“The bad boy’s back
The bad boy’s back in town, oh yeah
The bad boy’s back
Don’t you shoot him down”
YANKEES 9, RED SOX 3
To Red Sox Nation, leaving the fold to play for the Yankees is tantamount to Benedict Arnold’s treachery during the Revolutionary War. They let Jacoby Ellsbury know it as he stepped into the batter’s box for his first at-bat. But Ellsbury quickly showed the Fenway Park faithful what they are missing in the leadoff spot and in centerfield.
Ellsbury was 2-for-5 with a double and a triple, scored two runs, drove in two runs and made a sensational sliding catch in center while Masahiro Tanaka pitched into the eighth inning as New York bedeviled Boston in front of a crowd of 37,041 and national television audience.
The Yankees frustrated and unnerved Jon Lester (2-3) for 4 2/3 innings, scoring eight runs (three earned) on 11 hits and four walks while Lester struck out seven.
Tanaka (3-0), in contrast, was cool, calm and in command as he held the Red Sox to two runs – on a pair of back-to-back homers by David Ortiz and Mike Napoli with one out in the fourth – on seven hits, no walks and he fanned seven to remain undefeated after posting a 24-0 record in his final season in Japan.
The Yankees rattled Lester from the beginning when Ellsbury ignored the boos – and a few cheers – to lace a ball to the wall in deep center that a fan reached into the field play to deflect and the umpires awarded Ellsbury a triple. Derek Jeter followed with an RBI single and the undoing of Lester began.
A combination of an A.J. Pierzynski passed ball and a Pierzynski throwing error allowed Jeter to advance to third. Jeter then scored on an RBI single by Carlos Beltran.
The Yankees added a pair of runs in the third when Alfonso Soriano slapped a double off the Green Monster and Mark Teixeira followed with a bloop single to right that scored Soriano. Brian McCann then scored Teixeira with a RBI double off the Monster that made it 4-0.
After Ortiz and Napoli homered to fool the fans into thinking they were actually back in the game, the Yankees chased Lester in the fifth with four unearned runs.
With Teixeira on second after he was walked and McCann on first with a single, Lester struck out Yangervis Solarte and Ichiro Suzuki. However, Napoli was unable to hold Brian Roberts’ lined drive in his glove at first base for the third out and Teixeira scored when the ball rolled into rightfield.
The Red Sox had an opportunity to end the inning if Grady Sizemore had thrown the ball to second base because McCann did not see Napoli lose the ball and he was walking off the field. But Sizemore threw home to try to get Teixeira as McCann scrambled back to second.
It was that kind of night for Lester and the Red Sox. Leave it to Ellsbury to make the his old team pay for the mistake.
He followed with a two-run double on Lester’s 118th and final pitch of the evening.
Jeter then greeted left-hander Chris Capuano with an RBI single into center and Ellsbury crossed the plate to make a 8-2 laugher.
Beltran capped the scoring in the eighth by blasting his fifth home run of the season with one out in the eight inning off right-hander Edward Mujica.
The Red Sox scored an “oh-by-the way” run in the ninth off Dellin Betances on a one-out double by Jonny Gomes and and two-out double off the bat of Xander Bogaerts that scored Gomes.
The 11 hits the Yankees nicked Lester with were the most hits he has given up to them in his career. Every Yankee starter with the exception of Solarte had at least one hit in the game.
The Yankees have won four of the first five meetings against the Red Sox this season.
With the victory the Yankees improved their record to 12-8 and the lead the American League East by one game over the Toronto Blue Jays. The Red Sox are 9-12 and in last place in the division.
- Ellsbury, 30, proved to his former team he was worth the seven-year, $153-million contract he received from the Yankees. His hitting (.342), speed (leads American League with eight steals) and Gold-Glove defense in center are worth rewarding. The Red Sox two biggest weaknesses are their leadoff spot and the fact that centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is hitting .228. The fans can boo him all they want but as Bob Costas said on his call of the game for the MLB Network, “They are booing the laundry and not the player.”
- Tanaka was a great contrast to his mound opponent Lester. While Lester fumed about hits that dropped in, hard-hit balls off the Monster and the strike zone of home-plate umpire Quinn Wolcott, Tanaka did not show any emotion at all and looked to be in command at all times. For all his hype, Lester’s career ERA is 3.73 and his WHIP is a staggeringly high 1.30. He also showed the Yankees you can rattle him. Tanaka proved pretty much the opposite.
- Want to hear a stunning stat about Jeter? In the past 11 games that he has played he has at least one hit in all of them. In fact, he has only failed to get a hit in two of the 14 games in which played this season. His 2-for-4 night raised his season average to .298. Anybody really think he is washed up at age 39?
On a night where the Red Sox had their ace pounded for 11 hits, the Yankees’ imported free agent from Japan made them look silly on his split-finger fastball and Ellsbury laid it on his former club there is nothing that I can say that would be close to being negative. The world is just a better place when the Yankees put the Red Sox in their place – last.
The Yankees activated closer David Robertson from the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday and outrighted left-hander Cesar Cabral to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to make room on the roster. Robertson has been sidelined sidelined since April 6 with a strain in his left groin. With Robertson’s reinstatement, Shawn Kelley will move back into the eighth inning setup role after saving four games in four chances filling in as the closer. . . . An MRI on Tuesday indicated that right-hander Ivan Nova has a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and he likely will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. The recommendation for surgery came from Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the team’s physician. The recovery time for the surgery is 12 to 18 months.
The Yankees will continue their three-game road series with the Red Sox on Wednesday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (2-1, 1.00 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Pineda is coming off six innings of shutout baseball to defeat the Chicago Cubs last Wednesday. He gave up four hits and one walk while he struck out three. Pineda also defeated the Red Sox on April 10, yielding just one run on six hits in six innings.
Pineda will be opposed by veteran right-hander John Lackey (2-2, 5.15 ERA). Lackey has been pounded for 12 runs on 20 hits and four walks in 11 innings in his past two starts against the Yankees (April 12) and the Baltimore Orioles on Friday. It is the first time in his career he has given up as many as 10 hits and six earned runs in two consecutive starts.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:
NEW YORK YANKEES
After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.
Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.
Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.
The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.
Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.
The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.
Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.
The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.
Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.
If you don’t you lose.
The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.
The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.
The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.
The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.
Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.
The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.
As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.
In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.
BOSTON RED SOX
Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.
The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.
They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.
Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.
Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.
To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.
Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.
The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.
Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.
The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.
The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.
So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
The Jays are all about redemption.
They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.
The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.
So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.
Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.
But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.
Now that is some reclamation project.
Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.
But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.
There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.
Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.
The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.
It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.
The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?
The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.
Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.
The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.
The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.
They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.
So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.
Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) NEW YORK YANKEES
2) TAMPA BAY RAYS
3) BOSTON RED SOX
4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS
5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES
I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!
In the world of baseball free agency there is one maxim that is absolute: It is no-brainer to want to strengthen your club but it is extremely smart to weaken your opponent’s while you are strengthening your club.
The New York Yankees not only added to their roster with the signing of Gold Glove center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, they significantly weaken the Boston Red Sox. Toche’.
Following in the footsteps of Johnny Damon in 2006, Ellsbury will – after passing a physical – sign a lucrative seven-year, $153 million contract with an option for an eighth year that will bring the total contract to $169 million.
Ellsbury, 30, batted .298 with eight home runs and 53 RBIs while leading the major leagues in stolen bases with 52 in 134 games last season. In 2011, Ellsbury batted .318 with a career-high 32 homers and 105 RBIs and earned his only All-Star selection and a Gold Glove.
On the heels of the five-year, $85 million contract offer to catcher Brian McCann last week, the Steinbrenner family, general manger Brain Cashman and the entire Yankees braintrust are serving notice to the other major league teams they are through with fiscal constraints that have seen them largely sit out free agency period for top-name talent for the past four seasons.
After the team suffered through a horrific string of free-agent departures and crippling injuries to the core of the team in 2013 that saw the club limp to the finish line with only 85 wins, missing the playoffs for the second time in five seasons, the Yankee hierarchy is saying enough is enough.
The McCann signing I told you last week was just the start of this new era in spending and it definitely is not over.
Ellsbury’s signing certainly brings an end to the team’s pursuit of Carlos Beltran, who had the Yankees balking at giving the 37-year-old a third year on a potential contract. The Yankees shifted off Beltran and then contacted Scott Boras, who is is Ellsbury’s agent.
The Yankees also will be saying so long to Curtis Granderson, who led the majors by hitting 84 home runs in 2011 and 2012, but he also struck out 360 times in that span. The Yankees figure his power was largely a product of Yankee Stadium and that he will not be able to maintain that level of power elsewhere.
The big question Ellsbury’s signing poses is what happens to center-fielder Brett Gardner?
Gardner, 30, is coming off his best season with the Yankees after hitting .273 with eight home runs and 52 RBIs and stealing 24 bases in 145 games. Ellsbury’s deal likely means he will become the center-fielder. So if Gardner stays with the Yankees, does he move to left?
If Gardner moves to left, where will the Yankees put left-fielder Alfonso Soriano? If Soriano moves to right-field, what happens to holdovers Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki, who are both signed for the 2014 season?
The Yankees could choose to package Gardner in a trade and get something of value back for him but they will not get much back for either Wells or Suzuki. Both showed signs that indicated that their careers, which were once quite productive, are coming to a quick end.
Wells, who will turn 36 on Dec. 8, batted .233 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs in 130 games last season. But he hit only one home run after May 15 and he largely was pretty useless unless he was facing a left-handed pitcher. Because the Los Angels Angels are paying a huge portion of his contract, the Yankees would have no problem releasing him if they wanted to do so.
Suzuki, 40, hit .262 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 150 games. He was mostly a non-factor late in the season, hitting .228 in August and .205 in September. Suzuki, however, does have some value as a platoon designated hitter, a late-inning defensive replacement in the outfield and a pinch-runner. But his days of full-time play appear to be over.
There also is another big question about the Ellsbury signing. Where does this leave the Yankees with respect to second baseman Robinson Cano?
With the two main rivals of the Yankees for Cano’s services, the Los Angels Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers, out of the bidding, Cano has lowered his 10-year, $305 million demands. But the Yankees have not raised their offer from their initial seven-year, $160 million bid.
But the Yankees seem to have the cash sufficient enough to get into the eight-year, $240 million range and talks with Cano will continue.
The Yankees are also looking to add 400 innings to their starting rotation by signing a pair of free-agent starting pitchers this winter.
Phil Hughes , 27, is poised to sign a three-year, $24 million with the Minnesota Twins. The Yankees, however, felt Hughes was more suited to a bullpen role after he turned in a horrific 4-14 record and a 5.14 ERA last season.
The Yankees are targeting the re-signing of Hiroki Kuroda, 38, who was 11-13 with a 3.31 ERA last season for the Yankees, and fellow Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, 25, who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with the Rakuten Golden Eagles this season.
The Yankees intend to be much more aggressive in the bidding process for Tanaka than they were for right-hander Yu Darvish, who signed with Texas after the Rangers posted $51.7 million bid for the right to sign him.
The Yankees could bid as much as they want without the cost affecting the $189 million salary limits for 2014. They also have some salary flexibility with the retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, the decision to allow Granderson to leave and the likely suspension of third basemen Alex Rodriguez for the entire 2014 season, which means they will not have to pay his annual $25 million salary.
The best part of the Ellsbury deal was that it is the first shot off the bow on Red Sox Nation.
The Red Sox have a number of key contributors to their 2014 season like Ellsbury, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman Mike Napoli trolling the free-agent waters. Each one of those losses forces the Bosox to find replacements elsewhere and there is no guarantee those replacements will maintain the same chemistry the team had last season.
The Red Sox Nation social media is already doing the usual “Ellsbury stinks” and “Ellsbury is old” rants and they are already touting Jackie Bradley Jr. as the next Willie Mays in center. But, to be sure, they are hurting deeply on the inside. Ellsbury was part of the corps that the Red Sox counted upon last season and he is gone to the “Evil Empire” no less.
He expects to be booed in Boston. It will just be interesting to see how he is treated in New York. My guess is, like Damon and Kevin Youkilis (very briefly) last season, the Yankees will warm up to Ellsbury.
After all, any signing that weakens the Red Sox is fine by me. It also will be just fine with the Yankee Universe.
The New York Yankees welcome their old pals, the Boston Red Sox, to Yankee Stadium for the first time this season beginning on Friday. The Dead Sox, as they are being referred to many Boston circles, are limping in having lost five of their last six games and are 10 1/2 games back in last place in the American League East. This series is pretty much their season. If they get swept, it’s over. If they sweep, there is still a glimmer of hope. But in some ways the Red Sox have the look of Custer at Little Big Horn, the Texas Army at The Alamo and the Red Sox in September 2011. Here is why they will fail this weekend:
PITCHING IS KING
Looking at the pitching matchups this weekend does not instill much confidence in Boston.
Journeyman right-hander Aaron Cook (2.3, 3.50 ERA) will open the series for Red Sox. Cook, 33, is a symbol of the inability of the Red Sox to build a starting rotation this season. In past years the Red Sox would trade for a Josh Beckett and sign free agents like Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey while they developed young stars like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.
But with the team’s record 13-24 in games started by Beckett and Lester this season it really has not mattered much what three pitchers follow them in the rotation. Buchholz is 8-3 with an elevated 4.93 ERA and he has been hampered by injuries for a good part of the year.
Lackey is out for the season after Tommy John surgery. Dice-K came back from the same surgery only to make five ill-fated starts with an 0-3 record and 6.65 ERA before landing on the DL again. Matsuzaka has made only 49 starts since the 2008 season in which he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. The Red Sox have their own version of Carl Pavano, collecting huge paychecks while he constantly rehabs.
That is why the Red Sox have been forced to use Cook and Felix Doubront in their rotation. Doubront is 12-7 with a 4.62 ERA but he has become less effective as the innings have piled up. His ERA has steadily risen all season and was 5.83 in June.
So Cook enters this game actually as the the team’s most effective starter lately. He has a 2.79 ERA in July. But he also is 0-2 in his three July starts, which means he has not got much in the way of run support.
The Red Sox also will be facing right-hander Phil Hughes, who has rediscovered his 2010 form this season. Hughes is 9-8 with a 4.09 ERA, however, those numbers are misleading.
Hughes is 5-3 with a 2.77 ERA in his last nine starts and he has issued only 15 walks while striking out 53 in his last 61 2/3 innings. Add to that, the Red Sox have been outscored 43-17 in their last six games and you have the makings of a very ugly opening night for them in the Bronx.
The Red Sox will just have to hope they score enough runs early to keep Cook in the game and get Hughes out of it early. In other words, a typical Red Sox-Yankees four-hour marathon where the total of runs scored is about 24. But I do not think that is going to happen on Friday.
The Red Sox are without their Yankee kryptonite in designated hitter David Ortiz. Without his bat, the Red Sox become less potent against the Yankees. In a 9-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday, the Red Sox collected 10 hits against fill-in starter Scott Feldman. But they were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base.
The Yankees do come in having lost five of their last seven and they are without Alex Rodriguez and possibly may be without Nick Swisher.
But the Yankees also come back home for this series and home is where they shine.
The addition of Ichiro Suzuki could make a big impact in this series with is bat, his legs and his glove. Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira come into the series hot and the Yankees are getting contributions from their bench in Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Nix.
Look for Game 1 to be close early but the Yankees will eventually burn Cook and serve him up as a special at NYY Steak over the weekend.
TOO MANY CCs
Even if the Red Sox do succeed on Friday, they will have to face CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30) on Saturday. That is bad news for the lefty-dominant Red Sox lineup of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who stinks as a right-hand hitter.
The Yankees, meanwhile, face Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). In Lester’s last three starts, he is 0-3 and has given up 22 runs (21 earned) on 25 hits and 10 walks over 12 1/3 innings. That is an ERA of 15.32. Ouch!
The word from scouts is that Lester decided to develop a cutter a few years ago. He used it to compliment his other pitches, which were nasty. He was able to control both sides of the plate and he was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA last season despite a September slide that coincided with the epic collapse of the Red Sox.
But this season, Lester has become cutter crazy and it cost him in velocity and command of his fastball. Hughes found the same thing happened to him in 2011 and he junked his cutter this season. But Lester has tried to carry on with his same arsenal and he is getting pounded harder than a herd of cattle in a butcher shop.
In his last start against the Yankees on July 8 at Fenway Park, Lester lasted just 4 1/3 innings and he surrendered five runs (four earned) on nine hits and a walk.
The bottom line is Lester is just not the Lester that Red Sox Nation is used to seeing dominate lineups. He is headed for a big fall on Saturday.
COUP DE GRACE
The Red Sox will face on Sunday the Yankees’ best pitcher, of late, in Hiroki Kuroda (10-7, 3.34 ERA).
Kuroda is 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA in last 11 starts. Though he did struggle against Boston at Fenway Park, Kuroda has proven to be a much more effective pitcher at Yankee Stadium this season. He is 7-3 with a 2.68 ERA in the Bronx.
That is bad news for the Red Sox, who have not announced a mound opponent for Kuroda.
Doubront defeated the Yankees at Fenway on July 7 but he also was shelled for six runs on eight hits and three walks in five innings against the Rangers on Monday. The Red Sox may, instead, call upon Buchholz to pitch the finale. He gave up just one run on four hits and three walks in seven innings against the Rangers on Tuesday.
If Buchholz pitches on Sunday it indicates that manager Bobby Valentine is desperate. He has to be if the Red Sox pick up the Sunday New York Times facing a 12 1/2-game deficit to the Yankees.
The game will be very close on Sunday but the Yankees have a decided edge on the mound. They should win in a very close game.
IN THE END
The truth is that the seeds of the 2012 season for the Red Sox were sown in the aftermath of their historic collapse in September 2011. The departures of manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein have left Valentine and new general manager Ben Cherington with a mess.
He has some prima donnas like Beckett and Lackey and a huge albatross of a contract to Crawford tied around his neck. The team can’t rebuild only through free agency because they are right up against the edge of having to pay the luxury tax.
They could start shipping high-priced underachievers out and let their free agents like Ortiz walk. But there are so many holes on this roster it looks like Swiss cheese.
Young talent the Red Sox are hoping to develop is in short supply and that is really the biggest problem they have going forward. They likely would be better off with a roster purge and rebuild effort. But that also will mean they have to be candid with Red Sox Nation that they will not be competitive for some time.
That is hard sell. But after this weekend, it could be quite likely you will see Beckett go and others will follow.
The Curse may be over but it might be a long, long time before we see a Red Sox team capable of competing with the Yankees.
To us Yankee fans, that is just fine.
YANKEES vs. RED SOX (POSTPONED – RAIN)
The game scheduled between New York and Boston on Sunday was canceled at 3 p.m. due to a heavy downpour engulfing Fenway Park.
It is nothing compared to the firestorm surrounding the Red Sox in the wake of their 7-20 collapse last September, their change in general manager and manager and their dreadful 4-10 start this season. The fact they blew a 9-0 lead after five innings on Saturday to end up losing to the Yankees 15-9 has merely ripped off the fresh scabs from an entertaining week of upheaval.
If we didn’t know any better we might think that manager Bobby Valentine took up a weather plane and seeded the clouds to rain himself to stop the hail of runs his team’s pitching staff is handing out like Halloween candy and the chorus of boos cascading from the stands upon him.
Valentine admitted after the debacle on Saturday that he needed to do a better job. But, like it or not, Valentine has become the symbol of the discontent in Red Sox Nation.
His mismanagement of two games last week and the dustup he had with Kevin Youkilis were fueling most of the anger aimed at Valentine. But Sunday’s loss was really not Valentine’s fault. But the fact that his club surrendered that huge lead shows just how deep-seeded and difficult the root of the problem is to identify.
It seems to be a lot deeper than some chicken and beer.
Theo Eptein fled to Chicago and Terry Francona took his class act out of the dugout to the television booth. Owner John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino sought out Valentine to right the ship. But they are not offering him any of the largesse it would take to fix the hull.
Unwilling to venture past the limits of the luxury tax, Valentine and new general manager Ben Cherington kind of look like the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” valiantly trying to fight a battle without limbs. Such is the sad state of affairs in Beantown. Well, it is not so sad for those in the Bronx.
The rainout on Sunday gives the Red Sox time to find the answers and gets some players healthy before they play the Yankees again at Fenway. No makeup date has been announced. It is anybody’s guess whether the game will actually matter.
Yankee manager Joe Girardi decided to shift Sunday’s scheduled starter, CC Sabathia, to start on Monday against the Rangers in Arlington, TX. He also said that Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes will follow Sabathia in the three-game series. Ivan Nova will open the home series against the Tigers on Friday. However, Girardi has not announced who will start on Saturday. Freddy Garcia (0-1, 9.75 ERA) would be in line to make the start. But Garcia could be skipped in order to keep Sabathia on schedule to pitch every fifth day. . . . Girardi said he expectes to have Brett Gardner back in the lineup on May 3 when the Yankees begin a four-game series with Kansas City. Gardner was placed on the disabled list with a strained and bruised right elbow he suffered making a diving catch on a sinking line drive on Tuesday. Gardner is hitting .321 this season. . . . Michael Pineda will meet with a team physician in New York on Monday to evaluate recurring tightness behind his right shoulder. The 23-year-old right-hander has to end a bullpen session on Saturday after 15 pitches because of pain in his shoulder. He will remain on the 15-day disabled list and it unclear when Pineda now might be able to return.
The Yankees first test against two-time American League champion Texas begins on Monday.
Sabathia (1-0) gave up three runs on four hits in six innings against the Twins to earn his first victory of the season on Tuesday. He is 10-3 with a 4.44 ERA against the Rangers in his career.
The Rangers will start left-hander Derek Holland (2-0, 3.10 ERA), who gave up two runs on four hits and three walks in seven innings against the reeling Red Sox in his last start. Against the Yankees, Holland is 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA in five starts.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by MY9.
YANKEES 15, RED SOX 9
Fenway Park turned 100 years and one day old on Saturday and the Red Sox honored the occasion by providing their fans with one of their worst meltdowns in their history.
Trailing 9-0 in the sixth inning, the Yankees came back to strike for 15 unanswered runs over the next three innings to leave embattled skipper Bobby Valentine, a depleted Bosox roster and an incredibly ineffective and shellshocked bullpen in tatters amid an embarrassing a five-game losing streak that is rapidly angering the Fenway faithful.
Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher led the comeback for the Yankees, combining for three home runs and 12 RBIs against a Red Sox pitching staff that has earned its position as the worst in baseball.
It was Teixeira who innocently began the rally with a two-out solo home run to left off Red Sox starter Felix Doubront in the sixth inning. Doubront left the game with a 9-1 lead having given up four hits and two walks and fanning seven batters. Little did he know his bullpen would not be able to hold an eight-run lead.
The Yankees got back into the game in the seventh inning against journeyman right-hander Vicente Padilla.
With one out, Russell Martin blooped a single to right and Eduardo Nunez followed with a slow roller to third in which third baseman Nate Spears could not get Nunez at first. Derek Jeter walked to load the bases and Swisher cut the lead to 9-5 on one swing by smashing a grand slam home run into the Green Monster seats in left.
After Robinson Cano singled, Valentine – serenaded with a cascade of loud boos – brought in Matt Albers to replace Padilla.
Albers induced Alex Rodriguez to hit a infield grounder but shortstop Mike Aviles misplayed it and Granderson advanced to third. Teixeira then delivered his second home run of the game, another opposite-field blast to left to bring the Yankees to within one run at 9-8.
A stunned Fenway Park crowd of 36, 770 sat in deafening silence. That silence would not last when the Yankees’ half of the eighth began with Franklin Morales on the mound.
Nunez opened the frame with a single to left and Valentine then publicly alerted the Yankees and Red Sox Nation that he was officially panicking. He elected to bring in closer Alfredo Aceves with six outs to hold a one-run lead.
Jeter immediately worked a walk from Aceves and Swisher then crushed a 2-1 pitch off the center-field wall to score Nunez and Jeter, giving the Yankees an improbable 10-9 lead.
Valentine ordered Aceves to walk Cano intentionally, but Aceves made things worse by walking Rodriguez to load the bases again. Teixeira made him pay with a ground-rule double down into the right-field corner to make it 12-9.
After Aceves walked Granderson intentionally, Valentine – fielding even more boos – removed him for lefty Justin Thomas.
Thomas was able to get an unassisted double play by Adrian Gonzalez off the bat of pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez. However, Martin stroked a two-run single to center. Nunez then reached on an infield single to Aviles.
Jeter made the Red Sox pay with a grounder to Aviles in which he slipped and could not throw Jeter out at first, which scored Martin and pushed the Yankee lead to 15-9. Fortunately for the Red Sox it was not worse.
The Yankee bullpen closed it out and the Red Sox left the field with some embarrassed faces in front of a national television audience on FOX Sports.
Rafael Soriano (2-0) pitched a scoreless seventh to get credit for the victory. Aceves (0-1) gave up five runs on two hits and four walks without recording a single out to take the loss.
The Red Sox bullpen combined to give up 15 runs on 12 hits and five walks in just three innings.
It overshadowed an absolutely horrible third start of the season for 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia. He was hammered for five runs on seven hits in just 1 2/3 innings. Fortunately for him, that was forgotten hours later with the complete ineptitude of the Red Sox bullpen to get nine outs and hold what looked to be a very comfortable lead.
With the victory, the Yankees improved to 9-6 and claimed first place in the American League East for the first time this season. The reeling Red Sox – or shall we say Dead Sox – are now 4-10 and they are five games back in last place in the division.
- Swisher had a week in basically two at-bats. His six RBIs are a career high. He was 3-for-6 with a grand-slam, a two-run double and a single. he also scored two runs and he now leads the American League in RBIs with 20. He raised his average to .283 and it looks as if he is making a huge push for a new contract at the end of the 2012 season.
- The slow-starting Teixeira hit two home runs – one of them to the opposite field in left, which is one more than he hit in all of 2011. He added a huge two-run double in the eighth to give him six RBIs in the game also. Tex was 3-for-6 in the game and raised his batting average to .288. Hey, Mark, it’s April. What gives?
- Jeter quietly had another sensational game, though Swisher and Teixeira overshadowed him. He was 3-for-4 with two walks, three singles, two runs and an RBI. He raised his average to a ridiculously hot .382. The Captain is not looking like he will be retiring anytime soon.
- Simply put, Garcia has to go. After three starts, Garcia has given up 14 runs (13 earned) on 20 hits and three walks in 12 innings. His ERA is 9.75 and he is looking like he is unable to put away hitters with his splitter any more. At times it looked as if the Red Sox were taking batting practice. Perhaps David Phelps should take the No. 5 spot until Andy Pettitte is ready.
- Phelps was knocked around a bit for the first time this season. He was tagged for three runs on six hits and one walk in four innings. The big blow off him was a two-run home run to center by Cody Ross in the fifth. But he actually did not pitch as bad the numbers indicate and he could be given a start soon.
- Although the Yankees scored 15 runs and pounded out 16 hits, Rodriguez was 0-for-5 with a walk and he did not get a ball out of the infield. The 0-for-5 day lowered his batting average to .241.
There is one bit of very bad news for Yankee fans and Yankee fans who loved Jesus Montero. Michael Pineda had to end his bullpen session in Tampa, FL., after 15 pitches with discomfort in the back of his right shoulder. Manager Joe Girardi said Pineda will see a physician on Monday and there is no immediate timetable for his return. Pineda, 23, was placed in the disabled list at the start of the season after being diagnosed with right shoulder tendinitis. . . . Pettitte is scheduled to make a start on Wednesday for Double-A Trenton as part of his return to the major leagues scheduled for early May. Pettitte is expected to throw about 80 to 85 pitches. The Yankees obviously will be glad to see him the way Garcia has been pitching.
The Yankees can complete a sweep of the Red Sox on Sunday and if it happens I would not want to be Valentine on Monday.
Ace left-hander CC Sabathia (1-0, 5.99 ERA) is coming off his first victory of the season. He gave up three runs in six innings to beat the Twins. He is 7-9 with a 4.14 ERA in his career against the Bosox.
Boston will counter with right-hander Daniel Bard (0-2, 4.63 ERA). Bard gave up one run but walked seven against the Rays in his last start, which he lost. He is 2-1 with a 4.13 ERA against the Yankees but all those numbers came from the bullpen.
Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN.
The New York Yankees will pay a visit on Friday with their old pals in Beantown.
They also will see a team in the Red Sox reeling after a week of injuries, bad pitching and a blowup between the Bosox egotistical skipper and the most committed player in his clubhouse.
Ahhh! Good times!
I do not like to say I told you so to Red Sox Nation and Kevin Youkilis but I did write a post on March 1 titled “Bosox Just Finding Out Valentine Is Big Scumbag.” In it I wrote the following:
Congratulations, Red Sox, on hiring the complete opposite of a classy and knowledgeable baseball man in Terry Francona. I am now counting the days Valentine will be the manager when the Red Sox finish third and about three Red Sox guys are grousing under the cloak of anonymity about what an idiot Valentine is as a manager.
Trust me, the day is coming. Bobby V. has a way of wearing out his welcome with the players, management and the fans. Why else would it have taken him this long to get an offer to manage? Boston needed a name manager and Bobby was out there self-promoting himself for the job before the ink was dry on Francona’s walking papers.
I hate being wrong, though. Those three players likely will not be grousing what an idiot Valentine is anonymously. They likely will be saying it his face. Such is the turmoil that engulfed this team in a few short weeks into the 2012 season.
Youkilis might have been hitting .200. He might have had an awful spring. Injuries may have ruined the second half of the 2011 season for him. But he always has been emotionally and physically committed to the Red Sox. He and Dustin Pedroia bring the intensity to the team that drives it.
It appears that Valentine has stupidly lost both players’ support. Youkilis will play hard no matter what but he won’t be chilling in Bobby’s office after the game sipping a brew after a victory either.
Pedroia, for his part, went on record with a public castigation of the manager by saying: “That is not the way we do things around here.”
Pedroia is right, too. Valentine did his questioning of Youkilis in a public forum and not in his office with the door shut, mano a mano.
But this gutless stuff and Valentine have a way of following him around from his various managing gigs.
He purposely tried to fan the flames of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry this spring by picking on Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. He also publicly dissed manager Joe Girardi for ending a tied exhibition game after nine innings.
Whoa, the gall of that Girardi to save his pitching for a two split-squad games scheduled 12 hours from that point. But we all know Bobby V was stoking the fire for the regular season. It is what he has to do to take the fans and pundits off the subject that his team is not a very good one right now.
Short on quality starters, even the good ones like Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz are getting battered like punch-drunk fighters. The bullpen was centered around the acquisitions of closer Andrew Bailey and setup man Mark Melancon. Now Bailey is out two months and Melancon is riding buses in the International League after taking an unmerciful pounding on Monday.
The team was without starting left-fielder Carl Crawford, who is still yet to prove he is worth the seven-year contract GM Theo Epstein kissed his feet to sign last season. Now MVP runnerup Jacoby Ellsbury ia out two months with a bad shoulder.
Because the Red Sox spent so much money on players like Crawford and John Lackey and traded their best prospects to get players like Victor Martinez and Adrian Gonzalez, they are right at the very edge of incurring the luxury tax. So they can’t go out and buy their way out of mediocrity.
So Valentine’s hands are tied because of a bereft minor-league system and the realization they can’t add payroll to fix what needs fixing.
Meanwhile, the players are already not on board with Valentine and his way of doing things. Pedroia already signaled that at the exhibition game Valentine got upset with Girardi in Fort Myers, FL. When asked by Buster Olney of ESPN what it has been like with Valentine as manager, Pedroia refused to spout the company line.
He said, “It has only been a few weeks so I can’t tell you.”
That speaks volumes about the chasm Valentine has driven between himself and the players. Pedroia did not say it was different than with Terry Francona and he was excited to play for a knowledgeable baseball man like Valentine, etc. He just said nothing and at the same time he said an awful lot to us reading between the lines.
Red Sox Nation is no longer a democracy, or even a plutocracy. It is now dictatorial and repressive. It will not take long for the combination of the unhappiness and the losing gets to the players and they start venting what they really think.
If I were Bobby V, I would not put a down-payment on that sprawling mansion in Beacon Hill just yet. He might be using Bekins to pack him and his sorry butt back to New York. I just have a feeling this marriage was forced and needs to be annulled immediately.
The Red Sox never knew what hit them when the canned the best manager they ever had and their GM got out of Dodge just ahead of the posse. Now they are finding what life used to be like before 2004 and it couldn’t have happened to more arrogant and obnoxious fanbase in the history of baseball.
As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.
PART 4 – BOSTON RED SOX
A fellow Yankee fan once called the Red Sox the Red Flops because of their penchant for running out to big leads in the American League East and fading badly in the second half. After the famous “Collapse of 2011” the term seems apropos.
On Sept. 3, they were 84-54, a half game behind the Yankees and nine games up on the Tampa Bay Rays. They finished the season with a dreadful 6-18 record and missed the playoffs by a game. In Boston that is not an oops, it is an eruption and it cost manager Terry Francona his job and general manager Theo Epstein fled to the Chicago Cubs.
Looking to 2012 the Red Flops hired ego-driven Bobby Valentine as manager. Ben Cherington, an Epstein assistant, took over as GM. They even dismissed first-year pitching coach Curt Young in favor of Bob McClure to keep their starting pitchers from getting bagged in the clubhouse on Samuel Adams.
Of course, that is odd because McClure pitched most of his career with the beer capital of the world in Milwaukee.
There is no doubt the starting pitching let the Red Sox down in 2011. They scored runs and the bullpen was good until it got overtaxed. But has this team addressed the areas of weakness enough to win the division in 2012?
Well, it does not look good.
The Red Sox were unable to acquire any starter of significance this winter because they had to re-sign free agent David Ortiz and the team was already perilously close to the salary mark that would incur the luxury tax.
So they return to the field with two of the pitchers who aided in the collapse (Josh Beckett and Jon Lester), one pitcher who was hurt most of the 2011 season (Clay Buchholz) and two big question marks behind them. That seems hardly like a recipe for success.
Beckett, 31, returns as the team ace after a season in which he was 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA. But an ankle injury late in the season forced him to fade like a typical Red Flop in September. He posted a 5.48 ERA in September. He also was in the center of the beer issue that drew the ire of teammates and the front office.
If Beckett wants to remain the ace he better start showing some leadership by example.
Lester, 28, is starting to look like the Red Sox version of Mike Mussina. He has all the talent and the pitches to be successful but he never takes that big step forward to be an elite pitcher. He was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA but he also slid in September. He had only two quality starts from Aug. 27 to the season finale and was 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in the final month.
Buchholz, 27, made only 14 starts last season before ending up on the disabled list with what was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture in his back. He finished with a record of 6-3 and a 3.48 ERA. There is no doubt he was sorely missed last season because Epstein failed to stock the Red Sox with any depth and the team floundered after he was shelved on June 16.
The Red Sox other two starters were veteran right-handers John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
If Lester is like Mussina then Lackey is looking like the Red Sox version of A.J. Burnett. Signed as free agent before the 2010 season, Lackey has done nothing but disappoint Red Sox Nation with bad pitching. He was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 2010 but he got much worse in 2011 with a 12-12 mark and 6.41 ERA.
Red Sox fans have taken to calling him “Lacking.”
But there is good news for RSN, Lackey, 33, will not pitch at all in 2012 because he had to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. There is no real guarantee Lackey will be any better in 2013, which will be the final year of his four-year contract. His days in Beantown look to be limited at this point.
Speaking of that, Red Sox fans also would like to see Matsuzaka, 31, gone after three injury-filled seasons in which he was a combined 16-15 with a plus 5.00 ERA in only 44 starts. Last season, he was shelved in June with a 3-3 record and a 5.30 ERA. Like Lackey he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
He possibly could return late in the season but there is no one banking on him coming back pitching like in he did in 2008 when he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. He is in the final year of lucrative six-year contract and the Red Sox seem to be counting the days they can part with him.
With Lackey and Dice-K on the shelf, the Red Sox have to come up with two starters and one of them is Daniel Bard, the team’s setup man the past two seasons. Bard, 26, does throw hard and he has two breaking pitches to mix in his arsenal.
But Bard also was the poster boy for the Red Sox collapse. Forced to pitch a lot to cover for weak starting pitching, Bard got hit hard and often in September, finishing the season 2-9 with a 3.33 ERA and five blown saves. Only July 31, Bard had a 1.76 ERA.
Now the question is can he be an effective starter? It has not worked for relievers lately. It did not work for Joba Chamberlain and Brandon Morrow of the Blue Jays has struggled to get past the fifth inning with the Blue Jays. Usually it works better when a starter becomes a reliever as it did with former Red Sox right-hander Dennis Eckersley.
Until Bard proves he can pitch deep into games consistently and does not fade late in the season as the innings pile up, he is big question mark in 2012.
For the fifth spot, the Red Sox issued an open casting call much like the Yankees did in 2011 with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.
They are looking at holdovers Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller as possible candidates. Aceves, 29, was 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA but made only four starts. He is better suited as a reliever, as he proved with the Yankees. Miller, a 26-year-old left-hander, was 6-3 but he had a horrible 5.54 ERA in 12 starts.
The Red Sox also signed former Yankee right-hander Ross Ohlendorf and three other right-handers including Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and Carlos Silva to compete for the job this spring.
None of these candidates are going to impress the Red Sox faithful. They all have a lot of mileage on them and they all have not had much success in recent years.
This might be one of the weakest Red Sox rotations in many years and the lack of depth in it is the major problem. If Beckett, Lester or Buchholz are hurt, who steps up to replace them?
The Red Sox allowed Jonathan Papelbon leave for the Philadelphia Phillies rather than pay him what he was worth as a closer for them over the past six seasons. The conventional wisdom was Bard would take over as the closer.
But the Red Sox made him a starter instead and opened up the job. They decided to fill it with 27-year-old right-hander Andrew Bailey, who was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.
Bailey is coming off two injury-plagued seasons but is pretty darn good when he is healthy. Bailey is 7-10 with a career ERA of 2.07 and 75 saves in 84 chances.
There is no doubt Bailey is an excellent closer. The only question is of the Red Sox can keep him healthy and can Bailey adjust to the very small dimensions of Fenway as opposed to the expansive Coliseum.
The Red Sox also traded with the Houston Astros for yet another former Yankee reliever in Mark Melancon. (Can the signing of Tanyon Sturtze be far behind?). Melancon, 26, was 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and saved 20 out of 25 games for the lowly Astros last season. Melancon, who was touted years ago as the eventual successor to Mariano Rivera when he was in the Yankees’ minor-league system, will set up Bailey and can close if Bailey should revert to past form and pull up lame.
Speaking of lame, the Red Sox suffered a huge blow to their bullpen before pitchers reported to camp on Sunday because 30-year-old right-hander Bobby Jenks will miss more time when a pulmonary embolism was discovered in his lung. This was discovered after he had two back surgeries after pitching only 19 games last season. He is on the 60-day DL and he will be on a long road back to health.
Aceves also figures in the late innings because he is much more valuable in that spot.
The Red Sox got some use out of 29-year-old right-hander Matt Albers, who was 4-4 with 4.73 ERA in 56 games last season. The lefty specialist was 26-year-old Franklin Morales, who was 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 50 appearances. The Red Sox are hoping Rich Hill will come back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow sometime this season.
The Red Sox think 24-year-old lefty Felix Doubront can take the second left-hander spot in the bullpen. He had no record and 6.10 ERA in 11 appearances last season. Doubront could also get a chance to start and he has some upside.
This bullpen is definitely in a state of flux. New personnel, new roles and there are some pitchers coming off injuries or currently rehabbing injuries. It is not a recipe for success.
Valentine and McClure have a lot of decisions to make in the spring. For the Red Sox to succeed they need an excellent bullpen. For now, it looks just mediocre.
The Red Sox were largely a four-man offense – a very good four-man offense but a four-man offense nonetheless – in 2011.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was as advertised. He hit .338 with 27 home runs and 117 RBIs and played Gold Glove defense. The Red Sox hope Gonzalez, 29, is the fulcrum of the Bosox attack for many years to come.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia bounced back from an injury-plagued 2010 season to re-establish himself in 2011. He hit .307 with 21 homers and 91 RBIs and also won a Gold Glove. Pedroia, 28, remains the spark-plug in the Red Sox engine. His grit and determination makes him the heart and soul of the team.
Designated hitter David Ortiz followed up a bounce-back 2010 season with another solid campaign in 2011. Ortiz, 36, hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs. He is not the same feared hitter he was in his steroid days hitting behind Manny Ramirez but he is still good enough to help the offense.
The big surprise was center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who played only 18 games in 2010 and was accused of milking his rib injury by some teammates. Ellsbury, 28, must have been angry because he came back with a vengeance in 2011. He hit .321 with easily a career-high 32 home runs and 105 RBIs from the leadoff spot. He also stole 39 bases.
To most Red Sox observers, Ellsbury was the team’s MVP and would have won the American League MVP if Justin Verlander of the Tigers had not.
The big disappointments in this lineup were Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford.
Youkilis, who will be 33 when the season starts, still has not played any more than 147 games in a season. Last season, the combination of bursitis in his left hip and a sports hernia limited him to 120 games. He hit a disappointing .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and he did not play third base as well he played first base. Youkilis must stay healthy and return to form if the Red Sox are to make a move in 2012.
Left-fielder Crawford, 30, arrived in Beantown with 409 career steals and .293 career batting average. His seven-year, $142 million contract was the signing that limited the Red Sox from adding pitching this winter. He also proved he did not fit in well at Fenway. He hit .255 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs and only 18 stolen bases. He also proved weak in the field despite having won a Gold Glove with the Rays in 2010.
More bad news about Crawford: Late in the winter Crawford realized his left wrist required surgery and he is not likely to be able to play on Opening Day. Crawford will either turn his game around or become one of the biggest albatross signings in baseball history.
The Red Sox have shuffled the deck in right-field and shortstop this season.
The Red Sox released aging outfielder J.D. Drew and they used promising youngster Josh Reddick in the Bailey trade.
The Red Sox did obtain outfielder Ryan Sweeney in the Bailey deal and he is a left-handed hitter like Reddick. However, the 27-year-old has been a huge disappointment in Oakland. He is career .283 hitter but he lacks both power and speed.
Holdover Darnell McDonald, 33, was brought up last season and he hit .236 with six home runs and 24 RBIs in 79 games. He could figure in an early platoon with Sweeney or win the job outright. Ryan Kalish, 23, hit .252 in 53 games and he will get a look also.
The Red Sox also picked up Cody Ross from the Giants. Ross, 31, bats right-handed and he figures to start n left-field until Crawford returns to health. Then he will shift to right in a platoon with either Sweeney or Kalish. Ross hit .240 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs in 2011.
Shortstop also was shuffled for 2012. Starter Marco Scutaro was shipped to Colorado for right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen. Backup infielder Jed Lowrie was used in the Melancon trade with the Astros.
That leaves former Royals infielder Mike Aviles to start at the position. Aviles, 31, is a career .288 hitter but he hit only .255 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs in 91 games with the Royals and Red Sox.
The Jason Varitek era in Boston is officially over. Varitek was not re-signed and Jarrod Saltalamacchia enters his second season as the unquestioned starter for the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia, 26, is coming off a so-so 2011 season. He hit .235 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs. He also struck out 119 times in 358 at-bats so he is not exactly a selective hitter. The Red Sox also wish he would continue to improve his defense and throwing.
The Red Sox will likely keep Ross, McDonald and either Sweeney or Kalish as backup outfielders. McDonald is valuable because he play all three spots and he is better in center.
The Red Sox picked up former Twins infielder Nick Punto as a reserve at second, short and third. Punto, 34, hit .278 with one home run and 20 RBIs with the Cardinals last season. Having Punto means the Red Sox can allow 22-year-old shortstop Jose Inglesias another season to develop at Triple-A. Inglesias can field but has not developed much as a hitter.
The team also picked up former Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Rays. Shoppach, 31, hit .176 with 11 homers and 22 RBIs with the Rays and he replaces Varitek as the backup catcher. He is solid defensively.
This is a serviceable bench but I would hardly call it talent-laden or special.
The Epstein-Francona era is over. The main architects of the only two World Series championships in the last 96 years have fled. They left a financial constraint on the team that prevented them from addressing their crisis in starting pitching, the bullpen and in right-field.
The Crawford and Lackey signings along with the trades for since-departed Victor Matinez and Gonzalez left this very dollar-rich team weak in minor-league prospects and unable to find enough wiggle room to sign what they needed without breaking way past the level where the luxury tax kicks in.
This limits what the Red Sox will actually do this season. This is team that already is beset by injuries (Lackey, Dice-K, Crawford, Jenks) and they are severely lacking in depth before spring training has even started. It is hard to see how they find the money to fix what needs fixing if the ship should begin to flounder.
The Red Sox will only go as far their offense and their top three starters take them this season.
With the Rays a bit flawed it is easy to see both the Red Sox and Rays battling for second place behind the Yankees in 2012. Because of what happened to the Red Sox last season it hard to see how it could happen again. But that is what I am predicting.
I just have a sneaking suspicion that the Rays pitching will be the reason the Red Sox will finish third. The only question is can Valentine get out of town before RSN tries to lynch him. Good luck, with this bunch, Bobby. You are going to need it – along with a lot of Maalox.
Just call them the Red Flops.