In anticipation of the Rays-Red Sox two-game series that begins tonight, I chatted with Derek Skytalo, the editor at Red Sox website Bosox Injection, about the Red Sox and what we can expect from them in this series. Enjoy.
Robbie Knopf: The Red Sox have rebounded from 9 losses in 10 games to win 5 in a row against the Indians and Mariners. Are the Red Sox finally started to hit their stride?
Derek Skytalo: The Sox are playing better baseball and are doing so by having solid pitching in sync with their offense. Some say the Indians were playing over their head and that losing three in a row to Boston was a reality check for them. I disagree. I think Cleveland has the foundation to be a good team and for Boston to take three of four is a testament to perhaps having this club turn the corner. It looks like they are hitting their stride but the real test comes over the next two weeks with two series against Tampa and throw in Baltimore, the Phillies and Tigers, we’ll see if this Red Sox club is for real if they can compete and win some of the upcoming series.
Being the optimist that I am I think they will win some of these series as the starting pitching has improved dramatically, the bullpen is lights out (which is hard to believe given the start of the season) and the offense is getting production from different players on any given night.
RK: Will Middlebrooks has been outstanding since coming up and has already slammed 4 home runs in 11 games (double as many as Adrian Gonzalez in less than a third of the games). Just how good as Middlebrooks been and how exciting are you about his potential? Will he be be in the big leagues to stay?
DS: This kid is the future third baseman for the Red Sox for a reason and we are seeing why during his presence with the big club. He’s showing tremendous power as evidenced by collecting an extra base hit in his first five games in the majors and as you mentioned the 4 home runs, the first of which was a grand slam. His defense needs a little spit and polish but he certainly has better range than Youkilis at the hot corner.
As if Sox fans didn’t have enough to debate over, the big question now is what to do with Middlebrooks when Youkilis returns, which is going to be sooner than later given he’s starting in triple-A tonight. Youkilis won’t be back next year with a team option for $13 million so it will remain to be seen if the club trades him soon or at the July deadline. It’s hard to fathom having to send Middlebrooks to Pawtucket based on how well he’s played and there might be a riot on Yawkey Way if that did happen. The fans have taken to this kid that much. The problem lies on getting a team to take Youkilis without proving he’s healthy. The only way that can happen is to bring him back from the DL and have him play on a regular basis. The next problem then is what do they do with Middlebrooks? The outfield is not an option and neither is any other infield position as he’s only ever played third base. I’m glad I’m not having to make this decision.
RK: The Red Sox’ rotation has not exactly impressed, posting a 5.24 ERA (even when excluded Aaron Cook‘s disaster of a start). The two guys Red Sox fans have to be worried about are Clay Buchholz, who had an 8.23 ERA with more walks than strikeouts and a ton of homers allowed as well (7.43 FIP), and Josh Beckett, who had a 5.97 ERA and a similar 6.03 FIP entering Tuesday thanks to a ton of homers allowed as well. And then there was the incident where he was scratched from a start and played golf the next day. Their xFIPs have been quite a bit better (4.90 and 4.33 respectively), but still not what we expected from pitchers of their caliber. How concerned about you about them and about the Red Sox rotation in general?
DS: It’s hard to believe that the Sox rotation is in this type of mess. But there is promise on the horizon given the last outings by Jon Lester, Felix Doubront, Daniel Bard and Buchholz. Even though it was the first good outing from Buchholz, he did show flashes of his old repertoire, one that can get him out of trouble. His ERA is subject to debate as he’s been victim to Bobby Valentine’s slow hook with his pitchers, allowing Buchholz to face one, sometimes two too many batters. The result is a John Lackey ERA. With that argument aside, his mechanics have not been good. I don’t know if his back is still bothering him or he’s afraid to re-injure it, but he hasn’t been getting his fastball down and balls are flying out of parks at an alarming rate. Buchholz did buy himself more time with his last start, but with Aaron Cook and Dice-K closing in on returning, another falter from Buchholz could see him spending some time in triple-A to work out the kinks.
As I touched on briefly, the other three starters appear to be rounding into form. Felix Doubront only gave up 3 hits over 6 innings his last time out, Bard was better, but still needs to work on his control and Lester is coming off a complete game; promising to say the least. At least until you get to Mr. Ego – Josh Beckett.
I left him for last. I’m not sure if you have a limit when it comes to how long you want the answers to be so I’ll try not to write a short story. Given the antics from Beckett, one could go on for pages. In short, he’s a walking circus. He doesn’t give a hoot about what you or anyone else thinks and he’ll tell you that. The problem is, is that his last start was a complete joke when he couldn’t get out of the third inning. Personally I don’t care that he went golfing, I’m just so sick of all the off-field BS that surrounds this team, I just want to focus on baseball. It is worth noting that his four previous starts to his last one he threw four quality starts. So while his numbers are higher than normal there is a silver lining to this cloud. His ERA is high and he hasn’t missed many bats lately, but this team needs him to pitch well if they have any chance to contend, which I think they can. If he can have a good start against Seattle it will quiet the mob for a while. If he goes out and throws meatballs for three innings, he better enlist in the witness protection program or he’ll be on the first duck boat out of Boston. (Update: Beckett tossed 7 shutout innings against the Mariners on Tuesday, striking out 9 while walking 2.) Fans want him traded, even sent to the minors but in reality a trade is going to be more difficult than what some want to believe. If the Sox struggle and are seemingly out of the running come late July, maybe a market develops for a guy who has a 1.16 ERA and a 0.846 WHIP in three World Series games.
Overall, the success of the Red Sox this season rests on the two guys you mentioned; Buchholz and Beckett. If both struggle replacing them with Aaron Cook and Daisuke Matsuzaka will not stop the bleeding, so both need to figure out what’s going on and straighten it out. Personally, I think they will, I just hope it’s sooner than later.
We’d like to thank Derek for answering our questions, and I also answered a few of Derek’s questions about the Rays for Bosox Injection, which you can find here. This should be a fun Rays-Red Sox series, and after the Red Sox took 3 of 4 versus the Rays last time around at Fenway Park, hopefully the Rays can continue their outstanding home performance by taking 2 of 2 versus the Red Sox over the next couple of days.