Sox-Braves Postmortem III: Wilder Than Six Flags

(I tried posting this last night, but Typepad wouldn’t let me.)

Little did the Sox know they’d be playing two games last night. Thankfully, they won both — the Starter’s Duel, 3-2, and the Battle of the Bullpens, 7-5. Sure, they only played nine innings. But the difference on a scoresheet is pretty easy to tell (as shown at left).

As such, this game showed us just about everything that is good and bad about the 2006 Red Sox. So let’s take a brief break from celebrating our return to sole possession of first (and please give back that Nationals gear you just bought; we play them next!) to look at what we can glean from this wild ride.

Bad news first:

Another spectacular failure from our offense after loading the bases on walks with none out in the sixth. A prime opportunity to blow the game open, force Smoltz out, get to the Atlanta pen sooner. Instead, we score one run — on a double-play grounder. Sickening.

Terry Francona, helped along by the front office, was nearly as big a disaster as the pitchers he called on in relief of Schilling, who deserved but didn’t get his 10th win. I’ll admit it — I’ve been guilty in the past of being overcritical of the Sox manager, but how is Manny Delcarmen ever going to become a good pitcher if he’s not allowed to work out of his own jams? Two quick outs and a single to one of the best hitters in the majors earns him a hook so Terry can use his (unnecessary and apparently ineffective) brand new LOOGY and micromanage a one-run lead into a two-run deficit, the crowning moment coming with Rudy Seanez.

I have consistently argued for the use of the kids (Van Buren/Delcarmen/Hansen) over the veterans because it’s clear Tavarez/Seanez can’t get it done in the most crucial situations. If the kids get rocked, hey, they’re learning, and something might be gained for use during the pennant race. Delcarmen was pitching adequately, had just one baserunner, and his curveball was just amazing. The front office, having traded away 33 percent of our bullpen with ERAs under 4.00 for a one-out pitcher, is certainly culpable for giving Terry an option he probably felt pressure to use — particularly since he’s said in the past he felt he underused Myers. Nevertheless, as a manager, if he thought Lopez and Seanez gave the Sox a better chance to win than Delcarmen in that situation, he is indeed inept. And if he didn’t, then I’m not sure what his philosophy is — because it must not be to win games.

Now the good news:

The long-awaited offensive explosion … well, it exploded. Eight straight two-out baserunners, including RBI on four consecutive hits, capped by Youk’s nail-in-the-coffin (we thought at the time) home run. Every Sox starter — and every Sox batter except JT Snow — either recorded a hit or scored a run. That includes Curt Schilling, who joins a growing list of Sox pitchers with a better average than Willie Harris.

Jonathan Papelbon — relieving for still-rusty (we hope) Mike Timlin, who had thrown 25 pitches in allowing two runs with the go-ahead Braves run at the plate — slammed the door with one pitch. Even after an Atlanta double in the ninth, the outcome was not in doubt. Paps has been so lights-out thus far, he could give up three runs in his next appearance, not record an out, and still leave the game with an ERA of 1.01.

Terry Francona made all the right moves in the six-run eighth, pinch-hitting Mike Lowell for Alex Gonzalez (2-run double), then putting Alex Cora in the pitcher’s spot (RBI single). And he clearly deserves credit for the ongoing use of Youkilis (2 hits, HR) in the leadoff spot and Crisp (2 RBI, SB) lower in the lineup. I feel like John Kerry when I’m talking about Francona — He’s inept! He’s a genius! “I actually opposed that decision before I was in favor of it.” It was just that kind of game.

Hopefully, this marked a breakthrough game for our offense, which hadn’t scored 10 runs in a game since May 15 (11-1 over Baltimore) and had gone nine straight games without scoring more than six runs.

Thanks to the Braves we now know what a horrendous bullpen really looks like. Ours is merely pitiful. Lopez might well turn out to be Mike Myers 2004, but thus far, he’s been unimpressive, and we sorely missed David Riske and his (admittedly sample-sized) solid performances. Seanez has mixed two months of solid relief with some atrocious performances that have cost games or nearly cost games and make me wonder whether he’s a Tavarez-like choker. (Resisted the urge to replace “Tavarez” with “ARod” in that sentence).

Ah well, a sweep’s a sweep. First place is first place. And if the Sox, who are ahead of last year’s pace, can be all alone in first with a .500 record over the last 20 games, the rest of the year might turn out all right after all.

7 comments… add one
  • Pap is amazing. The Braves on the other hand….I think Smoltz would’ve been well within his rights to demand a trade somewhere during that 2-out 7 run implosion.

    Anonymous June 19, 2006, 3:39 pm
  • I don’t agree with your take on Francona’s pitching decisions in the 7th. It’s the only inning of baseball I have seen since last week, and I turned the tube off pretty quickly after Rudy’s bag job. But here’s what I saw, and what I thought:
    Trot Nixon saved MDC another baserunner with a sick catch, so those “two outs” weren’t as easy as your quick prose makes them out to be. That could just as easily have been one out and two men on, a very different scenario. The man they brought Lopez in to face, McCann, hits .380 against righties, and about 200 points lower against lefties. In this case, Tito managed by the numbers, and Lopez simply stunk. Had Tito left Delcarmen in to face McCann and he nails one, we would have been all over him for matching them up that terribly. So that was not a bad move by Francona. As for bringing Rudy in, that was about the only thing that got me thinking: why wasn’t Timlin ready for that situation? When I saw Timlin warming for the 8th after the inning ended I wondered why, if he was going to come with a 2 run deficit, then why wasn’t in in the higher-leverage situation. But the way he pitched maybe Terry knew something.
    In general, I didn’t think Tito botched that inning like you did. Shocker!

    SF June 19, 2006, 3:49 pm
  • I might agree with SF’s assessment of the pitching moves IF Tito hadn’t brought in Saenez. At the time, I was kind of hoping Little Manny would get a chance to pitch out of it, because like Paul, I though his curveball looked incredible. The bottom line is our bullpen is almost as bad as Atlanta’s or the Yankees. The Sox would be at best a .500 team without Pabelbon.
    I would feel better about the offense if they had put up the big numbers against Major League pitching.

    Tom sf June 19, 2006, 4:35 pm
  • “The bottom line is our bullpen is almost as bad as Atlanta’s or the Yankees.”
    Maybe I’m out of line here but it seems to me that the Yanks’ bullpen has been better than the Sox’s this season. That’s not an amazing accomplishment and it’s not to suggest that the Yanks have a very good one, but the Sox have had tons of problems (with the obvious exception of Paps) there. I’d be curious to see how the two match up statistically. I’m guessing the numbers are not great for either team, but a little better for the Yanks.

    Nick-YF June 19, 2006, 5:13 pm
  • SF, Trot did save Delcarmen’s butt, and without that catch, I would have agreed completely with removing Delcarmen with two on and one out. But Trot made a great catch on a poorly hit, shallow looper, the kind of wood-on-ball pitchers want hitters to get. Manny got unlucky that the ball was hit where it was, and lucky again when Trot made the great play. I think the front office is more to blame for this than Tito — they gave him a LOOGY, so he used one. I just don’t think we needed one, and I have more confidence in MDC than I do in any Sox pitcher whose name ends in “-ez.” It wasn’t so much the Lopez move anyway as much as bringing in Seanez to compound the problem when Lopez (predictably) failed to do his job…

    Paul SF June 19, 2006, 6:40 pm
  • best remark was from john miller, when he said of jonathan papelbon, “he’s coming in to put an end to all this foolishness.” thank god for that kid. imagine if you will what our season would be like at this point if it weren’t for him.

    beth June 19, 2006, 6:57 pm
  • Papelbon has been ridiculous. Does that kid ever fall behind on a batter? Crazy.

    Nick-YF June 19, 2006, 7:02 pm

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