SweetSpot: Daniel Bard

Planning a Boston bounce-back in 2013

November, 23, 2012
So, how about that AL East? We know the Blue Jays have been busy, and the Yankees will be. The Rays can't be counted out and the Orioles just proved nothing's certain. What's a fading former contender like the Boston Red Sox to do?

It would be easy to blast to the foundations and start dealing away everyone who might be a free agent after 2013 -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Jarrod Saltalamacchia among others -- but I doubt that's why they re-signed David Ortiz, and it probably wouldn't help them talk Dustin Pedroia into signing a contract extension. So instead, let's say the Red Sox make a real effort to contend again, shy of making any huge financial commitments, but shoring up the hand they've got and making a play to get back to October. Could they make that happen?

What do they need? I'd argue two big areas would have to be addressed: A front-end rotation starter who ranks up there with Lester at the very least, and offensive upgrades wherever possible, especially at first base and the outfield.

The rotation's fairly straightforward, because to keep up in the AL East's arms race, the Red Sox need to shore up a rotation that let them down in 2011, delivering only 72 quality starts last year. Hoping for rebound seasons from Lester and Clay Buchholz may be reasonable, and counting on John Lackey to come back and be a solid mid-rotation horse will help, but it isn't enough.

On offense, let's face it, an outfield blend of just-added Jonny Gomes plus Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava and Ryan Sweeney doesn't add up to two well-stocked corners. And at first base, settling for some combination of Mauro Gomez and Jerry Sands also isn't going to get it done; outside of Albuquerque's extra-friendly confines, Sands hit a relatively unimpressive .278/.350/.510 in the hitter-friendly PCL in his second season in the circuit. Take that down a few pegs in the majors, and you won't get much O from an offense-first position.

General manager Ben Cherington's cupboard isn't bare. The Red Sox have a few young veterans who might fill people's needs at up-the-middle positions, notably Saltalamacchia and Kalish. In and of themselves they're not guys who will put Boston over the top, now or ever, but that's perhaps the Red Sox's area of surplus. As Salty heads into his age-28 season after belting 25 bombs in 2012, he's already as good as he's going to get, and while Kalish has had his moments at the lower levels over a long minor-league apprenticeship, he's no Ellsbury. Their value may never be higher, so better to shop them now and address the Red Sox's needs.

(Read full post)

"Show us some respect," yell Baltimore Orioles fans. Or maybe they're politely demanding. But I've seen the complaints in the Power Rankings comments, read the emails sent to "Baseball Today," been asked the question in my chats: Why doesn't anyone believe in the Orioles?

The Orioles traveled to Fenway Park this week in a precarious situation. They've lost two of three in Tampa. They've been swept in Toronto. They've lost two of three at home to Kansas City. They've lost two of three at home to Boston. They haven't won a series since the big weekend showdown in Washington from May 18-20.

So, yes, the concerns all of us "experts" had been raising -- it's a long season, let's see what happens to the rotation, let's find out if some of the hitters can keep up their hot starts, the bullpen can't keep its ERA under 2.00 all season -- were proving true. The O's were 27-14 after winning the second against the Nationals but had gone 3-10 since, with the staff posting a 4.95 ERA while the offense scored 3.5 runs per game.

These were the Orioles we all expected. And then they beat the Red Sox in extra innings on Tuesday. And then they beat the Red Sox 2-1 on Wednesday behind a solid effort from Wei-Yin Chen and scoreless innings from Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson. They're 5-0 at Fenway in 2012 and Chen is now 5-2 with a 3.49 ERA. The key moments came in the seventh inning after the Red Sox threatened with a pair of singles to start the frame. But after a sacrifice bunt, Chen struck out Marlon Byrd and induced Mike Aviles to pop out to first base.

Normally, Buck Showalter might have turned to his stellar bullpen, but after Tuesday's victory, in which the bullpen threw five innings, he left Chen to escape the jam. He set up Byrd with three fastballs and then got him swinging on a beautiful changeup. He threw three more fastballs to Aviles that he couldn't get around on. Don't underestimate Chen. His stuff plays up big, with his four-seamer reaching 94 mph. His last pitch to Aviles was clocked at 93. In 11 starts, he allowed two or fewer runs seven times and I think this outing will give Showalter more confidence to stretch Chen a little deeper into games.

So the Orioles remain in first place for another day, half a game ahead of the Yankees. Is it time to show them a little respect, to give Orioles fans what they crave? Let's do some position-by-position rankings to help sort out this tightly packed division. Rankings are simply listed in order of who I would want the rest of the season.

(Season-to-date Wins Above Replacement from Baseball-Reference.com, before Wednesday's games, listed in parenthesis.)

1. Matt Wieters, Orioles (1.6 WAR)
2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Kelly Shoppach, Red Sox (1.6)
3. Russell Martin, Yankees (0.7)
4. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays (0.2)
5. Jose Molina, Rays (0.1)

There is a case to be made that Boston's duo is more valuable since they've combined for 14 home runs and an OPS over .900. But Wieters brings elite defensive skills and I also don't believe Salty is going to slug .583 all season. For the second consecutive season, the Rays are essentially punting offense at catcher. Rays catchers have the worst OPS in the majors.

First base
1. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox (0.8)
2. Mark Teixeira, Yankees (0.6)
3. Mark Reynolds, Orioles (-0.6)
4. Carlos Pena, Rays (0.4)
5. David Cooper/others, Blue Jays (incomplete)

Gonzalez is still struggling to get his stroke going, but he's the best of a weak group. Yes, I just called Mark Teixeira weak, but at this point he's a low-average guy who pops a few long balls, doesn't draw as many walks as he once did and isn't as great on defense as Yankee fans believe. But in this group that's good enough to rank second. Reynolds has a low WAR but he's missed time and that includes his bad defense at third base, a position we've hopefully seen the last of him playing. The Jays, meanwhile, need to quit fooling around at first base and find a legitimate hitter, or move Edwin Encarnacion there and find a designated hitter. You hate to waste a potential playoff season because you can't find a first baseman who can hit. (No, David Cooper is not the answer, although he's hit well so far in 11 games.)

Second base
1. Robinson Cano, Yankees (2.1)
2. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox (1.8)
3. Kelly Johnson, Blue Jays (2.1)
4. Ben Zobrist, Rays (0.7)
5. Robert Andino, Orioles (0.6)

I love Ben Zobrist almost as much as two scoops of Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch from Ben & Jerry's, but a .199 average isn't going to cut it in this group, even if you are on pace to draw 100-plus walks. Zobrist has actually play more right field so far, but should be back at second on a regular basis with Desmond Jennings back.

Third base
1. Evan Longoria, Rays (1.4)
2. Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays (3.1)
3. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees (1.2)
4. Kevin Youkilis/Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox (0.5)
5. Wilson Betemit/Steve Tolleson, Orioles (-0.1)

Lawrie's WAR is boosted by defensive metrics that treat him like he's the second coming of Brooks Robinson. He's a good player but don't I think he's been the second-best position player in the American League. Longoria hopes to return at the end of the Rays' current road trip. As for A-Rod, his health is always a question at this stage of his career, but Youkilis has health questions and I'm not a believer in Middlebrooks' ability to hit .321 with power all season. His 29/4 strikeout/walk ratio is something pitchers should learn to exploit. As for the Orioles ... third base is an obvious concern. But don't expect a rare intra-division trade to acquire Youkilis.

1. J.J. Hardy, Orioles (2.1)
2. Mike Aviles, Red Sox (2.2)
3. Derek Jeter, Yankees (0.9)
4. Yunel Escobar, Blue Jays (1.9)
5. Sean Rodriguez, Rays (1.9)

Wait ... Jeter has been the least valuable of this group so far? The other four all rate as excellent fielders -- in fact, Baseball-Reference rates them all in the top 13 fielders in the AL. Jeter, meanwhile, ranks 310th in the AL on defense -- out of 313 players.

Left field
1. Desmond Jennings, Rays (1.2)
2. Daniel Nava/Carl Crawford, Red Sox (1.7)
3. Brett Gardner/Raul Ibanez, Yankees (0.3)
4. Eric Thames/Rajai Davis, Blue Jays (-0.1)
5. Endy Chavez/Xavier Avery/Nolan Reimold, Orioles (-0.3)

Not to keep picking on the Orioles, but this is another problem position, especially if Reimold's disc problems lingers all season. Nava has quietly been a huge savior for the Red Sox, batting .305 with a .438 OBP. He's drawing walks at a crazy rate. He should slide some but he's provided the kind of depth the Orioles don't have.

Center field
1. Adam Jones, Orioles (2.5)
2. Curtis Granderson, Yankees (1.3)
3. B.J. Upton Rays (0.9)
4. Jacoby Ellsbury/Scott Podsednik/Marlon Byrd, Red Sox (0.5)
5. Colby Rasmus, Blue Jays (1.3)

Ellsbury might be the biggest wild card in this race, because the Red Sox can't survive much longer with the Podsednik/Byrd platoon. When will he return? How will he hit? He just started throwing and could return by the end of the month. I've conservatively put him fourth, which seems fair considering the unknown. And please note, Orioles fans, that I believe in Mr. Jones.

Right field
1. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (0.9)
2. Matt Joyce, Rays (2.2)
3. Nick Swisher, Yankees (-0.1)
4. Cody Ross/Ryan Sweeney, Red Sox (1.6)
5. Nick Markakis/others, Orioles (0.3)

Markakis is out three to four weeks with a broken bone in his wrist, an injury that once again reflects Baltimore's lack of depth. But all five teams are solid in right field. Ross is about to return from his broken foot; we'll see if he pounds the ball like he was before the injury (.534 slugging).

Designated hitter
1. David Ortiz, Red Sox (1.4)
2. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays (1.6)
3. Revolving Door, Yankees
4. Chris Davis, Orioles (0.3)
5. Luke Scott, Rays (0.0)

No respect for Davis? OK, he's hitting .295/.333/.494. And he has 53 strikeouts and eight walks. Sorry, call me skeptical, O's fans. Yankee designated hitters have actually fared well, hitting a combined .279/.354/.467 with 10 home runs.

No. 1 starter
1. David Price, Rays (2.2)
2. CC Sabathia, Yankees (1.9)
3. Ricky Romero, Blue Jays (0.3)
4. Josh Beckett, Red Sox (0.5)
5. Jason Hammel, Orioles (1.9)

Look, Hammel has been terrific so far thanks to a career-high strikeout rate and a career-high ground-ball rate. But this is tough group and the question is who is going to be best moving forward? My biggest concern is that Hammel has never pitched 180 innings in a season. Can he pitched the 210 to 220 that you need from a No. 1?

No. 2 starter
1. Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays (1.1)
2. James Shields, Rays (-0.4)
3. Andy Pettitte, Yankees (1.5)
4. Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles (0.7)
5. Jon Lester, Red Sox (-0.4)

I like Chen. Heck, right now I like him better than Jon Lester, which tells you how much I like him. But he averaged just 172 innings in Japan over the past three seasons. Can he hold up over 32 starts?

No. 3 starter
1. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays (1.0)
2. Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees (1.4)
3. Felix Doubront, Red Sox (0.4)
4. Brian Matusz, Orioles (0.2)
5. Henderson Alvarez, Blue Jays (0.4)

Matusz is holding his own at 5-5, 4.41, but he's still walking a few too many, allowing a few too many hits, a few too many home runs. The velocity is solid, averaging 91 on his fastball. We're talking minor upgrades needed in his command, getting the ball down in the zone more often to get more groundballs. If the Orioles are to have any chance, Matusz's improvement may be the single most important aspect.

No. 4 starter
1. Matt Moore, Rays (-0.6)
2. Ivan Nova, Yankees (0.3)
3. Jake Arrieta, Orioles (-0.4)
4. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox (-1.2)
5. Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays (-0.1)

Five pitchers who have struggled, but Arrieta's peripheral numbers are actually pretty solid. Like Matusz, there is hope for improvement. On the other hand, he's been awful since pitching eight scoreless innings against the Yankees on May 2, giving up 29 runs in 31.2 innings. His BABIP was .243 through May 2; it's .361 since. The truth is probably right in the middle, leaving Arrieta third on our list of fourth starters.

No. 5 starter
1. Alex Cobb/Jeff Niemann, Rays (0.3)
2. Drew Hutchison, Blue Jays (0.1)
3. Phil Hughes, Yankees (0.2)
4. Daisuke Matsuzaka/Aaron Cook/Daniel Bard, Red Sox (-0.3)
5. Tommy Hunter, Orioles (-0.5)

Hunter isn't really a major league starter, but I'm not sure Jamie Moyer -- just signed to a minor league contract -- is exactly a solution. The Orioles need to upgrade here.

1. Yankees (2.76 ERA)
2. Orioles (2.48 ERA)
3. Red Sox (3.66 ERA)
4. Rays (3.43 ERA)
5. Blue Jays (4.39 ERA)

If you watched Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson close out Wednesday's win, you'll realize the back of the Orioles' end has two guys with filthy stuff. Darren O'Day and Luis Ayala are strike-throwing machines and Troy Patton is a lefty who isn't a LOOGY. It's a good pen and it's deep. But the reliability of the pen ties into the rotation's inability to pitch deep into games -- Orioles relievers have already thrown 39 more innings than Yankees relievers, for example.

OK, let’s add it up … one point for ranking first, five points for ranking fifth. Hey, this isn’t meant to be scientific, so don’t overanalyze this too much. The totals:

Yankees: 36 points
Rays: 40 points
Red Sox: 45 points
Blue Jays: 51 points
Orioles: 53 points

Not the respect Orioles fans are seeking. Sorry about that; it’s nothing personal. Look, I don’t think the Orioles are going to fade away anytime soon. I worry about the rotation’s ability to hold up all summer and the bullpen’s workload. They lack depth on offense and have a couple of obvious holes. Hey, you never know, and the Orioles are certainly due for a winning season. I would love to see it happen.

Javier Lopez Jake Roth/US PresswireJavier Lopez is sending a message to Mark Kotsay: Tag, you're out!
How good is Mike Trout? Should the Red Sox trade Kevin Youkilis? Should the Giants trade Pablo Sandoval? Discussion about the all-time draft rosters. All that in more in Tuesday's chat wrap.

When I was a kid I had a book titled "The Giant Book of Strange but True Sports Stories." I must have read it a hundred times. I can't remember how many of the stories were actually strange or how many were even true, but I loved that book.

Kind of like the 2012 season. We're a third of the way through it and we have a whole list of intriguing story lines. I don't how many of them can be classified as strange, but many of them are certainly a bit mystifying and remarkable. And as far as I know, all true.

Here are a few of these stories and a few corresponding predictions.

1. Josh Hamilton hits like Babe Ruth for two months, Albert Pujols goes through a slump of biblical proportions, and somehow the Angels are only 4.5 games behind the Rangers.

The Rangers made a small statement on Sunday, beating the Angels 7-3 in a game Dan Haren struggled with his command. Haren allowed just two runs in five innings but was removed after throwing 104 pitches and first-pitch strikes to 12 of the 24 batters he faced. But the Angels took two of three in the series to chip into a Rangers' lead that was once as many as nine games and was still eight games as recently as May 22. The Angels have reeled off 10 wins in 12 games.

In fact, Haren's mediocre start Sunday was symbolic of his inconsistent season. A workhorse in 2011, he pitched at least seven innings in 21 of his 34 starts and at least eight innings in nine starts. This season he has gone seven innings in just five of 12 starts and eight or more just twice. Similar to Pujols' struggles, this can be viewed as a positive: At some point, Haren is a good bet to get in a groove where he's pitching deeper into games on a regular basis.

As for the Rangers, they started 12-2 -- a stretch that included six wins over the Twins and Mariners -- but have since gone just 20-20, despite Hamilton's heroics. Signing Roy Oswalt indicates the concerns the club has about a rotation that has struggled lately. On Sunday, Matt Harrison won his third straight start with a decent but not dominant outing (three walks, three strikeouts). We're also unkind enough to mention that the first two of those three wins came against Seattle. Still, his numbers are starting to line up with 2011, one positive sign for a pitching staff that has had to rely heavily on its bullpen. That .500 record over 40 games shows that a dominant bullpen is nice but it doesn't necessarily make up for a mediocre rotation.

Prediction: I still believe the Rangers are the team to beat in the AL West -- after all, they're still on pace for 96 wins (strange but true!). Oswalt is certainly a bit of a wild card but should improve the back end of the rotation. The bullpen is the best in the business and gets even deeper if Neftali Feliz ends up there when he returns from the disabled list. And the offense leads the league in runs scored. The Angels are better club with Vernon Wells on the DL, but they need improvement from Haren and Ervin Santana and have to hope Jered Weaver's DL stint isn't a lengthy one.

2. Scott Podsednik has more home runs than Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford combined. Felix Doubront leads the rotation in ERA. The Red Sox have had two five-game losing streaks and another stretch of five losses in six games. And they're just three games out of first place.

The Red Sox were 12-19 on May 10 but have gone 16-7 since to climb to 28-26. The entire AL East is over .500, but the Red Sox are back in the race despite a long list of injuries, poor performances from the rotation, and Adrian Gonzalez's poor start. Dead and buried? Not quite. The Red Sox have risen.

Still, things aren't all positive in Beantown. While Clay Buchholz has looked better his past two starts, Daniel Bard's transition to starter continues to be a work in progress. On Sunday, he bombed out in the second inning after walking six batters. His season totals now include the ugly marks of 37 walks and 34 strikeouts. Among 118 qualified major league starters, the only one with a worse strikeout/walk ratio is Cleveland's Ubaldo Jimenez. The Red Sox don't really have a viable alternative to Bard right now, but you have to believe they'll be pursuing a starter before the trade deadline if Bard doesn't improve.

Prediction: The Red Sox aren't going anywhere. Even with all the injuries, the offense is second in the league to the Rangers in runs scored. They've scored 38 more runs than the Yankees, 50 more than the Orioles and 60 more than the Rays. Last time I checked, scoring runs is still 50 percent of the equation. I'll stick with my preseason pick: This is a playoff team.

3. The New York Mets are tied for first place.

There were 643,782 predictions made on the Internet this year about MLB's final standings. I looked them all up. Not one picked the Mets to win the NL East. This isn't strange but true, but strange, true and amazing.

After beating the Cardinals on Sunday night, the Mets are tied for first place even though they have the worst bullpen ERA in the NL, first baseman Ike Davis is hitting .170, they're on their third starting shortstop due to injuries, they've used four starters in the fifth slot, their closer has a 6.10 ERA, and they're 14th in the NL in home runs.

It's easy to look at the run differential of minus-six runs and assume they've been lucky, that maybe they'll be 27-27 or 26-28 instead of 31-23. But in this year of parity, early season run differential can be a little misleading. The Mets have scored 10 runs in a game just once. But they've had games where they've allowed 18 runs, two with 14, one with 11 and with 10. The back end of the bullpen has been terrible, which leads to a poor run differential, but not necessarily more losses.

The Mets' success starts with the rotation combo of R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana. Dickey is 8-1 with a 2.69 ERA; and there's nothing that screams fluke about his numbers. Since the start of 2010, he ranks 10th in the majors among pitchers with at least 400 innings pitched with a 3.02 ERA. He has 70 strikeouts and 17 walks in 73.2 innings this year. The knuckleballer isn't a conventional ace but he's a legit one. Santana is just 3-2 but with a 2.38 ERA and a .200 opponents' batting average. As he showed during his no-hitter on Friday night, his changeup is as devastating as ever, even if his fastball velocity isn't what it once was.

Prediction: Everyone wants to doubt this club and I do agree they'll need to add a couple relievers. But improving a bad bullpen is the easiest thing to fix in midseason. Go down the rest of the NL East rosters and the other four teams have significant flaws as well. I think the Mets fall short in the end, but I think they stay'll close deep into September.

4. The Pittsburgh Pirates are ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals.

This one can't be true. The Pirates are hitting .221 with a .275 on-base percentage. They're on pace to score 495 runs, which ... well, would make them one of the worst hitting teams ever. But I guess you knew that from that .221 average. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are second in the NL in runs and lead the league in batting, OBP and slugging percentage.

Put it this way: Andrew McCutchen is the only Pirate who could crack the Cardinals' starting lineup. (OK, maybe Neil Walker.)

Look, we can break down the numbers a million different ways and the Cardinals are going to come out on top. The Cardinals have outscored their opponents by 47 runs; the Pirates have been outscored by 26 runs. The teams shouldn't be close in the standings. But remember what we just said about run differential? In the key stat that matters, the Pirates are 27-26 and the Cardinals are 27-27.

Prediction: Hey, maybe A.J. Burnett will end up pitching in the postseason ... but I think that happens only if he gets traded. I just can't get past how abysmal Pittsburgh's offense has been. Yes, the pitching has been stellar, allowing the second-fewest runs in the league. The bullpen has been near perfect, with a 10-4 record and 2.59 ERA. But if the pitching falters even a little, the Pirates will be headed for another under .500 season.

And the defending World Series champs? On paper, they appear to be the most talented team in the National League. Their division is weak. Is this just a lackluster 7-16 stretch? Or a sign of mediocrity? I'm going with a bad stretch. But this is sports. Stranger things have happened.

Philly PhanaticHoward Smith/US PresswireJust another rough day at the office for the Phillie Phanatic...
Keith Law and I emerged from the long and happy Memorial Day weekend ready to talk baseball, so here’s what is in store for Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast!

1. Chicago White Sox lefty Chris Sale piles on the strikeouts Monday, and we discuss this resurgent team and its potential new ace for the long term.

2. We should find out more on Tuesday about the injuries affecting Jered Weaver and Roy Halladay, but how critical would their absences be to their slow-starting teams?

3. Manny Ramirez plies his trade in the minor leagues, but should anyone care? Also, his potential new teammate Josh Reddick continues his power assault. Is it legit?

4. As draft day approaches, what are the Chicago Cubs thinking and why should we trust the organization is on the right track?

5. We also take your emails, discussing minor leaguers like Nolan Arenado, pitch recognition and take a glance at Tuesday’s big league schedule.

So download and listen to Tuesday’s excellent Baseball Today podcast and come back with us on Wednesday!

We drown in numbers and statistics these days, but here's one that sums up the crumbling state of the Boston Red Sox quite eloquently: Following Josh Beckett's implosion on Thursday night, Red Sox starters have now allowed five-plus runs in 14 starts; Nationals starters have done so once.

Here's another way. Fifty-three American League starting pitchers are qualified for the AL ERA title. Here's where Boston's five starters rank:

32. Jon Lester (4.29)
38. Daniel Bard (4.83)
46. Felix Doubront (5.29)
51. Josh Beckett (5.97)
53. Clay Buchholz (9.09)

OK, ERA can be a little misleading early in the season. Here's where those five guys rank among AL starters in strikeout/walk ratio:

27. Beckett
32. Doubront
41. Lester
48. Bard
51. Buchholz

The Red Sox are 12-19 for a lot of reasons: injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford and Andrew Bailey; a slow start from Adrian Gonzalez; a couple bullpen implosions; Bobby Valentine using outfielder Darnell McDonald to pitch in a tie game.

Those are all factors, but despite the injuries on offense, the Red Sox are still second in the AL in runs scored; the bullpen has five losses, but 14 teams have more; and Valentine is more lightning rod than explanation.

No, the responsibility rests with the starting rotation. Bard and Doubront have perhaps predictably been mediocre, but they've actually been improvements over Tim Wakefield and John Lackey, so the blame falls on the supposed big three of Beckett, Lester and Buchholz.

Beckett started in Fenway against Cleveland on Thursday, his first start since April 29 and first since the infamous "he cares more about golfing than pitching" story leaked to the media. Beckett actually had pitched pretty well since his five-homer disaster in his first start, posting a 2.93 ERA over his next four starts. While I'm happy to report that I didn't see any greasy fried chicken stains on his jersey, his evening was yet another May disaster for the Sox.

In the top of the second, with one run already in, Jack Hannahan hit a 2-2 changeup to right field for a two-out home run. Not surprisingly, the Fenway faithful let go with more than a few loud boos. In third inning, Jason Kipnis crushed a 3-2 cutter over the bullpen in right-center. After Asdrubal Cabrera singled, Beckett got ahead of Travis Hafner with two strikes but then threw four consecutive balls. Shin-Soo Choo doubled to right on a 2-0, four-seam fastball to score Cabrera. Michael Brantley fell behind two strikes, then lined a double into the gap in left-center on a 1-2 curveball, scoring two more runs and knocking Beckett from the bump in what would be an 8-3 Indians victory.

You can see the issues here: Even when he got ahead of batters, Beckett was unable to put them away. He used the whole tool box -- changeups, four-seamers, cutters, curveballs; the Indians hit them all. Six of the seven hits off Beckett went for extra bases.

I blurted out on Thursday's Baseball Today podcast that Beckett is the most overrated pitcher of the past decade. That's probably unfair to a pitcher who has been good for a lot of years, a guy who had dominant postseason runs in 2003 and 2007 in leading the Marlins and Red Sox to World Series titles. Those playoff performances did inflate his reputation a bit, as his regular-season performances haven't been consistently at that level. He has received Cy Young votes just twice in his career (finishing second in 2007 and ninth in 2011). He hasn't exactly been CC Sabathia when it comes to durability, reaching 200 innings just three times and never topping 215. With the Red Sox, he's had two seasons of ERAs over 5.00.

Maybe 2012 is going to be one of those down years; Red Sox fans who saw Beckett and Lester collapse down the stretch expected leadership from Beckett, not reports on his golf swing.

Speaking of Lester, what has happened to the dominant left-hander of a few seasons ago? In 2009, he averaged 10.0 strikeout per nine innings, but that figure has dipped to 6.0 this season. His walks are up more than one per nine innings since 2009. His velocity is still fine; as Curt Schilling has pointed out, his command isn't, with Lester especially struggling in pitching to the outside corner against right-handed batters. Going back to his final 11 starts of 2011, Lester has a 4.16 ERA and a poor strikeout/walk ratio of 86/50. The stuff is still there, but we're going on 18 starts now of mediocre pitching.

Buchholz is an even bigger disaster, the worst starter in the majors so far. Unable to get the ball down in the zone, Buchholz has been pounded like a punching bag. Opponents are hitting .343 and slugging .613 off him. Essentially, the average hitter against Buchholz is David Ortiz. The Red Sox can't afford to keep sending him out there; he probably has one more start before a demotion to Triple-A or stint on the disabled list is necessary.

Eric Karabell made a good argument on the podcast: the Red Sox were 14-17 a year ago and only a historical collapse prevented them from reaching the playoffs. They're only two games worse now, he would suggest, so rationally they're far from out of it. Eric could also point out that Detroit and Arizona were both 14-17 after 31 games a year ago and won 95 and 94 games, respectively.

Eric is right, of course. The Red Sox aren't dead.

But with a 1-8 record in May and a starting rotation in shambles, they certainly look it.

Ron GardenhireHannah Foslien/Getty ImagesDoes this look like the manager of the worst team in baseball? Yes it does.
Stuff ...
Pitching matchups looking forward and back were a popular topic on Wednesday’s Baseball Today podcast, as Keith Law and I tackled many subjects!

1. First, there’s the Ozzie Guillen situation with the Marlins. Hey, this probably won’t be the last time we’re talking about Guillen off the field.

2. Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips each have shiny, new contracts, but which one of them really deserves it?

3. The performances of Neftali Feliz and Daniel Bard were very much on my mind from Tuesday night, but what does Law see for these right-handers moving forward?

4. Our emailers want to know the effect managers can have on baseball games, whether Austin Jackson is a good leadoff choice and more! Send emails to baseballtoday@espnradio.com.

5. We look ahead to what should be a terrific slate of Wednesday games, including Roy Halladay versus Josh Johnson on ESPN2.

Plus, Keith talks about the upcoming draft and which high school and college kids to watch. It’s a packed Wednesday episode of Baseball Today podcast, so download and listen now! Coming Thursday, SweetSpot blogger/editor Dave Schoenfield will join me! Chone Figgins for MVP!
News and notes from around the majors ...

First base: Injury news. The injury bug hits the Mets again as we learned David Wright suffered a fractured pinkie finger on Monday. Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Mets will determine Friday if Wright has to go on the disabled list. If necessary, Terry Collins would likely move Daniel Murphy to third base and play Justin Turner or prospect Jordany Valdespin at second. Valdespin hit .294/.333/.468 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2011. ... Brandon Phillips landed a big contract and then missed Tuesday's game with a sore hammy. He could miss three or four days. Willie Harris played second and hit leadoff. ... Nationals left fielder Michael Morse is still out indefinitely with his strained lat. He left a minor-league rehab stint, unable to throw the ball from left to shortstop. Veteran Xavier Nady is 2-for-10 in his place. ... Lance Berkman left his game in the eighth inning with a calf injury. Check tomorrow for updates, but if he's out, Matt Carpenter would play first base.

Second base: The Bard's tale. Daniel Bard pitched better than his final line of 5 IP, 8 H, 5 R indicates. He had six K's and just one walk and induced 18 swing-and-misses. Only Josh Beckett had more swings-and-misses in a game last season (20). Basically, Bard got done in by the dreaded BABIP, burned by a few groundballs that got through the infield. Red Sox fans should be encouraged by his start.

Third base: More Moore. Matt Moore made his first start on a cold day in Detroit that featured two different snow flurries. He walked five and struck out four in 6.2 innings, allowing four hits including an Austin Jackson home run in the seventh. Like Yu Darvish's first start, it would be ridiculous to make any conclusions. The kid is going to be great, it's mostly just a matter if he'll throw enough strikes to be great this year.

Home plate: Tweet of the day.
It was Eric Karabell and Keith Law on Tuesday's Baseball Today, plus a guest appearance from Jerry Ferrara, Yankees fan and "Entourage" actor. The highlights:

1. Carlos Santana signed a long-term deal with the Indians but Keith isn't crazy about deals with catchers, especially those with knee problems.

2. Eric and Keith review Yu Darvish's debut. The first inning was ugly but did he look better after that?

3. Jeff Samardzija was awesome on Sunday, but the boys aren't quite willing to anoint him Cy Young material just yet.

4. Thoughts on Trevor Bauer, the Orioles and Tuesday's action.

5. Jerry isn't worried about the Yankees' slow start, talks about all the sports he watched on Sunday and about his new movie, "Act Like a Man."

All that on more on Tuesday's Baseball Today.

Podcast: Feliz, Bard, Braun, Klaw!

March, 21, 2012
A bit of sarcasm was on display for Wednesday’s Baseball Today podcast, as Keith Law and I had a little fun talking about the great game of baseball!

1. KLaw discusses what he saw from Texas Rangers right-hander Neftali Feliz on Tuesday. Feliz lasted three innings before shoulder soreness forced his exit.

2. Meanwhile, I was able to observe Boston Red Sox right-hander Daniel Bard trying to avoid walks on Tuesday. Another converted reliever, KLaw shares thoughts on how this situation will end up.

3. Ryan Braun isn’t hitting this spring, and obviously the rumor mongers can’t get enough. Of course, Keith and I tell you the truth about Braun.

4. Big trade for the Royals! Big trade! OK, so acquiring Humberto Quintero and Jason Bourgeois doesn’t guarantee the pennant, but we discuss their impact, and the Royals' closing situation.

5. Emails and tweets galore! Among the topics are Mike Matheny’s living arrangements, the awful Houston Astros, sixth starters and Dusty versus Walt in Cincy.

So download and listen to Wednesday’s Baseball Today podcast, which includes a funny rant by Mr. Law. Don’t miss it.
If there's one thing we need more of in America, it's eight-pound hamburgers.

So thankfully the Washington Nationals have stepped up to sate our gluttony by introducing the StrasBurger, the Washington Post's Dan Steinberg reports. My favorite part of the news release: The burger will be served on a "large burger bun." Well, I would hope so.

My question: Was Stephen Strasburg consulted on this? Does he approve of being associated with an eight-pound piece of cow flesh? Or are we entering an Albert Pujols situation? I fear there will be repercussions to this burger unveiling.

More links:
  • The bloggers at the Capitol Avenue Club react to Chipper Jones' comments that he might not make it through the season.
  • Joey Matschulat writes on Mike Napoli's contract situation with the Rangers ... and the lack of an extension or even an apparent discussion.
  • The Mariners annually have the most creative promotional commercials. I'm not sure they actually help sell more tickets, but they're fun to watch. The best one this year shows where Justin Smoak gets his bats.
  • Chip Buck on the Boston's Sox bullpen situation. The Sox lost Jonathan Papelbon to free agency and Daniel Bard to the rotation, replacing them with Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon. Papelbon and Bard were dominant, both posting WHIPs under 1.00 and combining for 161 strikeouts in 137.1 innings. Papelbon only blew three saves, and didn't lose a game until No. 162, but Bard went 2-9. You can't ignore those nine losses, no matter the other numbers. Here, Bard's OPS allowed in different game situations:Margin greater than 4 runs: .237
    Within 4 runs: .561
    Within 3 runs: .566
    Within 2 runs: .562
    Within 1 run: .653
    Tied: .885

    Bard simply wasn't clutch went it mattered most. That's a long-winded way of saying the overall net effect of Bailey and Melancon replacing Papelbon and Bard might not be that severe, assuming those two can come close to the 137 innings the Red Sox got from their top two relievers in 2011 (considering Bailey's health history, that's the bigger question).
  • Speaking of bullpens, Ryan Topp of Disciples of Uecker asks, What to expect from the Brewers' pen? Personally, I like Milwaukee's pen as there is a lot of depth behind John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez. The weakness is a lack of a left-hander, a role potentially filled by Zach Braddock or Manny Parra (yes, he's still around).
  • Will Jeff Samardzija earn a spot in the Cubs' rotation? So far, so good.
  • Brandon Cloud looks at the future of the Rockies -- an examination of all the moves since the Ubaldo Jimenez trade.
  • John Bonnes has five storylines to watch for the Twins.
  • Who is Tyler Graham? An outfield candidate unlikely to break camp with the Giants, writes Chris Quick. But check out this play he made in center field.
  • ESPN Insider Ben Lindbergh looks at five relievers being converted to starters, and suggests Chris Sale is the best bet for a successful transition.
  • Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has his organizational prospect rankings. Like ESPN Insider Keith Law, he ranks the Padres No. 1. Keith had Tampa Bay No. 2 and Toronto No. 3, while Kevin has Toronto No. 2 and St. Louis No. 3. Kevin has the Rays well down his list at No. 13.
Some excellent work from colleagues Tristan Cockcroft and AJ Mass. These pieces are under the fantasy template but apply to "real" baseball as well.
You can follow the entire "30 Questions" series here.

SweetSpot's AL players to see

February, 17, 2012

As camps open in Arizona and Florida, we put it to the SweetSpot network: Which player from your team are you most excited to watch this season, and why? First up, the answers from the American League.

Baltimore Orioles: Matt Wieters

Why Wieters? He's likely the team's best player, and he's the only one I want to watch whenever he's on the field. At the plate it will be interesting to see if he can build on his 22-homer campaign from 2011 while improving in other areas (a higher average and especially OBP would be nice) to potentially take a place as one of baseball's best hitting catchers. Behind the dish, every stolen-base attempt is exciting (he led the AL in nabbing opposing would-be thieves last year). Can he go from being a very good player to a star? If he does, that could be the most exciting part of Baltimore's season. -- Daniel Moroz, Camden Depot

Boston Red Sox: Daniel Bard

Red Sox
Bard is an object of intrigue this season. He was originally drafted as a starter but after an implosion at the low levels of the minors he was shifted to relief and blossomed as one of the best young arms in the game, becoming the heir apparent to Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth. Instead, Boston has elected to try the starting gambit again, where Bard could become the 2012 version of Alexi Ogando. He needs to develop his changeup further and there are questions on how his control and endurance will hold up on a transition, but he has front-line potential if all goes well. If not, it's back to the purgatory of middle relief, which may force a trade. His ceiling and the risk of the conversion will make him one of the more intriguing players on the Red Sox to watch. -- Evan Brunell, Fire Brand of the AL

Chicago White Sox: Chris Sale

White Sox
The one guy who’s really going to be fun to watch this spring is the rail-thin Sale. The lefty’s power slider/fastball mix has him well-equipped to make the jump to the rotation in his age-23 season, and he might be the latest success story to add to pitching coach Don Cooper’s track record for success. The questions revolve around his ability to sustain the workload, but Cooper has already noted Sale will have an innings cap. What shot the Sox have got will rely on their rotation; if Sale breaks through, Kenny Williams’ winter inactivity may not look so bad. -- Christina Kahrl

Cleveland Indians: Ubaldo Jimenez

As a child, part of the excitement of Christmas morning was the mystery of what magical toys Santa left under the tree during the night. Was it what you'd been asking for all year or was there some kind of surprise in store? (Like socks.) That's one of the reasons we're excited to watch Ubaldo Jimenez this season. Which version of Jimenez will be in the Indians' rotation: The 2010 NL Cy Young contender or the inconsistent thrower that Cleveland fans saw in 2011? The Indians could use another ace beyond Justin Masterson. When the Tribe surrendered Drew Pomeranz and Alex White for Jimenez, it was a move that angered many fans and left others cautiously optimistic at best. While an incredible pitching performance isn't the only thing that determines a team's fortunes (see Cliff Lee, 2008), a great year for Jimenez could go a long way in determining the success of the Indians this season. If Jimenez struggles early, already pessimistic and dejected Indians fans may be ready to throw in the towel early. -- Stephanie Liscio and Susan Petrone, It’s Pronounced “Lajaway”

Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera

You can take Justin Verlander and his impressive hardware. You can also have Prince Fielder and his nine-year contract. The player I'm most interested in is Miguel Cabrera. Will he play third base all year? How much will his defense (or Fielder) affect his offense? Can he continue his streak of 300/30/100 seasons? Cabrera is human, he's shown that to us in the past, and his new challenges are an intriguing storyline. -- Josh Worn, Walkoff Woodward

Kansas City Royals: Mike Moustakas

As he moved up the organizational ladder, Moose developed the reputation as a player with a learning curve delay: Whenever he moved up a rung, he would start slowly before making adjustments and laying waste to that league’s pitching. He held true to form last summer, struggling in his big-league debut to the point that there were whispers the Royals were considering dropping him back to Triple-A. Instead they opted to give him three days off to work with hitting guru Kevin Seitzer, breaking down his swing. It worked, as he ripped through September. Moustakas is poised to pair with teammate Eric Hosmer to give the Royals a one-two punch in the middle of the lineup they'll need to contend in the AL Central. If Moustakas can build on his September, he has the potential to be a special player in Kansas City for years to come. -- Craig Brown, Royals Authority

Los Angeles Angels: Albert Pujols

As you may have heard, Pujols signed with the Angels this offseason. The team has plenty of exciting players, but Pujols will be the man to watch in 2012. Can he bounce back after the worst season of his career? How will he adjust to the American League? There are plenty of questions about the 32-year-old and his huge contract, but we’ll see many of them answered this season. It should be a fun ride. -- Hudson Belinsky, Halos Daily

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer

In many ways, Joe Mauer's 2011 campaign was emblematic of Minnesota's season as a whole. He was hurt often, he didn't get it done on the field and he drew plenty of criticism from media and fans. The Twins, in their second year at a new stadium and with a record payroll, were a huge disappointment. Mauer, in the first year of a massive new contract, was a big reason why. So now he and the team are coming into 2012 with much to prove. Reports on his health have been encouraging and, as he showed in 2009 when he lifted an otherwise mediocre team to the playoffs with an MVP performance, Mauer can be a difference-maker. Relying on a roster dotted with more question marks than a Riddler costume, the Twins are going to need a few of those. -- Nick Nelson, Nick’s Twins Blog

New York Yankees: Michael Pineda

Ever since the Yankees missed out on Cliff Lee before the 2011 season, GM Brian Cashman has been preaching patience to Yankees fans. That patience finally paid off this January when they dealt top prospect Jesus Montero to the Mariners for Pineda. Ever since, Yankees fans have been impatient for the season to start to get a good look at their new young pitcher because there is more than just this season riding on Pineda's success. If he's a failure, Yankees fans will be crying for years watching Montero smack homers out in Seattle. -- Rob Abruzzese, Bronx Baseball Daily

Oakland Athletics: Yoenis Cespedes

Cespedes is so blindingly obviously the most exciting aspect of the on-field product in Oakland that I'm tempted to be contrarian and claim that I'm jazzed for Josh Reddick's soft Georgia accent and cannon arm instead. I can't bring myself to it, though, because the raw power that Cespedes (supposedly) carries in his bat as a (reportedly) legit center fielder who is (apparently) ready to play (more or less) right now beckons. It's both what's inside and outside the parentheses that makes Cespedes so compelling. Forget about his range afield; his range of possible outcomes is breathtaking. Early Bobby Bonds and late Bobby Crosby both seem well within reach. And if the most compelling part of Cespedes' season winds up being a chase for the strikeout record in September? Well, my most prized A's possession is a Jack Cust shirt, so that suits me fine. -- Jason Wojciechowski, Beaneball

Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez

Picking anyone else would feel wrong -- Felix is the Mariner to be most excited about in 2012. The King is 6 1/2 seasons deep into his Mariner career and has at very least gotten himself in the conversation with Randy Johnson as the franchise's premier hurler. With a full season of King's Court -- the best thing to happen to Safeco Field since Safeco Field itself -- Hernandez's home starts will remain can't-miss events this summer. -- Jon Shields, Pro Ball NW

Tampa Bay Rays: Joe Maddon

I know Joe Maddon isn’t a player but they make him wear a uniform, so he is the 2012 Ray I am most excited to watch. From my seat, Joe outshines all the stars in the Rays clubhouse by standing in the background. Joe is a mad scientist when it comes to the lineup card, mixing and matching on a daily basis. I am on the edge of my seat waiting to see the creative ways he will use the 25 men in the Rays’ 2012 clubhouse. -- Marquis Heilig, The Ray Area

Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish

Darvish is arguably the most exciting and most intriguing new face in the majors right now, and he's a Texas Ranger, which makes him a slam-dunk pick for the most exciting player to watch in Arlington this season. The Rangers bet historically huge money on Darvish and the hope that he can emerge as a true ace, but it's never the best idea to set the expectation bar that high, and I know I'll be more than satisfied with a legitimate No. 2-caliber performance. The promise of so much more, though, and the still mysterious aura that surrounds Darvish ... those qualities make Darvish the most exciting player in a Rangers uniform right now. -- Joey Matschulat, Baseball Time in Arlington

Toronto Blue Jays: Brett Lawrie

Blue Jays
The Royals’ Mike Moustakas wasn’t the only highly touted third-base prospect to make his debut in 2011. Lawrie, a 22-year-old hitting machine with soft hands and great bat speed, gave Toronto fans a glimpse of their future at the hot corner. Acquired from the Brewers in a December 2010 deal for Shaun Marcum, Lawrie dealt with fractured bones in each of his hands in 2011, but still managed to compile a .293/.373/.580 line in 43 games at the major league level. His defense still needs some work, but it was his first full season at the position. The members of the Blue Jays brass think they have a keeper at the position. -- Diane Firstman, Value Over Replacement Grit
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