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Posts Tagged ‘Spring Training’

Now that Spring Training is thoroughly underway, it’s high time for a status report.

Pitchers and catchers had physicals on February 11 and their first official team workout the following day.  Naturally, Buchholz just had to strain his right hamstring about ten minutes into the first pitchers’ fielding practice of the spring, but it turned out to be minor and he was back out there that Wednesday and had proceeded to long toss by that Friday and a forty-five-pitch side session that Monday.  Lackey lost a whopping seventeen pounds and is looking lean.  Don’t expect to see fireworks right away from Breslow or Doubront, who have been assigned to a more cautious training program.  Tim Wakefield was back at camp basically tutoring Steven Wright, the knuckleball’s next generation, and as we knew they would be, Pedro Martinez and Tek are also using their veteran skill to help out.  Mike Lowell is another surprise veteran guest.  And for some bizarre reason, when Aceves started throwing live batting practice, he insisted on lobbing the ball; I don’t really know what that was about.  Needless to say, he cleaned up his act.  Nieves and Farrell didn’t seem to know what was going on either, but Farrell sure was annoyed; as were we all.

The rest of the team reported on February 14.  Look for Victorino and Ellsbury to get a lot of practice in this spring.  Fenway’s right field is probably the most formidable in all of baseball, so it’ll be good for the two of them to nail down a routine.  Also look for Farrell to exercise considerable caution with Napoli, who started defensive drills at first on February 17; his hip MRI had come back clean, so he was given the green light.  Papi is not baserunning or conditioning with the team; he’s on his own specific running program that will slowly but steadily increase in intensity.  Middlebrooks’s broken wrist is officially history, as is Drew’s fractured ankle.  We acquired Mike Carp from Seattle for either a player to be named later or cash considerations.

We played our first exhibition on January 21; it was a double-header, first against Northeastern and then against Boston College, and we won, 3-0 and 11-1.  Only the relievers pitched; each got one inning, and Hanrahan debuted, successfully getting around two baserunners.  The regulars batted in the first game, while the minor leaguers got a turn in the second.

Grapefruit League play officially began on Saturday against the Rays.  We lost by one, and Lackey pitched only one inning, giving up a walk, a hit, a strikeout, and a run, but he looked pretty comfortable.  We played the Cards next, winning by two; Lester pitched two solid innings, Nava and Gomez both had multi-hit games, and Ciriaco batted in two runs.  Then we had a double-header with the Rays and Jays, splitting the day.  Aceves gave up two runs, two hits, and two walks over two innings, but Bard issued a walk and a strikeout in his scoreless inning, and Pedroia hit a solo shot.  The staff issued a solid performance in the afternoon, with a good amount of the offensive support not coming from the regulars.  Our following game against the Cards ended in the worst way: with a 15-4 loss.  Dempster pitched two solid innings, but the same can not be said of the remainder of the staff; Mortensen took the loss.  Ciriaco went two for two, and Iglesias hit a double.  We lost to Baltimore by two after that; Morales pitched his inning well, Hanrahan struck out two but walked one and allowed a run, and Tazawa was awarded a blown save as well as the loss.  Gomes hit a solo shot, and Ciriaco had himself another two hits, including a triple.  Middlebrooks had to leave the game with soreness in his wrist, but it turned out to be nothing, and he feels fine and returned.  Thank goodness, because I don’t know what we’d do if he were down for the count.  We’re not exactly deep at the corner there.  For his part, Gomes got personal with a wall and had to get stitches in his left knee as a result; this game really was not good to us.

On Thursday against the Bucs, Lackey upped the ante with two innings of work.  He gave up three runs with a walk, a strikeout, and a homer, but it seems like the more he goes out there, the more comfortable he seems.  And there’s no question about the fact that he’s throwing the ball well.  It was a 16-6 win, so the offense was also a highlight; the regulars were pretty quiet, and there were no extra-base hits, but we made a strong showing nonetheless.  It’s nice to know that the next generation can play some strong small ball.  Lester took a turn on Friday, pitching three innings of one-hit ball against the Orioles.  Pedroia went two for two and Drew hit a double en route to the win.  We eked out a victory against the Twins next; during 1.1 innings, Buchholz walked two, struck out two, and gave up one hit.  Aceves was awarded both a blown save and a win, and Sweeney went two for four.

Last but not least, we played the Evil Empire yesterday, losing, 5-2.  But hey, it’s Spring Training; the final score is never as important as the baseball being played.  Dempster pitched three one-hit innings with two strikeouts; Hanrahan blew his save and took the loss.  No one had a multi-hit game, but Salty doubled and Napoli hit a solo shot, which was quite the sight to see.  He cleared the sign in right center field 420 feet away.  It was huge.  I saw that, and it was so nice to really observe the reason why he’s here.

Bard will throw twenty or so pitches in a simulated game on Monday.  Papi has been running the bases a little bit but has felt sore.  Finally, Lucchino thinks our sellout streak will end soon; he cites April 10 as a possible end date.  I know there’s always a debate surrounding what the sellout streak has meant and whether it really means anything at all, but for a franchise like this with a fan base like ours, such a streak really shouldn’t be ending anytime soon.  That’s all I have to say about it.  And I’ll end with the beginning: Farrell’s opening address on February 15.  This was basically his opportunity to introduce himself and his philosophy to the team.  Even though many on the team know him and are familiar with the way he works, the gesture shows humility, collaboration, and the kind of professionalism that he urged members of the team to adopt.  The great thing is that, in many ways, Farrell is a product and holdover from the Francona era, but he’s still a fresh perspective, much-needed indeed after the debacle that was last season.  Farrell was compelling and inspiring.  He’s the man we should have had at the helm all along.  It just feels right, and it’s going to be a good year.

In other news, the Bruins beat the Jets, Bolts, Panthers, Isles, Sens, and Bolts again! Sadly, our winning streak came to an end with a 4-3 loss to the Habs.

AP Photo

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This week was momentous.  This time of year usually is.  Because this week, my friends, we celebrated Truck Day! On Tuesday, all of our equipment rolled out for the long drive down to Fort Myers.  Spring Training has officially unofficially started! Man, it’s been a long winter.  It still is a long winter.  And we have a long way to go, but we’re getting there.  It’s February already, and since Truck Day has come and gone, Pitcher and Catchers is our next milestone, followed of course by the officially official start of Spring Training and then the season! We’re well on our way.  It may be freezing outside, and there may be snow in the air or on the ground, but we know that in Florida there is baseball to be played.  I can almost taste it, especially since Farrell is already talking about lineups; expect Ellsbury to bat first this year.

Pedro Martinez is back in Boston, in the front office this time; he’s a special assistant to Ben, and he’s basically going to advise the pitching staff.  Kalish had successful surgery on his right shoulder, but we re-signed Sweeney just in case.  We signed Lyle Overbay to a minor-league deal.  Terry Francona won the Judge Emil Fuchs Award, presented by the Boston Baseball Writers, for his service to the game.

Gary Tuck, our bullpen coach, decided to retire and has been replaced by Dana Levangie.  Remember him? Levangie was our bullpen coach for eight years, the last of which was 2004.  After that, he was an advance scout.  And now he’s back where he started.  Tuck was going to be the last man standing from last year’s staff, and he surely was a fantastic bullpen coach.  He expected nothing but the best from pitchers and catchers; he made our staff great, and he will be sorely missed.  Levangie has big shoes to fill, but seems like the logical choice.

Congratulations to the Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund, who celebrate sixty years of partnership this season.  This will be the inauguration of a suite available all season long for Jimmy Fund patients and their families.  A Jimmy Fund Chorus will also perform at the park.  This is one of those occasions when you feel really proud to support this organization.

Okay.  There’s something else that needs to be said, and I’m only going to say it once and then be done with it, because it’s that excruciating.  Kevin Youkilis is now a Yankee.  Like his predecessor, Johnny Damon, he has enlisted in the Evil Empire.  He has committed himself to the aiding and abetting of New York’s success.  Baseball is a complicated business these days; it’s a rare and happy find to discover a player whose sentimental connection with a particular team is strong.  In Boston, we’ve had a long tradition of such sentimental connections, and we still expect that from our players; we give them everything we’ve got, and we like to see the same in return.  So when one of our own, a homegrown farm boy no less, goes to the dark side, it’s extremely difficult to accept.  It was difficult to accept Damon doing it, and it’s no less difficult now.  We salute Youk and everything he has done for this team and this city.  He was a potent combination of hitting and fielding, volatility and versatility.  He had his good moments, and he had his bad moments, but he has left a legacy here of a stellar player.  I already made the tribute when he left, and we all know how awesome he was.  All I’m saying now is that it hurts.  It hurts, and it’s devastating, and we have to go through that pain all over again of seeing one of our own turn away from us.  That’s all I’m saying.

In other news, the Ravens won the Super Bowl, 34-31.  What a game.  It looked like the 49ers didn’t have a chance for most of it, and then it looked like the Ravens would be hard-pressed to keep them down after the power went out.  But alas, they pulled through.  At least now we get to say that it took a Super Bowl champion to defeat us this year.  The Bruins, for their part, have been doing quite well.  Since the shortened season’s first game, the Bruins have beaten the Jets by a score of 2-1, the Isles by a score of 4-2, the Canes by a score of 5-3, the Devils by a score of 2-1, the Leafs by a score of one-zip, and the Habs by a narrow yet satisfying score of 2-1.  We lost to the Rangers, 4-3, in sudden death and to the Sabres by the brutal score of 7-4.

Boston Globe Staff

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Winning a close game in late innings is nice.  Winning a close game, period, is nicer.  But just plain winning at all is the nicest.  Especially against the Orioles with the way they’ve been playing this year.  By the way, let’s take a moment to ruminate on how strange and bizarre that really is.  I think I speak for everyone when I say that if you said during Spring Training that the Orioles would be in the elite of the AL East, it would have been absolutely impossible to believe.

And here we are sitting on top of one of the division’s best teams, for one game at least.  The whole thing was a pitcher’s duel right to the end.  Doubront, for his part, was absolutely stellar.  This was one of his best starts of the season.  He pitched seven innings, gave up one run on four hits, walked two, and struck out a career-high eleven batters. His command and control were phenomenal.  The end of the season is almost here, but he didn’t show it at all.  He looked like an old pro.  He went one-two-three in the first and fourth, and he issued one of his walks in the second and the other in the third.  He allowed his one run in the fifth and was actually fortunate to limit the damage; he opened the inning by allowing a single followed by a double and then an RBI single.  But he finished the inning strong with three straight outs.  He went one-two-three in the sixth and gave up a single in the seventh.

So the only inning during which the O’s had more than one runner on base on Doubront’s watch was the fifth when they scored.  And of his strikeouts, five were swinging, five were called, and one came on a foul tip.  His fastball, changeup, and curveball were the best I’ve ever seen them from him and were absolutely on fire; they were moving when they were supposed to and not when they weren’t.  He was a master.  In short, he was absolutely fantastic.

Tazawa took the ball in the eighth and sent down his three batters.  Bailey came in for the ninth and got into, and then fortunately out of, trouble.  He induced a groundout to start the inning but then gave up a single and a double before issuing an intentional walk, which loaded the bases.  But the inning ended up ending without incident thanks to a force out and a strikeout.

Meanwhile, we actually had scored first, so Baltimore’s run actually tied the game.  We had two on in the first, one on in the second, and none on in the third.  But Ross singled to lead off the fourth, Loney walked, Salty flied out, and Valencia grounded into a force out which scored Ross.  Loney was out at second, Valencia ended up reaching first on a throwing error, and Nava singled after that, but the inning ended with Iglesias flying out.

We went down in order in the fifth and we had one on in the sixth and seventh.  We scored our winning run and the last run of the game in the eighth.  Pedroia and Ross hit back-to-back doubles to lead it off, and that was that.  Literally, because the inning ended with three straight flyouts.

Unfortunately, Doubront wasn’t in line for the win, so Tazawa got it, and Bailey picked up the save.  The final score, obviously, was 2-1.  And it was sweet.

Last but not least, Fenway Park opened after the game for a special and well-deserved tribute to Johnny Pesky.  Sox greats through the ages gathered to celebrate the man, the myth, and the legend.  Pesky was a great man, and there was a lot to celebrate.  And I have to think that Pesky would really have enjoyed Ross’s catch in the first of a ball that looked very much like a Pesky-esque home run for the Orioles.  The catch looked so unlikely, and yet Ross did it right at the Pesky Pole.  I think Pesky would really, really have enjoyed that.

In other news, the Pats dropped an exasperatingly close one to the Ravens, losing by the brutal score of 31-30.

Boston Globe Staff/Yoon S. Byun

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Well, we’ve made it through the first half, but I can’t say I’m pleased with where we are.  The only thing I could say is that I’m glad it’s not worse than it is, but that really, really doesn’t say much.  We’re suffering from inconsistency, injuries, and just a general lack of that spark we’ve tended to see in our winning teams in recent years.  These are underlying, pervasive problems that can’t just be fixed by a trade or a snap of the fingers.  Changes have to come from within, but it’s hard to pinpoint a solution when the sources of the problems are hard to pinpoint themselves.  Either way, we know what we have to do to improve: win consistently.

As I do every year, I’ve graded the entire team at the halfway point:

Kelly Shoppach: B

As backup catchers go, Shoppach is pretty good.  In thirty-one games, he’s made only two errors and four passed balls.  His catcher’s ERA is 3.76, which anyone on our pitching staff these days would be lucky to have.  He has also hit ten doubles and four home runs, and his batting average is .269, which isn’t bad for a backup catcher, either.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: B

Salty is working out much better than we expected power-wise.  He ranks first among all Major League catchers in home runs with seventeen, which I don’t think is something many people predicted.  But all but one of those were hit from the left side, which is something he needs to work on.  He also needs to work on his fielding, which is supposed to be one of a catcher’s strong suits.  His fielding percentage is .987, which is high but, in my opinion, not high enough.  He’s made six errors and passed five balls; I’m looking for something closer to zero errors and zero passed balls.  His catcher’s ERA is 4.45, which is decent, and he’s come a long way as far as forging relationships with the pitchers and calling good games is concerned.

Adrian Gonzalez: C

I am not afraid to say that Gonzalez so far has been a huge disappointment.  He is nowhere near the powerhouse he was last season, and I was fully expecting this season to exceed last season.  He is second among Major League first basemen in doubles with twenty-seven and eighth in RBIs with forty-five, but he’s not even in the top twenty in home runs.  With only six, he’s actually last among all first basemen in the American League.  His fielding, however, is as solid as ever.  He’s made only one error, so his fielding percentage is .999.  But offensively we need much, much more from him.  The team is struggling, but he was not supposed to be one of the reasons why.

Dustin Pedroia: C

It’s always tough to grade a player who’s been plagued with injuries because you have to assume that the injuries weren’t his fault, and you have to try to compare his performance given the injuries with what you expect his ideal performance to be given the injuries.  The truth is that Pedroia is struggling across the board offensively.  Doubles, home runs, walks, on-base percentage; you name it, he’s not performing as well as he could be in it, even given the injuries.  His fielding, like Gonzalez, is as solid as ever with a percentage of .997.  But like Gonzalez, Pedroia was not supposed to be one of the reasons why the team is struggling.  He’s a phenomenal leader both on and off the field, but we also need him to lead the charge offensively and help the team win on a more consistent basis.

Mike Aviles: B

Our woes at shortstop for the most part continue.  Why we can’t get a shortstop in there who can hit as well as he fields is completely beyond me.  Aviles is making a valiant effort, but it’s not enough.  First of all, his fielding percentage is .982.  He has made seven errors.  I understand that shortstop is the most difficult position defensively, but that’s also why you need an amazing fielder to man it.  Aviles is a great fielder.  He is not an amazing fielder.  He’s not an amazing hitter, either.  He has a .260 average and .283 on-base percentage.  He’s hit twenty-two doubles, no triples, and nine home runs with forty-four RBIs and twelve walks.  Not the best shortstop material.

Will Middlebrooks: B

Middlebrooks has some big shoes to fill, so he has to go through a process of proving himself.  I will say that he’s off to a fantastic start offensively.  His performance at the plate has been phenomenal, and it’s been truly wonderful to witness the fruits of our labor on the farm in growing a power hitter ourselves.  In forty-eight games, he has fifty-one hits, eleven of which are doubles and ten of which are home runs.  He has a .298 average and a .335 on-base percentage thanks to nine walks, so he could walk more.  His performance in the field, not so much.  He has a fielding percentage of .935 and has made seven errors.  Third base is a tough place to play as well, and he needs to work on it to round out his game.

Nick Punto: B

Think about what Punto is for.  Punto is a utility infielder.  He’s supposed to be able to play any position decently well and to hit decently well.  He is not supposed to be truly outstanding at everything infield, and we’re lucky if he’s outstanding at one thing infield.  So the criteria he’d have to meet for an A is lower than it is for a starter.  Still, as utility infielders go, it’s not like he’s been that great.  His average is .212; only six of his twenty-one hits were for extra bases, and he has only eight RBIs.  And he’s played forty-nine games, which is about more than a quarter of the whole season, so it’s not like he’s had hardly any playing time.  His performance in the field is much stronger than his performance at the plate, but it still could be better.

Ryan Sweeney: C

I was on the fence about a C or a D.  But then I realized that I was only going to give him a D because Josh Reddick would have been so much better, and that wouldn’t be fair.  It’s not Sweeney’s fault that he’s in right field and not Reddick; that’s Ben’s fault, and we’ll get to that later.  Anyway, Sweeney’s .283 average is respectable.  His seventeen doubles, two triples, and zero home runs are not.  Neither are his nine walks.  His two errors in right are alright, but errors made in the outfield tend to be costly because the ball is farther away from the infield, so those two errors could probably count for more.

Cody Ross: B

Ross has been good but not great.  His thirteen home runs from the right side of the plate are a much-needed edition to our lineup, and his twenty-four walks show patience at the plate.  He also has fourteen doubles and forty RBIs to his credit, and he has yet to make an error in the field.  I’d say he’s been better than expected, but he could be better still; his .264 average and .345 on-base percentage leave much to be desired.

Daniel Nava: A

If you told me during Spring Training that Nava would play fifty-two games by the All-Star break and bat.275 with an on-base percentage of .388, I would have been extremely skeptical.  But that’s what happened.  And he has forty-seven hits to his credit, seventeen of which are doubles and three of which are homers.  He has also walked twenty-six times and has made only one error.  For a utility outfielder that has suddenly found himself in the limelight thanks to injuries, he’s been handling himself very well.

Ryan Kalish: C

In short, he’s still a kid and he needs work, in the sense that he needs to be worked, in terms of playing time, and to be worked on, in terms of training time.  He’s played eighteen games this year and has hit only two extra-base hits, both of them doubles.  He has walked only twice and batted in only five runs.  And he has made two errors, and between the fact that that’s over the course of only eighteen games and the fact that outfield errors are costly, that’s a lot.

David Ortiz: A

Nobody on this team deserves an A more than Big Papi.  He ranks tenth in the Majors in doubles with twenty-five, fifth in slugging percentage with .607, and is tied for seventh in homers with twenty-two.  Among DHs, he ranks first, first, and third in those categories.  Simply put, the man’s job is to hit for extra bases.  That’s what he does.  He’s been doing it from day one this year, and he has continued to do it consistently.  He’s just hit the four hundredth home run of his career, and he looks like he’s in line to hit many, many more.  This season, the team seems to have two constants: inconsistency and Big Papi.

Offense Overall: B

As a team, we are sixth in the Majors in average with .268, eighth in on-base percentage with .329, and fourth in slugging percentage with .441.  We are second in runs with 432, third in hits with 302, first in doubles with 208, eighth in home runs with 99, and third with RBIs with 409.  And yet somehow we fail to win consistently.  It’s because we don’t score runs consistently.  Sometimes we score a little, and sometimes we score a lot.  And of course it also has to do with the pitching, which we’ll get to later.  But like I always say, just like the pitching staff’s job is to make sure that we win regardless of what the offense does or doesn’t do, so it is the offense’s job to make sure we win regardless of what the pitching staff does or doesn’t do.

Defense Overall: B

We are sixth in the Majors in fielding with a percentage of .986.  It could be much, much better.  I guess we can chalk it up to several players in key defensive positions having had to get used to Fenway, but that shouldn’t have taken the entire first half of the season.

Jon Lester: C

Lester has not pitched well at all.  In fact, his numbers are unfortunately similar to Beckett’s.  Why must our aces struggle at the same time? Why must our aces struggle at all? These are some of the big questions for which the team does not seem to have any answers whatsoever.  He has a 4.49 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP.  In eighteen starts, he is 5-6 with fifty-six earned runs, thirty walks, and eleven home runs.  Those numbers put him in the basement of the American League, which is not where a pitcher like Lester is expected to be.

Josh Beckett: C

Like Lester, Beckett has not pitched well at all.  In fact, his numbers are unfortunately similar to Lester’s.  He has a 4.43 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP.  In fourteen starts, he is 4-7  with forty-four earned runs, twenty-two walks, and nine home runs.  He also has the lowest average strikeout total per nine innings of his career at 6.5.  And this is the mighty Josh Beckett that should have won the Cy Young in 2007? He’s like a completely different pitcher now.

Clay Buchholz: C

Buchholz has actually been terrible this year.  He has started fourteen games and is eight and two, but he has a 5.53 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP with fifty-three earned runs, fifteen home runs, and thirty-four walks.  In 86.1 innings pitched, he has given up ninety-nine hits.  It’s a miracle that he has more wins than losses, and how he managed to rack up so many wins is a mystery.  Yet another disappointment.

Daniel Bard: D

I’m honestly sorry to give Bard a D, but it’s the grade he deserves.  He was made a starter partly because his superiors wanted him to be a starter and partly also because he wanted to be a starter.  But the truth of the matter is that he has no business being a starter.  If something isn’t broken, nobody should try to fix it, and Bard was on the road to a fantastic career as a closer.  We needed him as a closer.  And instead he became this mediocre pitcher stripped of his dignity.  He started ten games and had an ERA of 5.24 and a WHIP of 1.62.  In fifty-five innings pitched, he gave up fifty-two hits, thirty-two earned runs, six homers, and thirty-seven walks.  His record was 5-6.  Let it be stated here that Bard is much more effective as a setup man or closer.  And the fact that that actually has to be stated is an embarrassment.  It should have been evident.

Felix Doubront: B

I don’t think anyone predicted in Spring Training that Doubront would become our best starter.  Then again, as we have seen, this season has been full of surprises, most of them unpleasant, so Doubront was a breath of fresh air.  Not that that says much.  In any other season, if Lester and Beckett and Buchholz pitched to their abilities, Doubront would be at the middle or bottom of the rotation at best.  Anyway, his ERA is currently 4.41, and his WHIP is 1.38.  He has started seventeen games and has a record of 9-4.  In ninety-six innings pitched, he’s given up forty-seven earned runs, fifteen homers, and thirty-five walks.

Aaron Cook: B

Compared to how we thought he was going to work out, Cook was actually a pleasant surprise as well.  Again, that doesn’t say much, but given his health when he joined the team, it does say a lot about his determination and commitment.  Plus he pitched that absolute gem a few starts ago, which can not be overlooked, especially since he’s made only four starts this season so far.  He has a 4.37 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP, which is decent under his circumstances.  And we need the extra starter anyway.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: D

I’ve been thinking that Dice-K is a problem with no solution.

Matt Albers: B

Albers has not been outstanding, but he has been pretty great.  He certainly has made a valiant effort to turn it around from last season and has a nice 2.38 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP.  In thirty-four innings, he’s given up thirteen runs on twenty-six hits with twenty strikeouts.  He’s pitched in thirty-two games and has blown only three saves.  It should be zero, but this is not the team with which to be picky.

Andrew Miller: B

Again, not outstanding but pretty great.  2.75 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 19.2 innings pitched.  Six runs on thirteen hits and no blown saves.  If he continues pitching as well as he has so far, he will have the best season of his career numbers-wise.  Granted, he spent most of his career as a starter, but he’s found this new role in which he has a chance to be really successful for a team that really needs him.

Scott Atchison: A

Here’s someone who’s outstanding.  Atchison is probably our best reliever so far.  His ERA is a low 1.79, and his WHIP is a low .99, and that’s over 45.1 innings pitched.  He’s given up only nine runs on thirty-six hits while walking nine and striking out thirty-three.  He has also given up only two home runs.  Outstanding.

Vicente Padilla: C

As a setup man, he hasn’t done as well as I would have liked.  His 3.94 ERA and 1.38 WHIP are actually terrible for a setup man, but somehow he gets through it.  In thirty-two innings, he’s given up fourteen earned runs on thirty-five hits while striking out only nine.  He’s blown two saves.  Now, a setup man is a setup man; he’s supposed to put the closer in a position where the closer can close, and he’s supposed to keep the team in a position where the team can win.  That means not blowing any saves and not giving up any runs, and if you do give up runs, giving up the bare minimum of runs.  I don’t feel he’s done that.

Franklin Morales: B

Another thing that I don’t think anyone predicted at Spring Training was Morales’s versatility.  He is both a reliever and a starter, and he is effective in both roles.  He is 1-2 with eight holds and no blown saves, and he has an ERA of 3.50 and a WHIP of 1.17.  He has made four starts and pitched 46.1 innings total, and he has given up eighteen earned runs on forty-one hits while walking thirteen.  Between all the injuries we’ve had, without Morales to fill in and start, we’d be in a very bad place.

Mark Melancon: D

Melancon doesn’t do much.  Somehow it’s happened that he and Mortensen tend to appear in games together, but he hasn’t really made much of an impact.  And that’s probably because he can’t be trusted, so he doesn’t get that much playing time.  He has a 7.04 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP and has pitched 15.1 innings.  He’s given up twelve earned runs on eighteen hits.

Alfredo Aceves: C

Let’s not forget that Aceves began the season abysmally, and we were all wondering how in the world we would be expected to continue the season with a closer like that.  Well, we didn’t, because Aceves pulled it together and turned it around.  And now his ERA is 4.33 and his WHIP is 1.19.  I mean, that’s actually terrible for a closer, especially in light of what we’ve been used to in recent years, but it could have been a lot worse.  Still, objectively speaking, we need him to be better.  He’s pitched 43.2 innings and has given up twenty-one earned runs on thirty-eight hits.  He also has four blown saves.

Pitching Overall: D

It should come as no surprise to anyone that our team ERA of 4.22 is one of the worst in the Major Leagues.  So is our strikeout total, our batting average against, our earned run total, and our loss total.  Our pitching staff is absolutely terrible this year and must somehow be fixed.  However, a distinction must be made between the rotation and the relief corps.  The latter is performing much better than the former.  On the one hand, we expect our relievers to ideally not allow any runs.  On the other hand, this is baseball, and runs are allowed, and the relief corps can not be expected to constantly clean up the messes made by the starters.  It drags the relief corps down when they give up runs that end up costing the team games because the offense doesn’t hit or score and the starters don’t limit the damage.

Bobby Valentine: C

There are those who say that Bobby V. is not effective here because the brass won’t let him be himself.  There are those who say that Bobby V. is not effective here because the brass lets him be too much of himself.  And there are those who say that Bobby V. is not the problem and that the team is the problem.  Well, I’m not in the clubhouse or the front office, so I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.  But I do know that Bobby V. is in a class by himself.  His managerial style is not one that Boston has had in a long time, certainly not in recent years.  It is a style that our players and many of our new guys are not familiar with.  It is a style that is not always the most adaptable and that probably expects more adaptation than it itself makes.  And it is a style that takes some getting used to.  This style affects his conduct both on and off the field; it affects how he makes strategic decisions before, during, and after games and it affects how he interacts with the players and the media.  And based on what I have seen, based on the decisions that he has made and the things that he has said, I don’t think that that getting-used-to process is over.

Ben Cherington: C

Let’s see.  Andrew Bailey is still on the DL, Reddick is having a pretty good year, and Bard is not a starter.  Whether the Youkilis trade was warranted remains to be seen.  I trust Ben because Theo Epstein trained him and because in the past he’s shown that he has a very intelligent and strategic mind when it comes to sabermetrics and the ins and outs of being a good general manager for a team like ours.  And he’s had only one off season and one half of a season so far at the helm, so the sample size is small.  So I clearly will be giving him the benefit of the doubt.  But I just hope that his long-term vision for the team is not compromised by any sort of impulse from anywhere to find quick fixes that may help us in the short run but will damage our future.

Team Overall: D

I don’t really know what else to say.  If I sound crushed and exasperated and frustrated, it’s because I am.  And I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that we all are.  At the All-Star break, we’re at .500, tied for fourth (or last) place with Toronto and nine and a half games out of first place, which is where the Yanks are.  We can’t win as a team, we can’t win consistently, we can’t score runs consistently, we can’t pitch well consistently.  We can’t do much of anything consistently.  We have all these problems and no solutions.  We need to pull it together in an enormously huge way and have a truly phenomenal second half if we want to avoid the consequences of having a second half just like our first half.

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Revenge is a dish best served cold.  Well, it wasn’t cold last night, but we certainly did take our revenge.  It was awesome.  I don’t think anyone was expecting it, but with this team these days I guess you should simply expect the unexpected.  The success we’ve been able to derive from the most unlikely of places is really a breath of fresh air, and I just hope we keep up the great work.

I don’t think anyone thought that Cook would deliver the start he did.  Certainly not during Spring Training before the season started, and probably not now either.  Cook pitched a complete game shutout with no walks.  That means that, had he not given up his two hits, he would have had himself a no-hitter! (It wouldn’t have been a perfect game because of an error by Aviles, which resulted in a baserunner in the sixth aside from those two hits.  Each of those hits was accompanied by a double play, so thanks to that error, he faced twenty-eight batters instead of the minimal twenty-seven.) I saw it with my own eyes, and I still couldn’t quite believe what was going on.  More than that, I couldn’t believe he did it with only two pitches: a sinker and a curveball.  He threw more than seventy sinkers, and less than ten curveballs and was brutally efficient, ending the night having thrown a grand total of only eighty-one pitches, fifty-eight of which were strikes.  I mean, we’ve seen some regular starters have games where they need more than eighty-one pitches just to get through five innings.

It was amazing.  He was amazing.  He threw six pitches in the first, eight in the second, twelve in the third, only five in the fourth, eleven in the fifth, ten in the sixth, twelve in the seventh, nine in the eighth, and eight in the ninth.  His variation of speeds wasn’t as complete as it would have been if he’d thrown more pitches, but it was enough.  His maximum sinker speed was about ninety-one miles per hour, and his maximum curveball speed was about seventy-seven.

He faced the minimum in all but that sixth inning; he gave up his first hit, a single, in the fourth but erased it with a double play, and the same happened in the eighth.  Here’s a breakdown of all of his outs: two called strikeouts, two double plays, four popouts, five flyouts, eleven groundouts, and a lineout to end the whole thing.

For the first four innings, our hitters looked a lot like the Mariners did against Cook, so I was preparing to steel my nerves for another epic duel.  But then the fifth happened, and it was clear that that wouldn’t be necessary.

Middlebrooks and Ross smacked back-to-back jacks to lead off the fifth.  Middlebrooks went yard on his fifth pitch, a slider, which ended up in the left field stands.  Ross went yard on his fourth pitch, a fastball, which ended up in the upper deck in left.  Two easy outs later, Nava just unleashed on his fourth pitch, also a fastball, also clocked at ninety-two miles per hour, which needed up far back in the right field stands.

Papi led off the very next inning with a double, and then Salty went yard! It was the first pitch of the at-bat, and he had its number all the way.  It was also a ninety-two mile-per-hour fastball, and it ended up in left center field.  Both swings looked quick, easy, and pretty perfect, if you ask me.

We went down in order again in the seventh and eighth.  We loaded the bases in the ninth with a single, double, and walk, but Pedroia lined out with two out to end the threat.

We won by a final score of five-zip.  That means that all of our runs were scored via the long ball.  Six of our nine hits were for extra bases, and four of those were the home runs.  Middlebrooks had the team’s only multi-hit game; he went two for four.  Salty was the only member of the team that batted in more than one run; he batted in two.  Defensive highlights include Pedroia’s classically awesome double play with one out in the eighth to end it; he dove to corral the ball and threw it, still prone on the ground, to second to get it started.

But the man of the hour was obviously Cook.  He was leading a clinic out there.  I would say it had to have been one of the best starts of his entire career.  It was certainly one of the best starts any of us have ever seen.  In fact, since pitch count research started in 1988, no other Boston pitcher has been able to throw a nine-inning complete game of any kind, shutout or not, with eighty-one pitches or less.  It outdoes Roger Clemens’s eighty-six-pitch one-hitter complete game that same year.  It’s not something that’s new for cook, though; he’s pitched three other complete games with less pitches than this one.  Ultimately, this game has reminded us just how good Cook is capable of being.  All of his perseverance, determination, and hard work certainly have paid off so far, and we hope that this will continue.

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And the ugly opening disappointment continues.  Lester is our only pitcher who’s had a respectable start so far, and even that resulted in a loss.  This is a terrible start to the season.  Terrible, terrible, terrible.  We just got swept by the Tigers.

Unlike Beckett, Buchholz didn’t give up any home runs.  In fact, he only gave up two extra-base hits, and both of them were doubles.  But he still managed to give as many runs total in less baseball time.  He only lasted four innings and gave up seven runs on eight hits while walking two and striking out two.  That means that, yesterday, he was a bad pitcher.  He may have been good during Spring Training, and he may, we hope, be better going forward, but yesterday, he was just a bad pitcher.  Because a good pitcher doesn’t let his opposition play so much small ball that they score seven runs on eight hits in four innings.

In total, he threw seventy-eight pitches, fifty of which were strikes.  It took him thirty-one pitches to get through the first inning alone; that’s worse than some of the inning totals I remember Dice-K putting up, even on his bad days.  Not coincidentally, he allowed four runs that inning.  He then threw seventeen pitches in the second and gave up one run, twenty-one in the third and gave up no runs, and only nine in the fourth, unquestionably his best inning, even though he gave up two more runs.  He threw mostly four-seams, which topped out at ninety-four miles per hour, with some nice cutters, curveballs, and changeups mixed in; he added some two-seams also, but they weren’t great.  Nice variation of speeds, and tight release point.  Command, control, efficiency, and effectiveness, not so much.

Thankfully, Padilla pitched four absolutely crucial and stellar shutout innings of relief after that, and the offense even came alive.  How ‘bout that.  By the time we entered the bottom of the ninth, if you can believe it, we were actually the proud owners of a three-run lead!

In the second, Aviles doubled in Papi, who led off the inning with a single, and McDonald, who walked after that.  In the third, Papi doubled in Gonzalez, who led off the inning with a single.  Then McDonald struck out and Sweeney singled.  Aviles singled in Papi, Shoppach got hit, Punto sacrificed Sweeney in, Aviles scored on a balk, and Shoppach scored on a single by Ellsbury.

We didn’t score again until the sixth, which Ellsbury led off with a double.  And then Pedroia flew out and moved Ellsbury to third.  But it didn’t end up mattering which base Ellsbury was at because Gonzalez went deep.  That’s right.  Adrian Gonzalez hit his first home run of 2012, and it was a big one, too.  It broke the tie of seven and sailed into the back of the seats in right field on the first pitch of the at-bat, a sinker inside that was supposed to be outside and that clocking in at ninety miles per hour.  Well, that’s just what happens when you pitch to Gonzalez and miss your location.  And you could totally tell that he was itching for the use of his power stroke.  It was absolutely fantastic.  It was what we’d been waiting to see from him all spring, and it’s what we hope to continue to see from him all season long.

In the top of the ninth, we put what we thought was the icing on the cake; McDonald and Ross hit back-to-back singles to start the inning, and Punto singled in McDonald.  So, at the time, the score was 10-7 in our favor, and it looked very much like we were going to finally acquire our first win of the season.

But I don’t think the rest of the bullpen received the win memo; maybe it got lost in the tunnel or the clubhouse or something, but it looked a lot to me like they received some sort of memo before the season started that it’s actually their job to ensure that we lose or something.

Aceves replaced Padilla and allowed two straight singles followed by a resultantly three-run home run by Miguel Cabrera on the first pitch of the at-bat.  It was like Aceves couldn’t wait to give it up.  Needless to say, it tied the game, and it was crushing.

Then Morales came in and secured three straight outs and pitched a scoreless tenth; honestly, his performance kind of made me question why he didn’t just stay in the game.

In the top of the eleventh, we mounted what I thought was going to be our comeback.  Ross walked on seven pitches to start it off, Aviles singled, Salty struck out, and Punto singled in Ross.  Ellsbury struck out, and Pedroia singled in Aviles.  That plus a quality relief performance in the bottom of the inning, and we would have our first win of 2012.

Again, I really don’t think the bullpen was told that we were trying to win.  Padilla and Morales somehow figured it out, but his replacement, Melancon, sure didn’t.  After securing a groundout, he allowed two straight singles followed by a sac fly that brought in one and then a home run that brought in two.  Game over.  We lost, 13-12.  We are 0 and 3 on the year.

Ellsbury, Pedroia, and Gonzalez all went two for six.  Punto and Papi both went three for six, and Aviles went three for five.  Five of our hits were for extra-bases, four of them doubles and one of them Gonzalez’s homer.  We left thirteen on base and went eight for twenty-one with runners in scoring position.  Pedroia made a beautiful play in the eighth where he did his classic move of diving to the ground to make a catch and prevent a base hit and then springing up to throw to first for the out.

Aceves and Melancon were both awarded blown saves, with Melancon rightly taking the loss.

I don’t understand this.  I really don’t.  We had the lead in hand.  Even with Buchholz’s terrible performance, we had the lead in hand.  We were about to win, and the bullpen, both literally and figuratively, totally dropped the ball.  I mean, how on earth does a team score twelve runs and not win? Yet again, so much for Bobby V. stocking the roster with pitchers.

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Yeah…so…that was not pretty.  In no conceivable way was that pretty.  There was nothing pretty about it.  Usually, you expect a baseball game to have some balanced ratio of good, bad, and ugly; if you’re lucky, you’ll have mostly good, very little bad, and almost no ugly.  Yesterday, we had just ugly.  Like, really ugly.

So there’s no point sugar-coating it.  The Josh Beckett we saw on the mound yesterday was not the Josh Beckett we saw in Spring Training or in our mind’s eye when we pictured how we expected this game to go down.  He wasn’t himself yesterday.  If you told me that he would last only four and two-thirds innings and in that time give up seven runs on seven hits, five of which were home runs, I would not have believed you at all.  You read right.  Seven runs on seven hits, five of which were home runs.  Those seven runs were the most he allowed since 2010.  Those five home runs ties a career high first set in 2009.  Just to give you an idea of how bad this is for Beckett, last season he didn’t allow his fifth home run of the season until June 28.  Yesterday was April 6.  This better not have anything to do with his thumb, which is what he stated.

There was a two-run home run in the first with one out on a two-seam by Miguel Cabrera; obviously that hurts.  Then there was a lead-off solo shot in the fourth on a cutter by Prince Fielder.  Then there was a two-run home run in the fourth, still with nobody out, on a changeup, the first pitch of the at-bat, by Alex Avila.  Then Cabrera and Fielder hit back-to-back solo shots in the fifth, both on changeups.  Cabrera’s home run was initially ruled a double; the ruling was overturned using instant replay.

He also walked one and struck out only three.  He threw eighty-three pitches, fifty-nine of which were strikes.  No command.  No control.  No efficiency (nineteen pitches in the first, nine in the second which was his best inning and not coincidentally his only one-two-three inning and also one of only two in which he did not allow a home run, fifteen in the third which was the other homerless inning, twenty-one in the fourth, and nineteen in the fifth before he was pulled).  No effectiveness.

I will say that his cutter and his two-seam were fabulous; ninety and eighty-two percent, respectively, of the ones he threw were strikes.  Too bad both pitches accounted for only thirty-one combined.  Also, he maxed his fastball at around ninety-three miles per hour.  And obviously he took the loss, which he totally deserved.

Unfortunately, the damage didn’t stop there.  Atchison relieved Beckett, finished the fifth and sixth, and gave up another run.  Albers pitched the first two outs of the seventh and gave up two runs, only one of them earned, the other thanks to a throwing error by Salty right after a spectacular play at home to get Fielder out.  Thomas finished the seventh, and Bowden pitched the eighth.  The latter two were our only pitchers not to allow runs.  It was a sad, sad day indeed.

By the way, did I mention that the offense did almost nothing? No, really.  The offense actually did almost nothing.  We collectively hit only one extra-base hit; it was a double by Salty.  We left seven on base and when a whopping 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position.  Gonzalez went two for four and Sweeney went two for three for the only multi-hit games.  Ellsbury, Youk, Ross, and Aviles are all hitless in these last two games.  And, lastly, we failed to bat in and score a single run.  That’s right.  We lost, 10-0.  And in addition to Salty’s error, Aviles made a fielding error.  It was not a good day whatsoever by any stretch of the imagination.

In other news, the B’s beat the Sabres yesterday in a shootout, 4-3, battling back from a two-goal deficit.  The regular season is now over! The Rangers clinched the Eastern Conference, but we’ve clinched our division and therefore a playoff spot.  Our 102 points are good for second in the conference; the Panthers are third with ninety-two points.  Are you thinking repeat? I’m thinking repeat.

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