Today at 3 PM the Yankees and Red Sox renew their rivalry, both donning the same outfits they wore 100 years ago when Fenway Park opened. In honor of the first Yanks/Sox series of the year, Chip Buck of Firebrand of the American League and I exchanged questions about the Yanks and Sox. His answers are after the jump.
I’d like use a lifeline please. No, seriously. As the Red Sox entered Spring Training, the bullpen already contained a number of questions. Chief among those questions being Andrew Bailey’s ability to stay healthy. We all know that turned out. With their closer on the shelf for upwards of four months, additional pressure was placed on the remainder of the bullpen, primarily Aceves and Melancon, to shut down late inning rallies. Almost on cue, Melancon fell apart in epic fashion; thus resulting in his demotion to Pawtucket. To say the bullpen has been a disaster so far would be an understatement of mass proportions.
Outside of Aceves remaining in the closer role, the rest of the bullpen is in shambles. Franklin Morales, Scott Atchison, and Matt Albers seem like the most likely candidates to pitch high leverage innings going forward, but none of them seem particularly well suited for the role. Out of the three, Morales appears to be the best fit. Despite spotty control, he has a power fastball with plus velocity, a devastating change-up, and a decent curve ball. If Morales can step-up and assume the role of primary set-up duties, the Red Sox bullpen should be in decent shape.
2. So…Bobby Valentine. This week has been dominated by his comments regarding Kevin Youkilis. What’s the sense of the Boston fan base when it comes to Bobby V? How has this first half-month gone for him in terms of in game/on field managing and the off-field things that come with managing the Red Sox?
On the scale of “Spectacular” to “Oh, my God! My hair is on fire!” Bobby Valentine’s performance has tilted heavily towards the latter. His performance with regards to player management and off-field issues has been nothing short of a disaster, in large part due to his inability to keep his own mouth shut. Making matters even worse is that he seems completely overmatched as an in-game tactician. For instance, Daniel Bard was cruising along through 6-2/3 innings on Monday before noticeably running out of gas. Rather than remove him from the game, Valentine allowed Bard to face four more batters, which resulted in three walks, one hit, and a run scored. Down 1-0, Valentine mercifully removed Bard with the bases loaded. Rather than call-in Franklin Morales to face the lefty Luke Scott, he called for the 12th man on the pitching staff, Justin Thomas. While Thomas got out of the jam unscathed, Valentine’s decision making process needs to be called into question. If the Red Sox are going to seriously contend for the playoffs, he’ll need to bring in his best relievers to pitch in the most crucial situations. We’re only a dozen games into the season, so I’m willing to chalk this up to Bobby V learning about the pieces of the bullpen. That excuse won’t work for too much longer.
3. Getting back to the field, how concerned are you about the team going forward in terms of health? Jacoby Ellsbury is going to be out for up to eight weeks; Carl Crawford is on the way back, but the OF depth is lacking even with him. Kevin Youkilis is usually banged up and Josh Beckett‘s back is always an issue. Am I being too doomsdayish in this question?
Health and injuries have been a constant concern on the Red Sox every year since 2009, so I don’t think you’re being too doomsdayish. It’s definitely a major concern of mine as well. Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe commented on the Red Sox’s current roster situation yesterday. It is his opinion that nearly half of the 25-man roster is comprised of either bench and minor league players. While I disagree with a couple of his classifications (Ryan Sweeney, Felix Doubront), his assessment is pretty dead on. Currently, the Red Sox have Ellsbury, Crawford, Bailey, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and John Lackey (and their contracts) on the disabled list. When you have that much injured talent, it’s going to be difficult putting together a competitive roster. Luckily, the four of those five players will/should be back at some point this season. Will they be back soon enough to help the Red Sox get back into contention? That remains to be seen.
4. While we’re on the rotation, when we last spoke, you were optimistic about Daniel Bard making the transition to the rotation. It’s obviously horribly early, but how’s it going so far? Has the process matched the results?
Honestly, I’m feeling really good about his performance so far. In his first start, he exhibited good command of all of his pitches, induced 18 whiffs, and allowed only one walk. While he gave up five runs over five innings, two of those runs scored in large part due to Thomas’s (noticing a pattern?) poor pitching. Additionally, he allowed eight hits on the day, but only one was for extra bases (Adam Lind with a double). A few of those singles were cheap hits that could easily have been outs.
In his second start, Bard struggled with his fastball command, but excelled with his slider and change-up. While he ended up walking seven batters on the day, three of those walks should be charged directly to Bobby V. On the plus side, Bard appeared to be more efficient and induced a high number of ground balls.
Bard’s development is a work in progress. As of today, I’m feeling pretty good about his progress.
5. What do you think is the most important thing for the Sox to do to win this weekend’s series against the Yankees? Is there any one matchup you’re looking forward to? Dreading?
Really, it comes down to pitching–primarily, starting pitching. Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, and Daniel Bard are expected to pitch during this weekend’s series. Bard and Doubront will be on short leashes due to their innings and pitch count limitations. This places additional pressure on Buchholz to go deeper into Friday night’s game in hopes of saving an already taxed bullpen. If the Red Sox can get 6+ quality innings out of all three starters, they should be in good shape to take two out of three. That’s a big “if” though. Ultimately, Buchholz’s performance is the key to the series.
Big thanks to Chip! Despite being a Sox fan, he’s a pretty awesome dude ’cause he knows cake > pie and he can quote “Mallrats” at random with me.
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