Thoughts On Thursday’s Game And The Season So Far

by Matt on April 7, 2011

in Red Sox

During a losing streak, labeling an individual game is difficult.  Saying it was another tough loss is not only obvious but belies the Red Sox struggles as complete and finished.  There is danger in tomorrow’s game, one in which the result is yet to be determined.  After each loss since about 0-3 we’ve said ‘this is bad,’ but for the most part what have avoided ‘this can get worse.’  The next ten games are all both at Fenway and against division rivals (three vs. New York, three vs. Tampa, and four vs. Toronto).  We can make all the jokes we like now about how no 0-6 team has ever gone on to lose 162 games, or no World Series participant has ever been 0-6, but the nature of the next ten games makes them important, if for no other reason than this can get worse.

Six games are not the end of the Red Sox season, but damage is being done, and as Fan Graphs Dave Cameron notes, it is growing late early.  Here are a few notes on Thursday’s loss, the sixth in a row and third consecutive to an abominable Cleveland team:

  • After a disastrous turn through the rotation, Jon Lester came through with the first good starting pitching performance of the season.  Seven innings, no runs and nine strike outs qualifies as such and Lester bettered his mound counterpart in the process.
  • Judging by Lester’s pitch f/x data, the cutter was huge for him today.  Depending on which site you check for your data, Lester threw the cutter either three or six times his last time out against Texas.  Thursday he threw it 32 times, 24 of which went for strikes, the highest strike percentage of any of Lester’s pitches.
  • Another difference in Thursday’s game compared to his first start was Lester’s fastball.  In the opener in Texas he threw the pitch for strikes 54% of the time (20/37) and induced zero swinging strikes.  On Thursday the strike percentage jumped to 68% (28/41) and Indians hitters swung through the pitch twice.
  • If you watched both games you probably didn’t need to see all the above numbers to know Lester had better command and control Thursday than in Texas by a factor of roughly a million.
  • Just as the pitching comes around the bats go silent.  After scoring five runs in three games against an Indians staff guilty of giving up 24 in their first three games, the Red Sox are now hitting a Cashian .181/.269/.275 on the year.  It’s difficult to ascribe total culpability to the Red Sox hitters when the Indians pitchers undoubtedly played a role, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Sox are in a team-wide slump.
  • Pedroia versus Carmona: 3 at-bats, 15 pitches seen, 9 of them sliders. Result: 0-3.  You better believe Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, and CC Sabathia are taking notes.
  • During the broadcast, Don Orsillo remarked that Daniel Bard’s fastball was a few miles-per-hour slower than it had been his last time out.  I checked the data and that is not true.  Bard’s average fastball on April 1st was 96.61 mph, his average fastball on the 5th was 96.42 mph, and today (Thursday the 7th) it averaged 96.05 mph.  Not too much of a change there.  Bard’s velocity is lower than mid-season last year (on July 11th, to pick a date at random, he averaged 98.65 mph against the Blue Jays in Toronto), but it’s early in the year and Bard’s velocity will likely tick up a bit as the season moves along.
  • Yesterday’s miscommunication between Kevin Youkilis and Jason Varitek as to whether or not Youk had tagged third was just that, a miscommunication.  Today’s version, Darnell McDonald getting thrown out with two outs in the ninth after rounding second, was stronger and more bone-headed stuff.  For a guy holding on to the last roster spot on the bench, McDonald doesn’t have the luxury of making stupid plays.  While the loss was in no way solely his fault, running into the last out of the ninth in a one run game is tantamount to getting thrown out trying to steal third in the same game situation.  With his speed, the difference between McDonald at second and McDonald at third with two outs is minimal.  Dude needed to plant his butt at second, not careen past it like a rally car.

This start is not a death sentence for this season of high expectations.  Even so, it’s time to start accumulating on the good side of the ledger, lest it become so.  We can have to start back home in the Fens tomorrow against our old friends, the Yankees.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim April 7, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Lester shows life, unfortunately he won’t pitch for 5 days. The bullpen, the most successful Sox unit thus far, has been fair. The bats? There was no sign of life in Cleveland. The Yanks are a good team and the Sox could play well this weekend and still lose two of three, digging the hole even deeper.

This doesn’t mean they are toast, but they no longer have a margin of error. Another 5-6 game losing streak later in the year and they will be toast.

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Matt April 7, 2011 at 7:00 pm

The thing I think people are forgetting is that this team is, as far as we know, equally capable of running off six in a row in the other direction. If they’re able to do that it will change the math.

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Jim April 8, 2011 at 6:04 am

As Dave Cameron points out at FanGraphics, the fan consensus going into the season was that the Sox would win 97-98 games or a winning percentage of .605. 97-98 wins was also the consensus of the baseball press. A .605 winning percentage over the remaining games has the team winning 94-95.

In the last 10 years no team has won fewer than 94 games and qualified for the post-season. Given that Texas, Anaheim and Oakland are capable of winning 95 games, it is not a foregone conclusion that the AL wild card team will come from the east.

No the season is not a lost cause and they are capable of sweeping this home stand and righting a listing ship, but the margin for error is gone and to an extent, the Sox’s ability to control their own destiny has been severely diminished.

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doctorogres April 8, 2011 at 11:47 am

This reasoning is a little odd. Theoretically the 6 games are included in the winning percentage, since it’s for a whole season. Good teams lose, sometimes in a row. It’s not good to lose, but there are 155.8 games left to play.

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Leah November 25, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Well, I’m not a Yankees fan (although I do like Jeter), but I’m also not antagonistic for no rsaeon. I’m a default Pirates fan (yeah, that bad) so I have to root for my backup team the Twins every year. Congrats on making it across the moat (and on being Pressed). If you ever come to Pittsburgh just walk up to the gate at PNC Park and ask to sit where you can touch the dirt on the field. I do it all the time, so it’s not very exclusive. Then again, we don’t really have a team that anyone want to see (~sigh~)

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BigNachos April 7, 2011 at 7:05 pm

The team has obviously played poorly across the board so far, but I think the most worrisome performance has been from Youkilis. He’s typically been a fast starter, but this year’s struggles in spring training have continued into the regular season. He appears to be suffering from some thumb injury on his non-surgically repaired thumb, but you also have to wonder if his surgically repaired one is not 100%. That was a very unusual thumb injury he suffered last season and there isn’t any data for recovery rates or successes.

If Youkilis continues to falter, then what? 3rd base is probably the weakest position on the depth chart, with only Scutaro and Lowrie having any playing time there. In the minors, there’s, umm, 2010 1st round pick Kolbrin Vitek, and… ?

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Matt April 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Where did you hear about Youk hurting his other thumb? I haven’t read or noticed anything to indicate that is the case.

As for depth, they’re as deep in the infield (including third) as the average team, which is to say not insanely so but enough that they could likely handle a month or so without a starter.

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BigNachos April 8, 2011 at 6:20 am

He was shaking it and holding it a couple of times during the last night game in Cleveland, particularly after dropping that line drive on the muffed double play. Jerry and Don pointed it out.

Their middle infielder depth is noticeably better, which Iglesias (who would probably start for a lot of teams right now), Navarro, and Tejeda on the 40-man. And, of course, first base is backed up by Lars Anderson. 3rd base really has no depth. I would guess if Youk went down, they would have to use their middle infield depth and bring up Iglesias, and push Lowrie and/or Scutaro over to 3rd.

3rd base has been one of their biggest holes in player development for a long long time now. Youk is really the only 3rd baseman they’ve developed since… Wade Boggs?

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Matt April 8, 2011 at 9:33 am

I missed him shaking and holding it. It could be because the night was so cold that it stung to foul a ball off. Hopefully that’s all it is.

You raise a fair point about the third base depth in the system as a whole. I was referring to the major league roster where Lowrie is basically the back up to everyone, unless he somehow unseats Scutaro, in which case Scutaro takes that role.

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doctorogres April 8, 2011 at 11:33 am

Navarro can start at third. You’re also forgetting about Spears, who is primarily a 3B but can also cover the middle infield positions too.

LorenzoStDuBois April 8, 2011 at 6:51 am

I’m pretty sure being a fast or slow starter isn’t actually a skill, as Ortiz and Teixiera have shown. It’s a pattern that’s high in visibility and low on significance.

On the other hand, I don’t know how we aren’t 0-7 after today. Lackey will be eaten alive by NY.

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BigNachos April 8, 2011 at 7:04 am

I think it’s a bit more significant for Youkilis, since in past seasons he’s accumulated numerous minor injuries as the season progressed which coincide with a decline in production. He’s played noticeably better when fully healthy. Maybe he’s lacking in the Pujolsian skill of maintaining production while hurt.

Granted, 6 games is a small sample size, but I still find his slow start alarming.

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