4-4-2011: Separating the real worries from the imaginary

Try not to get swept away (pun intended) in the collective madness that is Boston fandom and sports media. I think the Sox got taken in by the sky-high expectations and all the preseason love. When everyone except Hank Steinbrenner picks you to win your division, and people start talking about 100 wins in a division like the AL East before a single pitch is thrown, it doesn’t matter how focused you say you are, it will affect you. In an ironic twist, they experienced a bit of what the Yankees went through every year for so long, and they flunked the test with flying colors.

Baseball has this way of making things look better or worse than they really are. The Sox are very much still contenders, but they are starting from an 0-3 deficit now (so is Tampa Bay, BTW). Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to some real baseball, what do you say, guys?

Things that shouldn’t worry you yet

Jon Lester didn’t strike out a single Ranger in his start.

It’s hard to explain what happened, but it just wasn’t Jon’s day. The fastball velocity was a little lacking, but that’s not unusual at the start of the season. Lester has always been a slow starter, for whatever reason. He’ll get into his usual streak of 5-6 shutdown starts by the beginning of May.

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3-21-2011: The bullpen shakeout

On a team with few questions, the newly rebuilt bullpen has gotten the most attention this spring. Let’s take a look at what we’ve got and what we expect to happen with the roster.

The Locks

Those guaranteed a job include Jonathan Papelbon (closer), Daniel Bard (setup) and Bobby Jenks (setup). Having a top three like this really makes this a formidable bullpen, at least against righties. Dan Wheeler (bridge) will almost certainly be part of this bullpen, so that leaves only 2 spots, really. Should the Sox go with four starters to open the year, I could see them carrying one more reliever to begin.

The Other Contenders

What we really need is for one of the lefties to come out and dominate again. You would think that Hideki Okajima would be guaranteed a spot, being a lefty with experience pitching for the Sox, but actually, the equation is not that simple. Okajima’s contract has a clause in it that allows the Sox to send him to the minors, and with the way Dennys Reyes is throwing, I expect them to exercise it. Reyes is also out of options, which makes it almost certain that if it comes down to the two of them, it’ll be Reyes. Felix Doubront is just as good, if not better than these two, but the Sox will start him at Pawtucket, most likely as a starter, this season.

Of the remaining righties, you’ve got a ton of possibles, including Scott Atchison, Matt Albers, Alfredo Aceves, and Michael Bowden. Each of these guys has a different advantage. Atchison is the vet from last year, who is the most known quantity, while Albers has the out-of-options advantage. Aceves and Bowden can be swing men and give you multiple innings, with Aceves having better stuff and Bowden being the long-time Sox farmhand deserving of a shot. I’ve listed these guys in probable order here.

2-7-2011: Sox add Reyes to bullpen options, announce NRIs

The Red Sox announced the signing of veteran left-hander Dennys Reyes to a minor league deal this weekend. Should he make the big league club and play a lot, he could earn $1.4M in 2011.

A 34-year old this coming season, Reyes has played 14 years of MLB, and been mostly a journeyman LOOGY reliever. A strong groundball pitcher (career 50.0%), he throws a 90 mph fastball and a good slider, and has a show-me changeup that he will throw to righties. Reyes has always posted decent strikeout rates, but he walks a lot of hitters (as most lefty relievers do). He should be a solid, if unspectacular, option. We project him for about 40 innings and a 3.94 ERA.

Reyes’ signing makes it more likely that the Sox will employ Felix Doubront as a starter, rather than using him in the bullpen. The Sox now have several Major League-caliber lefty options after Hideki Okajima, including Andrew Miller, Randy Williams, Rich Hill, and Reyes.

Non-Roster Invitees

The Sox announced their list of NRIs for this year. As I’ve noted earlier, I like the way that they’ve focused on younger players with some upside as well as veterans who should contribute.