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Posts Tagged ‘Daisuke Matsuzaka’

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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I would like to see two things, even if just once, but preferably on a consistent bases.  First of all, I would like to see one of our wins be the start of a real winning streak.  Not that five or six games isn’t a winning streak.  But I want to see a long winning streak, like ten or eleven or twelve games.  And secondly, I would like to see Dice-K deliver a start the likes of which is what we expected from him on a startly basis when he was first signed.

Since that’s what’s on my mind, you can deduce that we lost yesterday and that Dice-K pitched terribly.  The final score was 6-1, and Dice-K was horrific.  He lasted only one inning; he sent down only three hitters for the third time in his career.  The last time, ironically enough, was also against the A’s in 2009.  He gave up five runs on four hits, two of which were home runs.  Josh Reddick of all people hit a solo shot with two out in the first, and then Brandon Moss hit a three-run shot with no out in the second.  Dice-K walked two, struck out none, threw twenty-eight pitches (a new career low, both literally and figuratively) and only sixteen strikes, and was replaced by Mortensen not after that three-run home run but rather after two more at-bats, both of which resulted in men on base.  Mortensen loaded the bases with a walk, induced a popup, and then allowed one of his inherited runners to score on a sac fly.

It turns out that Dice-K had a sore neck.  He was in pain before his start, which is why he didn’t through a side session.  But he thought he could pitch through it.  It turns out that he was obviously and horribly wrong.  I’m pretty comfortable in predicting that he’s headed back to the DL.

Mortensen then pitched the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth.  Some innings were better than others, but he didn’t give up any of his own runs.  Melancon replaced him for the eighth and ninth, which proceeded without incident.

Unfortunately, so did most of our opportunities at the plate.  Our only run was scored in the first.  Nava hit the third pitch of the game for a double, and Pedroia singled him in.  That was it.  There’s nothing like a falsely auspicious start to a game to get your hopes up for naught.

Both teams put up six hits.  That double was our only one for extra bases, and Pedroia went two for four for the team’s only multi-hit performance.  Not a great way to start a series.  Not a great way to continue the road trip.  Certainly not a great way to make progress in our momentum, our morale, or the standings.

AP Photo

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Now, that’s more like it! Especially with Dice-K pitching well! Admittedly, he didn’t pitch long, but let’s remember that our expectations unfortunately shouldn’t be too high at this point.  But we can celebrate coming back in the late innings to win it; it shows resilience, strength, and a never-say-die attitude.  We needed a win like this to keep our momentum going, our spirits up, and our record intact.

He pitched five and two-thirds innings and gave up one run on six hits.  That one run was the only run the Jays would score all night.  In the first, Dice-K gave up a double, followed by a fielder’s choice.  Then there was a popout followed by an RBI single, and that was it.  (Incidentally, Middlebrooks made another error that allowed a runner to advance to third on the following play.  Fortunately, it didn’t result in any damage, and all else being equal, even if it did we would have won anyway, but still.) Dice-K also walked one and struck out five.  He had a killer cutter last night that was thrown for strikes almost eighty percent of the time.  Fortunately he threw mostly cutters and four-seams, which were also thrown mostly for strikes.  He threw some curveballs, which honestly were horrendous, as well as a handful of two-seams, changeups, and sliders, which were alright.  He also threw a lot of pitches; I guess some things never change.  He needed one hundred pitches to get through his outing.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get the win.  When he exited the game, we were down by one because we hadn’t scored anything and wouldn’t until the seventh, when we saw three different relievers and sent seven batters to the plate.  We almost scored in the sixth, though.  With one out, Pedroia walked and tried to come home on a double by Papi but was out at the plate.

Anyway, the seventh inning began with two quick outs followed by a solo shot by Salty on his second pitch, a fastball down and away.  He put it in the first row of Monster seats and tied the game with one swing; it’s always nice when you can do it efficiently with one swing of the bat.  Kalish then came in to pinch-hit for McDonald and doubled.  Nava then came in to pinch-hit for Lillibridge and was hit by a pitch.  Then Aviles walked to load the bases.  And then Pedroia singled in two, with Aviles out at third.

We scored two more in the eighth to cement the win.  Papi doubled, Ross singled, Papi scored on a double by Gonzalez, and Ross scored on a sac fly by Middlebrooks.

Seriously, how many of you thought we were going to lose this one by a score of 1-0? Games like this show you that you can never count us out.  It’s good to have a reminder of that every once in a while.  Even though ideally you hope we’re never in a situation where we have to come from behind.

Atchison pitched the last out of the sixth as well as the first two of the seventh, Miller pitched the last out of the seventh and picked up the win, Padilla pitched the eighth and picked up a hold, and Aceves pitched the ninth.  The final score was 5-1.  We are now in sole possession of second-to-last place.  If we win today, we will have one nine of our last eleven and our fifth consecutive series.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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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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This is the first time we’ve seen Dice-K pitch in the Major Leagues since Tommy John surgery; his previous start was May 16, 2011.  Let’s keep in mind how low our standards were for him before.  If we do that, it’s easy to be alright with how he did yesterday.  Let’s face it; he wasn’t going to wow us with some sort of complete-game shutout his first time back.  It was going to be something modest and decent and most probably mediocre, since he still has a lot of rust to shake off.  And because we’ve seen how surreally good the Nationals are at the moment, his start was pretty okay.

He pitched five innings and gave up four runs on five hits, one of which was a solo shot to lead off the second.  He walked one and struck out eight, which is a very, very good sign.  Five of the strikeouts were swinging, and three were called.  He threw eighty pitches, so he was as inefficient as ever, but again, we shouldn’t let our impatience with how bad he was before the surgery cause us to not give him his due time after the surgery.  Besides, we’ve seen days worse than this from our healthy starters this year.

He threw both fastballs plus changeups, curveballs, and cutters.  He threw less than a handful of two-seams, but the ones he did throw were awesome.  After that, the four-seam, his most frequent pitch, was awesome as well.  And then his changeup and curveball were really good, and his cutter got by.  He threw twelve pitches in the first, eleven in the second, seventeen in the third, twenty-two in the fourth, and eighteen in the fifth.  Good variation of speeds, tight and consistent release point.

He had two strikeouts and a flyout in the first for a one-two-three inning.  After he gave up the solo shot in the second, he ended the inning with a strikeout, groundout, and flyout.  He had another one-two-three inning in the third with two strikeouts and a groundout.  He got into trouble in the fourth; he gave up a walk and a single to start it, then got a strikeout, then gave up a double and a single that scored his other three runs, and then he induced a double play to get out of the inning.  And finally, he allowed a double to lead off the fifth but then posted two strikeouts and a flyout.  So as steps back from the DL go, we can feel good about this one.

We can feel less good about our hitters’ total lack of run support.  We went down in order in the first, third, fourth, and eighth.  We put one on base in the second, sixth, and ninth to no result.  We put two on base in the fifth to no result.  We finally scored in the seventh.  Youk grounded out to start it, and then Middlebrooks walked, Aviles singled, and Sweeney walked to load the bases with one out.  Salty singled in two.  And then Nava struck out looking and Pedroia popped out to end the inning.  And that was our only show of run-scoring during the whole game.

Meanwhile, Morales held the fort for three shutout innings, and Aceves pitched a shutout ninth.  But we lost, 4-2.  We had no multi-hit games and only two extra-base hits, both of them doubles, one by Papi and the other by Sweeney.  Defensive highlights included Pedroia classic backhand pick and firing to first for the second out of the inning as well as Gonzalez making a sliding catch in right for the second out of the seventh and then firing to the infield to end the inning.

We are also now below .500 for the first time since getting above .500.  I definitely liked the view better from above .500, so let’s get back up there.

Boston Globe Staff/John Tlumacki

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Okay.  Nobody panic.  Just because we slugged our way to victory using only two pitchers does not mean that there is something horribly wrong with the world.

Wow.  Remember the good, old days when slugging our way to victory using only two pitchers actually meant that there was something excellently right with the world? We used to expect it, even as recently as last season (before September, anyway).  Now we’re pleasantly surprised by it.  We need to get back to expecting it, and last night was yet another step in the right direction.  Don’t look now, but we’ve got a bit of a winning streak going, and we seem to actually be building on our momentum consistently! Who knew, right?

Doubront set the stage for the win.  He allowed only three runs on five hits while walking three and striking out two in six innings.  He did allow a leadoff homer in the fourth.  He threw 110 pitches, sixty-six for strikes.  (In case you haven’t noticed, there is no room in Bobby V.’s philosophy for pitch counts.  Dice-K must be thrilled.)

He used five pitches, the best of which were the two-seam and the cutter, ironically enough his most and least frequently used pitches, respectively.  His four-seam, changeup, and curveball were all pretty decent and effective.  He was pretty consistent pitch count-wise in most but not all of his innings; he threw between sixteen (the second) and twenty-eight (the first) pitches in each of his innings except the fifth, when he only threw eight.

The value of Doubront’s quality start, which yielded his first win of the year, can not be overstated.  Make no mistake, folks: without a quality start, we could have lost even if the offense had scored ten runs.  I know that because a similar situation has happened to us already.  You need pitching, offense, and defense that’s not only consistently good but consistently better than the other team’s to win ballgames consistently.  It’s highly unlikely that you could possibly hope to get by in the long run with even one of those missing, no matter how stellar the other two would be.  So even though Doubront technically was inefficient, and he technically was inconsistent at times (in other words, he wasn’t even consistently inconsistent), a quality start was a quality start, and he settled down just enough to hand the ball to Tazawa in good shape, who finished off the game.

Speaking of stellar, the offense went through the roof and didn’t waste any time doing it.  Aviles began the game auspiciously enough with a walk.  Then Sweeney struck out, Pedroia singled, Aviles scored on a double by Gonzalez, and Pedroia scored on a single by Papi.

Then the third inning rolled around and with one swing of the bat Youk increased our lead threefold.  Sweeney was hit.  Pedroia lined out, and Gonzalez and Papi worked back-to-back walks.  And then Youk swung through a slider for a strike.  And then he blasted a fastball into the bullpen for none other than a grand slam! I’m telling you, he hit that ball so hard I thought the skin was going to come off of it.  There are two ways that that ball could have been hit, as Jerry Remy explained.  Youk could have done what any other hitter would have done and done what he thought was his best by hitting a grounder.  Or he could have launched it to the opposite field.  Dirt dog and hitter extraordinaire that he is, Youk clearly chose to launch it to the opposite field like it was no big deal.  It was so ridiculously awesome.  It was the first grand slam we’ve seen this year, and it was, as I said, ridiculously awesome.  Did I mention that it was ridiculously awesome?

And as if that weren’t enough, Salty hit a solo shot for back-to-back homers! This one was on a curveball that didn’t curve, the third pitch of the at-bat, which he also launched to right field, just barely around the foul pole.  And the crack of his bat was loud.  Apparently he got a new shipment of bats.  Apparently he should make sure he uses them.  Like, all the time.

We went down in order in the fourth, but Salty made up for that in the fifth, when he homered yet again with Youk on base, this time to left center field, just barely out of the park, on a fastball.  Yet again an opposite field long shot.  Yet again a thunderous crack of the bat.  It was the third multi-homer game of his career.

We went down in order in the sixth, seventh, and eighth and put the finishing touches on the final score in the ninth, when Aviles doubled and scored on a single by Sweeney.

So let’s tally it up, shall we? Sweeney and Salty each collected two hits, and Youk collected three.  In total, half of our hits were for extra bases, and half of those extra-base hits were home runs, the other half being doubles.  We also batted .500 with runners in scoring position.  And there was a fantastic diving catch by Sweeney in the second for the second out of the inning; it was a fantastic recovery from his initial lack of read on the ball.

The final score was 10-3; after Wednesday’s narrow win, this was exactly what we needed to see.  I mean, we crushed.  I wish we could crush like this every game.  Here’s to crushing again tomorrow!

AP Photo

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See, this is good.  This is what we should be doing.  That’s what I call building on momentum.  We won, and then we won again.  So it can’t really be so impossible to win multiple times in a row, can it? I mean, that was awesome.  It was a slugfest, and we left Minnesota in the dust.  The team made it look so easy, like we’ve been playing that way all season so far.  This better not be the latest episode in our grand motif of inconsistency.

For now, at least, we can celebrate this one.  The final score was 11-2.  We posted eighteen hits to their six; eight of our eighteen hits were for extra bases.  Two of those were home runs, and six of them were doubles.  And we went six for sixteen with runners in scoring position.

Aviles started things off in the first with a double with two strikes; not a bad way to battle back and start the game.  Then Sweeney singled him in.  After Pedroia grounded out, Gonzalez and Papi hit back-to-back singles which resulted in another run.  Then Youk singled, making that three in a row, and Gonzalez scored on Ross’s groundout.

Beckett didn’t seem like he was going to uphold his end of the bargain; he loaded the bases in a hurry in the bottom of the first while securing only one run.  Then he proceeded to walk in a run on ten pitches to Joe Mauer.  That’s three consecutive bases on balls.  I have to tell you, at that moment I got really scared that it was going to be a repeat of our performance against the Yankees when we dropped our eight run lead, except this time the blame would fall squarely on Beckett.  Beckett’s exchange with home plate umpire Adrian Johnson probably didn’t help the situation at all.  There were angry stares, and then Beckett said words, and then Johnson said words, and then Bobby V. had to intervene.  It clearly could have been a lot worse.

Fortunately, that fear turned out to be moot.  Beckett’s very next inning was one-two-three, and we went back to scoring; Gonzalez led off the third with a walk, and then Papi tore a homer to right on a cutter.  It was so fierce that Jerry Remy said that he couldn’t even see the ball when he was going out.  Papi knew it as soon as the ball connected with the bat that there was no way it was staying inside the park.

Beckett got into a bit of a jam in the third when he had runners on second and third with one out, but he secured a lineout followed by a flyout to end it made possible by a very Ellsbury-esque diving and sliding catch by Byrd.  Not a bad way to begin his time in Boston, especially since he started out on the play with the absolute wrong read on the ball.

Aviles led off the fourth with a solo shot to left on a full-count fastball right down the pipe that he just crushed.  It was a fair ball by inches, literally.  Then Sweeney doubled and scored on a single by Gonzalez.

Beckett had a one-two-three fourth.  Byrd led off the bottom of the inning with a single.  Shoppach struck out swinging, and then Aviles hit an RBI double.  Then Sweeney struck out swinging, and Pedroia and Gonzalez hit back-to-back RBI doubles.

Beckett allowed his last run of the night in the fifth on a pair of doubles.  Both teams went down in order in the next two innings.  Then, in the eighth, a single and two five-pitch walks loaded the bases for McDonald, who score two by grounding into a force out.

So that was basically it.  Papi, Youk, Byrd, and Sweeney each had two hits, one of which for Sweeney was a double.  Papi’s twenty-eight hits so far this month are the most in the ball club since Joe Cronin hit thirty in April 1937.  Aviles went four for five with two doubles and a home run – those four hits being a new career high – and Gonzalez was a perfect three for three at the plate with one double.  Beckett pitched up the win and allowed only two runs on five hits while walking three and striking out five in six innings.  He threw exactly one hundred pitches; his best pitches for strikes were his changeup, cutter, and four-seam, and he also threw in a few two-seams and curveballs.  He threw thirty-seven pitches in the first inning, which is a higher inning total than even Dice-K would throw (I’ve used that comparison a lot, but firstly, if I shouldn’t use this comparison then he should pitch better, and secondly, thirty-seven pitches is really exorbitant), but he obviously settled down considerably after that first inning.  Indeed, his first inning was essentially his one bad inning, but as we know he escaped with the minimal damage of only one run.  Atchison pitched in the seventh and eighth, and Albers pitched the ninth.

Well, I’m obviously thrilled with the win, but I wonder if it’ll actually take us somewhere this time.  What are the chances we play like that again today?

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