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Posts Tagged ‘Rich Harden’

What a rout! Where were all these runs on Friday? If we took half our runs from yesterday and moved them to Friday, we still would have won both games.

Lester totally cruised.  Yeah, he’s fine.  Eight innings, two runs on four hits, one walk, eight strikeouts.  Ninety-eight pitches, sixty-six of which were strikes.  Those two runs he allowed were the result of two solo shots, one in the seventh and one in the eighth, both with one out in each inning, both to left center field.  The first on a fastball, the second on a changeup.  So basically what that means is he made two mistakes during his entire outing.

He faced the minimum in five of his eight innings.  In the second, he gave up a double; in the seventh, he gave up his first homer and his lone walk; in the eighth, he gave up his second homer.  That was it.  That was the extent to which he encountered any jams whatsoever.  As you can see, at no point was he made to feel truly threatened that a rally might be coming if he made a mistake.  (A huge part of why that was true was our run production, which we’ll obviously get to.)

Let’s take a look at his strikeouts.  Anytime a pitcher posts a high strikeout total in one of his outings, it’s fun to break them down because it gives you a sense of the dominance he displayed.

Lester struck out the first batter he faced on four pitches, ending in a curveball.  He struck out the second batter he faced using a fastball that the batter didn’t even attempt to hit.  In the second, again four pitches ending in a curveball.  In the third, fastball, fastball, cutter; done.  In the fourth, sinker, cutter, fastball; done.  In the fifth, one ending in a cutter and the other in a fastball.    In the seventh, cutter, curveball, fastball; done.  That makes the sixth and eighth the only innings during which he did not record a strikeout, but he averaged one strikeout per inning.

Let’s talk about his pitches.  Quite simply, they were nasty.  He threw an unhittable cut fastball and a punishing sinker.  His only pitches that weren’t stellar were his curveball and changeup, but he didn’t throw many of them overall so his line didn’t reflect that.  Twice, during the third and fourth, he finished innings with seven pitches alone.  He threw at most eighteen pitches; that was in the seventh.  Let me just repeat this because it’s remarkable: he finished eight full innings having thrown less than one hundred pitches.  He executed and located literally almost all of them in all counts against all batters in all parts of the zone.  And as Lester said himself, Salty did a great job of maintaining a potent and deceptive mix.  If the only thing wrong with him last night was that he made two mistakes on some cut fastballs and his curveball and changeup weren’t up to their usual snuff, I’d say he pitched a downright gem.

He got the win, and Wheeler pitched a scoreless ninth in an epically non-save situation, being that we won, 10-2 and all.

It’s hard to believe from looking at that score that the game was actually locked in a scoreless tie until the fifth inning.  That means that we spent almost half the game going up and going down pathetically like we did on Friday, and you were thinking there’s no way this could possibly be happening to a lineup like this two nights in a row.  Maybe you were thinking that in April, but not now.  And you’d be absolutely right.

We put up a four-spot in the fifth just to get loose, because trust me, there was much more to come.  Crawford singled to lead off the inning; he stole second and scored on a double by Salty.  Reddick singled and moved Salty to third, and he scored on a sac fly by Scutaro.  Ellsbury singled, stole second, and moved to third on a sac fly by Pedroia that scored Reddick.  Gonzalez took an intentional walk, and Youk singled in Ellsbury.  Papi grounded out to end the inning.  That entire inning was a textbook example of what it means to manufacture runs.  The team to that point was not producing, which is unusual on a night when Lester pitches because Lester has the most run support of any other pitcher on our whole staff.  So you force opportunities and do whatever it takes to get runners across the plate.  And that’s what we did.

Our next threat came in the seventh, but we did nothing with it.  We made up for it in the eighth.  We scored only one run that inning, but it was a remarkable run.  With two out and a full count, Reddick walked.  He saw five fastballs before a changeup sent him to first base.  Scutaro singled, and Reddick actually scored all the way from first.  Nobody made an error; it was an earned run.  The reason why he was able to score was because Alex Rios decided to stroll over to Scutaro’s ball in right.  That’s what it looked like.  He just took his own sweet time about getting to that ball.  By the time he realized that his lackadaisical attitude had prompted Tim Bogar to send Reddick home, he fired to the infield but the throw was cut off by Gordon Beckham, who bobbled it anyway.  That would never happen in Boston.  I can’t even believe you’d see that anywhere in the Major Leagues.  Well, that’s what they get for not hustling in the field.

At that point, we were up by three but still refused to back down.  We put up a five spot in the ninth.  Pedroia singled to lead off the inning, and Gonzalez homered on a fastball.  The count was 2-1, and the shot was hard and fast to right field.  Whenever Gonzalez hits anything, he just makes it look so easy.  Then Youk went back-to-back on his ninth pitch in a full count.  It was also a fastball, but he shot it high to left.  It was massive.  Papi flied out for the first out of the inning.  Crawford singled and scored on a double by Salty.  Reddick popped out.  Scutaro then singled; Beckham dove for it, but it bounced off his glove into center field, so Salty scored.  Then Ellsbury struck out.  The end.

This is how a team should play every day.  A team should always manufacture runs and maximize chances because you never know what the rest of the game has in store.  In this case, we scored so many runs and our pitcher overwhelmed the lineup to such an extent that it didn’t matter how many defensive plays Brent Morel had up his sleeve.  It was awesome.

In other news, as expected, Theo did not try to fix what isn’t broken just because of the trade deadline.  We traded Navarro for Mike Aviles of the Royals; he’ll be an experienced bench player.  Theo was also going to trade Lars Anderson for Rich Harden of the A’s, who would obviously add depth to a rotation with sometimes questionable health and ability.  It would be tough to part with Anderson, but since acquiring Gonzalez and signing him to a long contract that he seems amply able to earn, it didn’t seem like we had much room for him anytime soon.  But the deal ended up falling through, apparently because we were unsatisfied with Harden’s medical records and were not certain he could be depended on to get through the rest of the season healthy.  And if that’s true, that makes a lot of sense, considering the reason why we’d want to add a starter to our roster is because the health of our rotation is sometimes in question.  All around, I’d congratulate Theo on a trade deadline well, or rather not, spent.

AP Photo
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Finally, it starts to get interesting.

Pitching is Theo’s top priority at the Winter Meetings.  It looks like we’re shifting our focus from Roy Halladay to John Lackey.  That’s very good news.  I don’t want to give up both Clay Buchholz and Casey Kelly for a pitcher who is, in all likelihood, past his prime.  Yes, it’s possible he could be another Randy Johnson, who won four straight Cy Youngs after turning thirty-five, or Curt Schilling, who was a Cy Young runner-up three times after turning thirty-three.  But it’s also possible that he just won’t deliver or that he’ll become a medical liability or, worse yet, the dreaded combination of both.  (See Randy Johnson in pinstripes.  Talk about disasters.) And if you compare the two, Roy Halladay doesn’t even enjoy a complete edge in the numbers.  In his career, he started and won more games, struck out more batters, and had a lower ERA, OPP AVG, and WHIP.  But Lackey’s gone the distance more often (which translates to durability, one of Lackey’s strongest assets) and has allowed fewer earned runs, home runs, bases on balls, and hit batters.  And we land Lackey this offseason, it would be through a signing, not a trade, so we wouldn’t have to mortgage our future.  Besides, we theoretically have some money left over from our decision to not pick up Alex Gonzalez’s option.

Supposedly, we’re also seriously pursuing Rich Harden.  I like that less.  He’s got a 3.39 career ERA with 783 strikeouts and a record of fifty and twenty-nine, but he’s never thrown two hundred innings in a season and has only made more than twenty-six starts once.  Durability? Not so much.  But he’d be a good bargain option, arguably a better one than Smoltz or Penny, because he’s pitched in the American League.

Speaking of pitching, the Braves cleaned out two of our peripheral relievers.  Wagner signed a one-year deal worth seven million dollars to close for them.  I would’ve liked to see him come back to Boston, but he did give us fair warning that he wanted to close, and we don’t exactly have a vacancy in that position.  One day later, the Braves signed Saito also, to a one year deal worth just over three million plus incentives.  I’m not too torn up about it.

Say hello to the latest shortstop to don a Boston uniform: Marco Scutaro.  If I sound cynical, it’s because I am.  He’s wearing Number 16; the last Boston shortstop to wear Number 16 was Edgar Renteria, so here’s hoping this time around will work out a little bit better.  Let’s not kid ourselves: he’s a veteran.  He’s a career .265 hitter with fifty home runs, 294 RBIs, and 297 walks to his credit.  But he’s thirty-four years old.  There’s a reason why the deal was only for two years.  It’s worth eleven million dollars plus a dual option.  Things that made this possible: the draft pick we’re getting from the Braves that will offset the one we have to give to the Jays, another undisclosed team pushing hard for Scutaro that forced the issue, and Scurato has reached that point in his career when he really wants a ring.  (Ironically, Alex Gonzalez signed a one-year deal with the Jays earlier, worth close to three million plus an option.) Either way, we now have a shortstop who is not Dustin Pedroia.

That needs to be cleared up once and for all.  Dustin Pedroia said he would be willing to play shortstop if the team needed him to.  But the team wasn’t about to let that happen.  Trust me.  You don’t move a Gold Glove second baseman to short because you don’t want to spend some money.  You don’t do that for a number of reasons.  Not the least of which is the fact that it doesn’t solve anything.  Fine; you move your second baseman to short.  Now you need a second baseman.  Sure, the market for second basemen is more fluid than that for shortstops, but not when you’re talking about second basemen as good as Dustin Pedroia.  Also, the caliber of Pedroia’s defense at short would be comparable to, if not worse than, any career shortstop on the market, with the obvious exception of Julio Lugo.  Thirdly, shortstop is no defensive walk in the park.  It’s the most difficult infield position.  And that means it carries a higher probability of injury, especially for someone who’s not used to it.  So we would have lost valuable playing time from him, both in the field and at the plate, had he made the switch.  Would he have been capable of doing so? Absolutely.  If anyone could, Dustin Pedroia could.  If there’s one ballplayer who embodies the don’t-tell-me-I-can’t-‘cause-I’ll-show-you-I-can attitude, it’s him.  Not to mention the fact that in 2003 he was the NCAA National Defensive Player of the Year at short.  And he’s actually in a better position to play shortstop at the Major League level now than he was when he first came up, due to his offseason workouts and in-season conditioning that have made him lighter and faster.  But even though he’d use his baseball acumen to compensate, his range would leave much to be desired.  And sometimes, in pressure situations in that part of the field, the range of the shortstop is what it comes down to.  It would have put considerable pressure on Mike Lowell to improve his range as compensation, that’s for sure.  So while I’m not doubting Pedroia’s ability to make the switch, I don’t think it would be a good for him or the team in the long run.  The team wasn’t actually serious about that possibility anyway.  Ultimately, Theo never would have allowed it.  Thankfully, it’s a moot point now either way.

But that would explain our earlier interest in Placido Polanco.  After the Tigers declined to offer him arbitration, we made a call or two.  But like I said, we don’t need a second baseman, and even if we did, he was all but off-limits.  The Phillies have since closed the deal.  So much for Chone Figgins, who ended up signing a four-year deal with Seattle.

Last but not least, we extended arbitration to Bay earlier this week.  (We declined offers to Baldelli and Byrd.) That means that, even if he signs with someone else, we get compensatory draft picks.  So the saga continues.

Congratulations to Joe Castiglione, Dave O’Brien, and Jerry Remy for landing on the ballot for the Hall of Fame’s Frick Award, honoring the baseball’s best announcers.  They definitely deserve it.

We beat the Lightning and the Leafs.  Not so much the Habs.  We lost, 1-5, to Montreal.  Ugh.  That was just an awful game to watch.  Even with that loss, though, we’re in first place in the Northeast! Finally! One point ahead of the Sabres, but I’ll take it.  But the most significant B’s news this week has nothing to do with wins and losses.  Marc Savard signed a seven-year extension.  Ladies and gentlemen, that could very well be the highlight of the regular season.  It’s going to have a hugely positive impact it’s going to have on our future.  There is arguably no other center in the league who is as multi-faceted and deeply talented as Marc Savard.  Things aren’t as cheerful on the football front.  Talk about awful games to watch.  The Saints defeated us, 38-17.  Yeah.  Awful.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Again with the close calls; sheesh! I see the Red Sox play the Rays, and I know they’re better than that, and Red Sox Nation knows they’re better than that, but it looks like they themselves don’t know they’re better than that. It’s been said that 2008’s Sox are better than 2007’s. Our winning percentage reflects that, as we’re more or less on par with our winning percentage this time last year. But we need to adjust. If we have to step it up in ’08 to achieve dominance, then we’d better, and now is the time to do it. After last night’s loss, and another close one at that, we’re 2.5 games out of first. We can get it back, no doubt, but it would still be nice to give the Rays a sound Boston beating.

Wakefield was his usual self at the Trop, pitching seven innings and allowing one earned run on five hits, walking three and striking out four. Hansen allowed the third run, and Delcarmen was perfect. So all in all, the usual solid effort from Boston pitching. Too bad the offense didn’t do much to help the cause. Drew batted Ellsbury in from third for the one Boston run. How did he end up at third? It’s actually a very funny story. Ellsbury tapped the ball to the infield, Navarro picked it up and threw high to first base. The ball rolled all the way to the backstop, and before Tampa Bay knew what was up Ellsbury was at third. Drew with the sac fly. On the bright side, the run was scored in true Boston dirt dog fashion. Both Tampa Bay and Boston had six hits. The Rays committed three errors, while the Red Sox only committed one, and Lugo had nothing to do with it. No, seriously.

Red Sox Nation does have something to celebrate, though. The Yankees are now 7.5 games out! They just keep burying themselves in their own weaknesses. This is something that will make me realize that no matter what happens, we’ll never be as bad as the Yankees. It’s great, isn’t it?

Hideki Okajima could be on the block. Last season, he posted an impressive 2.22 ERA over 66 relief appearances with five saves. This season, he’s posting a 3.15 ERA over 34 relief appearances while converting only one of seven save opportunities. He blew the other six. Brian Fuentes of the Rockies, Joe Borowski of the Indians, and George Sherrill and Chad Bradford of the Orioles are possibilities. Less likely but still possible are Scott Schoeneweis of the Mets, Kevin Gregg of the Marlins, and Damaso Marte of the Pirates. At first, when I heard that Okie might be traded I thought it was too rash of an action. But let’s look at the facts: we’re almost halfway through the season, Okajima’s had plenty of rest, and he hasn’t shown any improvement. It’s becoming more likely by the blown save that last year’s phenomenal performance was a fluke. Because the Red Sox are currently teetering on the brink of domination right now, it could potentially become urgent that we get ourselves a reliable set-up man. But the front office should also be wary of another Eric Gagne debacle, because that was a total and complete disaster. We might also be looking to add a fifth starter, possibly the likes of CC Sabathia (the dude who basically stole Josh Beckett’s Cy Young), Roy Oswalt, or Rich Harden. All you can do is trust in Theo. He’s a genius, no question. Sometimes he makes mistakes, like the Gagne debacle, but you have to hope that he’ll learn from that and maybe put that extra bit of consideration into what would be worse, having an inconsistent and unreliable set-up man that rocked ’07 or having an inconsistent and unreliable new guy.

Jacoby Ellsbury, 7/1/2008

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What is up with it? I’ve never been able to figure it out. As the nation’s most populous state, California has five baseball teams: the A’s, the Giants, the Angels, the Dodgers, and the Padres. And all of them, at some point during any given season, are a force. At some point during any given season, all five teams mix quality offense with quality defense and give their division leaders a run for their money. And there’s usually a strong California presence in the playoffs; they’ve got some hardware to show for it. The Angels won it in 2002, preceded by the A’s in 1989, the Dodgers in 1988 and 1981, the A’s in ’72, ’73, and ’74, etcetera.

But when you actually sit down to watch the California teams play ball, and you really focus on their style, it’s impossible to see how they’re so good. They play baseball as if the outcome of the game didn’t matter. Their style is very loose and laid-back, something not uncommon to CA. But intuitively it’s counterproductive. You can’t win a World Series if play like you don’t care. Can you? Maybe in years past, but not anymore. This is the age of sabermetrics, and it’s led by people like Theo Epstein and Billy Beane, who, because of his lack of funds, isn’t that much of a threat anyway. My point is, the California style of lackadaisical ball will probably put you on top in the regular season, and it’ll be good for some October thrills and chills, but it won’t get you a ring. Not anymore.

To win a World Series, you need a front office that knows how to crunch numbers in all the right places and that has enough money to go out and get the right guys. And you need intensity. You’ve all seen “Fever Pitch,” right? The intensity that surrounds Boston baseball is what brought Curt Schilling here. It’s what keeps Josh Beckett on his toes. And sometimes it makes for painful losses, but it’s part of who we are and what we associate with a good season. Intensity is a big part of what drives a team to the top.

The Oakland A’s may be good, and the Oakland A’s may be in second place by only 2.5 games, but when the Oakland A’s beat us by five runs, it’s a bit of an insult to the way Red Sox Nation conducts its business. Historically, the A’s have been able to match us, so it’s not surprising that the end of our winning streak has come from them. But it’s not like we aren’t exasperated with that. The road hasn’t been our friend thus far this season. It’s early, sure, but this is the time to start good trends, not bad ones, and starting this road trip on a sour note isn’t that auspicious in my book. And Wake needs all the offense he can get. Well, I guess that’s what happens with Harden on the mound. What can you do? Play them as much as possible and learn their weaknesses just in case we have to face them in October.

Let’s gear up, then. Another late start tonight. Hopefully, Beckett will bring.

Tim Wakefield, 5/23/2008

Reuters

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