Archive for Boston Red Sox

So the guy with the $140M contract is going to play for a guy that used to manage in Japan? Come on!
(AP)

A few days ago, the Red Sox and Dodgers completed a potentially franchise-altering trade.  Boston sent underachieving malcontents Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez (who is actually still pretty good) plus Nick Punto to suddenly-loaded LA.  In return they received several solid prospects, the thoroughly mediocre James Loney, and most importantly, massive salary relief.  It was shocking to see a wealthy big market team unload all this talent for pennies on the dollar, truly a fire sale that only Tobias Funke could properly dramatize.

The deal will have a major impact on the Red Sox and Dodgers for years to come, and the reverberations could be felt throughout the league.  The Red Sox significantly increased their flexibility by shedding some $260 million in future contract obligations, allowing them to be big players on the free agent market in 2012 and in upcoming seasons.  While the 2012′s free agent class is not considered a stacked group, they could have room in the budget to sign several impact free agents.  These could include such notables as Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton, both incredibly talented players (albeit with risks attached).  If the Red Sox choose to spend big this offseason, it could be reminiscent of the Yankees’ spending spree in the 2008-2009 offseason, in which they signed Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett.

As we remember, these signings contributed heavily to the Yankees’ 2009 World Series title, so a similar splurge by the Red Sox could have them back in contention in a hurry.  However, failing several big acquisitions, it is difficult to see the Red Sox being serious playoff contenders in 2013 and possibly 2014.  While they have some talent remaining on the team and some intriguing players down on the farm (Xander Bogaerts, Matt Barnes, and Jackie Bradley Jr. especially), it is hard to see that roster being a serious threat to win the AL East.  Consequently, they will need to decide whether they are doing a full rebuild, or a Yankees-esque reload.  If they go big on the current free agent class, they risk burdening themselves with the types of big expensive contracts that got them into this mess in the first place.  However, a rebuild will likely doom them to non-competitiveness for several years, and this may have significant financial ramifications.

Assuming Boston doesn’t go for the full reload in 2013, the Yankees should be the AL East frontrunners, with the Rays as the main competition.  This is especially the case if Baltimore comes back to earth after a 2012 season that seems somewhat fluky.  Toronto will likely not have the same number of injuries again, but I don’t think that team has enough impact talent to be a competitor yet.

The defanging of the Red Sox definitely helps the Yankees in the short term, but how about the long term?  A lot of that depends on how the Red Sox end up deploying their newly-acquired flexibility.  The Yankees likely won’t be huge spenders on the free agent market over the next two years if they are serious about adhering to the austerity budget.  If Boston hasn’t loaded up on big free agents after 2012 or 2013, they could be serious competitors for some big name players that could hit the market in 2014 , most notably Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez.  The trade could also put Boston in the position to build a sustainable powerhouse if they are more fortunate with their free agent signing and hit it big on with a few of their prospects.  One question, however, could be whether Boston’s willingness to dump players recently signed to long-term contracts shows a lack of loyalty, and could make it difficult for them to attract free agents.  I think money talks ultimately, but that could be a tie-breaker.

While they are not in the same league as the Yankees, the sudden willingness of the Dodgers to spend big to acquire impact players should draw the attention of Yankee fans.  We are largely used to a unipolar landscape where the Yankees are the dominant franchise financially, capable of outbidding all comers to acquire their choice free agents.  There have been some exceptions to this paradigm of late, most notably the Yankees’ failure to sign Cliff Lee, but it largely has held true.  Seeing the new-money Dodgers throw that kind of cash around  begs the question of how much they are willing to spend to make their team a World Series contender.  Could they even outspend the Evil Empire?  After this big trade, they are pretty close, and if they are willing to spend even more money, they could be a force to be reckoned with on the free agent market.

Ultimately, the Yankees will be fine, but there is no doubt that this deal is a potential game-changer.  The Yankees may not be able to count on being able to sign all the best free agents to fill their holes, as fewer top guys have been hitting the market, and more teams have the financial resources to compete for the ones that do.  The Red Sox suddenly have huge flexibility to bring in new impact players, while the Dodgers showed a willingness to spend at Yankee-esque levels to become relevant.  In the short term, the Yankees should maintain their hold on the AL East, but they certainly can’t get too comfortable at their perch.

Categories : Musings
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Three-run dinger in his first at-bat last night. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Blame Robert Andino. Had the Orioles’ utility infielder not laced that single off Jonathan Papelbon last September, the Red Sox would have remained alive in the postseason hunt and none of this probably happens. Instead, the ball found grass and the dominoes started to fall when Terry Francona and Theo Epstein walked away from the organization last winter. Papelbon moved on as a free agent, new manager Bobby Valentine was brought in (by ownership?), and the losing resumed.

The Red Sox are mired in fourth place in the AL East, closer to having the worst record in the circuit than they are a Wild Card spot. Prior to last night’s game, Boston was 74-88 in their last 162 contests despite a payroll north of $170M. GM Ben Cherington (Epstein’s replacement) took a drastic step to improve his team yesterday, completed a trade that can be legitimately described as franchise-altering. Heading to the Dodgers are Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto, and $12M. Coming back are James Loney, prospects Allen Webster, Rubby DeLaRosa, Jerry Sands, Ivan DeJesus, and roughly $260M of cleared future payroll.

You can make a really strong case that this is one of the biggest trades in baseball history, certainly one of the biggest during my lifetime. Prior to this move, only one player with more than $100M remaining on his contract had ever been traded — Alex Rodriguez when he came to the Yankees in 2004. Both Gonzalez (~$109M) and Crawford (~$107M) are still owed nine figures after this year. A trade of this magnitude has a ripple effect throughout baseball, including an indirect impact on the Yankees. Here are some miscellaneous thoughts on the trade…

  • I think the deal is just flat-out brilliant on Cherington’s part. Yes, he did surrender one truly great player in Gonzalez, but in the process he rid himself of two of the most out-of-favor players in team history. Clearing a quarter-billion dollars in payroll and getting real live prospects in return is the stuff GM dreams are made of.
  • While the Red Sox made a great move for the long-term health of the franchise, the short-term damage is severe. David Ortiz may miss the rest of the season, which means they’ve have very little power in the lineup, particularly from the left side. They’ll have to find two corner outfielders, a first baseman, and maybe a DH after the season (more on that in a bit). That’s not easy to do. On top of that they have to replace Beckett in an already porous rotation.
  • On the other end of the deal, pretty bad job by the Dodgers to absorb that much money and give up those kinds of prospects. That said, they just acquired an impact first baseman, a potential impact starter, and a potential impact outfielder for what amounts to one Albert Pujols financially. The future might be ugly, but that team has a phenomenal chance to win now.
  • For more about the prospects involved, check out my MLBTR post. I really like DeLaRosa, that kid has a great arm. He’s not the next Pedro Martinez or anything, but his mid-90s fastball/power slider combination is true swing-and-miss stuff. Getting him alone would have been a coup for the Sox, but getting another strong pitching prospect in Webster and a useful role player in Sands is icing on the cake. DeJesus is just roster fodder in my eyes.
  • I couldn’t be happier that Gonzalez is out of the AL East. He is having a down year — a 114 wRC+ with Boston after three straight years of 140+ and six straight years of 120+ — but the guy still scared the crap out of me whenever he was at the plate. Gonzalez remains a terrifyingly good hitter and not having to see him 18+ times a year is a win for the Yankees.
  • It must be nice to free up all that cash, but that was only half the battle. The Red Sox have been pretty terrible when it comes to signing free agents lately, plus the new Collective Bargaining Agreements mean they can’t just dump all that money into the draft and international free agency. Reinvesting the savings wisely is much, much easier said than done.
  • I fully expect Boston to pursue Nick Swisher this offseason. They’re going to be looking for a first baseman as well as corner outfield help, and he provides both in addition to being a switch-hitter and all that. He makes a ton of sense for them. If a happens, hopefully they give him that Jayson Werth contract he wants.
  • There’s a pretty good chance that starting with 2010, the Red Sox could miss the playoffs for five consecutive years. This season will already be year number three, and although they have the ability to turn it around quickly, I’m not giving the new GM the benefit of the doubt just yet. This isn’t exactly a soft division. (h/t Jamal G.)
  • Here’s the question: are the Red Sox done selling off players? There will absolutely be a market for Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia this winter, though I can’t imagine Pedroia would go. Ellsbury sure, Lester maybe, but not Pedroia. That would be a stunner. At the same time, I can seem them signing all three to contract extensions and move forward with them as the core. Will be interesting to watch.

Lastly, I consider the trade to be an indication that Bobby V. will be back as manager next season. Instead of firing him they got rid of Gonzalez, a great player and one of his most outspoken subordinates. These rebuild things tend to happen step-by-step — first the coaches go, then the manager goes, then finally the team realizes it’s the players who needed the change. The Sox fired their pitching coach last week, then skipped right over the “fire the manager” step and dumped some players. Regardless of what happens with Valentine, yesterday was a monumental day for the Red Sox in terms of their rebuilding effort, and that’s generally bad news for the Yankees.

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Saturday: It’s a done deal. The Sox are sending Beckett, Gonzalez, Crawford, and Punto to the Dodgers for James Loney and four prospects — RHP Allen Webster, RHP Rubby De La Rosa, IF Ivan DeJesus, and OF/1B Jerry Sands. Boston is paying just $12M of the $270M+ they’re dumping. Pretty crazy. I’ll have some more analysis on how this indirectly impacts the Yankees sometime this weekend.

Friday: Via Gordon Edes, the Dodgers and Red Sox are working on a blockbuster trade that would send Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto to Los Angeles. Both Beckett and Gonzalez were claimed off trade waivers by the Dodgers earlier today while Crawford and Punto cleared earlier this month. For what it’s worth, Edes says the two sides are “closing in” on a deal.

First of all: holy crap. Second of all: why couldn’t it be Pedro Ciriaco instead of Punto? Third of all: Boston clearing that much money would be bad for the Yankees, at least in the sense that the Sawx could theoretically spend the savings elsewhere to improve the team. That’s much easier said than done, of course. Either way, this would be some kind of trade, potentially the largest of my lifetime considering the caliber of players and the size of the contracts involved.

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I’m sure that was a not at all awkward conversation. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

This is going to be a much different Yankees-Red Sox series than we’re used to seeing, at least in terms of its impact on the standings. We’re still going to have to sit through four-hour games and all the FOX/ESPN stuff, but in terms on actual impact, there is little to be gained or lost this weekend. The Yankees are far out in front of the rest of the AL East pack, the Red Sox way back.

What Have They Done Lately?

Other than a revolt against manager Bobby Valentine, the Sox are coming off a series-salvaging win over the Orioles yesterday. They lost two of three in Baltimore and ten of their last 15 games overall. At 58-61 with a +36 run differential, Boston is 13 games back of New York in the division race.

Offense

Hate you, Pedro. (REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

The Red Sox can still score runs despite their underwhelming season, averaging 4.9 runs per game with a team 101 wRC+. The Yankees are catching a bit of a break this weekend because David Ortiz (165 wRC+) is still out with his Achilles injury. That alone will save the Yankees like, six runs this weekend. He just kills them. Will Middlebrooks (121 wRC+), Daniel Nava (113 wRC+), and Ryan Sweeney (78 wRC+) are also on the DL.

Among the players that are healthy, you still have the very dangerous Adrian Gonzalez (117 wRC+), Cody Ross (126 wRC+), and Dustin Pedroia (102 wRC+). Carl Crawford (114 wRC+) is hitting well despite his imminent Tommy John surgery, though Jacoby Ellsbury (91 wRC+) has yet to really get it going since returning from his shoulder injury. The rest of the offense is filled out by the likes of Scott Podsednik (144 wRC+ in limited time), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (95 wRC+), Mike Aviles (77 wRC+), Nick Punto (60 wRC+), Ryan Lavarnway (-8 wRC+ in limited time), and Danny Valencia (-57 wRC+ in limited time). The always annoying Pedro Ciriaco (121 wRC+) will be, in fact, annoying. Because they’re carrying 13 pitchers, the Sox only have a three-man bench.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP Franklin Morales
The Yankees have seen Morales a number of times this season, both as a starter and as a reliever. The 26-year-old southpaw has pitched to a 3.29 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 68.1 innings this season, with an excellent strikeout rate (9.22 K/9 and 24.6 K%) to go along with decent walk (3.56 BB/9 and 9.5 BB%) and ground ball (40.3%) numbers. Morales legitimately sits in the mid-90s with both his two and four-seamer, backing them up with a low-80s changeup and a mid-70s curveball. He has a rather significant platoon split — righties have gotten to him for a .317 wOBA, lefties just .218 — so it’s a good time to stack dem righties.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Saturday: RHP David Phelps vs. LHP Jon Lester
It’s been a very difficult year for Lester (5.20 ERA and 3.91 FIP), though he is coming off a one-run, six-inning, 12-strikeout performance against the Indians. His strikeout (7.90 K/9 and 20.5 K%) and ground ball (47.3%) percentages are his lowest since becoming a full-time starter five years ago, though his walk rate (2.69 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%) is his best ever. Lester, 28, is mostly low-90s with the four-seamer and sinker these days, and he tends to fall in love with his upper-80s cutter at times. That’s been blamed for his struggles this season, but whether it’s actually true is another thing. A mid-80s changeup and mid-70s curveball are his offspeed weapons of choice. The Yankees and their fans have seen an awful lot of Lester through the years, both the good and bad versions.

Sunday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Josh Beckett
The other half of Boston’s disappointing frontline starter duo, the 32-year-old Beckett has posted a 5.19 ERA (4.14 FIP) in 20 starts this year while missing time with back and thumb issues. His strikeout rate (6.53 K/9 and 17.0 K%) is a career-low and his ground ball rate (40.8%) continues to trend downward from his first few years in Boston. Beckett still does limit walks well (2.60 BB/9 and 17.0 BB%), so he does have that going for him. Thanks to a rather noticeable drop-off in velocity, he now sits in the upper-80s/low-90s with his two-seamer, four-seamer, and cutter. His upper-80s changeup doesn’t have much separation from his fastball these days, which is why it’s been one of his least effective offerings. Beckett’s mid-70s curveball is still a knockout pitch, but he hasn’t done a good job of getting ahead in the count so he could put hitters away with it. Like Lester, we’ve seen everything this guy has to offer through the years.

The AL East hasn’t been kind to Mr. Melancon. (REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

Bullpen Status
The Sox are carrying 13 pitchers but only seven of them are relievers because they’re currently rolling with a six-man rotation. Clay Buchholz threw eight innings yesterday, so closer and former Yankee Al Aceves (3.93 FIP) was the only pitcher used out of the bullpen. He only threw 15 pitches as well, so for all intents and purposes, Bobby V.’s relief corps is as fresh as can be.

Vicente Padilla (3.56 FIP) is currently on the DL, so there will be no Mark Teixeira-induced fireworks this weekend. For shame. Scott Atchison (2.77 FIP) and Rich Hill (3.02 FIP) are also the shelf at the moment. The setup onus belongs to the recently activated Andrew Bailey (0.1 IP so far) and the left-handed Andrew Miller (3.23 FIP). Craig Breslow (3.54 FIP) gives them another solid matchup lefty. The rest of the Boston bullpen is filled out by former Yankee Mark Melancon (5.60 FIP), former Rockie Clayton Mortensen (4.30 FIP), and former Alex Rodriguez punching bag Junichi Tazawa (2.50 FIP). Overall, the Red Sox’s bullpen has pitched to a 3.35 ERA (3.85 FIP) this season.

The Yankees are in decent but not great bullpen shape after yesterday’s late-inning debacle. Both David Robertson and Rafael Soriano are well-rested, and Derek Lowe should be good to go now four days removed from his 44-pitch, four-inning save. Everyone else is a little taxed though. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the full details and Over The Monster for the best independent Red Sox coverage around.

Categories : Series Preview
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(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

And so we meet again. The Yankees and Red Sox still have a dozen games left to play this season, including nine at Yankee Stadium. The first three of those nine will be played this weekend. The Yankees have won five of six against their greatest historic rival this year.

What Have They Done Lately?

Boston just lost two of three to the Rangers and have lost five of their last six overall. They’re just 8-13 in July and currently sit in last place in the AL East at 49-50. Their +34 run differential is the fifth best in the league and they’re five games out of a wildcard spot.

Offense

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The Red Sox can score some runs, ranking third in baseball at 4.90 runs per game. Their team 101 wRC+ rankings eighth in baseball. This series is highlighted by injuries, with Alex Rodriguez (hand) and Nick Swisher (hip) on the shelf for the Yankees while Boston will be without David Ortiz (165 wRC+). He is, by far, their best hitter but will miss the series with an Achilles problem. Excuse me while I go shed a tear.

Cody Ross (126 wRC+) and Will Middlebrooks (123 wRC+) have been the Red Sox’s best hitters among those who are actually healthy, though Adrian Gonzalez is an awful lot better than his 101 wRC+ suggests. Both Jacoby Ellsbury (91 wRC+) and Carl Crawford (38 wRC+) are back from the DL and in their usual outfield spots. Crawford actually gets lifted for defense in the late innings because his elbow is still giving him problems. Dustin Pedroia (91 wRC+) did not play the last time these two clubs met but will be in the lineup this weekend.

Outside of the catcher platoon — Kelly Shoppach (123 wRC+ vs. RHP) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (117 wRC+ vs. LHP) — there isn’t much bite to the rest of the lineup. Mike Aviles (78 wRC+) and Nick Punto (70 wRC+) are awful and Pedro Ciriaco (120 wRC+) is just 11-for-41 (.268) with no walks since crushing the Yankees in Fenway Park a few weeks ago. Daniel Nava (114 wRC+) has cooled down in a big way, ditto Ryan Sweeney (82 wRC+). The Red Sox can score runs in bunches, but Ortiz’s absence is a huge boon for the Yankees.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Aaron Cook
Cook, a 33-year-old sinkerballer, is having a rather fascinating season. He’s made six starts and thrown 36 innings, but he’s struck out just three (!) hitters. That works out to a 0.75 K/9 and a 2.1 K%. Cook’s also walked three hitters while getting a ground ball on 60.6% of his balls in play. That’s like Chien-Ming Wang to the extreme. It’s crazy. Cook throws his upper-80s sinker more than 80% of the time while mixing in a mid-80s slider against righties and a mid-70s curveball against lefties. I’m very curious to see how this goes tonight.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Saturday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Jon Lester
There is no sugarcoating it, Lester has been pretty awful this year. His 4.18 FIP is fine but his 5.46 ERA tells a much different story. Last time out, he surrendered 11 runs and 14 baserunners to the Blue Jays in four innings. It’s ugly. Lester’s strikeout rate (7.48 K/9 and 19.0 K%) is his lowest since 2008 and both his homerun (1.20 HR/9) and ground ball (47.2%) rates are his worst since becoming a full-time big leaguer. His walk rate (2.84 BB/9 and 7.2 BB%) is actually right in line with the best years of his career, so at least he has that going for him. Lester will use three low-90s fastballs — four-seamer, sinker, cutter — a mid-80s changeup, and a mid-70s curveball. He did a lot of bullpen work between starts following the disaster against Toronto, so we’ll have to see if he sorted anything out.

Sunday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Felix Doubront
Doubront carried a sub-4.00 ERA into June but has pitched to a 5.29 ERA since. Overall, he owns a 4.54 ERA (4.31 FIP) with a strong strikeout rate (8.83 K/9 and 22.5 K%) but middling walk (3.45 BB/9 and 8.8 BB%) and ground ball (41.7%) rate numbers. He’s quite homer prone (1.35 HR/9) as well. The 24-year-old southpaw goes to work with low-90s two and four-seamers to setup his mid-80s changeup and mid-80s curveball. Right-handers have hit him pretty hard so far this year (.353 wOBA), though he’s done a fine job against the Yankees in two starts (4 ER in 12.2 IP).

Bullpen Status
Both clubs had yesterday off, so their bullpens are fresh. Something tells me they’re going to need them this weekend. The Red Sox own a rock solid 3.11 bullpen ERA (3.54 FIP) and are led by closer Al Aceves (3.67 FIP). Right-hander and noted head-hunter Vicente Padilla (2.59 FIP) sets up from the right side while Andrew Miller (2.76 FIP) gets things done from the left side. Reliever turned starter turned reliever Franklin Morales (3.45 FIP) is the other left-hander in Bobby Valentine’s bullpen. The rest of the bullpen is filled out by righties Matt Albers (5.10 FIP), Mark Melancon (5.64 FIP), and Junichi Tazawa (1.96 FIP). Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the details on the Yankees’ relievers, and check out Over The Monster for the latest and greatest on the Red Sox.

Categories : Series Preview
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Via Gordon Edes, a draft of the 2013 schedule given to the 30 clubs shows that the Yankees will open next season at home with a three-game series against the Red Sox (April 2-4). Since this is just a draft, minor changes are likely and the official schedule will not be finalized until at least September.

Based on Boston’s tentative schedule, it looks like the AL East will be playing the NL West in interleague next year. That means the Dodgers might actually come to Yankee Stadium next season, something that has never happened in interleague play. It’s the only interleague combination not to occur yet — every other team has visited every other ballpark at some point. Given the historic significance of Yankees-Dodgers, baseball really should be ashamed of itself. Hopefully it gets corrected next season.

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(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

The season is halfway over but the Yankees have Red Sox have only played each other twice so far. New York won both games — including that epic 15-9 comeback win — back in April before rain suspended the final game of that would-be three-game series. That rain out will be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader this weekend.

What Have They Done Lately?

Boston was just swept by the Athletics, part of a 2-5 road trip through Seattle and Oakland. Before that they’d won nine of 11 against mostly interleague competition. The Sox are 42-40 with a +50 run differential, good for fourth place in the AL East and the fourth best run differential in the league. I don’t get it either.

Offense

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

With a team 103 wRC+ and a 5.01 runs-per-game average, the Sox have one of the best offenses in baseball. They’re led by the still dynamic David Ortiz (157 wRC+), a legitimate Yankees killer and one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. He’s going to go deep at some point this weekend, just accept it and move on. The Yankees will catch a bit of a break because Dustin Pedroia (94 wRC+) will be placed on the DL with a thumb issue today, and we know how pesky he can be. Hotshot rookie Will Middlebrooks (130 wRC+) is questionable for the weekend as well with a hamstring issue. Good timing, eh?

As for the guys that are healthy, the Red Sox will rely on the disappointing Adrian Gonzalez (92 wRC+), the powerful Jarrod Saltalamacchia (114 wRC+), the scorching hot Daniel Nava (134 wRC+), the dreadful Mike Aviles (80 wRC+), and the bat-flippy Cody Ross (135 wRC+). Ryan Kalish (34 wRC+ in limited time), Brent Lillibridge (7 wRC+), Nick Punto (57 wRC+), Mauro Gomez (19 wRC+ in limited time), and Kelly Shoppach (135 wRC+) round out the rest of the actives. No word on what the roster move will be for Pedroia, but it’s unlikely to be any kind of impact bat. With Kevin Youkilis in Chicago and both Pedroia and Middlebrooks on the bench, Bobby Valentine’s lineup is a lot thinner than we’re used to seeing.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Josh Beckett
A noted Yankees killer (depending on your endpoints), Beckett is making his second start back from the DL after a bout with shoulder inflammation. He held the Mariners to two runs in six innings last week and overall has pitched to a 4.06 ERA (3.74 FIP) in 13 starts this season. Beckett’s strikeouts are way down (6.40 K/9 and 17.4 K%) and he’s still giving up just about a homer-per-nine (0.96 to be exact), though his walk (2.13 BB/9 and 5.8 BB%) and ground ball (42.4%) rates are unchanged from the last few years. His fastball velocity is down about a mile and a half per hour this season, meaning his two-seamer, four-seamer, and cutter now sit low-90s instead of mid-90s. Beckett still has the hammer upper-70s curve and upper-80s changeup. We’ve seen enough of him, the Yankees have seen enough of him … no surprises here.

(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Saturday Game One: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. LHP Franklin Morales
Boston put Morales in the rotation when the Daniel Bard as a starter experiment failed spectacularly and he’s rewarded them by allowing just two runs across 13 innings in his first two starts. His overall season performance — 2.59 ERA (2.66 FIP), 9.50 K/9 (25.4 K%), 2.38 BB/9 (6.4 BB%), and 52.5% grounders in 41.2 IP — has been stellar, the kinda stuff the Rockies were expecting when Baseball America ranked him as the eighth best prospect in the game prior to the 2008 season. Morales uses a pair of mid-90s fastballs from the left side (two and four-seamer) to setup his mid-70s curveball and low-80s changeup. The Yankees have seen him for a whole nine plate appearances — four in April — so they’re pretty much going in blind.

Saturday Game Two: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP Felix Doubront
The starting pitcher for that 15-9 comeback, Doubront carried a 3.86 ERA into June but has since allowed 20 runs in his last 33.1 innings. His season 4.42 ERA is a touch higher than the peripherals (4.19 FIP) but nothing crazy. He can strike guys out (9.13 K/9 and 23.2 K%) but isn’t anything special in the walk (3.41 BB/9 and 8.7 BB%) or ground ball (40.3%) departments. Doubront’s bread-and-butter is a big breaking mid-70s breaking ball, which he’ll setup with low-90s two and four-seamers. He’ll also mix in a mid-80s changeup. It’s worth noting that he ranks ninth in the league in stolen bases allowed, so run run run.

(Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Sunday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. LHP Jon Lester
It’s been subpar year for Boston’s ace left-hander, who’s pitched to a 4.33 ERA (3.63 FIP) with a great walk rate (2.33 BB/9 and 6.2 BB%) but a mediocre strikeout rate (7.33 K/9 and 19.3 K%). He’s been fine as far as the ground balls go (48.2%). Lester uses three low-90s fastballs — sinker, cutter, four-seamer — to go with his mid-70s curve and mid-80s changeup. He gets himself into trouble when he falls in love with the cutter, using it exclusively for periods of time. Lester is still only 28, but he’s gone from being a truly elite starter to just a pretty good one over the last two years. Maybe he’s just burnt out by all the high-intensity innings at such a young age.

Bullpen Status
Like the Yankees, the Red Sox had yesterday off so everyone out in the bullpen is rested. Embedded Yankee Al Aceves (3.24 FIP) has taken over as closer with some rather spectacular meltdowns, but he’s gotten the job done more often than not. Scott Atchison (2.56 FIP) has very quietly been one of the best relievers in baseball this season, working multiple high-leverage innings at a time. Andrew Miller (2.61 FIP) is Bobby V.’s only left-hander. Vicente Padilla (2.88 FIP) has been the primary setup guy while Matt Albers (4.83 FIP) and Mark Melancon (8.56 FIP) handle middle relief work. Melancon has been much better since coming back from Triple-A two or three weeks ago. Right-hander Justin Germano was just recalled for long relief and has yet to appear in a game.

Expect to see quite a bit of Boone Logan and Clay Rapada this weekend, particularly against Ortiz and Gonzalez. My biggest concern is matching up with Cody Eppley, who struggles against southpaws due to his low arm slot. Same with Chad Qualls. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for recent usage details and Over The Monster for the very best Red Sox analysis on the netweb.

Categories : Series Preview
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The Yankees have claimed Darnell McDonald off waivers from the Red Sox, who cut him last weekend. McDonald first broke the news on his Twitter feed and the team has since confirmed the move. He’ll will join the Yankees in Fenway Park on Friday and that’s when the team will make the corresponding 25-man roster move. To make room on the 40-man roster, the recently claimed Chris Schwinden was designated for assignment.

McDonald, 33, has hit just .214/.309/.369 in 99 plate appearances for the Red Sox this year but over the last three seasons he’s hit a respectable .252/.323/.413. He does most of his damage against southpaws, owning a .277/.345/.441 batting line against left-handers in his career. McDonald can play all three outfield spots well enough and is out of options, meaning he can’t be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers.

The Yankees can send David Phelps down following today’s start since CC Sabathia is coming back after the All-Star break, which means they’d have a five-man bench for the Red Sox series. It’s worth noting that Boston is scheduled to start three left-handed pitchers — Jon Lester, Franklin Morales, and Felix Doubront — this weekend. Nice and sneaky little move if they picked up McDonald just for that series.

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Via Maureen Mullen, the Yankees have claimed lefty reliever Justin Thomas off waivers from the Red Sox. Not sure what the corresponding 40-man roster move is, but the Yanks have a ton of 60-day DL candidates so that’s not an issue.

Thomas, 28, has a minor league option left, so I’m assuming he’ll head to Triple-A. He pitched to a 7.71 ERA (3.17 FIP) in seven appearances (4.2 IP) with Boston, allowing two singles and a double to the 12 left-handed batters he’d faced. Thomas has pitched for the Mariners and Pirates in the past, but given how terrible the Sox’s bullpen is, I wouldn’t expect much if they cut him loose.

Update: Just for the sake of completeness, the Yankees have transferred Austin Romine to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man spot for Thomas.

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(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

For the second straight season the Red Sox have gotten off to about as frustrating a start as both the team and fanbase could imagine, stumbling out to a 4-8 record due largely to some utterly abysmal pitching. Boston’s pitching staff — a significant question mark heading into the year — has been horrendous, and is currently dead last in MLB with a 6.20 ERA (an astoundingly bad 6.63 for the bullpen, and an equally poor 5.97 for the starters) and third-to-last with a 4.78 FIP. Somehow the Rays — remember them, the team that swept the Yankees during the first weekend of the season? — actually have a worse bullpen ERA than Boston, at 8.63. I suppose if it’s any consolation to the Fenway faithful, Boston was only 2-10 after its first dozen games in 2011, so it could be worse.

That the Sox have even won four games is a testament to what’s been an exceptionally hot-and-cold offense thus far — one game they’re pasting the opposition with 13 runs, the next getting shutout. The Sox currently rank fifth in the American League in wOBA (.328) and seventh in wRC+ (102), while the Yanks are second in both wOBA (.357) and wRC+ (123). The Sox offense is certainly better than they’ve shown thus far, and, like last April, a visit from their rivals to the south could very well be what helps restore order to the Red Sox.

Of course, the Yankees, at 7-6, have had some of their own issues in the early going as well. Their starting pitching has been nearly as bad as Boston’s, with a 5.59 ERA over 74 innings (for a frame of reference, the 2011 team had a 5.37 ERA over 67 innings through its first 13 games, and were 8-5); however, unlike the Sox, the Yankees feature a bullpen that has been virtually impossible to score on, boasting the lowest ERA in MLB (1.83) by a not-insignificant margin. Additionally, while the Yankee offense has certainly done its job, several key members of the Yankee lineup still have yet to really get going as well — I’m looking at you, Robbie, Alex and Russell — and a visit to one of the friendliest offensive parks in baseball could be just what the doctor ordered.

Today’s 3pm start marks the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, and as a result, both the Sox and Yanks will be wearing throwback jerseys. Per Marc Carig, this is the first time the Yankees have ever worn a throwback jersey (per that same article, the only time the Yankees have played an official game in uniforms other than their own was on a day to celebrate the Negro Leagues in 1996, when the team wore the uniforms of the New York Black Yankees while the Detroit Tigers donned the uniforms of the old Detroit Stars), and it’s quite cool of the franchise to acquiesce and ensure that Boston’s big day is properly recognized considering the history between the two teams.

The Pitching Match-Ups

Friday at 3pm: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Clay Buchholz
Today’s game features Ivan Nova (4.15 ERA/4.06 FIP, 10.4 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 41% GB%), making just his second career start at Fenway, against Clay Buchholz (9.82 ERA/4.45 FIP, 5.7 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 44.7% GB%).

Nova struggled (4.1 innings, 4 ER) in his first start at Boston a year ago — also in a matchup against Buchholz — but the offense bailed him out, in what would be the Yankees’ only win against the Red Sox in the first half of 2011. Nova’s been pretty sharp in his two starts thus far — with a presumably unsustainable K/9 and sub-2 walk rate — although his improved K rate appears to have come at the expense of his HR/9, which currently sits at an also-unsustainable 2.1. Though it’s only been two starts, Nova’s slider appears to not only be here to stay, but also the best weapon in his arsenal.

Buchholz has gotten pretty roughed up in his two starts on the young season, as he makes his way back from missing more than half the season last year. If Buchholz ever finally figures out how to consistently harness his stuff — and it looked like he was on his way to doing so after a masterful outing against the Yanks last May — he’s going to be extremely tough, as he features five pitches each thrown more than 10% of the time: a 94mph four-seamer, 94mph sinker, 81mph changeup, 91mph cutter and a 78mph curveball. However, his average fastball velocity is slightly down thus far (although this appears to a baseball-wide April trend), hasn’t really been striking anyone out and he’s also walking too many guys, so hopefully the Yankees can capitalize on what appears to be a still-rusty Buchholz.

Saturday at 4pm: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. LHP Felix Doubront
The 4pm FOX Saturday Afternoon Game of Death™ features the ugliest matchup of the weekend, Freddy “Sweaty” Garcia (6.97 ERA/5.03 FIP, 7.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 42.4% GB%), against southpaw Felix Doubront (5.40 ERA/2.80 FIP, 11.7 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 27.6% GB%).

Freddy had mixed success against Boston last year, although his one start at Fenway last August was about as good as one could have hoped for, as the Chief gutted out five innings of one-run ball in a game the Yanks really should have won.

Doubront has never started against the Yankees, and only has 4.2 career innings of relief work against the Bombers, holding them to a .188/.235/.275 line across a mere 17 PAs. Doubront’s a hard-throwing lefty with a 93mph heater that he complements with a 92mph sinker and 77mph curveball. He also features a changeup and a cutter. Though it’s quite early, Doubront’s been arguably Boston’s second-best starter behind Daniel Bard, and it’s also tough to predict how he’ll fare turning over a Yankee lineup multiple times. This one could get ugly, my friends.

Sunday at 8pm: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Daniel Bard
And in the ESPN Sunday Night Marathon Heartbreaker™, guaranteed to end well past midnight or your money back, CC Sabathia (5.59 ERA/3.58 FIP, 10.2 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 36.4% GB%) faces the aforementioned set-up-man-turned-starter Bard (4.63 ERA/2.99 FIP, 10.0 K/9, 6.2 BB/9, 59.4% GB%).

CC finally looked like himself during his last go-round against the Twins, and despite the unsightly ERA, he’s striking out the world and limiting the walks. Once he gets his GB% back to the mid-40%s where it belongs, he’ll be his usual unstoppable self. After starting his Yankee career quite auspiciously against the Red Sox, with 28.1 innings of 2.22 ERA/2.21 FIP ball in 2009, Sabathia’s been a bit of a mixed-bag against the Olde Towne Team, falling to 3.96/5.00 over 25 innings in 2010, and getting torched by Boston through his first four starts against them last year, with a 7.20 ERA over 25 innings and losing all four games. Sabathia finally silenced Boston at Fenway last August 30 with a six-inning, two-run bulldog performance.

Bard’s been Boston’s best starter in the early going, racking up the Ks while yet to surrender a home run, although he’s also walking the ballpark (6.2 BB/9). The Yankees know Bard well, but they obviously don’t know him as a starter. As a reliever Bard’s fastball was routinely in the 97-98mph range, but it has understandably been dialed back to around 94mph as a starter. That still makes him one of the hardest-throwing starters in the game, and his slider is a real knockout pitch, coming in 13mph slower than his four-seamer. Bard also throws a sinker and an occasional change.

There had been some rumblings that the Sox might opt to start Jon Lester on Sunday night, as he would be on regular rest, but Bobby Valentine confirmed yesterday that Bard is still slated to start. Frankly, I’m a bit shocked that the Sox haven’t shuffled their rotation so that Josh Beckett and Lester aren’t somehow combining to start all three games, given how the Red Sox routinely bend themselves backwards to make sure their big two start as many contests as possible against the Yankees.

The Prediction

If you read my Red Sox season preview, then you know that the Yankees are 8-22 at Fenway Park during the month of April since 2001, and have only won their annual April set at Fenway against the Red Sox once (back in April 2010) in that 11-year span. Not only that, but prior to their April 2010 series win, the last time the Yankees had won an April set against Boston at Fenway was in 1975. For whatever reason, the Yankees just seem to play terrible ball at Fenway in the early going of any given season.

That said, if the Yanks were ever going to accomplish a rare April Fenway series win, this weekend would arguably be the time, with the Sox pitching staff reeling, neither Beckett nor Lester scheduled to make an appearance, and a bullpen missing its pre-season closer in Andrew Bailey and an 8th-inning guy that apparently can’t get anyone out and as a result was subsequently demoted to Pawtucket. Of course, even with the Sox not performing at their optimal level I still have a hard time envisioning the Yanks taking two of three at the-bandbox-where-no-lead-is-safe, and fully expect Dustin Pedroia — who hit .406/.463/.565 across 81 PAs against the Bombers last year, and has a career .392 OBP vs. the Yanks — to get on base during every plate appearance and help grit and grime Boston to multiple victories. Also, you can book David Ortiz for 18,000 bombs this weekend as well.

In my history of series predictions I seldom call for a Yanks series loss, but given the numbers the smart money here says Boston two out of three. On the flip side, the Twins just won two games in a series at Yankee Stadium for the first time since 2001, so who knows, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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