Hot Stove 2010: Options for a SP

I started doing these summaries as one post, and it just got too darn long. I just ad to throw away my shortstop post today. Anyway, on we go to starting pitching.

The Sox rotation is young (apart from Tim Wakefield) and strong, but lacks veteran depth. Behind a budding ace in Jon Lester and a very solid Josh Beckett, we’ve got (at worst) a middle-of-the-rotation filler in Daisuke Matsuzaka and some young talent. The Sox could easily go their typically conservative route, or they can trade away some of those juicy prospects for an upper-tier pitcher:

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8-6: Sox stage come back on Tribe, 6-4

The Boston Red Sox survived a short outing by Jon Lester and scrapped their way to a 4-4 tie in the top of the 9th. Manny Ramirez played the hero again, pounding a Joe Borowski pitch for his 493rd career home run and a 6-4 advantage, which became the margin of victory. Jonathan Papelbon pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the 9th for his 4th save of the young season.

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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.

ALCS Game 7: Another late blowout, Sox going to the big show

Papelbon's Riverdance, part 2Let the good times roll. Our Boston Red Sox advanced to the World Series last night with an 11-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians. It looks like an easy victory from the final, but it was a LOT closer than that, and Sox fans did get to sweat it out in the middle innings before the lineup finally put it away in the 8th.

It all started out with bad flashes of games 2, 3 and 4. The lineup was putting a lot of people on, but the Sox were not cashing in on their opportunities. Bottom of the 1st, Manny Ramirez hits a grounder that hits the lip of the infield and goes over Jhonny Peralta‘s head, scoring Dustin Pedroia from second. Mike Lowell singles, and J.D. Drew comes up with one out and the bases loaded. Anticipation grips Fenway for the man who hit the early grand slam the night before. Is he finally over the hump? Is he locked in? The result? Double play.

In the 2nd, a Jason Varitek double and a Jacoby Ellsbury single put men on the corners. Julio Lugo hits into a double play, which scores Tek, but crushes any rally we could have mustered. 2-0.

Bottom of the 4th, Varitek singles, Ellsbury hits into a fielder’s choice, Lugo singles, and Pedroia hits into yet another double play. The score should have been 6-0 by now; instead, it’s 3-0. Look, I know Jake Westbrook is a groundball pitcher, but this is a little ridiculous. In all, the Red Sox hit into 14 double plays in this series, a new LCS record. By four. And look who’s still standing.

Meanwhile, Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched very well to start. After retiring the first eight hitters, he allowed a single to Casey Blake, then threw a pitch in the dirt to allow him to move up to second base. I swear, that if that guy weren’t in baseball, he’d be a lumberjack or something. He just looks it. Anyway, with Grady Sizemore at the plate, I start to worry a little, but Dice-K rings him up to end the inning. Top of the 4th, it starts up again. Travis Hafner bangs a long one off the Monster for a double, then Ryan Garko doubles with two out to score him. Matsuzaka overthrows a couple of pitches, getting out of his delivery. I worry more, but Peralta grounds out to end it. Top of the 5th, Kenny Lofton bangs yet another one off of the Monster, then gets thrown out at second (called incorrectly, BTW). Two more singles ensue, and I am checking the Sox bullpen. Finally, Hideki Okajima gets up, but is not needed, as Sizemore produces a sac fly and Asdrubal Cabrera whiffs on a nasty letter-high changeup. Matsuzaka’s final line? 88 pitches, 5 IP, 6 hits, 2 runs, no walks and 3 Ks. He can do better, but this was good enough tonight.

Westbrook gets himself into a groove and makes it through six innings. The Sox manage absolutely zero at the plate in the 5th and 6th, striking out 4 times in the process. Blech. I am just perplexed by these offensive outages the Sox go through, but I guess as long as they don’t last too long…

Top of the 7th, Okajima is cruising, things seem in control, and then.. Lugo makes one of the most disgusting defensive gaffes I’ve ever seen. On a pop fly to left, he ranges way out of the infield, waves off Manny, then promptly drops the ball. I understand there is some apprehension about Ramirez as a fielder, but I think he can catch a fly ball. Every little leaguer is taught that you let the guy coming forward have it if you have to backpedal. With a one-run lead, I’m thinking, oh no; this could be the game. And surely enough, Franklin Gutierrez smacks a grounder right over the third base bag that goes into foul territory and bounces back into shallow left. The speedy Lofton should score easily from second, except that he doesn’t. The Indians third base coach, Joel Skinner, holds him up, and Okajima gets a double play out of Blake to end the frame. Huge mistake by the Indians to cancel out Lugo’s huge mistake. Still 3-2, and I think that play really weighed on the Cleveland players for the rest of the game.

The Indians bring on Rafael Betancourt, and I am salivating. I have been wanting the Sox to get one more shot at him. My prediction of him being the losing pitcher didn’t come true (I missed it by one run), but he did get lit up pretty good. My guess is that he had to be overused this series (this was his 5th appearance against us), and our guys got to know his stuff a little bit. That home run by Pedroia was the backbreaker, and I named him my player of the game.

Still a little drama left. Okajima gives up a bunt hit to Sizemore to lead it off, and there’s almost a three-way collision at first with him and Pedroia both trying to cover the base. Then Cabrera singles, and it’s getting mildly stressful. Bring on Jonathan Papelbon, who simply annihilates Hafner with a 98 mph fastball, then gets a grounder from Victor Martinez and a long, long, long fly out from Garko. That one hit in almost any other direction makes it a game again.

Bottom of the 8th, the late-night fireworks we’ve come to expect recently. It is just a dogpile, with a Drew RBI single up the middle, a bases loaded, two-out double by Pedey, and the rude greeting to rookie Jensen Lewis by Kevin Youkilis off the Coke bottles way, way up there. Varitek has a popfly fall between Peralta and Lofton, and that bounces out for a ground rule double. Ugly.

The top of the 9th is anti-climactic, except for the final drive by Blake into the triangle, which ends with Coco Crisp crashing into the wall and making the catch. Coco limped off the field afterwards, but today’s reports say that he’s okay. Congrats to Paps on both his first postseason and first two-inning save.

There’s a nice article about how many Boston fans very sportingly clapped for the Indians as they left Fenway at about 1AM last night.

And that’s the story of how the Sox overcame a 3-1 deficit and are now World Series-bound. Despite what a certain player said earlier, the Sox are the better team. So there. See you again Wednesday.

BTW, Josh Beckett was awarded the ALCS MVP. No argument here.


ALCS Game 6: Schilling, Drew come through

Curt Schilling just seems to be on his game when the season is on the line. The wily 40-year old veteran showed that he’s still capable of pitching with what he has. He used his split-finger fastball and his changeup pretty effectively over seven innings, allowing six hits and two runs, walking no one. He worked his way through a LOT of leadoff hits (he surrendered hits to begin 5 of his 7 innings of work). There were some long fly balls, but the Sox ran them all down. He needed only 90 pitches in this outing, and he even struck out five batters.

Schilling was handed a four-run lead after one frame by an unlikely hero. After two infield singles by Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis and a walk of David Ortiz loaded the bases, Manny Ramirez struck out on a nasty sinker and Mike Lowell flied out. With J.D. Drew at the plate, the best outcome I was hoping for was that he could walk in a run. But he took a 3-1 fastball by Fausto Carmona for a pretty good ride, and just cleared the fence to the right of the Green Monster. I’m very happy for the much-maligned Drew, and hope this becomes a turning point for him in his Boston career.

The Indians didn’t help matters, stumbling and bumbling their way through a 6-run bottom of the 3rd inning. Carmona walked Manny and Lowell to lead off the inning, and props to Drew for singling to keep the pressure on. Out comes Rafael Perez, the Red Sox favorite Tribe bullpen punching bag this series, now with a 45.00 ERA (why didn’t Wedge bring him in to face Drew at least???). Jason Varitek flied out to right, and then Jacoby Ellsbury had a key opposite-field single. Then he scored from first on Julio Lugo‘s double down the line.

Then the real fun begins. Obviously flustered, Perez walks Pedey, and Youkilis bangs a long one off the Green Monster. Kenny Lofton finally manages to play the carom right (he got a lot of practice last night), and they trap Youk off of first. Rookie Asdrubal Cabrera is chasing him back to first, and somehow manages to throw it off a ducking Youk’s helmet. Safe. The Indians bring in lefty Aaron Laffey, who gets Papi to ground hard to first base. An easy double play, right? It is unless your first baseman (Ryan Garko) throws it a good 10 feet short into the ground. After a Manny walk, the massacre finally ends with a Lowell fly ball. 10-1, Sox after three. Hello Game 7!

Ellsbury played well in his first postseason start, and didn’t shatter anything (except maybe Cleveland’s hopes). Hey, even Eric Gagne did well in this one.

You get the feeling that you’re watching a young, inexperienced team just unravel. After two straight poundings, I don’t expect them to put up much of a fight tonight. Those Cleveland fans will be sorry for calling one of our players “Rice-K” (I won’t tell you who). Despite the loss in Game 3, it’s still my opinion that Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched better Jake Westbrook last time, and I fully expect it to happen again in tonight’s game. Well, Cleveland, you guys can always donate those World Series T-shirts to the homeless.

ALCS Game 5: Beckett wills the Series back to Boston

Once again, C.C. Sabathia was off his game, giving up 10 hits over his six innings of work. But the Red Sox didn’t make him pay for the 14 baserunners he allowed. In fact, he left the game with the score still just 3-1. He allowed baserunners in every inning except the sixth, and hit two batters. The Indians induced two double plays and had lots of lucky breaks; the Manny Ramirez almost-a-home-run single, the Mike Lowell almost-a-double down the third base line. Both of those balls missed by mere inches. Even if Cleveland were to make it past Boston, they’re in serious trouble if their ace is pitching like this.

That Manny ball that hit off the top of the wall is just bad luck, but Manny not getting at least a triple out of that is just bad baseball. After his comments the day before, and getting thrown out at home in the first, it just makes him look like a fool. I just hope that the Series doesn’t come down to a foolish play.

Josh BeckettThe Red Sox were playing sloppy, uninspired ball while Josh Beckett was ringing up Indians all night long. Beckett is making the leap from merely excellent to legendary. His eight innings last night were astonishing, even better than his first start against the Angels. On the road, down 3 games to 1, everything on the line, and Beckett delivers. What a stud. Even the Indians’ one run came on a bloop double by Grady Sizemore, a single, and a double play ball by Travis Hafner. The Indians tried everything, even bringing in an ex-girlfriend of Beckett’s to sing the at the stretch, but it didn’t matter. With the start, Beckett now boasts a 1.17 ERA this postseason in three starts. He’s allowed just 13 hits and fanned 26 in 23 innings of work, and walked 1. Yes, that’s right- ONE guy. Add in his postseason from 2003, and you’re looking at probably the best postseason pitcher EVER (so far).

So that’s the story; Beckett just put the Red Sox on his back and carried them back to Boston for game 6. Never mind the score. All that came after, and is why I think we can still take this Series. Let me explain:

In the top of the 8th, everything started to fall apart for the Cleveland Indians. Rafael Perez came out of the bullpen and walked J.D. Drew after getting ahead 0-2. After a Jason Varitek flyball, Coco Crisp grounded to Perez, who bounced a throw to second, making both runners safe. This is where an inexperienced team like the Indians implodes. Pesky Julio Lugo drag bunts for a base hit, and we have ’em loaded. Eric Wedge calls in Tom Mastny, but it’s too late. A passed ball by Victor Martinez allows one run to score, and Dustin Pedroia walks to load the bases again. Not to be outdone, Kevin Youkilis walks too, forcing home a run. And now you got David Ortiz at the plate, bases loaded, one out, and Manny on deck. Heart attack for Mastny. He manages to get out the inning with just one more run, but I think this kind of inning is psychologically damaging in your last home game, going to Fenway, where the fans rock the rafters.

If we can win the next one, Jake Westbrook hasn’t got a prayer. I’m calling it right now, game 7, Rafael Betancourt is gonna be the losing pitcher. Write it down. I think the Indians are ready to fall, they just need a little push. And we’re looking to Curt Schilling to give it to them.

NEWS FLASH: Jerry Remy said on the radio this morning that nothing’s confirmed yet, but don’t be surprised if you see Jacoby Ellsbury in centerfield tomorrow night! Maybe he proved last night to Tito that he won’t freak out if he actually got some playing time.

Pitch analysis of Jake Westbrook

For those of you who are gluttons for punishment and want to analyze exactly how one Jake Westbrook managed to shut down our offense with a mediocre outing, you can read a detailed analysis here. Props to halejon at The Mockingbird for a great post.