Nation STATion: The truth hurts

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Nation STATion: The truth hurts

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

As constituted right now, the Red Sox are a .500 ball club.

On Monday, July 25 the Red Sox played their 100th game of the season and lost, 3-1. After that game, which ended a four-game winning streak, the Sox were 62-38, 24 games over .500. Yesterday, the Sox lost to Tampa Bay in game number 146 to drop their record to 85-61, 24 games over .500.

The fact that the Sox have played .500 ball, 23-23, since that Monday in July says a lot about the team. While the teams slump has been most visible lately -- they've won just twice in their last 11 games -- we can look back at that tipping point and see the beginning of the troubles that they are encountering full blast right now.

With 241 runs scored over that time period, second only to the Yankees (theyve scored 262), we know that this team can hit with the best of them.

With 221 runs allowed since that date, they are in a group that includes Toronto, Baltimore, Kansas City, Minnesota, and Oakland, which means that the Sox pitching ranks with teams whose records are among the worst in the AL.

There is no denying the Red Sox hitting is outstanding:
Boston is second the majors in batting, slightly behind Texas, both with a .279 average.

They are second to the Yankees in the majors in homers with 183.

They dropped to second in the majors in runs scored with 283, as the Yankees moved on top with 785.

They lead the majors in OBP, slugging, and OPS.

But look at the pitching:
The American League average ERA is 4.05; the Sox average is 4.08.

They have thrown just two complete games all season, tied with the Royals for worst in the AL.

The average team in the AL has allowed 447 walks; the Sox pitchers have walked 476, the same as the Orioles.

This team was constructed around the pitching of the big three: Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz, with the drop-off around the fringes being quite significant. Those who stated early in the season that the Sox pitching was deep because of Lackey and Dice-K were only fooling themselves. They are nothing more than fourth or fifth starters in most rotations -- and they've actually proven to be worse than most.

I understand that the Sox have had injuries to every member of their rotation, which is why they have had 10 different pitchers on the hill to start a game. But, other than the mixed results of Erik Bedard and Tim Wakefield, the replacements have struggled. The fact is that when Dice-K went down for the season, the Sox made no real move to replace him as Miller, Aceves and Wake were moved into the rotation at different points. It was only at the trading deadline that the Sox added the oft-injured Erik Bedard and by that time Buchholz had been out of action for six weeks. The Sox had no one, and still have no one, to replace John Lackey.

If you leave out the big three of Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz, the Sox starters have a record of 29-27, just over .500 but that isnt even an accurate reflection of how poorly Bedard, Dice-K, Aceves, Wakefield, Miller, Lackey, and Weiland have pitched as starters. Their cumulative starting ERA of 5.57 really tells the story.

The starting pitching has been questionable all season (may I remind you that Buchholz had given up 10 homers in 82.2 innings this year after giving up just nine in 173.2 last year) and the moves that have been made are somewhat akin to shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. Lets go to the numbers:

A quality start doesnt seem that difficult, six innings, three or fewer runs allowed. The Sox starters have managed to do that in only 68 games or 47 of their starts. Only the Orioles and Royals have a lower percentage.

Throwing a Quality Start in no way means a Sox win. Of Bostons 68 Quality Starts, the Sox have lost 14 of them, a rate of 21 percent. The Yankees, who entered the season with a starting pitching staff that was not regarded any more highly than mediocre have thrown 77 quality starts and have lost just 12 of those games, a rate of 16 percent. The Tigers pitchers, with the Great Verlander, have now thrown 81 quality starts, and have lost just 10 of the games, an efficient 12 percent. The Texas pitchers have 89 quality starts with 10 losses an even better 11 percent.

Before you blame the hitters, they have enabled Sox starters to earn a bunch of cheap wins. This is actually a real stat representing a win by the starter in a non-Quality Start. The Sox have 21 cheap wins for their starters, more than any other team in the leagueby a lot. The Yankees and the Tigers are second, each with 14, while the Rangers, Angels and Mariners have the fewest in the league with just five.

Here is your quotable stat: RSIP which is Runs Scored per 27 outs while the pitcher was in the game. This indication of run support for the Sox starters is 5.7, the highest in the league.

Yet, despite all those runs, the Sox starters have only pitched an average of 5.9 innings this season. Think about the pressure put on the bullpen by performances like that.

Lets briefly discuss the bullpen, which has seemed in disarray of late except for Jonathan Papelbon, who continues to build up his free agency resume. Throughout the season, it is the bullpen that has exhibited the better performances.
Cumulatively, the pen is 23-19 on the season. The Yank relievers are 22-15, the Tigers are 19-18, and the Rangers are 18-25 (hello, Achilles heel).
Cumulatively, the Sox relievers are appeared in 390 games. The Yank relievers 388, the Tigers 375, and the Rangers 369.
So why are the Sox relievers wearing out? On 119 occasions, they have had to pitch more than one inning in an appearance; the Yankee relievers have been called upon to do that 93 times, the Tigers 104 times, and the Rangers just 90 times. Once again, the short starts are brought into play.
Even Daniel Bard is showing signs of fatigue. In the first half of the season he held righties to a .116 average, in the second half a still good, but not as spectacular, .224. Bard held lefties prior to the break to a .200 average in 84 plate appearances and since just .180 in 74 plate appearances. But, there has even been a price for that success. In the 10 fewer plate appearances, Bard has been forced to throw six more pitches as lefties are now able to foul off 48.9 of his pitches compared to 35.4 before the break. Thats another sign of fatigue.

All this is not to say that the Sox are not going to make the postseason. Its not even saying that the Sox wont win the World Series. If Pedey comes home tomorrow night against the Jays and reinvigorates the team to return to the level of success they showed after their initial 0-6 road trip, all could be well. Glorious, even.

The truth is, they just need to play around .500 to make the postseason. If they split the 16 games remaining, they will finish at 93-69. For the Rays to tie them, they must go 12-5. Not impossible, but not likely considering they have three each against the Orioles and Jays, four against Boston, and seven against New York remaining.

But heres the truth that Francona has to grapple with: When the Sox score four or fewer runs, their record is 27-49.

Once you get into the postseason the better the pitching, which means it becomes harder to score five runs. But even if Beckett comes back healthy and even as the Nation holds out hope that Buchholz can return, five runs is what this team needs to win games.

And the truth is: thats a lot of runs.

Jones-Molina WBC spat is a clash of cultures . . . and that's great

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Jones-Molina WBC spat is a clash of cultures . . . and that's great

The Adam Jones-Yadier Molina verbal skirmish is as predictable as it is annoying.

Was every cultural nuance for the 16 World Baseball Classic teams explained in a booklet the players had to memorize before the tournament?

No? Then it’s amazing there weren’t more moments like this.

Jones, the Orioles outfielder, said Team USA's championship game win over Puerto Rico was motivated by Puerto Rico's choice to plan a post-tournament parade for the team before the final game.

As Jones was raised, parades in pro sports are for championship teams. Red Sox fans are likely aware of this.

As Jones was raised, discussing a parade before a title is secured suggests overconfidence. Rex Ryan fans are likely aware of this.

After an 8-0 win for the U.S., Jones revealed the parade was used as bulletin-board material.

"Before the game, we got a note that there was some championship shirts made -- we didn't make 'em -- and a flight [arranged],” Jones said. “That didn't sit well with us. And a parade -- it didn't sit well with us."

But apparently, Jones didn't know the full context of the parade. It was reportedly planned regardless of whether Puerto Rico won.

One Team USA teammate of Jones whom CSNNE spoke with didn't believe that, however.

"It was called a champions parade that got turned into a celebration parade once they lost," the player said. "I think they just don't like getting called out by Jones, but all Jones did was tell exactly what happened."

Jones’ comments weren’t received well.

Puerto Rico's going through a trying time, a recession, and the entire island rallied behind the team.

“Adam Jones . . . is talking about things he doesn't know about," Molina told ESPN’s Marly Rivera. "He really has to get informed because he shouldn't have said those comments, let alone in public and mocking the way [preparations] were made.”

No one should be upset Jones explained what he was thinking.

Jones actually asked MLB Network host Greg Amsinger, “Should I tell the truth?”

Yes. It’s better than lying.

Look at the reactions across the WBC: the bat flips, the raw emotion. Honesty conveyed via body language.

People in the U.S. are starting to accept and crave those reactions. The WBC helped promote a basic idea: let people be themselves.

Jones said what was on his mind. We can’t celebrate bat flips and then say Jones should keep his mouth shut.

But there's an unreasonable expectation being placed on Jones here.

He heard about a parade -- which is to say, a subject he wouldn't normally think twice about or investigate before a championship baseball game.

Plus, it gave him motivation.

Why is Jones, or anyone with Team USA, more responsible for gaining an advance understanding of Puerto Rico’s parade-planning conventions -- we're talking about parade planning! -- than Puerto Rico is responsible for keeping U.S. norms in mind when making and/or talking about those plans?

No one involved here was thinking about the other’s perception or expectation. It's impossible to always do so.

But that’s how these moments develop: what’s obvious to one party is outlandish to the other.

Now Molina, Puerto Rico's catcher, wants an apology.

"He has to apologize to the Puerto Rican people," Molina told ESPN. "Obviously, you wanted to win; he didn't know what this means to [our] people."

Jones can clear the air with an apology, but he doesn't owe one. And he definitely doesn't owe one after Molina took it a step further.

"I'm sending a message to [Jones], saying, 'Look at this, right now you're in spring training working out, and we're with our people, with our silver medals,' " Molina said. "You're in spring training and you're working . . . you have no idea how to celebrate your honors, you don't know what it means.”

Team USA had no parade. Manager Jim Leyland made clear how the U.S. was celebrating, by recognizing those serving the country.

The silver lining here is how much attention the WBC has drawn, and how much conversation it can drive. People care, a great sign for the sport -- and its potential to foster better understanding across cultures.

Internationally, the sport is on parade.

Wright extends scoreless streak to 9 1/3 innings in Red Sox' 10-7 win over Pirates

Wright extends scoreless streak to 9 1/3 innings in Red Sox' 10-7 win over Pirates

The angst surrounding the David Price- and (possibly) Drew Pomeranz-less Red Sox starting rotation may have eased a little -- or a lot -- on Thursday.

Steven Wright extended his string of scoreless spring-training innings to 9 1/3 by blanking the Pirates for 4 1/3 innings in his third spring-traing start, leading the Sox to a 10-7 victory over the Pirates at SkyBlue Park.

Red Sox-Pirates box score

Wright allowed two hits -- the only two hits he's allowed this spring -- with one walk and three strikeouts.

Several of his pitching brethren, notably Heath Hembree and Robbie Ross Jr., didn't fare nearly as well. (See box score above.) But the Sox -- using what may be their regular-season batting order for the first time -- bailed them out with a 16-hit attack, led by Dustin Pedroia (3-for-3, now hitting ,500 for the spring). Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, Jackie Bradley Jr., and, yes, Pablo Sandoval each added two hits. Sandoval also drove in three runs and is now hitting .362.

Xander Bogaerts went 1-for-4 in his return to the Sox from the World Baseball Classic.