Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Mamas and the Papas

Games 34 & 35 - Red Sox

Orioles 6, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 13, Orioles 4
Record: 24-11

Yesterday's drubbing of the Orioles was Exhibit A from the People' Case for the Epstein/James theory of baseball. The Sox worked, and worked, and worked the already abused Baltimore staff until it broke. Oriole pitchers gave up 7 walks and hit 2 Sox batters in the course of throwing 209 pitches in 8 innings. Meanwhile, the Sox walked 2, hit one and threw 143 pitches over 9 frames. The Sox got to the soft underbelly of the Oriole bullpen and sliced it open to the tune of 9 runs in 3 2/3 innings, providing the winning margin despite a relatively mediocre outing for starter Curt Schilling.

The Epstein/James "control the strike zone" mantra demands patience, patience, patience on offense and efficiency on the mound. The value is intuitive - more pitches for an opponent mean tired arms, stretched bullpens and more chances to hit in favorable counts (read: fastballs down the middle). On the other hand, fewer pitches thrown by your staff mean fresher arms at the back of the pen and more pitcher's counts. Currently, the Sox have drawn 15 more walks than anyone in the American League, and rank third in the number of pitches faced. Conversely, Sox pitchers have thrown fewer pitches than any other staff through the season's first 35 games. Those two trends, if stable across the remainder of the season, bode extremely well for the Sox.

Julio Lugo's recent trend, though, bodes poorly for his acceptance among the faithful. Lugo's been killing the ball at the plate - that's a habit we can get behind. His baserunning, though, has the grumble-meter pegged. On Friday, with the Sox trailing by 2 and David Ortiz at the plate representing the tying run, Lugo got himself picked off first to end the inning and take the bat from Papi's hands. Yesterday, in an unwanted encore to a particular bad show, he led off the bottom of the first with a single and promptly got picked off by Steve Trachsel, killing another potential rally.

(Random related aside: I've read Whit bemoaning Trachsel's pace on the mound in this space, but I'm not sure I truly appreciated it until yesterday. Yikes. I'm not sure, but I think I saw Miguel Tejada packing a portable cot at shortstop.)

Not to get all David Eckstein on you here, but Alex Cora's play over the first part of the season has really demonstrated the value of a solid veteran utility player. Good teams need guys like Cora - dependable, quiet, veterans who know the game, make all the routine plays and a few less routine, and fill their role. Cora came up with a critical 2-out, 2-run single to stretch the Sox' advantage to 4 runs in the bottom of the 7th, and then made a sick (and slick) play in the field a half-inning later, fielding and flipping Corey Patterson's grounder to Lugo to trigger a crucial twin-killing against the fleet Oriole outfielder. Cora's not going to post a 1.229 OPS all season long (that'd be nearly twice his career mark), but he's won't be asked to, either. Tim Kurkjian calls him the game's smartest player, and that'll be good enough for me.

Friday's game had the strange vibe of a sure loss from the jump, when the Sox loaded the bases in each of the first 2 innings, tallied 10 hits and 8 walks, and only managed 3 runs. At some point, the law of averages said that the Sox would lose to the Orioles after entering this series on a 22-3 run against the Birds.

The same law implies that Josh Beckett will lose a game at some point this season. The 2 runs he just spotted Baltimore imply the same thing. Enough for me here - I'm gonna go yell at the television and let my wife go out for a few hours on this beautiful Mother's Day.

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