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Posts Tagged ‘Julio Lugo’

Smile, Red Sox Nation! We made it to the All-Star break! At the traditional halfway mark of the season, we’re sitting on top of the American League East, one game ahead of the Yankees.  We’re much more battered and bent than I thought we would be, and the standings don’t reflect the kind of dominance I thought we’d surely be exhibiting by now.  But given the way we started the season, I have absolutely no right to complain.  Instead, I’ll be thrilled we’ve made it this far, even if we didn’t make it this far in one piece.

In keeping with tradition, I’ve graded the entire team on their performance up to the All-Star break, as I do every year.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: B

He’s batting .251 with twenty-four RBIs.  He has a slugging percentage of .437; he’s hit twelve doubles, two triples, and six home runs.  He’s had ten passed balls, forty-nine stolen bases, and only sixteen caught-stealings.  His fielding percentage is .997.  He has a wicked arm.  He’s new to the club, and he’s a starter.  Given who he is as a player as well as his position, we expect him to hit fairly well and nail runners.  For the most part, he’s done the first but still needs work on the second.

Jason Varitek: A

Tek’s grade tends to be pretty consistent year-to-year.  Part of that has to do with the fact that we don’t expect as much from him as we used to.  Now that he’s technically no longer a starter, that’s even more true.  As he ages, his value to the team lies less and less in his ability to perform as a player and more and more in his ability to perform as a father figure and team leader.  And in the latter department, he excels to the utmost.  And he’s still top-notch with the pitchers and defensively, even if we consider him an out that gets easier with every passing year.

Kevin Youkilis: A

Over the course of these past few games, he’s really boosted his average, which is now up to .285.  He has forty-nine walks, which ties him for ninth in the American League.  He has twenty-six doubles, which ties him for third in the American League.  He has sixty-three RBIs, which ties him for sixth in the American League.  His average wasn’t too high before this last hot streak of his, but he’s certainly been contributing.  His fielding percentage is .967, which for him is a little low.

Dustin Pedroia: A

Earlier in the season, he was in the middle of one of the longest slumps of his still-young career.  He was getting skittish in two-strike counts, and the high inside fastball was giving him a bit of trouble.  Now, all of that is in the distant past.  His OPS is .837; his OPS over the course of the last seven days is 1.142.  As with Youk, he’s boosted his average a lot recently.  He’s now up to .284.  His fielding percentage is .990.  Even if you look at the big picture with the slump, he contributes.  If he’s not hitting, he’s walking and playing good D.  And if he is hitting, he’s still doing those things.

Marco Scutaro: B

As with Salty, consider what we expect from Scutaro.  Given the fact that our shortstops haven’t exactly been the highlight of our lineups in recent years, we expect him to hit decently but play fantastic D.  With a .259 average, six doubles, and three home runs, he has hit fairly decently, although he should be batting in more than fourteen runs.  His fielding percentage is .977; for a shortstop, I expect more.  It’s the most challenging infield position; we’re halfway through the season, and he’s already made four errors.  Last year, he made eighteen errors.  If he makes another four errors during the second half, that already would be a huge improvement.  But our standards are higher than that.  Besides, what if those four errors cost us four ballgames? We can’t afford that.

Adrian Gonzalez: A

Anyone who gives this man less than an A must have the wrong Gonzalez.  He has done everything we ever expected him to do.  He leads the American League in batting average, hits, doubles, and RBIs (ironically enough, Adrian Beltre is right behind him).  He’s third in runs and on-base percentage, fourth in at-bats, fifth in fielding percentage, and tenth in home runs.  The only thing he doesn’t do is steal bases, but we have Ellsbury and Crawford for that.  Collectively, those numbers tell us that he’s a powerful, durable, and beautifully well-rounded player capable of doing damage in any situation.  In short, he is worth every single bit of his contract.

Jed Lowrie: A

It’s not his fault he’s injured.  Before that, he was swinging a hot bat and playing well in the field.

Yamaico Navarro: B

Not great at the plate but literally flawless in the field.  He’s only been filling in temporarily anyway.

Drew Sutton: B

Sutton may be on the roster for the same reasons as Navarro, but he’s the exact opposite: not great in the field but outstanding at the plate.

JD Drew: B

Same old, same old.  Perfection in the field, mediocrity at the plate.  It’s really sad that that hasn’t changed.  Although I should mention that his highest monthly average of the season, 2.69, occurred in April, when everyone else’s monthly averages were probably at their worst.

Jacoby Ellsbury: A

Given last year’s injury and the fact that his season was therefore cut way too short, Ellsbury has had some catching up to do.  Not only has he caught up to our expectations; he has surpassed them.  He leads the American League in stolen bases.  He’s fifth in at-bats and average, sixth in runs, third in hits, and tied with Youk for third in doubles.  He’s set a new career high in home runs so far this year, and we still have half a season left to play.  Also worth mentioning is the fact that, over the course of the last seven days, Ellsbury has batted .467.  In the field, he has five assists, a new career high, and has yet to make an error.

Carl Crawford: C

I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t thinking about his contract when I gave Crawford this grade.  But the truth is that he deserves it.  The contract is simply a manifestation of the expectations that both the organization and therefore the fans have of Crawford, who has proven that he can meet and even surpass those high expectations.  So far, he’s done nothing of the kind.  Before he made his way onto the DL, he batted below .250, failed to post home runs in the double-digits, and walked and stole bases less than ten times each.  He also made two errors.  He was supposed to excel in every single one of those categories.  He was supposed to be the left-handed Adrian Gonzalez who could run.  So far, not so much.

Darnell McDonald: B

He said it himself: he’s not contributing at the level he could or should.  The added playing time helped him last year; thankfully, we have more guys healthy, so he doesn’t have as much playing time this year.  But the art of the bench player is the ability to perform when necessary, playing time or no playing time.

Josh Reddick: A

He’s just as good as we’ve ever seen him.  He performs whenever we need him; he practices the art of the bench player.  Obviously, that’s because one day he won’t be a bench player; he’ll be a starter.  In the meantime, he’s a great kid to have around.

David Ortiz: A

It’s pretty simple.  He’s batting above .300 and slugging about .575 with twenty-three doubles, nineteen home runs, and fifty-five RBIs.  He’s not supposed to field; as a designated hitter, he’s supposed to slug.  And that’s what he’s doing, and he’s doing it well.

Offense Overall: B

The team leads the Major Leagues in runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.  Despite this and the fact that there are a good number of players performing well on an individual level, the offense as a whole doesn’t get an A because it’s streaky.  Sometimes we’ll average about seven runs a game during a stretch; sometimes we’ll be lucky to score at all.  The mark of a good, solid offense is not to sometimes average seven runs a game; the mark of a good, solid offense is to do so consistently throughout the season.  That’s not something we’ve seen yet.  Until we do, we’ll just be a lineup with great hitters in it, not necessarily a consistently great lineup.

Defense Overall: C

We lead the Major Leagues in errors with forty-four, and we’re sixth in fielding percentage with .987.  That’s not good.

Josh Beckett: A

Beckett this season has been a model of consistency in the most positive of ways.   2.27 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, eight and three record, and ninety-four strikeouts and only seven home runs.  He’s a changed man from last year; this year, he’s found his former self.

Jon Lester: A

I’m going to give him an A because his numbers are fine enough, but I expect more from him.  His ERA is 3.31; it should be under three.  His WHIP is 1.21; it should be under one.  He’s given up fourteen home runs; it should be less than ten.  But he has ten wins by the All-Star break, which means he could have twenty by season’s end, and he has more than one hundred strikeouts.  Excellent, but not as excellent as I thought he’d be.

Clay Buchholz: B

Before he was injured, he wasn’t as great as he could have been.  Unlike Lester, his numbers aren’t that sufficiently good as to warrant a better grade even though he hasn’t performed to expectations.  He has a 3.48 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP, a record of six and three, only sixty strikeouts, ten home runs, and thirty-one walks.  He’ll need to work hard in the second half in order to return to form.

John Lackey: C

Lackey’s most recent start was the only start this year in which I felt we were seeing the Lackey we signed.  During all the other starts, we saw some pitcher we’d never even think of signing.  His ERA is 6.84, and his record is six and eight.  But you don’t need the numbers to tell you how inconsistent, spotty, and unpredictable his outings are and how porous and lacking in command he’s been.  It’s gotten to the point where him being on the DL is a good thing.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: D

I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that I’ve had just about enough of this.  We’ve been waiting and waiting for years now for him to show us even a small glimpse of the greatness he exhibited in Japan.  Well, guess what.  We’re still waiting.  And now he’s done for the season because he needs Tommy John surgery.  This could go one of two ways: either he won’t recover well at all and he’ll be even worse afterwards or he’ll make a spectacular recovery and it’ll turn out that the surgery corrected mechanical issues that were the root of the problem all along.  Either way, no matter how you slice and dice it, he didn’t pitch well this season.  You don’t need numbers to tell you that either.

Tim Wakefield: A

His ERA is in excess of four, and his WHIP is 1.27.  But technically his job is no longer to be a starter who can put the team in a position to win every fifth day.  His job is now to come in for an inning or two when necessary and keep the team in a position to win, and sometimes, when a starter is injured, to put the team in a position to win.  He is on the verge of making history with his long career, and age doesn’t seem to affect him at all.  He’s like the Benjamin Button of baseball.  He’s the ultimate team player; he answers the call of duty and he doesn’t complain.  Sometimes his knuckleball doesn’t dance like it should and he has a terrible night out.  But overall, when we need him to do something, he just does it.  It sounds simple enough, but not every ballplayer can do it.

Alfredo Aceves: A

Aceves has gone above and beyond.  He went from being a question mark during Spring Training to starting material.  He has an ERA of 3.41 and a WHIP of 1.22.  He has a record of four and one with one save.  How many pitchers can say that, after both starting and pitching in relief for half a season, they have a winning record as well as a save? Not many.  He can pretty much do it all, and that’s not even what he signed up for.  He can start, he can provide reliable middle relief, and he can close too.  I don’t think anyone expect him to be the versatile pitcher that the circumstances of the injuries to our staff have demanded he become.  But he rose to the occasion and continues to impress every time out

Matt Albers: A

Here’s another guy who continues to impress.  Again, during Spring Training, I don’t think anyone could have envisioned the dominant reliever he’d turn out to be.  He’s been as solid as solid gets.  2.55 ERA, thirty-for strikeouts, and almost two innings pitched per appearance.  So he’s both dependable and durable, arguably the two most important characteristics of a good reliever.  And with the way some of our starters have been pitching, if not for Albers we’d have been in desperate need of a good reliever.

Scott Atchison: B

He’s been better.  Like Morales, he’s a pitcher, and we need pitchers, so we’ll take what we can get and we’ll have to like it.  But to be honest I never like the look of a 4.70 ERA or a 1.43 WHIP.

Rich Hill: A

He’s appeared in nine games and thrown eight innings.  His ERA is zero.  That’s pretty good.

Andrew Miller: B

Yet another Spring Training question mark of whom we’ve seen much more than we ever thought he would.  He’s pitched decently.  For what we were expecting, he’s not great but not too bad.

Franklin Morales: B

Morales came into the fold when we were desperate for pitchers, period.  He hasn’t been outstanding, but he’s a pitcher, and given our circumstances that’s been good enough for us.

Dan Wheeler: B

His WHIP and his ERA are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  The good news is that he has an ERA of zero when pitching in day games.  So all we have to do is use him in relief during the day, and we’re guaranteed success.

Bobby Jenks: D

So far, Jenks is an epic fail.  Enough said.

Daniel Bard: A

Bard’s ERA is 2.05, and his WHIP is 0.80.  His ERA was zero for all of June as well as July to date.  Of the seventeen teams he’s faced in his career, he has an ERA of zero against twelve, including the Rays and the Phillies.  He has faced only five batters after throwing fifteen pitches.  Not too shabby.

Jonathan Papelbon: B

If only Paps were as consistent as Bard.  His ERA is almost four, and his WHIP is much too large for a closer.  And yet somehow he has twenty saves to his credit and has blown just one.  He’s on pace to lower his walk total from last year’s, which is definitely a good sign.  But as long as I have to hold my breath whenever he comes out of the bullpen, I won’t be able to give him an A.

Pitching Overall: B

Giving the pitching staff an overall rating is very complicated and in some ways not even fair.  The reason why it’s fair for the lineup and not for the pitching staff is because the pitching staff doesn’t have a responsibility to perform well as a unit in the same game.  Each pitcher has his time to shine; if he has it, great, and if he doesn’t it’s on him.  Ellsbury’s ability to get himself into scoring position may be contingent on what the hitter before him does, but Beckett’s abiltiy to secure a win has nothing to do with the fact that Jenks can’t hold it down.  But in keeping with tradition, I’ll grade the pitching staff on the whole.  Such a grade must reflect the entire staff, which unfortunately includes some very sad cases.

Terry Francona: A

Arguably one of the best managers in club history.  Certainly one of the best managers active in the game today.  It’s a travesty that he didn’t win Manager of the Year last year.  The way he manages all the personalities in this club and maneuvers through injuries, he’s Manager of the Year every year in my book.

Theo Epstein: A

Jenks and Dice-K (and Lugo and Gagne, while we’re at it) were fails, but you can’t blame him for trying.  Crawford can’t be judged yet.  Besides, for Gonzalez alone, he gets an A.  That deal is one of his masterpieces.

Team Overall: B

It’s hard to argue with the fact that we lead in so many offensive categories as well as in the American League East.  Why the B? Because we’re only in first place by one game and we’re already halfway through the season.  Granted, we’re pretty injured, and it’s hard to conquer when your staff is on the DL.  But in the grand scheme of things, many of those injuries have been fairly recent.  Nobody was injured in April.  There’s no way we should have had the start to the season that we did.  We should have been running away with the division last month, if that late.  It’s all well and good to build some momentum during Interleague and take four games from the Orioles, but any team can do that.  Our team is better than being satisfied with sweeping Baltimore.  We should be sweeping New York and Philadelphia.  We have two and a half months to get our act together and show everyone why we’ll be winning the World Series this October.  So let’s get on with it already.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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It’s that time yet again.  Since we’re now halfway through the season, an evaluation is in order.  Given where we started and where we are now, there’s a lot to evaluate.  But it’s going to be tricky.  It’s always hard to assess overall performance when it fluctuates wildly, and as a team, that’s what we’re looking at here.  Some players were extremely good for a while and then they petered out, but the team collectively is doing well because when one player declines, another rises.  Of course, it would make the whole thing easier if we could take the entire month of April and throw it out the window, but naturally we can’t.  It was an anomaly, but it’s the reason why we’re close to first place rather than actually in first place.

Alright.  Let’s do this.  Here we go.

Jason Varitek: A

He’s doing alright.  We’ve seen the same Renaissance from him this year that we did last year.  He landed on the DL on July 1, but before that, he was batting .263 with seven homers and sixteen RBIs in thirty-four games.  His numbers were somewhat similar to these last year with the important difference being that last year he posted the same numbers in more games last year.  That has to do with V-Mart moving permanently into the starter’s role and of course with the DL, but if he got an A last year, he should get an A this year for the same reasons.  Given his role, he deserves it.

Victor Martinez: A-

He’s picked it up, but he didn’t get the same start to this season as he did to last season.  He was less consistently good this year.  With that said, he’s still good, period.  He’s started to pick it up, he’s worked very hard on improving his arm with runners on the basepaths, and it’s his first full season, and in the starting role.  So it’s been and continues to be a season of changes for him, but he’s adapted nicely and continues to improve.

Kevin Cash: B+

He’s back behind the dish as a result of the injury onslaught.  He hasn’t been back here for very long, but he’s done his job: he’s manned his position while the usual pair are doing time on the DL.  We haven’t asked much of him, and he hasn’t given us anything spectacular.  He gets points for catching Wake really well after a long absence.  So I don’t have anything to complain about here.

Kevin Youkilis: A

As usual, nothing to complain about.  His average is at the cusp of .300, his defense is spick-and-span, and if you ask me he absolutely should have won the Final Vote.  His on-base percentage is a bit lower than last year because his strikeouts are up, but he’s been walking a ton, his slugging percentage is right where it should be at .575, not to mention his eighteen doubles, five triples, and eighteen home runs.  I think he’s one of the most consistent members of this lineup.

Dustin Pedroia: A

For a decent part of the season, he wasn’t performing up to expectations, which is inherently hard to do when you’re Dustin Pedroia.  But look at his numbers.  They clearly show his turnaround.  In April, he batted .302.  His average took a nosedive in May: .213.  But he got it together in June and batted a huge .374.  The turnaround was complete and absolute, and that was why his injury caused so much concern.  His defense is where it always is; he’s the quintessential dirt dog.  But he definitely gets an A for his resilience.

Marco Scutaro: A-

As with Beltre, we acquired him mainly for defense, and any offense was technically a bonus.  Our luck with shortstops post-Nomar hasn’t been great, and we just came off an abysmal fielder at short, so it’s been nice watching his range, athleticism, and .967 fielding percentage.  By general standards, that’s not that great, but compared to some other shortstops we’ve had recently, it’s great.  He’s already racked up 223 assists and turned thirty-seven assists.  And on top of that, his .283 average isn’t too shabby by any means.  Neither are twenty-two doubles, twenty-eight RBIs, and thirty-four walks.

Adrian Beltre: B+

No explanation needed here either.  Dude’s the best hitter on the team.  I’ll bet nobody expected that.  He’s third in homers and RBIs.  And his D is absolutely impeccable.  If you watch the highlights on SportsDesk.  If you watch the games too, you’ll be able to relate to my exasperation and disappointment.  The 159 assists and nineteen double plays are nice and all, but there’s no getting around his .943 fielding percentage, borne of his fourteen errors at third, which are tied with Miguel Tejada for most by a third baseman in all of Major League Baseball.  His improvement throughout the season is apparent; his errors were much more frequent and harmful in the beginning, which was obviously a contributing factor to the April fiasco, but still you can’t ignore them.  I guess it evens out, though.  Theo acquired him primarily for defense and didn’t expect much offense.  What he got was a ton of offense but mediocre defense.  So fulfilled our expectation of getting a lot of one and not much of the other; it was just the opposite.  As he spends more time in the park, his defense will also be above par.  So even though his knee has single-handedly sidelined some significant starters, we give him a decent mark for his bat.  In Theo we trust.  His fielding will come around in no time.

David Ortiz: A

This really doesn’t need an explanation, but I’ll give one anyway, just for fun.  He batted .143 in April and followed it with a huge surge in May, posting a .363 average with ten home runs and twenty-seven RBIs and a slugging percentage of .788.  He had a mediocre June but is on the upswing again this month.  Not to mention the Home Run Derby.  Big Papi is back!

Eric Patterson: A-

Again, it’s all about the expectations and the job he was brought here to do.  Like Kevin Cash, we brought him here in a pinch because we were dropping like flies.  And just by virtue of the fact that he’s healthy and can play, we’ve done well enough.  So I can’t dock him for mediocre baseball, because he wasn’t brought here to be the next Ted Williams.  So he gets a good grade for holding up under all the pressure of being thrown into an extremely competitive environment to keep us from crashing and burning.

Mike Lowell: C-

This is a difficult one to judge because of the dramatic decrease in playing time he’s seen this year.  But even if you look at his performance only in the context of his playing time, it’s not that great.  The highest he’s batted in a month this year is .250, and that was in April; he’s currently batting .213.  He has two homers and twelve RBIs.  He’s only walked eleven times.  His age is clearly showing.  It’s a harsh reality, but there’s nothing you can do but be honest.

Mike Cameron: B+

When Cameron came here, we expected good enough offense and stellar defense.  We have the good enough offense; he, like most of the team, batted horribly in April but picked it up in May before tanking again in June.  His fielding, however, has been subpar.  His fielding percentage so far is .976.  For him, that’s low; his fielding percentage is usually above .990.  And considering the fact that he replaced Ellsbury, whose fielding percentage was exactly one last year, he’s got to do better than that.  Part of it is getting used to his new territory – he’s never played in Fenway before this year – so look for him to improve his fielding in the second half.

JD Drew: A-

If you toss April out the window, he’s been great this year.  The improvement in his hitting between last year’s first half and this year’s is easy to see.  He had a fantastic May, a decent June, and is on his way to a fantastic July.  Overall, he’s batting .275.  His OPS is just .836, but again, it looks like he’s picking it up this month.  You also can’t argue with his fielding percentage: an even one.  No errors whatsoever this year in seventy-one games.

Bill Hall: B-

Hall is listed on the roster as an outfielder, even though he’s really a jack-of-all-trades.  It’s hard to beat the athleticism he’s exhibited in that role.  He can pretty much play any position.  We didn’t sign him for offense; we signed him for defensive depth on the bench, and to some degree that’s what we got.  He’s played second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field, and right field this year, and he’s even pitched a bit.  While he has been a go-to guy whose value to the team has increased tremendously since the onslaught of injuries began, he’s not automatically excellent in the field.  With the conspicuous exception of one position: left.  He has a fielding percentage of one in nineteen starts and thirty games in left field.

Darnell McDonald: A

Darnell McDonald absolutely gets an A.  Think about it.  The guy is old, he traded hands in the minors, he was probably settling in for a long and hard career there without much hope of advance, he comes up, and he’s instantly a hero.  He’s been nothing but a hero to this team in its time of need.  Without the contributions of McDonald and Nava, we’d be in dire straits, trust me.  His .271 average is just ahead of the league leader.  His fielding percentages in left and right are both one, and his fielding percentage in center is a neat .988.  This guy exceeded all of our expectations, if we even had any, and for that, we salute him.

Daniel Nava: A

Same with this kid, and when I say kid, I mean kid.  He was called up in a pinch and delivered big time.  Literally.  A grand slam on the first pitch of your first Major League at-bat is no small talk.  Even putting that aside, he’s batting .300 with twelve extra-base hits and sixteen RBIs in twenty-four games.  He’s started twenty-one games in left field without making an error.  At such a young age and on such short notice, we were asking a lot of Nava, and he delivered.  For that, we also salute him.

Jacoby Ellsbury: A

Before his injury, Ellsbury was his usual self offensively.  His season average is only .250, but if you look deeper, you’ll notice that he only played a month and a half of baseball.  In April, he basically played every day and batted .333.  Then, in May, he only played three games.  Same with defense.  In fact, he sustained his injury while being his usual self in the field.  He was error free in both center and left.  So he was on track to have another fantastic year.  Too bad his ribs ended it.

Jeremy Hermida: B

We acquired Hermida your usual fourth outfielder.  After Ellsbury became injured, he stepped up majorly to get us through before he himself got injured.  While he played, he was decent.  He had some flashes of brilliance, but overall he was consistent and stable, providing defensive depth and nothing too fancy at the plate.  Still, as the fourth outfielder, he played a very important role.

Jon Lester: A

He’s an ace.  His ERA is 2.78, good for sixth in the American League.  His WHIP is 1.09.  He’s got 124 strikeouts – nobody hits his cut fastball – and a record of eleven and three in eighteen starts.  He’s given up only six homers in exactly 120 innings, proving his endurance and durability.  He had his usual horrible April, but his turnaround was so sharp and so complete, and he’s been so dominant for the rest of the season.  How do you not give him an A? He is definitely a backbone of this staff, especially this year with Beckett out.  And to think at one time he may have been on the block for Johan Santana.  Always, in Theo we trust.

Clay Buchholz: A

You can’t talk about Buchholz without talking about how much fun it is to see this kid mature into an ace right before your eyes.  We remember his no-no, we remember his abysmal season in 2008, we remember his improvement last year, and we’re seeing right now everything we knew he had in him.  He’s yet another example of why in Theo we trust.  Our farm system hasn’t failed us yet, and we know a good pitcher when we see one.  Buchholz tosses some of the salad I’ve ever seen.  His ERA of 2.45 is second in the American League and eighth in the Majors.  Wow.  He’s ten and four with only one no decision.  He’s pitched ninety-two innings and has given up only three home runs.  Phenomenal.  Absolutely phenomenal.

John Lackey: B

When we signed Lackey, I was so psyched.  I immediately started counting the automatic outs that his mean first-pitch strike would generate.  I envisioned a one-two-three punch in the rotation that would be impossible to beat.  But that’s not what I got.  His reputation as a workhorse did come through.  He pitched 113 innings in eighteen starts, which is less than Lester’s total, but he usually throws more pitches per start than Lester.  But his record is only nine and five, his ERA is 4.78, his WHIP is 1.60, and his OPP AVG is .298.  He’s given up ten home runs and has only racked up sixty-eight strikeouts.  Those are bad numbers.  They’re certainly not what any of us was expecting, that’s for sure.  In his defense, it is his first season in a Boston uniform, and we know from experience that pitchers usually perform better in their sophomore season with us, but still.  It takes good pitching and good defense to play the run prevention game.  We have the good defense.  It takes five starters to give us good pitching. Lackey is an integral part of that, but we haven’t seen him at his best.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: C

Just to be clear, that’s a C for inconsistency.  That’s his theme.  If I had to use one word to describe Dice-K as a pitcher, that would undoubtedly be it.  If he goes out and has a terrible outing, you have no reason to expect that from him in his next start.  But if he pitches extraordinarily well, like he did when he almost no-hit the Phillies, you sure can’t expect a repeat performance like that either.  Every time you think he’s turned a corner, he reverts.  Every time he reverts, you hope he’ll turn a corner.  And it just goes on and on with no progress.  His ERA is 4.56, his WHIP is 1.39, he’s six and three in twelve starts.  It’s frustrating.  Also, he’s not a good fielder.

Tim Wakefield: B-

Wakefield is obviously not performing as well this year as he did last year.  Last year, he was an All-Star.  This year, he was moved to the bullpen and is only starting now because Beckett is out.  His record is three and seven in fourteen starts.  He didn’t get his first win until May 23.  His ERA is 5.22 and his WHIP is 1.32.  In exactly one hundred innings, he’s allowed fifteen homers.  His numbers don’t reflect his flashes of brilliance.  He’s known for not receiving a ton of run support.  He could be pitching a lot better.  However, he’s an integral part of this staff, which clearly wouldn’t be the same without him.

Josh Beckett: D

He almost won the Cy Young three years ago, and should have in my opinion, and then all his dominance went out the window along with his back.  In eight starts this year, he’s one and one.  His ERA is over seven.  In about forty-five innings, he’s allowed thirty-seven earned runs, six homers, and nineteen walks.  It was painful to watch.  Then he got injured and he’s been on the DL working his way back for a while.  His recover has been proceeding nicely, and we hope when he returns, he’ll return with his health as well as his skills.  Meanwhile, he epically failed.

Felix Doubront: A

For a young kid who’s only made two Major League starts, he’s done well, and he’s shown us that the future of our rotation is in good hands.  He’s won one and barely lost the other.  His inexperience clearly shows, but so does his potential.

Scott Atchison: B

He’s old.  It shows.  But he’s still pitched decently this year.  He’s not an elite reliever, but then again we never expected him to be.

Manny Delcarmen: C+

He hasn’t been healthy; he started pitching really badly, and then they figured out he had to go on the DL.  He’s a great pitcher, so if he gets better and picks it up, he’ll help the team a lot in the second half.  But until then, he’s left much to be desired.

Hideki Okajima: C+

Same story.  He wasn’t that great, turned out he was hurting, he went on the DL, he came off the DL, and he still wasn’t that great.  I think it’s safe to say that the league has figured him out.  I don’t think we’ll see the dominance he exhibited when he first came over any time soon.  Back then his delivery, where he turns his head, was very disorienting.  It was a novelty.  Now that everyone’s seen it and got used to it, it doesn’t have the same effect anymore.  He’s still got stuff, but he needs to work on his precision.

Ramon Ramirez: B

His story is similar, plus a little better performance.  He just hasn’t been that great.

Dustin Richardson: B

He was called up to add some depth to the bullpen and to compensate for some injuries.  He’s done a fairly decent job.  He’s still a kid, so you can’t fault him for inexperience.

Robert Manuel: B

Same thing.  He was called up even more recently and has done what he can to help out in the ‘pen.  Given the circumstances of his and Richardson’s callups, they’ve both done admirably.

Daniel Bard: A

What can I say? He’s the ultimate setup man because he was built to close.  His fastball is on fire.  His ERA is under two.  His WHIP is under one.  He’s got three saves and nineteen holds.  It’s easy to forget sometimes that he’s still just a kid and has a long way to go yet, but he’s halfway there already.

Jonathan Papelbon: B+

His ERA at 3.50 is astronomically high for a closer.  There’s absolutely no disputing that fact.  His WHIP of 1.11 isn’t great for a closer either.  Especially not one of his caliber.  Nevertheless, he’s pitched thirty-six innings and converted twenty saves while only blowing three.  Of course, those three blown saves were blown pretty badly, but at least he’s only blown three.  His improvement since last year has been good.  He’s expanded his repertoire and worked on his delivery.  So despite his ERA, he’s still a fantastic closer.

Terry Francona: A

Terry Francona should be the Manager of the Year.  He’s a wizard.  It takes profound managerial skill to manage your club while eleven guys from the forty-man roster are on the disabled list, eight of whom are regular players and five of whom are starters.  He’s a genius.  He has such intuition for the game.  I’m not even sure how he’s been able to guide us through this, but it absolutely is a testament to his ability.  He’s the best there is.  This episode of injuries proves it.

Theo Epstein: A

I say, “In Theo we trust,” all the time for a reason.  In this post alone, that right there was the fourth time.  It’s because it’s true.  After April and before everyone landed on the DL, the run prevention game he’d planned showed that it was working.  In fact, it was working so well that, despite the awful April we had, we were about to steal first place away from New York. The man knows what he’s doing.  And there are also the previously mentioned examples of Beltre, Lester, and Buchholz.  He’ll get us there.

The Boston Red Sox Overall: B

The team overall gets a B because, even though most individual players received As, the team overall hasn’t been performing as well as the abilities of its individual members would suggest.  This is the direct result of two things: April and injuries.  Our April, for whatever reason, was disgusting.  We played like minor leaguers and dug ourselves into a hole that we spent the entire first half trying to get out of without succeeding.  The starting pitchers, most notably Lester and Beckett, were terrible in April, as was essentially the entire offense, which didn’t do much of anything at all that month.  But after we exited the month of April, we played like everyone expected us to play when the season started.  Our starters started dominating, our hitters started hitting, and our run prevention game started working.  We looked like a team that will go all the way.  We even put ourselves into position to seize the entire division.  Then all of the injuries to many key people happened all at once, and it’s a testament to the team’s gritty attitude, resilience, and never-say-die determination that we are where we are in spite of that.  The fact that we’re five games out of first and three games out of second after a first half with an abysmal first month and injuries to three of our most important starting bats, which is a third of the entire lineup, and two of our most important pitchers, one of whom hasn’t really been out significantly but the other of whom has been out since said abysmal April when we originally expected him to be as dominant as ever only confirms the fact that we have what it takes to win the World Series.  Because if we’ve come this far with the B team, just imagine what we can do with a healthy A team.  We’d be so good, it’s not even funny.  So we have a lot to look forward to in this second half.  There’s still a lot of baseball to be played, and I have a feeling that we’ll play it very well.  Get psyched.  It’s about to be on.

Boston Globe Staff/Yoon S. Byun

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History was made last night, folks.  Not only did Wake have himself a fantastic outing, but that fantastic outing lasted seven innings plus one out, which means that he’s pitched 2,777 innings in his career.  One more than Roger Clemens.  Ladies and gentlemen, with that dancing knuckleball of his, Tim Wakefield has pitched more innings than any other Red Sox pitcher in club history!

That’s a lot of innings.  A lot of good, a lot of bad, and a lot of ugly.  But overall, a lot of consistency, a lot of valiance, and a lot of win.  Remember when he came over here, back in 1995? Here’s to you, Wake, for all of those innings and many more! Thanks to V-Mart, who told him to throw the ball to the dugout at inning number 2,776 and one-third, he’s got a memento.  The victim? Russell Branyan on a strikeout.  The funny thing is that, in classic Wake fashion, he had no idea what was going on until after he finished.  Next stop: the top of our all-time wins list; he needs fifteen more to tie Clemens and Cy Young for the record.

Thankfully, he was masterful, so this is an occasion he’ll want to remember.  He gave up only one earned run on four hits in that time via a solo shot.  He didn’t walk anyone and struck out six.  All but one of those strikeouts were swinging.  That’s what the knuckleball does; it keeps you guessing.  And we can thank John Farrell in part for that, who helped Wake with his mechanics and timing to get him back on track.  74 of his 105 pitches were strikes; his fastball and breaking ball were excellent as usual and he threw every single one of his curveballs safely in the zone.  His knuckleball was dancing all over the place.  It was great.  He needed a high of twenty-two pitches in the first, but he finished off the fifth inning with only six pitches! His strike zone was packed; almost everything he threw was in there.  What else can I say? It was an excellent, record-breaking start.  He’s put in a lot of work here over the years, so nobody deserves this more than him.  He’s certainly earned it.  Congratulations!

Wake did give up an unearned run, thanks to Cameron’s unsuccessful diving catch and Beltre’s fielding error.  Cameron would later redeem himself with a nice running catch in the sixth.

Between Okajima, Ramirez, and Bard, the bullpen pitched the rest of the game almost perfectly, with no hits and only one walk.  Okajima and Ramirez each got holds; Bard, providing a glimpse into the future, got the save.  When asked if setting up is really that different from closing, Bard made an important comment:

The game is on the line, but it’s on the line in the seventh and eighth, too. Once swing of the bat can end it. Every pitch matters.

We don’t usually consider the setup man with the same degree of awe and importance that we reserve for closers, but Bard is absolutely right.  A close game may be just as close in the ninth as it is in the seventh and eighth, and an earlier inning may be even more crucial than the last depending on what part of the lineup we’ll be facing when.  Having a future closer as a setup man is a luxury that few teams can enjoy, but it’s a luxury that’s become pretty important for our success.

With two out and none on in the fourth, V-Mart hit a routine fly ball to center field.  Crowe dropped the ball, both literally and figuratively, and V-Mart wound up at second base.  Youk followed that with a double off the left field wall to score him.  Papi stroked a single to score him.  And Hall hit a double to score him.  So all three of the runs we scored were unearned.  But they’re still runs, and we still won.  Let that be a lesson to fielders everywhere: errors lose ballgames.  Just ask Julio Lugo.

Beltre went two for four with a double.  Youk went three for four.  The final score was 3-2.

I have to say, it feels good having Wake on top of that list.  He really earned this one.  This is his fifteenth season with us; he’s a durable, unique pitcher, and the club just wouldn’t be the same without him.  What’s amazing is that clearly, he’s still got it.  He’s baseball’s own Benjamin Button.  He teaches the rookies and learns from the veterans.  Again, here’s to you, Wake! Meanwhile, we’re the sole owners of fourth place.  We’re four games out of first and two out of second.  We’ll look to reduce that tonight by taking on an old friend; Justin Masterson will take the hill for Cleveland opposite Buchholz.  This should be interesting.

Boston Globe Staff/John Tlumacki

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Wow.  Okay.  Where do I start? The beginning.  Sometimes the end result isn’t nearly as significant as the road to get there.  Then again, sometimes they’re equally significant but you have to start from the beginning anyway because if you don’t you’ll just jump right to the good part and the whole discussion will be a mess.

The most important thing to keep in mind here is that this win was tremendous.  It was tremendous because it was a win and we needed a win for the standings and for our morale.  But it was also tremendous because this win required a relentless, night-long effort.  We couldn’t have afforded to give up even once, even for a second.  And we didn’t.  And it paid off.  We ground it out and were rewarded for our efforts.  (Just like we would’ve been for the previous two nights as well had the bullpen not completely ruined everything, but that’s not the point.) The spirit of this win reveals a very valuable quality embodied by this team: the spirit of never say die.  This team absolutely refuses to let go.  We may be off to our worst start of the decade this season, but nobody can say we haven’t been trying to dig ourselves out.  I like the fight of this team.  This win shows that, when we dig ourselves out of this hole, we are going to be one seriously difficult team to beat.

Now down to business.

So.  Beckett.  Beckett wasn’t good.  He left after recording two outs in the fifth.  He allowed five runs on five hits, only three of which were earned, and you can thank Marco Scutaro, who channeled Julio Lugo’s spirit, and his two fielding errors for the two unearned runs.  The first one was just a complete miss of a sure-fire double play that probably would’ve saved a few important runs.  The ball never got off the ground.  The second occurred in the ninth, which we’ll talk about later.

Beckett walked three and struck out one.  He allowed a solo shot in the fourth.  He threw mostly two-seams and a fair amount of changeups with some cutters, curveballs, and four-seams thrown in.  His cutter and four-seam were his most effective pitches; the rest of his pitches weren’t thrown for strikes very often.  Indeed, he fired 101 pitches and almost an equal number of balls and strikes.  He threw at least fourteen pitches in each of his innings; that minimum was good enough to get out of the first, which was his only one-two-three inning as well as his most effective.  Everything pretty much went downhill from there.  He fired a game high of twenty-seven in fifth before he left, or in other words, in an inning he didn’t even complete.

His strike zone was very clearly shifted downward.   By that I mean that he did throw in a concentrated area, but that area extended downward beyond the strike zone and ignored the top of it.  The amount of balls he threw down and to the sides in the bottom half of the zone were concentrated enough that it actually looks like he somehow redefined the zone for himself to include those areas.  That would explain the three walks in almost five innings as well as the low strike rate of most of his pitches.  Also, he just didn’t throw as hard as we know he can.  He barely topped out at ninety-three miles per hour even though we’re all well aware of the fact that he can easily throw at least ninety-five.

Fortunately, we may have an answer as to why Beckett’s been funky lately.  He left the game with back tightness.  He missed his previous start with back spasms.  Coincidence? I think not.  I also don’t think the weather helped any.  The weather was terrible.  It was raining, it was windy, and it was just a raw day.  The mound was disgusting.  The start of the game was delayed by about an hour.  But I hope this isn’t a repeat of a few years ago when his back made him awful for the entire year.  Here’s a man who needs to thank the bullpen profusely for pulling him through.

Meanwhile, after Beckett left, as a pathetic last-ditch effort, Joe Girardi declared that the Yankees would continue to play under protest, claiming that Beckett wasn’t really injured and that we called the bullpen before we removed him.  But because Beckett obviously was injured, walking off the mound with assistant trainer Greg Barajas, the umpires game Delcarmen as much time as he needed to get loose.  Girardi was annoyed that Delcarmen got all the time he needed instead of the usual eight pitches allowed.  If you ask me, he’s just whining.  Girardi knew the mound was bad because Sabathia had it fixed when he went out there.

Delcarmen finished the fifth and recorded an out in the sixth, somehow working around three walks.  Okajima picked up a hit and a walk while striking out two.  Bard recorded the last out of the eighth and ended up with the win.

The offense didn’t kick in until the sixth inning, after which point, with the exception of the bottom of the ninth, we owned and proceeded to claw our way out of a five-run deficit.  Youk started it off right with a home run to left field.  Coming into the game, Youk was batting .381 against Sabathia and now has a homer against him to his credit.  Fastball down and in and it was out.

But we really took off in the eighth, when we scored four runs against Joba Chamberlain.  Scutaro reached on A-Rod’s throwing error and scored on Drew’s opposite-field double.  Youk tapped a bloop single with the middle of his bat to right that scored two.  That brought us within a run, and Papi tied it with a powerful RBI single on a slider off the wall in right-center field.  The ball was hit so hard and looked so much like a home run that Papi essentially pulled a Manny Ramirez and watched it go.  That hesitation was what caused him to be out at second; had he hustled from the plate immediately, he would’ve had second easily.  Pedroia did tell him not to stretch it, but did he listen? No.  He learned a lesson for next time.

But let’s concentrate on the fact that he got a hit with runners on base against Sabathia, because Papi and Sabathia are both lefties and, as a result, Papi traditionally would’ve sat out.  The fact that he started the game at DH tells you that his bat is just on fire and Tito trusted him to get the job done against a tough southpaw.  Tito turned out to be right, as he often is.  Sabathia has been tougher on righties lately, and Papi in the past has been able to read him well.  So as if you needed even more proof that Papi is his old self again, that was it.  But that has obvious implications for Mike Lowell, who expressed ample frustration before the game to the media about his lack of playing time and had an animated conversation with Tito in the dugout probably concerning that as well.  Lowell explicitly stated that there’s no place for him on this team anymore, that because he’s not playing, he’s just taking up a roster spot that could be filled by someone else, and that maybe the team would be better off without him.  If you ask me, I think that, at this point, it’s him who’d be better off without the team.  Let’s face it: Lowell was guaranteed a spot in the lineup opposite every lefty we faced, but only as long as Papi was slumping.  Now, Papi is no longer slumping, and Cameron and Ellsbury very close to coming off the DL.  Once they return, the reserves that have been replacing them will need playing time, which could come in the form of DH if Papi slumps in the future.  Lowell, ever the classy guy, was careful to emphasize that he’d never root against Papi, which I appreciated.  But it’s a very difficult situation.  Tito is obviously also very frustrated; if he gets through this, he should definitely be up for manager of the year or something.  We just need to find a solution that would benefit both the club and the player; I think Lowell’s name will end up coming up around the trading deadline if nothing ground-breaking affects the situation before then.  The problem, of course, is that he’s still an offensive threat, and because he can’t play defense, he’ll have to DH, which means we’ll have to deal with his bat in an American League lineup.  But such is life in baseball.  I think he’s handling the situation as best as anyone could, and I applaud him for that.  I don’t doubt that something will be worked out soon.

Returning to the action, we’re now at the top of the ninth.  With the game tied and very much on the line, Mariano Rivera came on.  With one out, McDonald singled.  Scutaro reached base when Thames couldn’t catch your average fly.  Now, Drew tweaked his right hamstring in the previous inning, so he left (he’s sure he’ll be able to start tonight, though) in favor of Hermida.  Hermida proceeded to crush a cutter that stayed over the plate for an opposite-field, line-drive, hard-hit double over Winn’s head that scored two to give us a lead.  A lead we would not, in fact, relinquish.  Believe it or not, that’s quietly been business as usual for Hermida, who leads the league with seventeen RBIs with two outs.  What did Drew have to say?

I told those guys I’m a smart kind of player like that.  I take myself out just in time for Hermida to hit a big double like that.  It worked out ultimately for the best.

Thank you for the quip, sir! The truth of the matter is that Chamberlain and Rivera were both terrible.  Fortunately, that seems to be the theme against us.  Speaking of closers, we now come to the bottom of the ninth, which I hereby entitle Papelbon’s Redemption.  It was a save, but it was by no means a clean one.  I’m a big fan of his competitive spirit; he was chomping at the bit for another chance to get that ball, go out there, and prove himself:

I was hoping all night long that I’d get another chance tonight.  I just want to show my team it’s a heavyweight title fight.  You might get one good blow on me, but you ain’t going to knock me out. I just wanted to prove that to my teammates tonight.

But he induced Nation-wide breath-holding in the process.  It took him twenty-eight pitches to barely escape, and he didn’t exactly escape unscathed.  A-Rod scored on a double by Cano.  But with runners at the corners, Miranda hit a one-hop single up the middle.  Paps nabbed it, checked A-Rod at third, and fired to first for out number two.  Then, he finally struck out Winn on eight pitches to seal the deal by pitch and by glove.  The final score was 7-6 and, ladies and gentlemen, it was in our favor!

Besides Lowell’s frustration, the other controversial side story was the fact that Dice-K and V-Mart just did not agree on Monday night, and V-Mart was frustrated because was trying to guide Dice-K and help him out, but like he said, ultimately Dice-K is the one with the ball, so he has the last word.  Dice-K shook him off numerous times, and both of them were miffed afterwards.  Before last night’s epic battle, Tito sat down with them to try to talk things out.  As Tito said, the shaking-off itself wasn’t so much the issue because if a pitcher feels that a certain pitch is right and should be thrown, if he throws it with confidence and locates it properly, it’ll probably be effective even if it’s not what the catcher called for.  It’s interesting to note that the one good start that Dice-K has had this season, the only one without a noticeably abysmal inning, was caught by Tek.  Whatever Tito decides to do about it, I think something central will be off-field as well as on-field work between them.  They have the potential to be a good battery and we need V-Mart’s bat in there so he can heat up properly, so the sooner they work it out, the better.

I would also like to point out that, if the team were winning and doing really well, neither Lowell nor V-Mart would’ve expressed as much frustration as they did or in the explicit manner in which they did.  Because when the team is winning, the attitude is that everything is working and there’s obviously nothing to fix, so why fix something that’s not broken.  But with the team losing and morale taking a hit, side conflicts like this fester and come to the surface.  Of course, we can feel fortunate that, at the very least, neither of these things is going to blow up in our faces like the Manny Ramirez debacle.  Lowell is way too classy to let that happen.

So four hours and nine minutes after starting the game an hour late, we got ourselves a win! It was really an incredible show of spirit and determination.  What a game.  It was like all of a sudden we decided that we just weren’t going to lose it.  We just weren’t.  So we won it instead.  Really incredible stuff.  Those types of wins do a lot to lift a clubhouse.

We’re now back at .500, eight and a half games out of first and five and a half games out of second, occupied by New York.  Our record is twenty and twenty.  But like I’ve been saying all along, we need to start somewhere, and this tough schedule may be just the ticket to bring out that spark that may have been missing up to this point.  Tonight Buchholz confronts Baker and the Twins at home.  Yet another series it would behoove us to start on the right foot.

AP Photo

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So, what, we’re bipolar now? One series we sweep, and the next series we’re swept? I don’t get it.  Especially because the team that just swept us is Baltimore.  No, I’m serious.  We were just swept by the Baltimore Orioles for the first time since September 2, 3, and 4, 1974.  This is the first time since 1943 that six of our first twenty-five contests have gone into extras.  It doesn’t get much lower than that, folks.

And now, the usual commiseration.

Beckett was finally outstanding.  Finally.  Seven innings of two-run ball; he allowed six hits but no walks and six strikeouts.  Ladies and gentlemen, Josh Beckett has finally arrived! Thankfully, he didn’t take the loss.  We’ll get to that later, and with the proper amount of fury, I assure you.

Beckett was awesome.  He threw 105 pitches and basically did everything right.  He topped out at about ninety-five miles per hour.  He threw all of his pitches effectively, especially his two-seam, only two of which weren’t called strikes.  His most effective inning was the third, when seventy-five percent of his pitches were strikes.  Most of the balls he did throw were around the upper left corner of the zone; he stayed away from the lower left and upper right corners, so most of his strikes distributed themselves diagonally through the zone there.  His fastest pitches didn’t have a lot of horizontal movement on them, but vertically they were dancing all over the place.  That’s a really long way of saying that he was on.  Period.  He was efficient.  He had command.  He mixed his pitches effectively and kept the batters guessing.  He didn’t allow any hits in the clutch; the O’s left nine on base.  He did everything that his former self in April didn’t do and more.

Bard came in in relief; his inning was not clean.  He allowed two hits and a walk before making way for Paps.  But I’ll give him this: Scott struck out on a ninety-nine mile-per-hour fastball, and it was all Reimold could do to look at his changeup go by.  The kid’s good.  He struggles, but he’s good.

Paps ruined the whole thing.  Markakis walked on a full count and moved to second on Paps’s errant pickoff attempt.  What did Paps have to say?

I just didn’t get hips around and rushed it a little bit.

Then, Wigginton hit one of his signature sliders for a walkoff double.  There’s a man who’s had a good series.  So two hits, one walk, and one run later, he walked off the mound having earned himself and the team a loss, and I don’t think I have to tell you which game against which team during which October came to mind after that.  All I’m saying is that a leaky closer isn’t something that we can afford.  Besides, when did this start at all? Paps used to be lights-out.  Last night, he let Wigginton walk up to the plate and change the bulb, so to speak.  It’s maddening, all the more so because he appears to be healthy, so there’s nothing actually wrong with him.  Which is good, but you know what I mean.  The final score was 2-3 in ten innings.  Our record is now eleven and fourteen, and we are seven games out.

Tek continues to be hot at the plate and went yard in the fifth to right field.  He loves to hit Millwood.  A high fastball, and there was no doubt about that one; he pounded it.  Four hundred and two feet later, the deficit was cut in half.  Drew continues to be hot at the plate and went yard in the seventh to center field, his third jack of the weekend.  That was it.  Drew and Pedroia both finished two for four, and Scutaro walked twice.  McDonald stole; Scutaro got caught.  Youk sat out with a sore left groin but may be put back in tonight.

We left only five on base, so not only did we not make good on our opportunities, but we didn’t even have that many opportunities to make good on.  We had one in the top of the eighth, though.  With two on and two out, Pedroia singled to left, and Bogar told Tek to go home, but he was throwing out quite a few feet from the play.  Tito later backed Bogar; I don’t know about that.  Seems like it would’ve been more correct to be conservative and hold him at third, especially since he’s not exceptionally fast.  We had one in the top of the tenth.  A good one.  But with runners on first and third, Scutaro grounded to Lugo for a double play.  Yes, The Julio Lugo.

Of course, one could argue that Millwood just had an exceptional night, but it just didn’t feel like that was the only reason why we only mustered two runs.  Part of it was Millwood, but part of it was also our fault.  We need to play better.  And not constantly go to extra innings.  And not waste stellar outings by starters.

It’s like we’re just finding ways to lose now.  We’re battling and all, but we’re not winning.  Like Pedroia said, we could’ve swept Baltimore too and had a great road trip.  But we didn’t.  What we need to do is start winning.  Leaks must be stopped in the bullpen.  Starters need to pull their own weight.  And the offense needs to start putting balls in play with runners on base.  In short, we need to start playing like the good baseball team we know we are but somehow just forgot.  And we need to remember quickly.  I didn’t exactly envision us going into our series with the Angels with absolutely no momentum whatsoever.  I mean, this is an important series after last October.  We need to show the Angels now who’s boss.  And let’s not forget who’s coming to town after that.  These are opponents we need to study and games we need to win.  With a schedule like that, there’s no room for mistakes and no room for fooling around.  Buchholz has it; hopefully he can continue his strong showing.

AP Photo

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So, we’ve had a week to recuperate from last weekend’s miserable postseason showing.  I’m not going to sugarcoat it because, quite frankly, I’m still bitter about it.  And I think Red Sox Nation will agree with me that it’s frustrating to make sure you can watch the playoffs in their entirety, only to find out that your playoffs that year consisted of three games during which the team you’d been watching for the entire season didn’t even show up.  I’m just saying.

Evidently we have some work to do, and when I say “we” I especially mean Theo Epstein.  There is a reason why we were swept in the first round.  We had a hitting issue.  If you think about it, we didn’t have a pitching issue.  Lester made a mistake with Torii Hunter on the mound, Josh Beckett had one bad frame in the seventh, and Clay Buchholz, the vindicator of the entire 2009 postseason for the Boston Red Sox, delivered an absolutely stellar performance, and Theo has confirmed his membership in the 2010 starting rotation.  But the hitting issue was glaring and significant.  Even reflecting on the regular season.  In past years, when the team slumped, we were at least able to manufacture runs through walks and small ball.  This year, when we slumped, we didn’t reach base at all.  So let’s discuss how to solve this hitting issue.

Starting with Tek.  This was a hot topic last offseason, and while it’s not going to be as hot this year, it’s going to be just as significant.  After we acquired V-Mart at the trading deadline, Tek became our backup catcher.  V-Mart would’ve had playing time no matter what, given his diversity in the field, but it was his offense that did the captain in.  Theo has confirmed that V-Mart will start next year.  The Red Sox probably won’t exercise their five-million-dollar option for next year, so it’ll be up to Tek to exercise his option, worth three million, and just accept the fact that he’s no longer a starter, which he did this year with composure and grace, teaching V-Mart everything he knows to prepare him to catch each arm.  Will Tek exercise the option? I think he will.  And I would even go so far as to say that Tek may join our coaching staff after he retires.  Meanwhile, Tek’s solid defense behind the plate makes him one of the best defensive backup catchers there is, and having him on the roster would allow V-Mart to play other positions if necessary.  And let’s not forget the fact that Tek is our captain.  And the fact that he was a good soldier this season proves yet again that he deserves that “C” on his jersey.

We need a shortstop.  There’s no getting around that.  We’ve needed a shortstop ever since Nomar wrote his one-way ticket out of town.  Jed Lowrie needs insurance for his wrist, but that insurance probably won’t come in the form of Alex Gonzalez.  He’s got a six-million-dollar club option for next year, but that’s a steep figure in this economy, and unfortunately Theo probably won’t be picking that up.  It doesn’t look like we’ll be making any blockbuster deal for a power bat at that position, so look for Theo to focus more on defense.  Which Julio Lugo made painfully clear.

We also need to resign Jason Bay.  Let me repeat that.  We need to resign Jason Bay.  He’s an excellent hitter and fielder, walks more than most in the American League, and, oh, by the way, he hustles and he’s drama-free.  To be honest, it’s either him or Matt Holliday, but he’s been here, he’s used to this city, and he’s put up great numbers.

Oh, and we need David Ortiz to be a force again.  None of this one-home-run-in-his-first-forty-plus-at-bats business.  That won’t fly.  We need Big Papi back.  A big part of that will be monitoring his off-season program.

Mike Lowell’s situation is a bit tricky.  Tito expects him to be healthier than ever next year, and indeed he showed flashes of brilliance in the field in Anaheim.  But that’s just it.  We were in Anaheim, where the weather was warm and stable.  In Boston, it’s either hot or cold.  I’m not necessarily saying that we should get rid of Mike Lowell because I think he’s valuable to our club, both as a third baseman and perhaps as a DH when Ortiz gets the day off.  I’m just saying that we need to watch him closely.  Very, very closely.

Even though our pitching was definitely a strong point this season, there are some interesting discussions on that end, too.  Theo is insisting that Dice-K adequately prepare himself for Spring Training this year.  I couldn’t agree more.  And I will be furious if he’s a World Baseball Classic ace at Boston’s expense.

Wakefield had surgery on his back a few days ago to correct a loose fragment in his back that’s been bothering him since July.  It’s been significant; he’s had trouble walking because of weakness in his left leg.  But the surgery has minimal recovery time, so barring any complications, expect him to show up on time for Spring Training.

Billy Wagner’s agent says that he wants to pitch next season, and why not? Dude’s still got it.  The Red Sox agreed not to pick up his option for next season, so he’ll be testing the waters, but he says his family is his top priority.

Sooner or later, we have to start restoring our faith in Papelbon.  I personally am not completely ready to do that yet.  In a broad sense, it’s the lineup’s fault that we’re sitting on our laurels right now with nothing to do, baseball-wise, for the rest of October, but Papelbon just rubbed salt in the wound.  If you’re one pitch away multiple times, there’s no reason to not record the out already.  But I digress.  The point is, he’s still our closer, and he’s obviously shaken.  At some point this winter, we’ll have to remember the fact that he’s got some of the best stuff in the Majors and that he’s one of the elite closers in the game.  Even if he did ultimately play an integral part in our postseason downfall.  On a related note, I think it’s safe to say that the eighth inning has “Daniel Bard” written all over it.

But after all is said and done, I think one of the absolutely most important roles we need to fill this offseason is that of Kevin Millar.  He was the essence of the 2004 World Series champion Boston Red Sox.  He exuded a winning spirit, kept the clubhouse loose, and helped take the team to the top.  Right now, Dustin Pedroia is the emotional leader of this team, but after this year’s ALDS I think it’s safe to say that he needs some help.  Someone to spark the squad when the going gets tough and the tough need to hit.  Someone, ironically and unfortunately, like Torii Hunter.

All of that is to say that our front office has its hands full.  It’s not like last year where we barely didn’t make it.  This year we didn’t make it by a mile.  Something must be done.  I’ll leave it to Theo to ultimately decide what, who, when, and how, but I think we have effectively established the why.  The only thing we as fans can do now is look forward to 2010.  Meanwhile, the Bruins are 3-4-0 in the first seven games of the season.  We’re in third place in our division.  We’ve had some very spotty play, so I’m looking forward to some improvements.

The Future Blog of the Boston Red Sox

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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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