A Call to the Bullpen for the Sox

A Call to the Bullpen for the Sox

WOW.  That’s all that can be said about the spectacle put on at Fenway Park Monday night.  Pedro Martinez threw the opening pitch.  Steven Tyler sang during the seventh inning stretch.  Neil Diamond himself, sporting a fashionable “Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn” jacket and Sox cap, came out and sang “Sweet Caroline”.  There were fireworks and fighter jets.  But best of all, it was the Red Sox playing baseball against their archnemesis, the New York Yankees.  Josh Beckett against CC Sabathia.  A pitching rematch of the 2007 ALCS.  Good against Evil.

This game had it all, ladies and gentlemen.  There were homeruns, two seperate comebacks, even a rather comedic footrace between the diminutive Dustin Pedroia and the gargantuan CC Sabathia.  The victory in the footrace went to CC as a result of yet another bad call from the infamous Angel Hernandez, one of the worst umpires in the major leagues.  Yes, there was only one thing a Sox fan could ask more out of such a great night: a better showing from Sabathia and Beckett.

With two such dominating forces on the mound, one would expect this game to be a pitching duel, right?  Well, for all the talk of the new “run prevention” philosophy this season, the game turned out to be a slugfest.  In stark contrast to all the worry about lack of offense, the bats produced nine runs.  See?  Told you there was nothing to worry about.

A large factor in the quality of the starting pitching, or lack thereof, was the homeplate umpire Joe West, who absolutely refused to give Josh Beckett a strike call unless his pitch was above the batter’s belt, it seemed.  And, as we all know, when Josh throws the ball high, he throws home runs.   Of course CC wasn’t much better, and for all the billing of the starting pitching, the game came down to the bullpens, which afforded us a chance to see quite a bit of Boston’s pen.

The ‘pen was one of the greatest strengths of the Red Sox last year.  You know you’ve got a good bullpen when Billy Wagner, one of the top closers in the game, is your lefthanded setup guy.  Takashi Saito, a year removed from a 30 save season, was relegated to mopup duty.  Indeed, the only weaknesses, it seemed, were the weak second halves of Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen, both of whom were untouchable before the All Star Break.  This year’s edition has a lot of new faces and, while certainly not a weakness to the team, won’t be quite as dominant as last year.

Yesterday saw the successful Boston debut of lefthander, Scott Schonenweis.  Having heard all that he’s had to go through, it’s hard not to root for this guy.  At age 19 he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and required six months of chemotherapy in order to recover.  The following season, his elbow gave out and he required Tommy John surgery.  Upon his return, he could not throw faster than 80 mph and lost his slider.  It seemed then that this once promising young star’s baseball hopes had faded.  But Schoenweis stepped up and spent the summer rehabilitating and training, returning to pitch extremely well for Duke the following season, which in turn allowed him to be drafted by the Angels in the third round of the 1996 draft.  A fairly successful major league career followed and all seemed well for Scott until last year, when his wife died, suddenly leaving him as the single parent of four young children.  He spent much of 2009 on the disabled list dealing with his loss.  This offseason he signed with the Brewers, but was released on March 23 at which point he signed with Boston and proved his ability to get out left handed hitting, something the Sox bullpen needed.

Last night Schoenweis did not disappoint.  Coming on in relief of Josh Beckett with two on and two out, he struck out Curtis Granderson to end the inning.  He then got out Swisher and Gardner before being replaced by Ramon Ramirez.  If Scott can continue this trend, and is able to continue to mow down the left handers, he will provide a necessary piece to the bullpen.  Expect an ERA in the high 3’s to low 4’s.

A face only a mother could love.

Ramon Ramirez came on in relief of Schoenweis to face Derek Jeter, who promptly shot a single up the middle.  Then Nick Johnson lined out hard to end the inning.  This was a tad precarious beginning and unfortunately Francona chose to put him back in to start the seventh, at which point he promptly put men on second and third without recording an out before being pulled.

Ramirez was a key to the pen’s success last year and had an unbelievable first half before falling apart after the All Star Break.  Still he ended up with a very good 2.84 ERA and a decent 1.33 WHIP.  Unfortunately, that trouble he had in the second half seems to have carried over to this season.  Ramon had a weak spring, posting an 8.71 ERA before giving up two runs Monday night, albeit Okajima is the one who actually let them score.  I believe that it will take a few more starts like this one before RamRam finally recovers his feel and his confidence and returns to the form that we saw last year, finishing the season with a 3.20 ERA and a WHIP of 1.35.

Following Ramirez’ departure from the game, Hideki Okajima came on and allowed the two inherited runners to score.  This was a recurring theme in ’08 if you recall, and also was a bit of a problem last year.  When Okajima comes out in the eighth, with nobody on, he is as good as anybody.  When used outside of his role?  Well it doesn’t always work out.  But Okajima will have another solid year this year as one of the more dependable relievers for the Sox.  That bizarre delivery and that excellent “Okie-Dokie” changeup will continue to fool hitters, but the league will continue to catch on and age will begin to affect Okajima to the tune of a 3.40 ERA with a 1.30 WHIP.

Then on came Daniel Bard.  The flame throwing heir-apparent to Papelbon had a very good rookie year last season, striking out 63 batters in 49.1 innings with an ERA of 3.65 and a WHIP of 1.28.  On Monday, Bard once again proved himself to be one of the best relievers in the pen, in spite of his lack of experience.  Getting the necessary three outs without giving up a hit, he held onto Boston’s delicate one run lead.  Bard seemingly continues to improve everyday and I think this year we will consistently see why he is such an asset to the bullpen.  He will blow by hitters for a 2.60 ERA, a WHIP of 1.10, and will have a 13K/9.

Pap Being Pap

Papelbon closed on Monday night in typical fashion, pumping in several 95 mph four seamers to get A-Rod and Cano, gave up a single to Posada, then got Granderson to ground out to end the game.  Papelbon had a rough year last year, although his ERA, strikeouts, and saves remained consistent, his WHIP rose from .952 to 1.147, the highest it had been since 2005.  Getting used to a new delivery seemed to be the cause for this, but also, Pap’s famous splitter seemed to disappear.  This spring, he supposedly was working on recovering that.  While his fastball is top notch, we all know what happened in the ALDS last year.  This year, Papelbon will be more in tune with that delivery that emphasizes his legs more than his arm.  If his splitter returns to what it was, so will he.  This season, Papelbon will notch 40 saves as the new run prevention philosophy keeps games tighter.  He will also post a 2.00 ERA and his whip will come back down to .975.  Our boy will continue to be one of the best in the business at his job.

As for the other two relievers, Scott Atchinson and Manny Delcarmen, we got to see a bit of them in the second game last night.  It’s hard to say much about Atchinson as I haven’t seen a whole lot of him.  He pitched for Seattle in 2004 and 2005, but then falls off the map until signing with San Fransisco in 2007.  Although he gave up a blast to Cano last night, I don’t want to base my perception of the guy on one game.  And without a clear grasp on his ability, I don’t really want to make a prediction.  But going solely on his career numbers, I’d have to wager he ends up with a low 4.00 ERA and a WHIP of 1.375.  You heard it here first folks.

Last year, like Ramirez, Manny Delcarmen started off the year almost untouchable.  But even more so than Ramon, he completely fell apart towards the end of the season, and was even left off the postseason roster, mostly due to an injury.  Last night, though, Delcarmen looked fairly good.  Yet there is some reason to worry about his velocity, which now seems to go no higher than 93 mph.  Not a junkballer by any means, yet his heat used to hit as high as 98 on the gun not even two years ago.  But he still has that disgusting changeup to complement an arsenal of breaking pitches.  His ERA for this year will be around 3.80, but will shrink considerably if he can regain the zip on his fastball.  His WHIP will fall from last year’s abysmal 1.642 to a more tolerable 1.40.  He will be unpredictable but not the worst.

Well, there it is Ladies and Gentlemen: the Boston Red Sox bullpen of 2010.  Not as strong as last year, but it will definitely be enough to keep us in the game.  Hey, give Bard and Papelbon the eighth and ninth, and maybe Oki the seventh, and you got three innings of ball locked down.  Now let’s pray that everybody else will hold their own.

Be sure to catch the first episode of The Talking Sox Show tomorrow night right here on 4SportBoston.com!

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