It’s that time again, folks…Yankees vs. Red Sox time. This go-round, we get four games in three days, so don’t expect to get any sort of sleep this weekend. To get ready, as we’ve done before, I exchanged emails with friend of the blog Chip Buck who writes for Firebrand of the American League, a truly top notch Red Sox blog. My questions and his answers after the jump.
1. With Clay Buccholz and Diauske Matsuzaka on the shelf again, what will become of the Red Sox’s rotation? Aaron Cook is seemingly a stop gap, so is there anyone in the minors who could take his place or are they just going to have to grin and bear it with Cook?
Honestly, there isn’t anyone waiting in the wings in AAA. Alex Wilson was supposed to be “that guy.” In April, they moved him to relief when it looked like the bullpen was going to be a serious problem for the Red Sox. Luckily, the rotation isn’t too much of a problem right now as of late. It’s not to say there haven’t been some bumps in the road, but things could certainly be worse. Buchholz should be back very soon meaning either Cook or Morales move back to the bullpen. Morales has been pretty impressive 24/3 K/BB ratio over his three starts (18 innings). He’s always been thought to have the stuff of an ace, and this could be the first signs for him turning the corner. Then again, it could also be a spectacular run, and regression toward the mean could be on the horizon. Either way, the Red Sox owe it to Morales and themselves to find out what he’s capable of providing. Unfortunately, Cook is a veteran with a starter’s pedigree. My concern is that they keep him in the rotation, and shuffle Morales back into the pen. Cook is fine as a spot starter who can sub in for Doubront or an injured pitcher, but his stuff just isn’t good enough to pitch every fifth day.
My projected rotation for the rest of the season: Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, Morales, Doubront
2. Boston has been without a legit outfield for the entire season. How has that been for the team and is it starting to take its toll? What do you expect from both Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford when they return from injury?
The outfield situation has been nothing short of a disaster. Let’s look at how badly injuries have crushed them: Crawford has missed all 82 games; Ellsbury has missed the last 75 games; Cody Ross missed 27 games with a foot injury; and Ryan Sweeney has missed the last 17 games. At one point (three days), the Red Sox top four outfielders were all on the disabled list at the same time. Oh, and we haven’t even touched on replacement level guys like Jason Repko and Scott Podsednik spending time on the DL as well. To put it mildly, the fact the Red Sox are even 42-40 and only 7.5 games back is pretty remarkable. This is especially true when you consider the bullpen’s early season struggles; the rotation failing to meet expectations; and A-Gon, Pedroia, and Youkilis all performing below expectation.
I’m not sure what to expect from either Crawford or Ellsbury upon returning from injury. I’m hoping they can each provide 2 fWAR worth of production, but I fear that may be asking too much. I’m not concerned about speed or defense, but both need to prove the can provide some offense at the plate. This is especially true of Crawford who will be replacing the hot hitting favorite, Daniel Nava. If Crawford comes out of the gate slowly, the fans and media will sour quickly.
3. As I type this, Adrian Gonzalez has a 6.5 BB%; a .130 Iso; and a 92 wRC+. What’s going on with A-Gon this year? Does he still have the fans on his side thanks to last year? I can only imagine the type of lashings Mark Teixeira would get from the NY press if he were putting up that line. How is the Boston media treating Gonzalez? On the flip side, David Ortiz is absolutely tearing the cover off the ball. Is there any thought to bringing him back next year or are the Sox content to see him walk? Is there any gap between the FO and the fan base on this? And, of course, how does the media play into his impending free agency?
Your guess is as good as mine. I think everyone expected some level of regression in the batting average/OBP departments, in large part due to his unsustainable .380 BABIP. Still, I think most figured that we’d see a bump in slugging considering we were another year out from his shoulder surgery. That hasn’t happened.
Based on what I can tell, A-Gon appears to be more aggressive at the plate. He’s not only swinging at more first pitches than he was a year ago (59.6% to 55.8%), but he’s swinging at more pitches in general (51.9% to 47.1%). Neither has benefited him well. At this point, I think it is what it is. I expect a surge in production during the second half, but it won’t be enough to rescue his season in the eyes of the media or the fans. Many are already considering him a bum or a bust, which I find to be incredibly unfair. Until he starts producing, it’ll only get worse.
As for Ortiz, I think the front office has to be considering bringing him back. He’s been a revelation at the plate. Someone who has proven me wrong two seasons in a row, by the way. Ultimately, I think it comes down to his demand on the open market. The Red Sox will likely try to go with one year and a vesting option for a second. Considering his age and skill set, it seems pretty fair. If a contending team is willing to give him two years guaranteed, I think he’s gone. I don’t think the media will play too much of a role. Clearly, he’s a bit more frustrated this season, but he’s gone through rough stretches of outspokenness in the past. It all comes down to money, and whether not Ortiz feels he’s being respected.
4. Going broader, as an outsider, how do you see the Yankees? Obviously we fans have a certain view of the team that can, at times, be too pessimistic or too optimistic; I’d like your thoughts on the Yankees now and in the future.
I see the Yankees as the team to beat in the AL East. They don’t have a ton of weaknesses offensively, and their pitching staff has been pretty solid. My only concern is the relative age of their top players. A-Rod, Jeter, Ibanez, and Jones are all above the age of 35, and each are playing prominent roles on the team. These guys are more prone to slumps and/or injuries, which could throw a wrench into the Yankees ability to play at a high level. All-in-all, the Yankees are looking pretty solid at the moment.
5. How do you expect Will Middlebrooks to progress as the season goes along? He has a reputation for being powerful, but a remarkably free swinger. Will the latter take some getting used to after Kevin Never-Taken-A-Strike-In-His-Life Youkilis?
Seriously though, Kevin Youkilis has *never* taken a strike in his entire life. That’s not a joke.
Middlebrooks is a interesting player. He has prodigious power, plays great defense, and seems to run the bases pretty well. His biggest issue is plate discipline. I don’t think he’ll ever get past his strikeout tendencies. It is what it is, and he’ll likely be a Dan Uggla type player in terms of his batting average–constantly yo-yoing from .230 to .280. All that said, I don’t think strikeouts will keep him from being a solid every day player. His (in)ability to draw walks, on the other hand, could be his undoing. Having a 5% walk rate is a lot more acceptable when you’re hitting .300 than it is when you’re hitting .230. It will be very interesting to see how he develops over the next year or two.
As for his progression this season, we haven’t really seen him struggle for an extended period of time. I think he’s due for a slump, and his ability to remain a major league regular will really be tested during that time. How he handles making adjustments during an extended downstretch will go a long way towards determining his future.
Big thanks as always to Chip. Make sure you follow him on Twitter and read Firebrand.
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