Saturday, April 30, 2016

Some More Random Thoughts

As April is concluding today, here are some more random thoughts to this Red Sox season.

The Sox are 13-10, 1 1/2 games behind first place Baltimore. The O's broke from the gate strong, winning their first seven, but have regressed since, and there clearly is no team head and shoulders above the rest.

The Red Sox are leading the AL in nearly every major team batting category: runs (118), hits (224), doubles (64), triples (7), total bases (356), batting average (.277), RBI (111), stolen bases (20), extra base hits (89) and on base percentage (.338). Curiously, they are at the bottom of the AL in home runs, with 18. This just shows they are winning games the old fashioned way and not relying on the home run ball, and that's a good thing. (Ironically, it took a David Ortiz two-run shot to beat New York last night.)

The pitching side of the ledger is obviously not as rosy so far. The Red Sox are currently 13th in overall team ERA (4.33), but lead the AL in strikeouts with 228. The Sox recently set an MLB record for strikeouts through 20 games with 210. (And it certainly helps that the strikeout totals in the game continue to increase at mind-blowing levels.)

You throw a challenge before Dustin Pedroia, he responds. More than one "expert" was questioning whether Pedey was truly on the downside of his career. While things can change in an awful hurry, Pedroia is currently eighth in the AL in batting at .323, and had a two-homer game earlier this week for the seventh time in his career. He continues to play a solid second base, making the occasional highlight-reel play.

I think it safe to say that Travis Shaw is making fans forget that the Red Sox ever signed Pablo Sandoval (who's he again?). Currently 14th in the AL in batting at .309, he has played a solid third base, gotten some clutch hits and I'm glad that John Farrell has stopped pinch hitting for him against lefties.

Rick Porcello goes for his fifth win tonight, and to become the third pitcher in MLB to go 5-0. After a shaky start to begin the year in Toronto, Porcello has given the Sox three quality starts since, the last being 6 1/3 shutout innings against the Braves. He's brought the ERA down to 3.51, and is striking out hitters at the best rate of his career. He is certainly making a case to be the Sox' number two starter behind David Price.

More to come in May...

Monday, April 25, 2016

One-Ninth Completed. Some Thoughts.

Three weeks of the regular season have been played, 18 games in total for the Red Sox. They are 9-9. That's exactly 1/9 of the season or 11% done.

Can't reach any firm conclusions about this team so far. But here are some random observations.

Hanley Ramirez has been far better at first base than anyone could have hoped to have imagined. I was at the opener at Fenway, and he made two Gold Glove-caliber plays, one on a wild throw he corralled, and a great over-the-shoulder grab he made down the first base line. I'm not saying he's in the elite of AL first basemen, but he's playing it like he's been there for years. And making everyone forget that disaster in left field last year. But just wait until the game that he makes a critical error that costs the Sox a game, and the wolves will be out howling again.

Craig Kimbrel threw another meatball to power hitter in the ninth inning last night, and blew the save, in a game the Sox came back and won. Kimbrel let the opener get away with his serving one up to Chris Davis of the Orioles. Is it me, or does Kimbrel not look comfortable out there? I fear shortly down the road we're going to hear: "The Red Sox placed closer Craig Kimbrel on the 15-day disabled list." Hope I'm wrong, but I've got a bad feeling here.

David Price has had a rough April, and got blasted by his former team the Tampa Bay Rays this past week. It's been pointed out that his worst month historically has been April. Fine, let's give him more time to see him right his ship. But it is disturbing to see him get knocked around by the club with the weakest offense in the AL.

Christian Vazquez looks like Yadier Molina behind the plate. He carries on like an old veteran and he has the respect of the pitching staff. He's not back to 100% yet following his Tommy John surgery from 2015, but he looks like a Gold Glover right now. But he looks terribly overmatched at the plate, and even struck out four times in one game this past week. I hope he gets the bat going.

John Farrell has made some questionable decisions since this season began. Why in the world does he EVER pinch hit for Travis Shaw? Shaw has picked up from where he left off last season, and hits lefties as well as righties. And his handling of the bullpen in the 12-8 loss against the Rays raised many eyebrows. The Sox being at .500 at this point is no disaster, as the AL East doesn't appear to be a strong division. But I felt the team needed a good start to put the last two miserable years behind them. And that goes especially for Farrell, who is back from his illness of last year. But you have to wonder how long his leash will be should the Sox struggle in the coming months. GM Dave Dombrowski certainly wasn't going to let Farrell go during the offseason, but now his team has to produce. Farrell isn't Dombrowski's guy, but he needs time to get the team moving in the right direction. I'm guessing if things still aren't right by the All-Star Game, a change could be coming.

Just some random thoughts. More to come later this week.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

"The Arm"

A new book was just published by sportswriter Jeff Passan on a very serious subject in baseball. It's called "The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports", and it takes a long hard look at the arm injuries suffered by pitchers, especially the explosion in the number of Tommy John surgeries performed in recent years. Not just on MLB pitchers, but going all the way down to youngsters in high school.

The book is centered on two MLB pitchers, Daniel Hudson and Todd Coffey, and their struggles to make it back from Tommy John surgery, and in Hudson's case, multiple surgeries. It follows the pitchers' lives as they recover, and shows a very human side that most fans never think about.

The book goes into the history of the surgery, from Tommy John's injury in 1974 that was thought to have ended his career, to Dr. Frank Jobe's groundbreaking surgery and the particulars of how it changed baseball forever.

Passan points out that MLB teams spend $1.5 billion on pitchers every year, and nearly a third of that is lost to injury every year. Just about of those pitchers spend time on the disabled list.

Tommy John surgeries have become more and more frequent over the years, almost to the point it has become routine in baseball. But its frequency has become dangerously high, and it is now estimated that 56% of all the surgeries take place on teenagers. It has become an epidemic.

Passan also takes his readers into the world of youth baseball, both in the United States and Japan. They appear to be the major culprits in future Tommy John surgeries, as many of these kid pitchers are pitching year-round. Better regulation of that industry appears to be a possible solution, but the ways to do it are not entirely clear, as there are multi-million contracts to be won by the best pitching prospects.

It's truly a crisis in baseball as Passan points out. Pitchers are throwing harder and harder, and at younger and younger ages. But no matter what solutions become popular (like pitch counts, limiting starts and innings), it will always be a problem, as the arm was not designed for long term baseball throwing.

"The Arm" is a terrific read, and should be mandatory for youngsters seeking a career as a pitcher (and those with a vested interest in them) to check this book out.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

My Sixth Opener at Fenway

I had a great time at Fenway Park yesterday for my sixth Opening Day game there with the BLOHARDS, the New York City-based Red Sox fan group I am proud to be a part of.

We went up in two buses, 110 of us, and sat in the right field grandstand in section 3. We were in fair territory, but we way up the grandstand, where no player could reach us with a home run.

The pregame ceremonies were very well done, which included a member of each of Boston's championship teams over the years: Ty Law of the Patriots, Bill Russell of the Celtics, Bobby Orr of the Bruins, and the man who was the focus of yesterday's ceremonies: David Ortiz.

The full season goodbye to Big Papi was on full display, as he got ovations throughout the day, especially in his first at-bat. But we were all surprised when his 15-tear-old daughter Alex came out and sang the National Anthem, and she did a magnificent job with her. She has quite a set of pipes for a young girl, and her dad looked like he was going to break down after she finished.

The Red Sox opened their first home game of 2016 with four singles off the Orioles' Yovani Gallardo, and it looked like the Sox were on their way, scoring three times. But David Price ran into all kinds of a trouble in the third, including a walk and hit batsman, and Mark Trumbo hit a three-run bomb to center, and the Sox were down 5-3.

The Sox tied it at 5 in the fourth on Jackie Bradley's double and an RBI groundout.

It was 6-6 in the ninth when Craig Kimbrel walked two batters and with two outs, Chris David hit a bomb into the centerfield bleachers to make it 9-6. (From my perspective I thought it was a long out, but when I saw Bradley turning around and looking up I knew it was big trouble.)

The Red Sox rallied for a run in the ninth (a Mookie Betts blast in the Monster seats), and had first and second with no outs and David Ortiz up. Here's the Hollywood ending for this Opening Day. "Just don't hit it on the ground" I thought to myself. And he hits it on the ground and Baltimore turns a DP. Hanley Ramirez struck out to end it.

A long bus ride back to New York followed, but I was still glad to go to the Palace of Baseball on Monday.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

The 2016 Season/Retirement Tour Starts With a Bang

The Red Sox need a fast start to the 2016 season, as every critic known to mankind kept harping on throughout the spring. They got a very good start to it yesterday.

With the temperatures at 34 degrees in Cleveland yesterday, and after the game was called off on Monday, the Red Sox and Indians sucked it up and went out there, with a brilliant matchup of aces: David Price and Corey Kluber taking the hill.

Price was brilliant in his Red Sox debut for six innings, allowing the Tribe two runs, striking out ten. The Red Sox struck first, with Mookie Betts going deep in the third inning with one on. The Indians tied the game in the fourth at 2-2, but the Sox went ahead to stay in the sixth, on an RBI single by Brock Holt and Travis Shaw scoring on a wild pitch.

The bullpen was stellar. Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara pitched perfect seventh and eighth innings, and Craig Kimbrel allowed just a two-out walk in the ninth. It would have been a save situation, but the Sox expanded their lead in the ninth.

That was due to David Ortiz. Papi unloaded a two-run bomb to right field to get the Retirement Tour off with a bang. It was his fifth Opening Day home run, the most of any current player in MLB.

The combination of Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia, the two hitters in front of Ortiz, went 0-for-9 on the day, but Papi, Travis Shaw, Hanley Ramirez, Holt and Betts each had two hits apiece.

One thing players on both teams seemed in agreement with was the truly horrific strike zone home plate ump John Hirshbeck had. Players were barking at him all day, calling both inside and outside pitches strikes, and clearly missing some calls at the top and bottom of the zone.

Anyway, it was a good day for the Sox, and the three-game series with the Indians continues tonight and tomorrow night, both 6:05 PM starts. Clay Buchholz will try not to get hurt tonight, and Joe Kelly gets the nod on Thursday.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The 25 For 2016

The Red Sox set their Opening Day roster for the game with the Indians tomorrow in Cleveland, and here are the 25 players who will be on it:

Pitchers (12): Matt Barnes, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Craig Kimbrel, Tommy Layne, Rick Porcello, David Price, Noe Ramirez, Robbie Ross, Junichi Tazawa, Koju Uehara, Steven Wright.

Infielders (7): Xander Bogaerts, Brock Holt, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Travis Shaw.

Outfielders (4): Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Rusney Castillo, Chris Young.

Catchers (2); Ryan Hanigan, Blake Swihart.

On the DL (4): Eduardo Rodriguez, Carson Smith, Christian Vazquez, Brandon Workman.