Results tagged ‘ Jon Lester ’
This season might feel a bit different to the Red Sox faithful when the Rays come to town. Unlike in 2008 when the Boston Red Sox seemed to own the Tampa Bay Rays at home, 2009 might have a different feel to it. And the reason for that is that the Rays have finally conquered a common fear when young teams come to one of the oldest ballparks in baseball. They see beyond the cramped and elbow-to-elbow visitor’s clubhouse to the real reason it is heard to win here. They have overcome the fear of the aura of this ballpark.
I know that seems funny to say, but let me just show you the difference between 2008 and 2009, and it might make a bit more sense here. It all started in 2008 on May 2nd when the team made their first trek to Fenway. The Rays dropped all three of their games in the historic park by a combined score of 26-10 in favor of the home team. That is not a typo, the Rays surrendered 26 runs in 3-games. At that time the Red Sox still held the Rays at bay based on mystic and their ability to pile on the runs when things began to implode. In this first series, the Rays best offensive output was 4 runs in the Saturday game, but they lost that contest 12-4.
Then in early June they again came a-courting to Fenway and again left with three losses after surrendering 19 runs to their own 6 runs in the series. In that series only the opening game, which was a 7-4 loss had any closeness at all to it. The other two games the Rays only scored a solo run in both contests. The Boston mystic had a firm grip on the young Rays. But a strange thing happened while the Rays were holding that top spot in the American League East. Their confidence and offensive power came to the forefront. They began to win games they used to lose by unsuspecting plays and offensive outbursts. But could they shake the Fenway curse?
The first judgement on if they could tackle the curse came on September 8, 2008. In that contest the Rays were fighting to keep their top spot, and the Red Sox were within striking range of ruining the Rays party. The first game of the series saw James Shields again not able to crack the curse when they dropped the game 3-0 to the Red Sox But with Scott Kazmir taking the mound in the Wednesday contest, the Rays stood a chance. For years Kazmir had been the best weapon against the Red Sox at home for the Rays, but in 2008, they had lost the previous 7 home games in Fenway Park against Boston.
But on that faithful night, after beating Boston 5-4 in a 14 inning contest, the curse was set aside and the Rays finally could celebrate a win beneath the Green Monster. It was again the Red Sox killer Kazmir who might have pitched his heart out, but a Ray making his first at bat of the season set the tone for the victory. Dan Johnson, who was just called up to the Rays was late to the ballpark after fighting traffic to the game. It was his battle against Jonathan Papelbon that pushed the game into the Rays favor. With one swing Johnson deposited a Papelbon fastball into the Red Sox Bullpen and tied the game. That one swing set up one of the biggest emotional win on the road of the year for the Rays.
The next night, With Matt Garza on the mound, the Rays again left Fenway winners after a 4-2 win. For the first time in a long while, the Rays had taken a series in Fenway Park from the Boston Red Sox. Also in this series, the two teams each scored 9 runs. the gap in offense had begun to even out between these two powerful teams. For the first time in a long time, the Rays knew they could win under the Green Monster with some consistency. We all know what happened the rest of the season for the Rays.
The Red Sox faithful had to settle for a Wild Card berth, but they still had faith. Then in the American League Championship Series, after the Rays topped the Chicago White Sox, they again took aim on the Red Sox. After the first two games of the series, the teams came back to Fenway Park tied 1-1 in the best-of-7 series. The October 13th game is one that the Red Sox faithful want to forget about after the Rays stun the Red Sox 9-1 in a game that saw their leftie Jon Lester take an odd loss to the Rays. But that was not the worst of it yet. In the next contest, the Red Sox sent their sly slinger Daisuke Matsuzaka to the mound to try and salvage the series.
He did not fare better than Lester, failing to stifle the Rays offense and the Red Sox again saw defeat by a score of 13-4. After an off-day for each team to regain some power and confidence, the Red Sox did manage to take the fifth game at home 8-7 to force the Rays to end the series at their home to keep their playoff dreams alive. But the tide had shifted in this series. For the Rays, who did not begin the year with any type of confidence in Fenway Park, now seems to control the diamond. In the ALCS, they out-scored the home town Red Sox 29-13. The shift of confidence and swagger showed that the Rays now knew they could win in Boston.
The young team no longer tried to find ways to win, they knew they could win without gimmicks and tricks. Their pitching got better and better throughout the year against the Red Sox. Matt Garza in the playoffs became a second evil weapon against the Red Sox. From losing 7 straight games in Boston, to winning 4 out of 6 contests, the Rays finally could say they might have a Boston answer. So we begin 2009 a day later, but still with total dedication and ability to again take it to the Red Sox. Unfortunately we did not see a victory in Opening Day against the Red Sox, but there were moments that hinted of a confidence lingering about winning in this hallowed grounds.
The 5-3 loss might have been their first loss in Boston in 2009, but it a
lso was a game that they fought back in, and almost got enough to shake the rafters in Beantown. For the Rays were matched against a superior pitcher that day and almost still pulled the rabbit out of the hat. The 5-3 loss was still a loss, but the way the young team scrapped and fought to get their 3 runs showed they had no fear anymore in Fenway. So then we pan to last night game, which saw the Rays killer Jon Lester on the mound against the Rays. The game was in Lester’s hands until the third inning when the Rays finally broke through with two straight hits to put a man in scoring position at third with no outs. It is funny, the Rays scored their run after Evan Longoria hit into a double play.
The Red Sox knew that getting the double play on the young hot shot Rays was more important that one measly run. They were the Red Sox, they would get that one back. And they did in the bottom of the third inning. And the game teeter-toddered until the Rays came up in the top of the fifth inning. In that inning the Rays finally got to Lester and plated 4 runs to get their margin of victory against the Red Sox. So, does this mean that this series is finally going into the book as a “must win” for the Red Sox. For years they could count on at least 2 out of 3 against their southern rivals. they knew that a game in Fenway Park held a 10th member of their team on the field, the stigma of Fenway.
But with this now being tossed by the wayside by the young and confident Rays, is the time ripe for each team to finally admit that every game in Fenway will be decided on the field from now on, and not in their minds. Fenway is a beautiful ballpark with history in every crack and seat bolt. But now the Rays no longer seemed to be bothered by the history and the famous address. They now know that their abilities in the field and at the plate might be enough to win in Boston. It has been a long time coming, but since September 2008, the Rays are 5-3 in Fenway, and for the first time in the Rays history, they know each game can be won.
Photo credits: 1) Associated Press / Elise Amendola
2) Associated Press / Elsie Amendola
Okay, now that we are getting near the end of my review of the American League East teams for 2009, you do not have to fret. I am not doing any other division in baseball this spring. The Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays area the only two left on my list to ponder for 2009. I will not have my Rays blog review up until maybe Sunday afternoon or evening. It will depend on how good a time I have at the game on Saturday, so be sure to peek real hard at the seat to the left of the Bullpen gate and you just might see me on that little screen of yours.
With that said, it is time now for me to review the team that I truly think will be the top squad in the American League East this season. I am not trying to divert or even blow any smoke here, but I truly think that if the Boston Red Sox can maintain their rotation and do not have a few odd injuries during the season to a few of their bats, it will be a long 2009 for everyone in baseball. The Red Sox have been the top dog for the last few seasons in the American League East before the Rays had to force them out of the playoffs in 2008 in seven games. I have to admit that the Red Sox did show a mountain of determination after the Rays took it to them in Fenway Park in Games 3 and 4 of the American League Championship Series.
The fact that it came down to the last few innings in St. Petersburg, Florida to even crown the divisional champs is a testament to the fortitude and the tenacity of the Red Sox last year. They did try and go out and improve parts of the club that they deemed weak to their divisional foes in 2008. But some of the planned additions did not sign with them and put a crimp in their off season plans. But the team did finally find a few odd pieces to fill those question makers and those players could be the play makers they will need to again succeed in 2009.
So without further ado, lets get into the Red Sox starting rotation for 2009. The Red Sox will again give the ball to Josh Beckett on Opening Day against the Rays in Fenway Park on April 6, 2009. He will try and improve on his 12-10 record. Beckett did have bouts during 2008 of a bit of control issues because of an arm injury. Reports have said that he is feeling great this spring and should be ready to again be the ace of the Red Sox staff. On top of his off season last year Beckett only tossed 174 innings, which is his lowest totals since his Florida Marlin days. But he is still one of the guys that Boston will count on in the clutch, and that is just the way he likes it. Beckett is also one of those pitchers who can mix up his pitches from a variety of delivery points and types. At last count, he had one of the best 12-6 breaking curves in the league.
Manning the second slot in the rotation will be leftie Jon Lester, who posted a 16-6 record and 210 innings in 2008. Lester, a survivor both on and off the field, is also know to throw about four different pitches in a game. His fastball gets some amazing tailing action, with a last second sinking at the plate. His cutter is very tight and can bend the knees of right-handers watching it at the plate. But his curveball is the mystery pitch that can beat you on the corners. Lester will be counted on more in 2009 to get some of those hard victories against divisional foes that used to escape the Red Sox.
Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka , who posted a 18-3 record with a 2.93 ERA has made a name for himself since coming over from Japan. It has been confirmed that he throws a total of six different pitches during games. Besides the usual fastball and curveball, he has been known to include a splitter, cutter, changeup and slider to hitters. His cutter usually comes in around 88 mph and he will use it to either side of the plate. His splitter makes a very unusual shift as it nears the plate and can fool hitters. But he is also got great movement on his fastball, which is thrown in the 90-95 mph range.
The fourth member of this rotation should be recent signee Brad Penny. He signed with the Red Sox in the off season, and should provide some additional experience and leadership to this squad. Penny did not pitch much in 2008 after injuries, and his spot might be based on his development back into shape and form for the Red Sox. He was a All-Star in both 2006 and 2007, and if he can regain his pitching form, he will be a great addition to this staff. Penny is a big, ugly dude on the mound, and I mean that in a good way. One of his signature pitches is his 12-6 curveball. Also a weapon in his arsenal is his mouth. Penny has been known to smack talk a bit with opponents, which is accompanied by his nice off-speed splitter.
I think the fifth slot in this rotation might come down to what Red Sox Manager Terry Francona wants to do this year. He will again have the services of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, but at what extent will he use him since he doesn’t have a great knuckleball catcher anymore. Current starter Jason Varitek has been vocal about not wanting to catch Wakefield, and back-up catcher Josh Bard might again get this duty in his second tour with the Red Sox. Wakefield, who went 10-11 in 31 starts last season could be put in the Bullpen, but with his 56-67 mph flutterball he can mess with hitter’s rhythms like no other pitcher in the American League at times.
Another option for the Red Sox will not be available until maybe the middle of the season. When the Red Sox signed former Brave John Smoltz, they knew he would not be available for Opening Day in 2009. But with the recent pitching woes about the middle to the
end of the season, it will give the team another option to use instead of bringing up someone from Pawtucket. Smoltz still has some gas in his tank, and with his experience and off speed pitches, he could be one of the best pickups by the Red Sox by playoff time. Smoltz uses a sweeping action on his slider that seems to miss bats, and has always been know to have a dominating 95 mph heater in reserve. Smoltz may of had some health and injury troubles, but he can be counted on for great outings almost every time.
Another player who might even make the Red Sox team as a long reliever is Clay Bucholz. How many teams can boast that they have a guy in their system who came up and threw a no-hitter while basically a minor leaguer. Bucholz did that in 2007, and still is highly regarded in the Red Sox system. This might be his year to make a move and finally get a set spot in the roster in April. This starting lineup is on paper the best in the American League East, but its health will be the tell tale sign of what it can accomplish in 2009. If they do not have multiple injuries like the New York Yankees did in 2008, they could be the cream of the crop in 2009.
And even when the starter leave the game, the Red Sox Bullpen actually got better in 2009. They added a few extra pieces to further cement a lineup that would be the envy of any team in the league. Hideki Okajima will again be in the Bullpen for the Red Sox. He will again bring his deceptive splitter that seems to drop right out of sight before hitting the plate. His fastball became more recognizable in 2008, and he might have to adjust or go to a four-seam fastball to again fool hitters. Also in the Bullpen again in 2009 will be Manny Delcarmen. He throws a 95 mph fastball that also seems to dip and miss bats in the zone. Delcarmen also throws an overhand curveball that can fall like a classic “drop” ball that was popular over 40 years ago.
Justin Masterson might be another guy who could push Bucholz out of a roster spot because of his ability to either start or work out of the Bullpen. He basically throws two pitches, a fastball and a slider, which both tend to dip a lot. Combine that with his funky delivery and you got the making of a pitcher who can sweep the plate from both side with both pitches. Also coming out of the Bullpen in 2009 will be Javier Lopez. He is a sidearming leftie who can fool hitters with his gimmick delivery. He basically throws a fastball and curve, but mixes in a changeup for good measures.
Someone who might come in and make the roster as a reliever in 2009 is Japanese import Junici Tazawa. I am currently not sure where the Red Sox will use him in 2009, but he will be on the 40-man roster for sure. Tazawa set off an Japanese frenzy earlier in the year when he decided to bypass a career in the Japanese League and came straight to the United States to play for the Red Sox. He is only 22 years old, and signed a 3-year deal worth $ 6 million. He throws a 95 mph fastball, 12-6 curveball, a slider and a forkball. Before he signed with Boston, he had won the MVP award at the National Corporate Baseball Tournament for Nippon Oil. It was their first title in 13 years . Not to be outdone was the addition of former L A Dodger closer Takashi Saito. He will be mostly used as a setup man for the Red Sox. He is mostly a breaking ball pitcher. He constantly throws curves and sliders with amazing control and command. Saito uses these pitches either on the plate, or just off it to tease hitters. He could be a great tool to bring in before the ninth inning to get hitters off balance before Jonathan Papelbon comes into the game. Papelbon is finding a great niche for himself as a closer in this league. Combine his explosive fastball with his sweeping slider and you get a guy who can give you multiple looks coming out of the Bullpen to win the game. He has even named his own pitch, a slutter, which is a variation of the slider and cutter. But combine that with his antics while warming up and you get a guy who loves the pressure and can perform in the clutch with the best of them. That now gives the Red sox three Japanese pitchers on their staff.
That will bring us to the guy who will catch this pitching staff. After a long off season hiatus, Jason Varitek finally signed with the Red Sox and will again be the main guy behind the plate. He calls an excellent game behind the dish, but can be a liability at the plate. His hitting needs to improve for the Red Sox to have a dominant bat near the bottom of the lineup. As stated above Josh Bard will probably get the honor to try and catch and block Wakefield in 2009. Bard is also a good signal caller, but he is also a bit weak with his bat. This might be one of the weakest position from an offensive standpoint, but defensively it is on par with the league.
Starting in the middle of the infield we will have 2008 American League Most Valuable Player Dustin Pedroia again back manning second base. The third year player made a name for himself in 2008 by being the clutch hitter and offensive dynamo the Red Sox needed to keep pace with the Rays in the A L East race. One of the biggest question marks of the spring will be who mans the shortstop position on Opening Day. Last season Julio Lugo fell into slumps ( .268 average ) and an injury situation that made him basically a non factor at the position. He has come out and said he wants the position and will be given an opportunity to again win it in Spring Training. But because of the size of his contract, you have to believe that the Red Sox will give him multiple chances until a change has to be made. If he fails, the Red Sox have a experienced fielder in Jed Lowrie who took over for Lugo in 2008. Lowrie posted a .258 average, but was a better defensive player for the Red Sox last season.
On the corners the Red Sox will have Kevin Youkilis manning first base. Youkilis became a offensive threat in 2008 and will again try and improve on his .312 average with 29 homers ans 115 RBI’s. But he is just as good at the defensive front at first base and is con
sidered one of the American League’s best at the position. In 2008 he had only 4 errors in 923 chances. Only Carlos Pena of the Rays had a better mark in 2008. On the other side of the diamond will be Mike Lowell, who will be trying to come back off a serious hip injury in 2009. Lowell has been one of the offensive leaders in recent years for Boston, but in 2008, his injuries took a toll with a slight decrease at the plate. He only hit .274 last season with 17 homers ans 73 RBI’s, but is looking to increase those numbers. Along with Youkilis and Pedroia, Lowell makes one of the better hitting infields in the American League.
In the outfield things should be pretty set both in left field and center for the Red Sox. After sending Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers at last season’s trade deadline, the Red Sox acquired a great fielder and hitter in former Pirate Jason Bay. He will begin his first full season in Fenway Park , but already has a good read on the Green Monster and should improve even more in 2009. His .286, with 31homers and 101 RBI’s should again be an offensive weapon for the team. Patrolling center field will be Jacoby Ellsbury. Again in 2009, he should be the Red Sox lead-off hitter and continue his climb to become one of the best lead-off men in Red Sox history. His .280 average with 50 stolen bases shows that he can be a menace on the base paths as well as hit.
In right field, J D Drew might be the man to beat, but injury situations in the past might prove to be his downfall. Even though he hit .280, with 19 homers and 64 RBI’s, his hitting was streaky during 2008. When healthy is is a monster force out in right field, but is only average with arm strength and speed to the ball. With the short porch in right field, he can sometimes be a liability for short pop ups and shots down the line. Former Ray, Rocco Baldelli might provide the needed back-up because of his speed and hitting. Baldelli can also play center field and is quick to the ball and has a cannon arm. He is feeling fantastic after finding out his illness has changed and his fatigue and stamina will be a big question this spring. If he is truly healthy, he will be a great addition to the Red Sox roster.
Rounding out the roster will be Designated hitter David Ortiz. He will be late getting back to Spring Training after appearing for the Dominican Republic team during the World Baseball classic. Ortiz when healthy can be one of the best power hitter in the game. But questions will rise fast about his wrist again in 2009 if he gets off to a slow start. As Ortiz goes, so does the Boston offense. When he is playing great, they team has the ability to beat anyone, but when he is missing from the lineup it is a huge spot to fill. His 2009 season should be better than his sub par 2008, but only if he remains healthy.
So there you have the review of the Boston Red Sox. the team will again have a forceful starting rotation and a Bullpen that is considered one of the strongest top to bottom in the majors. For the Red Sox to drive towards the American League East title, they will have to maintain a great level of health and prevent injuries in 2009. As I stated before, if Boston has an injury situation like the 2008 Yankees, they might be fighting for third place in September. But all indications are that they will be fighting deep into September to try and regain the top spot in the A L East.
For them to again get to that top spot, they will have to win the yearly series against two team that have owned them late in the year in 2008. The will again have to be dominant against the Rays and the Blue Jays to try and post at least 95 wins in 2009. I think that total is achievable, but only if the injury bug and the Bullpen stays focused and strong. 2009 will be a fight for another A L East title. No one is guaranteed that even if they finish second in this division they will get a playoff spot . For that reason, the Red Sox will want to secure the top spot and guarantee their post season goals for 2009.
photo credits foir today’s blog go to: wwwsawxblog.com, rnolan1087@Flickr.com, sdowen@Flickr.com, keithallison@Flickr.com, news.yahoo.com, dubjo@Flickr.com, dbadair@Flickr.com.