Archive for Boston Red Sox
This series will certainly have a different feel to it, don’t you think? Both teams remade their rosters with a series of moves prior to yesterday’s trade deadlines, though what the Yankees did was mere tinkering compared to the moves the Red Sox made. We will get our first look at several new faces in this series in addition to the usual Yanks-Sawx hoopla. The Yankees have won six of ten against the BoSox this year, including two of three at Fenway Park back in April.
What Have They Lately?
Oh, you mean besides take a sledgehammer to the roster that won the World Series ten months ago? The Red Sox were off yesterday, but before that they got swept by the Blue Jays at home in a three-game series. They have lost eight of their last nine games overall and currently sit in last place in the AL East at 48-60 with a -55 run differential. Something tells me they will be even worse these next two months because they’re going to allow all of the runs. All of them.
The Red Sox come into today’s game averaging 3.81 runs per game with a team 91 wRC+, so while they’ve been below-average overall, they did just add several new faces to the lineup. OF Shane Victorino (86 wRC+) is currently dealing with a back problem and GM Ben Cherington told reporters yesterday that he is a candidate to be placed on the disabled list.
Manager John Farrell’s new-look lineup still revolves around DH David Ortiz (124 wRC+) and 1B Mike Napoli (134 wRC+), though now they’ll have help from the just acquired OF Yoenis Cespedes (113 wRC+). He is expected to be in the lineup tonight. Ortiz and Napoli always destroy the Yankees. Adding Cespedes to the mix isn’t going to make life any easier. 2B Dustin Pedroia (98 wRC+) is having a down year and both CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (67 wRC+) and SS Xander Bogaerts (89 wRC+) have been very disappointing.
The just acquired 1B/OF Allen Craig (81 wRC+) will probably be in the lineup tonight but I’m not sure what position. He hasn’t hit much since hurting his foot/ankle last season. UTIL Brock Holt (114 wRC+) has cooled off but has still been very good overall. OF Daniel Nava (85 wRC+) and 1B/OF Mike Carp (73 wRC+) are platoon bats and there’s a good chance one will be dropped off the roster to make room for Craig today. C Christian Vazquez (75 wRC+) and C David Ross (71 wRC+) form the defensive-minded catching tandem. 3B Will Middlebrooks (75 wRC+) is expected to be called up from Triple-A today, likely replacing Victorino.
Friday: LHP Chris Capuano (vs. BOS) vs. RHP Anthony Ranaudo (No vs. NYY)
With Jon Lester and John Lackey traded away, the Red Sox will turn to the 24-year-old Ranaudo to fill a rotation spot, at least temporarily. The New Jersey native has a 2.41 ERA (3.69 FIP) in 21 starts and 119.1 Triple-A innings this season, though his strikeout (7.47 K/9 and 20.3 K%), walk (3.70 BB/9 and 10.1 BB%), and ground ball (38.1%) rates aren’t all that impressive. He does keep the ball in the park though (0.45 HR/9). Ranaudo is a big guy at 6-foot-7 and 230 lbs., and he uses that size to unleash low-to-mid-90s four-seamers. Ranaudo throws a power curveball in the low-80s as well as an okay changeup.
Saturday: RHP Shane Greene (vs. BOS) vs. RHP Allen Webster (vs. NYY)
Webster, 24, was part of that huge blockbuster with the Dodgers a few years ago and he took over the just traded Jake Peavy’s rotation spot recently. He allowed one run in 5.1 innings against the Rays while walking more batters (five) than he struck out (four) in his lone MLB start of the season last weekend. Webster has a 3.10 ERA (3.91 FIP) in 122 Triple-A innings this year and a 7.82 ERA (6.20 FIP) in 35.2 MLB innings over the last two years. His Triple-A strikeout (7.38 K/9 and 19.7 K%) and walk (3.25 BB/9 and 8.6 BB%) numbers are just okay while his ground ball (48.2%) and homer (0.66 HR/9) rates are good. Webster sits in the low-to-mid-90s with two and four-seam fastballs, backing them up with low-80s sliders and changeups. The changeup has been his preferred secondary pitch in his brief big league time.
Sunday: RHP David Phelps (vs. BOS) vs. RHP Clay Buchholz (vs. NYY)
In the span of one afternoon, the 29-year-old Buchholz became the ace of the Boston staff. He has a 5.87 ERA (4.64 FIP) in 17 starts and 96.2 innings this year. Yikes. Buchholz has underwhelming peripherals across the board — 6.52 K/9 (16.0 K%), 3.07 BB/9 (7.6 BB%), 1.21 HR/9 (11.5 HR/FB%), and 45.4% grounders — and he gets hit harder by lefties (.368 wOBA) and at home (.392 wOBA) than by righties (.350 wOBA) and on the road (.335 wOBA). As always, Buchholz uses low-90s two and four-seamers as well as an upper-80s cutter to set up his knockout low-80s changeup and occasionally knockout upper-70s curveball. He faced the Yankees back in April and allowed four runs (two earned) in six innings.
Like the Yankees, the Red Sox were off yesterday, so Farrell’s bullpen is rested. They traded away setup man LHP Andrew Miller but still have closer RHP Koji Uehara (2.47 FIP) and setup man RHP Junichi Tazawa (2.68 FIP) for the late innings. I assume LHP Craig Breslow (4.78 FIP) will take over as the primary matchup lefty.
At the moment, RHP Burke Badenhop (3.11 FIP) and RHP Edward Mujica (4.31 FIP) are the only other relievers on the team’s active roster. They’re going to have to make a series of roster moves before tonight’s game to accommodate all the new players, and part of that will be calling up some extra bullpen arms. Here is their 40-man roster if you want see the call-up candidates. I haven’t the slightest idea who it will be and won’t even bother to guess. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of the Yankees’ bullpen and then check out Over The Monster for everything you need to know about the new-look Red Sox.
Get ready for a weekend of hype and attention that is disproportionate to the relevance of the teams in this series. The Red Sox are in town to play three games against the Yankees, and it is always a Very Big Deal whenever these two clubs meet. In reality, this series is about a pair of teams trying to dig themselves out of holes in the AL East, one bigger than the other. The Yankees took three of four in New York and two of three in Boston against their rivals back in April.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Red Sox just wrapped up a brutal West Coast trip through Oakland and Seattle, losing five of seven and being outscoring 36-23. They are 36-43 overall with a -31 run differential. That puts them five games back of the Yankees and in fourth place in the AL East.
Boston had a powerhouse lineup last year, one that was deep with disciplined hitters who worked long at-bats and hit for extra-bases. This season they are averaging only 3.81 runs per game with a team 89 wRC+, so they are comfortably below average. Boston is currently without OF Shane Victorino (hamstring, back), 1B/OF Mike Carp (foot), and 3B Will Middlebrooks (finger). There’s a chance Middlebrooks will return this series, but the other two definitely will not.
As usual, manager John Farrell’s revolves around DH David Ortiz (119 wRC+). 1B Mike Napoli (136 wRC+) is his right-handed complement and UTIL Brock Holt (122 wRC+) has been stellar since taking over the leadoff spot. 2B Dustin Pedroia (97 wRC+) is having a subpar year and, at age 30, you wonder if he’s hitting the early decline phase we’ve seen strike many second basemen. Wouldn’t that be something, if Pedroia’s days as an above-average hitter are already over? Crazy.
3B Xander Bogaerts (101 wRC+) has been very streaky this year and is on the downswing at the moment. SS Stephen Drew (-21 wRC+ in limited time) hasn’t hit a lick since re-signing and platoon bats OF Jonny Gomes (93 wRC+) and OF Daniel Nava (76 wRC+) have been more down than up. The catching tandem of C A.J. Pierzynski (72 wRC+) and C David Ross (51 wRC+) invokes memories of Chris Stewart and Austin Romine. OF Jackie Bradley Jr. (63 wRC+) has been terrible overall but better of late after making some mechanical changes. IF Jonathan Herrera (59 wRC+) is the last guy on the bench.
Friday: LHP Vidal Nuno (No vs. BOS) vs. RHP Brandon Workman (vs. NYY)
Workman, 25, moved back into the rotation after starting the season in the bullpen. He has a 2.88 ERA (3.36 FIP) in 34.1 innings spread across five starts and three relief appearances after a stint in Triple-A. Workman has kept the ball in the park (0.52 HR/9 and 5.9 HR/FB%), but otherwise his strikeout (7.34 K/9 and 20.4 K%), walk (3.15 BB/9 and 8.8 BB%), and ground ball rates (41.5%) are no better than okay. Lefties (.258 wOBA) have had slightly more success than righties (.239 wOBA) in small samples. Workman sits right around 90 mph with his four-seam fastball and a tick below that with his cutter. His two secondary pitchers are a big overhand curveball in the upper-70s and a mid-80s changeup. The Yankees did not see Workman in their previous two series with Boston.
Saturday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. BOS) vs. LHP Jon Lester (vs. NYY)
Believe it or not, the 30-year-old Lester is in the middle of his best season, right in time for free agency this winter. He has thrown 106 innings of 3.14 ERA (2.84 FIP) ball in 16 starts, and his strikeout (9.25 K/9 and 25.0 K%), walk (2.29 BB/9 and 6.2 BB%), and homerun (0.68 HR/9 and 7.3 HR/FB%) numbers are top notch. His ground ball rate (38.9%) is a career low, however. Lester might run into a little rough patch and see that homer rate climb at some point considering his home and divisional ballparks. His platoon split is literally zero — both lefties and righties have a .304 wOBA against him this season. Lester has really scaled back the usage of his mid-80s changeup this year, throwing only a handful per start, so he is essentially a four-pitch guy with three fastballs now: low-90s four-seamers and sinkers, mid-to-upper-80s cutters, and mid-70s curveballs. The southpaw held the Yankees to two runs in 6.2 innings in Yankee Stadium earlier this season.
Sunday: RHP Chase Whitley (No vs. BOS) vs. RHP John Lackey (vs. NYY)
Somehow Lackey has improved upon his big return to form 2013 season. The 35-year-old has a 3.45 ERA (3.04 FIP) in 107 innings and 16 starts while walking almost no one (1.77 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%) and keeping the ball on the ground (46.1%). His strikeout (7.82 K/9 and 21.1 K%) and homer (0.76 HR/9 and 8.8 HR/FB%) numbers are good but not quite as good as the walk and grounder rates. Lackey doesn’t have much of a platoon split (lefties have a .303 wOBA while righties have a .298 wOBA) and he doesn’t have a changeup. I mean, he does have one, but he only throws it 1.4% of the time. One or two per start, that’s it. Low-90s two and four-seamers, mid-to-upper-80s cutters, and upper-70s curveballs are Lackey’s four main offerings. He has faced the Yankees twice this year and the starts were on opposite ends of the spectrum: six runs in 5.2 innings at Yankee Stadium and eight innings of one-run ball at Fenway Park.
Like the Yankees, the Red Sox were off yesterday, so their bullpen is as fresh as can be this time of year. Closer RHP Koji Uehara (2.82 FIP) has been very good but not as good as last season. He’s allowed five runs this year, all on solo homers. LHP Andrew Miller (1.45 FIP) has been spectacular, RHP Junichi Tazawa (2.89 FIP) slightly less so.
The rest of the bullpen includes RHP Burke Badenhop (3.10 FIP), LHP Craig Breslow (4.50 FIP), and RHP Edward Mujica (4.73 FIP). RHP Rubby De La Rosa (3.19 FIP) just lost his rotation spot when Clay Buchholz came off the disabled list and is the long man by default. You can check up on the status of the Yankees’ relievers at out Bullpen Workload page. For everything else you need to know about the Red Sox, I recommend Over The Monster.
Via Ken Rosenthal: The Red Sox have re-signed Stephen Drew to a one-year contract worth $14.1 pro-rated, so basically the qualifying offer he turned down over the winter. He will presumably take over shortstop with Xander Bogaerts moving back to third base. Drew will be a free agent again after this season, but because he did not spend the entire season with Boston, they will not be able to make him a qualifying offer.
The Yankees had on again, off again interest in Drew during the offseason and even in recent weeks — we recently heard they would reconsidering signing him after the draft — which makes sense given the infield situation. Just this morning I said I expected Drew to sign with the Tigers after the draft, which shows what I know. Kendrys Morales is still unsigned, and if the Yankees lose Carlos Beltran to elbow surgery, he would make some sense as a full-time DH and replacement middle of the order bat.
In case you haven’t noticed, the AL East is a dumpster fire this season. Here are the standings before we go any further:
Yuck. All five teams are clustered together in mediocrity. Dan Syzmborski posted his updated ZiPS division projections yesterday based on what has already happened this year, and the system has the Blue Jays in last place at 80-82. It also has the other four AL East teams tied for first at 83-79. Keep in mind that’s not a prediction of what will happen, it’s just an estimate of each team’s talent level. Point is, the division is crazy close.
As we’ve seen the last few weeks, the Yankees are no doubt a flawed team. They need another starting pitcher and another infielder, and another bullpen arm wouldn’t hurt either. Playing better defense would help too. More than anything, they need players like Carlos Beltran, Derek Jeter, Brian McCann, and CC Sabathia to improve their performance going forward.
The Yankees are a flawed team and that’s okay because the other four AL East teams are flawed too. We’ve learned a lot these last five weeks. Here’s what we know about the division a little more than one month into the season.
Overall Batting: 94 wRC+ (17th in MLB) and 4.32 R/G (9th)
Overall Rotation: 4.42 ERA (24th) and 4.32 FIP (25th)
Overall Bullpen: 3.81 ERA (16th) and 4.38 FIP (27th)
Defensive Efficiency: .683 (29th)
The O’s went into the offseason needing a starter and they still need a starter. Ubaldo Jimenez (5.19 ERA and 4.83 FIP) has not worked out so far — turns out making a bunch of starts against the Astros, White Sox, and Twins late last year didn’t mean he had turned his career around — and the Miguel Gonzalez (5.28 ERA and 4.86 FIP) magic has finally worn off. Bud Norris, Chris Tillman, and Wei-Yin Chen are solid but nothing more. The middle relief unit is also a mess, though the trio of Tommy Hunter, Zach Britton, and Darren O’Day have been outstanding. The other four guys are the problem. Now that Manny Machado is back and Chris Davis (oblique) will soon come off the DL, Baltimore will out-hit many of their pitching problems this summer. That strategy can work, we saw the Yankees do it from 2005-07. They do lack high on-base players to fully capitalize on their power, however.
BOSTON RED SOX
Overall Batting: 100 wRC+ (13th) and 4.15 R/G (16th)
Overall Rotation: 3.85 ERA (15th) and 3.83 FIP (14th)
Overall Bullpen: 3.14 ERA (9th) and 2.91 FIP (3rd)
Defensive Efficiency: .693 (22nd)
On paper, the Red Sox are the most complete team in the division. They’re average or better in every phase of the game, including defensively now that Shane Victorino (hamstring) is off the DL and Jackie Bradley Jr. has replaced Grady Sizemore as the regular center fielder. Bradley and A.J. Pierzynski are the lineup weak spots, Edward Mujica and Craig Breslow the bullpen laggers, and Felix Doubront the rotation drain. Jake Peavy’s walk and homer problems suggest he might perform worse going forward as well (3.09 ERA and 5.07 FIP). Otherwise Boston has productive players in just about every roster spot, a deep farm system, and a pretty big wallet. If they need help, they can go out and get almost anyone they want. The Red Sox are not as good as they were last year, nor are they as bad as they were for the first few weeks of this season.
New York Yankees
Overall Batting: 101 wRC+ (12th) and 4.27 R/G (10th)
Overall Rotation: 4.27 ERA (22th) and 3.88 FIP (16th)
Overall Bullpen: 3.91 ERA (19th) and 3.52 FIP (12th)
Defensive Efficiency: .690 (25th)
Outside of Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees have not had another reliable starter all season. Maybe Hiroki Kuroda will be that guy after his very good start against the Angels earlier this week and maybe Michael Pineda will be another one when he returns from his shoulder muscle problem. The back of the bullpen has been excellent. The lineup is being held back because of several underperformers, specifically Beltran and McCann. The Yankees have a ton of money, it’s just a question of how willing ownership is to use it to add players at midseason. The farm system is improving but it still remains to be seen whether other teams want some of their prospects in trades. But you knew all that already.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Overall Batting: 108 wRC+ (7th) and 4.24 R/G (11th)
Overall Rotation: 4.44 ERA (25th) and 3.76 FIP (11th)
Overall Bullpen: 4.17 ERA (23rd) and 4.23 FIP (22nd)
Defensive Efficiency: .701 (18th)
For the first time in a long time, the Rays have serious pitching problems. Matt Moore is lost for the year with Tommy John surgery, and both Jeremy Hellickson (elbow) and Alex Cobb (oblique) are still weeks away from returning to the rotation. They’ve been stuck relying on Erik Bedard, Jake Odorizzi, and Cesar Ramos to make starts. Those guys wouldn’t be anywhere near their pitching staff the last couple of seasons. The offense is fine but the bullpen is weak because it’s been worked hard thanks to the shaky rotation, though replacing Heath Bell with Brad Boxberger will help somewhat. Unlike the other teams in the division, Tampa doesn’t really have the financial wherewithal (or the prospects, at this point) to go out and make a trade to improve their weakness. They’re just trying to get by until Hellickson and Cobb return, hoping they’ll be the difference makers.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Overall Batting: 111 wRC+ (4th) and 4.88 R/G (5th)
Overall Rotation: 4.04 ERA (19th) and 3.75 FIP (10th)
Overall Bullpen: 4.94 ERA (27th) and 4.23 FIP (23rd)
Defensive Efficiency: .692 (24th)
You didn’t need the updated ZiPS projections to tell you Toronto is the weakest team in the division. They have a top heavy lineup with several black holes (second and third bases, in particular), one and a half starters (Mark Buehrle and Drew Hutchison, maybe R.A. Dickey on a good day), and a disaster of a bullpen. They gutted the farm system last offseason and are reportedly up against their payroll limit. Money is so tight that several players offered to deferred salary this winter if it helped the team sign then-free agent Ervin Santana. That blows my mind. In a division of flawed teams, the Jays have the most and biggest holes. That doesn’t mean they can’t make life miserable this season though. They’re always a pain.
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The AL East has been the best division in baseball over the last 15 years or so, and I don’t even think it was close. At first it was just the Yankees and Red Sox, then the Rays got in on the fun, then two years ago the Orioles started making noise.
Instead of evolving into a division of powerhouses, it’s currently a division of mediocrity. It’s a collection of good but not great teams right now. The opportunity is there for any one of the five clubs to run away with the division but right now no one seems to want it. A blockbuster trade or unexpected development (like, say, a prospect coming up and having immediate impact) could decide the AL East.
For the second time in a little more than a week, the Yankees and Red Sox meet for what is sure to be a tense, time-consuming, over-hyped, and over-analyzed series. This time the scene shifts to Boston and Fenway Park. The Yankees won three of four from their rivals in the Bronx the weekend before last. This will be Jacoby Ellsbury‘s first trip back to Boston since signing with New York.
What Have They Done Lately?
Since these two teams last met, the Red Sox took two of three from the White Sox and split a four-game series with the Orioles. They are 9-11 with a -6 run differential overall, which currently has them in the AL East cellar. Little too early to start worrying about division standings, but that’s just me.
The BoSox were really struggling to score runs when they were in town a week and a half ago, but they scored six runs in each of their last two games and appear to be coming around offensively. They currently average 3.8 runs per game with a team 92 wRC+, both below-average marks. The Red Sox are currently without OF Shane Victorino (hamstring) and 3B Will Middlebrooks (calf), neither of whom is expected to return this series even though they are out on minor league rehab assignments.
As usual, manager John Farrell’s lineup is anchored by 2B Dustin Pedroia (95 wRC+) and DH David Ortiz (100 wRC+), both of whom are off to slow starts compared to their usual levels of production. 1B Mike Napoli (140 wRC+) has been the team’s best hitter, and the recently called up Brock Holt (173 wRC+) has taken over at third base and the leadoff spot. SS Xander Bogaerts is having a strong rookie campaign (123 wRC+) as well.
Platoon OF Jonny Gomes (98 wRC+) is seeing more playing time than he should, mostly because OF Daniel Nava (38 wRC+) has been awful. OF Jackie Bradley Jr. (82 wRC+) is starting to take playing time away from OF Grady Sizemore (80 wRC+). The catching platoon of C A.J. Pierzynski (61 wRC+) and C David Ross (125 wRC+) has been okay overall. IF Jonathan Herrera (55 wRC+) and 1B/OF Mike Carp (89 wRC+) fill out the bench. Obligatory it is still early and those numbers came from small samples reminder.
Tuesday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Jon Lester (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Lester, 30, has been as good as ever in 2014, just as he’s getting ready to test the free agent waters this coming offseason. He has a 2.17 ERA (2.39 FIP) in four starts and 29 innings, pairing excellent strikeout (9.00 K/9 and 25.7 K%) and walk (1.24 BB/9 and 3.5 BB%) rates with a strong ground ball rate (46.1%). Lester has crushed left-handed batters (.237 wOBA) and been slightly less successful against righties (.280 wOBA). A low-90s fastball and upper-80s cutter set up his mid-80s changeup and mid-70s curveball. Lester held the Yankees to two runs in 6 2/3 innings the weekend before last.
Wednesday: RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP John Lackey (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
One reason the Red Sox won the World Series last year was Lackey going from injured and awful to a reliable workhorse starter. The 35-year-old has a 5.25 ERA (4.74 FIP) in 24 innings and four starts so far, though his strikeout (8.63 K/9 and 22.1 K%) and walk (2.63 BB/9 and 6.7 BB%) numbers remain very good. He is very air ball prone (38.0% grounders), however, and righties have just mashed him (.416 wOBA). Lefties aren’t doing so bad either (.331 wOBA). Lackey throws both a low-90s fastball and a mid-80s cutter, and his upper-70s curveball remains his go-to pitch. He doesn’t throw a changeup anymore. The Yankees roughed Lackey up for six runs in 5.2 innings in their last series.
Thursday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Felix Doubront (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Doubront, 26, has a 5.48 ERA (4.30 FIP) in four starts and 21.1 innings this year, making him the clear weak link in Boston’s rotation. His strikeout rate (6.33 K/9 and 15.6 K%) has fallen quite a bit these last two years, but he still walks a bunch (3.80 BB/9 and 9.4 BB%) and his ground ball rate (44.3%) has remained static. Lefties has crushed him so far this year (.438 wOBA), but that’s a sample size problem. Righties have gotten him for a .309 wOBA. Doubront’s big breaking mid-70s curveball is his money pitch, and he’ll also throw low-90s heaters, mid-80s cutters, and some low-80s changeups to righties. The Yankees scored three runs in 6.2 innings against the southpaw in their last series.
The Orioles did the Yankees a real favor yesterday. Baltimore knocked Clay Buchholz out of the game in the third inning, forcing Farrell to get 6.2 innings out of his bullpen. RHP Burke Badenhop (4.31 FIP) threw 3.2 innings and 40 pitches, so he’ll be out of commission tonight. LHP Craig Breslow (2.48 FIP) threw two innings and 23 pitches, and could be limited tonight if he’s even available. LHP Andrew Miller (2.39 FIP) has pitched each of the last two days. Their lefty relievers have been worked hard these last few days.
Closer RHP Koji Uehara (0.36 FIP) recently returned from a little shoulder issue. He’s set up by RHP Junichi Tazawa (1.19 FIP) and occasionally RHP Edward Mujica (2.37 FIP). LHP Chris Capuano (1.48 FIP) has graduated from strict long relief work to more of a medium-to-high-leverage guy. All of them except Uehara pitched Sunday night. The Yankees had yesterday off and are in good shape bullpen-wise, especially since David Robertson was activated off the 15-day DL this morning. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for recent reliever usage details, then check out Over the Monster for the latest and greatest on the Red Sox.
The Yankees and Red Sox rekindle their rivalry tonight and this weekend with a four-game series at Yankee Stadium. As usual, expect the media coverage to be insane. It always is. The Red Sox have actually played quite well in the new Stadium, winning seven of ten games in the Bronx last season and 22 of 37 games since 2010. That’s annoying.
What Have They Done Lately?
Boston came from behind late to beat the Rangers yesterday afternoon, upping their record to 4-5 in the early going. Same record as the Yankees. The Sawx took two of three from Texas but before that they were swept at home by the Brewers. Can’t say I expected that to happen when the series started.
The Red Sox had a relentless offense last season, leading baseball with a team 115 wRC+ and an average of 5.27 runs per game. No other team was within a quarter of a run of that rate. This year as been a different story though, perhaps because Boston said goodbye to Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Stephen Drew this winter. They have a team 102 wRC+ so far in 2014, and are averaging just 3.89 runs per game. Injuries to OF Shane Victorino (119 wRC+ in 2013) and 3B Will Middlebrooks (83 wRC+ in 2013/122 wRC+ in 2014) haven’t helped either. Neither will return this series.
As usual, the Red Sox offense is led by 2B Dustin Pedroia (115/65) and DH David Ortiz (152/114). 1B Mike Napoli (129/160) does plenty of damage as well. OF Daniel Nava (128/-2) and OF Jonny Gomes (109/60) have been platooning at the leadoff spot recently, though they will typically stay in the lineup and bat lower in the order against same-side hitters. SS Xander Bogaerts (86/117) is a Rookie of the Year candidate and OF Grady Sizemore (183 wRC+ in 2014) is a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. Sizemore doesn’t play everyday though. He gets regular rest so he doesn’t break down.
1B/OF Mike Carp (139/90) was a force off the bench a year ago, but otherwise C A.J. Pierzynski (90/97), IF Jonathan Herrera (77/111), and IF Ryan Roberts (90/36) aren’t scaring anyone. Herrera and Roberts are platooning at third while Middlebrooks is out. OF Jackie Bradley Jr. (69/174) sees regular time in center and right fields. C David Ross (86/48) is the backup catcher and will usually start against lefties. It’s worth pointing out that other than Bradley, Boston’s outfield defense is a disaster. Among the worst in the game. Hit the ball in the air this weekend.
Thursday: RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Clay Buchholz (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Not many pitchers leaving you wanting more than Buchholz. The 29-year-old pitched like an ace last season — 1.74 ERA (2.78 FIP), 7.98 K/9 (23.1 K%), 2.99 BB/9 (8.7 BB%), and 47.7% grounders — but he was only on the mound for 108.1 innings because of a neck problem. He has yet to throw 190 innings in a season and only twice has eclipsed even 110 innings. Buchholz has nasty stuff, but his fastball has been sitting mostly upper-80s since returning from the neck problem. Once upon a time it was regularly in the mid-90s. He also throws a mid-80s cutter, a low-80s changeup, and a mid-70s curveball. The changeup is his bread and butter and the reason why he has had just a tiny platoon split throughout his career. Buchholz allowed six runs on 13 hits in only 4.2 innings in his first starter, which is pretty terrible.
Friday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Jon Lester (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Lester, 30, turned back in the ace midway through last season and helped carry his club to the World Series title last fall. He had a 3.75 ERA (3.59 FIP) overall in 213.1 innings in 2013, pairing an okay strikeout rate (7.47 K/9 and 19.6 K%) with good walk (2.83 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%) and ground ball (45.0%) numbers. Lester pitched much better against same-side hitters, holding lefties to a .294 wOBA while righties got to him for a .317 mark. A low-90s fastball and upper-80s cutter are his top two weapons, which he’ll use to set up a mid-80s changeup and a mid-70s curveball. Lester allowed four runs (two earned) in 7.1 innings in his first start and two runs (both earned) in seven innings in his second start. He has faced the Yankees a ton over the years, but this is a different lineup. Lots of new faces.
Saturday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP John Lackey (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Lackey brought his career back from the dead last summer, returning from Tommy John surgery and two terrible years to become a rock solid mid-rotation workhorse. He had a 3.52 ERA (3.86 FIP) in 189.1 innings last year, with an excellent walk rate (1.90 BB/9 and 5.1 BB%) and good strikeout (7.65 K/9 and 20.7 K%) and ground ball (46.8%) rates. The 35-year-old also had a big reverse split, holding left-handed batters to a .290 wOBA while righties tagged him for a .331 wOBA. Lackey’s fastball sits in the low-90s these days, and he’ll also throw a mid-80s cutter. An upper-70s curveball is his trademark pitch. He rarely throws his changeup anymore, believe it or not. Lackey allowed one unearned run in seven innings in his first start and two earned runs in six innings his second time out.
Sunday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. LHP Felix Doubront (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Man, Doubront owned the Yankees back in 2012. He held them to seven earned runs in 25 innings across four starts, and I’m surprised they scored that much. He really seemed to have their number. Doubront, 26, pitched to a 4.32 ERA (3.78 FIP) in 162.1 innings last year, though his strikeout rate took a tumble to 7.71 K/9 (19.7 K%). It was 9.34 K/9 (23.6 K%) the year before. Doubront got some grounders (45.6%) though his walk rate (3.94 BB/9 and 10.1 BB%) was a bit too high. Righties (.336 wOBA) hit him quite a bit harder than lefties (.290 wOBA). Doubront lives off his big breaking mid-70s curveball, setting it up with low-90s heaters and mid-80s cutters. He’ll also throw low-80s changeups to righties. His first start of the season was okay (three runs in 5.1 innings), but his second one stunk (five runs in 2.2 innings).
RHP Koji Uehara (1.61 FIP in 2013/0.42 FIP in 2014) was arguably the best reliever in baseball last season and definitely the best in the second half. He was unhittable. RHP Junichi Tazawa (3.22/1.14) is his primary setup man right now, but I think LHP Craig Breslow (3.60 FIP in 2013) will see some late-inning time now that he’s just off the DL. Both Uehara and Tazawa pitched yesterday.
The middle relief crew is a little shaky right now, at least compared to last season. RHP Edward Mujica (3.71/2.79) still looks like the guy who lost the closer’s job with the Cardinals late in the season (15.43 ERA), and RHP Burke Badenhop (3.53/3.02) has been hit hard early this year (9.00 ERA). LHP Andrew Miller (3.05/3.22) is unpredictable and soft-tossing LHP Chris Capuano (3.55/0.72) is the long man. Mujica, Badenhop, and Miller have been lights out in the past, but that isn’t the case right now.
As for the Yankees, they’re without closer David Robertson, who will be on the DL for another eleven days at the very least. He can’t be activated until April 22nd. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the recent reliever usage. Seems like Shawn Kelley will be unavailable tonight. For the latest and greatest on the Red Sox, Over the Monster is the place to go. There is a surprising shortage of quality Sawx blogs.
Over the last 15-20 years or so, no division has been as consistently tough as the AL East. The Yankees and Red Sox have dominated the top two spots, and in recent years both the Rays and Orioles have become more serious threats. The AL East has produced 15 of the 21 AL wildcard teams since the system was introduced in 1995, giving you an idea of how many great teams it’s housed. How is the division competition looking heading into 2014? Here’s a breakdown.
Notable Additions: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, OF Nelson Cruz, RHP Ryan Webb, RHP Suk-Min Yoon, OF/DH Delmon Young
Notable Losses: RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Jason Hammel, RHP Jim Johnson, OF Nate McLouth
This isn’t a loss in the sense that he was on the team and now he’s not, but it’s certainly worth mentioning that third baseman Manny Machado will start the season on the DL following offseason knee surgery. He should return sometime in April.
The Orioles played the market well and landed both Jimenez and Cruz on favorable contracts. They sorely lacked an ace and while Ubaldo might be the most unpredictable pitcher in the game, he can be absolutely dominant for long stretches of time. Baltimore got a weak .245/.293/.405 (87 wRC+) batting line out of their DHs last season, so Cruz and even Young should help correct that problem. Between Cruz, Chris Davis, and Adam Jones, the O’s have three guys who could legitimately hit 30+ homers. They hit 24 more homeruns than any other team last season and added yet another power hitter this winter.
Even though Johnson always seems to blow games against the Yankees — he blew four of his last nine save chances against them and also took a loss after entering a tie game — the Orioles are worse off in the late innings without him. Webb is underrated and I’m sure Tommy Hunter will be fine in the ninth inning, but Johnson was a very good workhorse reliever and that will be missed. Baltimore is better than they were last season because of Jimenez and Cruz, though I’m not sure if they’re good enough to make a serious run at a wildcard spot. I guess it depends on how long Machado is out, which Jimenez shows up, and how the bullpen shakes out without Johnson.
BOSTON RED SOX
Notable Additions: RHP Burke Badenhop, LHP Chris Capuano, RHP Edward Mujica, C A.J. Pierzynski
Notable Losses: RHP Ryan Dempster, SS Stephen Drew, OF Jacoby Ellsbury, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
I assume the Red Sox will not re-sign Drew at this point, which means they lost three key up-the-middle position players this winter. Grady Sizemore has had a great spring, but replacing Ellsbury with him is the poor man’s version of replacing Robinson Cano with Brian Roberts. Jackie Bradley Jr., last spring’s MVP, is the backup plan there. Pierzynski takes over for Salty, and rookie Xander Bogaerts will replace Drew. He’s a stud and appears poised to be a force for years to come.
Boston has earned some leeway after winning the World Series, but they lost a lot of good players this winter and are counting mostly on internal solutions to replace the lost production. That’s dicey, especially when talking about prospects. If Bogaerts or either of the center fielders don’t produce, the Sox will be left scrambling. Luckily for them, the pitching staff is deep and stalwarts like Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are still around to anchor the lineup. The Red Sox have a great farm system and a ton of money, so they have the wherewithal to address any needs at midseason. That said, they won the division by 5.5 games last year and the gap appears to have closed a bit.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Notable Additions: RHP Grant Balfour, RHP Heath Bell, C Ryan Hanigan
Notable Losses: RHP Roberto Hernandez, RHP Fernando Rodney, DH Luke Scott, RHP Jamey Wright
The Rays will be without Jeremy Hellickson for a few weeks following offseason elbow surgery. They still have David Price and Alex Cobb to front the rotation, but Matt Moore is having a real problem throwing strikes this spring. Like 15 walks in 14.1 innings problem. Chris Archer had a strong rookie season and rookie Jake Odorizzi will replace Hellickson for the time being. Tampa always seems to crank out quality young starters, but with Moore struggling and Odorizzi projecting as more of a back-end arm than anything else, their staff seems more vulnerable than it has been at any point in the last five of six years.
After getting great production from one-year gems like Casey Kotchman and Jeff Keppinger, the Rays doubled down on James Loney and re-signed him to a three-year, $21M contract this offseason. That is the largest free agent contract the team had handed out since the current ownership group took over in 2005. Full seasons of Wil Myers and David DeJesus should boost an offense — DeJesus isn’t great, but remember, he’s replacing Sam Fuld — that ranked third in baseball with a 108 wRC+ last summer. Going from Rodney and Wright to Balfour and Bell is probably an upgrade, especially in terms in 2014 performance. Rodney and Wright are 37 and 39, after all. Tampa improved this winter after winning 92 games a wildcard spot a year ago, so of course they’ll be right back in the thick of the race this year.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Notable Additions: C Dioner Navarro
Notable Losses: C J.P. Arencibia, OF Rajai Davis, RHP Josh Johnson
It’s unbelievable the Blue Jays did nothing this winter, isn’t it? They made all those moves last offseason and were such a colossal disappointment in 2013, yet nothing. They signed Navarro, who was nearly out of baseball three years ago. GM Alex Anthopoulos appeared to be playing the board a bit with the pitching market, presumably hoping to grab Jimenez or Ervin Santana on a cheap contract, but instead came up empty. The rotation includes the reliable Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey, the unpredictable Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, and righty Drew Hutchison fresh off Tommy John surgery.
I guess the good news for Toronto is that their offense is dynamite, at least when healthy. Edwin Encarnacion might be the most unheralded great hitter in the game (82 BB, 66 XBH, 62 K in 2013) and Jose Bautista is still a force, so the middle of the order is set. Colby Rasmus has a ton of power and others like Melky Cabrera, Adam Lind, and Brett Lawrie will contribute from time to time. Jose Reyes is dynamic but also prone to injury, and sure enough an MRI revealed a minor hamstring strain just yesterday. He might not be ready for the start of the season. Ryan Goins, who is slated to be the regular second baseman, will move over to replace Reyes to short if need be. He might be the worst everyday player in baseball. In the conversation, at least. The Blue Jays are banking on health and steps forward from guys like Hutchison and Rasmus to improve the team, and even if they get that, they still might only be the fourth or fifth best team in the division.
* * *
On paper, I think you can argue the Yankees are anywhere from the best to fourth best team in the division. They’ve obviously upgraded but so have the Rays and Orioles, all while the Red Sox lost some key pieces. The top four teams in the division are more scrunched together this season, which means the race will be more tougher and more exciting deep into the season. Injuries and unexpected performances, both good and bad, will play an even bigger role in determining the AL East this summer. The division is again very good and there are four teams to be reckoned with. (Sorry, Blue Jays.)
The Red Sox demolished the Yankees in Yankee Stadium last weekend, or at least they demolished their pitching staff. The Bombers had no answer for Boston’s lineup in the first three games. The rivalry moves to Fenway Park this weekend for three huge games. Huge for New York, that is.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Red Sox lost to the Rays yesterday but otherwise took two of three in Tampa. They’ve won eleven of their last 14 games and own the league’s best record and run differential at 89-59 and +167, respectively. Boston leads the AL East by seven games in the loss column and has the division all but wrapped up with a little more than two weeks to play.
At 5.2 runs per game with a team 113 wRC+, Boston is one of the very best hitting teams in all the land. They have a 136 wRC+ as a team over the last two weeks. That’s an entire lineup hitting almost like Robinson Cano (140 wRC+) for a two week period. Insane. The Red Sox are without their catalyst CF Jacoby Ellsbury (111 wRC+), who has a broken bone in his foot and hopes to return in time for the postseason. Here’s their only injured position player.
It seems like manager John Farrell has nothing but good hitters in his lineup, and that’s because he usually does. 2B Dustin Pedroia (112 wRC+), OF Shane Victorino (118 wRC+), DH David Ortiz (149 wRC+), 1B Mike Napoli (124 wRC+), OF Daniel Nava (128 wRC+), and SS Stephen Drew (103 wRC+) play pretty much everyday. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (106 wRC+) catches regularly while OF Jonny Gomes (101 wRC+) subs in against left-handers. 3B Will Middlebrooks (91 wRC+) has been excellent for a few weeks now. That’s pretty much the regular lineup right there.
1B Mike Carp (152 wRC+ in limited time) has been a force off the bench and headlines the group of reserves. Backup C David Ross (82 wRC+ in limited time) usually plays against lefties and OF Jackie Bradley Jr. (58 wRC+) has seen more playing time with Ellsbury hurt. Top prospect IF Xander Bogaerts (106 wRC+ in very limited time) hasn’t played all that much since coming up last month. September call-ups C Ryan Lavarnway, IF John McDonald, UTIL Brandon Snyder, and pinch-runner OF Quintin Berry fill out the rest of the position player crop.
Starting Pitching Matchups
Friday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP John Lackey
Lackey, 34, is having his best season as a Red Sox (Sock?) thanks to his new elbow. He has a 3.48 ERA (3.72 FIP) in 26 starts with very good walk (1.98 BB/9 and 5.3 BB%) and ground ball (47.4%) rates. His strikeout (7.70 K/9 and 20.9 K%) and homer (1.13 HR/9 and 12.5% HR/FB) totals are just okay though. Lackey has thrown six different pitches this year but he leans heavily on three: his low-90s four-seamer, mid-80s cutter, and upper-70s curve. He’s thrown those pitches roughly 90% of the time combined. A low-90s two-seamer, mid-80s changeup, and mid-80s slider are rarely used fourth, fifth, and sixth offerings. Lackey has a big reverse split this year — lefties have a .290 wOBA against him while righties are at .341 — for whatever reason. That’s an outlier compared to the rest of his career. The Yankees scored seven runs against Lackey in 5.2 innings last weekend and still managed to lose.
Saturday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Jon Lester
The 29-year-old Lester has had a very up and down (and up again) season. He’s sitting on a 3.86 ERA (3.66 FIP) with strikeout (7.45 K/9 and 19.5 K%) and walk (2.84 BB/9 and 7.4 BB%) rates that are damn near identical his disaster season a year ago. His ground ball rate (43.9%) has dropped and yet he’s giving up significantly fewer homers (0.84 HR/9 and 8.4% HR/FB), which doesn’t really make sense considering his home ballpark. Lester’s four-seam fastball recently jumped back into the mid-90s and he’s shelved his upper-80s cutter. That was the pitch he fell in love with and got him into trouble. A low-90s sinker, mid-80s changeup, and mid-70s curveball round out his repertoire. Lester held New York to three runs in eight innings — the rare complete-game loss — last weekend. These two have seen each other plenty of times over the years. No surprises.
Sunday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Clay Buchholz
Buchholz, 28, just came off the DL after missing more than three months with a neck problem. He held the Rays scoreless for five innings in his first start back and has a stellar 1.61 ERA (2.40 FIP) in 13 games this season. His strikeout (8.76 K/9 and 25.4 K%) and ground ball (48.4%) rates are very good, his walk rate (3.02 BB/9 and 8.8 BB%) is pretty good, and his homer rate (0.20 HR/9 and 3.0% HR/FB) is off the charts. Unsustainably off the charts. Buchholz will rarely throw his low-90s two-seamer, instead preferring his low-to-mid-90s four-seamer and upper-80s cutter when setting up his knockout low-80s changeup. He’ll also throw upper-70s curveballs. The Yankees have seen Buchholz a bunch of times over the years including twice this year: one run in seven innings in April and five scoreless innings in June.
Farrell’s bullpen is in decent shape, though both closer RHP Koji Uehara (1.68 FIP) and RHP Junichi Tazawa (3.13 FIP) have pitched twice in the last three days. That could impact their availability at some point this weekend. Uehara has retired 34 straight batters and it would be neat if that streak ended this weekend. Actually, I’d rather not see him at all. RHP Brandon Workman (3.48 FIP) has become a trusted late-inning reliever but threw two innings on Wednesday. LHP Craig Breslow (3.74 FIP) is Farrell’s top southpaw. LHP Drake Britton (3.15 FIP in limited time), LHP Franklin Morales (4.93 FIP in limited time) and LHP Matt Thornton (4.07 FIP) make up the rest of the bullpen alongside September call-ups RHP Rubby De La Rosa and RHP Allen Webster.
Joe Girardi, on the other hand, has a tired and worn out bullpen. Mariano Rivera has pitched each of the last three days and four of the last five, throwing 84 total pitches since Sunday. Hard to believe he’ll be available tonight, but I said the same thing yesterday. David Robertson has appeared in back-to-back games after missing about a week with shoulder fatigue. Boone Logan is still unavailable because his elbow is barking. Shawn Kelley might be the closer and a bunch of call-ups might be the setup men tonight. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for a breakdown of the carnage, then check out Over The Monster for the latest and greatest on the Red Sox.
Ivan Nova was a punching bag last season. I think that’s a fair way to put it. He allowed an MLB-high 87 extra-base hits despite only throwing the 83rd most innings (170.1) in baseball, and opponents tagged him for a .288/.349/.511 batting line. Nova turned every hitter he faced last summer into someone resembling 2010 Nick Swisher (.288/.359/.511). He was terrible.
Things have been much different this year, particularly of late. Nova was just named the AL Pitcher of the Month for August and has a 2.06 ERA in 74.1 innings and ten starts since officially rejoining the rotation in July. Opponents have hit .224/.297/.294 against him during those ten starts, which is slightly better than 2013 Chris Stewart (.215/.288/.280). He’s been a rotation godsend.
As David Golebiewski at Baseball Analytics showed today, Nova’s success this year stems from his ability to keep his fastball down. Scrapping his slider in favor of a curveball helped as well, but keeping the fastball down — the heat maps above show how much his location has improved — has been crucial in limiting extra-base hits. Opponents slugged .597 (!) off his heater in 2012, but this year that sits at just .397. The league average for starting pitchers is .443, according to Golebiewski.
The Red Sox are one of the better low fastball hitting teams in the baseball — slugging an MLB-best .505 against low heaters according to Golebiewski — so the key for Nova in tonight’s start is going to be that curveball. Breaking out his rarely used changeup and possibly showing some sliders as a change of pace pitch could be in order as well. Nova is excelling because he’s keeping his fastball down and the Red Sox are mashing because they hit those low fastballs. The Yankees will have to adjust accordingly in tonight’s opener.