2012 Red Sox Preview: Infielders

Left to right: Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis highlight the 2012 Red Sox among the infielders and DH. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images North America)

Starting this week, Sports of Boston kicks off a weekly preview of the 2012 Red Sox. We’re starting with the infielders, who last season provided most of the pop on the league’s top-ranked offense.

You’ll need to check SoB to get the entire preview, but I handled the infielders. And here they are!

Corner Infielders

Adrian Gonzalez will start at first base come April. He tied for the league-lead in hits last year with 213, came in second with a .338 batting average and ranked among the top 10 in RBIs (117, fifth), doubles (45, sixth), on-base percentage (.410, sixth), and OPS (.957, seventh). Dismissing any preseason fears of an NL hitter struggling at Fenway, Gonzalez set personal-bests in hits and OBP while playing Gold Glove-winning first base.

Some analysts say Gonzalez faltered in September, leading to the Red Sox’s historic collapse, but the numbers don’t back up that claim. Gonzalez is an absolute game-changer with maybe the most beautiful swing in baseball.

Kevin Youkilis, meanwhile, starts at third. Injuries have limited Youkilis the last two seasons, knocking his total games from 135+ from 2006-2009 to 120 and 102 since 2010. Those absences have likely affected his sense of pitch-location, something once so strong it earned a two-page spread in Michael Lews’ Moneyball.

When he’s healthy, Youkilis is an athletic third baseman with tremendous plate-discipline. He’s just as capable of hitting a home run as he is drawing a walk. He’s also adaptable, able to hit in different lineup spots and move to first base (where he won a Gold Glove in 2007) without sacrificing success.

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Longoria, Upton and Kotchman all Homer as Rays Rock Red Sox, Cut Wild Card Lead to 3

Evan Longoria hits a three-run home run during the third inning of Thursday's game at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

When nothing is going right, nothing is going right. Such was the case Thursday night at Fenway, when a freakish broken-bat grounder led to four runs by the Tampa Bay Rays, who homered three times to beat the Red Sox, 9-2, and cut Boston’s wild card lead to three games.

Broken Bat Ends Up Breaking Weiland

Through two innings, starter Kyle Weiland appeared on his way to at least the first quality start for the Red Sox since Sept. 6, and possibly his first major league win. Weiland retired his first seven batters before giving up a double to catcher John Jaso. Weiland walked Desmond Jennings with two outs, but his inside pitch to B.J. Upton broke Upton’s bat and started rolling towards Marco Scutaro.

The broken bat-head flew in the exact same direction as the grounder, unfortunately, landing in front of Scutaro moments before the ball reached his glove. Scutaro tried to side-step the bat and field the ball, but the two arrived so close that there was nothing Scutaro could do. The ball rolled between his legs, and Jaso scored to give the Rays a 1-0 lead.

Weiland should have been out of the inning, but instead he had to face Evan Longoria. Though Weiland reached two strikes on Longoria, he left a 1-2 pitch over the plate, and Longoria deposited it in the Red Sox bullpen in right-center to make it a 4-0 game.

Continue reading Longoria, Upton and Kotchman all Homer as Rays Rock Red Sox, Cut Wild Card Lead to 3

Lester Gives up Three in First, Rays Complete Sweep

B.J. Upton celebrates with teammates after hitting a grand slam during the fifth inning of Sunday's baseball game in St. Petersburg. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

The Red Sox are in absolute free fall, and by the time they hit the ground, they might be looking up at the Tampa Bay Rays in the playoff race.

Rays starter James Shields allowed just one earned run in 8.1 innings Sunday afternoon in St. Petersburg, and the Rays battered Jon Lester and the bullpen in a 9-1 Rays victory, completing the sweep and pulling Tampa Bay to just three losses behind Boston in the wild card race. The Red Sox have now lost five straight, and 10 of their last 13.

Lester Continues to Struggle Early

Lester entered Sunday’s game having allowed 13 first-inning earned runs, the most of any inning. His struggles continued Sunday, with the Rays sending eight to the plate against him in the first..

The Rays began the game with back-to-back singles, then Evan Longoria walked on four pitches to load the bases with no outs. Second baseman Ben Zobrist saw three pitches, then singled to left to drive in two. After a fielder’s choice moved Longoria to third, shortstop Sean Rodriguez hit a sacrifice fly to center to drive him in and make it 3-0 Rays.

None of Lester’s pitches worked Sunday. His fastball did not overpower, resulting in 29 foul balls to just 11 swinging strikes, and his cutter lacked the sharp movement necessary to fool hitters, leading to three walks and numerous long at-bats in which Rays hitters just waited Lester out.

Lester threw 43 pitches in the first, 26 in the second, 16 in the third, 26 in the fourth … and that was it. Lester couldn’t even make it to the fifth, suffering his seventh loss of the season. He threw 68 of his 111 total pitches for strikes, giving up four earned runs (the Rays added another on a Johnny Damon triple and a Rodriguez double in the third) on eight hits, three walks and two strikeouts.

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Kinsler and Hamilton Each Drive in Three as Rangers Crush Red Sox

Adrian Beltre connects on a single, the 2,000th hit of his career, during the Rangers' seven-run sixth inning of Sunday's game at Fenway. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

If the Red Sox and Rangers face each other in the playoffs, the scorekeepers had best prepare: there will be runs, and lots of them. Sunday afternoon at Fenway was no exception.

The Rangers banged out 15 hits and 11 runs against John Lackey and the Red Sox bullpen Sunday, winning the game and the series, 11-4.

The Red Sox fell to 1.5 games behind the Yankees, who beat the Blue Jays 9-3 Sunday, in the AL East. They still lead the Rays in the wild card race by eight.

Continue reading Kinsler and Hamilton Each Drive in Three as Rangers Crush Red Sox

Sabathia, Yankees Bullpen Strand 16 Red Sox Base Runners

Darnell McDonald throws his bat after striking out with the bases loaded to end the seventh inning as Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli pumps his fist during Tuesday's game at Fenway. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

All good things must come to an end, including CC Sabathia‘s winless streak against the Red Sox this season and Boston’s explosive offense. Sabathia allowed just two earned runs in six innings Tuesday night at Fenway, and the Red Sox left 16 men on base, losing to the Yankees, 5-2. Boston now leads New York by just a half-game in the AL East.

Sabathia Keeps Runs Just Out of Reach

Sabathia lived on the outside corner Tuesday night. Lefty, righty, it didn’t matter: Sabathia pitched just about every batter away. While this generated a lot of base runners – 11 in six innings – it also meant few opportunities for that one big run-scoring hit. Adrian Gonzalez struggled most with this strategy, striking out swinging against Sabathia three times on breaking balls down and away. Gonzalez finished the game 0-5, the only Red Sox starter without a hit.

Continue reading Sabathia, Yankees Bullpen Strand 16 Red Sox Base Runners

Athletics Hammer Wakefield for Eight Runs, Add Seven More off Bullpen

Josh Willingham rounds first following his fourth-inning two-run home run off Tim Wakefield during Friday's game at Fenway. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Oakland Athletics swung early and often Friday night at Fenway, and Tim Wakefield was powerless to stop them. Wakefield gave up eight runs (four earned) on eight hits, including two homers, and the Athletics battered the Red Sox, 15-5. The Red Sox maintained their one-game lead in the AL East because the Yankees lost 12-5 to the Orioles.

A Bad Night All Around for Red Sox Pitching

Up 2-1 entering the fourth, the Athletics took control of the game because Wakefield couldn’t get the third out. With one man on and two out, third baseman Scott Sizemore pulled the first pitch he saw just inside the Fisk Foul Pole for a two-run home run to go up 4-1.

Second baseman Jemile Weeks (3-5, three runs) struck out, but the knuckleball bounced away from Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Weeks reached first on the passed ball. Coco Crisp walked to set up Hideki Matsui, who doubled the first pitch he saw to deep center to score both.

DH Josh Willingham (2-5, four RBIs) waited a whole pitch before smashing his own two-run home run into the Green Monster seats to put Oakland up 8-1.

Wakefield had no one to blame but himself for his sixth failed attempt at his 200th win and sixth loss of the season. He left too many knuckleballs up in the zone and only struck out three despite eight two-strike counts. Just four of the eight runs Wakefield allowed were earned, but eight hits and two walks in four innings won’t get it done, no matter how good your offense is.

Wakefield had a faint chance of winning his 200th game when the Red Sox gave him a 1-0 lead to start the second, but he couldn’t hold it. First baseman Brandon Allen doubled to lead off the inning and scored on a single by right fielder David DeJesus. DeJesus moved to second on a wild pitch, and shortstop Chad Pennington (3-5, 2 RBIs) singled him to put the Athletics up 2-1.

Recently recalled Scott Atchison went three innings, saving the bullpen a bit but allowing a seventh-inning RBI double to Pennington that Mike Aviles – who was playing his first game ever in left field – may have misplayed.

Matt Albers continued his downward slide, allowing four runs on four hits and a walk in the eighth. In 10 August appearances, Albers has an ERA of 13.10.

Darnell McDonald made a rare pitching appearance in the ninth, giving up a two-RBI double to Willingham to put the Athletics up 15-4.

Red Sox Can’t Match Athletics’ Offense

The Red Sox struck early against Athletics starter Gio Gonzalez, with Jacoby Ellsbury leading off the first with a double, then scoring two batters later on Adrian Gonzalez‘s single just past Weeks at second base. David Ortiz followed Gonzalez with a single to extend his hitting streak to 10 games, but Jed Lowrie struck out to strand two.

That the Red Sox offense didn’t curl up and die after going 1-2-3 in both the second and third, then seeing the Athletics go up 8-1 in the fourth, is commendable, though it mattered little. Dustin Pedroia led off the bottom of the fourth with a home run off the Sports Authority sign above the Green Monster, and Ortiz followed him four pitches later with a solo shot into the center-field bullpen to make it 8-3 Oakland.

The Red Sox tacked on a fourth run in the fifth when Ellsbury led off with a triple and scored on a Marco Scutaro ground out, but they never closed the gap further. McDonald popped out on a 3-1 pitch with two men on in the sixth, then reliever Brian Fuentes got Ellsbury to foul out to end the threat. Gonzalez finished the game giving up four earned runs on seven hits, three walks and five strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

The Red Sox put two more on in the seventh on a Pedroia walk and an Ortiz double to right, but Lowrie struck out for the third time to end the inning. A pinch-hit double to right by Josh Reddick in the ninth scored Scutaro to make it 15-5, but Lowrie struck out again and Aviles flied out to the warning track in left to end the game.

With the win, Gonzalez evened his record to 11-11. It was his second career win against the Red Sox.

Red Sox Bullpen Spoils Erik Bedard’s Debut

Carlos Santana hits a two-run home run in the sixth inning of Thursday's game at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The Red Sox bullpen folded Thursday night after two straight games without allowing a run to the Cleveland Indians.

Catcher Carlos Santana hit a two-run home run off Franklin Morales, and the Indians scored twice more off Andrew Miller to give the Indians a 7-3 victory and series split. Coupled with the Yankees’ 7-2 victory in Chicago, the Red Sox and Yankees are now tied for first in the AL East heading into their three-game series this weekend at Fenway.

Morales and Miller Can’t Lock it Down

Given a 3-3 tie in the top of the sixth, Morales struggled almost immediately. Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner (3-4, RBI, run) smashed a full-count pitch from Morales off the center field wall for a double, and Santana (3-4, 3 RBIs, 2 runs) crushed Morales’ very next pitch even farther, depositing it squarely over the wall for the 5-3 lead. Morales finally got a pop-up for the first out of the inning, then Alfredo Aceves gave up a double before striking out two to end the inning.

Miller struggled in his first relief appearance with Boston, pitching the final three innings and giving up two earned runs on four hits, two walks, four strikeouts and a hit batter. His command was especially off: Miller threw under 55 percent of his balls for strikes, getting called strikes only eight times. He also threw first pitch strikes to just seven of the 15 batters he faced.

Morales suffered his first loss of the season. The win went to Indians starter Justin Masterson (9-7), who beat the Red Sox for the third time in four career starts. He held the Red Sox to three earned runs on five hits, a walk and nine strikeouts (including four in the bottom of the second) in six innings.

Bedard Uneven in Red Sox Debut

Erik Bedard looked impressive in his first inning as Red Sox starter, striking out the first batter he faced and retiring the Indians 1-2-3 on 12 pitches. He looked just as strong in the fourth and fifth, not allowing a baserunner in either inning. He did not allow a leadoff Indian to reach base in any inning.

Bedard struggled in the second and third inning, however. Given a 2-0 lead to start the second, Bedard gave up a one-out single to Santana, who then tried for third on a single to right by right fielder Kosuke Fukudome. Santana was safe and Fukudome went to second when Josh Reddick‘s throw from right field hit Santana in the back.

On the next play, Bedard made a curious mental error. First baseman Matt LaPorta grounded to the right side of the infield, and both Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez went for the ball. Bedard forgot to cover first base on the play, and LaPorta reached on the infield single, with Santana scoring and Fukudome moving to third with one out. Left fielder Austin Kearns then grounded out to first to tie the game 2-2. Had Bedard covered on LaPorta’s grounder, there would have been two outs and Bedard might have escaped the second inning with the lead.

In the third, Hafner’s two-out single put runners on the corners, and Santana blooped one over the infield for the RBI single.

Of Bedard’s 70 pitches – purposefully kept low while he continues to regain arm strength after a knee injury put him on the DL – 49 were for strikes. He threw 19 called strikes and 14 first-pitch strikes to 21 total batters. He also occasionally showed some power, blowing the fastball past hitters.

Boston Scores off Masterson, Can’t off Bullpen

Masterson entered the game with a 1.25 ERA against the Red Sox, but the Red Sox raised that in the first inning alone. Jacoby Ellsbury (2-3, walk, run) led off the bottom of the first with a single and moved up on a fielder’s choice by Pedroia. Gonzalez doubled an 0-2 pitch off the Green Monster, scoring Ellsbury giving Boston a 1-0 lead and extending Gonzalez’s hitting streak to 14 games. David Ortiz later singled in Gonzalez to make it 2-0.

Reddick’s fourth-inning solo shot tied the game 3-3.

The Red Sox almost erased Santana’s home run in the bottom of the sixth, when a walk and an error put men on first and second. Reddick lined out to right, however, and Jason Varitek struck out for the third time to end the scoring opportunity.

The sixth would be Boston’s last chance to get back in the game: Cleveland’s bullpen allowed just a walk over the final three innings of the game, retiring the Red Sox 1-2-3 in both the eighth and ninth.