Boston Red Sox

Nation Station: April can be a cruel month

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Nation Station: April can be a cruel month

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

The poet T. S. Eliot, despite dying in 1965, still aptly described the Sox first series of the season when he wrote, April is the cruelest month. Yes, the Sox were swept in the first series of their season, and we will see as the season progresses that series wins are a bigger goal than individual games, BUT really the only series loss that matters begins with the word postseason.

While there really was very little positive to speak about in this first series, lets remember that three games lost just means that the Sox have 159 games to recover. So, for those of you planning to jump off the bandwagon, lets remember there are 24 games left in April alone and by this time next week we might be saying, Texas who?

If we consider Daniel Bards Opening Day meltdown an anomaly, from my perspective, the most distressing performance thus far has been John Lackeys Saturday start because history is not as kind to him.

Here are the seven career starts in which Lackey has given up at least eight earned runs.

DateTeam
Opp.
Result

IP
H
R
ER
BB
SOHR
Pit
9.26.08LAATexL 1-12

2.212
10
10
2
1
2
73
4.2.11
Bos
Tex
L 5-12

3.2
10
9
9
2
3
2
86
8.5.03
LAA
Bos
L 9-10

4.0
9
9
9
2
1
2
86
4.19.10
Bos
TB
L 2-8

3.1
9
8
8
1
3
1
79
6.10.09
LAA
TB
L 5-9

5.0
11
9
8
2
2
2
98
6.10.06
LAA
Sea
L 6-12

4.2
9
8
8
3
1
1
93
5.30.04
LAA
Chi
L 2-11

3.0
9
8
8
2
1
1
81

You can see that two have been for Boston, two have been against Texas, and two have been in April.

How the Red Sox have fared in recent Aprils:

Year April Final record 2010 11-12 .478 89-73 .549 2009 14-8 .636 95-67 .586 2008 17-12 .586 95-67 .586 2007 16-8 .667 96-66 .593 2006 14-11 .560 86-76 .531 2005 12-11 .522 95-67 .586 2004 15-6 .714 98-64 .605 2003 18-9 .667 95-67 .586 2002 16-7 .696 93-69 .574 2001 16-9 .640 82-79 .509 Total 149-93 .616 924-695 .571

Unlike Lackey, some Sox players have no trouble with April. Take Kevin Youkilis, who does really well in April (lifetime hitting .313) and especially in May (lifetime hitting .335 with 29 homers). It could be that by the end of the summer, he gets tired from wiping too much sweat from his brow. Last April, Youk hit .270 but had an .831 OPS which is down from his lifetime .931 OPS. He had a monster 2009 April with a 1.203 OPS (OPS is On-base Slugging percentage Ted Williams holds the all-time single season record with a 1.287 OPS in 1941).

Or take the case of Adrian Gonzalez, who is a lifetime .290 April hitter, which is slightly better than his .285 lifetime average. In Gonzalezs first four Aprils, starting in 2004, he hit 11 homers (seven in 2007), but over the last three he slammed 20 homers and drove home 55 Padres while hitting .300. While A-Gon is hitting .385 he only has one double in the extra-base hit category. Then again he does have his second career stolen base.

Carl Crawford had gotten off to such a rocky start that Terry Francona dropped him to the seventh slot in the lineup. He went 2-for-4 Sunday but that simply brought his average up to .182 without a stolen base. Over the first five Aprils of Crawfords career, he only had one season over .270, but the last three Aprils have been better for him. Hes been 90-for-300 for an even .300 with 37 RBI and 24 stolen bases.

If we werent paying so much attention to the new guys, we would admit that our eyes are on David Ortiz this April. We have repeatedly heard about Big Papis poor starts but those are a relatively recent occurrence. In 248 April career games, Ortiz has hit .254 with 49 homers and 171 RBI. The problem is that he had 48 April homers through 2008. His average over the last three Aprils (March games included) is .191 (47-for-246). Then, when you add the six total homers (one over the last two years) and 37 RBI (16 over the last two years), his numbers are just ugly.

However, perhaps not having all the pressure on Ortiz has helped to get him off to one of his best starts in years. The Cookie Monster has a pair of homers (and would have had three had it not been caught in the upper level gusts of the ill-winds over the Rangers Ballpark). Ortiz is hitting a healthy .333.

I would be remiss to not mention Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Lester has been the pitching equivalent of Ortiz in April and in his first start, despite not getting a decision, the lefty did nothing to allay our fears. Lifetime, Lester in April is 3-6, with a 4.95 ERA and a WHIP of 1.495.

Clay Buchholz allowed nine homers all last season and he allowed four on Sunday. In nine prior April starts he allowed four homers and he allowed four on Sunday. In three prior starts against the Rangers he had allowed one homer and he allowed well, you get my point.

April is a long month and the long season consists of six months. T.S. Eliot be damned, lets take a deep breath and head to Cleveland.

Twice weekly during the baseball season, Bill Chuck of billy-ball.com will provide Nation Station, a statistically-based look at the Red Sox. Look for Nation Station each Monday and Thursday at noon.

Drellich: In appreciation of a peculiar, throwback Red Sox offense

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Drellich: In appreciation of a peculiar, throwback Red Sox offense

BALTIMORE — On the night Major League Baseball saw its record for home runs in a season broken, the team with the fewest homers in the American League took a scoreless tie into extra innings.

In the 11th, the Red Sox won in a fashion they hadn’t in 100 years.

Just how peculiar was their 1-0 win over the Orioles, the AL leaders in homers? The lone run came when Jackie Bradley Jr. bolted home on a wild pitch from Brad Brach. So? So, the Red Sox won, but did not officially record a run batted in on the day MLB’s greatest league-wide power show to date was celebrated.

MORE:

The last time the Sox won an extra-inning game without recording an RBI was a century ago, in 1918. Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth played in that game. 

It’s a weird time for the Sox offense. A weird year, really. Because the Sox are in first place, and have been, but they don’t drive the ball. Their .408 slugging percentage was the fifth lowest in the majors entering Tuesday.

They’re also in the bottom third for strikeouts, the top five in steals and the top 10 in batting average (.260). That's the description of an effective National League offense. An old-school, move-the-line group that makes more contact than all but four teams in the majors. 

The rest of baseball is switching to golf swings to pound low-ball pitching. The Sox look like they could be on a black-and-white newsreel shuffling around the bags.

Should you have faith in that method come the playoffs? There's reason to be dubious.

But the construction should be appreciated for the sake of disparity, both in the context of recent Red Sox history and the sport’s home-run renaissance.

Alex Gordon of the Royals hit the season’s 5,964th home run Tuesday, besting the record mark set in 2000 — dead in the middle of the steroid era.

At present, the Sox lineup is particularly out of sorts because of injuries. Dustin Pedroia should be back Wednesday, but was out of the starting lineup Tuesday. Hanley Ramirez isn’t starting either. Eduardo Nunez’s rehab from a knee injury is coming along, but may not move quite as quickly as expected.

Even if all are healthy, this group remains strange. Because the Sox offense looks so different than what people expect of the Sox, the opposite of what people expect of an American League East-winning team. The opposite of what people expect of any American League team, period.

The arms are the driving force for the Sox, and must remain so if they’re to be successful in October. The sturdiness of the bullpen, tired but resolute, cannot be understated when the workload is extended in September. No team can go 15-3 in extra-inning games without stellar and timely pitching.

But the entirety of pitching coach Carl Willis’ staff has been wonderful. Drew Pomeranz didn’t have his best fastball velocity on Tuesday and was still effective in 6 1/3 innings.

The outfield play can’t be overlooked either. Bradley’s a brilliant patrolman in center field and his leaping catches to rob home runs — he took one away from Chris Davis Tuesday — have been their own attractions.

The Sox, meanwhile, just don't hit many balls far enough to be robbed.

If you’re cut from an old-school cloth, and didn’t really love those station-to-station, home-run powered offenses of yore, this Sox team is for you. There's something to be said for the experience of simply watching something different.

CSNNE SCHEDULE

Red Sox score on wild pitch in 11th for 1-0 win over Orioles

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Red Sox score on wild pitch in 11th for 1-0 win over Orioles

BALTIMORE -- Though they rank last in the American League in home runs, the Boston Red Sox have found plenty of other ways to win - especially in extra innings.

Jackie Bradley Jr. scored the game's lone run on a wild pitch by Brad Brach in the 11th inning, and Boston used six pitchers to silence the Baltimore Orioles' bats in a 1-0 victory Tuesday night.

Boston has won 10 of 13 to move a season-high 23 games over .500 (87-64) and draw closer to clinching a postseason berth. The Red Sox started the day with a three-game lead over the second-place New York Yankees in the AL East.

It was the second straight tight, lengthy game between these AL East rivals. Boston won in 11 innings on Monday night and is 15-3 in extra-inning games - tying a franchise record for extra-inning wins set in 1943.

In this one, pitching and defense proved to be the winning formula. After Drew Pomeranz allowed five hits over 6 1/3 innings, five relievers held the Orioles hitless the rest of the way.

"They've been able, to a man, hand it off to the next guy and continue to build a bridge until we can scratch out a run - tonight not even with an RBI," manager John Farrell said. "We find a way to push a run across."

With a runner on second and two outs in the 11th, Brach (4-5) walked Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts to load the bases for Mitch Moreland, who sidestepped a bouncing pitch from Brach that enabled Bradley to score without a throw.

Joe Kelly (4-1) worked the 10th and Matt Barnes got three outs for his first save.

"They've been unbelievable," Boston's Brock Holt said of the bullpen. "That's why our record is what is in extra-inning games, because of those guys."

The game stretched into extra innings in part because Bradley made a sensational catch to rob Baltimore slugger Chris Davis of a home run in the fifth inning. Bradley quickly judged the trajectory of the ball while running to his left, then left his feet and stretched his arm over the 7-foot wall in center field.

The finish came after Pomeranz and Kevin Gausman locked up in a scoreless duel that was essentially the exact opposite of Monday night's 10-8 slugfest.

Although he didn't get his 17th win, Pomeranz lowered his ERA to 3.15 and set a career high by pitching at least six innings for the 17th time (in 30 starts).

Gausman was even sharper, giving up just three hits over eight innings with one walk and seven strikeouts.

The right-hander retired the first 14 batters he faced before Rafael Devers singled off the right-field wall.

Baltimore threatened in the third inning when Manny Machado hit a two-out double, but he was thrown out by Benintendi trying to score on Jonathan Schoop's single to left field.

No one else got to third base until the sixth, when Baltimore had runners at the corners with two outs before Pomeranz struck out Mark Trumbo with a high, outside fastball.

The Orioles have lost 11 of 13 to fall out of contention.

"They're very frustrated right now," manager Buck Showalter said. "You can imagine grinding as our guys have since February and not being able to push a run like that across in some of these games when we pitch well. That's been a challenge for us. I feel for them because I know how much it means to them."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: 2B Dustin Pedroia, who left Monday's game in the fourth inning after fouling a ball off his nose, did not start but was used as a pinch hitter in the 10th inning and grounded into a double play. Farrell said Pedroia will likely return to the starting lineup Wednesday. . DH Hanley Ramirez (left arm soreness) was out of the starting lineup for the sixth consecutive game. Farrell said Ramirez was available to pinch hit and is likely to start Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: Chris Sale (16-7, 2.86 ERA) will seek to match his career high in wins Wednesday night in the series finale. He needs 13 strikeouts to become the first AL pitcher with 300 in a season since Pedro Martinez in 1999.

Orioles: Wade Miley (8-13, 5.32 ERA) has lost his last three starts. The left-hander gave up six runs and got only one out against the Yankees on Friday night.