Filling the final holes
Sox don’t need much, but they aren’t done
MINNEAPOLIS - Does the team that has everything really have everything?
Is there something missing from the Red Sox roster or can they make a postseason run with the current group?
If you believe the Sox can get to the World Series that’s one thing - but once they get there, they would likely have to contend with the Phillies’ pitching. Easier said than done. But if any team is capable of cracking Philadelphia’s elite staff it’s Boston. After all, Roy Halladay, the favorite to win the National League Cy Young, is 14-15 with a 4.39 ERA career vs. Boston.
The Phillies have pretty nice lefties in Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, so the Sox have to be prepared.
Last night’s game - a 4-3 Sox win over the Twins - was an example of what Boston is capable of against a quality lefthander. Francisco Liriano is a hot and cold lefty and last night he was hot. The Sox put out a lineup with five righthanded hitters.
Darnell McDonald hit a two-run homer off Liriano to tie the score, 2-2, in the fifth inning. Jed Lowrie, who hits righties at a .380 clip, couldn’t do much against Liriano.
The Phillies feature a lineup with three outstanding lefthanded hitters in Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Raul Ibanez. The Sox will need someone to get them out in the late innings. Last season, former Sox lefty Javy Lopez dominated Howard and Utley in the NL Championship Series while performing for the Giants.
Another need, and this one has to be solved from within, is the No. 3 starter. Clay Buchholz, as swiftly as he’s recovering from a stress fracture in his back, (he said he’s very happy with his progress), is not walking through the doors on Yawkey Way. Erik Bedard has made two starts of five innings, throwing 90 pitches last night and except for a shaky first inning in which he walked four (with a little help from umpire Tim McClelland), he seems on track to help the Sox.
The No. 3 pitcher is extremely important in the postseason. Bedard and John Lackey will be competing for that spot and the winner will pitch a very important playoff game and possibly a Game 7. It’s preferable to have a solid lefty in the rotation and if Bedard is the No. 3, then Boston will have two (Jon Lester).
These are the three areas that could use some enhancing.
The lefty reliever and/or righthanded bat could be obtained in a waiver deal or claiming a player off waivers. There have been plenty of players who passed through trade waivers the last two weeks. The Twins put Delmon Young and the A’s David DeJesus through yesterday. The Sox could claim a player who just may fall into their lap.
The lefty reliever will be harder to come by and he has to be someone Terry Francona can trust in those really tough spots.
Right now, the Sox have Franklin Morales and Andrew Miller. Both are hard throwers but can they consistently get tough lefties out? They are not disasters, but certainly not the caliber of Lopez last season. Morales had allowed a respectable .241 average to lefties. His biggest problem is consistency.
Miller also has consistency issues. Randy Williams had his shot and there’s always Hideki Okajima in Pawtucket. Felix Doubront is another possibility from within the organization.
Some names outside the organization being bandied about -Oakland’s Craig Breslow or Chicago’s Matt Thornton - have had problems getting lefties out. Conversely, Florida’s Randy Choate has held lefties to a .123 average and allowed only eight hits in 65 at-bats with 27 strikeouts and only three walks. The A’s Brian Fuentes was placed on trade waivers last week, but he’s allowed a .295 average to lefties. Veteran Arthur Rhodes, 41, was recently released by the Rangers, but lefties hit only .216 against him this season.
The Sox are standing pat right now - they don’t want to make a deal for a lefty just for the sake of having another lefty. It has to be the right lefty.
Same situation with a hitter.
If McDonald can be better against lefties, and his home run certainly helped his cause, and if Mike Aviles can hit lefties and play solid defense in the outfield, then the Sox probably won’t venture into this area either. A September call-up of slugger Ryan Lavarnway, a bat that could help against lefties, is a strong possibility.
The Sox have an impressive roster, but it’s far from ideal. While they have to feel better about replacing Buchholz given what they’ve seen from Bedard, the lefty still has to show he can pitch deeper into games now that he’s been stretched out after his knee injury and that he can pitch in high-pressure situations.