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Posts Tagged ‘Chris Woodward’

The 2009 season is officially over.  It’s amazing how time flies when you’re having fun.  Seriously.  It was a great season.  Plenty of highs, plenty of lows, plenty to celebrate, plenty to scratch your head and have no idea what’s going on.  But now we have the second season on our hands: the postseason.  And with the approach of the postseason come the all-important roster decisions that must be made to give us the greatest ability to advance to the World Series.  This is what Terry Francona may have in mind, with a little help from the Portland Press-Herald.

As far as the pitching staff is concerned, there’s no surprise there: Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, and Dice-K, in that order.  Lester is starting first because, had it been the other way around, one of them would’ve been on normal rest and the other would’ve been on ten days’ rest.  Plus Lester had the better second half, plus Lester is the go-to man for Game 4 should we find ourselves in a hole.  Or we could use Beckett on four days’ rest for Game 4 and Lester on five for Game 5 since there’s an off day between the two, but I’m not a fan of that option.  Tito hasn’t announced the starter for Game 4 yet, though.

No surprises in the relief corps, either: Papelbon, Bard, Wagner, Okajima, and Ramirez.  Saito and Delcarmen will fill out the bullpen.  Wakefield has officially been scratched, Michael Bowden is still pretty new, and Byrd, while he could be a long reliever, wouldn’t necessarily be as effective.  Yes, Saito and Delcarmen (especially Delcarmen) have had their struggles, but that’s why it’s called the second season.  You take a rest, you put it behind you, and you record punchout after punchout.  If I need options for innings in October, I want Saito’s experience and Delcarmen’s power.  But Delcarmen’s health may eliminate him; after the car accident this weekend, his back and neck are pretty sore.

The catchers are obviously V-Mart and Tek. For the first time in a very long time, we don’t need a third catcher.  The third catcher was supposed to pinch-hit for the offensively challenged Tek and backup, but with V-Mart’s bat, that need is gone.  (Not to mention the fact that the role of a backup changes dramatically now that Wakefield isn’t in the mix.  Instead of having to concentrate on catching knuckleballs, the October backup catcher this year will have to concentrate on getting all the hits that Tek doesn’t.)

The infielders are obviously Youk, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Lowell, and Kotchman.  Nick Green’s back and leg will probably keep him off the roster, so Jed Lowrie and Chris Woodward will probably come on as utilities.  Jed Lowrie can hit in the clutch (I refer you to his grand slam on Sunday), and Woodward can flash leather, even if he can’t buy a hit.

The outfielders are obviously Bay, Ellsbury, Drew, and Baldelli, and you really can’t get much better than that.  We have three options with which to fill out the outfield: Joey Gathright, Josh Reddick, and Brian Anderson.  Brian Anderson is out; his speed, glove, and bat don’t compare to the other two.  Gathright has remarkable speed, but Reddick has a remarkable bat.  So you’re basically choosing between a clutch steal and a clutch hit.  Dave Roberts’s heroism wills all of Red Sox Nation to go with Gathright, but let’s remember that Dave Roberts’s steal only counted in the long run because Bill Mueller singled him home.  And it’s not like Reddick has no speed at all.  On the other hand, it’s not like Gathright has no bat at all, and it’s been Gathright who’s been seeing playing time recently as part of the reserve.  So I think Gathright is the answer.  And we may need him more than ever because of Baldelli’s hip injury.

The designated hitter will be David Ortiz.  Obviously.

And now for the lineup.  It’ll be Ellsbury, Pedroia, V-Mart, Youk, Ortiz, Bay, Drew, Lowell, and Gonzalez.  If it’s a righty.  If it’s a lefty, Baldelli will take Drew’s spot.  If Tek catches, that’s a whole different story, and Tito will have to do some serious finagling to accommodate that.  Look for Tek to be at the bottom of the order.

Speaking of the lineup, in response to “Second Shift,” Jeremy commented:

Boston may have the most well-rounded team heading into October however one thing I’ve noticed is that the offense struggles a lot versus good pitching. The line-up will pound a bad pitcher or a pitcher with an off night and the offense will explode. However, for most of the season there has been very little output against great pitching. And that has to be concerning. Because that’s what your likely going to face come playoff time.

Jeremy makes an excellent point.  Remember when we played the Tigers in June? We swept.  We didn’t face Justin Verlander.  Remember when we played the Royals in July? We took three out of four and didn’t face Zack Greinke.  We just played the Royals again and split a four-game set, and one of the games we lost was pitched by, you guessed it, Zack Greinke.  We’ve been very lucky this season with pitching schedules, but this luck is about to run out.  The teams you face in October are guaranteed to be the best of the best, and part of what makes them so good is their pitching.  There’ll be no escaping a Justin Verlander or a Zack Greinke in the postseason.  So I completely agree with Jeremy, but I don’t think it’ll affect the outcome of our October.  The ALDS is a big reason why.  Playing the Angels in the ALDS is kind of like a warm-up for the rest of the month, but it’s a warm-up that counts, so you get all the pressure of the October stage, including great pitching, with all the confidence of having a pretty good feeling that you’ll advance.  Now, you’ll notice that in both 2004 and 2007, the ALDS wasn’t enough to remind us who we are offensively, which is probably why it took moving ourselves to the brink of elimination and facing postseason death in the ALCS to remind us that, yes, we actually are capable of handling these arms.  Between the ALDS and half of the ALCS, we play a lot of games against quality pitchers, so by the time we’re almost out of the playoffs completely, we come roaring back and get ourselves to the World Series, where we obviously have no problem with the National League.  And let me tell you, it helps in the long run, because nobody wants to be the team that finishes the ALCS early and just sits around waiting for the Fall Classic.  I refer you to the Rockies in 2007.

We are exactly where we need to be to make this October count.  The Yankees played the month of September like they had something to prove.  And they did.  You don’t spend a quarter of a billion dollars on three players in the offseason and not win the division.  But at what cost, both literally and figuratively? It is entirely possible that the AL East is the kiss of death for New York; they’ve exhausted all of their resources.  I refer you to 2004, when they ramped it up big time in September specifically to win the division, which they did by a hair.  Then they lost steam in the ALCS, and look what happened.

Finally, I know some people have taken issue with Terry Francona’s approach to the final games of the season.  Let me put that issue to rest.  There are two possibilities to consider here.  The first is Angels Syndrome and the other is Yankees Syndrome.  In the first, you rest on your laurels for such a long time that you’re not prepared for the intensity and competition of the playoffs.  In the second, you use all your resources to accomplish a regular-season goal and run out of steam halfway through the playoffs.  Fortunately, we are not a victim of either, because we’ve only been resting on our laurels for about a week, and the rest was absolutely necessary given the health concerns of several of our starters.  And since the division was out of the question, we had no reason to burn out.  So I’m pretty happy, although my fandom revolts at this notion of being happy with the Wild Card.  But I’d rather get in with the Wild Card than not get in at all.  And I’d much rather get in with the Wild Card than resort to a one-game playoff.  Did you know that winners of one-game playoffs haven’t won the World Series since 1978? (Of course, we all know who played that playoff against who, and who went on to win the World Series that year.  Let’s just say it involved pinstripes.  I’d rather not talk about it.)

Regarding how the teams stack up, we’re pretty even, and most of the gaping holes are in our favor.  We’re much better at home than they are on the road, hit many more home runs, have a higher team slugging percentage and ERA, and our bullpen ERA is much higher.  We also had a better September, which is key.  We’ll need David Ortiz to handle Brian Fuentes, and we’ll need Bard to be in top form as a set-up man.  The Angels’ problem will be scoring runs, so if our starting rotation keeps us in it, we should be able to come away with a win.

So that’s it.  All we have to do now is wait.  Let’s start this party.

Boston Globe Staff/Yoon S. Byun
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Some people are calling last night a win within a loss.  I think I agree with this.  Games this late in the season are less about wins and losses and more about playoff ramifications, and I have to say that last night, though a loss, was like one huge expression of reassurance for Red Sox Nation.  And that huge expression of reassurance’s name was Dice-K.

We’ll go through the outing step-by-step, because each aspect of it is a separate piece of good news.  Dice-K pitched seven innings.  It was his longest outing of the year, and it came exactly when we needed it: after the bullpen worked overtime, as I said.  So we know he can go deep, we know he can go deep in a timely fashion, and we know he can go deep and be good.  That’s where the one run on six hits comes in.  The one run was a fastball Robinson Cano cranked to the opposite field for a home run.  Can’t be helped.  It’s really hard to be upset that one pitch out of 115 thrown ended up in the seats.  Of course, something like that is what decides a pitcher’s duel, but could go either way; sometimes you’ll get the win, sometimes not.  Dice-K walked five and struck out three.  Less walks and more strikeouts would be nice, but if it works, it works.  And finally, last night’s start was the third in a positive trend.  Dice-K is currently two and one with a 1.69 ERA since coming off the DL.  With every start, he’s proving he can handle the October stage.  And with all the questions about the configuration of our starting rotation for the playoffs, that’s definitely what I call one huge expression of reassurance for Red Sox Nation.

Billy Wagner, not so much.  He let Johnny Damon single with the bases loaded, which drove in two runs.  Bard got the final out of the game.  If I could, I’d give the loss to Wagner.  Maybe it was nerves; after all, this was his introduction to Sox-Yanks, and in the Bronx, no less.

The final score was 3-0.  V-Mart and Lowell were the only guys who got hits.  (Lowell actually stole a base; how ’bout that.) We had a total of three baserunners in scoring position and five baserunners total all night.  Chris Woodward missed a catch that would’ve ended an inning on a rundown.  It actually looked like we were on our way to a rally in the ninth inning.  Mariano Rivera allowed a hit and a walk, and Lowell represented the tying run at the plate.  But no.  Although we can take heart in the fact that Rivera is still horrible against us.

By the way, John Sterling said on his radio broadcast that Mariano Rivera is the greatest reliever in the history of baseball.  And this is supposed to give him credibility? That could not be farther from the truth.  I heard about that, and I just laughed out loud.

V-Mart started behind the dish.  This was his first time catching Dice-K, and now he’s caught each of our starters.  He had his work cut out for him last night, that’s for sure.  Dice-K isn’t easy to handle.  He has a large repertoire of pitches, has good movement on all of them, and isn’t the most conventional in his approach.  Then Billy Wagner came in, and he’s not easy to catch at all.  But V-Mart hung in there and had a great defensive night.  Case in point: he beat Derek Jeter to the plate in the fifth on a fielder’s choice to get out of a bases-loaded, potential run-scoring jam.

I don’t know about you, but even though we lost, I feel a lot better now about the shape we’re in heading into October.  We needed to see Dice-K test his mettle, start in a pressured situation and go deep, and go deep well.  And he did just that.  So we and the bullpen can be very happy about that.  As far as this afternoon is concerned, it’s Byrd at Pettitte.  The least we can do at this point is not be swept, so I think the division has become dramatically less of an option, but as I said, I’m feeling pretty good about October right now.  And this late in the season, that’s really what matters.

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How does that even happen.  I saw it with my own eyes and I’m still not quite sure how the whole thing unfolded.  Either that or I was so disgusted that I didn’t want to dwell on it for too long.  Either way, apparently it did happen, so now we have to deal with it.  You win some, you lose some.  And some you just tank awfully, washed away in the rain, as it were.

The final score was 12-9.  Not in our favor.  We blew two six-run leads.  And because the score was 12-9 and not 12-1 or 12-3 or 12-5, this one has nothing to do with the offense.  This one falls squarely on the shoulders of the staff.

Starting with Wakefield, who was horrible.  Five innings, five runs (four earned; thank you, V-Mart) on five hits, seven walks.  Seven walks! The Royals didn’t need to bat at all; all they had to do was stand there while Wakefield actually gave them an invitation to first base! Only two strikeouts, and let’s not forget Mike Jacobs’s three-run shot in the fifth.  This was one of Wakefield’s worst performances of the entire season, if not the worst.  Technically, we have to cut him slack because he just came off the DL, and technically it’s not like we haven’t seen Wakefield pitch outings like this.  On the contrary, we’ve seen plenty of these.  But even if we do take those two facts into consideration, it still doesn’t mask the fact that he was awful.  He deserved the loss.  Not more than Bard deserved it, but he still deserved it.

And speaking of the bullpen, it was worst.  Much, much worse.  Where do I even start.  I guess I’ll just go in order because it was all just really bad.  Delcarmen continued his struggles by allowing four runs on three hits with a walk and a strikeout.  We have starters in our rotation who don’t allow that much in an entire game.  Then Bard with the epically blown save, when he allowed two runs on two hits with a walk before getting out of the sixth.  Not one strikeout.  Only one retired batter.  I’m still fuming about it.  Wagner decided he didn’t want to feel left out and allowed a run on a hit with two walks while striking out three.  See, I think he missed the memo on this, but you’re supposed to record the three strikeouts before you allow all the other stuff.  That way, the other stuff doesn’t actually happen and you walk away with a win.  Ironically, Bowden, with the 9.00 ERA and the absolutely abysmal outing against the Yankees, was the only bright spot.  No runs, no hits, no walks, and no K’s either but twelve pitches thrown, eight of them strikes, to close out the ninth.  Of course by that time it was too late.  The loss was already in the books.

We had only one extra-base hit (a pretty epic one at that) all night; it’s amazing we scored nine runs playing small ball, because as the name would suggest, it’s the opposite of a slugfest.  Usually you don’t score many runs.  So that was something we can be happy about.  Ellsbury batted in two.  Pedroia went two for three and batted in one, and he’s starting to pick it up at the plate.  In addition to his throwing error and passed ball, V-Mart went two for four and batted in two.  Youk, Ortiz, and Gonzalez hit.  Baldelli went two for four.  And Jason Bay, last night’s offensive man of the hour, went two for five with three RBIs, plated with one swing of the bat.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Jason Bay struck again with our sole extra-base hit of the night, a towering three-run shot that practically screamed, “Sign me, Theo Epstein, sign me!”

I do have to say that the outcome was appropriate to the weather.  The downpour was so bad that Trey Hillman, Kansas City’s manager, couldn’t believe they actually played the game.  And how indeed the game wasn’t called short is amazing to me.  This has nothing to do with the fact that, had they called it, we would’ve won.  This has to do with the fact that it’s customary to call a game in torrential rain when one of the teams is significantly ahead, and I’d say we were significantly ahead.  Twice.  Which brings us back to the painful part.

This would be so much less concerning if it didn’t take place so close to October.  Wakefield reverting back to his inconsistent self is not exactly a plus heading into the playoffs.  Neither is this latest effort from the bullpen.  Like I said, we can take heart in the fact that we scored nine runs while playing small ball, but that won’t do much good if you score nine runs in a playoff game but the opposition scores more.

With Nick Green’s health a serious concern, Chris Woodward is back on the roster, courtesy of Junichi Tazawa, who was placed on the sixty-day DL with a mild left groin strain at about the same time he reached his innings limit for the season.  That’s one of the things I like and really respect about this organization.  We don’t rush our young stars through development.

Good thing the Yankees are slumping right now.  We’re still five games back.  But we need as many wins as possible if we’re seriously going to overtake them in the division standings, which is still doable.  I’m telling you, this smacks of 2004, when we surged so powerfully late in the season that we barely missed the division but had all the momentum necessary to run away with a World Series.  Kansas City’s six-run sixth inning may not make it seem like it, but I think we’re definitely a force in October, regardless of last night’s complete and total implosion.  Tonight’s matchup is Paul Byrd at Zack Greinke.  We have work to do.

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Smile, Red Sox Nation; it’s officially September! And there are a whole lot of reasons to love September baseball.  First of all, it’s cooler.  August in Boston is oppressively hot, and the fall brings a second wind for the fans but also the players.  It’s easier to relax and focus when you’re not drenched in sweat and struggling to breathe the humid and muggy air.  Secondly, it’s exciting.  Every game this month takes on a whole new meaning, and that meaning can bring the best or the worst out of a ballclub.  After such a long season, the rejuvenation that September brings makes a player want to put his entire skill set on display.  Especially because it’s so close to the offseason, when free agents are courted and extension contracts are signed.  And last but not least, it’s only a month away from October! September helps to decide who gets there and who doesn’t, who’s likely to go deep and who isn’t, who’s in the best position and who isn’t.  During the month of September, fans of teams across the country watch their rivals in the standings as much as they watch their own clubs.  And for us, that includes the Rangers and the Yankees, with whom we have a series at the end of the month that could either make or break the division for us.

So, in light of all that, it’s important to begin September on the right foot.  Which is exactly what we did last night.  Against the Rays.  In the Trop.  Which makes it even better.

We’ll start with pitching.  Look at a box score of last night’s game.  Look down at the pitching.  It’s so comical that I actually laughed out loud.  They used eight pitchers to our four! That’s just absurd.  But I digress.  Lester was nothing short of brilliant.  Two runs on seven hits over six innings with two walks and nine strikeouts.  (He was pulled after six because he’s had a sore groin recently and Tito was being cautious.  Good move.) I really like the fact that he’s consistently recording around ten K’s per game now.  In fact, he has now surpassed Bruce Hurst’s record, set in 1987, for most strikeouts by a southpaw in a single season.  Hurst had 190; Lester now has 196, and the season isn’t even over.  He gave up a home run to Carlos Pena to lead off the fourth, but it happens.

Wagner was again spectacular.  It may be early to tell yet, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s clear to me that Billy Wagner is most definitely not Eric Gagne.  So far, he’s faced seven batters and retired six, five with strikeouts.  (Meanwhile, the Mets’ disabled list is worth a little under $90 million.) Okajima, not so much.  He pitched to five batters in the eighth inning without recording a single out while instead allowing two runs on four hits and a walk.  Not very 2007 of him, if you ask me.  Paps earned his thirty-third save, a two-inning, twenty-eight-pitch effort (twenty of those were strikes, by the way) which included escaping a bases-loaded situation.  I knew in the long run he’d give us nothing to worry about.  Paps always buckles down.  Yet another reason to love September baseball.

As for the other main attraction, the offense, we were all over it.  The final score was 8-4, so we scored runs and more to spare.  We scored a run in every inning except the first, third, and seventh, and we scored three runs in the fourth.  Ellsbury went two for six with a triple, two RBIs, and one of his best plays of the season.  In the top of the eighth with the bases loaded, Ellsbury snagged a hard-hit fly on the slide and fired into the infield.  No runs scored.  That’s what I call a play of the game.  V-Mart went two for four.  Lowell went two for three with a double, an RBI, and a throw across the diamond to end the first that would make you wonder whether there really was something wrong with his hip.  Every member of the lineup reached base.  Even Pedroia, who failed to record a hit, walked twice.  Gonzalez made a throwing error, but I’ll take our one error over Tampa Bay’s three any day.

Three home runs last night: Drew, Bay, and Youk.  The usual suspects.  Fourth inning, 1-0 count, man on second, and Drew buries a ball about a third of the way up the right field stands.  Fifth inning, 1-2 count, nobody on, and I thought Bay was trying to remove the cover from the ball.  That was a very loud crack of the bat, and the ball went around the left field pole for the home run.  Eighth inning, 1-1 count, nobody on, and Youk gets it out of left field by inches.  That, my friends, is power.

One more reason to love September: callups.  We’ve added five to our roster: outfielder Joey Gathright, George Kottaras, infielder Chris Woodward, Junichi Tazawa, and outfielder Brian Anderson.  Expect Jed Lowrie and Dice-K’s to also join the roster within the coming days.

Jerry Remy will provide color commentary only for home games for the rest of this season.  Another cautious and good move.  It seems that A-Rod has actually altered his batting stance to imitate that of Albert Pujols.  He thinks this is going to turn him into a clutch hitter.  I’m serious.  Apparently, a ballplayer’s psyche and natural style has nothing whatsoever to do with it; the entire skill is solely dependent on the stance.  Yeah, right.

It’s Beckett at Matt Garza tonight.  We should watch for his command in the lower half of the strike zone, as I said, but I hope that this outing will be the start of a string of good ones that lasts through the end of October.  And speaking of October (or should I say Soxtober), you can’t imagine how psyched I am.  Seriously.  It’s the second season, and it’s just around the corner!

On a football note, we say goodbye and good luck to Tedy Bruschi, who announced his retirement on Monday.  He spent thirteen seasons with the Patriots during the team’s most successful era, and he was integral to molding the team into the powerhouse it is today.  Bruschi had strength, but he also had heart, and it was the mixture of both of these that made him, as Bill Belichick said, the “perfect player.” Belichick actually got emotional while making his statement, and as much as he’s usually a rock, that’s something I believe because, yes, Tedy Bruschi was that important to the Patriots.  He was a professional.  He was such a mainstay on defense.  He was talented, and not only because he helped lead New England to three Super Bowl championships.  And because of all of that, he will be missed.  So goodbye, Tedy Bruschi, and good luck.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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