Concerns remain despite strong start
Mailbaggers worried about Big Papi's production and inconsistency from Sox starting pitchers
There have been ups (an undefeated homestand, winning five straight against the Yankees) and downs (the record against the Rays, the performances of David Ortiz and the starters) so far this young season. But we're about a month into the Red Sox season and we have learned a few things about this team. We've learned that we never have to worry about Kevin Youkilis or Jason Bay, and that the latter is simply upping his price in free agency this upcoming offseason. We've learned that just because you once were a bigtime slugger, that doesn't mean it goes on forever -- we're looking at you, Big Papi.
So now that the Sox have gone from blue socks to red socks, gone on the road and come back again for a brief stint, there are a few worries that were paramount, including questions about Ortiz's offense and the production from the starting pitchers. People wanted to know which of the prospects might see the light (the major league light) and when, and which sluggers might be on the block come the trading deadline.
With the Rays in town -- yet again -- this weekend, the Sox will attempt to change their luck and their results against a team that will be competition throughout the season. Then it's off to the West Coast, for the final West Coast road trip of the season. That will give the Sox a slight edge on, say, a Yankees team whose schedule is a notch more difficult.
Still, the Sox have to start beating their competition from the South. The Rays series starts tonight. The Mailbag? That starts now.
What is happening with the Mailbag? Last season I looked forward every couple of weeks to read your mailbag and this season you still have the first Yankees series questions, I know people are sending in questions are you done with this? Do you think the Sox made a mistake not signing a true power hitter, its apparent Ortiz is done he is the Mo, I like Ortiz but he is not the hitter he once was, I hope they trade for a true younger DH soon.
A: Dave, the mailbag comes out regularly every other week on Fridays. You haven't seen it for two weeks -- but here it is! I thought the Sox needed another offensive threat, even if David Ortiz had gotten back to even close to his form of a couple years ago. But certainly with that not a given, as we've seen over the first month of the season, the team could use another offensive force. That being said, Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia and Mike Lowell have done pretty darn well. Essentially, even the Sox made it clear that they needed more offense by going after Mark Teixeira this offseason. They needed him, and they tried to get him, and were unsuccessful. But, yes, another hitter would be a huge help.
Where's Kason Gabbard? I saw that the Sox picked him up from Texas for cash consideration, but he has not shown up on any of the Sox rosters as of today (Cinco de Mayo). What's up Amalie?
A: What's up, Dave? Kason Gabbard was sent down to extended spring training when he was acquired by the Sox. Players at extended spring -- which you've heard about recently because John Smoltz and Mark Kotsay and Julio Lugo have been there rehabbing -- aren't on the roster of an affiliate.
I know it's early in the season, but should we be concerned with our starting pitching? Particularly, Becks and Lester. They both have had one decent start so far, but have been lit up every other time out. Thanks for taking the time to answer and keep up the great coverage!
Tim F., North Potomac, Md.
A: Thanks, Tim. I'll do my best. I think there are definitely concerns that can be raised, though Josh Beckett pitched better on Tuesday -- other than that pitch to Johnny Damon. I do believe that both Beckett and Jon Lester will turn their seasons around, and we've seen some evidence of them being the pitchers we've seen in the past. So far, though, it hasn't been nearly enough. Who would have thought that we'd be saying Tim Wakefield has been this team's best starter so far through the first month of the season? Not me. There have been far too many batters started out with 1-0 and 2-0 counts, too many hitters in too many hitter's counts. That's never going to get a team where it wants to go.
Love your work. Just wondering if you could offer some insight as to why we are seeing Jeff Bailey up at the big show playing first base instead of Lars Anderson. Isn't Lars the top prospect we are all just waiting to see? Whats the deal?
Jeremy, Alexandria, Va.
A: While, yes, Lars Anderson is the top prospect at first base, there are reasons why the Sox promoted Jeff Bailey instead. The Sox want Anderson to continue to develop at the minor league level. He's close to being ready for the majors, but he's not quite there yet. Also, there has been no guarantee that Bailey is going to be up with the major league team for long. The Sox have a replacement for Bailey working toward rejoining the major league team in Mark Kotsay. When he is available to the Sox, then Bailey is likely to be back in Pawtucket. It's easier to do that with someone, like Bailey, who has been around the block. It would be foolish to waste an option on Lars Anderson if it were only for a week or two. You might see him later in the season, but it's just the wrong situation at this point.
This is a question that I have always wondered. The Red Sox played a night game in Cleveland on Thursday. The game got over after 11:00 if I am not mistaken, meaning it was probably 1:00 AM when the team got to the airport. Therefore, I assume they arrived to their hotel in Tampa at about 5:00 AM. Predictably, they were nearly no-hit the next night. My question is, why doesn't the team spend the night in Cleveland and fly to Tampa the next day? If they were to get to their hotel in Cleveland at midnight after the game, and then flew out at say 10:00 AM the next day, they would be able to get a decent night's sleep while still getting to Tampa several hours before the game. Is this ever considered?
Wayne F., Athol
A: There are a couple of points to be made here. First, there's a very good reason that teams (all teams) fly out the night of games to get to their destinations. If the Sox were to have stayed over in Cleveland, then flown out the next morning, they would leave themselves open to travel delays and the possibility of missing a game. The team can't take this risk. Imagine if the team slept for the night, got up in the morning, and went to the airport, only to be told that bad weather made it impossible for them to leave on time. That puts in jeopardy getting to the next city, batting practice, even possibly the game. In fact, even travelling at night, the Sox once in recent years sat on a runway all night before finally taking off in the morning and, I believe, heading straight for the ballpark. The second point is that -- as someone who does this on a regular basis -- leaving in the morning doesn't really make up the rest. Having to go back to a hotel room late at night, then get up very early in the morning is pretty disturbing to one's sleep habits. I know I would rather do what the Sox do, fly immediately after the game, then get to sleep late in a hotel before the game. Unfortunately there just aren't all that many commercial flights that leave post-midnight for us scribes!
Why was Lugo not charged with an error in today's (Sunday) Rays game when he dropped the ball on a transfer? If he makes the play, the inning is over, and he should have made it.
John P., Truckee, Calif.
A: John, Lugo got the out at second base. Since you can't assume a double play, he was not assessed an error on the dropped transfer. Also, for what it's worth, that play wasn't entirely Lugo's fault. Sure, he shouldn't have dropped it, but the feed from Dustin Pedroia was on the low side, making it even harder for Lugo than it would have already been.
After seeing Eric Wedge get thrown out of the Sox / Indians game last week, I wonder why managers and players argue calls at all. They never win the argument and risk getting thrown out of the game. Managers especially are strategic thinkers who have to be pretty good at staying calm when things are going wrong. Do they get anything out of it: showing the players the skipper's on their side, or influencing the umpire's call later in the game? Or is talking back to the ump always a mistake made in the heat of the moment?
Olaf, London, England
A: A lot of times getting thrown out of a game is strategic in itself. Sometimes managers want to influence play by their teams, especially if they've come out flat in a game. But more often, the managers simply aren't happy with the call. Doesn't matter if they're going to get thrown out or not. They want to share -- nicely, of course -- with the umpire that they feel he's made a bad call or is doing a bad job. There's often quite a bit of frustration that goes into such a tantrum, sometimes built up over the course of the game, before something snaps and the manager decides its time to let loose. Plus, perhaps after getting screamed at, an umpire might just may more attention to, say, his strike calls on the inside part of the late. So sometimes it's calculated and sometimes it's just anger and frustration. (But it's almost always fun to watch.)
Greetings from a Sox fan behind enemy lines in NY. Is it my imagination or has David Ortiz's power production numbers dropped since the Red Sox released Papa Ron Jackson? I've read other fan's wondering whether Papa Ron how important a role he had in keeping Big Papi on the right track hitting-wise. Does anyone in the organization or on the Globe staff think there might be a connection? If so would it be out of the realm of possibilities to get Papa Ron back for Papi and help him figure out the problem? It really stinks that he's fading the way he is -- no confidence and melancholic frustration. The guy carried the whole team on his back in Oct 2004 I hate seeing him in this state.
John B., Brooklyn, NY
A: Papa Jack and David Ortiz were certainly very close. I know Ortiz wasn't particularly happy with Jackson was let go a few years ago. But there are more factors at work here than just a hitting coach. Not only did Ortiz suffer through a wrist injury last season, but he's also getting older. Sometimes players just see a slow-down of their bat speed when they have a few years on them, and that looks to be part of the problem with Ortiz. That's not to say that there's no Papa Jack factor, but I think there are other factors that are far more important to his decline in production this year.
Love your mailbag. Keeps me up to date on the Sox here in Singapore. I have a question about Sox prospect Chris Carter in Pawtucket. He is batting 0.455 and is not even listed as a top Sox prospect. He was drafted by the Diamondbacks, spent time in their organization and did well in the minors. How did he get to Pawtucket and what do you think about his prospects with the Sox?
John K., Singapore
A: Chris Carter came to the organization in the deal for Wily Mo Pena. (He was flipped, actually, going from the Diamondbacks to the Nationals to the Sox in August of 2007.) He has been a phenomenal hitter in Triple A, though shaky on defense, and was fantastic in spring training. I think he's a hard case. He's a very good hitter -- despite looking lost in his few at bats with the Sox this season, as he went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts and one sacrifice fly. I know there was an outcry for him to replace David Ortiz this season, and do think that's still slightly premature. Carter might just be with the wrong club, as it looks like he could do some damage if given a few more at bats.
I have a pretty simple question, and maybe you know something I don't. We're all worried about David Ortiz. And yes, it's pretty early in the season to do anything drastic. But my question is: when does Terry Francona get worried enough to make a change? Now, I'm not calling for Chris Carter or anyone to be called up from the minors, but seriously - Papi has a .238 average, a .643 OPS, and only 12 RBIs as the DH. He has seemed fairly ineffectual with runners in scoring position, though his .338 RISP would indicate otherwise. Papi, o Papi, what is to be done with thee?
Graham J., Concord
A: Speaking of David Ortiz ... Though your numbers are a bit outdated at this point, Graham, the question remains. There's no real scientific way of determining when the breaking point is. I wish I could say that if things don't change by, say, June 15, Ortiz is slipping down the batting order. But I don't think there's a date like that. If he doesn't improve -- and if the other hitters on the team continue to do what they've done -- Francona will have to give in. Though he loves to stick with his veterans, and certainly not rock the boat, Francona has proven that he will do certain things. He pinch hit for J.D. Drew in Oakland last season, and for Jason Varitek later on in the year. He swapped out Coco Crisp for Jacoby Ellsbury, and then did the opposite the following year. Ortiz has looked a bit better at the plate lately, though he still doesn't have a home run. But if he doesn't continue on this upswing, it will happen, just not as quickly as fans would like.
I greatly enjoy your astute, accurate and insightful reporting. You candor is superlative and we are lucky in Boston to have such an excellent reporter as yourself covering the Red Sox. My question for you is regarding what potential moves the Red Sox may make when the trade deadline approaches. While the offense has looked effective in recent games, do you speculate that the quest for another big bat is paramount to the attainment of a World Series berth?
David A., Brookline
A: Oh, David, flattery will get you everywhere. No, really, this is a question I've been getting a lot. It's a bit hard to know what bats might be available by the trading deadline, as the teams' records usually have something to do with which players are on the market. Miguel Cabrera isn't going anywhere, according to Dave Dombrowski, but Magglio Ordonez could move. (His hefty contract limits his value.) If the A's aren't in contention, Matt Holliday could be on the block, though obviously the Sox already have a left fielder. Other names will emerge as the teams sort themselves out in the first few months of the season. So we'll definitely get back to this question as the Sox figure out who they are on offense (and as we figure that out), and as other teams find themselves in buyer and seller categories.
This might seem more like a rant than a question. Could you explain to me how the Sox haven't signed Jason Bay to an extension?, this guy has done nothing but be a pro. He came to the Sox and not only been productive, but in my opinion been one of the Sox top players. I understand the whole economic environment, but this team has guys like Lugo and Drew stealing money.
Blaine R., Windsor, Ontario
A: There is a good reason why the Sox still haven't spent any time talking to Jason Bay and his agent, Joe Urbon, since spring training. Neither side exactly knows where the market will go. The Sox want to see how things play out in the economy and in the marketplace in terms of salaries before they attempt to hammer out a contract with Bay. Though there could be a price to be paid for that, figuratively speaking. There's a team in the Bronx that will be looking to sign another outfielder this offseason, with Johnny Damon's contract up. That could be Matt Holliday. But that also could be Bay. From what we've seen so far this season, Bay right now is simply driving up his price.
I was hoping you could explain something for me. How do "simulated games" work? We hear regularly about pitchers throwing simulated games during rehab, but I was curious, where do they do these? Who takes the at-bats? Do they play defense, or practice base running? Does the pitcher just rest for 5 minutes or so between innings? It would be interesting to hear some of the nuts and bolts about this or other practice regiments the team uses. Thanks!
Bill S., Readville
A: Sure, no problem. Essentially a simulated game is a pretend game. Without having to go through an actual game, either in the major leagues or minor leagues, a pitcher can get a feel for the ups and downs of innings. Mostly there are just a few teammates (or minor leaguers) who stand in as batters. They don't run or anything, since there aren't any fielders, but they might get a "hit" or an "out" according to whoever is the umpire. After three outs have been determined, the pitcher goes back to the dugout and sits until the next inning comes up again. It's to allow the arm to get used to the cooling down in the waiting period in between their half innings. They can do them on any field, really, but many of them happen in extended spring training. They're a little bit odd to watch, but totally understandable as a part of rehab. (There can always be slight variations. You technically could have an opposing pitcher also doing rehab in a simulated game.)
Regarding Ellsbury's steal of home against the Yankees on Sunday night. Does he have carte blanche to steal wherever and whenever, or does he get the go-ahead from one of the base coaches? A steal of home is so rare.... did he just think "I can do this" and then went for it, or was he advised to do so by the 3rd base coach? He's the best, my favorite player to watch! Go Red Sox!
Rita, Orlando, Fla.
A: On the steal of home, Jacoby Ellsbury had determined that he could do it. Terry Francona, in fact, had no idea it was going to happen. It's something that Ellsbury mostly decided on his own while watching the first two pitches from Andy Pettitte. While he had joked in the past with DeMarlo Hale about attempting a steal of home, even Hale didn't know for sure that he was going to do it in that situation. (Neither did J.D. Drew, at the plate, who fortunately noticed and didn't take a whack at Ellsbury's head as he stumbled into home.)
Firstly, you are a wealth of baseball knowledge and I predict will be the next Peter Gammons. First question, when will you get your own show on NESN? Second question, when will we finally get to see Clay Buchholz again as he deserved to make the opening day roster? Too much was expected of him last season, and this season he should have been rewarded for bouncing back from last year and having a great spring training. Keep up the great work with the Globe and NESN!
A: Thanks, Tahir. The Sox want some more development out of Clay Buchholz, rather than having a repeat of last season. He has a 1.80 ERA so far and a .153 batting average against, both excellent numbers over his first four outings. The other problem, though, is that the space isn't there. If someone is under performing, the Sox will make the room for a dominant Buchholz, but that time isn't there yet. Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Smoltz are on the horizon (with a likely move back to the bullpen for Justin Masterson), though there is a definite chance that Buchholz could be up by the end of the season.
At the end, I'd like to submit a sampling of emails I got about the uniform issue. Clearly there's not one uniform -- bad pun! -- opinion on the subject. But I thought it might be nice to have some voices heard, whether or not you agree with them. So here goes.
Love the new road grays! Hardly a departure from the red lettered road jerseys they have been using since about 1988. Navy lettering instead of red. I like the minimalism of it and really wouldn't mind going back to the olde fashioned navy colored block letters of the 1986 team and before that. Anyway the new roads are nice and I wish they would wear they two hanging sox hats for their road games. Jesus, what is the deal with being scared of something a little bit new and different and like I said, the navy lettering is hardly modern style or anything other than classic baseball letter-styling. Chill out and enjoy the change Red Sox people. I sure am! Hope Ellsbury's hamstring gets better! God I hope he is not going to be injury prone. He is such a vital and fascinating part of this team! Go Sox!
Dave B., Sarasota, Fla.
My question is why do people complain abut the new uniforms? I think they are downright classy. I know people hate change, and I'm not a big fan of it either, but I have to agree with Joseph Aboud -- they look great.
Claire D., Trenton, Maine
Just want to hammer this point home: the Red Sox look ridiculous wearing blue socks. And after reading your quote from COO Mike Dee, I am more mystified as ever. If it's truly the case that "Socks are not usually a prime consideration when you design uniforms," then who is the wizard that said to him/herself "well, socks are a minor issue...so let's make them navy blue." That person needs to take responsibility for an absolutely asinine decision, and rectify it. The team is wearing the red socks tonight in Cleveland, thank goodness...let's hope the common sense sticks for the rest of the season.
So, Mike Dee, how about this: the team that employs you is called the "Red Sox." So when you blatantly money grub and design ridiculous "alternate" jerseys and hats that look like they belong in the Gulf Coast League, let's keep the socks red. As in every game, with every uniform. No garbage about "there was never a commitment that we were only going to wear blue socks with this uniform. We're still getting used to the uniforms. We'll probably wear red socks at some point." Put red socks on the Red Sox. Is that too much to ask??
Nathan C., Brooklyn, NY
Not really a question. I saw your recent column about the Sox' road uniforms. I guess I'm in the minority that likes them. I first grew up watching the mid-70s Sox, when their road uniforms were pure gray with the BOSTON in outlined red. But that was a big departure from the much simpler grays with the non-descript navy blue BOSTON of earlier eras. So it was a nice switch back to tradition with the 80s uniforms that returned to that look. The old style red stirrup socks with the dark blue tops and the white-blue-white stripe toward the top were unique and very cool -- those I miss very much. A lot more character and style than these plain red ones. (Also miss the old satin blue jackets with the hanging red socks on one front side) So I don't see the new uniforms as too close to the Yanks' grays, because what they look to me like is something a lot closer to the Sox' own old grays. Wasn't it the Yanks who copied us? (back in 1918 or so) That gray and dark blue look with just a touch of red popping out looks great, I think. Subtle is good. Tradition is good. Using the same font as the homes was a good compromise.
I'd also vote in favor of the hanging Sox caps and the alternate uniforms, which all look tasteful and well-designed to my eye. Are they marketing-inspired? Of course. So what. The sport itself (and everything related to it) is marketing-inspired.
William M., Saigon, Vietnam
Well Amalie, it looks like all our nagging paid off as the Red Sox wore red socks and t-shirts on the road. Still do not understand Mike Dee thinking the blue socks was a minor thing, the team is only called the Red Sox. Unfortunately when I see the road uniforms all I can think of is the ball going through Buckner's legs. Some of the greatest glory, from the bloody sock game, breaking the curse, and the sweep of '07 were in the red lettered road jersey. That is a winning tradition.
Thanks for being the voice for the fans.
Chris R., Everett