All posts by ntenczar

Series Recap: Brewers Complete Sweep at Fenway

After Sunday’s contest at Fenway park, I knew that writing a well-reasoned recap for the series as a whole would be difficult. After all, getting swept at home against a team that’s projected to be under .500 this year in the first week of the season does not inspire much confidence, and invites the Dan Shaughnessys of the world to slam the panic button until the damn things breaks. Instead, I’ll quickly talk about the ugly, the bad, and the good, to end things on a positive note.

The Ugly

Sunday’s Strikezone

I could talk about the strikezone, but pictures certainly do it more justice, so I’ll leave it at that.
Here’s Sunday’s strikezone maps courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net:


Yeah, it was all over the place. Moving right along..

Daniel Nava

I would have put this in the “bad” column, but Nava was making a lot of solid contact on Sunday. After doing a lot of flying out the first two games, Nava hit line drives all over the field on Sunday. Unfortunately, the first two he hit found their way into the gloves of Mark Reynolds and Yovani Gallardo. Nava was finally rewarded in his 3rd at bat with a line drive double down the first base line, but was stranded at second to end the inning. He also has yet to draw a walk, but it’s still early and I’m confident in Nava’s ability to see pitches. After the series, Nava’s BABIP stands at .111, so I’m also confident that we’ll see some of those sharp line drives start falling for hits in the near future, though I doubt Farrell will keep him so high up in the lineup.

Corner Outfielder Defense

This weekend saw some pretty ugly play from both Nava and Jonny Gomes, manning the corner outfield positions. While Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr. held their own in center field all weekend, Gomes and Nava confirmed a lot of concerns about how the outfield defense might hold up without Victorino in right field. Nava’s error in Sunday’s game served as a perfect example of this, as did Mike Carp’s misplays on multiple wall balls which only added to the meltdown that was Clay Buchholz’ outing (more on that below). Hopefully with Victorino off the DL in a week this problem will resolve itself, but until then we may just be getting more of the same from the combination of Gomes, Carp, and Nava.

Injuries

The weekend saw Mike Carp dealing with some issues, Will Middlebrooks was placed on the DL, and David Ortiz appeared to limp after his final at bat of Sunday’s outing. None of this bodes well, but it is certainly not the end of the world. Middlebrooks will do his time on the 15 day DL and be back in 2+ weeks, and Mike Carp’s issues can likely be attributed to the cold weather. Ortiz might be the most troubling, but as of now there hasn’t been much word on an injury, if any.

The Bad

Clay Buchholz

Clay Buchholz did not look good Saturday night. Quite the opposite of good in fact, as the Brewers tagged him for more hits than he’s ever given up in a start with 13 for 6 earned runs. Most concerning was his fastball velocity, sitting around 89-90 mph all night long. At his best last season, Buchholz’ fastball would sit around 93-94 mph, and when mixed in with his nasty breaking stuff made him one of the most effective pitchers in baseball. Saturday, however, the Brewers capitalized on the lost velocity and hit just about every pitch left up in the zone. While some of this can be attributed to BABIP luck for the Brewers, they were making a lot of solid contact that cannot be ignored. I’m optimistic that Buchholz will settle down for his next start after shaking off the rust Saturday though, provided some of that fastball velocity comes back and he can locate his pitches as well as he did in 2013.

AJ Pierzynski

Pierzynski was one of the more questionable signings of the offseason, but possesses the upside of being a clubhouse guy with decent enough defensive skills and a slightly above average bat. So far this season though, he has grounded into more double plays than he has actual hits. Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal wrote an interesting article about how Pierzynski rarely sees pitches or walks because of how often he makes contact, but until I see that contact generate actual results, I’m skeptical. If Pierzynski keeps up his current pace for a few more weeks, we’ll probably see the Sox call up Christian Vasquez from AAA.

The Good

Xander Bogaerts

Some worried that Bogaerts might be slow out of the gate this season, but thus far he’s been anything but slow, with a first week slash line of .412/.524/.529. He’s been an extremely productive member of the lineup, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him moved into the 1, 2, or 3 slots for the upcoming series against the Rangers. Time will tell if this pace can continue, and while it probably won’t, it’s an encouraging sign of things to come from the young shortstop.

The Bullpen on Saturday

Even though it eventually gave up the win, the bullpen was excellent on Saturday. Chris Capuano, Brandon Workman, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara combined for 5.2 IP, 0 R, 13K, 1BB. When Buchholz was not up to the task, the bullpen delivered. This was probably the most encouraging thing to happen all weekend until Jon Lester’s outing on Sunday.

Jon Lester

He may have received the John Lackey treatment in the third game of the series by receiving no run support, but Lester still tossed 7.1+ innings of 3 run ball. Along with his first start of the season against the Orioles, Lester has thrown 14.1 innings for 5 earned runs, which is about as good as you can hope from one of your best starters. The most encouraging part of this is that we may be seeing Lester at his most consistent. Coming off of his worst starts in 2013 (June), Lester has frequently been good for 7 innings of 2-3 run ball, which only adds to the case for extending him.

 

It’s hard finding positives in a weekend like this one, but there were definitely positives to be found. Plenty of baseball left to play this year, and the Sox will look to turn it around against the Rangers on Monday with John Lackey on the hill.

 

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2013 – A Year in Review

ALCS win
After winning the 2013 ALCS.

The Red Sox won the World Series in 2013. That was awesome. As fans, we were graced with the good fortune of a third title in a decade, and some simply magical heroics to get there. The regular season, however, also had some of the most epic moments I can remember as a Red Sox fan. Below, in no particular order, are some of the best moments of the regular season, with accompanying Baseball-Reference links. Hopefully 2014 will provide as many excellent moments, and be just as fun for us, the fans.

David Ortiz is a bad, bad man

With the summer beginning in earnest in early June, the Red Sox were a cool 13 games over .500 and already off to a season that would greatly exceed expectations. On June 6th, the Red Sox squared off with the Rangers in a rubber match to decide the series just two days after the Sox beat the Rangers 17-5. In the bottom of the 9th, with the score tied 3-3 after pretty good outings from Jon Lester and Derek Holland, Jonny Gomes led off with a rocket off the monster for a double. I was at this game, and I remember remarking to the guy I was with that “Jonny Gomes had the ugliest swing in baseball” but somehow, if anyone was going to break this game open, it would be him. After this, Ron Washington made the decision to walk Pedroia to get to David Ortiz. Insulted at the very thought of having the batter ahead of him get intentionally walked, Ortiz launched the first pitch he saw into the Red Sox bullpen.

Ortiz-walkoffrangers

The look of disgust as he drops the bat is really what gets me. David Ortiz is indeed a bad, bad man. Here’s a look from another angle.

Ortiz-walk-offrangers2

Xander Bogaerts hits his first Major League homer.. against the Yankees

The Yankees bit was simply icing on the cake for what was a truly special moment. Working the count to 3-1, Xander took the next pitch deep to left, driving in Jackie Bradley Jr. to give the Red Sox a 12-3 lead, with the Red Sox taking the best of four series against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. As a fun bonus, Xander had another RBI in the game on a groundout, which also scored Jackie Bradley Jr.

Lester Outduels Scherzer

In a series that many thought, as this point in the season, would serve as a preview of the ALCS (in retrospect, pretty damn close) the Red Sox squeaked out a close one with Lester pitching 7 innings of one run ball.  Scherzer did not pitch quite as well, tossing 7 innings of two run ball, as he chased win number 20 on the season (which would not come against the Red Sox). A resurgent Will Middlebrooks, returning from a stint in AAA, would seal Scherzer’s fate in the 5th inning with a 2 RBI single, and a trio of Red Sox relievers followed by Koji Uehara shut the door in the 8th and 9th innings. In one of the most pivotal points in the game, the bottom of the 8th, with no outs and the 2012 AL MVP Miguel Cabrera at the plate, the rookie Brandon Workman would force a fly ball to right. This would prove a preview of the ALCS, where three games were decided by a single run.

Koji Uehara Retires 37 Straight

Not all that much to say here, the 2013 ALCS MVP was excellent during the season and postseason, and was yet another successful free agent addition for the 2013 team. It was only fitting that the season would end with this:

An Improbable Walk-Off Against Seattle

On a night when the Red Sox had no answer for Felix Hernandez, who gave up 1 run in 7 innings pitched, the Red Sox scored six runs in the bottom of the 9th inning  to beat the Mariners 8-7. A very weird night, where Henry Blanco hit a grand slam off of a woeful Ryan Dempster, got even stranger when the umpires forced Mariners manager, Robby Thompson, to bring in the lefty Oliver Perez after he first tapped his left arm. Thompson had actually intended to go to a righty, Yoervis Medina, to face Shane Victorino, but was instead stuck with Perez. The bases were loaded at this point, and Victorino singled to right field to make it a 5-7 game. The game would end after more Boston hits, culminating in a Daniel Nava singled to win the game, 8-7.

Jonny Gomes Unassisted Double Play

The night before the 6 run 9th inning, the Red Sox were in the middle of a closer game against the Mariners. After Seattle tied up the game at 4 in the top of the 8th, neither team could score again until the game went into the 15th inning. After two singles to put runners on first and second with only one out, Jonny Gomes made a spectacular double play to send the game into the bottom of the 15th, where the Sox won on a Stephen Drew single to score Pedroia.

Mariano Rivera Blows His Last Save Opportunity Against the Red Sox

Coming into a 7-8 slugfest, Mariano Rivera intended to seal a Yankee win in a best of four series at Yankee Stadium. 2013 would serve to be the Mariano Rivera farewell tour as teams paid tribute to the baseball legend’s final year. The Red Sox would be no different, although in his final game at Fenway in late September he received a bit of a roast rather than the praise given by other teams. He would not pitch in that game, as the Red Sox won 9-2, but he did pitch earlier in September in a one run game at Yankee Stadium. Given the one run lead to work with,  Rivera got two quick outs from Ortiz and Nava before allowing a single to Mike Napoli. In his most significant moment of 2013, Quentin Berry came in as a pinch runner for Napoli and stole second base, advancing to third on a bouncing throw. Berry would then score on a single from Stephen Drew to complete the blown save. The Red Sox would win, 9-8 in 10 innings and eventually take 3 of 4 games in the series, a rare occurrence in the Bronx.

Mariano Rivera Receives a Standing Ovation from the Fenway Faithful

This isn’t exactly a Red Sox moment, but in what would prove to be Rivera’s final appearance at Fenway, he received a standing ovation from the crowd, and that — to me at least — is special.

USP MLB: NEW YORK YANKEES AT BOSTON RED SOX S BBA USA MA

Daniel Nava Gives Boston Something to Cheer About

Nava was a standout all season long, providing 1.8 fWAR in a platoon with Jonny Gomes. He got a criminally small amount of World Series playing time (despite Gomes hitting rather infrequently, although his 3 run homerun in game 5 was nothing short of clutch), but he was an integral member of the 2013 team. On April 20th, at the Sox’ first game back at Fenway after the Boston Marathon bombings, a game which David Ortiz started with a rousing “This is Our Fucking City,” Daniel Nava would come up big with a 3 run homerun to give the Sox a 4-2 lead over the Royals.

navahomer

Mike Carp Solidifies the AL East Lead

After going into a late-season slump, the Rays found themselves 9.5 games back of first place, with hopes of winning the East all but lost. They did, however, bring a 3-3 tie into extra innings against the Red Sox on September 11th after a fairly solid Alex Cobb start. In the top of the 10th inning Joel Peralta and Roberto Hernandez would allow the Red Sox to load the bases, until Mike Carp managed to put one over the center field fence at the Trop, leaving the only work left for Junichi Tazawa to finish the job in the bottom of the 10th.

Jonny Gomes is Good at Pinch Hitting

Gomes’ heroics can be chalked up to intangibles, but to give the guy credit, he was an excellent platoon man for the Red Sox in 2013, providing 1.0 fWAR while standing in for Daniel Nava against lefties. He had multiple excellent pinch hit moments, such as a walk off against the Padres on July 3rd, and somehow provided the spark the Sox needed to win Game 5 of the World Series. He also introduced us to the helmet punt…

… and also provided us with fun moments with Jamie Erdahl …

…and Jenny Dell.

I probably left some things out, as there were so many great moments in 2013, but the above stood out to me as some of the best the year had to offer. Did I leave something pivotal out? Let me know, @ntenczar on Twitter.

I grabbed the GIFs from a combination of Over the Monster, NESN, and Fangraphs, so thanks to those guys for the good work they do.

Mike Napoli: A Tale of Expectations

If you watched August 5th’s Astros-Sox game, you will probably agree with the statement that Mike Napoli sucks. You watched him whiff a couple times at high fastballs instead of letting them go for a walk, effectively ending the inning for the Red Sox and allowing the Astros to head into the 9th with a 2-0 lead intact. Furthermore, you might be a bit angry
that John Lackey had left the game after 6 IP, with 10K and only those two earned runs (one of which given up on a suicide squeeze as the Astros continued to cash in on playing small ball), and the Red Sox had given him no run support at all. Emotions were running high after last night’s loss (hell, I expected yet another sweep of the Astros) because, of course, these are your 2013 Boston Red Sox, who are now expected to make a great run at the AL East title and perhaps even a pennant and the World Series.

Let’s think back to March for a minute though. Back then, the expectations for the Red Sox were bleak, but realistic. If you followed the team back then, you understood that the expectations were something like a 75-80 win year, missing the playoffs because of a good division led by the Blue Jays after all their free agent signings (hah!), and mostly banking on young prospects like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts to get ready to dominate the major leagues by 2015. The line was essentially: 2015 or bust, that’s when the Red Sox will be contenders again.

Here we are though, and the date is August 6th. We’ve made it into the dog days of summer and the Red Sox are very much to our surprise and delight contenders in the AL East, with a half game lead over the Rays and 93.9% chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus. We’ve been here before though, and we watched when Papelbon blew a save against the Orioles on September 28th, 2011. This was a season where we expected to make the playoffs, and by a fairly wide margin. The Red Sox’ playoff odds going into September 2011 were something on the order of 99+%, and they proceeded to go 7 and 20 in September and miss the playoffs. As Red Sox fans, we’re used to being wary about our expectations, as teams in the past have had a tendency to let them down. The 2004 team had really crushed our expectations after a 19-8 loss to the Yankees in game 4 of the ALCS, only to pick them right back up again after what was arguably the greatest comeback in the history of professional sports. Imagine if the Sox had lost that World Series to the Cardinals though. Our expectations, after having been crushed, then picked right back up, would have been absolutely annihilated. The team of destiny, after having defeated the Evil Empire in the greatest of comebacks, losing the World Series?

The point I’m trying to make here though, is that as Sox fans we have some work to do in managing our expectations. It wasn’t unreasonable to expect the 2011 Red Sox to make the playoffs, but it is unreasonable to expect Mike Napoli to strike out less than 30% of the time. The Mike Napoli that we signed this offseason struck out 30% of the time in 2012, and provided the Rangers with 2.0 WAR (according to Fangraphs). So far in 2013, Napoli has provided 2.1 WAR for the Sox, and his K% is hovering around 33.6%. We’re getting exactly the production we expected for the $13MM the Front Office thinks Napoli is worth. He’s having approximately the same year he had for the Rangers in 2012, with some exceptions: he isn’t walking quite as much, he’s struck out more, and his ISO is down to .195 from the .241 it was last year. Despite these exceptions, his OPS, wOBA, batting average, and wRC among other statistics are pretty much exactly where they were last year. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Mike Napoli the Red Sox paid for in the offseason. Despite a few admittedly frustrating outings of late and the fact that Napoli may be chasing the all-time record for Ks in a season, he’s producing exactly as we should have expected, and there’s still time for him to even exceed expectations. Mike Napoli’s going to be just fine this season, he’s just probably going to strike out a few more times.