Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fuming Mad

Basically this blog post is going to come across as a total rant and I don't really care. I just watched the Red Sox drop their fifth game out of their last six when there was basically only one of those games that they flat out lost (probably the Sunday night game against the Yankees, but even that one is up for debate). Earlier this month I would have had a hard time believing that the Sox would not have wrapped up the division by Sept. 20. When the club wakes up tomorrow, they will be a scant 1.5 games above New York for the AL East crown and will still need three wins/Tigers losses to get into the playoffs. It feels like this has happened so fast. But the reality is that in a very short period of time the Sox have gone from easily being the league's best team to truly backing into the postseason and scraping just to get into October.

There's not one aspect of this team that can be relied up on right now. Not one. The starting pitching has gone from the best in baseball to iffy as a complete unit. The bullpen has gone from the best in baseball to essentially a bust. Without Ramirez, Youkilis, and Crisp, and with Varitek turning into an automatic K and overuse of Hinske, this Sox offense is as rudderless as any in the majors. One would think that without Manny, Ortiz could still be productive with Lowell hitting cleanup, but unfortunately Lowell has chosen the worst possible time to slump, rendering the fragile Papi punchless (edit: I'm an asshole. Lowell has been doing fine lately. My bad). The defense hasn't been terrible, but they certainly lose something when Hinske has to play and Ellsbury and Crisp aren't both out there. And with Julio Lugo's lack of hustle with the bases loaded in the 7th tonight, I wonder how much some of these guys care.

But the aspect of the team Red Sox fans must have their least amount of faith in lies with the manager. At this blog and my old one, Terry Francona has been the sacred cow. I've barely criticized him for anything over the years, partially because he'll always be the guy that led this team to glory in '04. But I can't possibly overlook his terrible mismanagement of this team over the course of the last six weeks or so, specifically towards the bullpen. I'll get to that later, but first I want to address my difficulty understanding his dealings with a certain injured outfielder.

I don't claim to know how serious Manny's oblique injury was when it first happened. They told us first that Manny would be out for 7-10 days and he's now missed 21 straight games. So I'd like to believe he's legitimately unable to play for this team, but since this is Manny, I have to say I'd like to believe it. There's no telling whether Manny will contribute anything upon returning because this has been one of his least productive seasons ever even when healthy. There is no questioning, however, whether or not Manny's presence in this lineup is important, given the way the team has stopped hitting. Francona has predictably decided to let Manny set his own timetable for a return to play, even though Manny has taken upwards of 40 BP swings on a daily basis for the last week or so. That said, it seems strange that Manny is still too hurt at a time when the team needs him. Manny doesn't exactly have the reputation of being someone who burns to play when he's not at 100% (or even when he is 100%). I'm bringing this up because I believe Francona has become an enabler for Manny to conduct himself in such a way. Would Manny still be watching from the bench if his manager was Jim Leyland? Or Eric Wedge? Or Mike Scioscia? I really don't think so. Francona has become more concerned about saving face with his fading veteran superstar than making sure he's on the field to help the Sox will games. Correction: win a game.

A lot of times in his run as Sox manager, Francona has struggled with his bullpen, mostly because he's been given some terrible bullpens to deal with. In 2007, Francona has been supplied with his best bullpen unit since he arrived, and since the acquisition of Eric Gagne, I have never seen a manager suck this badly at dealing with a bullpen. Even Grady Little was never this bad. First of all, I think there has been an overall mismanagement of the use of Clay Buchholz since his no-hitter. This doesn't rest on the shoulders of Francona alone, instead sharing the blame with Theo Epstein, John Farrell, and other Red Sox development people. I'm all for keeping Buchholz's innings down because there's nothing worse than overworking a talented young pitcher. At the same time, with the struggles of Gagne, Okajima and some other bullpen arms, I don't understand why the Red Sox chose not to utilize Buchholz as a setup man similar to how the Yankees have used Joba Chamberlain to phenomenal success. Instead, between his no-hitter and his shortened start tonight, Buchholz pitched three scoreless innings to get a relief victory in Baltimore on Sept. 6. And that's IT. I can't believe he could not have contributed more to this team than that. Behind Beckett, Schilling and Papelbon, can you make the argument that any other pitcher on this roster is better than Buchholz? Can you?

Hideki Okajima's fairy tale season has truly ended in a Greek tragedy, and I believe there's a chance he could be shut down the rest of the way. He should never have been in that game last Friday. Trading for Gagne has proven to be one of the team's biggest blunders in recent memory. Bringing in Gagne in last night's game, and then not getting anyone up behind him when he completely lost control, was simply mind-boggling. Friday night, Francona threw Papelbon into a bases-loaded situation with terrible results. Five nights later, Francona did THE EXACT SAME THING WITH THE SAME EXACT RESULTS. I came across an amazing stat tonight, courtesy or Papelbon has gotten two doubles plays in 122.2 innings since the start of the 2006 season. Do you mean to tell me Francona doesn't know this? Based on this information, how much sense does it make to ever bring Pap in with men on base and less than two outs? Couldn't anyone play this right with this information?

I'm starting to get tired so I'm not going to say much more. I know that teams that win the Wild Card have won many Series titles recent years, but most of Red Sox Nation will be as fuming mad as I am if the hated Yankees end up with a better record, again. No one wants to back into the playoffs, but the Cardinals certainly backed into the playoffs in 2006 but ended up going all the way. There is still greatness in this Red Sox team. If they can get their walking wounded back, find some effectiveness in those arms, and have their manager grow a brain, I have no doubt the Red Sox can do the same.

If all those things happen, it would make the '04 miracle look like nothing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Red Sox Evals Part III

This isn't going as quickly as I would like it to but at least it's actually happening. I've got, you know, homework and stuff like that to do. But I'm still finding some time to update this thing for the first time in a few months. Maybe it's just because this team has a lead I don't want it to lose, but I really want this Red Sox regular season to end now. They've labored through what has been a tough season, some key players are injured or need rest, the team needs the playoffs to begin. Or maybe I just need it to begin. Either way, it needs to happen.

Let's continue with the evals with a look at the Sox' second baseman.

#15 - Dustin Pedroia - 2B - 2007 salary: $380,000.
It became obvious at the end of the 2006 season that the Red Sox were going to go in a different direction for the future at the keystone corner than re-signing veteran Mark Loretta. As a high draft choice with great success in the minors, Dustin Pedroia came into spring training this year with the second base job his to lose. After an adequate spring, Pedroia came out hot at the very start of his career as a big league regular but quickly cooled off. On May 1, the diminutive Pedroia was hitting just .172 and Alex Cora was already starting to take away his at bats. Many, myself included, became convinced that Pedroia was uncomfortable and not ready for the big leagues, swinging at bat pitches and trying to pull everything.

Quickly thereafter, all phases of Pedroia's game came alive. With the season almost over, I think Pedroia is a shoe-in for AL Rookie of the Year. His .325 batting average is currently 6th-best in the AL and has only 38 strikeouts in 456 at bats. Pedroia's glovework has come around significantly from the start of the year, as his range and strong arm have resulted in many game-saving plays. By being attentive to the nuances of the game at this level, and not burying his head in the sand when he easily could have, Pedroia has established himself as a top-of-the-order presence on the best team in the majors.

As you can imagine, Dustin Pedroia is the type of player that I absolutely adore. The guy is definitely not blessed with extreme physical talents, yet he gets the most out of his body and potential through hard work and determination. He plays with a muted cockiness that most good players of his ilk possess. He is gifted with tremendous hand-eye coordination that will allow to one day become one of the league's best contact hitters if he isn't there already. Many people in baseball wonder if this season is a fluke for Pedroia, and some don't see him ever producing like he has this year again. I wholeheartedly believe that the best is yet to come for Pedroia, and I am looking forward to see what he does, and I also believe he will be a leader for this team going forward.

Next time I'll look at two key members of this year's rotation, Dice-K and Beckett.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Red Sox Evaluations, Part II

Back to the evaluations, and I'll try and bang out three tonight. We begin with Coco Crisp.

#10 - Coco Crisp - CF - 2007 Salary: $3.5 million.
After an injury-riddled, abysmal first season in Boston for Coco Crisp, the immensely talented Sox center fielder came out cold with the bat once again in 2007. He spent the first two months mostly hitting at the bottom of the batting order, and hit at a .229 clip with only 15 RBI on June 1. In June and July Coco turned it around, and raised his average as high as .284 with some pop. He cooled off in August but is hitting again down the stretch. His most important offensive contribution to the club has been his 23 steals, and he's also seven runs scored behind his career high.

Without a doubt, Crisp has made a much bigger impact with his glove in 2007 than any other aspect of his game. It has significantly outweighed any disappointment his offense has provided. Watching him run down just about every ball in the outfield this year has certainly been something to behold. It's usually pretty hard for center fielders not named Hunter or Suzuki to win a Gold Glove in the AL, but it's difficult for me to believe that anyone that's paid any attention to the Red Sox this year could say that Coco is not deserving of the award. The number of game-saving grabs that he's made this year is roughly comparable to the number of clutch hits by David Ortiz in the last few years.

The future for Coco Crisp in Boston is rather cloudy. With the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury this month, it seems like the Sox could shop Crisp around this winter. He's signed to a very team-friendly contract with an option for 2010, and I think it would be very attractive for teams like Atlanta or Minnesota that figure to lose their center fielders to free agency. Had Coco enjoyed a better season at the plate, the team could be able to wrestle a top prospect out of one of those clubs but I kind of think that won't happen now. I wouldn't mind it if this Sox kept him around but I think Ellsbury can be a star and Coco's time may have passed. Either way, his defense has been an integral part to the Red Sox success this year.

#12 - Eric Hinske - 1B, LF, and RF - 2007 Salary: $5.625 million (half paid by Toronto).
When the Red Sox took on half of Hinske's remaining contract last season, I felt like he could be a pretty useful bench player for the club going forward. I'm not sure that I could categorize his .217 average in 70 games as useful this season, but it's always good to have guys that have versatility. It's an interesting time in baseball when a guy like Eric Hinske, who plays four positions all at below-average level, can't hit, can't run, can't throw, and is typically a huge liability whenever he's on the field can earn $5 million and make it through the whole season on the roster of the best team in baseball. He'll probably make the postseason roster even though he doesn't deserve it, and it will likely come at the expense of Ellsbury. I don't expect the Red Sox to re-sign Hinske upon the completion of this season.

#13 - Alex Cora - 2B and SS - 2007 Salary: $2 million.
Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook knows about my affinity for the Red Sox super utility man Alex Cora. When Dustin Pedroia was going through his difficult times at the outset of 2007, Cora provided a perfect alternative at a time when the club really needed it. I was among the people who called for Pedroia to be sent back to Pawtucket in favor of Cora when Pedroia was running so bad and Cora was coming up with seemingly every clutch hit the team needed. But Dusty came on and Cora went back to his better role on the bench. Since then he has made a positive contribution to the club with his defense and small-ball ability. I love the guy and I hope he will be with the team for the foreseeable future.

More to come.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

I almost forgot that I had this thing. After an excellent summer of working and living in the Mount Washington Valley, I'm back on the UNH campus ready to rock out my junior year. If you happen to be around the area, feel free to stop by room 301 in the brand spankin' new SERC A building on the far end of campus. It's totally sweet. Anyway, I'm back and this time I will try to post something just about everyday. In order to motivate myself to do this, I am going to begin a series of evaluations of the 2007 Red Sox for each player. I'll try and do at least one in each post, and I'll probably get to more based on the amount of writing I feel like doing. I'm going to do it by uniform number, which means that I must unfortunately begin this list with J.D. Drew.

#7 - J.D. Drew - RF and CF - 2007 Salary: $14 million.
Back in the winter time, I was fully in favor of the Red Sox brining in Drew, since it was obvious that he was an upgrade as an everyday player from Trot Nixon and that the left field wall would perfectly suit his hitting style. Drew was hot at the plate in Fort Myers and carried it with him through the first three weeks in April. Since then, he's been nothing short of horrendous, batting as low as .222 on June 1 and currently sitting at a putrid .256. Since June 20, he has hit exactly one home run and his seven on this season is easily his worst since his rookie season. He has failed to come through in clutch situations numerous times and his position in the middle of the Sox lineup for most of the season has proved costly.

Last night, the Blue Jays walked Mike Lowell with 1st base open so they could pitch to Drew, even with a right-handed pitcher on the mound. That tells you just about all you need to know about how this season has gone for Drew. He's taken a lot of heat from the media and fans, but he clearly has no intention to at least show that it's getting to him. I wouldn't say the perception about him that he doesn't care about winning or about baseball in general is true, instead I feel he's just one of those players that has an easy style and doesn't get too wound up like Kevin Youkilis. Drew hustles on the field just as much as anyone else, but he just hasn't produced this season to make anyone feel happy about that. Defensively, Drew hasn't made many memorable plays but has made his fair share of bad onces to be sure.

Drew has looked old at times this year, and it may come as a shock to some that he doesn't even turn 32 until this November, and the Red Sox are on the hook for $56 million more through 2011. The question going forward is whether or not this year is an aberration or if this is the J.D. Drew the Red Sox will be stuck with going forward. It's possible that Drew has played through nagging injuries like those to his shoulder and legs and it's negatively impacted his ability on the field. He's also had to deal with health problems regarding his infant son, who underwent an operation earlier this summer. We cannot speculate about what kind of effect this has had on Drew's psyche over the course of the year, but it may have been weighing on him for some time. I'd like to think that in the offseason, Drew will work as hard as ever to prove he is worth the money the Sox gave him. I'm also not ruling out the possibility that Drew could come alive when it really matters for the team. But that might be a fantasy in this lost first season for J.D. Drew.

That's all for now. Good night and good luck.