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Ask Amalie: A series of problems for the Sox

Posted by Amalie Benjamin  April 20, 2010 12:12 PM

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Ouch. This past weekend was not much fun at Fenway Park, factoring in the rain, the opponent -- oh, and the sweep. The four-game sweep by the Rays at Fenway Park marked not only the first ever four-game sweep of the Red Sox by the Rays, but it was also the first sweep of at least four games in Boston since that weekend. Yes, the Massacre in which the Yankees took five straight from the Sox at Fenway in 2006. That was a horrific weekend of baseball. This wasn't much better.

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The Red Sox are, at the moment, in trouble. They are closer to the bottom of the American League East than the top, standing six games out of first place just two weeks into the season. And it hasn't just been that the Sox are losing. They're losing badly. They're getting crushed. They know that, too. There is clear frustration, a sense of disbelief that they could be playing this poorly in every phase of the game. But, so far, they have.

That brings us to the questions for this week. There are queries about all the problems that the Sox have had of late, about minor league affiliates, about the Sox' bullpen -- and more.

So, as the sports focus shifts to the Bruins and Celtics as all of New England waits for the Sox to get out of their slump, there are still questions to be answered. Many of those answers have to come from the players themselves. They have to play better, pitch better, hit better, defend better. They have to turn it around. Sure, it's early. Sure, the Sox have played the class of the American League in the Yankees, Twins, and Rays. But they haven't held their own in those games. They've simply lost them. Perhaps by the next time the mailbag comes out again, in two weeks, they'll have turned it around. Perhaps not.

Either way, there will be more questions, and I'll be here with more answers. For now, enjoy.

Jim from Seminole, Florida asks: What is wrong with the Sox? They are sleep walking through their season. There is absolutely no fire with this team. The players are showing no enthusiasm and its evident they cannot beat the good teams( Yankees, Twins, and Rays). They could be out of it by the end of May by the way it looks. It appears as though T Francona will be out of a job by mid June unless he can light a fire under anyone who cares. There are too many players on this team without the Red Sox tradition behind them and it shows with their performance on the field. Again what's wrong from your point of view?

Answer: Jim, I wish there was an easy, simple answer. The Red Sox do too.
Believe me, there's no lack of enthusiasm from this group. They know that they're a team with a chance to have an excellent season. There would be no way they would be uninterested so quickly. But the Red Sox also aren't doing anything well at this point. They're not hitting, not pitching, not playing defense. There are different reasons for each of these failings, and different reasons for each of these failings for each player. Jon Lester is not having the same problem as Josh Beckett. David Ortiz is not having the same problem as J.D. Drew. Yes, some pitchers (Lester) tend to start more slowly. The Sox are working with Lester to become more consistent, to put hitters away when he gets ahead of them in a count. That was a major issue for him in his last start, against the Rays. That's where it starts, with the pitchers. The starters have given up too many runs too early, putting the Sox in holes in the opening innings of games. From there, the Sox have been horrific with runners in scoring position, simply not getting the hits needed at the right times. Heading into tonight's game, the Sox are hitless in their last 32 at bats with runners in scoring position. Add both of those to the team's problems on defense -- a defense that was supposed to be significantly upgraded this offseason -- and you have a 4-9 start. Essentially, the Sox are doing nothing well, and are failing in virtually every aspect of the game. In fact, they might be too ready, and might be pressing to reverse their fortunes as soon as possible. It does seem that it's only a matter of time before the Sox get better (as it would be hard to get worse). The questions are: When will that happen? How much better can they be?

Evan from Milwaukee asks: I've always been curious how minor league affiliations work. Specifically, how a particular team gains or loses a major league affiliation and, in an event of a change, what happens to the minor league players. For example, the AA Sea Dogs were a Marlins team until 2002. What is the process for that team to switch major league affiliations (and what's the common reasoning behind it)? And, when the switch is made, I assume the Marlins simply take all their AA players and move them to a new team? Thanks.

Answer: There are a variety of reasons why teams change affiliations. Let me take an example from the Red Sox system. The Wilmington Blue Rocks were the Red Sox' high Single A affiliate in 2005 and 2006, after having been an affiliate of the Royals for a while. Wilmington did not want to renew its contract with the Red Sox in 2007 because the team was unhappy with the Sox' position that winning in the minors is not a priority. The affiliate and the organization cut ties, and the Sox headed west to join up with the Lancaster JetHawks. That also lasted just two seasons -- the length of the contract -- because the Sox determined that it was too difficult to evaluate players in that environment. (The winds were so ridiculous that they would routinely skew pitchers' numbers, and blow popups out to right field for homers.) The Sox again made a switch, this time to the Salem Red Sox. That's to say that the reasoning is always different. Contracts expire, and are renewed or not, and teams find other affiliates. And, yes, organizations take their players and staff and move them to new minor league teams. The infrastructure (uniforms, stadiums, etc) remains with the affiliate.

Ron from Holliston asks: What is the contract situation with Victor Martinez? If they haven't already, do you think the Red Sox will lock him up for the next 3-4 years to solidify their battery?

Answer: Victor Martinez is a free agent at the end of this season. There wasn't much in the way of talks with him and his agent this offseason and spring training, even though Martinez made it clear that he would love to remain with the Sox. It's certainly a concern for the Sox, who don't have a starting catcher signed for 2011, other than a couple of minor league options who are not likely to be ready by then. But the Sox are truly going to have to make a decision on their catching philosophy coming up. Do they want to stay with the offensive catcher and sign Martinez? Do they need a better defensive catcher? Martinez, while very good offensively, has proven to be wanting defensively, and it's been very noticeable in the early season. So that's going to be a huge factor in whether the Sox do, ultimately, re-sign Martinez. Can they live with what he brings behind the plate to get what he brings standing at the plate?

Perry from Durham, N.H. asks: Alex Gonzalez was a proven defensive standout who hit well for the Sox last year. I can only assume the Sox felt they needed 15 - 20 homers and 75-85 RBI from the shortstop position (which they hope to get from Scutaro). Is there any other reason (leadership, locker room presence?) they moved Gonzalez and went for Scutaro?

Answer: Actually, the Sox were very interested in re-signing Alex Gonzalez.
They determined that he wasn't worth his $6 million option for 2010, and were hoping that they could work out a deal for less money. But Gonzalez opted to sign with the Blue Jays, even though the Sox appeared willing to offer an even more lucrative contract for the shortstop. But the Sox wanted to explore the market a bit before making that contract offer, leaving Gonzalez to take the deal with Toronto. So Gonzalez could have ended up back with the Sox, before he took the Jays' deal. The Sox then went out and pursued Marco Scutaro.

Paul from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina asks: What do we have in Scott Schoeneweis? From the looks of the slider on Sunday, it appears that SS is the poster child for, "lefty, have slider, will work forever". How vital a contribution can we expect from Scott? Early returns were encouraging.

Answer: The Sox have done all right so far with their pickup of Scott Schoeneweis. His numbers aren't very good overall, though he did well in pitching two scoreless innings against the Rays on Sunday. Ultimately, though, the Sox clearly want to see what they have in Alan Embree. If they were satisfied with Schoeneweis, they wouldn't have cared had Embree left as of his April 15 out date. But they did care, getting Embree to remain with the organization and pitch more for Triple A before they make a decision. It seems to me that, while the Sox are satisfied with what Schoeneweis has done, they are much more interested in Embree, should he prove that he can be effective at the major league level.

Jim from Essex Junction, Vermont asks: Amalie - You mention in today's article on Adrian Beltre that his batting average is higher than his OBP. I cannot figure that out unless getting thrown out trying to stretch a single does not count as an on-base. Is that the case?

Answer: Actually, Jim, a batting average can be higher than an on-base percentage when the player has a sacrifice fly, but has not walked or been hit by a pitch. Adrian Beltre has since walked, so his OBP is now higher than his average. But it's a fun statistical oddity, nonetheless.

Sergio from Puebla, Mexico asks: Hola Amalie! First of all I want to congratulate the whole Globe staff for being the best site of Red Sox updates. Here in México is hard to get information about MLB especially the Sox. My question is that if the Red Sox bullpen is really that bad? I mean the season is 4 games long and the bullpen has already ruined 2 great outings by Lackey and Wakefield is there any sign they are going to improve? Is there anybody in Pawtucket that could make an impact or maybe a trade? Because with this bullpen the Sox are going nowhere.

Answer: Thanks! While the bullpen isn't nearly the problem that it appeared to be in the first week of the season, it's not exactly a strength. There are only a couple of relievers that the Sox entirely trust -- Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Hideki Okajima. Other than that, there are some issues with guys like Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez and Scott Atchison. Those last three aren't exactly the guys you necessarily want on the mound with a one-run lead in the later innings of a big game. Delcarmen and Ramirez, though, have both pitched for the Sox at the high level required to get those taut innings. So there's reason to believe that one or both of them could regain their form. Delcarmen, for one, clearly needs to regain his velocity, which has been gone since he suffered from arm soreness at the end of last season. That hasn't come back, even as the Sox and Delcarmen have argued that he is perfectly healthy. Something has to be going on there. Bullpen performance is extremely hard to predict year-to-year, making it difficult to ensure that any group of relievers will replicate the performance of last season. So far, the Sox bullpen hasn't done that. There are a couple of relievers in Pawtucket who could make an impact in Embree and Joe Nelson, and it's likely that both of them will see time with the major league club. But even that is no guarantee of success.

Steve from Greenbush, New York asks: If a team loses a game in which all the winning team's runs are unearned, which could have happened to the Sox Saturday night against the Rays, does the pitcher get a loss or a no decision?

Answer: In that case, the pitcher gets the loss. The pitcher gave up the runs, even if they were unearned. They don't affect his ERA, obviously, but he does take the loss in that case.

Steve from Billerica, Massachusetts asks: Thanks for taking the time to answer my question, and mine has to do with the 24th or 25th (inactive) player on the team, and that's Jed Lowrie. What's your take on him? According to a recent article on here he's still down in Fort Myers because he has mono, and hasn't played in just about a month. He was out for just about all of last year with the wrist injury. I think the team is really down on him, I remember reading a couple of times last year Lowrie going into full detail with the press about his wrist injury, really before going to the team. And I remember reading tidbits from Epstein and Tito, stating their disappointment with him and how he should've been more forward with them about the injury. Epstein stated in the offseason that he needs to come into this offseason and prove that he can be healthy, and he has not.
Has their patience run out?

Answer: Thanks for taking the time to ask! I would agree that the Red Sox are about at the end of their rope with Jed Lowrie. Sure, it's hard to blame Lowrie for contracting mononucleosis. But the Sox made it clear that, at some point, they need to see Lowrie on the field. They need to see him performing at a high level. Instead, there's little progress and little information, with just a sigh and a recitation of the "no improvement" line from Terry Francona each time he's asked about Lowrie. There's simply not a lot of information about his current condition, and no sign of progress. That's not good, and that's not going to give the organization the confidence in Lowrie to use him either a utilityman or a starter. He has to restore their confidence at some point. I definitely would disagree with your assessment that Lowrie went into detail with the press about his wrist injury instead of the team, but there are certainly concerns about his ability to remain healthy and to bounce back from injury that need to be addressed before that faith in him is re-established.

Dave from New York asks: Does Theo consider somebody's ability to handle this town pressure wise? Besides Lackey, I just feel most of these guys Theo has brought in recently, are just not able to handle Boston.

Answer: Dave, Theo Epstein does consider the ability of players to handle the town. While it's hard for them to know how players will react to the pressure cooker that is Boston, they attempt to do their due diligence. Sometimes they're successful. Sometimes they're not. As for some of the new guys, many of them have already handled far more pressure than they'll ever face at Fenway Park. Mike Cameron, for example, was traded from Cincinnati to Seattle in the Ken Griffey Jr. deal. That also meant that Cameron had to replace Griffey in center field in Seattle. Think that was easy? No general manager can know how a player will deal with their new town -- whether that's the lack of interest in Florida or the intensity of Boston or New York. Some thrive in the big markets, some thrive away from the attention. So Epstein, and Francona or other members of the organization, will often talk to friends and acquaintances in baseball to get an understanding of how a player works and how a player will handle Boston. Francona has said that some of his best sources for such information are the clubbies (clubhouse workers), as they generally know everything that goes on inside a home or visiting clubhouse.

Justin from Atlanta, Georgia asks: We all know Ryan Westmoreland underwent brain surgery a couple weeks ago. I saw the pictures of him at the game, and was curious to know, what is he like? Has the surgery done things like effecting his motor skills and speech, or is he pretty much the same? All the press releases say he's fine and he'll go through rehab, but they don't give any details. Hopefully you can shed some light!

Answer: While I wish I could give you -- and everyone else -- an answer, we just don't know at this point. The family of Ryan Westmoreland has requested privacy in this matter, and the media has done its best to respect that request. All we have gotten have been the few press releases from the organization or the family, so that's all we have to go on. I do understand their position, and know that watching a loved one go through brain surgery is incredibly, incredibly difficult and frightening. I am hoping that the family -- or even Ryan himself -- will speak to the media at some point soon. I know there are many people interested in his recovery.

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