Boston Red Sox

Nation STATion: Nine questions facing the Red Sox

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Nation STATion: Nine questions facing the Red Sox

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

Watching postseason action might have Red Sox Nation thinking about what could have been and what should have been. It was only made worse on Tuesday when Adrian Beltre went deep three times and Victor Martinez hit his own homer. However, the focus has to be on what will be. Que sera?

To sum up where we stand right now:
Red Sox have no manager.
The general manager may be leaving.
We have a number of free agents in critical positions.
And, we have a number of pitchers who drink in the clubhouse and stink on the mound.

With all that in mind, here are nine questions to ponder:
1. Who will provide the Sox with right-hand power?
Red Sox batters hit .274 this season, second only to the Rangers .287. However, the Rangers righties hit 149 homers to lead the league and the Sox righties only hit 71, good for 10th in the league. The power drop from last year was significant as righties his 126 homers for the Sox in 2010. Not only that, but Sox righties had only 612 hits (11th in the league) down from 949 last season.

2. What will the Sox do behind the plate?
Red Sox catchers led the AL with 29 homers, but their .229 batting average was only good for the ninth in the league. Making matters worse, Boston catchers led the AL with 189 strikeouts, 99 more than White Sox catchers, who had the fewest whiffs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia ended up at only .235 but did hit 16 homers. He struck out once every 3.0 at bats.

The big question is who will share Saltys slot? Jason Varitek is the captain, and he has great knowledge about the pitching staff. The problem is that even that even though he hit 11 homers, as good as he is behind the plate, he is a liability at the plate. His .221 batting average raised his average over the last four seasons to .218. From July 8 to the end of the season, 'Tek played 28 games and hit .184 and had a .252 OBP. In September, he hit .077. Ryan Lavarnway does not yet have great skills behind the plate, but this season in the minors he hit .290 with 32 homers and 93 RBI and he is a right-hand hitter.

3. Why are the 1st innings so bad for Sox pitchers?
The three worst 1st inning pitching staffs: Baltimore starters allowed 117 runs in the 1st inning, Royals starters allowed 103 runs, and Sox starters allowed 96.

Oakland starters allowed just 65 runs.

It's no surprise that John Lackey allowed the most with 26 1st inning runs, but Jon Lester allowed 19 and while Beckett just 13. It could be worse as he gave up a team leading five homers.

4. If the 1st inning is so bad, why is the 2nd inning even worse?
Baltimore allowed 105 1st inning runs and the Sox and Jays allowed 98 each.

Angels pitchers in 162 2nd innings allowed only 51 runs.

In 23 2nd innings, Tim Wakefield allowed 21 runs. Lester gave up 13, but Beckett allowed just seven.

5. How do the Sox get their starters in shape?
There has been a lot of talk about the conditioning of Bostons pitchers. We could clearly see it in a number of them stood on the mound, but here is a way to quantify it. Lets assume that the first 100 pitches thrown in a game belong to the starter. We have already acknowledged that the first two innings have been shaky, which is why opponents hit .247 on the first 25 pitchers of the game. Sox pitchers settled down on the next 25 and held batters to a .235 batting average. They started weakening slightly on pitches 51-75 as the average moved up to .241. But conditioning is a critical part of pitches 76-100 and opponents rattled Sox pitchers for a .278 BAA. That included Clay Buchholz .324, Wakes .333, and Lackeys .348.

Do not blame Beckett, even when he threw over 101 pitches batters only hit .196 from that point on. However, if you want to look at it as the season progressed as opposed to as the game progressed:

In June batters hit .213 against the Sox starters. In July: .292. In August: .257.
In September they hit an even .300. That includes Jon Lesters .282 BAA in six September starts.
6. Where do you bat Carl Crawford?
Carl Crawford had one horrible month (April, when hit .155), one good month (May, when he hit .304) and the rest of the season was just mediocre (June through September, he hit .269). Last September, Crawford hit .360. This season, just .264. There really was nothing encouraging about the season for Crawford. He only had 18 steals and from June on he only had 11 steals in 13 attempts. He was not a threat or a distraction. He is a career .262 hitter against lefties but this year he looked totally out of sync as he hit just .195, down 61 points from 2010. Crawford has batted in every slot in the batting order in his career and this year he only didnt bat clean-up or 9th.

He has made it clear he doesnt like hitting leadoff and he proved it by hitting by hitting .094 in seven starts.

His best spots were seventh and sixth in which he hit .315 and.280 respectively. The only trouble is that he only scored 19 runs from the seventh position, as the batters behind him were the weakest in the Sox lineup.
7. Where do you bat Jacoby Ellsbury?
There is a very good chance that Jacoby Ellsbury could win the AL MVP. He put together one of the great seasons in Red Sox history. He hit .321, scored 119 runs, drove in 105, hit 32 homers and stole 39 bases. The 32 homers moved his career total to 52, but his 39 steals is the fewest of his three complete season (he previously had stole 50 and 70). Thanks to Jacoby:

Red Sox leadoff batters led the AL with a .310 batting average.
Red Sox leadoff batters tied Texas for the AL lead with 33 homers.
Red Sox leadoff batters led the AL with 105 RBI.

Jacoby and Texas Ian Kinsler were the only leadoff batters with over 30 homers. Texas is deeper in power throughout its lineup, so if Jacoby is becoming more of a power hitter will he be more valuable deeper in the Boston line-up?

8. Is team speed an issue?
Fortunately baseball is a very different game today than it s was during the steroid era. We get to see well-pitched games and games decided by a mix of power and speed. The question is whether the Sox can compete properly in this new world order.

Would it shock you if I told that Ellsbury this year was an average base stealer? Jacoby was 39 for 54 in steal attempts, a stolen base percentage of 72 percent. The league averaged 72 percent.

Dustin Pedroia averaged 76 percent and Crawford 75 percent as the team averaged 71 percent.

But team speed is not just about stealing bases; its also about taking the extra base and scoring when given the opportunity.

Ponder this: 350 times this season a runner was on first when a single was hit, 248 times the runner moved no farther than second.

How about this: there were 205 times when the Sox had a runner on second when a single was hit, the runner scored 120 times.

Whoever comes in next needs to address both speed and base running skills.

9. Who do you keep, who do you seek?
The Sox have a number of free agents and a number of important decisions need to be made on the makeup of this squad for next year and the years to come. It is more than just talent that needs to be taken under consideration when putting together a ballclub. Yes, there is the budget, but there is also team composition, an issue that has not seemed like a priority lately. Next years manager and general manager will clearly need to be chemists, but also an alchemist, a person who turns lead into gold.

Starting Monday, Nation STATion will look at the numbers for the Sox free agents, so that you can best decide who keep and who to send packing.

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.

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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.