Trade Jon Lester? Please,
show loyalty for the loyal.
Trade for Matt Kemp? Please,
no more fragile superstars
(Remember Carl Crawford).
A young, strong, dependable outfielder?
O.K, give them Andrew Miller and Felix Dubront.
Give them Stephen Drew and Jonny Gomes.
Not Shane Victorino.
Don’t gut the core:
Pedroia, Ortiz, Victorino,
They are the phoenix.
They will fly again.
Even having ended Tampa Bay’s nine-game winning streak, the Boston Red Sox proved nothing that would elevate them to playoff contention. They scored seven runs in three games, they suffered a bullpen implosion, and they played back on their heels, as Tampa Bay bunted and ran around their defense. Except for a resurgent performance from their bullpen in Sunday’s finale with the Rays, the Red Sox offered no promise of ascending to the first division of their division.
So raise the white flag and let’s see what the young prospects can do in August and September. Unload some salaries this week, Jonny Gomes, Edward Mujica, Stephen Drew come to mind. Andrew Miller would be worth a good hitter in exchange. Do not trade Jon Lester or Shane Victorino, because you have to preserve what’s good about the team. The enigma is Mike Napoli, who seems to require two months of wild flailing in order to be lethal for the other four months. Depending on the time of year, you love him or hate him.
What should be clear is that the cast that won the World Series has passed their expiration date, and the new Red Sox will have new skills, maybe more speed and ironclad defense and maybe more zip on their fastballs. This should be a youth movement.
Please, no broken-down superstars like Matt Kemp. Please, no pitchers recovering from surgery. And no good-hit, no-field types that used to anchor positions like shortstop and left field. You have to be proud of something when a team is re-building, so let it be the defense.
So let the final week of July be about building for the future, bringing in talent that can and will mature in the next fifteen months. Maybe the Red Sox will be good enough to reach .500 this year, but let’s make a team that can reach .600 next year.
Baseball players take longer to mature than in any other sport. That’s why they have minor leagues. The Red Sox are decidely unripe fruit. The fans can now adopt the vintner’s adage for their team: we will make no wine before its time. That time is next year.
It wasn’t unthinkable, but many observers considered the Yankees low on Jacoby Ellsbury’s shopping list. Ellsbury’s signing of a seven-year contract with the New York rivals was a twist of the dagger in the heart of Red Sox Nation, a sad defection evoking memories of Johnny Damon making the trip south a decade ago. Yesterday Damon reflected,
When I was a free agent, I did not want to leave Boston, I left my heart and soul on the field, but unfortunately us players aren’t the ones making those decisions. The owners are the ones who are paying us. They’re running their team and they’re running it the way that they want.
There are a lot of similarities in these signings, with Damon the erstwhile Red Sox center fielder with speed, clutch hitting, and some fragility in his body. In losing both Damon and Ellsbury to the Yankees, the Red Sox knew what they were giving up, but calculated their losses. In Damon the Yankees did get a clutch performer, but also one beset by injuries in the twilight of his career.
Without a doubt Ellsbury’s’ fragility must have figured into the limitations the Red Sox placed on the length of his contract. Dustin Pedroia received a substantial contract renewal this year, but his track record has been to play, even through crippling injury. Ellsbury plays a position subject to injury every night, and he has the penchant for fouling pitches off his foot and ankle. He is definitely in the deep end of the risk pool.
I won’t forget, however, the fall evening this year, when he fouled a pitch off the small unprotected spot on his ankle, then proceeded to steal a base and take third on an overthrow. That night his hustle turned the game around and showed his grit playing through an injury that later sidelined him. Maybe he was playing for a new contract, but he played to win, and the Red Sox benefited.
Losing Ellsbury to the Yankees hurts now and could become a plague in the future. Once on base he will torment the American League by moving around almost at will. The unanswered question remains whether he will stay healthy and give the Yankees playing time for their many dollars. The Red Sox are gambling that he won’t.
I’m through second-guessing John Farrell. The man has “gut” intimations that defy numbers or logic, and they mostly have worked magic in the 2013 World Series.
Choose the players with the lowest averages on the Red Sox and place them in critical roles, and you have Farrell’s formula for success. Bat Jonny Gomes against right-handed pitchers, and he makes the difference in Game Four with a three-run homer. Start the defensive-back-up catcher, David Ross, in three out of five games, and the dude bats in the winning run in Game Five. Start the woeful Steven Drew at shortstop and watch him plug up the infield and execute miraculous double-plays. Start the youthful rookie Xander Bogarts at third and watch him work pitchers for walks and take pitches to right field, when they venture into the strike zone.
Meanwhile you bench players with proven talent during the regular season: Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamachia, and Daniel Nava. They have all started a couple of games, and they produced long at-bats and extra-base hits, when they did. (Except for Saltalamachia, who has slumped in the post-season). But they had to wait their turn, while the .220 hitters led the way.
Farrell deserves credit for his management of the middle innings pitchers as well. The starters and closers are no-brain decisions, but who to bring in for the fourth, fifth and sixth innings? So far Brandon Workman and Felix Dubront have proved nearly invincible in those roles. Probably they are logical choices for middle innings, but give him credit for seeing the vulnerability of Morales and Dempster and removing them from critical positions in the bullpen.
Bringing young talent like Bogarts and Workman along has been a specialty of the Farrell administration. Previous managers would never trust Pawtucket recruits in roles like this, but Farrell and his staff have hand-picked these rookies and turned them into Major Leaguers in a few short months. It shows not just an eye for talent, but for courage and maturity as well. For every Bogarts and Workman, there were several that did not make the cut this year.
So second-guessing is out of season for October. The World Series is not finished, but the record after five games is superb. Whatever hunches Farrell has left to play will be my hunches, too.
Currently, a lot of speculation about who will compose the Red Sox pitching staff during the playoffs. No one asked me, but I want to put in good words for these pitchers:
Lester, Lackey, Bucholz, Peavy, Dempster, Uehara, Breslow, Workman and Britton. What do they all have in common? They work fast and put the ball in the strike zone. Sometimes they get hit, even Uhehara, but they don’t fuss and fidget and walk around the mound, trying to summon the pitching gods to their aid. They look in, get the sign, and serve up another one. “Go ahead,” they are saying, “give it your best shot.”
It is well known that this is the gospel Juan Nieves and John Farrell have been preaching since Spring Training. The Josh Beckett era of delay and deliberation is over. Keep the game moving and let them hit what you have to show them. It has done wonders for the likes of Lester and Lackey, who have pitched with increasing confidence, pounding the strike zone as the year has progressed. They are truly controlling the game with their aggressiveness, not letting the batter regroup with every pitch. It is a pleasure to watch. Uhehara’s rhythm is poetic, not a hesitation in his delivery, unless you want to count the hitch you see just before he delivers the ball.
Some have not gotten the message: Tazawa, Dubront and Thornton. If they are in the zone, they can work quickly and get ahead of batters, but as the season waxes, they are increasingly behind. The hitters are waiting for their stream of pitches out of the strike zone, then getting their best shot on a 3-2 count. I have small patience for these laggers, because they are not getting with the program. They could all be dominant, but they choose to pick around the corners and fuss when they don’t get the strike calls they expect.
The first one to cut from the staff is Thornton, because he has not found the strike zone, since he came to the Red Sox. He is constantly in a 3-2 count, and then, naturally, walking the hitter. If Dubront could work rapidly and pound the strike zone, he could be the second left-hander coming out of the bullpen behind Breslow. So, of the two lefties, I choose Dubront.
Apparently Farrell likes Junichi Tazawa, but he paces around the mound, making faces after every pitch. Lately he is all over place, rarely pitching where the catcher is holding his mitt. Eventually he puts one right in the wheelhouse of some hitter, and the ball lands in the upper deck four hundred feet away. Clearly this is not what you want in a set-up man. I like the aptly-named Workman in his place, although Workman has had his own control issues lately. Workman, however, goes right after hitters, whether he has his best stuff or not. You have to admire that in a rookie.
Once the playoffs begin there should be no more free passes. Make them hit it, and let the other eight position players handle the results. Walks are poison. Thornton and Dubront? They have not proved they can do this. Britton? He started with confidence, but has lost his touch lately. Somehow a playoff staff will be assembled from these three left-handers and Tazawa. The one who regains his confidence and goes after hitters, should be the one who makes the cut.
This pitching staff should play ball, not play games on the mound.
With all due respect to Jerry Remy and the traumatic circumstances of his absence from the broadcast booth, Dennis Eckersley deserves some notice as a baseball color man. I’ve always liked the Eck as a pitcher, but even more for his insights into the play-by-play.
As ruthless as he was as a pitcher, Eckersley is brilliant and compassionate as a commentator. He particularly knows pitching and pitchers, but he observes and comments with restraint, letting his judgment fall lightly on the players.
Tuesday night he mentioned the laid-back performance of Felix Dubront, contrasting it with the intensity Jake Peavy had shown on Sunday. He commented almost with admiration of Dubront, but soon the lefty was falling behind hitters and faced a bases-loaded, no-outs predicament. “He looks almost too relaxed,” Eckersley suggested.
Fortunately Dubront summoned his powers and escaped with only two runs scored following a ground out and a fly out. He took control of the game and pitched masterfully.
Yet it wasn’t the first time Dubront had walked his way into trouble. The pattern of pitching from behind in the count has bedeviled him for most of the year. He seems to blunder into the doldrums during most of his outings.
Eckersley brings deep knowledge of the game with a light touch. Sometimes insight into the game can breed contempt or frustration, when players aren’t performing up to their abilities, but Eckersley has the patience, as well as the insight, of a manager. He asks questions and wonders if mistakes could have consequences later in the game. I appreciate this kind of commentary, which invites me to participate in the analysis, rather than racheting up anxiety about the game.
When you consider what a no-nonsense pitcher Dennis Eckersley was, it surprises you how restrained he can be in the broadcast booth. There’s something about that tension between what he was as a pitcher and what he is as a commentator that makes him a pleasure to listen to.
I appreciate the Eck coming out of the bullpen, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him in the starting rotation of broadcasting again.
Apologies to Stephen Drew,
I hardly knew ya
I wanted to bench or perhaps platoon ya
But you were hitting .202
You had a brother J.D. Drew
Toiled five years on the Boston crew
Except for April, May and June
When his back was out of tune
Occasionally he could be spry
But that was only in July
Or when the stars aligned just right.
I figured it was only deja vu
When you went down like brother Drew
Your active days in spring were few.
The coming of Iglesias I knew
Portended ill for the likes of you
So I dismissed another Drew.
The Red Sox had a vision true
Of a healthy Stephen Drew
And hitting seventh, who knew
Your timely swings would save this crew
When hitters five and six were overdue.
You could hit with power, too
In August saved the Beantown crew
With timely homers, not a few
And flashed a glove with ground ball glue
A shortstop with a swing, it’s true!
I regret remarks undue
Of the second coming of J. D. Drew
Of unfair comparisons with Iglesias, too
Of thinking a shortstop could never brew
What the so-called sluggers had failed to do.
For remarks that made you deja vu
I apologize, Stephen Drew