Another Red Sox Maineiacs poll has come to a close. This week’s question asked what it is you wanted to get in return for Kevin Youkilis. Which is timely, since you may have heard he was traded this week. A starting pitcher and prospects tied 5-5-2-1-0-0. I suppose all ten of those voters got their wish when we acquired Zach Stewart. He will be made into a starting pitcher at Pawtucket, despite pitching out of the ChiSox bullpen some this year. I guess you could still call him a prospect too, although his star has faded considerably since his younger days and several franchises ago. Funny, no votes came in for a 28-year-old super utility player with a .214 career batting average, but we got one of those too in Brent Lillibridge. All in all, not a killing by the Red Sox, but at least we have solved the corner infielder cluster and we can get on with the business of winning baseball games.
Speaking of Zach Stewart, he was sharp in his Pawtucket debut on Wednesday night, retiring 12 in a row at one point and holding the Charlotte Knights scoreless through five innings before surrendering three hits and a run in the sixth. His line for the night:
5 2/3 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 4 K, 0 BB
Remember back on May 10 when the Red Sox fell to seven games under .500 at 12-19? Remember when Josh Beckett should be traded and Valentine should be fired and we should blow up the team for prospects and re-build for the future? Seems like a long time ago now.
Today is a bright day in Red Sox nation. The Sox are five games above .500 for the first time in 2012 and are tied for third place in the AL East with the Rays. The Sox head out west for a seven game road trip in Seattle and Oakland. Even though Oakland has played some good baseball (one of only 8 teams in the AL with a + run differential at +3), these are two teams that we should be able to beat up on. A 5-2 record sounds about right for this trip. We return home after the trip for a huge series with the Yankees before the All-Star break.
There is a lot of credit to go around for the Red Sox’ recent surge. We’ve now gone 11-3 in our last 14 games. We’ve had solid starting pitching, our bullpen has been downright brilliant, we’ve had pop in our bats, and our youthful exuberance has been a sparkplug. But I think the biggest kudos should go out to everybody’s favorite lightning rod, Bobby Valentine. I’ve said it once on here and I’ll say it again - he should be the frontrunner at the midway point of the season for AL Manager of the Year.
Further proof that the Boston media wants nobody to be happy, and that there are so many media sharks in the pool that the slightest whiff of blood makes them come running (swimming?) furiously to be the first one to get a story out on the record, comes this report from Alex Speier at the WEEI.com blog So let me get this straight, Buchholz spent five days in the hospital, including two in the ICU, so he’s not going to fly to Seattle with the team. Seems reasonable. A friend of his asked him to come to a charity event since he didn’t have baseball games to go to. Also seems reasonable. But wait. Alex Speier wants to be able to print a juicy story so that his Twitter feed blows up and his blog gets a ton of views and he gets invited onto local TV and radio shows and he is solely responsible for this HUGE scandalous story! So let’s add some juicy tidbits:
The “charity” event was at MGM Foxwoods Casino/Resort, meaning Clay was probably out drinking, gambling, and womanizing until the wee morning hours because that’s what people do at Foxwoods!!!!
There was a pool party as part of the fundraiser that was sponsored by Stoli Vodka, meaning Clay surely got free booze and was partying poolside while fresh out of the hospital and not on the team plane to Seattle!!!!
This is the next Golfgate! This is a scandal! Let’s have a 24-hour media cycle where every Sox media personality gets on their high horse and screams about how these Sox pitchers “don’t get it”!!!!
Back to the State of the Sox: the most interesting development to watch over the next 2-3 weeks is to see how returning players are re-inserted into roles. This team as currently structured is rolling (again, 11-3 people). However, players are going to start coming back off the DL in waves. Let’s break it down into pitchers and hitters:
Pitchers: Buchholz should be ready to go in a week or so. Hopefully he’s the same pitcher when he returns as he was in his five starts (4-0, 2.53 ERA) before being hospitalized. Josh Beckett is set to return to the rotation Saturday night in Seattle. With everybody healthy, you assume their rotation looks like this:
However, Franklin Morales has been so good as a starter that they almost have to find a way to keep giving him starts until he falters. He gets another chance to prove he belongs tonight in Seattle, matched up against King Felix. Aaron Cook is also still floating around. Quite a crowded rotation with everyone healthy.
Andrew Bailey is also about ready to return to the bullpen. I would think they would want to leave Fettuccine Alfredo Aceves alone as the closer for now, and add Bailey to the 8th inning mix along with Vicente Padilla. If it were up to me, Matt Albers would be the odd man out for a demotion or DFA.
Outfield: By far the most interesting Red Sox storyline of July, to me, will be how they handle the outfield. Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish have been two catalysts for the recent stretch of outstanding baseball this team has played. Cody Ross has raked since coming back off the DL. However, once Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford return healthy, they will be the everyday CF and LF. That leaves the RF spot, and Ross will be a big part of that. Also, Ryan Sweeney is set to return soon. By my count, that is six outfielders who all deserve a shot at playing time, not even counting Darnell McDonald, Scott Podsednik, and Brent Lillibridge. Holy cluster Batman.
Perhaps my biggest concern of all is Crawford. If he comes back and struggles initially, the Nation is going to be RELENTLESS with bashing him, and will probably resort to booing him and chanting “we want Nava” when he comes to the plate. And here’s the thing: he will almost certainly struggle initially upon his return. It’s very difficult to just step back into a major league lineup and play well immediately. He needs to be given about two full weeks of rope to get himself re-acclimated. Unfortunately, he’ll probably get about four days. Ellsbury will probably be given longer because he is more of a fan favorite and he had a monster 2011, whereas Crawford’s 2011 was an abomination.
Out of this cluster, here’s what this one fan would do:
Lillibridge (super utility)
Here are Daniel Nava’s 2012 RH/LH splits:
|vs RHP as LHB||39||111||89||32||13||0||1||18||15||21||.360||.477||.539||1.017||48||6||.456||123||172|
|vs LHP as RHB||23||47||38||8||2||0||1||7||7||6||.211||.326||.342||.668||13||0||.219||46||82|
Here are Ryan Sweeney’s 2012 RH/LH splits:
|vs RHP as LHB||47||163||153||48||16||1||0||13||8||32||.314||.350||.431||.781||66||.393||113||108|
|vs LHP as LHB||16||20||18||2||1||0||0||0||1||7||.111||.158||.167||.325||3||.182||-11||1|
As you can see, both have been good against RHP, making both a good candidate for platoon duty. Whichever one doesn’t see regular playing time in a platoon should probably be put on the trading block. Either one would probably be able to get an arm or a prospect or two in return.
Ryan Kalish should probably be sent down to AAA to continue playing every day. I hate to say it with the way he has played in Boston, but if the Red Sox need to put together a big package for a big name to improve the major league club before the deadline, Kalish might be involved. Crawford is blocking LF, Ross and Sweeney were just added this year, and Jackie Bradley Jr. and Bryce Brentz aren’t far behind him in the system. That said, I would be fine with handing him the everyday RF job starting in 2013.
Scott Podsednik and Darnell McDonald should be given their walking papers in one form or another.
A new poll will go up later today, probably in reference to the outfield issue one way or another.
That’s my opinion, we welcome yours...in the comments section, below. Until next time, Go Sox!