Archive for the ‘Boston Red Sox’ Category

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox

Jacoby Ellsbury made his return to Boston Tuesday night, wearing a different uniform for the first time since his career began in 2007. Ellsbury, instrumental in two of the Red Sox three World Series titles in the last century, left for the greener pastures of New York.

Within the contexts of Major League Baseball, Ellsbury leaving to sign with the highest bidder is par for the course. The Red Sox made a less-than-competitive offer to their outgoing center fielder, knowing they had a replacement in Jackie Bradley Jr waiting in the wings.

This is the way it works in baseball and the Red Sox are no different. They famously let the beloved Pedro Martinez walk after their 2004 World Series triumph and his reputation escaped unscathed.

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MLB: Boston Red Sox at Chicago White Sox

One prevailing mythology regarding the 2013 Boston Red Sox runs along the lines of “everything went right.” It is true that they hit on a high number of their free agent signings and received bounce-back seasons from John Lackey and others, but the injury bug bit the Sox as hard as anyone last season.

Of their position players, only Dustin Pedroia managed to play in 150 games or more, even though he did so with a ligament injury in this thumb, a wound that required off-season surgery.

The Red Sox battled injuries like any other team last year. They benefited from role players stepping up in the absence of the starters, getting off to a hot start and never missing a beat.

The 2014 Red Sox aren’t off to quite as hot a start and their ability to rely on depth players is about to be tested once again, as they’re dealing with injuries in bunches while kicking off their title defense.

Yesterday it was Mike Napoli who joined the ranks of the walking wounded. The Sox slugging first baseman dislocated a finger sliding into second base, though he isn’t expected to hit the disabled list. Closer Koji Uehara received a similar piece of news over the weekend as his shoulder tightness is not thought to be serious.

Pedroia played much of last year in pain and now it appears he’ll do the same in 2014, battling a wrist injury and requiring a cortisone shot to avoid the DL. The injuries are relatively minor, but when added together they test the Red Sox championship calibre depth at multiple positions.

Even with Napoli on the shelf for a few days, it forces Mike Carp into an everyday role at first base. Carp is a valuable member of the Sox bench corps as he can play multiple positions and represents a good bench bat at the ready. Carp even played a few innings at third base the other night, as Will Middlebrooks is on the DL and his replacement, Ryan Roberts, is not a viable option on an everyday basis.

With Pedroia ailing and the Middlebrooks out, the Sox rely on defense-first bit players like Jonathan Herrera and waiver-wire claims like Roberts to paper over their problems. On a short term basis it can work, but over 162 games?

The Sox are an aging team that handled last year’s adversity with great performances from part time players. In the early days of 2014, essential contributors like Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, and Carp aren’t producing as they did. Given the careful workload of Grady Sizemore and the limited role or David Ortiz, any failings on the part of these fill-ins will create huge holes in the lineup.

The Red Sox are in fine shape, all things being equal. Sizemore looks great and the Sox are keeping pace in the tightly-packed AL East. The same talent that won 97 games and a World Series title remains in place, one year older and a little worse for wear but still a championship squad when evaluated objectively.

The Sox have the talent but they will put their industry-leading health professionals to the test with their wizened bunch. Can the Sox keep their talented core on the field long enough to mount a spirited title defense? Though they deserve the benefit of the doubt, I can’t shake this nagging feeling that their nagging injuries might cascade all season long.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Boston Red Sox

At this point, it is clear that Major League Baseball’s new replay system leaves something to be desired. This weekend’s Yankees-Red Sox series saw an odd play in which Yankees shortstop Dean Anna was obviously tagged out at second base per the replays played on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast. However, MLB replay headquarters either didn’t have the same angles as the broadcast or they flat-out missed the call, as the play was upheld after replay.

The next night, the Red Sox were on the losing of end of a rightly-overturned call at first base. Farrell came out to argue the overturned call and was promptly tossed from the game — arguing a replay occupies the same space as arguing balls and strikes, and Farrell must have known he was cruising towards a tossing.

The imperfections in the replay system are worth noting, and must be fixed before it can be considered a success. But it was striking, as I watched Farrell scream his lungs out at the umpiring crew: I hadn’t seen a manager lose his mind at the umpires yet this year, two weeks into the season.

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MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees

Michael Pineda of the New York Yankees pitched very well last night, contributing six innings and seven strikeouts to a 4-1 win over the world champion Red Sox. For the first four innings or so, he pitched with something stuck to his right hand. Something that didn’t belong there. Something that looked an awful lot like pine tar.

Pine tar has its uses, but when we see it on the pitching hand of a big league starter, it’s hard to think of a viable application for the product in a “game action” context. Why would a big league pitcher need pine tar, on his throwing arm, on the hill? Gripping the baseball is important, thus the presence of a rosin bag on every mound in baseball. But pine tar? For no reason outside conventional wisdom, pine tar has a more sinister connotation.

With a dozen HD cameras pointed at each and every baseball game, stuff like this doesn’t elude the unblinking eye for long. Broadcast picks up “evidence”, viewers (and announcers, typically) freak out, player is a cheater and reviled by the rival supporters. The team on the receiving end of these clearly doctored baseballs? They don’t make a big deal about it.

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MLB: Spring Training-St. Louis Cardinals at Boston Red Sox

Just a few days ago, a long ode to the Red Sox process appeared in this space. The Red Sox, the glorious bastards they are, matched results with process in a way few other teams can duplicate. Young and cheap players standing shoulder-to-shoulder with high-priced talent. Spoiled for choice, such that they can watch not one but two good shortstops walk out the door because they have reinforcements on the way – arguably more talented reinforcements.

Those few days ago, Grady Sizemore appeared to be an insurance policy for Jackie Bradley Jr. A nice luxury to have in case Bradley struggles (as young players do) or, by the grace of Koji, Grady Sizemore does the impossible. Well, it appears “impossible” was something of an overstatement.

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MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox won the 2013 World Series. Even though it happened more than five months ago, it still seems improbable. Based on how the Sox ended their 2011 season and how they floundered their entire 2012 season, the turnaround is nothing short of remarkable.

But these are the kind of turnarounds capable with a full arsenal of team building weapons at your disposal. In two shorts years, the Red Sox rose from punchline to class of the league. While the future is inevitably bright in Boston, the next six months might not be quite as sunny as the overall health of the organization.

Make no mistake, the organization is healthier than almost any in baseball. The Red Sox are rich and popular, successful and loaded for bear. More than anything, they’re smart. They have a very good idea of what they want to do and how they want to do it.

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MLB: Cincinnati Reds at San Diego Padres

There are plenty of roles more important than the lowly fourth outfielder. Going into a season with a question mark this menial on your depth chart should not keep anybody up at night. It is, however, a job that can pay distinct dividends.

There are many different ways to build a fourth outfielder. It is mostly a matter of need. Provide late-game defensive cover for the slugger with “fall down” range or do the opposite – offer “break glass in case of emergency” bench pop when a team needs instant offense.

As Spring Training slowly gives way to the regular season, it is this type of depth role that is often battled over among multiple options. Guys of this nature sometimes price themselves out of the role, leading to some last minute shuffling as the season nears and the ax falls in favor of a younger, cheaper player.

But what type of fourth outfielder you prefer says a lot about you and it says a lot about your favorite team. Your insecurities and worst held fears about the soft spot in the starting nine all bubble to the surface.

So let’s dig in and find out what kind of fourth outfielder works best for you. Yes, you.

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