Nation STATion: Clearing up feelings on the Sox

191542.jpg

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.

First impressions: Another tough outing for Buchholz

red_sox_clay_buchholz_042816.jpg

First impressions: Another tough outing for Buchholz

First impressions from the Red Sox' 5-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves

 

Another night, another less-than-satisfactory start for Clay Buchholz. Since the end of their last homestand, the Red Sox are 6-2. Both of those losses were hung on Buchholz.

Buchholz wasn't horrendous - he did manage to pitch into the seventh inning and five runs in 6 1/3 isn't a shellacking.

But five runs to this Braves lineup is nothing to shout about, either, and Buchholz made matters worse by walking the No. 7 hitter -- Jace Peterson, who came into the game with a .205 average -- three times. Twice, Peterson came around to score.

In fact, the bottom third of the order was 3-for-7 with three walks.

 

Hanley Ramirez showed some progress at the plate.

Before the game, John Farrell noted that Ramirez had been expanding the zone of late, and working to correct the issue with hitting instructors Chili Davis and Victor Rodriguez.

Something apparently clicked, as Ramirez was 3-for-3 in his first three at-bats with two RBI.

The one thing that's been lacking for Ramirez: power. He came into the game with just one homer and a paltry .373 slugging percentage.

 

It wasn't much of a night for former Red Sox players.

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski was 0-for-4, and for the second straight night, failed to catch a routine foul pop-up.

Meanwhile, reliever Alexi Ogando came in for the seventh inning and promptly allowed a leadoff single and a walk to the first two hitters he faced before recording two more outs and getting lifted for lefty Hunter Cervenka.

 

Turnabout is fair play for Chris Young.

Young got the start in left field over Brock Holt, despite the fact that Atlanta started a righthander (Jhoulys Chacin).

Young was 1-for-3 with a double, though that one hit came off lefty reliever Eric O'Flaherty.

Then, in the eighth inning with righthander Jim Johnson on the mound for the Braves, John Farrell sent Holt up to pinch-hit for Young.

That marked the first time that Holt hit for Young; to the great consternation of many, Young had been sent up to hit for Holt three times in the first week or so of the season.

By the way: Holt grounded out to end the inning.

 

Here’s a switch: Red Sox last in A.L. in HRs, but first in steals

boston-red-sox-mookie-betts-stolen-base-042816.jpg

Here’s a switch: Red Sox last in A.L. in HRs, but first in steals

BOSTON - It's an admittedly small sample size, but somehow, after the first 21 games of the season, the Red Sox' offense is going against type.
     
The Sox are somehow last in the American League in homers, but first in stolen bases.
     
The Red Sox have successfully stolen 20 of 22 bases, for a 90.9 percent success rate. The 20 steals are the most through the first 21 games of a season for a Red Sox team since 1995, when they had 21.
     
By contrast, the Sox needed 51 games last season to steal their 20th base.
     
"We spend quite a bit of time studying our opposition,'' said John Farrell, "and if there are certain things that might present opportunities for us, we'll look to take advantage of those as best possible. I think it speaks to the attention to detail. The success rate of stolen bases is not just a function of speed - it's clearly our guys being aware of certain things and paying close attention and staying focused to capitalize.''
     
Farrell wouldn't detail who has the "green light'' to run on their own, but pointed out that there are triggers of sorts for players to run.
     
"Guys are trusting the information being provided and exposed to,'' he said. "They take it upon themselves at that point.''
     
In 2013, when the Sox won the World Series, they were similarly aggressive and took advantage of chances to run and take extra bases.
     
"You try to create a characteristic of your team,'' Farrell offered. "Certainly, a lot is going to be dependent on the talent of your team, depending on your roster. We can't create speed for guys [where] it just isn't there. But in combination with that, there's the mental side  of it, paying attention and playing smart baseball. I think that's  what we're saying.''
     
Farrell also recalls the downside of that same aggressiveness when, in 2014, just one year removed, the Sox ran into a lot of early outs on the bases.
     
"Stolen bases are valuable, but giving away outs is not, obviously,'' said Farrell, who recalled reining in some baserunners who weren't successful. "As long as guys are trusting [of the program] and understand what's acceptable - there are certain game situations where the runner, in his mind, has got to be 100 percent sure he's going to get that extra 90 feet.''
     
Beyond the extra bases, Farrell likes the idea of putting pressure on the defense and distracting the pitcher on the mound.''
     
Of the two caught stealing the Red Sox have had, one was Tuesday night in Atlanta when a planned hit-and-run backfired as Brock Holt swung and missed and Travis Shaw was cut down at third. That means, incredibly, that the Sox have been thrown out just once in a true steal attempt.
     
As far as homers, the Sox have hit just 17 homers, ranking them 15th in the American League. Only two other teams Texas (19) and Cleveland (18) have fewer than 20 homers.
     
"I don't know what to make of that,'' Farrell noted. "I do know this: our offense is working well as a unit [leading the league in runs scored]. We've used the whole field. We play in a ballpark that's a really good doubles ballpark (the Sox are far and away the leaders there with 59; next best in the A.L. is Houston with 46) and hopefully that's playing to our advantage.
     
"But the overall approach - the situational hitting, that's been really good. I think our guys have a pretty good vibe about themselves offensively.''
     
In the Red Sox lineup, only two hitters -- Mookie Betts (four) and David Ortiz (three) -- have more than two homers.
     

Thursday's lineups: Red Sox vs. Braves

red-sox-logo-110415.jpg

Thursday's lineups: Red Sox vs. Braves

BOSTON -- The Red Sox and Braves play the finale of their home-and-home, four-game series tonight . . . to the Sox' dismay, no doubt.

Boston has won the first three games by a combined score of 21-8, extending its overall winning streak to four. The Sox have also won five of their last six, and six of their last eight, as they've closed to within a half-game of the first-place Orioles in the A.L. East. In addition, they now hold one of the two A.L. wild-card positions.

The lineups:

BRAVES:
Nick Markakis RF
Daniel Castro 3B
Adonis Garcia DH
Freddie Freeman 1B
A.J. Pierzynski C
Jeff Francoeur LF
Jace Peterson 2B
Erick Aybar SS
Mallex Smith CF
---
Jhoulys Chacin P

RED SOX:
Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Travis Shaw 3B
Chris Young LF
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Christian Vazquez C
---
Clay Buchholz P