Results tagged ‘ Terry Francona ’

Tex Guns Down Tribe With Another Big Home Run

GAME 58

YANKEES 4, INDIANS 3

Yankee fans were very worried that when Mark Teixeira returned to the lineup on May 31 that he would get off to the same slow starts he always did in April. Well, after hitting a grand slam home run on Monday, Teixeira added a three-run shot on Tuesday.

So much for that slow-start theory.

Teixeira connected on a 3-1 change-up off left-hander Scott Kazmir with one out in the third inning to give the Yankees a 4-0 lead and David Phelps pitched six innings of one-hit shutout baseball to lead New York to another victory over Cleveland in front of a paid crowd crowd of 36,208 at Yankee Stadium.

Teixeira’s second home run in as many nights followed a leadoff double by Lyle Overbay, an RBI single by Ichiro Suzuki and a single by Jayson Nix off Kazmir (3-3). Teixeira laced a line-drive just inside the foul pole in left to give him two home runs and seven RBIs against the Indians in the first two games of the series.

Meanwhile, Phelps (4-3) redeemed himself for his previous start against the New York Mets on May 30 in which he was tagged for five runs (four earned) on four hits and two walks in only one-third of an inning in what was easily the worst effort of his major-league career.

Phelps only allowed a hustle infield single to Drew Stubbs with one out in the third inning. Phelps walked four and struck out seven in an 102-pitch outing before giving way to right-hander Joba Chamberlain in the seventh.

The Indians were able to rally against Chamberlain, who issued a leadoff walk to Carlos Santana before he retired the next two batters. Mike Aviles then stroked a single to center and Stubbs clubbed a home run to right that just cleared the wall into the bleachers.

Left-hander Boone Logan then came on to strike out Michael Bourn swinging to end the inning.

The Indians did manage to put the first two batters on in the eighth against right-hander David Robertson. Jason Kipnis drew a leadoff walk and Michael Brantley dumped an opposite-field single to left.

But Robertson induced former Yankee Nick Swisher to line into a double play and Santana grounded out weakly to end the Indians’ threat.

Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth, striking out the first two batters, to record his 21st save in 22 opportunities this season.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record to 33-25 and they remain tied with the Baltimore Orioles for second place in the American League East, 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Indians fell to 30-28.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After going 1-for-9 in his first three games back from the disabled list, Teixeira is 3-for-6 with a walk and two home runs and seven RBIs in his two games against the Indians. The Yankees were hoping that Teixeira’s return would add a legitimate power threat to the middle of the order and he has done just that. Teixeira also has hit homers on both sides of the plate. His grand slam on Monday came while he was batting left-handed. His three-run shot on Tuesday came batting right-handed.
  • Phelps may have walked too many batters and he got mired in some deep counts that forced him to leave after six innings. But he was absolutely determined not to give an inch to the Indians’ batters. Phelps was a hard-luck 1-0 loser to right-hander Justin Masterson and the Indians on May 13. If you discount his awful outing against the Mets on May 30, Phelps is 4-2 with a 2.77 ERA in his other six starts this season.
  • Suzuki, who batted leadoff and started in center-field in place of Brett Gardner, extended his hitting streak in the past games in which he has started to 10 with a 1-for-3 night. Suzuki has had at least one hit in each of 10 starts since May 25 and is 13-for-35 (.371) in that span. That has raised his season average from .238 on May 25 to .262.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Though the return of Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis on May 31 should be helping Robinson Cano. It pretty much has had the opposite effect. Cano was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he hit into an inning-ending double play in the eighth inning with the bases loaded. In the past five games with Teixeira and Youkilis available to play, Cano is 2-for-17 (.118) without either an extra-base hit or an RBI.
  • Vernon Wells has been pretty much useless to the Yankees dating all the way back to May 15. He was 0-for-4 on Tuesday with a strikeout and he is 7-for-61 (.115) with no home runs, 1 RBI and 12 strikeouts since May 15. Wells, 34, is not getting the high fastballs he was smashing earlier in the season and he is being fooled by breaking pitches out of the strike zone.
  • Chamberlain was roughed up for the first time since he came off the disabled list on May 28. It was a bit curious why manager Joe Girardi had rookie Preston Claiborne warming in the sixth but elected to use Chamberlain for a second consecutive night instead to start the seventh inning. Claiborne deserves to be used in the seventh and it would allow Chamberlain to get some rest between outings.

BOMBER BANTER

Many of the Indians were angry over the balls and strikes calls of home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo throughout the game and it culminated with the ejection of Aviles after he made the final out against Rivera. Aviles was angered by a strike-one call that he thought was low. After he flew out he followed Randazzo toward the third-base dugout and was ejected. Indians manager Terry Francona also had some harsh words for Randazzo but was not ejected.  . . .  Chris Stewart returned to the starting lineup after missing two games with dizziness. Stewart was 1-for-1 with a walk and he also threw out Brantley at second base as part of a “strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out” double play in the fourth inning. Stewart has nailed seven of 14 potential base-stealers this season. Of course, Stewart did pull a base-running blunder in the third inning when he rounded second base too far and got thrown out in a rundown.  . . .  Suzuki’s RBI single in the third inning was the 2,654th hit of his major-league career, which ties with him Ted Williams for 72nd place on the all-time hits list.  . . .  Eduardo Nunez sustained another setback in his bid to return from a left oblique strain, which landed him of the 15-day disabled list on May 12. Nunez was unable to swing a bat without experiencing pain and his return will be delayed further.

ON DECK

The Yankees will go for a sweep of their three-game home series against Cleveland on Wednesday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (5-4, 3.71 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia is coming off what was his best start of the season on Friday, a one-run, 10-strikeout performance over 7 1/3 innings against the Red Sox. Sabathia is 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA against his former team.

Sabathia will be opposed by right-hander Corey Kluber (3-3, 4.36 ERA). Kluber struck out three and walked one but had his outing against the Tampa Bay Rays cut to just two innings because of rain. He has no record and 1.80 ERA against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Poised To Stick Fork In Red Sox Season

The New York Yankees welcome their old pals, the Boston Red Sox, to Yankee Stadium for the first time this season beginning on Friday. The Dead Sox, as they are being referred to many Boston circles, are limping in having lost five of their last six games and are 10 1/2 games back in last place in the American League East. This series is pretty much their season. If they get swept, it’s over. If they sweep, there is still a glimmer of hope. But in some ways the Red Sox have the look of Custer at Little Big Horn, the Texas Army at The Alamo and the Red Sox in September 2011. Here is why they will fail this weekend:

PITCHING IS KING

Looking at the pitching matchups this weekend does not instill much confidence in Boston.

Journeyman right-hander Aaron Cook (2.3, 3.50 ERA) will open the series for Red Sox. Cook, 33, is a symbol of the inability of the Red Sox to build a starting rotation this season. In past years the Red Sox would trade for a Josh Beckett and sign free agents like Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey while they developed young stars like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

But with the team’s record 13-24 in games started by Beckett and Lester this season it really has not mattered much what three pitchers follow them in the rotation. Buchholz is 8-3 with an elevated 4.93 ERA and he has been hampered by injuries for a good part of the year.

Lackey is out for the season after Tommy John surgery. Dice-K came back from the same surgery only to make five ill-fated starts with an 0-3 record and 6.65 ERA before landing on the DL again. Matsuzaka has made only 49 starts since the 2008 season in which he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. The Red Sox have their own version of Carl Pavano, collecting huge paychecks while he constantly rehabs.

That is why the Red Sox have been forced to use Cook and Felix Doubront in their rotation. Doubront is 12-7 with a 4.62 ERA but he has become less effective as the innings have piled up. His ERA has steadily risen all season and was 5.83 in June.

So Cook enters this game actually as the the team’s most effective starter lately. He has a 2.79 ERA in July. But he also is 0-2 in his three July starts, which means he has not got much in the way of run support.

The Red Sox also will be facing right-hander Phil Hughes, who has rediscovered his 2010 form this season. Hughes is 9-8 with a 4.09 ERA, however, those numbers are misleading.

Hughes is 5-3 with a 2.77 ERA in his last nine starts and he has issued only 15 walks while striking out 53 in his last 61 2/3 innings. Add to that, the Red Sox have been outscored 43-17 in their last six games and you have the makings of a very ugly opening night for them in the Bronx.

The Red Sox will just have to hope they score enough runs early to keep Cook in the game and get Hughes out of it early. In other words, a typical Red Sox-Yankees four-hour marathon where the total of runs scored is about 24. But I do not think that is going to happen on Friday.

The Red Sox are without their Yankee kryptonite in designated hitter David Ortiz. Without his bat, the Red Sox become less potent against the Yankees. In a 9-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday, the Red Sox collected 10 hits against fill-in starter Scott Feldman. But they were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base.

The Yankees do come in having lost five of their last seven and they are without Alex Rodriguez and possibly may be without Nick Swisher.

But the Yankees also come back home for this series and home is where they shine.

The addition of Ichiro Suzuki could make a big impact in this series with is bat, his legs and his glove. Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira come into the series hot and the Yankees are getting contributions from their bench in Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Nix.

Look for Game 1 to be close early but the Yankees will eventually burn Cook and serve him up as a special at NYY Steak over the weekend.

TOO MANY CCs

Even if the Red Sox do succeed on Friday, they will have to face CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30) on Saturday. That is bad news for the lefty-dominant Red Sox lineup of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who stinks as a right-hand hitter.

The Yankees, meanwhile, face Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). In Lester’s last three starts, he is 0-3 and has given up 22 runs (21 earned) on 25 hits and 10 walks over 12 1/3 innings. That is an ERA of 15.32. Ouch!

The word from scouts is that Lester decided to develop a cutter a few years ago. He used it to compliment his other pitches, which were nasty. He was able to control both sides of the plate and he was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA last season despite a September slide that coincided with the epic collapse of the Red Sox.

But this season, Lester has become cutter crazy and it cost him in velocity and command of his fastball. Hughes found the same thing happened to him in 2011 and he junked his cutter this season. But Lester has tried to carry on with his same arsenal and he is getting pounded harder than a herd of cattle in a butcher shop.

In his last start against the Yankees on July 8 at Fenway Park, Lester lasted just 4 1/3 innings and he surrendered five runs (four earned) on nine hits and a walk.

The bottom line is Lester is just not the Lester that Red Sox Nation is used to seeing dominate lineups. He is headed for a big fall on Saturday.

COUP DE GRACE

The Red Sox will face on Sunday the Yankees’ best pitcher, of late, in Hiroki Kuroda (10-7, 3.34 ERA).

Kuroda is 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA in last 11 starts. Though he did struggle against Boston at Fenway Park, Kuroda has proven to be a much more effective pitcher at Yankee Stadium this season. He is 7-3 with a 2.68 ERA in the Bronx.

That is bad news for the Red Sox, who have not announced a mound opponent for Kuroda.

Doubront defeated the Yankees at Fenway on July 7 but he also was shelled for six runs on eight hits and three walks in five innings against the Rangers on Monday. The Red Sox may, instead, call upon Buchholz to pitch the finale. He gave up just one run on four hits and three walks in seven innings against the Rangers on Tuesday.

If Buchholz pitches on Sunday it indicates that manager Bobby Valentine is desperate. He has to be if the Red Sox pick up the Sunday New York Times facing a 12 1/2-game deficit to the Yankees.

The game will be very close on Sunday but the Yankees have a decided edge on the mound. They should win in a very close game.

IN THE END

The truth is that the seeds of the 2012 season for the Red Sox were sown in the aftermath of their historic collapse in September 2011. The departures of manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein have left Valentine and new general manager Ben Cherington with a mess.

He has some prima donnas like Beckett and Lackey and a huge albatross of a contract to Crawford tied around his neck. The team can’t rebuild only through free agency because they are right up against the edge of having to pay the luxury tax.

They could start shipping high-priced underachievers out and let their free agents like Ortiz walk. But there are so many holes on this roster it looks like Swiss cheese.

Young talent the Red Sox are hoping to develop is in short supply and that is really the biggest problem they have going forward. They likely would be better off with a roster purge and rebuild effort. But that also will mean they have to be candid with Red Sox Nation that they will not be competitive for some time.

That is hard sell. But after this weekend, it could be quite likely you will see Beckett go and others will follow.

The Curse may be over but it might be a long, long time before we see a Red Sox team capable of competing with the Yankees.

To us Yankee fans, that is just fine.

 

Yanks-Bosox Rainout Buffers Bobby V’s Torture

GAME 16

YANKEES vs. RED SOX (POSTPONED – RAIN)

The game scheduled between New York and Boston on Sunday was canceled at 3 p.m. due to a heavy downpour engulfing Fenway Park.

It is nothing compared to the firestorm surrounding the Red Sox in the wake of their 7-20 collapse last September, their change in general manager and manager and their dreadful 4-10 start this season. The fact they blew a 9-0 lead after five innings on Saturday to end up losing to the Yankees 15-9 has merely ripped off the fresh scabs from an entertaining week of upheaval.

If we didn’t know any better we might think that manager Bobby Valentine took up a weather plane and seeded the clouds to rain himself to stop the hail of runs his team’s pitching staff is handing out like Halloween candy and the chorus of boos cascading from the stands upon him.

Valentine admitted after the debacle on Saturday that he needed to do a better job. But, like it or not, Valentine has become the symbol of the discontent in Red Sox Nation.

His mismanagement of two games last week and the dustup he had with Kevin Youkilis were fueling most of the anger aimed at Valentine. But Sunday’s loss was really not Valentine’s fault. But the fact that his club surrendered that huge lead shows just how deep-seeded and difficult the root of the problem is to identify.

It seems to be a lot deeper than some chicken and beer.

Theo Eptein fled to Chicago and Terry Francona took his class act out of the dugout to the television booth. Owner John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino sought out Valentine to right the ship. But they are not offering him any of the largesse it would take to fix the hull.

Unwilling to venture past the limits of the luxury tax, Valentine and new general manager Ben Cherington kind of look like the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” valiantly trying to fight a battle without limbs. Such is the sad state of affairs in Beantown. Well, it is not so sad for those in the Bronx.

The rainout on Sunday gives the Red Sox time to find the answers and gets some players healthy before they play the Yankees again at Fenway. No makeup date has been announced. It is anybody’s guess whether the game will actually matter.

BOMBER BANTER

Yankee manager Joe Girardi decided to shift Sunday’s scheduled starter, CC Sabathia, to start on Monday against the Rangers in Arlington, TX. He also said that Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes will follow Sabathia in the three-game series. Ivan Nova will open the home series against the Tigers on Friday. However, Girardi has not announced who will start on Saturday. Freddy Garcia (0-1, 9.75 ERA) would be in line to make the start. But Garcia could be skipped in order to keep Sabathia on schedule to pitch every fifth day.  . . .  Girardi said he expectes to have Brett Gardner back in the lineup on May 3 when the Yankees begin a four-game series with Kansas City. Gardner was placed on the disabled list with a strained and bruised right elbow he suffered making a diving catch on a sinking line drive on Tuesday. Gardner is hitting .321 this season.  . . .  Michael Pineda will meet with a team physician in New York on Monday to evaluate recurring tightness behind his right shoulder. The 23-year-old right-hander has to end a bullpen session on Saturday after 15 pitches because of pain in his shoulder. He will remain on the 15-day disabled list and it unclear when Pineda now might be able to return.

ON DECK

The Yankees first test against two-time American League champion Texas begins on Monday.

Sabathia (1-0) gave up three runs on four hits in six innings against the Twins to earn his first victory of the season on Tuesday. He is 10-3 with a 4.44 ERA against the Rangers in his career.

The Rangers will start left-hander Derek Holland (2-0, 3.10 ERA), who gave up two runs on four hits and three walks in seven innings against the reeling Red Sox in his last start. Against the Yankees, Holland is 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA in five starts.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by MY9.

 

Yankees Go Solo Route To Ruin Fenway Toast

GAME 14

YANKEES 6, RED SOX 2

A hundred years ago Fenway Park opened its turnstiles for the first time and the seeds of a Red Sox rivalry with the New York Yankees were planted on that day and sown over the generations.

The modern day version played out upon the hallowed cathedral of Boston’s baseball heritage on Friday and the New York franchise that was the Highlanders in 1912 evolved quickly into the Bronx Bombers in the afternoon sun and pounded out five solo home runs to ruin the celebration for the Red Sox faithful.

Ivan Nova (3-0) gave up two runs on seven hits and struck out five over six innings to notch his 15th consecutive decision dating back to his rookie season. He is just one victory shy of the franchise record established by Roger Clemens.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were taking aim for the upper reaches of the Green Monster and Landsdowne Street against Clay Buchholz (1-1).

Eric Chavez, inserted in the lineup to play third base so Alex Rodriguez could DH, led the way with a pair solo home runs in the second and fourth innings. Nick Swisher began the home run barrage two batters before Chavez in the second with his own Monster Mash. Rodriguez led off the fifth with a blast onto Landsdowne Street and it was the 631st home run of his career, moving him past Ken Griffey Jr. into fifth place on the all-time home run list.

Russell Martin completed the barrage in the sixth with a high lined shot into the scaffolding above the Monster for his first home run of the season. Martin stepped to the plate hitless in his last 15 at-bats.

The Red Sox scored their first run on a disputed double by David Ortiz that was ruled a home run by the umpiring crew after a replay review in the second inning. They scored again the fifth after Cody Ross led off the inning with a double to center and one out later Nick Swisher lost Mike Aviles’ routine pop fly in the sun, which allowed Ross to score.

But the Yankees’ vaunted bullpen held the Red Sox scoreless over the final three innings. Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera came on to record the final three outs in the ninth to seal the victory for the Yankees.

So while the Red Sox legends like Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Dennis Eckersley, Carlton Fisk, Pedro Martinez and Dwight Evans came onto the field prior to the game to pay tribute to a city’s love for its ballpark and its team, it was the modern legends the likes of Derek Jeter, Rodriguez, Ortiz and Rivera who shone brightest on this day.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record to 8-6 and they are now a half-game behind Baltimore in the American League East. The Red Sox fell to 4-9 and they are four games out in last place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • With the starters struggling to keep the other team off the scoreboard early and not being able to pitch past the fifth inning, Nova’s effort on Friday was very much welcome. Nova had only one 1-2-3 inning (the fourth) and yet he was able to keep the Red Sox offense at bay for most of the afternoon. The fact that the 25-year-old right-hander is within two victories of passing Clemens proves that he is doing something right. He lowered his season ERA to 3.79.
  • Manager Joe Girardi gets kudos for starting Chavez at third base and Chavez made the skipper look clairvoyant with his first two home runs of the season. Chavez has only two home runs all last season for the Yankees. In limited play this season, Chavez is hitting .400 and he is proving that the Yankees’ bench is pretty deep with talent.
  • Rodriguez’s home run was by far the most dramatic of all the home runs and it made a statement as it flew well over the Monster in left. It was his second home run of the season and it gave the Yankees a 5-2 lead. Buchholz gave up nine hits in six-plus innings five were solo home runs and two others were doubles. He was not exactly fooling the Yankees.
  • Jeter singled off the glove of Kevin Youkilis in the second inning to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. Jeter was 1-for-5 and scored a run and he is hitting .359 on the season. With the hit he moved into 18th place and past Dave Winfield on the all-time hit list with 3,111.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Cody Eppley, who was brought up from Triple-A when Brett Gardner was placed on the disabled list on Wednesday, did not fare well in his debut with the Yankees. The 6-foot-5 sidewinding right-hander entered the game in the ninth with a four-run lead and he gave up a leadoff single to right by Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Girardi went immediately to the mound and brought in Rivera to close out the game.
  • Mark Teixeira was the only Yankee starter who did not get a hit in the game. He was 0-for-4 including three weak infield grounders. Teixeira’s season average dropped to .264, which is pretty good considering Teixeira is a career .190 hitter in April.
  • Swisher had to be a bit embarrassed by losing Aviles’ fly ball in the fifth, which allowed a run to score. Swisher tried using his left hand to shade his eyes from the sun but he ended up covering up and baling out as the ball dropped in front of him and rolled into deep right. It was a tough sun field on Friday but Swisher still should have had it.

BOMBER BANTER

Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte tossed five innings on Friday in an extended spring training game against Pittsburgh Pirates minor leaguers at the Yankees’ minor-league complex in Tampa, FL. Pettitte gave up two runs on four hits but, more importantly, he threw 58 of his 66 pitches for strikes and struck out five batters. In his next game action, Pettitte likely will move up in class and start a game for Double-A Trenton. The 39-year-old veteran is targeting a return to the Yankees in early May.  . . .  Both teams on Friday wore throwback uniforms that were worn by Red Sox and Highlanders in 1912. The jerseys did not have names or numbers on the back, which made it hard for fans, broadcasters and writers to figure out who was coming to the plate to pinch-hit or who was coming to in to pitch. I would guess it was pointless to buy a game program in 1912, if they were even available then.

COMMENTARY

One of the loudest and warmest greetings from most of the 36,770 fans in attendance during the pregame ceremonies was bestowed upon former manager Terry Francona, who initially declined the invitation to come but later relented. Francona received a raucous standing ovation and it rivaled the ovation for Yastrzemski. In the seventh inning of the game, current Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine went to the mound to remove Buchholz and he drew a chorus of boos. Valentine is still reeling from comments he made to reporters on the record about a seeming lack of commitment from Youkilis. The firestorm ended with the players backing Youkilis and Valentine was forced to apologize for the comments publicly. But it is obvious that Francona’s departure after last season’s September swoon, Valentine’s uncalled for candor and the poor start of the team has combined to provide a very poisonous atmosphere at Fenway Park on her 100th birthday. The situation will be increasingly worse for Valentine if the Red Sox fail to win a game this weekend against the Yankees. For his part on Friday, Valentine appeared reticent and chastened when he spoke to the media. It would appear he has learned a valuable lesson about being too candid and failing to address concerns with his players privately. But the question still becomes how will Valentine survive it all if this team continues to languish at the bottom of the division and fails to make the playoffs? The fans in Boston are not a patient bunch and Valentine really stepped into it badly by knocking an immensely popular player.

ON DECK

The rivalry series continues on Saturday.

The Yankees will send right-hander Freddy Garcia (0-1, 6.97) to the mound. Garcia was tagged for five runs on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings in a loss against the Twins on Monday. With Pettitte on the way back to the major leagues, the pressure on Garcia to pitch well increases. He is 9-4 with a 4.45 ERA over the last 10 seasons against the Bosox.

Boston will counter with left-hander Felix Doubront (0-0, 5.40 ERA). Dubront has not made it out of the fifth inning this season although he has 13 strikeouts in 10 innings of work. He is 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.

 

Yankees In Boston To Witness Red Sox Turmoil

The New York Yankees will pay a visit on Friday with their old pals in Beantown.

They also will see a team in the Red Sox reeling after a week of injuries, bad pitching and a blowup between the Bosox egotistical skipper and the most committed player in his clubhouse.

Ahhh! Good times!

I do not like to say I told you so to Red Sox Nation and Kevin Youkilis but I did write a post on March 1 titled “Bosox Just Finding Out Valentine Is Big Scumbag.” In it I wrote the following:

Congratulations, Red Sox, on hiring the complete opposite of a classy and knowledgeable baseball man in Terry Francona. I am now counting the days Valentine will be the manager when the Red Sox finish third and about three Red Sox guys are grousing under the cloak of anonymity about what an idiot Valentine is as a manager.

Trust me, the day is coming. Bobby V. has a way of wearing out his welcome with the players, management and the fans. Why else would it have taken him this long to get an offer to manage? Boston needed a name manager and Bobby was out there self-promoting himself for the job before the ink was dry on Francona’s walking papers.

I hate being wrong, though. Those three players likely will not be grousing what an idiot Valentine is anonymously. They likely will be saying it his face. Such is the turmoil that engulfed this team in a few short weeks into the 2012 season.

Youkilis might have been hitting .200. He might have had an awful spring. Injuries may have ruined the second half of the 2011 season for him. But he always has been emotionally and physically committed to the Red Sox. He and Dustin Pedroia bring the intensity to the team that drives it.

It appears that Valentine has stupidly lost both players’ support. Youkilis will play hard no matter what but he won’t be chilling in Bobby’s office after the game sipping a brew after a victory either.

Pedroia, for his part, went on record with a public castigation of the manager by saying: “That is not the way we do things around here.”

Pedroia is right, too. Valentine did his questioning of Youkilis in a public forum and not in his office with the door shut, mano a mano.

But this gutless stuff and Valentine have a way of following him around from his various managing gigs.

He purposely tried to fan the flames of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry this spring by picking on Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. He also publicly dissed manager Joe Girardi for ending a tied exhibition game after nine innings.

Whoa, the gall of that Girardi to save his pitching for a two split-squad games scheduled 12 hours from that point. But we all know Bobby V was stoking the fire for the regular season. It is what he has to do to take the fans and pundits off the subject that his team is not a very good one right now.

Short on quality starters, even the good ones like Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz are getting battered like punch-drunk fighters. The bullpen was centered around the acquisitions of closer Andrew Bailey and setup man Mark Melancon. Now Bailey is out two months and Melancon is riding buses in the International League after taking an unmerciful pounding on Monday.

The team was without starting left-fielder Carl Crawford, who is still yet to prove he is worth the seven-year contract GM Theo Epstein kissed his feet to sign last season. Now MVP runnerup Jacoby Ellsbury ia out two months with a bad shoulder.

Because the Red Sox spent so much money on players like Crawford and John Lackey and traded their best prospects to get players like Victor Martinez and Adrian Gonzalez, they are right at the very edge of incurring the luxury tax. So they can’t go out and buy their way out of mediocrity.

So Valentine’s hands are tied because of a bereft minor-league system and the realization they can’t add payroll to fix what needs fixing.

Meanwhile, the players are already not on board with Valentine and his way of doing things. Pedroia already signaled that at the exhibition game Valentine got upset with Girardi in Fort Myers, FL. When asked by Buster Olney of ESPN what it has been like with Valentine as manager, Pedroia refused to spout the company line.

He said, “It has only been a few weeks so I can’t tell you.”

That speaks volumes about the chasm Valentine has driven between himself and the players. Pedroia did not say it was different than with Terry Francona and he was excited to play for a knowledgeable baseball man like Valentine, etc. He just said nothing and at the same time he said an awful lot to us reading between the lines.

Red Sox Nation is no longer a democracy, or even a plutocracy. It is now dictatorial and repressive. It will not take long for the combination of the unhappiness and the losing gets to the players and they start venting what they really think.

If I were Bobby V, I would not put a down-payment on that sprawling mansion in Beacon Hill just yet. He might be using Bekins to pack him and his sorry butt back to New York. I just have a feeling this marriage was forced and needs to be annulled immediately.

The Red Sox never knew what hit them when the canned the best manager they ever had and their GM got out of Dodge just ahead of the posse. Now they are finding what life used to be like before 2004 and it couldn’t have happened to more arrogant and obnoxious fanbase in the history of baseball.

RIP.

 

Power Shifts In A.L. East But Yankees Still Reign


Today marks the beginning of the 2012 season for the New York Yankees. After a 33-game spring schedule, the team took shape. How will they finish in the American League East? What about the other teams in the division? How will they do this season? Let’s take a look.

Last season marked a titanic shift in the division.

After the Boston Red Sox recorded the biggest implosion in major-league history in September, they are no longer looked upon as an elite in this division. The loss of general manager Theo Epstein and the decision to blame Terry Francona for the team’s demise were bad enough.

But the real shock was to watch the Red Sox take a different approach to trying to fix the team this winter. Instead of just going out and aggressively signing the best free agents available and making bold trades to infuse new blood, the Bosox actually started a coupon-clipping method of solving their problems.

The big names that could have helped them went elsewhere and the Red Sox found that their once-vaunted minor-league system was bereft of immediate-impact talent.

They begin the 2012 season with one of the most important positions on the team left n the hands of someone inexperienced.

If ever this was a microcosm of the Red Sox problems this is it. They allowed Jonathan Papelbon to walk away via free agency. Maligned for his foibles and his occasional blown saves, Papelbon was still an important piece of the success of the franchise. The fans and the press treatment of him bit the team in the rear end.

To replace him the Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey of the Oakland A’s, a competent closer who at the same time has had a series of arm ailments that have slowed his development. At the end of spring training, Bailey came up with a thumb injury that will require surgery to repair. He will miss two months – at least.

The Red Sox also traded for Houston Astros closer Mark Melancon. The conventional wisdom was Melanco would replace Bailey. After all, why trade for a closer if he is not going to close? But new manager Bobby Valentine announced that jack-of-all-trades (and master of none) reliever Alfredo Aceves would close instead.

Welcome to Red Sox Nation’s worst nightmare. On Opening Day, Aceves coughed the winning run in a non-save situation.

If there is anyone out there who honestly believes this team can win the A.L. East, I want to know what you are smoking.

There are only two elite teams in this division and they are the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays had an interesting spring where they played a lot like the some of the teams in 1960s like the Dodgers and White Sox, who were so deep in pitching talent they shut out any team. However, at the same time, the offense is so bad that scoring runs is going to take some real effort.

Don’t get me wrong. The Rays and manager Joe Maddon have ways of scoring. Carlos Pena may struggle to keep his average around .190 but he will likely hit 30 home runs. Evan Longoria, surrounded by lightweights, will be pitched around and his average will suffer also. But he will win his share of 2-1 games with home runs.

Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton and the rest of Rays also use their feet to create havoc on the bases. That will get them their share of runs at times. But the old adage “You can’t steal first base” comes into play. The Rays have to reach base in order to steal bases. This team also lacks the athleticism past teams had when Carl Crawford was here.

How many bases will catcher Jose Molina steal? I rest my case.

No, the Rays’ sole means of winning comes with their starting rotation. James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann are the center of the ballclub. The Rays have attempted to build a bullpen around them but they begin the season with their closer, Kyle Farnsworth, on the disabled list with a sore elbow.

That is huge red flag to me.

Could you say that the Yankees would be favored to win a championship with Mariano Rivera on the DL and expected to miss two months like Bailey? How about if Rivera complained he had a sore elbow?

Nope. No matter how stacked your pitching staff is you have to have a closer and Farnsworth is the best the Rays had in 2011. If he is lost for a long period of time, it puts pressure on Maddon to “shorten” his bullpen. That means keeping his starters on the mound longer than most managers would allow.

That exposes them to possibly losing close games because starters do run out of steam at some point. While a manager like Charlie Manuel might take Cliff Lee out after 121 pitches because he has Papelbon and a deep bullpen, Maddon may say let’s let Price get out of this in the eighth because I do not think J.P. Howell has been effective lately.

It becomes a slippery slope and you start lengthening and lengthening your starters until they begin wearing down.

That is my concern with the Rays.

In addition, they do not have the money and means to ever go to a Plan B. What they have on the roster has to work or they fall.

One team that intrigues me is the Blue Jays.

They already have Jose Bautista. You add to that third baseman Brett Lawrie and a bunch of guys who hit the ball hard and you have the makings of a great offense. Too bad the Rays do not have this offense.

The Blue Jays will put a lot of runs on the board. They have a lot of power and line-drive hitters top to bottom in the lineup.

However, their pitching revolves around Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. Brett Cecil has been sent to the minors and Dustin McGowan’s comeback has been slowed by injury.  Their bullpen does have a closer in Sergio Santos they stole from the White Sox and a former closer in Francisco Cordero they signed from the Reds.

If manager Jon Farrell can piece enough starters to go six, the Blue Jays just might have what it take to pass the Red Sox in third place in this division. Stranger things have happened.

The one given in the division is where the Orioles will finish. Mismanagement, bad luck and foolish spending have really derailed this franchise.

Buck Showalter is a good manager but this team is mired with problems. The young pitching the Orioles counted on has failed to take the big leap forward they expected.

They made big bets on players like Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones and they have underwhelmed. They lack a big bopper like a Bautista who can change a game. Instead, they can build around emerging star catcher Matt Wieters.

That just about sums up the Orioles.

Now we come to the Yankees.

They won 97 games last season despite the fact Alex Rodriguez played in 99 games, only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had good seasons with the bat and their rotation contained Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.

How many will they win when they get a healthy season out of Rodriguez, more of their hitters have better seasons with the bat and a rotation that now has Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, a healthy Phil Hughes to go along with ace lefty CC Sabathia?

Their bullpen even without Joba Chamberlain is loaded with Rivera closing like he always has at age 42 and David Robertson and Rafael Soriano shortening games to six innings.

The team has closed the pitching gap with the Rays and their offense is simply the best in the division. Add to that the division’s best bullpen and a veteran bench and you have the makings of another A.L. East title for the team in the Bronx.

I have not seen evidence that would contradict the premise. The only thing that could derail the Yankees is the age of the team. Injuries also are a great equalizer. But, other than a bad spate of injuries there is nothing that will stop this team in 2012.

Here is the predicted order of finish:

1) New York Yankees 

2) Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)

3) Toronto Blue Jays

4) Boston Red Sox

5) Baltimore Orioles

If this order holds up, look for Valentine to be scanning the help wanted ads in October. He already has the team hating him. If it gets much worse he might be scanning those ads in July.

 

Bosox Just Finding Out Valentine Is Big Scumbag

It did not take the new manager of the Boston Red Sox, Bobby Valentine, to show that he is an ego-driven a–hole.

On Tuesday, Valentine was discussing relay throws at the team’s spring complex in Fort Myers, FL, and he just happened to take a shot at the Yankees’ Derek Jeter and his celebrated “flip play” in Game 3 of the ALCS against Oakland.

For those of you unfamiliar with the circumstances, the Yankees were down 2-0 in the series to the Athletics and leading Game 3 by a 1-0 score in the seventh inning. Terrence Long of Oakland doubled to right-field and Yankee right-fielder Shane Spencer missed two cutoff men and Jeter seemingly came out of nowhere to grab the overthrow in foul territory and flip the ball to catcher Jorge Posada to nab Jeremy Giambi at the plate.

The Yankees won the game and rallied to win the series. The play has become a treasured piece of Yankee lore.

Valentine said that the Red Sox would never practice that play. He then went on to thoroughly expose his hindquarters by saying, “And I think (Jeter) was out of position and I think the ball gets (Giambi) out if he doesn’t touch it, personally.”

Switch scenes to Wednesday at the Yankees’ spring complex in Tampa, Fl, and Jeter and the team just happened to be, in fact, practicing that very play during their fielding workouts. Oops!

Seems like Booby, er huh Bobby, spoke without actually having the facts. For those of you Red Sox Nation brethren unfamiliar with Mr. Ego’s act you had better to get accustomed to it. It will be happening a lot more during the course of the season and his stupidity will not always be aimed at the Yankees. Bobby V. is an equal opportunity man who will rip into his own players if it suits him.

Give credit to Jeter for not taking Valentine’s bait, either. When asked about Valentine’s comments, Jeter restated that the Yankees have always practiced the play since he has been in the minors. He actually pointed out out he was lining up in the same position in Wednesday’s workout.

“I don’t think anything. I really don’t. I have no thoughts whatsoever,” Jeter said. “Who cares? Why are we talking about this? They must be bored over there, huh? I don’t understand.

“Think about it. We don’t practice it? We do. You guys see it. What else can I say. I was out of position? I was where I was supposed to be.”

When apprised of his verbal heap of smelly manure on Wednesday, Valentine did what he always does: He apologized and then said it was interesting because “why are we going to practice a bad throw?’”

Apparently Valentine realized he needed to chow down on some crow after asking Red Sox catching instructor Gary Tuck, who used to work with the Yankees, if the team did indeed practice the play. Tuck assured him the Yankees did practice the play.

But then Valentine had to sharpen the knife one more time. “And he said that when they practiced it, Jeter always got there late in practice. In that game, he got there on time.”

What an a–hole.

Congratulations, Red Sox, on hiring the complete opposite of a classy and knowledgeable baseball man in Terry Francona. I am now counting the days Valentine will be the manager when the Red Sox finish third and about three Red Sox guys are grousing under the cloak of anonymity about what an idiot Valentine is as a manager.

Trust me, the day is coming. Bobby V. has a way of wearing out his welcome with the players, management and the fans. Why else would it have taken him this long to get an offer to manage? Boston needed a name manager and Bobby was out there self-promoting himself for the job before the ink was dry on Francona’s walking papers.

To show even further what a senseless scumbag Valentine can be just listen to this quote praising Jason Varitek: “”He was a big hitter when needed. He was a leader of the pitching staff. He was able to beat up Alex [Rodriguez]. All that stuff is good stuff. He was exactly what he was supposed to be.”

Before the Yankees and Red Sox have even played one Grapefruit League game, Valentine is already taking shots at Jeter and Rodriguez. This is something Francona refused to do during his entire tenure with the Bosox.

Ironically, Francona was at George M. Stienbrenner Field on Wednesday as part of his duties as an analyst for ESPN. Though not taking on Valentine’s comments per se, Francona did say that he used to hold back on some of his thoughts to the media when the Red Sox were playing the Yankees, claiming that things often were sensationalized.

Well, that points out the difference between Francona and Valentine out perfectly. Francona is willing to hold back. Bobby not only ignores the possibility things can blown out of proportion, he is out making sure he is fanning the flames himself.

Oh, and just to set the record straight on this so-called Varitek beating up Rodriguez, watch the videotaped replay and notice that Varitek “bravely” took on A-Rod with his mask, chest protector, glove and shin guards on. Rodriguez had dropped his bat and only had his batting helmet to protect him.

That is like a football player beating up a coach on the sideline with his helmet and pads on. It is not exactly what I would call a fair fight. I assure you if Varitek was not in his gear he would not get anywhere near a fight.

That would be similar to Valentine. Without a microphone in front of his pompous mouth, he is just a another hack who thinks he can manage because he knows how many outs there are in an inning and some of the rules. He, at the same time, will break all the rules of baseball decorum to cover up for the fact he is just a spoiled brat who really don’t have a clue on how to act in front of the media.

Team president Larry Lucchino better have an interim manager stashed away on standby somewhere. The team will need him before too long.

 

2012 Looks Like More Trouble For ‘Red Flops’

As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.

PART 4 – BOSTON RED SOX

A fellow Yankee fan once called the Red Sox the Red Flops because of their penchant for running out to big leads in the American League East and fading badly in the second half. After the famous “Collapse of 2011″ the term seems apropos.

On Sept. 3, they were 84-54, a half game behind the Yankees and nine games up on the Tampa Bay Rays. They finished the season with a dreadful 6-18 record and missed the playoffs by a game. In Boston that is not an oops, it is an eruption and it cost manager Terry Francona his job and general manager Theo Epstein fled to the Chicago Cubs.

Looking to 2012 the Red Flops hired ego-driven Bobby Valentine as manager. Ben Cherington, an Epstein assistant, took over as GM. They even dismissed first-year pitching coach Curt Young in favor of Bob McClure to keep their starting pitchers from getting bagged in the clubhouse on Samuel Adams.

Of course, that is odd because McClure pitched most of his career with the beer capital of the world in Milwaukee.

There is no doubt the starting pitching let the Red Sox down in 2011. They scored runs and the bullpen was good until it got overtaxed. But has this team addressed the areas of weakness enough to win the division in 2012?

Well, it does not look good.

STARTERS

The Red Sox were unable to acquire any starter of significance this winter because they had to re-sign free agent David Ortiz and the team was already perilously close to the salary mark that would incur the luxury tax.

So they return to the field with two of the pitchers who aided in the collapse (Josh Beckett and Jon Lester), one pitcher who was hurt most of the 2011 season (Clay Buchholz) and two big question marks behind them. That seems hardly like a recipe for success.

Beckett, 31, returns as the team ace after a season in which he was 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA. But an ankle injury late in the season forced him to fade like a typical Red Flop in September. He posted a 5.48 ERA in September. He also was in the center of the beer issue that drew the ire of teammates and the front office.

If Beckett wants to remain the ace he better start showing some leadership by example.

Lester, 28, is starting to look like the Red Sox version of Mike Mussina. He has all the talent and the pitches to be successful but he never takes that big step forward to be an elite pitcher. He was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA but he also slid in September. He had only two quality starts from Aug. 27 to the season finale and was 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in the final month.

Buchholz, 27, made only 14 starts last season before ending up on the disabled list with what was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture in his back. He finished with a record of 6-3 and a 3.48 ERA. There is no doubt he was sorely missed last season because Epstein failed to stock the Red Sox with any depth and the team floundered after he was shelved on June 16.

The Red Sox other two starters were veteran right-handers John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

If Lester is like Mussina then Lackey is looking like the Red Sox version of A.J. Burnett. Signed as free agent before the 2010 season, Lackey has done nothing but disappoint Red Sox Nation with bad pitching. He was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 2010 but he got much worse in 2011 with a 12-12 mark and 6.41 ERA.

Red Sox fans have taken to calling him “Lacking.”

But there is good news for RSN, Lackey, 33, will not pitch at all in 2012 because he had to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. There is no real guarantee Lackey will be any better in 2013, which will be the final year of his four-year contract. His days in Beantown look to be limited at this point.

Speaking of that, Red Sox fans also would like to see Matsuzaka, 31, gone after three injury-filled seasons in which he was a combined 16-15 with a plus 5.00 ERA in only 44 starts. Last season, he was shelved in June with a 3-3 record and a 5.30 ERA. Like Lackey he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

He possibly could return late in the season but there is no one banking on him coming back pitching like in he did in 2008 when he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. He is in the final year of lucrative six-year contract and the Red Sox seem to be counting the days they can part with him.

With Lackey and Dice-K on the shelf, the Red Sox have to come up with two starters and one of them is Daniel Bard, the team’s setup man the past two seasons. Bard, 26, does throw hard and he has two breaking pitches to mix in his arsenal.

But Bard also was the poster boy for the Red Sox collapse. Forced to pitch a lot to cover for weak starting pitching, Bard got hit hard and often in September, finishing the season 2-9 with a 3.33 ERA and five blown saves. Only July 31, Bard had a 1.76 ERA.

Now the question is can he be an effective starter? It has not worked for relievers lately. It did not work for Joba Chamberlain and Brandon Morrow of the Blue Jays has struggled to get past the fifth inning with the Blue Jays. Usually it works better when a starter becomes a reliever as it did with former Red Sox right-hander Dennis Eckersley.

Until Bard proves he can pitch deep into games consistently and does not fade late in the season as the innings pile up, he is big question mark in 2012.

For the fifth spot, the Red Sox issued an open casting call much like the Yankees did in 2011 with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.

They are looking at holdovers Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller as possible candidates. Aceves, 29, was 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA but made only four starts. He is better suited as a reliever, as he proved with the Yankees. Miller, a 26-year-old left-hander, was 6-3 but he had a horrible 5.54 ERA in 12 starts.

The Red Sox also signed former Yankee right-hander Ross Ohlendorf and three other right-handers including Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and Carlos Silva to compete for the job this spring.

None of these candidates are going to impress the Red Sox faithful. They all have a lot of mileage on them and they all have not had much success in recent years.

This might be one of the weakest Red Sox rotations in many years and the lack of depth in it is the major problem. If Beckett, Lester or Buchholz are hurt, who steps up to replace them?

BULLPEN

The Red Sox allowed Jonathan Papelbon leave for the Philadelphia Phillies rather than pay him what he was worth as a closer for them over the past six seasons. The conventional wisdom was Bard would take over as the closer.

But the Red Sox made him a starter instead and opened up the job. They decided to fill it with 27-year-old right-hander Andrew Bailey, who was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.

Bailey is coming off two injury-plagued seasons but is pretty darn good when he is healthy. Bailey is 7-10 with a career ERA of 2.07 and 75 saves in 84 chances.

There is no doubt Bailey is an excellent closer. The only question is of the Red Sox can keep him healthy and can Bailey adjust to the very small dimensions of Fenway as opposed to the expansive Coliseum.

The Red Sox also traded with the Houston Astros for yet another former Yankee reliever in Mark Melancon. (Can the signing of Tanyon Sturtze be far behind?). Melancon, 26, was 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and saved 20 out of 25 games for the lowly Astros last season. Melancon, who was touted years ago as the eventual successor to Mariano Rivera when he was in the Yankees’ minor-league system, will set up Bailey and can close if Bailey should revert to past form and pull up lame.

Speaking of lame, the Red Sox suffered a huge blow to their bullpen before pitchers reported to camp on Sunday because 30-year-old right-hander Bobby Jenks will miss more time when a pulmonary embolism was discovered in his lung. This was discovered after he had two back surgeries after pitching only 19 games last season. He is on the 60-day DL and he will be on a long road back to health.

Aceves also figures in the late innings because he is much more valuable in that spot.

The Red Sox got some use out of 29-year-old right-hander Matt Albers, who was 4-4 with 4.73 ERA in 56 games last season. The lefty specialist was 26-year-old Franklin Morales, who was 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 50 appearances. The Red Sox are hoping Rich Hill will come back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow sometime this season.

The Red Sox think 24-year-old lefty Felix Doubront can take the second left-hander spot in the bullpen. He had no record and 6.10 ERA in 11 appearances last season. Doubront could also get a chance to start and he has some upside.

This bullpen is definitely in a state of flux. New personnel, new roles and there are some pitchers coming off injuries or currently rehabbing injuries. It is not a recipe for success.

Valentine and McClure have a lot of decisions to make in the spring. For the Red Sox to succeed they need an excellent bullpen. For now, it looks just mediocre.

STARTING LINEUP

The Red Sox were largely a four-man offense – a very good four-man offense but a four-man offense nonetheless – in 2011.

First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was as advertised. He hit .338 with 27 home runs and 117 RBIs and played Gold Glove defense. The Red Sox hope Gonzalez, 29, is the fulcrum of the Bosox attack for many years to come.

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia bounced back from an injury-plagued 2010 season to re-establish himself in 2011. He hit .307 with 21 homers and 91 RBIs and also won a Gold Glove. Pedroia, 28, remains the spark-plug in the Red Sox engine. His grit and determination makes him the heart and soul of the team.

Designated hitter David Ortiz followed up a bounce-back 2010 season with another solid campaign in 2011. Ortiz, 36, hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs. He is not the same feared hitter he was in his steroid days hitting behind Manny Ramirez but he is still good enough to help the offense.

The big surprise was center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who played only 18 games in 2010 and was accused of milking his rib injury by some teammates. Ellsbury, 28, must have been angry because he came back with a vengeance in 2011. He hit .321 with easily a career-high 32 home runs and 105 RBIs from the leadoff spot. He also stole 39 bases.

To most Red Sox observers, Ellsbury was the team’s MVP and would have won the American League MVP if Justin Verlander of the Tigers had not.

The big disappointments in this lineup were Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford.

Youkilis, who will be 33 when the season starts, still has not played any more than 147 games in a season. Last season, the combination of bursitis in his left hip and a sports hernia limited him to 120 games. He hit a disappointing .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and he did not play third base as well he played first base. Youkilis must stay healthy and return to form if the Red Sox are to make a move in 2012.

Left-fielder Crawford, 30, arrived in Beantown with 409 career steals and .293 career batting average. His seven-year, $142 million contract was the signing that limited the Red Sox from adding pitching this winter. He also proved he did not fit in well at Fenway. He hit .255 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs and only 18 stolen bases. He also proved weak in the field despite having won a Gold Glove with the Rays in 2010.

More bad news about Crawford: Late in the winter Crawford realized his left wrist required surgery and he is not likely to be able to play on Opening Day. Crawford will either turn his game around or become one of the biggest albatross signings in baseball history.

The Red Sox have shuffled the deck in right-field and shortstop this season.

The Red Sox released aging outfielder J.D. Drew and they used promising youngster Josh Reddick in the Bailey trade.

The Red Sox did obtain outfielder Ryan Sweeney in the Bailey deal and he is a left-handed hitter like Reddick. However, the 27-year-old has been a huge disappointment in Oakland. He is career .283 hitter but he lacks both power and speed.

Holdover Darnell McDonald, 33, was brought up last season and he hit .236 with six home runs and 24 RBIs in 79 games. He could figure in an early platoon with Sweeney or win the job outright. Ryan Kalish, 23, hit .252 in 53 games and he will get a look also.

The Red Sox also picked up Cody Ross from the Giants. Ross, 31, bats right-handed and he figures to start n left-field until Crawford returns to health. Then he will shift to right in a platoon with either Sweeney or Kalish. Ross hit .240 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs in 2011.

Shortstop also was shuffled for 2012. Starter Marco Scutaro was shipped to Colorado for right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen. Backup infielder Jed Lowrie was used in the Melancon trade with the Astros.

That leaves former Royals infielder Mike Aviles to start at the position. Aviles, 31, is a career .288 hitter but he hit only .255 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs in 91 games with the Royals and Red Sox.

The Jason Varitek era in Boston is officially over. Varitek was not re-signed and Jarrod Saltalamacchia enters his second season as the unquestioned starter for the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia, 26, is coming off a so-so 2011 season. He hit .235 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs. He also struck out 119 times in 358 at-bats so he is not exactly a selective hitter. The Red Sox also wish he would continue to improve his defense and throwing.

BENCH

The Red Sox will likely keep Ross, McDonald and either Sweeney or Kalish as backup outfielders. McDonald is valuable because he play all three spots and he is better in center.

The Red Sox picked up former Twins infielder Nick Punto as a reserve at second, short and third. Punto, 34, hit .278 with one home run and 20 RBIs with the Cardinals last season. Having Punto means the Red Sox can allow 22-year-old shortstop Jose Inglesias another season to develop at Triple-A. Inglesias can field but has not developed much as a hitter.

The team also picked up former Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Rays. Shoppach, 31, hit .176 with 11 homers and 22 RBIs with the Rays and he replaces Varitek as the backup catcher. He is solid defensively.

This is a serviceable bench but I would hardly call it talent-laden or special.

ANALYSIS

The Epstein-Francona era is over. The main architects of the only two World Series championships in the last 96 years have fled. They left a financial constraint on the team that prevented them from addressing their crisis in starting pitching, the bullpen and in right-field.

The Crawford and Lackey signings along with the trades for since-departed Victor Matinez and Gonzalez left this very dollar-rich team weak in minor-league prospects and unable to find enough wiggle room to sign what they needed without breaking way past the level where the luxury tax kicks in.

This limits what the Red Sox will actually do this season. This is team that already is beset by injuries (Lackey, Dice-K, Crawford, Jenks) and they are severely lacking in depth before spring training has even started. It is hard to see how they find the money to fix what needs fixing if the ship should begin to flounder.

The Red Sox will only go as far their offense and their top three starters take them this season.

With the Rays a bit flawed it is easy to see both the Red Sox and Rays battling for second place behind the Yankees in 2012. Because of what happened to the Red Sox last season it hard to see how it could happen again. But that is what I am predicting.

I just have a sneaking suspicion that the Rays pitching will be the reason the Red Sox will finish third. The only question is can Valentine get out of town before RSN tries to lynch him. Good luck, with this bunch, Bobby. You are going to need it – along with a lot of Maalox.

Just call them the Red Flops.

 

2012 Would Look Bleaker If CC Leaves Yankees

With the disappointing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series a distant bad memory, the New York Yankees will look to reconstruct a championship caliber team for the 2012 season. To that end let’s look at what possible moves the Yankees might make to improve their roster. It might seem like a daunting task. But it sure could be worse. Think how tough a time the Boston Red Sox will have rebuilding without general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona.

PART 1 – Starting Pitching

PRIORITY NO. 1 – Keeping CC Sabathia 

There are some Yankee fans who would like to see the big fellow opt out of his seven-year $161 million contract. Those that do cite the fact that he has not pitched well in the playoffs in the past two seasons and he was 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA in his last nine starts in 2011. Many blame a noticeable weight gain late in the season.

However, true ace pitchers do not grow on trees in plentiful supply and Sabathia, 31, is 59-23 with a 3.18 ERA in his three seasons as the Yankees’ unquestioned No. 1 starter.

If fans feel the Yankees’ starting pitching is weak heading into the 2012 season it does not make sense to allow the team’s best pitcher to walk away without attempting to sign him to a more lucrative deal. General manager Brian Cashman can renegotiate with Sabathia until three days after the World Series. At that point, Sabathia must declare whether he is opting out of the contract to become a free agent.

There are already teams such as the Texas Rangers who are poised to make an offer to the 6-foot-7, 290-pound left-hander. Because Sabathia is a California native, he also would stand to receive some competitive offers from some well bankrolled West Coast teams. Once the process is opened to other teams and the bidding begins, anything can happen. The result could be the loss of Sabathia.

The last time Sabathia talked with reporters about the subject, he said he had not even thought about what he will do and that he would discuss the options with his family. But he also said that he happy pitching in New York and his family has settled in nicely in a huge home in Alpine, N.J., just across the George Washington Bridge. He also has won a World Series with the Yankees and he has made playoff appearances the past two seasons.

Sabathia also might want to talk with Alex Rodriguez about his choice to opt out of his contract four years ago. A-Rod frustrated the Yankees by forfeiting $23 million in money the Rangers still owed him. The Yankees also took a hard line approach with the veteran third baseman and they declined to negotiate with him after he became a free agent.

Without the Yankees in the bidding to drive up his price, Rodriguez was forced to swallow his pride, sideline his pain-in-the-wallet agent in Scott Boras and come to the Yankees himself to renegotiate a deal. It was a nice sum of money but the Yankees made it clear they were tearing out $23 million from the deal because of A-Rod’s insistence on opting out. A-Rod agreed and he is now signed through 2017.

But, Sabathia is different. As an ace pitcher, and a lefty at that, Sabathia is in much greater demand than A-Rod was because there were so many cash-strapped clubs that could not afford him. Teams will break the bank to pony up a mega-contract for an ace lefty like Sabathia. That is why Cashman must strike quickly before the clock runs out.

Sabathia has four years and $92 million remaining on his current contract. The Yankees could extend the contract to up to six years with $25 million per year to match Cliff Lee’s deal with the Phillies. That will add two additional years and $58 million to the deal. It would be hard for many teams to top that offer. But the Rangers, who seem to derive great pleasure in sticking it to the Yankees, will make an honest effort to do just that.

Keeping Sabathia in the fold will allow the Yankees to retain their ace as they try to build a reliable group of four other starters behind him. Last season the Yankees had to rely on veteran free-agents like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia while A.J. Burnett struggled and Phil Hughes tried to solve a mysterious loss of velocity on his fastball. Rookie Ivan Nova surprised the Yankees by being much better than they ever could have imagined (16-4, 3.70 ERA) at age 24. Heading onto the 2012 season with Nova as the team’s ace might be a bit of scary thought despite his success in 2011.

The bottom line is they can’t afford to loss Sabathia for any reason. If Sabathia is signed, Cashman can go to work at looking at possible trades for pitchers like Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, signing free agents such as C.J. Wilson of the Rangers (16-7, 2.94 ERA) and acquiring the rights to 25-year-old right-handed sensation Yu Darvish from Japan. But the anchor of any fortified staff must include Sabathia.

Cashman is well aware of that. He also is aware the clock is ticking faster and faster.

NEXT: PRIORITY NO. 2 – Fixing Burnett and Hughes

 

Garcia, Montero Send Red Sox Further Into Abyss

GAME 157

YANKEES 9, RED SOX 1

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

                                                                                                                                           - Charles Dickens from “Tale of Two Cities”

If any tidbit of prose could describe the end of this pre-autumn battle between two proud franchises this Dickens line would surely be appropo.

While the Yankees have clinched the American League East and they are getting prepared for the playoffs the Red Sox are praying they still can reach the playoffs as they seemingly implode like a proud skyscraper that is now obsolete. These are two cities and two teams headed in diametrically different directions.

Freddy Garcia pitched six scoreless innings in his effort to win a postseason starting slot, Jesus Montero hit a homer and drove in four runs to stake a claim for a postseason roster spot and Derek Jeter added a home and three RBIs to silence those early-season critics that thought his career was over as New York humiliated Boston on Saturday in front of national TV audience at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees jumped all over Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester (15-9) with one out in the second inning.

Robinson Cano started the onslaught innocently enough with a single to left. Nick Swisher then coaxed a walk. Andruw Jones reached when his bouncer to shortstop Marco Scutaro could not be turned into an out. Scutaro’s throw to second reached Dustin Pedroia after Swisher hit the bag.

Montero then showed the Red Sox what can happen when you actually hold onto your prospects by slashing a sharp single between third and short into left to score Cano. Russell Martin, who stated on Thursday that he hated the Red Sox and would like to oust them from the playoffs, followed with s sinking liner to left that clanked off  the glove of free-agent flop Carl Crawford that scored Swisher and Jones.

Jeter capped the six-run explosion with a typical Jeter opposite-field home run to right-center over the auxiliary scoreboard and into the bleachers. It was only his sixth home run of the season but it was probably just as big as his 3,000th hit home run off David Price of the Rays.

Much like a English muffin on a nippy winter morning, Lester was toasted.

The Yankees added two more runs in the third inning and chased Lester to the showers – all coming after two were out.

Swisher looped a single to right and Jones lashed a lined single to left. Montero, 21, then further built upon his near-legend status in the Bronx with a long blast to left-center that bounced off the wall for a double and scored both Swisher and Jones.

Now Lester was burnt toast and manager Terry Francona removed him from the heat of the game.

With an 8-0 lead, Garcia (12-8) was free to toy with the overaggressive Red Sox hitters by giving them a little bit of this and a little bit of that at slow and even slower speeds. Garcia scattered six hits, walked one and struck three as the 34-year-old right-hander won at least 12 games for the ninth time in his 13 major-league seasons.

With Bartolo Colon and A.J. Burnett struggling and Phil Hughes battling back issues, Garcia seemed to all but lock up a spot in the Yankees’ postseason rotation with his 102-pitch effort on Saturday.

Montero, meanwhile, added to his day with his fourth home run in just 52 at-bats, a solo shot to the opposite field in right off Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa to lead of the sixth inning. Montero raised his batting average to .346 and in his last two games, Montero is 6-for-7 (.857) with a home run and six RBIs.

With backup catcher Francisco Cervelli still recovering from concussion symptoms, Montero has an opportunity to make the postseason roster as the backup to Martin and he could draw some starts as a right-handed designated hitter.

The Red Sox instead are looking for something or someone to stop their calamitous tailspin that has seen them record a 5-17 mark in September. The combination of their loss and victories by the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels leave the Red Sox just 1 1/2 games ahead of the Rays and 2 1/2 games in front of the Angels in the wild-card standings with five games left to play.

The Yankees improved their record to 96-61 and they need just one victory and a loss by the Texas Rangers or Detroit Tigers to clinch home-field advantage throughout the American League playoffs.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though Brian Cashman is generally praised for not trading Jesus Montero, don’t forget that Cashman included Montero in a proposed deal to the Mariners for Cliff Lee last July. It was only because Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik also had asked for Ivan Nova and Eduardo Nunez that nixed the deal. So Yankee fans actually have the greed of Zduriencik to thank for the fact the Yankees have held onto Montero and let him blossom into what appears to be sure superstar status. Think of Montero this way: He could the best power-hitting prospect the Yankees have brought up from their minor-league system since Mickey Mantle in 1951. That is 60 years!
  • Garcia’s good outing came at the perfect time because he was 0-1 with a 10.95 ERA in his last three starts. Garcia is 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA this season, which should earn him strong consideration for a starting spot for the Yankees in the postseason. With CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova already assured spots, Garcia becomes very important to the Yankees this postseason.
  • Jeter’s home run was his first since Sept 4 at Yankee Stadium against Toronto. He is hitting .304 this month and his season average is at .297. So he has a good chance to reach the .300 mark before the season ends. Jeter was hitting .260 on June 13 when he was placed on the disabled list with strained calf muscle.

BOMBER BANTER

Hughes threw a 35-pitch bullpen session on Saturday and reported no pain in his back. Hughes, who missed his last start due to back spasms, is in line to make a start on the final day of the regular season on Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, FL. Because of the timing of the injury, Hughes likely will be relegated to the bullpen when the Yankees open their postseason schedule.  . . .  Cervelli exercised for a second consecutive day on Saturday but the Yankees do not expect him to be available for the American League Division Series. Cervelli has been sidelined since Sept. 8 with concussion symptoms after a home-plate collision with Orioles underachieving outfielder Nick Markakis.  . . .  The Yankees paid tribute on Saturday to the 50-year anniversary of Roger Maris’ 61st home run, which broke Babe Ruth’s 1927 single-season record of 60. Members of the Maris family were on hand for the ceremony before the game.

ON DECK

Because of the ninth rainout of the season on Friday, the Yankees will play the Red Sox in a day-night doubleheader on Sunday.

The Yankees will start the opener with Burnett (10-11, 5.28 ERA). Burnett faltered in the fourth and fifth innings of his last start against the Minnesota Twins on Monday. He gave up four runs in his four-plus innings, although he did strike out seven batters. He is 5-4 with 5.07 ERA against the Red Sox in his career.

The Red Sox will counter with ancient knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (7-7, 5.08 ERA). Wakefield gave up two runs in five innings in a loss to the Rays last Sunday. He is 8-13 with a 5.08 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

In the nightcap, the Yankees will call upon Rookie of the Year candidate Nova (16-4, 3.62 ERA). Nova is coming off 7 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball against the Rays on Tuesday to win his 12th straight decision. Nova is 0-2 with a 7.15 ERA against the Red Sox.

The Red Sox will counter with overpaid and underwhelming right-hander John Lackey (12-12, 6.49 ERA). Lackey was tagged for eight runs on 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings against the Orioles on Monday. Lackey is 8-9 with a 4.69 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time for the opener will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.

The second game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and the game will be telecast nationally by MLB Network and locally by YES.

 

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