7-18-2011: What to look for at the deadline

The Red Sox are in first place and seem to be a lock for the playoffs. That part is great. And despite the struggles of J.D. Drew, our offense is the best in baseball right now. I don’t see acquiring a big bat to be the priority right now. However,¬†we are facing some major instability in the rotation and other areas, which could require some smaller moves to be made. Looking over our current situation, I’d recommend three moves by this year’s trade deadline. Here they are, in order of importance.

Trade for a 4th or 5th starter. Importance: Medium

Jon Lester and Josh Beckett seem to be on track for now, and John Lackey has shown some signs of improvement, but there is still no timetable for Clay Buchholz to return to the rotation. Andrew Miller has been a pleasant surprise, but we don’t know how long he can keep it up, and Tim Wakefield, who hasn’t gone over 140 IP in a year since 2008, is already at 81.2 IP. Should Buchholz not be able to return, or Miller lose it, or Wake’s body break down, I really don’t want two months of Kevin Millwood up here. He’s fine for a few starts, but that’s it.

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5-21-2011: Sox acquire Morales, sign Millwood

Sox trade a PTBNL for Franklin Morales

The pitching injuries are piling up again. With Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks out, the bullpen is a little thin. I was a little surprised to hear that Hideki Okajima was DFA’d, but you have to know that the Sox were dissatisfied with their lefty reliever situation this year, quickly discarding Denys Reyes. This move comes down to upgrading the bullpen. Morales was considered a pretty good prospect just two years ago, and is a lefty who throws a 94 mph heater and a good curve. His presence makes the deteriorating Okajima expendable (his three-year numbers are all trending in the wrong direction). Theo Epstein is hoping that we can retain him if he can slip through waivers, but if not, we’ll trade him.

It’s true, Morales’ numbers are not good, but that’s why he was available. He strikes out more hitters than Oki, but has struggled with walking batters and giving up the long ball (though I hear that happens from time to time in Colorado). Perhaps Curt Young can work some magic with the young flamethrower. I’ll have to see what we send back in return for him, but this seems like a good upside deal to me.

Kevin Millwood signed to a minor-league deal

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Rockies inquiring on Tavarez

The Denver Post reports that the Colorado Rockies are shopping for a back-end starter. They are looking at Josh Fogg and Julian Tavarez, both former Rockies, to hold down a spot in the rotation temporarily. Top prospect Franklin Morales has been sent to Triple-A to work on his polish.

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2007 World Series Game 1: Sox, Beckett dominate 13-1

Pedroia slams a leadoff HRMake that 21 of 23 games, thank you very much. Josh Beckett and the Red Sox came out wanting to make a bold statement, but it came out more like an air raid siren. And it had the Rockies running for cover. Beckett struck out the side in the top of the first on 15 pitches, and Dustin Pedroia kicked off the bottom of the frame with another Monster shot, his 2nd HR in as many games. You could see the dread and the fear on the Rockies’ faces even then. I think Jeff Francis must have been pretty nervous, because he proceeded to allow four more hits, making it 3-0 after just one inning. Not to be outdone, Beckett comes out and strikes out Todd Helton before giving up a long double to Garrett Atkins. Then he strikes out Brad Hawpe, making him look very, very bad. In fact, Hawpe went 0-4 on the night with four strikeouts. Looks like somebody needs to spend more time in the batting cage. Beckett does leave a fastball over the plate to Troy Tulowitski, allowing a run, but it’s all clear sailing from here. He almost doesn’t need anything but fastballs until around the fourth inning to mow down the Rockies one by one.

Beckett Delivers in Game 1Welcome to the American League, boys. You see, the last time the Red Sox ace faced the Rockies on June 14, he was 9-0 and on the way to setting some serious records. A couple of weeks after coming back off of a finger avulsion (read: blister-like thingy) and trip to the DL, he gave up a grand slam to Atkins and another HR to Matt Holliday in his first loss of the year. 5 innings, 6 runs, and only one strikeout (Willy Taveras). Some players get intimidated by stuff like that. Not Beckett; he feeds off that, and grows stronger. He wants to show you who you’re dealing with. And last night, he did, going 7 really strong innings, striking out 9, and walking just one.

The Red Sox offense battered starter Francis for 6 runs on 10 hits and 3 walks over four innings, and continued the punishment on rookie reliever Franklin Morales, who balked once and gave up seven runs in just 2/3 of an inning. To be fair, big righty Ryan Speier walked in three of those runs with the bases loaded; that was painful to watch. Everyone contributed in some way, with all the regulars getting at least one hit, save Jacoby Ellsbury, who still walked in a run and also scored. David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Julio Lugo had three hits each, and accounted for 5 runs and 5 RBI combined. It was that kind of night. In all, Boston scored in four of the first five innings, and left 17 men on base in this game. They set a World Series record for a Game 1 blowout, and are the first team to score 10+ runs in three consecutive postseason games. The Rockies have a pretty good offense, but they will have some trouble coming back if the Sox get another big lead in this Series. They need to string hits together to win, because the HR power is somewhat lacking.

The Colorado bullpen did a good job the rest of the way, but with a cushion like that, you know the Sox hitters must have let up just a bit. Clint Hurdle had to use five of his seven relievers last night, which should lead to interesting results, should rookie starter Ubaldo Jimenez leave early tonight. The Red Sox just need to be patient and take a lot of pitches with him, as control has been an issue for him in the past.

Mike Timlin and Eric Gagne each provided an inning of scoreless relief, striking out three batters between them. It was nice to see Gagne go out there and throw strikes (8 of 11 pitches) and work an easy inning.

As expected, Coco Crisp came into the game as a defensive replacement, Manny sat down and Ellsbury shifted to left. Good to see that the catch to end the ALCS didn’t cause an injury.

I don’t think that we should necessarily consider this Series to be in the bag yet, but this game should inspire a lot of confidence. The Sox players are saying all the right things in their interviews, and I don’t see them getting too cocky and letting this one slip away. Like I said, I think confidence is a huge factor for a young team like the Rockies. If they think they can, they could actually pull it off, given the right circumstances. But take away their hope early, and it ain’t gonna happen. If Curt Schilling dazzles them tonight, I do believe that it’s all but done, with Josh Fogg taking the mound in Game 3. The Rox will need him to pull a Jake Westbrook if they are going to survive.

I’ve heard some people wondering why the Red Sox went with Kyle Snyder on the roster rather than Julian Tavarez. While Tavarez is more of a groundball pitcher, which seems more suitable for a place like Mile High Stadium, it’s important to note that batters hit only .223 against Snyder this year, while they hit Tavarez at a .281 clip. Neither of them had a good second half, it’s true (Snyder 5.24 ERA and Tavarez 5.48 ERA), but Snyder’s BAA was actually even better post-ASB (.207) than the first half (.233). His problem was the longball; he gave up 5 of his 7 HR in August and September. While Mile High is a great hitter’s park, the HRs are not as much of an issue as they used to be, thanks to the Humidor. I think what the Sox want to do is minimize the number of balls in play, and rely more on strikeouts and softly hit balls.

2007 World Series Preview: The Colorado Rockies

Schedule of games:

Game 1: Wed Oct 24 8:35PM (@BOS); Jeff Francis vs Josh Beckett
Game 2: Thu Oct 25 8:30PM (@BOS); TBA
Game 3: Sat Oct 27 (@COL)
Game 4: Sun Oct 28 (@COL)
Game 5: Mon Oct 29 (@COL)
Game 6: Wed Oct 31 (@BOS)
Game 7: Thu Nov  1 (@BOS)

The Red Sox have yet to announce the starting rotation for the Series, because they have to decide whether it’ll be Curt Schilling or Tim Wakefield in Game 2, with the other pitcher likely starting in Game 4 in Colorado. Schilling is 4-4 with a 5.51 ERA lifetime in Colorado, and Wakefield is 0-2 with a 9.31 ERA in two career starts there, not a fun choice to be making. Should he start a mile high, the thin air at Invesco should cause his knuckleball to lose a little bit of its movement. The Rockies could be taking batting practice on Wake if that happens. On the other hand, Wakefield dazzled the Colorado lineup at Fenway back in June, and could do it again.

There is a little more story line between these teams. Apparently, the rumored deal of Todd Helton for Mike Lowell and Julian Tavarez earlier this year was a done deal, but the Sox balked at the last minute when Dan O’Dowd asked for one of Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz or Manny Delcarmen to be included in the deal. What a different season that would have been.

My prediction? Sox in 6.

Setting the Roster

I don’t expect any changes to the roster for the World Series. Personally, I wouldn’t mind swapping out Javier Lopez with Tavarez, but it’s tough to remove a guy at this point, when he’s contributed to the team’s success. Taking away his shot to play in a World Series is a tough one. Call me crazy, but I actually think Eric Gagne could prove useful against a National League team, though I wouldn’t ask him to hold a pressure situation any time soon.

Keys to the Series

The Rockies come in as hot as humanly possible. Everyone knows about them winning 21 of their last 22 games; that’s an amazing streak, especially to continue that in the playoffs is unheard of. And if you thought Cleveland was a young team, get ready for a shock. You might not recognize a good 3/4 of their team, unless you follow fantasy baseball. So how are they doing it? As a team, they scored the second most runs, led the NL in batting average at .280, tied for the league lead with a .354 OBP. The Rockies boast a very young rotation that has just come together in the last months of the season, and a solid bullpen with a lot of power arms. They came in 8th in the NL with a team ERA of 4.32, which is not bad, considering they play at altitude, where balls tend to carry well. They have taken to storing all of their baseballs in a Humidor, which ensures that the balls do not dry out and carry even further in the thin mountain air. While they do have good stuff, their pitching staff is not a strikeout staff; they rely on getting ground balls from their sinkerball pitchers. Having swept the NLCS about a week ago, Colorado is very well-rested, and we have to count on them having gotten a little rusty in the mean time.

This young rotation has been on fire in the playoffs, with everyone contributing. Jeff Francis is a really tough lefty who I predict will give Sox hitters fits. He’s got great command of a low 90s fastball and a biting curve that’s tough to gauge. Their #2, Aaron Cook is a fireballer, and he throws perhaps the heaviest sinker in the majors right now. Then there’s 23-year old Ubaldo Jimenez, who throws high-90s and has a nasty curveball to go with it. He also throws a pretty decent changeup. Josh Fogg is a journeyman, really, and a control/finesse pitcher who we should be able to hit well, should they use him. Franklin Morales is a quality lefty that they will likely move to the bullpen, with the return of Cook.

The Colorado pitchers are used to facing NL lineups, not David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. You can not get past a good AL lineup with just a good fastball, as Josh Beckett learned in 2006. They do have a lot of young arms with very good stuff, but with youth comes control problems and inconsistency. The Rockies pitchers need to be able to throw their secondary pitches for strikes, or else this patient lineup will take them apart. We have to rely on their youth and inexperience to work against them; if they get into trouble, I think their youngest pitchers will fall apart pretty quickly. Advantage Boston.

The Rockies feature a pretty deep bullpen, hard throwers with good stuff. They are inexperienced also, but I don’t think it matters here as much as it does in the rotation. Their closer, Manny Corpas, has had a phenomenal rookie campaign, and tough lefty Brian Fuentes is also there to back him up. Look for them to bring him in to face Big Papi in key at-bats. Jeremy Affeldt and LaTroy Hawkins are hard throwers. They have some big guys here. Jason Hirsh and Darren Clarke are both 6’8″, and Ryan Speier is 6’7″. Apart from the closer, I’d say these two bullpens are about even.

The Rockies offense is led by All-Star Matt Holliday. Holliday is the real deal, a very dangerous hitter who can make contact, drive the ball, and even run a little on the basepaths. Besides him, there is Todd Helton, who is an on-base and doubles machine, and Garrett Atkins, a good hitter with a great power stroke. Troy Tulowitski and Brad Hawpe both hit .291 and had at least 24 HR this season. The Rockies have a couple of pesky hitters in Kazuo Matsui and Willy Taveras, who between the two of them stole 65 bases in 2007. Their bench is stocked with good depth at every position. Like the Indians, they feature a nice balanced lineup. Still, they lacked the power numbers you’d expect of a team that plays at Mile High Stadium. If they’re going to succeed against Boston, they’re going to have to do it by manufacturing runs and getting key hits. Boston has a slight edge here.

This Rockies defense is very good. Their infield is led by shortstop Tulowitski, who as a rookie already has filled the highlight reels with his goodies. Tavarez covers a lot of ground in center, and Hawpe is pretty good in right. One pitfall for the Sox is that when we play in Colorado, Ortiz is going to be manning first base. That’s the only way to keep his bat in the lineup. Ortiz took some practice there before the last series, so hopefully he’ll be up to the task. Look for Kevin Youkilis to come in as a defensive replacement late in these games. Also, the outfield at Mile High is a mile wide. Manny will have to really pay attention not to mess it up there. Getting Ellsbury in left late in games would be a very good idea.

Terry Francona and the Boston team gets an edge here just because of playoff experience. This team knows how to rally once we’re down; the Rockies have had yet to face a serious challenge in the postseason. What if they go down 0-2 games? I think it’s over at that point.

Final Thoughts
Boston has the edge here, and is expected to win. The Rockies have a big advantage when were playing in Denver, but we also have a big advantage when we play here in Beantown. The Rockies are definitely talented, but they are just a bad play away from losing their confidence in themselves. Just as Cleveland clearly buckled in the last three games, Colorado runs the same risk because of their collective inexperience. If they get off to a great start, the Sox could be in trouble; but if we start well, it is over.