Nation STATion: Good, bad and ugly of Sox slump

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Nation STATion: Good, bad and ugly of Sox slump

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

So when I told my wife that I was going to write about the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Sox, she said, Good luck finding nine good things to write about.

Yes, I know things are pretty grim right now, but I think I can find one positive note about the Sox for every two that are bad.

So, here are nine pieces of good news, not-so-good news, and really Lackey news, er, I mean lousy news.

Good: Jonathan Papelbon has been good all season long, but in his last 21 appearances he has been brilliant. In 22 innings he has allowed five hits (thats a .070 batting average against) and no runs walking two while striking out 28. I dont know whether he will be back with the Sox next year but I do know that this season has made him more expensive to sign.

Bad: From July 18 to September 1, Dan Wheeler made 15 appearances covering 16.1 innings; he allowed just one run for a 0.99 ERA. However, in his three appearances this month hes pitched 3.2 innings and allowed five runs.

Ugly: After his appearance on August 5, Matt Albers had a 2.15 ERA, since then it has been downright ugly. In 16 appearances Albers has pitched 15.1 innings and allowed 22 runs. Over that time frame he has had a 12.91 ERA and opponents have hit an ugly .361 against him.

Good: What about that Marco Scutaro? At the end of action on August 5, Scutaro was hitting .259. Since that time, Marco has gone 40-115, a .348 pace to bring his average up to .288. Hes hit .375 in September.

Bad: As much as this hurts my man-crush to write this, Dustin Pedroia has had a bad month. Pedey is hitting .217 this month with 15 hits and 14 whiffs. He is the engine that makes this team run. When the Sox win he is hitting .355, when they lose he is hitting .213.

Ugly: Its just ugly how miserable Kevin Youkilis is feeling and looking. Since August 17, Youk has appeared in just 10 games and hit only .167. Its painful looking at him and you get the feeling there wont be a whole lot we can expect from him the rest of the way.

Good: Adrian Gonzalez is having an MVP-caliber season. Hes hitting .333 with 26 homers and 111 RBI and has been stellar all season in the field.

Bad: For the first time this season, Adrian Gonzalez is really slumping. According to the redoubtable Ken Rosenthal, A-Gons shoulder is hurting and its affecting his ability to go to the opposite field. Over the last 19 games Gonzo has gone 14-for-64 and that .219 average has resulted in just three homers and even worse just eight RBI. Not only that, hes struck out 22 times.

Ugly: Gonzo hit nine homers in 29 games in May; since the start of July, in 69 games, he has hit 10. In June, Gonzalez hit .404. In July, he hit .373. In August, he hit .283. So far in September, he is 13-for-52, a .250 average. Thats not the only monthly decline. In May he drove home 31 runs, since then his monthly totals are 25, 19, 13, and this month 8.

Good: Jacoby Ellsbury has truly come into his own this season. His .318 average is his highest for any full season and his 27 homers are more than the career 20 he had entering the season. Entering play yesterday, the Sox were the only team in the AL with the leadoff batters in the lineup hitting over .280 (the number one hitters in the Sox lineup this season were hitting .306). That production is due to Jacoby. With 37 steals, Ellsbury has become the first player in franchise history with over 25 homers and 35 steals in the same season.

Bad: I can live with the fact that the Sox have grounded into 77 double plays with one out and 47 with no one out, that happens when you have so many runners on base. But the Sox pitchers put a lot of runners on as well and the Sox have turned just 108 DPs, the fewest in baseball. That is not a knock on the Sox infielders. In Pedey and Gonzo, they have the best fielding right side of the infield in baseball. However, the ground ball to flay ball ratio for the Sox pitchers is only 0.74 and thats the third worst in the majors. The Sox ground out to air outs ratio is 0.95 also the third worst in baseball. Now all this is not totally ugly because the Sox and the Phillies have the highest percentage of air outs (pup-ups and liners) to the infield with 17. But the groundball rate of being turned into a DP is only 8, tied with the Cubs for the lowest in the majors. The Sox pitchers are simply not helping themselves get out of jams.

Ugly: Juan Pierre of the White Sox was caught stealing yesterday for the 15th time breaking a tie with Jacoby for the most caught stealing in the majors. The being caught stealing is just a reflection of the lack Sox overall team speed. Coming into play yesterday, Boston had a runner on first when a single had been hit 322 times, the Angels 229 times, approximately 100 fewer times. Yet, both the Angels and Boston have been able to advance a runner to third on that single 85 times. Boston has had a runner on first 122 times when a double has been hit. Texas has had a runner on first 84 times when a double has been hit. Yet, they have each scored that runner 47 times. The short wall at Fenway can only claim a portion of the guilt. The fact is that the Sox are a station-to-station base running team and that makes run production even more difficult when batters are slumping.

Good: Josh Beckett has had a great season and when he sprained his ankle his presence was missed all the more. His 2.50 ERA is the best of his career. His WHIP of 0.996 is second in the AL only to Justin Verlanders 0.91. He has been a bulldog on the mound and the Bostons best starter.

Bad: Okay, bad is an exaggeration when it comes to describing Jon Lesters last nine appearances, but he hasnt been as good as the Sox have needed him to be. In those nine games, Lester is 4-4 and the Sox are 4-5. His ERA is a more than decent 3.05, but he also only pitched 55.1 innings, thats just 6 innings an appearance. The problems, in part, are his 27 walks, 50 strikeouts and the 972 pitches hes thrown. Pitching to contact should be a goal for Lester next season.

Ugly: I like to think that the new age of On-Base-Percentage arrived in Boston in 2004, when batters walked 659 times. In 2005, they walked 653 times. In 2006, they walked 672 times. In 2007, Sox batters walked 689 times. In 2008, they walked 646 times. In 2009, they walked 659 times. In 2010, they walked 587 times. This season they have walked a pretty good 544 times. While the Sox lead the majors in OBP at .348, their OBP this month is .331 because since they are not walking as much as usual and their hitters are slumping (.265 this month), they are not getting runners on base. Maybe they should have a team outing and go see Moneyball.

Good: Mike Aviles has proven to be a really great addition. He was picked up to perhaps steal a base or two and it turns out he has played third, short, second, right field and left field and has the hottest bat on the team. Granted that isnt saying much but Aviles is really hitting well, .364 since joining Boston at the trading deadline. Thank you, Theo.

Bad: When you see Josh Reddicks .289 batting average you say, Thats not bad, Bill, what are you talking about? But Im talking about the .233 batting average since August 4 and seven RBI. I cant believe he is actually getting fans to actually miss D.L. Drew.

Ugly: The bench this season has been not particularly a strength this season. Subs in games this year have hit .229. Pinch hitters have hit .153 with two homers and six RBI, obviously not much better than the players they replaced.

Good: Tim Wakefield winning his 200th game and taking the pressure off of Tito to keep him in long enough to get the win.

Bad: This has not been a good season for Tim Wakefield. Yesterday, Wake gave up six runs but only two were earned and his ERA went down from 5.13 to 5.08. Wake has only won once now in his last 10 games (nine starts). Hes pitched 58 innings and given up 44 runs and even though 12 were unearned his ERA is 4.96 and thats not good (also known as bad).

Ugly: The Sox have no one better than Wake to join the rotation. Thank you, Theo.

Good: The Sox still have a two-game lead in the wild card race

Bad: The Sox only have a two-game lead in the wild card race

Ugly: We didnt think there could be a worse month than April when the Sox went 11-15. With 10 games left the Sox are 4-13 this month and would be elated to finish 11-16.

Good: The Sox play the Orioles (62-89) for a four-game set to finish off the home season. The Sox have won 23 of their last 28 at home against the Os and are 8-3 overall against Baltimore this season. In addition, in game one today they face Jeremy Guthrie who is 8-17 and has the most losses in baseball. In the second game they face Brain Matusz who is 107 with a 9.84 ERA.

Bad: The Sox have Kyle Weiland on the mound in the day portion of the todays twinbill. Weiland is still looking for his first major league win and has a 7.58 ERA. In the second game, the Sox are throwing John Lackey out there. Lackey is looking to avoid having the worst ERA of any Boston pitcher with at least 20 starts. Lackey has a 6.19 ERA in 26 starts and is currently slightly worse than Ramon Martinez 6.13 ERA in 27 starts in 2000. Ramon is Pedros brother and I wish that Pedro was on the hill tonight.

Ugly: The Rays resume play at the Stadium tomorrow. I cant believe my ears but is that Red Sox Nation shouting, Lets go Yanks!?

Hang in there, Nation.

Red Sox welcome Betts’ surprising power surge

Red Sox welcome Betts’ surprising power surge

BOSTON - With one quick flick of his wrists Monday night, Mookie Betts drove a pitch into the Monster Seats, marking his 30th homer of the season.

The homer put Betts into exclusive company in team history. Only two others before him -- Ted Williams and Tony Conigliaro -- had ever reached the 30-homer milestone before turning 24. 

It's a reasonable assumption that, with five weeks still to play in the regular season, Betts will more than double his home run total (17) from last year, a remarkable jump.    

More to the point, Betts wasn't projected as a power hitter. In 2011 and 2012, Betts played the first 72 games of his pro career career without hitting a single homer. 

The power began to manifest itself somewhat the following year when he belted 15 homers between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem, but still, few envisioned that Betts would show this kind of power at the major league level.

He was athletic, with extra-base capability, and speed. But a 30-home run hitter? That wasn't in the cards.

"That's pretty cool, hitting 30,” allowed Betts after the Red Sox' 9-4 win over Tampa Bay. "But that's not the reason we play.''

 For several minutes, Betts did his best to deflect questions about his milestone, consistently emphasizing team goals "first and foremost” over his own personal achievements.

"Trying to affect the game in some form or fashion,” he shrugged. "We're in a race right now and that's way more important[than individual stats].”

Still, Betts himself acknowledged that his homer total has come as something of a revelation.

"I definitely wasn't expecting [this kind of] power,'' he said. "But I'll take it while it's here.''

Maybe the power explosion shouldn't come as a shock, however. Betts has always demonstrated exceptional strength and fast reflexes, exhibiting the sort of "quick-twitch'' athleticism that make scouts drool.

He's improved his pitch selection and recognition, and it surely hasn't hurt to be part of a powerful Red Sox lineup that currently has him hitting behind David Ortiz and in front of Hanley Ramirez.

"Experience...knowing when and when not to turn on balls,” Betts explained further. "There's a whole bunch of things that kind of go into it.”

As he's gained confidence, Betts now picks certain counts where he allows himself to take bigger swings, though he's careful to  point out that he's not ever trying to hit homers.

"Not necessarily trying to hit a home run,'' he offered, "but trying to drive [the ball]. Those things come with experience and knowing when and when not to. I'm not trying to hit a home run. They just kind of come.''

In this, just his second full season in the big leagues, they're coming more and more frequently -- whether anyone expected it or not.

     

Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

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Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

BOSTON -- Early in 2016 praises, were sung around the league that Xander Bogaerts was the best hitter in baseball.

Rightfully so. For a good portion of the season he led the league in both batting average and hits. But between Mookie Betts’ ascension and Bogaerts’ drop in average from .331 on 7/29 to .306 after Monday night’s game, he’s taken a back seat.

But the Red Sox shortstop’s month-long dry spell hasn’t been a straight decline. Although he was held hitless Monday, Bogaerts went 6-for-13 (.462) against Kansas City.

In fact, the 23-year-old doesn’t even consider the recent month of struggles the worst stretch of his career.

“2014 probably,” Bogaerts said, “yeah I had a terrible, terrible few months -- probably three months.”

That was of course the season a lot came into question surrounding the now All-Star shortstop, so he was pretty spot on. In 2014 Bogaerts went from hitting .304 through 5/31, to .248 by the end of June, .244 after his last game in July, all the way down to .224 by the last day of August.

Bogaerts would hit .313 that September and finish with a .240 average -- but more importantly, an appreciation of what he’d experienced.

“That definitely helped me become a better person, a better player -- and understanding from that and learning,” Bogaerts said.

From that experience, he gained a better understanding of the importance of maintaining a consistent day-to-day routine.

“That has to stay the same,” Bogaerts said without question in his voice. “The league adjusted, they adjusted to me. It kind of took a longer time to adjust to them. They’ve just been pitching me so differently compared to other years.”

Bogaerts has had the point reinforced to him throughout, with Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez serving as one voice of reinforcement.

“When you have a routine from the mental side, physical side, when you struggle that’s when you really need that,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been so good with his daily preparation, it doesn’t matter the result of the game. He can always go to something that feels comfortable.”

“He’s been so comfortable and confident with his daily routine and preparation that it allows him -- when he doesn’t get the results he wants in the game -- to have some peace knowing that the next day, we’re going to go back to doing that again.”

It’s clear Bogaerts needs to maintain his daily routine to help work through slumps -- and maintain hot streaks -- but Rodriguez made it clear, consistent preparation from a hitter doesn’t magically cure every problem.

“That doesn’t mean that because you stick with the routine you’re going to have results,” Rodriguez said. “What it means is, [because] you know and believe in that routine that you know you’re going to get out of it.”

Which means in addition to sticking to his normal routine, Bogaerts also had to identify flaws elsewhere in order work through his problems. He came to realize the problem was more mechanically based than mental -- given he’d done everything to address that.

“They pitched me differently, and some stuff I wanted to do with the ball I couldn’t do,” Bogaerts said. “I just continued doing it until I had to make the adjustment back.”

Bogaerts isn’t fully out of the dark, but he’s taken steps in the right direction of late -- and is nowhere near the skid he experienced in 2014. He and Rodriguez fully believe the All-Star’s ability to maintain a clear mind will carry him through whatever troubles he’s presented with the rest of the way.

“The more stuff you have in you’re head is probably not going to help your chances,” Bogaerts explained, “so have a clear mind -- but also have the trust in your swing that you’re going to put a good swing on [the pitch] regardless of whatever the count is.”

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter @ngfriar.