Boston Red Sox

Nation STATion: Clearing up feelings on the Sox

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Nation STATion: Clearing up feelings on the Sox

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

Baseball accentuates your ability to have a split personality. You can be liking all that is going on with a team, yet at the same time really not be liking what is going with some of the players. A baseball season is a series of moments in at bats, games, series, road trips, home stands, months, groups of games, where you like what is going on or you dont like how things are going simultaneously. It may sound simplistic, but baseball fans indeed find those moments and then focus on them and talk about them until the moment is gone and then you move on to other likes and dislikes.

Let me give you some examples:

Over the course of the season, you worry more about series than individual games, so I was liking that Boston had not lost a series since the end of June. Then the Mariners ended up taking two this weekend from Boston. The Sox' streak of winning or splitting a series ended at 11, with the first-place Red Sox going 26-10 over that stretch, which I liked. Simultaneously, Im not liking that the Sox are 5-5 over their last 10, and just 11-9 over their last 20.

Lots of buzz over the fact that since July 9 John Lackey is 6-0. Whos not liking that? Well, to be honest, Im not really liking it.

The fact is while the Sox are 6-1 over those seven starts, he still has thrown only 43.2 innings and has an ERA over that stretch of 3.92 and a batting average against of .303. Over those seven games hes given up 21 runs, 19 earned, while the Sox have scored 54 times. The best way to say it is that if your team scores 54 runs in seven games, even John Lackey can win most of them. Im still not liking him.

You call this a slump? Im still really liking Adrian Gonzalez. People are talking about the fact that Gonzo has homered just once in his last 31 games. Big deal! The guy has hit .354 over that time with an .866 OPS. Although Im not liking the 16 RBI over that stretch, I am liking the 21 runs scored.

Im definitely not liking that Kevin Youkilis is hitting .267 after averaging .308 the last three seasons. A big part of the issue is all the groundballs hes hitting this season. Hes already grounded into 13 DPs, the most of his career for any season. Of the 304 balls Youk has put into play this season, 126 were grounders producing 31 singles and three doubles. In all of 2009, Youk had hit 132 grounders in the 380 balls he put in play, producing 31 singles and 3 doubles.

Im liking, no, Im loving the production from Jacoby Ellsbury this season. How could you not be loving it? In 2009, Jacobys last full season, we were happy with the .315 he hit with men on base. We were all really happy with his .313 with runners in scoring position in 09. We are thrilled that this season, with men on base, Jacoby is hitting .339 and really impressed with his .348 this season with men in scoring position.

There is a huge difference between the Carl Crawford of 2010 and the Carl Crawford of 2011 and we are not liking it. He averaged 50 steals over each of the last seven seasons, but since you cant steal first the fact that he is hitting .255 this year versus the .299 average over the last seven season tells a lot. Perhaps Crawford is being wary because of his big contract, but he is much less aggressive when it comes to chasing pitches out of the strike zone. Last season, Crawford put 226 pitches out of the strike zone into play and hit .270. So far this season, hes only put 106 pitches out of the zone into play and is hitting just .160.

Im always liking the Muddy Chicken (and if you want to love him even more, read the SI cover story about him). In Dustin Pedroias 2008 MVP season, from the seventh inning on (including extra-innings), he hit .327 with a .867 OPS. This season, from the 7th inning on, hes hitting .336 with a .914 OPS. I really like that.

The biggest difference between Jonathan Papelbon this season and last season is that he is combining his fastball, which is hard and high in the zone, with his splitter, which is hard and drops low in the zone. Last season, batters hit .230 against the fastball and .240 against the splitter and a combined .232 against the two pitches. This season, batters are hitting .204 against his fastball and only .219 against the splitter and a combined .207 against the two pitches. Everybody who is liking that raise your hand.

Finally, as per usual, Im liking Terry Francona. There are always going to be detractors and always be complainers, but Im not one of them. Its not easy managing a ball club and in many ways, the more talent you have, the harder it is to get the most from everyone on the roster.

Two quick ones on the job that Tito does to keep this team a functioning unit:

Mike Aviles was picked up by the Sox from the Royals at the trading deadline for Yamaico Navarro. It was not a blockbuster deal. But Aviles, who probably figured he would riding the Sox bench, has been out there in nine games and has played third, short, and right field.

Aviles, who is hitting .381 in a Boston uniform, has been surprised at Francona's willingness to use his bench. As he told the Golbes Peter Abraham, "I love that. He's out there to win games and he'll use all 25 guys if he has to. I think that's what makes this team win," Aviles said. "That's a big part of this team, that everybody contributes. You have to come to the park ready to play.

The final thing that Im really liking is that Tito is doing everything he can to help in the effort to get Tim Wakefield his 200th win. Wake is 45 and a very important part of this ballclub. Hes appeared in 26 games, made 17, starts, has a 6-5 record, a 4.90 ERA, and who knows where this team would be without his contributions.

From June 1 to July 18, Wake made eight starts and threw 49.1 innings, thats about 6.1 innings per start. In his last five starts, as Wake has moved from 198 to 199 wins and gotten stuck, the knuckleballer has thrown 35 innings, seven innings a start. That extra inning is to give Tim every opportunity to get that big win.

Wakefield had not thrown a complete game since a seven-inning win on April 22, 2009, which had followed a complete nine-inning win on April 15. Yesterday, Wakefield allowed five runs but still tossed his first complete game as Francona kept him in the game hoping the Sox would rally. They didnt but I still liked that...a lot.

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

BALTIMORE — Baseball records are so precise. When to pursue them, when to value them even if minor risk is involved, is not nearly as clear cut.

The Red Sox, Chris Sale and John Farrell have stumbled upon that grey area, and it will continue to play out in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Sale reached a tremendous milestone on Wednesday night, becoming the 14th different pitcher in major league history to reach 300 strikeouts in a single season. No one else has done it in the American League this century. Clayton Kershaw was the last to get there in the National League two years ago.

“It was really fun,” Sale said of having his family on hand. “My wife, both my boys are here, my mother-in-law. Being able to run out and get a big hug from him and my wife and everybody — it was special having them here for something like this. … I’ll spend a little time with them before we head to Cincinnati.”

Now, there’s another mark ahead of Sale: Pedro Martinez’s single-season club record of 313. And the pursuit of that record is going to highlight the discussion of what matters even more.

The tug-of-war between absolute pragmatism and personal achievement was on display Wednesday, when Farrell gave ground to the former. 

The manager was prepared for the questions after a celebratory 9-0 win over the Orioles. His pitchers threw 26 straight scoreless innings to finish off a three-game sweep of the Orioles, and the Sox had the game well in hand the whole night.

With seven innings and 99 pitches thrown and 299 strikeouts in the books, Sale went back out for the eighth inning.

If you watched it, if you saw Sale drop a 2-2 front-door slider to a hapless Ryan Flaherty for the final strikeout Sale needed and his last pitch of the night, you surely enjoyed it. Records may not be championships, but they have their own appeal in sports that’s undeniable. 

But Sale could have recorded strikeout No. 300 next time out. Surely, he would have. He needed all 111 pitches to do so Wednesday.

In this case, the difference between 299 and 300 wound up being just 12 pitches. 

It’s doubtful those 12 pitches will ruin Sale’s postseason chances, particularly considering he was throwing hard all game, touching 99 mph. 

Nonetheless, the Sox hope to play for another month, and they've been working to get Sale extra rest. So, why risk fatigue, or worse, injury?

“The two overriding factors for me,” Farrell explained, “were the pitch counts and the innings in which he was in control of throughout. Gets an extra day [for five days of rest] this next time through the rotation. All those things were brought into play in the thinking of bringing him back out.

“We know what the final out of tonight represented, him getting the 300 strikeouts. Was aware of that, and you know what, felt like he was in complete command of this game and the ability to go out and give that opportunity, he recorded it.”

If Sale makes his final two starts of the year, he’ll break Martinez's record of 313. At least, Sale should. But he might not make his projected final start, in Game No. 162, so that he’s set up for Game 1 in the Division Series.

(So, if he could do reach 314 Ks in his next start, he’d make this discussion disappear — but 14 Ks in one outing is not easy.)

When should exceptions be made to let someone get to a record? Where do you draw the line? 

Would it be reasonable to get Sale an inning or two against the Astros in Game 162 if he was a few strikeouts away, even though he may face the Astros in the Division Series?

Letting the Astros get extra looks against Sale is a different matter than Sale throwing 12 extra pitches. But neither is really a guarantee of doom. They're small risks, of varying size.

Consider that if Sale is on, he should rough up the Astros no matter what.

What's 12 pitches Wednesday for a guy who leads the majors in average pitches thrown per game? Not enough to keep Farrell from letting Sale have a go at one milestone.

Will the Sox work to put Sale in position for the next?

Records don’t usually fall into such a grey area. Outside of the steroid era, anyway.

Sale gets strikeout No. 300 as Red Sox shut out O's, 9-0

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Sale gets strikeout No. 300 as Red Sox shut out O's, 9-0

BALTIMORE - Chris Sale struck out 13 to become the first AL pitcher in 18 years to reach the 300 mark, and the Boston Red Sox moved to the brink of clinching a playoff berth by beating the Baltimore Orioles 9-0 on Wednesday night.

Sale (17-7) reached the milestone on his last pitch, a called third strike against Ryan Flaherty to end the eighth inning. The last AL pitcher to fan 300 batters in a season was Boston's Pedro Martinez in 1999, when he set a club record with 313.

Mookie Betts and Deven Marrero homered for the Red Sox, who reduced their magic number for reaching the postseason to one. If the Angels lost to Cleveland later Wednesday night, Boston would be assured no worse than a wild-card spot in the AL playoffs.

The Red Sox, of course, would prefer to enter as AL East champions. They hold a three-game lead over the second-place Yankees with 10 games left.

After winning two straight 11-inning games over the skidding Orioles, Boston jumped to a 6-0 lead in the fifth and coasted to its 11th win in 14 games.