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Boston Baseball Magazine Interview 8/6/12

Boston Baseball:  Rico, this team has a lot of talent, they’re getting paid a lot of money, and they’re not getting it done. If they fail to make the playoffs for the third straight year, is it time to blow up this team and start over?

Rico Petrocelli:  I don’t think you can blow the team up!  You can make some changes.  The team is scoring a ton of runs, and the bullpen is doing a very good job.  The trouble lies in the starting rotation — that’s where this team is all screwed up.  Jon Lester… I believe his problems are mental, not physical. It’s really frustrating, watching him pitch. His fastball isn’t moving lately, and if he’s not careful with his location, boom! His cutter is not good at all. He’s missing with it.  And after a while, when you miss your spots and you get hit hard like he has, you have a tendency to lose confidence.


BB:  It’s not just Lester.  Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz — these guys have all been outstanding at various times in their careers, but this year they’ve performed like fifth starters. Is it a coincidence that they’ve all hit a downturn at the same time? Is it coaching, catching, conditioning, what?

RP:  Buchholz’s last few outings were outstanding!  I watched that Texas game and he had great movement. The one pitch that’s really an equalizer for him is that changeup.  He’s got an outstanding curve, but when it’s on, he’s got an excellent changeup, which Beckett and Lester do not have now.  Their offspeed pitches are up in the strike zone.  I was at Fenway Park when Lester got roughed up by Toronto [July 22], and the first pitch of the game was out of the ballpark. That pitch was right down the middle. Lester was surprised that the guy would swing!  A lot of teams are telling their hitters to go after the first pitch now.  And why not?  That pitch is usually right there, down the middle.  Pitchers are going to have to come up with a new plan and move the ball around a little bit.


BB:  As you said, we have to work with what we have here, because this team has so many bad contracts they couldn’t blow it up if they wanted to! There are too many big contracts the Sox can’t possibly unload. Who would trade for Crawford, Beckett, Lackey, or Gonzalez unless Boston continued to help pay their salaries?

RP:  That’s true.  But I’ll tell you the truth, I wouldn’t blow this team up — I would try to make a couple of deals.  I can understand, from a business standpoint, that the Red Sox might want to dump some of these big salaries.  But as you said, who’s going to take these players unless the Sox kick in some money?   We’ve got to work with what we have.  Maybe do something with the rotation, move them around, mix in a sixth man maybe, get them an extra day of rest, you know? Maybe that would help Beckett and Lester.  Doubront is pitching well, but the guy with the best stuff on this staff is Buchholz, based on his last few outings.  If he can stay healthy and be consistent, he’s a 15-game winner.


BB:  Rico, is there an analogy to be drawn between the 2007 Red Sox and the 1967 Red Sox? Both teams won with great young talent, and everyone assumed they would be on top for a while. But after ‘67 it took the Red Sox eight years to get back to the postseason! The 2007 team made it back in ‘08 and ‘09 as the wild card but went nowhere, and since then they haven’t even been able to reach the postseason.  Things don’t always work out as planned.

RP:  [Sighs] We all thought as players, ‘We’re going to be together for a long time, and next year, when we win the pennant and go to the World Series, we’re going to win it this time!’  That’s how we were thinking. But guys got hurt.


BB:  Jim Lonborg breaks his leg, Tony C. gets hit by a pitch…

RP:  Jose Santiago, too. A bunch of guys got hurt, and it made a difference.  You know, it is very similar to this team in some ways.


BB:  What do we draw from that?  That nothing is given to you in baseball, no matter how rosy the situation may appear?

RP:  Absolutely.  That’s why you have to appreciate it when you get to the World Series!  It’s just not that easy.  You don’t see a lot of teams repeat, do you?  It’s tough.  But that doesn’t mean people aren’t going to have high expectations. The players, the fans, the media, the front office. You have a talented team, you have some guys making big money, and you expect to win. And then when it goes south, as it sometimes does, you get these guys calling into the radio stations, claiming ‘that guy doesn’t care anymore.’  Please!  Every guy that goes out there to perform, to play ball, CARES about his performance, wants to help the team out.  You think any of the players want to struggle? The Red Sox organization has to figure out a way to put these pieces together.  Maybe a six-man rotation, give these guys an extra day.  You’re not panicking; you’re trying to find a way to take a little pressure off of these guys, let them go and find themselves.  If they give up as a team, thinking they’re not going to win it, or they get disgusted or discouraged, you’re not going to win anything.

Sox Pound Rangers at Fenway 9-2

There was fierce thunder at Fenway Park tonight and it didn’t come from bad weather. It came from the Red Sox bats. They lit up Texas pitching for fourteen hits including eight doubles. It was one of the finest exhibitions of hitting I’ve seen in a long time. Ironically the Red Sox had no home runs in the game but they hit the ball all over the field knocking in runs with almost every opportunity. Ellsbury, Crawford, Pedroia, and Gonzalez did most of the damage. Jacoby with three hits and an RBI, Crawford, looking like his old self last night, had two doubles and three RBI, while Dustin Pedroia smacked three doubles and an RBI, and last but not least Adrian Gonzalez with three hits and three RBI. He continues his torrid hitting which started before the All-Star break and just keeps going on and on. That’s good news for Red Sox Nation.

On the other hand the big bad Texas Rangers looked like they just got off a red-eye special from L.A. and came directly to Fenway without sleep. Josh Hamilton looks terrible at the plate. He had a great first half of the season but has been in a terrible slump since the All-Star break. Their phenom pitcher from Japan, right-hander Yu Darvish, who they paid over fifty million to negotiate the rights to sign him (sound familiar Dice-K?)  had a good first half but seems to be having trouble with command of his pitches and is getting battered around lately. The Sox hitters took advantage of every pitch he threw over the plate with hits to all fields.

Aaron Cook was on the mound for the Sox and he pitched a very good game. He’s been a typical fifth starter pitching three bad games and then a good one. He did it with a terrific sinker and good command throughout all seven innings of work. It was especially impressive since Texas is one of the better hitting teams in the American League. Overall it was a nice win for the Red Sox especially after losing three of four to the Twins.

With all the talk and innuendos from the media about how dysfunctional the Sox are supposed to be and the criticism of the way Bobby Valentine is handling his players, it’s definitely over-kill at this point. The subject may light up the phone lines but most people don’t want to hear this junk talk. It’s only a game and it’s not scandalous if and when there are problems or disagreements between people. Those people who call in to complain like to stir things up because they’re angry at everything and everybody. Some of the co-hosts are the same way. Baseball and all other sports are not life and death situations. There are more important things to be concerned about and a baseball team ain’t one of them. The Jimmy Fund Radiothon coming up on WEEI is.


Sox Tame Tigers Behind Buchholz 7-3

Find some way to keep him healthy and you’ll finally have an ace on this pitching staff this year. No it’s not Josh Beckett or John Lester. It’s Clay Buchholz who pitched a terrific game last night at Fenway Park. He faced a very good Detroit Tigers lineup and kept them off balance all evening with an outstanding changeup and curveball that went along with a tailing fastball that had good movement into the eighth inning. It looked like it might be a tough outing for him when he gave up a solo home run to the Tigers centerfielder Austin Jackson early on. He settled down, though, and got good run support from his offense as they came back and scored two to give him the lead. You have to love the way he’s been going right after the hitters. Kind of like Josh Beckett used to be. His command was right on once again and although he gave up two more runs he kept the Tiger offense from having big innings by getting out of jams with men in scoring position. The Red Sox offense scored two in the sixth, one in the seventh and two more in the eighth which came from a two run home run by Will Middlebrooks that clinched it for Buchholz and the Sox.

With Felix Doubrant and Buchholz pitching well and if Josh Beckett and John Lester can get it going once again then there’s a real chance the Red Sox can get into the playoffs this year. The bullpen, overall, has done a very good job and if the starters can go deep into games, at least seven innings, then the next two months can be very exciting for Red Sox Nation.  Big Papi’s return will certainly help the offense and Dustin Pedroia, who hit a two run homer last night and had an additional RBI on a ground ball, can continue to hit this team just may come together. There are a lot of ifs here but there’s still a lot of time to win a wild card spot.

We’ll see what this team is made of in September when they’ll continually be reminded of last year’s collapse and what team do you think the Sox finish the regular in September with? You probably guessed it, three games against the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore. What an opportunity for payback. That is, of course if they’re in the hunt. Stay tuned for what can be a very interesting two months of baseball but for the sox to win then Beckett and Lester have to be the catalysts for this pitching staff. Now is the time for both of them to focus on the here and now and no longer on the past. If they don’t it’ll be a long winter for both of them and for the Nation.

Yanks Bomb Sox 10-3 at the Stadium

The 2012 New York Yankees seem to take their nickname, “the Bombers” very seriously. They are a homerun hitting bunch of cyborgs that keep belting the long ball, especially at Yankee Stadium. Last night against the Red Sox they would have made even the “Babe” proud. A two run home run by Raul Ibanez in the first, another two run shot by catcher Russell Martin in the fourth, and last but not least, a grand slam off the bat of Curtis Granderson in the eighth. Their newest addition from Seattle, Ichiro, must have been impressed. It’s probably more home runs than his old team hit in a whole month of games.

The Red Sox hit three homers themselves. They were all solo shots but it kept them in the game. The first one came in the first inning by Pedroia, the next one in the third inning from Carl Crawford, which was an upper-deck shot to right, and finally one by Saltalamacchia to left field in the fourth. The Sox spattered a few more hits throughout the game but could not get a rally going.

Aaron Cook had nothing. He performed like a batting machine throwing pitch after pitch down the middle and the Yankees hitters took advantage of his mistakes. He seems to be better off in the bullpen. Mark Melancon pitched the eighth and gave up the grand slam to Granderson.

When you watched both teams from a personnel stand point the Yankees are clearly the superior team. Their line-up is very deep with talent. They have hitters who not only have power but are tough outs in the clutch. Players like Ibanez, Granderson, Swisher, Texeira, Cano, Jeter and Chavez at third for A-Rod. Their pitching overall is not great but they do have an ace in Sabbathia, depth and a good closer.

The Red Sox just don’t seem to be able to come up with big hits often enough. Oh sure, at Fenway they’ll have a number of high scoring games but they don’t do it enough to run up a long winning streak. Can this team win 8-10 games in a row? Mike Aviles is not swinging the bat well since before the All-Star break. The starters have struggled all year and the defense has been adequate. David Ortiz will help offensively when he returns to the lineup but it may not be enough to get into the playoffs.

With the trading deadline just a few days away it doesn’t look like the Sox are going to pull off a big trade. Many fans I talk with want to see Beckett go but it won’t be easy because of his salary and his questionable health. There’s talk that his shoulder and thumb are hurting but it could be just hearsay. Putting Nava or Kalish in a deal plus prospects may get a decent pitcher or position player but all the teams in contention want healthy pitching. What team would take Beckett? You think maybe the Houston Astros or the Texas Rangers?  Come on “Cowboy Up.”

Sox Lose to White Sox 7-5 Lester Ineffective

I think it’s time for the Red Sox management to be a little concerned about John Lester. His command is awful, his velocity is down, and his bread and butter pitch, the cut fastball, has not been effective since early last year. I have a lot of respect for the lefthander because he is a gamer and you seldom hear any complaints from him. Nevertheless, he has to get his stuff together. He needs wins and the only way he’ll be able to do that is to throw strikes and get the cutter back to where it was.

He’s also not thinking like a winning pitcher usually does in tough situations. Last night in the fourth inning he had runners on second and third base with two outs. The hitter was Kevin Youkilis, who has been a very hot hitter in the two games played so far. He pitched Youkilis carefully knowing he had first base open. The count went to 3-0 and I thought, as well as everyone in the ballpark, that Lester would walk Youk on the next pitch. Instead he throws a fastball for a strike right down the middle. Surely he would walk him on the next pitch. Not so. Lester throws another fastball right down the middle and Youk takes it for strike two. With the count 3-2 surely he would not throw another strike. He has to walk him to get to the next batter who was left handed. I closed my eyes just before he threw the next pitch and sure enough another fastball right down the middle. Youkilis swung the bat and the ball landed in the monster seats for a three run homerun. It just doesn’t make sense. Adam Dunn was the next hitter and even though he is a homerun threat and is third in the league in RBI, Lester has to walk Youkilis. Take those three runs away and the Sox win 5-4.

In observing Lester the last five starts from a mechanical or physical standpoint I believe he’s short-arming all his pitches. By short-arming I mean he is not getting full extension with his throwing arm as he throws the ball. He tends to cut off that extension which results in less power and velocity on the fastball and less movement on the cutter. It’s especially glaring when he throws the cutter. When he had success with his command and his velocity he extended his arm and had a good follow-through. He’s not doing that now.

It’s like a hitter who doesn’t extend his arms when he swings which causes him to hit a pop-up or a weak ground ball. Even though pitchers and hitters get power from their legs and hips their arms must finish off the pitch or swing to be successful. Another example is in golf, when a person attempts to hit a chip shot to the green. If they stop the club from just after impact they’ll hit a weak shot which usually ends up in the fringe. Like most of my shots.

Without a stable Lester throwing strikes and showing the old velocity he had in the past, it’s going to be tough for the Red Sox to get in the playoffs. It’s time to be concerned.

Youk Returns to Fenway – Sox Win 5-1 – Ortiz Hurt

Kevin Youkilis returned to Fenway last night for the first time wearing the visiting Chicago White Sox uniform. The Fenway fans gave him a standing ovation prior to him stepping into the batter’s box for his first at bat. You could see the emotion in his eyes as he raised his helmet in appreciation to the sell-out crowd. The ovation was well deserved when you think about the way he played the game in the near decade he was with the Red Sox. He was one of my favorites because he always played hard both offensively and defensively. I respected him for moving from third to first base without complaining. He was outstanding at both positions. He worked at becoming a better ball player and improved his production while still having a very good on base percentage. He will always be special in the hearts of the fans and also his teammates. You could see the how much they admired him by also giving him a standing ovation with the crowd.

We all know the problem he had with manager Bobby Valentine but it was the ownership and General Manager Ben Charrington that had to give the OK for trading him. Had he performed earlier in the year with the Red Sox things might have been different. You hope things work out for him and the Red Sox as you do in any trade. He got three hits in last night’s game which must have given him lots of satisfaction but the important thing for the Red Sox is that they won the ball game. As much as I like Youk, he is the enemy now. There are three more games against the White Sox and the pitching staff will have to figure how to get him out. Those fans who are loyal to him hope that he does well against the Sox but hope the White Sox lose the game. He’s too good a ball player to root for him against the home town team. Let him be successful against the other teams like, say, the Yankees.

As for the game, it was one of the best pitched games of the year from both starters. After giving up a run in the first inning by right hander Aaron Cook of the Red Sox and right hander Dylan Axelrod of the White Sox both pitchers settled in until the eighth inning. Both pitchers had a very similar repertoire of pitches and threw about the same velocity. They changed speeds and kept the ball down most of the time, especially Cook. Neither one got a decision in this game but they gave their teams a chance to win. The bullpens would win or lose this game and the Red Sox bullpen prevailed. The White Sox brought in left hander Leyson Septimo to face Ellsbury in the seventh and he did the job by striking him out. It was a different story in the eighth, though. Septimo stayed in the game to face the next three left handed hitters in the lineup. He walked Crawford, walked Ortiz and then gave up a three run home run into the Monster seats to Adrian Gonzalez that made it 4-1. The sox picked up another run in the same inning when Mike Aviles Knocked in Cody Ross from third. That was the ballgame. It was a nice win for the Red Sox.

David Ortiz injured his lower Achilles tendon rounding second base when Gonzalez hit his home run. He thought it might be off the wall so he started running full speed. Bobby Valentine in his press conference after the game said he would probably be out for a few days. He’s the one player the Red Sox cannot afford to have out of the lineup for a long length of time. It’s another chapter in the saga of Red Sox injuries this year.

Sox Start Second Half With a 3-1 Win Over Tampa Bay

Baseball wasn’t meant to be played indoors but the Red Sox felt quite comfortable at Tropicana Field last night against the wishy-washy Tampa Bay Rays. Franklin Morales gave the Sox a strong five inning performance and got the win in this game. He was breezing along in the first three innings and then fell in love with his curve ball in the fourth. He walked B.J. Upton, Jeff Keppinger, and Sean Rodriguez throwing curve balls and falling behind and then throwing more curve balls on 3 and two counts to load the bases. Fortunately for him and the Red Sox there were two outs in the inning. He finally decided to utilize his 96 mph fastball and got Luke Scott, who has been a tough out for Sox pitchers, with three blazing out-of-the-strike zone fastballs. He did a nice job but got his pitch count too high and Bobby Valentine decided to make a move to the bullpen. All in all he used five relievers who were all good. Atchison, Miller, Albers, Padilla and finally Alfredo Aceves came in the ninth to pick up the save. It was a nice start to a new season for this team.

It was also nice to see Jacoby Ellsworth and Will Middlebrooks in the lineup again. Both were as rusty as the tin man in the Wizard of Oz and will need a bit of batting practice oil to loosen the joints. Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez did not play in the game. That gave Mauro Gomez, (1B) and Pedro Ciriaco (2B) another chance to play. Mauro had a tough time at the plate going 0-4 and had a problem with his glove as a throw from Middlebrooks went through his webbing for an error in the first inning. When NESN closed in on the glove it looked like one of those skins the trappers used to bring in to trade or sell during the French/Indian War.

It was a different story with Pedro Ciriaco, however. All he did was go 3-3, knock in two important runs with a base hit to center field in the second, steal third base in the seventh and lay down a perfect sacrifice bunt to third in the ninth. He has continued to hit and field and run very fast. I think he’s opened a lot of eyes with the opportunity to play.

Big Papi hit a long home run to right field in the first to make the score 1-0 and then was walked intentionally in the fifth and seventh inning. I think we’ll see a lot more of that from the opposition the rest of the year. I’ll say it again the Red Sox need a right handed power hitter to hit behind him. If Ben Charrington can’t get another pitcher by the trading deadline he should try for a right handed power hitter. If Middlebrooks can hit for consistent power and RBI production then it’s a different story. I don’t think he’s ready for that kind of pressure yet plus he’s too inexperienced.

By the way, there were also two very good defensive plays in last night’s game. One by Ryan Sweeny in right and the other by Mike Aviles at shortstop. Aviles saved a run in the sixth when he dove for a ball in the hole with a man on second base and Sweeney made a diving catch in the eighth off the bat of B.J. Upton with Ben Zobrist on second base. Zobrist foolishly tried to tag up from second base but Sweeney hit Aviles, the cut-off man, with the throw and Aviles threw to third to get Zobrist. Things are not going good for the Rays. Isn’t it nice to be on the good side of Lady Luck? Things just seem to go your way when you play good baseball.

Red Sox Report Card 1st Half of the 2012 Season

It’s time to evaluate the first half of the 2012 season. As we all know this team has been riddled with major injuries. With a new manager in Bobby Valentine and a chance to redeem themselves from that horrible collapse in September of 2011, the season could not have gotten off to a much more horrific start. It actually all started before the season began. Closer Andrew Bailey came up with a serious thumb injury that would keep him out at least until the All-Star break or even longer. Leftfielder Carl Crawford was also expected to miss most of the season and Jacoby Ellsbury dislocated his shoulder sliding into second base and would be out of commission for at least two months. It turned out to be a longer healing process than expected. Various other injuries to position players and pitchers throughout the first half kept the team from putting up a long winning streak that could have propelled them to the top of the division. If that wasn’t enough to discourage Red Sox Nation then the parting of Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox was another reason why fans could not be optimistic about this team.

With all the adversity and criticism, the Red Sox had to rely on players who were not used to playing on an everyday basis. But a number of them were willing to help in any way they could. Some performed very well while others just couldn’t do the job for more than a few days at a time. Still, others, just did not perform well consistently. Here is my analysis of the manager and player performances for the first half of this season:

Manager Bobby Valentine:       Grade   B

Bobby came into a tough situation after last year’s September collapse and the departure of Theo Epstein and Terry Francona. There were media and fans alike who were upset at his hiring and thought he wouldn’t get the cooperation of the players. The handling of Kevin Youkilis before the trade brought a lot of ire from fans and media alike. Early in the season he also made some glaring mistakes with the lack of moves to the bullpen which led to losses and criticism. Since then he has done a very good job with the bullpen and the Youkilis move had to be made in view of his free agency status and lack of production. He’s very cautious with the media and tries to back his players when things get difficult on the field. He’s a knowledgeable baseball man and the right person for the job as the Red Sox transition their team from older to younger.

Starting Pitchers:              Grade   D

The expectations from the “Big 3” was very high before the season started. Everyone thought they would bounce back from last September and come into camp in great shape and with an attitude of a rookie. Unfortunately they have looked more like aging veterans ready for the scrap heap. Oh sure they’ve had a few good games but overall they’ve been a very, very big disappointment. Clay Buchholtz is injured once again and who isn’t sick of seeing Josh Beckett get bombed in the first inning and eventually leaving the game after five innings with a high pitch count. There’s no excuse for it. John Lester seems to have lost velocity on his fastball and his command has been terrible with the exception of a few games. That leaves Felix Doubrant who showed signs of being a successful major league starter but he seems to be running out of gas. Should we even talk about Daniel Bard who seems to be a male Cinderalla falling into a hole, descending into a unknown land. If it continues like this for him it will go down as one of the worst decisions by a player and management. The starting pitching will be the fall or rise of the Red Sox in the second half.

Bullpen:                                Grade   B

This year’s bullpen, for the most part, have done a very good job the first half of the season. Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, Vicente Padilla, Andrew Miller, Mark Melancon (lately), Franklin Morales and Alfredo Aceves as the closer. They are a different breed of cat. They have to be ready everyday. Some games they warm up and then have to sit down. When they finally get in the game it’s usually in close games. They also have to have a short memory especially when they give up the winning run. That’s why Aceves deserves a lot of credit. I didn’t think he would become a successful closer. He was a very good middle-man in the past but closing a game takes a blinding fastball or some kind of trick pitch that fools hitters. Well, he showed the middle nineties fastball as well as an excellent curveball and changeup. If he duplicates or betters the first half he may have found his niche.

Catchers:                              Grade   B+

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has improved seven-fold this year both as a hitter and as a receiver. He’s blocking balls as good as any catcher in baseball and his homerun output has been outstanding. His first half helped the Red Sox stay above water with clutch hits and strong leadership on the field. His big test is coming up in the second half, however. Last year, in the second half, he did not play well. He was terrible at the plate and there were a lot of balls in the dirt he failed to block. He’s a year older and more experienced but it’s a good idea to give him more rest before September when they’re in the Wild Card hunt. Kelly Shoppach is a decent receiver and has a good arm but his hitting is not good overall. He won’t embarrass the team as a catcher but they should pinch hit for him late in the game. The B+ grade is for Salty’s first half.

Infielders:                            Grade   C+

Dustin Pedroia, when healthy, is a premier player by any standard. The thumb injury he has right now may become chronic because there’s a lot of pressure in that area when you swing a bat. If I had to grade him alone he would get an A because he can still do the job at a high level. The big surprise for me has been Mike Aviles. He got off to a terrific start not only with his bat, (we knew he could hit), but at shortstop where it’s much more demanding than second or third. To my surprise he showed very good range, especially up the middle. He has a strong accurate arm and he’s a smart player. Lately he’s struggled but may come on in the months ahead. He, most likely, will be elsewhere next year. Adrian Gonzolez is a gold glove first baseman who played right field for a while, (does that make sense?) He hasn’t hit the way everyone is used to seeing. He’s not lifting the ball as much as in the past thus less home runs. He continues to get singles and doubles when he swings at strikes and utilizes the wall at Fenway. He’s an important guy in the lineup especially with all the injuries. I wonder if his shoulder is still bothering him. Rookie Will Middlebrooks made an impression with his bat when he came up to Boston. He’s got some power and hits the ball to all fields. Like most rookies he has trouble with breaking pitches and changeups. I like the way he hit with men on base. He showed a toughness at the plate and may develop into a good clutch hitter. As a third baseman he needs lots of work. His feet are a bit slow getting into position to field the ball and he needs to anticipate where the ball may be hit. His reactions are not yet what they should be but he’s young and is willing to work had to improve.

Outfielders:                                    Grade   C+

Let’s see who’s played the outfield in the first half:  Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Che-Hsuan Lin, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis(?) All because of two key injuries to Crawford and Ellsbury. In grading this group I have to go with Cody Ross and the power he’s shown at the plate. He’s a good fastball hitter but has trouble with braking pitches. He’s not a good outfielder, in my opinion. He has problems judging high fly balls especially when he has to come in on them. Sweeney is a good outfielder with sure hands but not that much range. He’s also a good hitter but lacks power. He would be a valuable guy coming off the bench as a pinch hitter. The two players I really like are Ryan Kalish and Daniel Nava. They both showed a lot of aggressiveness when they played. They were tough outs at the plate and played hard in the field. They were both good in the one, two slots in the lineup. They made things happen. Unfortunately, when Crawford and Ellsbury come back they both may wind up in Pawtucket. I think at least one will be traded by the trading deadline. Overall, the outfield play was OK but not good enough to be proud of.

Designated Hitter:                                   Grade   A

Let’s face it, everyone thought David was all done a few years ago. He had such a bad first month that then manager Terry Francona pinched hit for him against a lefty reliever. He showed everyone that it wasn’t time for Big Papi to go back to the Dominican Republic and rock in his hammock or go golfing the rest of his life. He’s having a great first half and there’s no reason to think he shouldn’t continue. His bat is so quick it doesn’t matter how hard a pitcher throws. He can turn on it and hit it out of the ballpark. He’s also an excellent breaking ball hitter so if they try and back door him he goes the other way. He’s by far the best DH in the American League and one of the top sluggers in Red Sox history. Would I give two more years? Absolutely, definitely, no doubt about it and you bet.

Infield Utility Players:                 Grade   C

Most of the utility players are starters with the exception of a few. Nick Punto has done most of the filling in when injuries have occurred. He’s a guy who can play second, short or third which makes him a valuable commodity. He’s a  pesky hitter but lacks power so you wouldn’t pinch hit him in a tie game or a one run behind game when you’re looking for the long ball. He can steal you a base occasionally so he can pinch run in late innings. Overall he did a decent job the first half. The two rookies who came up from Pawtucket were a surprise to most people. Infielders Mauro Gomez and Pedro Ciriaco made a splash for a few games and may have led everyone to believe they might become part of the Red Sox future. Ciriaco played shortstop for a few games and made some very good plays and he banged out a bunch of base hits in those games. Mauro was a disaster at third which he played for the first time in his career (and I hope the  last time). He looks like a pretty good hitter. Both were minor league free agents the Red Sox picked up last year. Only time will tell if the Red Sox hierarchy will give them a chance to play more.


It’s just too difficult to think about the first half and not stress the fact that they’ve had so many injuries. It’s no excuse, I realize that but how can you replace all these players with equal abilities and experience. It’s impossible. Sure pitching is the name of the game and the Red Sox have the bodies but can they ever perform the way they did say five years ago. If I were the Red Sox I would try to trade Beckett and/or Buchholz. See if you can get a young up and coming starting pitcher or two for both of them. I would keep Doubrant and never trade Lester. He’s a guy that could come back to form in a short period of time as long as he’s healthy. He reminds me of Kenny Rogers who pitched for a number of teams. He struggled in the middle of his career and then came back and won 20 games. The Sox also need a power hitting right-handed batter. That would help the whole lineup. Let’s see what happens the rest of the way. They have a shot at the wild card position. That would a big plus for the organization, the players and Red Sox Nation. 

Yankees Out-Slug Sox 10-8 in Series Opener at Fenway

If you missed the fireworks on the fourth of July you could have seen them last night at Fenway Park. Josh Beckett and his counterpart for the Yankees, Hiroki Kuroda, both gave up five runs in the first inning. They both had control problems early on and when they had to throw pitches over the plate they both saw balls flying all over the field. Some balls went to the fences, some went off the fences, and others went over the fences, while others could have gone through the fences. All this happened in the first inning. Both teams also scored in the second and the game was tied 6-6.

Both pitchers settled down somewhat for a few innings to their credit. You would think that maybe one run by either team would win the game but it wasn’t to be. Kuroda featured a puny fastball all evening and a decent splitter. That’s the only pitch that kept him in the game. Beckett came back after the Sox tied the game and had good third and fourth innings. He was saved by a nice play in the fifth by Nick Punto who threw out A-Rod at home trying to score on a grounder to second base. Beckett came out after five innings giving up eight hits and six runs. Not a very good outing for him.

Bobby Valentine had to go to his bullpen to call in five different pitchers but the Yanks kept banging out base hits. Using three relievers in the seventh inning alone, they couldn’t put out the fire. The Yankees put up four more runs to put the game away. Lefthander Andrew Miller gave up a walk and a hit with no outs and Bobby Valentine decided to bring in Vicente Padilla to put out the fireworks but he gave up a two run triple to Mark Texiera that hopped to the 420 ft. sign in right center. Raul Ibanez then doubled to score Texiera from third and finally Eric Chavez added the tenth run with a single that brought in Ibanez.

The Red Sox pounded out fourteen hits themselves but couldn’t keep up with the Yankee barrage. Saltalamacchia belted a three home run in the first inning to right field to tie the game. Cody Ross homered and Big Papi and Adrian Gonzalez each got three hits apiece.

This was the type of game you’ve seen at Fenway in July and August over the years. It’s warm, the wind usually blows out, the ball carries well and the hitters are at their peak. Most of the pitchers, whether starters or bullpen, have thrown a lot of pitches since opening day and many of them lose something off their fastballs. Hitters also have a lot of at-bats by this time of the year and have seen just about every pitcher in the league. Their timing has gotten a lot better and they don’t miss as many pitches. Obviously, not all of the summer games will be high scoring but you can expect teams to do a lot of scoring in July and August. Red Sox fans just hope it will be the Red Sox who score more than their opponents and not the other way around.

I’ll do a mid-season Report Card on the Red Sox Players and Manager on Wednesday July 11th



Red Sox Take Rubber Game From Cubs

It wasn’t exactly a game you would want to have as an instructional video for your minor league players but nevertheless the Red Sox will take the 7-4 win against the lowly Cubs. Besides the Red Sox win the other big plus was the great performance by Franklin Morales in a rare starting role. He gave up two runs and struck out nine Cub hitters in his five innings of work. One run came on a botched play in the third inning when shortstop Sterlin Castro hit a pop fly to short right field. Pedroia and Kalish ran for the ball and seemed to have communication problems calling for it. Pedroia got his glove on the ball but it popped out for an RBI double for Castro. It’s a ball that should have been caught. There were mistakes galore in this game by both sides defensively. Aviles made an error on a double play ball thrown by Matt Albers in the sixth and Youkilis booted an easy ground ball hit right at him also in the sixth inning. Fortunately, the Cubs got only one run in the inning.

While the Cubs made only one error against the Red Sox in this game their problem all evening was their inability to make double plays and their lack of knocking in runners in scoring position. They were able to tie the game twice but could not get the go-ahead runs across. It’s a trait that bad teams possess when they constantly come up short in ballgames.  They’re usually either just bad ball clubs or they’re very young. The Cubs are a little of both. Theo Epstein has his work cut out for him trying to build the Cubs into a winning franchise. It may happen but it won’t be easy.

While their ball club isn’t very good the city of Chicago and Wrigley Field are both fantastic. Luis Tiant and I travelled to Chicago this past weekend for a Red Sox promotion held on the top of one of the buildings across the street from the ball park. A group of about 150 fans flew in for the three game series and Luis and I got to meet all of them. We then went to the game and sat in the stands with Red Sox and Cub fans. It was my first time watching a game at Wrigley. It’s a terrific ball park and the fans were wonderful. I never heard one boo from the Cub fans whether there was an error made or someone struck out with men on base. They love to come and enjoy themselves. The ballpark has no big electronic scoreboard and very little advertising along their lower fences. It’s just a great atmosphere to watch a game.

I would say it’s the second-nicest park in the major leagues. As nice as it is it’s no Fenway Park. Fenway is alive, exciting, and colorful. It has much more personality than Wrigley. Red Sox fans can be tough on players at times and will let players know how they feel but that’s what makes the atmosphere at Fenway so electric. Maybe if Cub fans were a little more demanding of their players they might get better results from them. No, there’s only one Fenway Park and any ball player who doesn’t want to play there will never know what playing major league baseball really is all about.

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