Posts Tagged ‘Brian Bannister’

A quality start from John Lackey just in time to sweep the Rays.  Right on schedule.  And now we have five quality starts in a row.  Lackey completes the puzzle.  We’d been waiting for a start like that from him.  It was a little short and could’ve been better, but I’ll take it.  Believe me, I’ll take it.

Now is the time to revel in the fact that we just avenged our terrible April performance against the Rays with a sweep of our own.  It’s time someone brought them back down to Earth.  We were the right team for the job.  We owned.  We swept them in their house for the first time since 2002.  Thankfully, the Trop didn’t rear its ugly head in any defensive plays.

That was as decisive a third game as you’re ever going to get.  The final score was 11-3.  So when I say owned, I mean that as literally as possible.

Lackey picked up the win and improves to five and three.  He pitched one out beyond the sixth inning, but those were some solid six innings.  He gave up two runs on eight hits with four walks on a strikeout.  So no wonder he didn’t last as long as he could have. Yesterday, I said that Lester had a harmless location issue.  Today, I’m saying that Lackey had both a location and a hittableness issue, and those together aren’t so harmless.  He lucked out here that the Rays didn’t do much with anything he gave them – they left twelve on base – but it’s a habit he needs to lick.

He fired 115 pitches, to drive that point home.  His fastball stayed in the low nineties, and he actually threw his cutter faster.  He threw mostly cutters and curveballs.  His slider, fastball, and as usual his changeup all need work.  His lowest pitch count in an inning was eleven, but he needed sixty-two to finish the first three.  He varied his speeds nicely, but his location left much to be desired.  He got a little wild at times above and below the zone.  So last night wasn’t the end of his struggles.  He’s still having the same recurring problems that have resulted in mediocrity up to this point.  The difference last night was that the opposing team just didn’t do anything with it.

Why that was exactly is hard to say.  Sometimes a lineup just can’t read a pitcher that well.  Lackey came from the AL West and the Rays don’t have much postseason experience, so they really haven’t seen him much.  That could be one reason.  Another reason is the more obvious and more convincing one: even though Lackey didn’t fire off a Lester-like start, he still fired off a quality start; he may have been inefficient and his command may have been mediocre, but he still hit his spots at important times against important guys.  So even though this wasn’t necessarily what we’ve seen from him in the past as an Angel, it was still a good effort, and it was enough to stymie the Rays.

Okajima worked around a hit to finish off the seventh.  Ramirez handled the eighth.

Which brings me to tonight’s man of the hour: Adrian Beltre, ladies and gentlemen! He hits well against Garza, but I don’t think anyone was expecting a night quite like that.  He went four for five with two home runs, a triple, and six (count ‘em: six!) RBIs! All he needed was a double and he would’ve hit for the cycle.  (He beat out the throw to first in the sixth for his single.) That is huge.  That is an absolutely huge night.  Those six RBIs tie a career high that he achieved against the Rockies at Coors Field in 2000.  His offense was incredible.  He peppered all fields.  He exercised his power.  He made aggressive swings.  With runners on base.  It was absolutely fantastic.

He got the ball rolling with a towering and very powerful home run to left in the second on a fastball.  He followed that with the exact same thing in the third but on a breaking ball and with the important difference being that there just happened to be two men on at the time.  Papi got in on the action with a two-run shot to right in the fifth.  The spotlight returned to Beltre in the top of the ninth, when he smacked his triple off the right field wall to score two.  Hermida singled him home.  And McDonald added another two before Nelson surrendered a solo shot in the ninth, which would have been so much worse if it weren’t for the eleven runs we’d put together.  And that was the ballgame!

That was the last game of our road trip, during which we went five and one.  That’s our best six-game road trip since May 2007.  We only gave up seven runs in those six games, only three of which came from the Rays in this series.  That was also the last game of our particularly grueling thirteen-game schedule, during which we posted a record of nine and four.  We’re now only five and a half games out of first place.  We’re the proud owners of a five-game winning streak and, perhaps most significantly, we’re sixteen and seven since May 3.  That’s the best record in that time in the entire American League.  To repeat, we’re the best in the American League since the beginning of May.  That’s huge.

And the best part is that it really was a truly complete team effort.  Every night of those thirteen games featured someone else leading the team to victory.  You had Dice-K’s no-no bid.  You had Wake’s complete and total domination.  Last night, Adrian Beltre was without a doubt the man of the hour.  And we hope that Dice-K will assume that position tonight and build on his last incredible start to best the Royals.  It’s Bannister, not Greinke, which helps.

On behalf of Red Sox Nation, I’d like to express condolences for the death of former pitcher Jose Lima.  You’ll certainly be missed.

Boston Globe Staff/Yoon S. Byun

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We’re more than halfway through the season.  In fact, it’s already August, when more than the weather gets hot.  Each and every Major League club goes into playoff mode, but only a select few will get there.  There isn’t a doubt in my mind that we will most definitely be one of the few.  We’ve dominated our division.  Toronto started the season strong but has since slipped into fourth place and was seriously contemplating trading Roy Halladay to get some much-needed fresh blood into the clubhouse.  The Baltimore Orioles did the usual: fell to the bottom of the pack.  They’re twenty games out now, which is quite pathetic.  The Rays have been nonexistent in third place, even though somehow they just managed to sweep us in a two-game set, and we’ve been wiping the floor with the Yankees and are ready for another go-around.  It’s been fantastic.  We’re currently undefeated against New York.  Let me say that again.  We’re currently undefeated against New York.  Feels good, doesn’t it? So we start the two-month playoff rush in a decent place: two and a half games out and ready to rock and roll.  Not great but it could be worse.

Every year, Boston.com grades the team individually and overall at the All-Star break, with a little help from Tony Massarotti.  You can find Boston.com’s report card here.  I’ll be taking a break for about twelve days, but I’ll leave you with a report card of my own: a late-season grading of that team we all know and love.

Jason Varitek: A

Compare this year to last year.  So far this year, he’s hit thirteen home runs, batted in forty-four runs, scored thirty-seven runs, and has sixty-four hits.  Last year, he hit thirteen home runs, batted in forty-three runs, scored thirty-seven runs, and had ninety-three hits.  And this season isn’t even over yet.  So he’s significantly exceeded his numbers from last year in all of those categories, and he’s thirty-seven years old.  Experiencing a renaissance at the catcher’s position and at that age isn’t easy, but he worked closely with hitting coach Dave Magadan to make that happen with very positive results.  And we still get all of the goodness behind the plate; he’s got a 3.72 catcher’s ERA, the fourth-lowest in Major League Baseball.

Victor Martinez: A

Theo landed him at the trading deadline to add another big bat to the lineup.  Victor Martinez has done that and more, making an immediate impact and finding a groove right away.  He adds his .294 average, sixteen home runs, and seventy-three RBIs as well as a fielding percentage of upwards of .990 at first base.  He hasn’t made an error at catcher all season.  He plays first, he catches, he DHes; he does it all in the field and, as a switch-hitter who bats .307 from the left and a decent .258 from the right, at the plate.  A brilliant acquisition yet again by our general manager.

Kevin Youkilis: A

I have nothing to complain about here.  He consistently bats at or above .300 with a .422 on-base percentage and a .580 slugging percentage.  He’s hit twenty home runs this year, so his power numbers are up but not at the expense of his walks (fifty-six) or other hits.  That, plus his defense.  He moves between third and first like it’s the easiest thing in the world.  And these are his numbers with a stint on the DL and a slump during which he batted .194 over twenty-eight games.

Dustin Pedroia: A-

I give the kid an A.  Unlike many reigning MVPs, he’s not having a bad season the year after winning the award.  He’s batting above .300.  His power numbers are down, but he’s batted in forty-six runs and hit thirty-one doubles.  He’s second among Major League second basemen in runs and doubles, third in hits, fifth in walks, third in batting average, and fourth in on-base percentage.  Of course the top-notch fielding can’t be ignored, even though his .987 fielding percentage is low.  Still, he’s a dirt dog if I’ve ever seen one.

Mike Lowell: B

His 2007 season was outstanding.  His 2008 season, not as much.  His season this year will be a test of whether he can successfully rebound from his hip surgery.  He’s done that so far, posting a .296 batting average and .817 OPS, good for fifth in the American League among third basemen.  And after his three weeks on the DL in the first half, he’s really come on strong in the second.  We headed into the All-Star break thinking we needed another bat, and now we have one.  (Actually, we have two, since the acquisition of V-Mart.) As far as his fielding goes, the hip does prevent him from going the extra mile sometimes, but that’s rare enough.

Nick Green: B

Nick Green really stepped up to the plate.  Definitely an unsung hero of the team.  Jed Lowrie was out, and we were looking at a long stretch of errors from Julio Lugo.  Then some non-roster Spring Training invitee stepped in and lo and behold.  Lugo lost his job, and Green made the most of his opportunity to start.  His offense is his weakness, walkoff home run notwithstanding.

Jason Bay: A-

This man is phenomenal.  Theo Epstein hasn’t been able to lock him up yet, but he will.  Jason Bay is too good to let walk into the free agent market.  We’ll sign him.  Anyway, he does the usual.  He hits for average (the .252 is a little low but the .279 career gets the point across) and power (twenty-one home runs).  He fields (no errors at all this season).  He’s seventh in the American League in RBIs and first in walks with seventy-one.  He did go through a rather pronounced slump during which he batted .153 and struck out twenty-five times in seventeen games, but with a strong second half, which may be hampered by his right hamstring issue, he could be in the running for MVP along with Youkilis and Pedroia.

Jacoby Ellsbury: A

Whatever issues he may have had at the plate last year have been solved.  Ellsbury batted .287 in April, then .308 in May, then .313 in June.  He’s now batting .301.  With six home runs and thirty-five RBIs.  He’s gotten really comfortable at the top of the order, and there’s that whole stolen bases thing.  Since the start of last season, only Carl Crawford has more thefts.  And that steal of home against Andy Pettitte will be playing on highlight reels for the rest of the decade.  This speed translates perfectly from the basepaths to center field, where he makes the most difficult and convoluted catches look like walks in the park.

JD Drew: B

Theo Epstein knew exactly what he was getting when he signed Drew to a five-year, $14 million-per-season contract.  He’s batting .248.  With an on-base percentage of .365.  Consistently.  That’s the key.  You always know what you’ll get with Drew: nothing great, but nothing too bad, either.  And get this: the Red Sox are fourth in the American League in OPS in right field.  He’s put those numbers to good use in the leadoff spot, and the one-two punch of him and Pedroia has become something to be feared by opposing pitchers.  With Ellsbury fitting perfectly into that leadoff role now, he finds himself batting lower in the order, but his consistency remains intact.  He mans right field well, which isn’t something you can say for everyone who plays the position in Fenway Park.

David Ortiz: B+

I never thought I’d give that grade to David Ortiz, but you can blame it on his horrendous first two months.  His lowest point was June 2, when he batted .186 with one home run, eighteen RBIs, and an OPS of just .566 in forty-seven games.  Ugh.  But then, what a turnaround.  I want everyone who said he was done to take a good, long look at the following numbers: in his next thirty-four games, he led the team in home runs with eleven, RBIs with 29, and OPS with 1.011.  That, my friends, is Big Papi.  So far he’s batted .225 with fifteen home runs, so the numbers continue to climb.  With a solid second half, the season might not turn out to be so bad for him.

George Kottaras: B-

Let’s remember why he’s here.  He’s here to catch Tim Wakefield.  He’s not here to hit or to take the reins from Jason Varitek; those two responsibilities fall squarely on the shoulders of Victor Martinez.  He’s here to catch knuckleballs every fifth day and give the captain an extra day of rest if he needs it.  And he’s done a great job of that.  Less than ten passed balls and a 5.08 catcher’s ERA.  As far as offense goes, there really isn’t any, but again, that’s not the point.

Jeff Bailey: C

Again, we knew what we were getting here.  Key players were out with injuries, and we needed someone to fill in.  He’s significantly better against lefties (.400) than righties (.111), and the defense is fine enough (no errors).  He wasn’t staying in the Majors anyway, so it’s not a big deal.

Rocco Baldelli: A-

He was signed to provide backup in right field and to handle southpaws.  He hasn’t seen much playing time because of his health concerns, but he’s still batting .261.  Something he’s not usually credited with is a really strong arm.  He practically won the game for us when Lester dueled with Kansas City’s Brian Bannister on July 10; Ellsbury had been ejected for throwing equipment in frustration when called out at the plate, so Rocco Baldelli came in.  He gunned down a Royal at second, something Ellsbury probably would’ve have been able to pull off.  That was key.

Josh Beckett: A

Obviously.  Quite simply, he is an ace.  He is one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever seen.  He had a 7.22 ERA to start June, but look at him now.  In his last thirteen starts before the All-Star break, he’s 9-1 with a 2.14 ERA.  Currently, he’s thirteen and four with a 3.27 ERA that just keeps dropping.  This is shaping up to be a Cy Young year.  Again.  Hopefully they’ll get it right this time.

Jon Lester: A

It’s almost the exact same story.  His rough patch was about two weeks longer than Beckett’s, but his turnaround was just as rapid and just as dramatic.  He is now the best southpaw in all of Major League Baseball.  In the middle of May, he was looking at a 6.51 ERA.  In his ten starts before the All-Star break, he was 6-2 with a 2.01 ERA.  He’s now nine and seven with a 3.79 ERA, but don’t let that fool you.  Theo knew what he had here.  Who needs Johan Santana when you have Lester.

Tim Wakefield: A

He’s eleven and three with a 4.31 ERA.  He’s an All-Star.  He carried a no-no bid into the eighth inning on the road against the A’s this year.  By the way, did I mention he’s forty-two years old? He’s the longest-tenured member of the club, and all he does is consistently give us quality innings and put us in a position to win.  It’s not his fault if he doesn’t get any run support.

Daizuke Matsuzaka: F

Fail.  Epic fail.  Without a doubt, this is the lowest grade I gave this year.  Eight starts, 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA.  The Sox’s record is 2-6 in those starts.  Awful.  Just awful.  And we can thank Bud Selig and the World Baseball Classic for that.  Dice-K went hard during the Classic and basically blew his season along with his shoulder.  He finally seems to be receptive to adapting to the Major League way of doing things (but only after airing his grievances), and after a stint on the DL, he’s now down in Fort Myers basically catching up on all the Spring Training he missed while pitching for Japan.  Just a big, huge, epic fail.

Brad Penny: C

He’s a number five starter.  He never pitches less than five innings, and he never pitches more than six.  He usually gives up about three runs per outing.  And he does this every single time he starts.  Consistency has been the name of his game, but it’s withered considerably in the second half.  He’s been struggling lately.

John Smoltz: C

Two and four with a 7.12 ERA isn’t the John Smoltz I was expecting, but then I stepped back and remembered why we signed him.  We signed him for October.  He has more wins in the postseason than any other pitcher, and he’s here to bring some of that success to us.  We can weather regular-season spottiness if it means some major Ws in the postseason, but the problem is that it just doesn’t seem like he’s peaking at all.  If the goal is to peak late, we should see glimmers of brilliance this month.  Maybe we will, starting tonight.  It doesn’t look likely, though.

Ramon Ramirez: A

The bullpen’s unsung hero.  Theo’s trade of Coco Crisp for this man was genius.  During his sixteen-game rough patch in the first half, his ERA was 5.02, and we all know it wasn’t pleasant to watch him during that stretch.  But he’s gotten better.  And he’s one of the best overall.  His ERA is 2.28, and less than ten relievers in the Majors have an ERA lower than his.  One of them being Jonathan Papelbon.

Daniel Bard: A

Daniel Bard has a long way to go, but he’s getting there fast.  As his confidence grows, so does Terry Francona’s.  He’s using him more and more, and Bard is stepping up and delivering.  A 2.25 ERA, and keep in mind that what you are seeing here is our setup man of the future.  Who tops out at one hundred miles per hour.  Imagine that.  The one-two punch of Bard and Papelbon.  Unhittable.

Takashi Saito: C

He was supposed to be our third-day closer, but with the bullpen being the best in baseball and all, he hasn’t really been used that consistently.  Actually, he’s mostly used when we’re losing.  If the bullpen stays healthy, we don’t really need him that much.  He’s been decent; 3.32 ERA.  But we have better.

Manny Delcarmen: B

He’s a workhorse who gets the job done and keeps the ERA low at 3.05.  Delcarmen is consistent, healthy, and can handle more than one inning of work if necessary.

Hideki Okajima: A

We keep talking about his epic season in 2007 while he’s having one of those right under our noses.  Since the start of that season, he’s been among the top ten relievers in the game in ERA.  A 2.98 ERA is not something to be taken for granted.  He’s a fantastic setup man.

Javier Lopez: D

He had a horrible start to the season and was optioned to the minor leagues.  Tito used him when he shouldn’t have been used: against righties.  But now the bullpen is having some trouble handling lefties, and he’s improved in the minors.  If he’s able to works his way back up, we could be all too ready to welcome him back.

Jonathan Papelbon: B

Many of his saves have been sloppy.  The one-two-three inning that’s been his trademark in the past hasn’t been as common this year.  But that’s changing.  Here’s the thing.  Papelbon has to be used every so often whether we need him or not because he needs to get his work in.  But when you put your closer in again where the team is leading, he doesn’t get the same high-pressure, adrenaline-rush-inducing sensation, and he relaxes.  And when he relaxes, he can’t sustain that fierce competitiveness.  I think Papelbon’s experienced that this year, which incidentally is a credit to our lineup.  The point is that recently, in close games, the one-two-three inning has resurfaced and seems to be appearing more and more often.  Numbers-wise, his problem is walks.  He’s giving up many more walks this year than he did last year.

Terry Francona: A

Again, obviously.  We’re almost leading the division again.  We’re set to appear in October again.  We’ll win the World Series again.  All with Terry Francona at the helm.  This is the first year of his three-year contract extension, and he’s the first Boston manager to begin a sixth season in about sixty years.  Sixty years.  Finally.  And rightfully so.  There are a lot of different personalities floating around in that clubhouse, and they all blend together seamlessly without a hitch.  A lot of that has to do with Tito.  Now that the revolving door for manager has closed, it’s time to seal the one at shortstop, too.

Theo Epstein: A

The man is a genius.  In Theo we trust, and he always comes through.  He’s made two major mistakes that I can recall: Eric Gagne and Julio Lugo, and so far that’s been it.  And even those weren’t that bad in the long run.  He went after bargain pitchers this offseason, and it paid off; we have one of the best rotations and definitely the best bullpen in the game.  All we need to do is work on hitting for the long-term and we’ll be all set.  Theo Epstein is someone Red Sox Nation and I can trust to do that.

The Boston Red Sox Overall: B+

We’re heading into August and we are poised to go on a tear.  The postseason is approaching.  Expect us to win it all.  We have what has to be the deepest team in Major League Baseball.  We have hitting.  We have pitching.  We have fielding.  We have the wherewithal to bring another World Series trophy to the city of Boston.  And we will.  Because we can.

Boston Globe Staf/Jim Davis

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Honestly, we played the Royals last night, and Zack Greinke was not on the mound.  We should’ve won.  By a lot.  Instead we lost by a final score of 8-6.  And it had nothing to do with Brad Penny.  He hasn’t pitched past the sixth inning once this year, and yesterday he only pitched through five, but that’s okay with me if he holds the opposition to three runs.  Incidentally, that’s why his ERA is so high even though he’s been consistently solid.  He doesn’t allow many runs but his outings are short.  Anyway, we should be able to score more than three runs, and we have the best bullpen in the Majors, which can handle four innings of work with a lead.  Right? Apparently not.

Manny Delcarmen came in and only stayed for two-thirds of the sixth, allowing two runs in the process.  Somehow he was rewarded with a hold.  Masterson earned a blown save and a loss when he allowed two more runs while trying to finish the inning.  Ramirez allowed one run.  Bard didn’t allow any.  Papelbon didn’t even make an appearance.  So now we’re tied with the Evil Empire for first place, which is not a predicament I particularly enjoy.  Seriously.  And we have the Twins to thank for that one, who allowed themselves to be swept at home.  By the way, did you know Twins fans refer to their team as the Twinkies? Basically, that means a bunch of pre-packaged, pre-processed, and preserved cream-filled desserts were just swept by a bunch of greedy multimillionaires in striped pants.  And we have to pay for it.  Where is the justice.  And as if that weren’t enough, we lost the best home record in the AL.  Honestly, I don’t understand how anyone anywhere could ever have a better home record than us.  Granted, both are temporary, but it’s all just very uncomfortable.

The silver lining to this whole thing is, without a doubt, the 300th career home run hit by one David Ortiz! Big Papi, ladies and gentlemen! First inning, Youk on first, one out, and a ball down and away.  And I thought he was trying to take the skin off the ball.  It just ended up in the Monster seats.  He was all over it, as Eck likes to say.  I mean he had it.  And it cleared the yard for the 300th home run of his illustrious career.  Congratulations! And many more to come.  How impressive has he been lately.  Think about what it was like watching him bat in the beginning of the season, and think of what it’s like now.  He’s come a very long way in a very short time; already he’s been able to accumulate eleven home runs and forty-four RBIs.  And I’d say he’s most definitely got a whole lot left in the tank.  He’s on pace to have one ridiculous second half.

Speaking of home runs, Pedroia the Destroyah got in on the action as well.  His three-for-five night included a towering home run also into the Monster seats on a high fastball in the fifth.  He’s had only two home runs for a while, and then all of a sudden he’s hit two in the past week to make it four.  He just smacked it out of there.  Bay hit an RBI single, Youk went two for five with an RBI, and Kotsay had an RBI, which makes six.  Green was caught stealing and picked off, and Tek made a throwing error.

Last but not least, we should probably address all of this Roy Halladay nonsense.  We do not need another pitcher.  We need another hitter.  We will win the World Series with our current pitching staff, which eventually can include Clay Buchholz and Dice-K, if he gets his act together.  Besides, in order for JP Ricciardi to seriously consider forking him over, we’d have to present quite the package.  Which would have to include the likes of Buchholz, Michael Bowden, Lars Anderson, and Casey Kelly.  At least.  And trading those guys away would literally be trading away our future.  Theo would never fall for that.  Not for a pitcher who’s already more than thirty years old, and not at a time when our weakness is offense, not defense.  In Theo we trust.  He’s got a good head on his shoulders.

Lester will face Brian Bannister tonight, and we have to win this one.  We have to.  Falling into second place just before the All-Star break is not a good idea.  Obviously it won’t be the end of the world, but it’s not a good idea at all.  We’ll need Lester to be on his game.  The sad part is that Bannister and Lester have similar records and ERAs, Lester’s being a little bit worse.  But come on, these are the Royals.  We can do this.

AP Photo

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