Note: This column took a much-needed week off during All-Star week
In the last five seasons, the Red Sox entered the All-Star break in first place in the AL East. In 2010, the injury-saddled Sox not only couldn’t continue that streak but went into the break in third place for the first time since 2000 after going 2-4 in its last six games of the first half. The only real highlight in that stretch worth noting now was Jon Lester getting his 11th win and manager Terry Francona collecting a milestone 900th win July 9 via a 14-3 ass whipping versus the Blue Jays. The Sox would go on to win that final three-game series of the first half, two games to one.
At Fenway Park this past weekend, the Sox lost a four-game series with the red hot Texas Rangers, three games to one, and through July 18, are now losers of eight of its last 11 games, falling to 3.5 games out of the AL Wild Card race and 6.5 behind AL East-leading New York. And the one win they got came Saturday against the much sought after Cliff Lee, a pitcher that was bound to go from Seattle to the Yankees until last-minute talks broke down on July 9, the day he eventually ended up getting traded to Texas. More on that game later.
Bengie Molina Hits For The Cycle At Fenway Park
Just when you thought you’ve seen everything, the heavy load of veteran catcher Bengie Molina of the Rangers easily legged out a triple at Fenway last Friday night to complete a cycle. He became the first catcher in MLB history to hit for a cycle and a grand slam in the same game. Largely because of that, he is now the reigning American League Player of the Week. And to think, it wouldn’t have happened if rookie spot starter Felix Doubront didn’t make a bad throw to second base and instead threw to first base for the final out of the fifth inning. Instead, Francona yanked the young pitcher after that play and brought in Fernando Cabrera, who gave up five runs in that inning, four of them of course coming from one swing by Molina.
David Ortiz: Home Run King
As far as All-Star week is concerned, the only highlight from a Boston angle was seeing David Ortiz become the first Sox slugger (if you can believe it) to win the annual Home Run Derby, defeating former teammate and Sox top prospect, Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins. It was Big Papi’s fourth time in the Derby – so I guess the fourth time is the charm. And he did it in front of a very unfriendly crowd in Anaheim, where Angels fans have not so fond memories of he and the Sox eliminating their team from the postseason in 2004 and 2007, even though last year, Anaheim finally returned the favor via a three-game sweep of Boston in the first round.
What’s The Beef?
Ramirez also faced Sox stud Jon Lester in the All-Star Game. Lester worked a perfect inning, including getting Ramirez to hit a grounder right back to him and throw him out at first base. But afterwards, was asked by the media if he and Hanley ever went out for a pizza when both were Sox minor league teammates several years back, and talked about one day playing in an All-Star Game. Lester’s response was rather stunning: “I’d have a better chance of being struck by lightning than me and him getting a pizza together,” he said. “You can take that for what it’s worth. But there was no chance on God’s green earth that I was getting a pizza with him.”
While Big Papi was more like a second father to Ramirez in the mid-2000s when he was still in the Sox system, it appears that Lester has some beef with Ramirez, a player who has battled with some hustling and maturity issues in recent years. Lester is one of the best lefties in the game, and Hanley Ramirez one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball. Whatever Ramirez did must have been really bad. Good for him for speaking his mind like this. I wonder what Lester has to say about that other ex-teammate named Ramirez!
Sox Are Hurtin’ For Certain (But Help Is On The Way)
As part of Saturday’s come-from-behind Sox 3-2 win in 11 innings against Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers, AL MVP candidate (and should’ve been All-Star) Kevin Youkilis got the clutch game-tying and game-winning RBI (via a sac fly) . But having Manny Delcarmen come off the disabled list to set the stage for Youk by pitching a perfect top half of the 11th inning was a pretty sight. And more healthy bodies are on their way, finally.
Clay Buchholz will be back to pitch against the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday, outfielder Jeremy Hermida is expected to join the club in Seattle over the weekend, and Josh Beckett has finished his rehab stints in the minors and will pitch Friday night in Seattle against the Mariners. That will be four regulars coming back in about one week’s time, with five others – Victor Martinez, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, Jacoby Ellsbury – still to come.
To Trade Or Not To Trade
It appears Mike Lowell will be staying in Boston for the rest of 2010, which is good news to me as a fan, but not for him as a part-time player that he’s become here. As he said, all the Sox would get is a “sub-par” prospect in return if they traded him, and would have to pay the bulk of his salary no matter where he goes. Lowell has played in just 31 games this season.
As far as outfield help is concerned, knowing that Mike Cameron is playing hurt and that Ellsbury is still weeks away from coming back, GM Theo Epstein is rumored to be looking at names like Cody Ross of the Marlins, David DeJesus of the Royals and others to trade for. But the asking price will be high. The only rumored name I’d give any valuable prospect away for is the Phillies’ Jayson Werth. Other than him, I’d pass on the rest and wait for the likes of Ellsbury and Hermida to contribute again.
One area they need help in badly is catching, and again, the only rumored name worth looking at to trade for is Chris Iannetta of the Rockies. He’s hitting in the .220s, but has seven homers and 14 RBI this season in 91 at-bats, which is better than the catching crew the BoSox have had recently, including journeyman Kevin Cash and younger catchers Gustavo Molina (who was just DFA-ed) and Dusty Brown. Between those three, through July 18, they are just a paltry 3-for-40 at the plate. Iannetta would be a decent upgrade for now, at least until V-Mart and V-Tek get back.
And finally, the Sox should definitely make an aggressive push for Toronto reliever Scott Downs, who in 38+ innings has posted a 2.56 ERA. Other names like Seattle’s David Aardsma – a former Red Sox pitcher – and Florida’s Leo Nunez just don’t excite me. Whoever they get should be a crafty veteran and has to be better than the mediocre minor league relievers (like Cabrera) they’ve brought up so far. It’s so bad there now that the Sox have converted once prized prospect Michael Bowden from starter to reliever and brought him to Oakland to help out the bullpen.
But Bowden isn’t the answer for the bullpen problems. Nobody has an answer to that problem. But in about two week’s time, the BoSox will likely have a more permanent one. Between now and then, Sox just have to survive a 10-game West Coast road trip, where they haven’t had a winning record since going 8-7 in 2004.
Credit for David Ortiz image: Albert Yau of Flickr