Monday, April 20, 2009

Boston Massacre

Tony Massarotti of the Boston Globe sums up Red Sox 4-game sweep of the Orioles about as accurately as possible...

One of the beauties of baseball is that the game does not discriminate. Beating the stuffing out of a club like the Baltimore Orioles means every bit as much as a win over the Tampa Bay Rays, or New York Yankees, or Los Angeles Angels.

At least during the regular season.

Owners of a 3-6 record and seemingly inept offense just four days ago, the Red Sox completed a weekend block party with a 12-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles today at Fenway Park. For the four games -- which included Baltimore starter Koji Uehara’s nifty performance on Sunday -- the Sox batted .328 and slugged an absurd .547. They scored more runs against the uh-O’s (30) than they did against everyone else during the first eight games of the season (29).

Good thing, too. If the Sox couldn’t hammer this pitching staff, we’d have some serious worrying to do.

"That’s why you don’t panic the first two weeks of the season," Sox manager Terry Francona said when asked specifically about the performance of Nos. 1 and 2 hitters, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, who went a combined 7 for 12 with six runs scored today. "You look up, at one point Jacoby’s hitting .275, then Pedey the same thing. We say it every year but it happens. Everything gets blown out of proportion and you just try to play good baseball because, at some point in the season when you start logging enough at-bats and innings, you get into the grind. And if you’re good, it shows.’’

And if you’re bad, it shows even more.

Case in point: the Orioles, who were 6-3 when they arrived at Fenway and subsequently pitched as if playing pin-the-tail-on-donkey. Minus Uehara’s game on Sunday, Baltimore pitchers walked 17 batters in 24 innings, an average of 6.4 walks per nine. Kevin Youkilis alone reached base 10 times in the series and walked three times in the finale, when the Orioles clearly decided they would not provide him a platform for Triple Crown candidacy.

Capisce? The Orioles pitching is not bad. It is positively wretched. Baltimore’s ace -- and we use that term very loosely -- is Jeremy Guthrie, who might have difficulty beating out Brad Penny for the fifth spot in the Boston rotation. As a result, Baltimore’s best chance at a victory may have come Friday night, when the Orioles staked him to a 7-0 lead in the second inning.

As it turned out, Guthrie and the Orioles blew the kind of lead that it is virtually impossible for any major league team to blow.

Along the way -- especially today -- the Orioles showed that they cannot play defense very well, either, which is a combustible formula for a team with a bad pitching staff.

"You’ve got to have all three elements to give yourself a chance to win. You’ve got to pitch well, you’ve got to play good defense, you’ve got to have timely hitting,’’ said Orioles manager Dave Trembley. "Some of the balls today found some holes. Some others were a little unfortunate. I think it’s just part of the game and you go from there, but we’re all very much aware of the importance of the fundamentals.’’

Executing them, however, is another matter entirely. (At times like this, Trembley may want to remember the legendary words of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach John McKay. Asked about his team’s execution following an unsightly loss, McKay replied: "I’m in favor of it.’’)

For the Red Sox, there is good news on several fronts from all of this, not the least of which is a restoration of the club’s offensive swagger. Entering the eighth inning of Tim Wakefield’s masterpiece at Oakland last week -- and that game is looking bigger by the moment -- the Sox were batting a mere .234 on the season with 32 runs scored in their first 81 innings. Since that time, the Sox have batted .338 with 36 runs in 34 innings, the last 32 of which came against the Orioles.

Further, the Sox still have 14 games left with Baltimore this season, including 11 in what amounts to the latter half of the schedule. Assuming the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees beat up on one another as much as we all expect this season, victories over clubs like Baltimore will be of particular importance. The fact that the Sox took all four games of the series certainly bodes well for their ability to beat up on the Orioles when they need to. Giving away games to teams like Baltimore could prove costly in the end, particularly when one considers where the Orioles rate in the much bigger picture.

Baltimore, after all, may not be merely the worst team in the American League East this season. The O’s might be the worst team in the entire American League.

Unfortunately for them, others -- like the Sox -- will find great satisfaction in kicking them when they’re down.

Other than saying Jeremy Guthrie would have trouble beating out Brad Penny for a spot on the Red Sox rotation, there is nothing you can really disagree with here.

And what's with Dave Trembley's blahzay response to the errors the O's made all weekend? For someone who has "preached" fundamentals and playing the game the right way, no one is holding players accountable for their mistakes.

All I can say is thank God this series is over.

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