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.
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.
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
What happened to the sweet April surprise? What happened to the timely hitting and the shutdown pitching? What happened to the early inning offensives that put the opposition back on its heels? What happened to the impregnable infield?
In the words of the Obamanator, “That’s above my pay grade.”
Still I’d love to float a theory like everyone else in my pay grade. In a crisp soundbite I say: Bring back Iglesias! This is not so much a solution as a strategy. Here’s the reasoning.
The infield was impregnable in April, because Iglesias covered most of the left side and made an extra out every game. But he was worth more than the out, he brought confidence to the whole infield, so that they played an error-less month.
Stephen Drew is just hitting his stride, so move him to third. Middlebrooks is still not hitting his, so send him for a stretch in Pawtucket. With two shortstops on the left side, you have a impermeable infield.
However, this arrangement will not be permanent, because Drew will get hurt again, probably in the next four weeks. The Red Sox should know this, because they have previously waded in the Drew gene pool. Injuries are inevitable in this family. So Middlebrooks should not get comfortable in Pawtucket.
Let’s get the lead man on. Keep a consistent bat in the lead off spot. Ellsbury is not getting on base enough, so he should probably be batting fifth or sixth. Victorino and Nava have shown the best aptitude for getting on, so give them each an audition. Pedroia goes back to batting second, then Ortiz and Napoli. The rest of the line-up can be adapted for the opposing pitcher.
There’s enough here to shake up the line-up. The rest is patience and keeping a positive attitude. The veterans on the team know where these come from.
The pitching will continue to be the strength of this team, even with the injuries. Just give Allen Webster a big league chance, and he’ll fill a spot in the rotation.
There’s a little Sox Sanity for ya and way above my pay grade.
So my favorite baseball analyst, Tim Kurkjian, has put the Red Sox in third place in the AL East. I know he likes Boston, so I’m not going to accuse him of Hub-prejudice, but I think he is overly cautious in forecasting the success of a club with many unknowns. Admittedly some luck will determine where the Sox finish in 2013.
In Major League baseball Luck is always on deck. Typically, the Red Sox are stocked with starters with Achilles’ tendons, Tommy John elbows, and the constitution of Jimmy Piersall in center field. Add to this the mysteries of concussions and hidden hip ailments you have a line-up for the infirmary, rather than the All-Star team. So any hopeful predictions will assume a reckless disregard for the curse of injury.
But we are done with curses. Leaving Spring Training we have every reason to hope for dramatic recovery from David Ortiz and John Lackey. We have hope that Jacoby Ellsbury will survive his year leading up to free agency and dazzle his suitors. We have hope that Mike Napoli will earn the contract incentives he signed up for during the winter. And we believe that at least one unproven rookie, a Jackie Bradley, a Jose Iglesias or an Allen Webster will surprise his critics and reach Major League maturity early. And even if Luck goes three for seven on my wish list, that would be .428 and enough to get the Red Sox to second place.
Because, for the first time in five years, the Red Sox have an established pitching rotation, not one built on “Spahn, Sain and two days of rain.” Every pitcher in the five-man rotation is a proven starter. In the bullpen, there are three bonafide closers. In the middle innings there is a reliable right-hander and left-hander. And, of course, the usual number of works-in-progress named Bard, Breslow, and Morales. But what if just one of them fully recovered?
Luck’s greatest mystery is John Farrell, who has yet to prove he can manage a winner. Farrell brings the experience of past success with the Red Sox and especially the knowledge of handling pitchers. If he can motivate a team through long road trips and hardship, that will seal the season. The X-factors of injury, batting slumps, and lost confidence are frequently dispelled by good managing. My expectation is that John Farrell is the man for the job.
Luck is always on deck. I have seen Luck swinging and stretching and nodding as he looks over the Red Sox. With all the bad things that could happen this year, only a few will transpire. With all the miscues of a first-year manager only a few will set back the team. Under the pressure of September only one hitter will fold. Luck says we’re a cinch for second, and his sister “Good Luck” says “No Limit to the Possibilities.”
David Ortiz and Stephen Drew are on the Disabled List, the line-up is short of left-handed hitters, the springtime hitting is anemic, and the biggest story is a 22-year-old kid who has hardly made footprints in the Minor Leagues. Are the Boston Red Sox in trouble? Not at all.
It’s all about the pitching, and the pitching is marvelous. Strong, young lefties in John Lester and Felix Dubront, seasoned right handers in John Lackey and Ryan Dempster, and a healthy Clay Buchholz. These are the signs of a brilliant spring, along with a stable bullpen of Hanrahan, Bailey, and Uhehara and an experienced middle relief corps of Aceves, Miller and Breslow. This is the best pitching staff the Sox have fielded since their last title run in 2007.
When was the last time the Red Sox did not begin the Spring depending on the likes of Beckett, Matsuzaka, and Wakefield? All good pitchers in their prime, but could we say the last three years were “prime” for any of them? In retrospect anchoring a staff with these three was a hopeless dream. Wakefield was always the heart of the Red Sox, but in the end, “heart” was all he had.
To assume anything without reckoning on injuries with this pitching staff would be reckless. They all have physical problems to overcome, but their conditioning this spring has given nothing but hope. Lester looks like the pitcher he has always been touted to be, Buchholz is developing his stamina, and Lackey looks like the second coming of Tommy John. Dempster and Dubront already look in mid-season form. Try to remember when the Red Sox left Fort Myers with this much promise in their starting rotation?
Perhaps this is what Ben Cherrington was thinking when he abandoned all comers for the managing position, except for John Farrell. Farrell was the last pitching coach to compose a champion pitching staff for the Sox. You can say what you want about Ramirez and Ortiz, but the missing piece was always pitching. More than ever, a healthy, reliable pitching staff is what makes a champion.
So here’s a prediction about pitching. The Sox will have no twenty-game winners, but Lester and Lackey will win thirty-five between them. Buchholz and Dempster will win thirty between them. And there will be 30 more games won by the likes of Dubront, Aceves, and maybe a late-season appearance by Allen Webster. And there will be enough hitting to make the pitching look splendid.