-run shot in the second, Ross hit a solo shot in the fourth, Gonzalez hit a sac fly in the fifth, and Middlebrooks doubled another in in the sixth.  The second game was a 15-5 blowout.  Doubront gave up four runs on nine hits while walking one and striking out four; Mortensen gave up one run, and Melancon pitched a shutout inning.  Aviles hit a three-run shot in the second to start the scoring.  Ross hit a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double in the third for three more runs.  We blew it wide open in the fourth; Kalish singled in one, Papi smacked a grand slam, and Salty hit a solo shot! Punto scored on a wild pitch in the fifth, and Middlebrooks hit a two-run shot in the eighth.  We barely won a nailbiter to complete the sweep.  Dice-K gave up four runs on four hits over five and a third innings; he walked one and struck out four.  Miller gave up one run, and it was Atchison who picked up the win and Aceves the save.  We got on the board in the fourth when a single and a sac fly brought in two, and we tied it up in the fifth with a single.  Then they led by two until the eighth, when Middlebrooks hit a two-run shot and Nava singled in a third run.  After Aceves’s performance, we had the sweep in hand.

After the Marlins, we hosted the Braves.  We lost on Friday, 4-1, but it wasn’t for lack of starting pitching.  Lester pitched seven innings and gave up three runs on ten hits while walking one and striking out five.  This time it was Melancon who allowed a run while Mortensen recorded the game’s last out successfully.  We scored our only run in the eighth on a double by Nava.  We won on Saturday, 8-4; Morales started again and was fantastic.  He gave up three runs, two earned, on seven hits over six innings while walking one and striking out eight; he threw eighty-six pitches.  Atchison, Miller, Padilla, and Aceves all appeared in relief.  Gonzalez singled in one and Middlebrooks doubled in another in the first, Pedroia doubled in two in the second, Middlebrooks homered in the third, Ross doubled in another in the fifth, and Nava singled in two in the seventh.  We ended up winning the series yesterday with a final score of 9-4.  Cook started in place of Buchholz, who was hospitalized due to a gastrointestinal problem.  Cook gave up three runs, two earned, on six hits over five innings.  He walked none and struck out none.  Albers allowed another run in relief; other than that, Miller, Atchison, and Melancon performed well and took care of the rest of the game.  Ross hit a three-run shot in the fourth, followed by a solo shot by Gonzalez.  Middlebrooks brought another one in with a sac fly in the fifth, followed by another home run by Ross, this one for two runs.  Nava doubled in another run in the sixth, and Youk tripled in our final run in the seventh.

It turned out that that run would be the last that Youk would bring home and third base would be the last base that Youk would defend and that game would be the last that Youk would play in a Boston uniform.  He was traded yesterday with cash to cover the remainder of this year’s salary before that at-bat to the Other Sox for utility man Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart, who the team has been scouting apparently since his college days.

Even before the at-bat, the crowd knew it was probably their last time seeing this phenomenal player playing for them; they had already given him a well-deserved standing ovation before his first at-bat in the second, and Youk had already returned it with a tip of his helmet.  In classic dirt-dog fashion, Youk legged out that triple, admittedly with a little help from the Braves, and went into the slide, and the standing ovation that he received afterwards was huge, thunderous, and extremely well-deserved.  Punto came out to pinch-run, since Ben didn’t want him injured, and after an emotional hug, as the two have been friends for years and years through Athletes Performance in Arizona, Youk returned to the dugout.  He tipped his helmet and was greeted by everyone at the entrance for more hugs and then emerged for a curtain call for both the crowd and his teammates, initiated by none other than Big Papi himself.

On the day, Youk went two for four with the triple and the one RBI.  Obviously, he also walked once and was involved in a controversial defensive play in the third during which there was some concern that he may have sustained an injury but flashed his characteristic leather throughout.  Also obviously though, there is more to a player than his final at-bat for a ballclub.  Youk was more to us than a triple and some good plays at third.  We picked him in the eighth round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2001 and raised him ourselves on the farm, and his first year in the Majors culminated in a World Series ring, our first in eighty-six years; with this trade, Papi is now the only member of that team still playing for us today.  Three years later, he added another in 2007.  He finishes his career in Boston with a batting average of .287, an on-base percentage of .388, 728 strikeouts, twenty-six stolen bases in forty attempts, and 961 hits.  Of those, 239 were doubles, seventeen were triples, and 133 were homers.  He batted in 564 runs and scored 594.  He played in 953 games and accumulated 3,352 at-bats.  Last but not least offensively, two of the stats for which he is most renowned throughout Major League Baseball, he walked 494 times and was hit by eighty-six pitches.  Now that’s a combination of eyes and patience if I’ve ever seen it.

In addition to his offense, the second aspect to Youk’s incredible game as his fielding, and this was where his versatility really shone.  Youk was a fixture at the corners.  Both of them.  It is fitting that he ended his Boston career at the bag where he began it, but he will be remembered as someone who routinely crossed the diamond without a word or a hiccup.  His fielding percentage at third in 362 games and 320 starts is .966; his fielding percentage at first in 594 games and 546 starts is .997.  In his career thus far, he has also played second base, left field, and right field and has made 986 assists, 4,788 putouts, and only forty-four errors.

There are all sorts of comparisons to be made between his stats and those of other greats the game has seen, but he was such a unique player that he shines in his own right, which brings me to the third and final aspect of Youk’s game, which was his character and leadership off the field.  As is the case so often for veterans who have played here, he was an extremely classy player.  He gave everything he had for every single at-bat at the plate and every single play in the field; he was completely invested in the well-being of the team, as evidenced by his visible and often physical expressions of frustration at his recent lack of production.  Every extra-base hit he legged out, every diving play he made, every walk he worked, and every batting helmet he threw were all the result of a fierce desire to see this team succeed.  He was a terrific mentor to the younger guys, including his replacement even as he was conscious of the fact that he was being replaced, and had a fierce, determined, and committed will.  He earned every All-Star vote he ever received and represented us three times as someone who really embodied the spirit of what it means to play here.  He was committed to his teammates as well, as evidenced in their extremely heartfelt goodbyes.  Pedroia said he loves the guy, as do well all.

We all knew this was coming.  Youk was being sidelined by Middlebrooks constantly, and the lineup was all convoluted to try to fit him in, and he didn’t exactly get along with Bobby V., and the rumors were steady.  But putting all of that aside, it speaks volumes about the type of player but also the type of guy that Youk was that after a big win that gave us the best record we’ve had all year, the mood in the clubhouse was sad, somber, and serious.  Youk helped us win two World Series championships and gave his all to this team, this city, and this game.  To say that he will be missed is an extreme understatement.  Youk, we salute you.

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According to Ben, we’re out of the running for Roy Oswalt and we’re unlikely to make big splashes before the start of Spring Training.  I don’t really know what to make of that.

According to Beckett, what happens in the clubhouse should stay in the clubhouse, and the 2004 team did worse things.  I’m not sure that that’s really much of an excuse, but honestly I’m sick and tired of hearing about this same situation.  The whole thing is ridiculous.  The people who were actually there are the people who are denying that it was a big deal.  There’s no way to know what really went on, since we weren’t inside the clubhouse.  All I’m saying is I think it’s time to just move on already to bigger and better things.

In other news, the B’s beat the Sens but lost to the Canes and Penguins.  And, of course, the big day has finally arrived! Happy Super Bowl Sunday! As I said, I’m real hungry.  That trophy needs to come back to Boston.  Let’s bring it home tonight.  It may be a close game, and we will have to keep our heads down and play hard, but we got this.  Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but man, is it sweet.  Let’s do this.

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The Winter Meetings were pretty quiet.  For some of us, anyway.  Since everyone else was apparently busy gobbling up all the good names.  Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle are off the market; they both signed with the Marlins, who, by the way, are now no longer the Florida Marlins.  They agreed to rename the team the Miami Marlins as part of a deal that allowed them to construct their new ballpark on the site of the old Miami Orange Bowl.  Albert Pujols is now an Angel; his contract is ten years for upwards of $250 million.

Meanwhile, we hardly even made so much as a ripple.  Not that the point is to make waves.  The point is to fix what needs fixing.  We had identified some things that need fixing, and as of now they’re not really all that fixed.  Granted, there’s still a lot of offseason to go, and I’m sure that Ben used this opportunity to gauge the market and make connections.

We’ve signed Andrew Miller to a one-year deal.  More importantly, Papi has accepted arbitration.  I have to admit that I liked it better when we, as a rule, avoided arbitration at all costs.  The good news is that, no matter what, Papi will play for us next season, and he just won 2011’s well-deserved Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award.  The bad news is the entire arbitration process, because now the two sides have to go at each other in a no-holds-barred, my-interests-against-yours display of everything that’s bad about each side.  It’s not good for morale.  But Papi wanted to be back, and we wanted him back, so now we have him back.  I guess if he wants a multi-year deal, he’ll have to work for it.  Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by Theo, but I don’t like arbitration.  I feel like the process just breeds badness in the long run.

Tito and Bobby V. spent the Winter Meetings in Texas chatting about what it’s like to basically switch jobs.  Bobby V. also spent the Winter Meetings chatting with the media about anything and everything, from David Ortiz to Daniel Bard.  Apparently he and Beckett talked on the phone; apparently Beckett was angry because Bobby V. used to call him out constantly on ESPN for taking time between pitches, but apparently the rest of the conversation went well.  The only problem I have with that is that Beckett specifically requested that the contents of the conversation remain private.  To Bobby V., apparently that means all the contents of the conversation except that one detail.  We haven’t heard anything in the media yet that would indicate that Beckett is upset, but a private conversation is a private conversation, and that should be the end of it.

The second thing that Bobby V. has done with which I don’t agree, at least at this stage, is his intent to convert Bard to a starter during Spring Training.  This is a bad idea.  I’m not saying that Bard couldn’t handle it; it’s possible that he could still apply his wicked velocities to his work as a starter.  But usually you have to take a little bit off for the sake of preserving your endurance for the later innings so I’m not sure it’ll translate in full.  More importantly, if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it.  We need a closer.  We don’t have one.  So we can either acquire a closer or a starter.  At this point I think that Bard is so skilled as a closer, a role he seems to have been born into and that he seems to want to at least attempt before he’s pigeonholed into something else, that it makes more sense to at least try him out.  Maybe Bobby V. is thinking that they can train him as a starter and try him as a closer and see which works better, but it’s not good to mess with a young pitcher’s regimen like that.  I’d say the pitcher best suited to swing back and forth that way is a long reliever.  Bard is not a long reliever.  He owned the eighth when Paps was closing; it’s only natural that we at least see what he can do if we give him the ninth.  We already know what to expect if we make him our closer; he may not be as good a starter as he would be a closer.  At this point, it’s hard to say either way, but I’m reluctant so early in the game to make a blanket statement that Bobby V. knows best.  We don’t even know that yet.

In other news, the Pats beat the Colts, 31-24, and the Redskins, 34-27.  The B’s split their games this week; we beat the Penguins and Blue Jackets but lost to the Panthers and Jets.

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