Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Red Sox Preview: Infield/DH

The bulk of the Sox' offensive production will have to come from the infield. That shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Adrian Gonzalez had a satisfying 2012. However, he struggled against the two most important Red Sox opponents: the Yankees and Rays. He hit .183 against New York and .131 against Tampa Bay. For the Sox to compete in the AL East this year, they need one of their top hitters to perform in big games against these key opponents.

Expect another season with around 30 homers, 110+ RBI, and an OPS well above .900. The question is, when (and against whom) will he hit those homers and knock in those runs?

Dustin Pedroia had another good season last year. And unlike most of his teammates, he didn't flounder in September. It'll be interesting to see how he adjusts to Bobby Valentine. Pedroia was probably Francona's biggest ally in the Sox clubhouse.

But Pedroia doesn't seem like the type who'll let a manager affect his effort levels. That's why he's the most likable player on the team.

The Sox traded the .299 hitting Marco Scutaro because...


Well all Scutaro did was hit well, play solid defense, play through injury, and was willing to accept whatever role the Sox wanted him to fill. And that's just not the type of player we want in Boston. Especially when the Sox can trim $6 million off their payroll by trading him to Colorado for a minor league pitcher.

And the Sox used that freed up money to invest in...


Well anyway, Liverpool are in 8th place in England.

Mike Aviles will be the shortstop in Boston. For now. He'll be paid $1.2 million. He hit .317 in 101 at-bats for the Sox last year. He's a capable hitter. He doesn't strike out much and he can steal the occasional base. He's not as good offensively as Scutaro. And defensively, he's something of a liability.

After finishing 3rd last year, the Sox downgraded at short-stop, just like they downgraded at closer. The Sox have made no significant upgrades at all this offseason. Where's the outrage?

Speaking of rage...

Kevin Youkilis will be at third base. It'll be interesting to see how his personality interacts with Bobby Valentine's. I doubt it will negatively impact Youkilis' production. Although he hasn't been able to recapture his impressive 2008 and 2009 numbers. This is the year the Sox need him the most. How well Youkilis does will have a considerable impact on the lineup. He can either extend the quality in the middle of the order, or be the beginning of the bottom.

David Ortiz is overpaid. I wouldn't mind if the Sox weren't on a strict budget this offseason. $14,575,000 is a hefty sum for a guy who takes 4 or 5 at-bats a night. He did well last year, except he wasn't hitting for much power in September. Which is when the Sox needed a power hitter to knock a few out of the park. He had 1 homer in that final month. Along with 5 doubles.

Although maybe an official scorer screwed him out of a double or two. Actually that probably didn't happen because Ortiz would have loudly bitched about it.

He's 36 years old, so it's time to expect to see his numbers turn downhill. What we don't know is how steep that slope will be. He'll always be a patient hitter, so his OBP probably won't suffer much. Last year he had 70 extra-base hits and I'd say that's a good target for 2012.

He's 22 homeruns away from 400, and I think he'll get there this year, but just barely.

One thing I like about the Sox lineup is that the players are versatile. Ellsbury and Pedroia can be at the top, but can also fill slots in the middle. Gonzalez, Youkilis, and Ortiz can be shifted around that middle depending on match ups and who's hot or cold.

But if one or two key hitters slump at the same time, the entire lineup gets cold. There's not enough quality at the bottom of the order to make pitchers work hard every inning. I think you'll see similar overall numbers to last season, with close to 900 runs scored. But there will be floods and droughts. They'll put up 14 one night then struggle to score 2 the next.

Overall, the Sox are once again loaded with more questions than answers. The rotation is top-heavy at best, the bullpen is one injury away from disaster, and the offense has multiple holes. I expect 85 to 90 wins, and maybe that 2nd Wild Card berth.

I do not expect an extensive playoff run.

Red Sox Preview: Catchers

Are the Red Sox deep at the catcher's position? That might be the positive way to look at it. I'd say that having more than one catcher is like an NFL team having more than one QB. They really have 0 QBs.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been the "catcher of the future" for 7 years and 3 organizations. I call him "kidney to kidney" because that's how far his name stretches across the back of his uniform. You don't need offensive production from the catcher's position, but it does help when the rotation is shallow, the bullpen is flimsy, and the lineup is top heavy.

Salty is a career .244 hitter. He showed some pop last year hitting 16 homeruns. He also struck out 119 times. He struggles to get his OBP over .300 and his SLG over .400. I have no reason to believe 2012 will be any different for him.

Ryan Lavarnway can hit. But that's about all he can do. He hit .467 his junior year in college. .284 in AA Portland and .295 in AAA Pawtucket last year. He hit 32 homeruns in 116 games between those two levels. Then 2 more homers in the Majors.

He's a defensive liability, but he could improve at the position with some more time in the minors. This is only his fourth full season in the Red Sox system. If he becomes a so-so defensive catcher, it's time for him to get a chance in the Majors.

Kelly Shoppach was acquired to be the backup catcher. That's not a bad role for the .224 career hitter (he weighs 220 pounds). He is capable of hitting homeruns (he hit 21 of them in 2008), but he's a poor man's Saltalamacchia.

Don't expect much production from the catcher's position. At least until Lavarnway earns his opportunity.

Red Sox Preview: Bullpen

The Red Sox bullpen was decent last year. They didn't blow many saves. They had the 13th best bullpen ERA in the Majors, with the best WHIP. Then the Sox decided to let their best reliever go to Philadelphia, and convert their second best to a starter, with their third best likely to find his way into the rotation as well.

They did go out and acquire a handful of arms to try to backfill the voids left by Papelbon, Bard, and (eventually) Aceves. They got a closer who has never saved more than 26 games a season. Another guy who saved 20 last year and won 8 games as a reliever.

Andrew Bailey is from Voorhees, NJ. That doesn't bug anyone? The Sox once had Michael Myers on their roster, now they have a guy from Voorhees? And their home opener is on Friday the 13th. Why not rename Yawkey Way Elm Street?

Anyway, I don't trust the closers that Oakland produces. It's a very pitcher friendly ballpark. Bailey's numbers look pretty good. 75 career saves, only 9 blown ones. He doesn't walk people, he doesn't give up homeruns.

And now he's hurt. He might be out for 3 to 4 months. Even if he were healthy, he's never been tested. He's been closing a few games for a sub .500 team in front of less than 20,000 fans a game. Now he has to close games in a playoff race in front of a packed ballpark. He hasn't pitched more than 50 innings since his rookie year. And probably won't in 2012 either.

So he's capable of succeeding. It will be interesting to see how he deals with adversity in this city. If he blew a save in Oakland, who cared? It's a bit different here. I think he'll be decent when healthy. Not as good as Papelbon, not bad enough to search for a mid-season replacement.

Mark Melancon's resume is interesting. He's only 27 but the Sox are his third Major League organization. He was a reliever in college, which always raises a yellow flag for me. I feel like the best Major Leaguers relievers were once starters at a lower level.

But he is a worker. He made 71 appearances and pitched 74.1 innings last year. And it was his best year. He won 8 games, recorded 20 saves, had a 2.78 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. He only let 4 of 17 inherited runners score.

There are very few Mike Timlins out there who can have a long, consistently successful career as a setup pitcher. Maybe Melancon has a few good years in him, maybe he's already peaked, maybe he's a future closer. But for 2012, I think he'll be very good as a set-up man and should be okay as a replacement closer.

The problem is, with Melancon closing, you get an inferior pitcher setting up to replace him.

Matt Albers is a token middle-reliever. He recorded 10 holds last year, blew 3 saves, had a 4-4 record. He pitched mostly in losses. He was actually pretty good until August and September. He's a gap-filler, pitching the 6th inning of a game that the Sox are behind by 3 runs, pitching the 8th inning of a game that the Sox are winning by 5 runs. And as a gap-filler, you just want someone who isn't horrible, who doesn't make bad situations worse, or make you use your closer in a game you once had a 6 run lead in. And Matt Albers isn't horrible.

Franklin Morales isn't a shutdown situational lefty. But on the bright side, he's not bad against righties, either.

I'm not a fan of Morales. I'd rather have a guy who can dominate left-handed hitters and who can only give you 0.1 innings a night as opposed to a guy who is semi-good against both lefties and righties. Morales is very similar to Albers, in my view. These gap-fillers are fine, but the Sox need a second setup pitcher to emerge from this mediocre middle of the bullpen.

Michael Bowden has been in the Sox' organization since high school. He never excelled as a starter so now he's being used as a reliever. It's the equivalent of a failed film actor trying to make it as a TV actor. He's only 25, but this is his 7th year with the Sox.

He was a very good reliever in AAA Pawtucket last year, but struggled once he hit the Majors. He has potential to be the 2nd setup pitcher and as a former starter he's quite capable of pitching 2 or more innings in an appearance. I have a good feeling about Bowden. I think he has a breakout year as a reliever and records at least 20 holds.

The quality of the Sox bullpen will improve if the rotation struggles. Which is like saying that a car's engine will run more smoothly if the tires fall off. A slight bit of good news mixed with some horrible news.

If Bard can't make it as a starter, there's your 2nd setup man. But how many leads will he, Melancon, and Bailey need to protect? Where Aceves winds up will determine quite a bit. If Bard and Doubront struggle, you need to plug Aceves into the rotation. A setup pitcher might be more important than a #5 starter, but not a #4.

If the Sox had acquired just one frontline starter in the offseason, not only would their rotation been solidified, it would have dramatically improved the bullpen. Now you have guys like Morales and Albers who will need to be used when Matsuzaka throws his 5 inning, 140 pitch gems.

And there's very little safety net for this bullpen. With the loss of little old Andrew Bailey, the entire bullpen and even the rotation look so much weaker.

It's a very shallow, very tenuous bullpen.

Penguins Win Game, Bruins Win Fight

To be honest, I didn't care about the score of this game. Thomas didn't even dress, Corvo and Krug played, it was a meaningless game for the Bruins.

That is until the Penguins reminded us that they're one of the dirtiest teams in the NHL, and probably the dirtiest team with a clean reputation. ESPN as well as the Canadian-born pundits love Pittsburgh, Crosby, and the Penguins. And will never open their eyes and realize that this is a team of divers, cheap shot artists, and headhunters.

You know what the Penguins are? They're dastardly.

Kris Letang. Way to go, flailing about like your nose had been chopped off when the blade of Peverley's stick grazed your collar bone. Be proud of that, Pittsburgh.

Then there's James Neal, who wisely shied away from a fight with Lucic, and a scrap with Chara. Then Andrew Ference gave him no choice. Ference attacked Neal, who is 20 pounds heavier than Ference, and the Bruins defensemen won the fight, and got the takedown.

Neal was only willing to fight below his weight class and he lost. Be proud, Pittsburgh.

I don't care that the Bruins lost, but I do care that Johnny Boychuk got hurt. Boychuk's knee bent awkwardly while he applied a check and I'm more than a little worried. Boychuk is a tremendous playoff player, due to his heavy-hitting and heavy-shooting. Hopefully he'll be back soon for the start of the playoffs.

Bruins travel up to Ottawa Thursday night. And so do I. I'll be in Section 325, drinking, yelling, wearing my PJ Stock jersey, and having a good old time. I really don't care if Khudobin is in net, Chara doesn't dress, and Bergeron plays 5 minutes. This team has tremendous character no matter who dresses.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo