Nation STATion: Sox have inherited problems

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Nation STATion: Sox have inherited problems

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

Last night, two events occurred almost simultaneously in the eighth innings in Boston and in New York, and the ways the events unfolded tell the story of the season.

In Boston, tiring ace Josh Beckett was on the mound for the home team facing the pesky Baltimore Orioles. The score was tied 4-4. After getting the first out, J.J. Hardy singled, and then Nick Markakis hit a ground rule double to put runners on second and third. Before the dangerous Vladimir Guerrero could come to the plate, oft-used reliever Alfredo Aceves came into the game.

Meanwhile in New York, tiring ace CC Sabathia was on the mound for the home team facing the relentless Tampa Bay Rays. The score was tied 2-2. After getting the first out, Desmond Jennings singled, B.J. Upton hit an infield single, and then, after an eight-pitch at bat, the dangerous Evan Longoria walked to load the bases. At this point, oft-used reliever David Robertson came into the game.

Two pretty similar situations: eighth inning of a tie game, second and third and one out versus bases filled and one out. Its what happened next that was the tipping point.

In Boston, the Red Sox brought the infield in and Guerrero took a strike before he singled up the middle driving home two. Matt Wieters then lined into a double play, but the damage had been done. Going to the bottom of the 8th, the Orioles led, 6-4.

In New York, the Yankees were at double play depth and on the first pitch Ben Zobrist hit a grounder to second that was quickly turned into a 4-6-3 double play, and no damage had been done. Going to the bottom of the eighth, the score remained tied, 2-2.

In Boston, the deflated Red Sox went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eighth and ninth and lost 6-4. The clubhouse was gloomy after the game.

In New York, the elated Yankees scored a pair in the 8th and won 4-2. The clubhouse had a postgame celebration as the team had clinched the AL East title.

Games and seasons are often a series of tipping points and we saw the reality of the results going in opposite directions last night. I will let you argue amongst yourselves if you think that Terry Francona should have walked Guerrero in that situation last night. According to the Boston Globes Pete Abraham, Aceves was told to throw pitches off the plate against the free-swinging Guerrero and he left a pitch right over the middle. We all know that its a lot easier to walk a guy like Guerrero when you call for an intentional walk. Because what happened to the Sox was even more deflating. Maureen Mullen on CSNNE.com quotes Francona, Losings hard anyway, but when you lose with the guys you rely on it's tough."

What Tito is referring to is the price a team pays for when a relief allows inherited runners to score. This IRS is the kind of tax that keeps John Boehner up at night. It has a debilitating effect on the pitcher who was relieved, the pitcher who allowed the runs to score, and the team in general. And this has now happened two nights in a row. Tuesday night, in the eighth inning Jonathan Papelbon came in and allowed two runners he inherited from Daniel Bard, and one of his own, to score and the Sox lost 7-5. Last night, Aceves in the eighth allowed two inherited runners to score in the 8th and they lost 6-4.

The IRS has been a season-long taxing problem for the Sox. Here are some examples:

Scott Atchison has allowed 4 of 8 runners to score - 50
Jonathan Papelbon has allowed 3 of 7 runners to score - 43
Alfredo Aceves has allowed 10 of 26 runners to score - 38
Franklin Morales has allowed 6 of 16 runners to score - 38
Dan Wheeler has allowed 6 of 17 runners to score - 35
Felix Doubront has allowed 3 of 9 runners to score - 33
Daniel Bard has allowed 5 of 34 runners to score - 15

Overall, the AL average is 30 percent and the Sox have allowed 29.5 percent of all inherited runners to score. Average is not good enough if you are postseason team.

The problem is, of course, this teams starters have had an inability to go deep all season long. Here is the average numbers of innings pitched per games started for members of the rotation:

Josh Beckett - 6.5
Jon Lester - 6.3
Tim Wakefield - 6.1
Clay Buchholz - 5.9
John Lackey - 5.7
Alfredo Aceves - 5.3
Erik Bedard - 5.0
Andrew Miller - 4.9
Kyle Weiland - 4.3

American League starters average 6.1 innings per start but the Sox starters average only 5.8 which puts more pressure on the bullpen and more opportunities for inherited runners to score.

What makes last nights loss particularly difficult is that Beckett is this teams stopper and the Sox need to win games in which he starts. Here is the record of the team in games started by members of the rotation:

Josh Beckett - 20-9 .690
Clay Buchholz - 9-5 .643
Jon Lester 16-13 .552
Tim Wakefield 12-10 .545
John Lackey 13-14 .481
Erik Bedard 3-4 .429
Alfredo Aceves 1-3 .250
Kyle Weiland 1-4 .200

The pitching situation has been ugly all season long and the problems only are magnified in September when the hitters are simply exhausted from carrying the the team on its back. To put a positive spin on things, the Rays have lost three to the Yankees and the Sox will not lose tonightguaranteed.

I say it every year starting in April, Damn IRS!

Tuesday’s Red Sox-Rays lineups: Pedroia returns, Pomeranz on mound

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Tuesday’s Red Sox-Rays lineups: Pedroia returns, Pomeranz on mound

Dustin Pedroia returns to the lineup after missing two games to attend a family funeral as the Red Sox play the middle game of their three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays tonight at Fenway Park.

Pedroia is back at second base, batting leadoff, as the Red Sox look to make it two in a row coming off a 9-4 victory on Monday night.

Brock Holt, who filled in a second in Pedroia’s absence, moves to left field and Bryan Holaday catches left-hander Drew Pomeranz (10-10, 2.95 ERA) for Boston. Pomeranz struck out a career-high 11 in his last start against the Rays, last Thursday in St. Petersburg. 

Right-hander Jake Odorizzi (9-5, 3.53) starts for the Rays.

The lineups:

RAYS

Logan Forsythe 2B

Kevin Kiermaier CF

Evan Longoria 3B

Brad Miller 1B

Matt Duffy DH

Tim Beckham SS

Scott Souza Jr. RF

Corey Dickerson LF

Luke Maile C

Jake Odorizzi RHP

 

RED SOX

Dustin Pedroia 2B

Xander Bogaerts SS

David Ortiz DH

Mookie Betts RF

Hanley Ramirez 1B

Travis Shaw 3B

Brock Holt LF

Bryan Holaday C

Jackie Bradley Jr. CF

Drew Pomeranz LHP

 

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 (18) 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.