A couple of interesting notes, observations, and stats that I’ve picked up on over the course of the week for the Boston Red Sox.
Let’s get into it.
The return of Jacoby
After seven years and two World Series championship rings, Jacoby Ellsbury returned to Fenway Park as the enemy for the first time.
As the PA announcer introduced Ellsbury, a loud chorus of boos could be heard throughout the stadium. People said it was a mixed reaction (it really wasn’t), but it wasn’t Johnny Damon bad either. Ellsbury had a fantastic career during his time in Boston, but he never quite reached that cult hero status like some of the “Idiots” of 2004 achieved, making his return to Fenway sort of lackluster in my eyes.
That is, until he led off the game with a fan-interfering triple, a diving catch in center field to snag a sharp line drive destined for the gap, and a two-run double off of Jon Lester to pad the Yankee lead, then he really pissed everybody off.
Pine Tar Gate
Ahh, yes, the infamous pine tar scandal that shook the baseball world.
If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, Michael Pineda came out to pitch in the 2nd inning of Wednesday night’s game with a monstrous glob of a “foreign substance” on the right side of his neck.
While Pineda probably thought he was in the clear after the first two outs of the inning, John Farrell finally came out of the dugout and asked the home plate umpire to check Pineda out. Once he did, the ump touched Pineda’s neck, mouthed, “that’s pine tar,” and ejected him from the game.
Pineda would end up with a 10-game suspension from the league following the game, but really the only story here is his absolute stupidity. Pine tar is as much a part of the game as bubble gum and tobacco, so all you folks going crazy about it can come down from your high horses anytime now.
Plain and simple, hide it better, dude. Did he really think no one would notice? Especially after his last outing against Boston where he had a healthy amount dabbed onto his palm and was probably already under some watchful eyes heading in.
It was painfully obvious and Farrell and no choice but to come out and say something. The use of pine tar for pitchers is widely accepted throughout the game, but the way the rules are set up means that you have to make an attempt to be somewhat discreet about it, and Pineda blatantly ignored that step.
Back to full strength
In what will hopefully be a blessing for the Boston Red Sox, Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks both returned to the lineup during the series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Victorino’s Gold Glove presence in the outfield is most definitely a welcoming sign for a Red Sox’ defense that currently ranks as the 9th worst fielding team in the league with 20 errors. His ability to cover a lot of ground, paired with his strong throwing arm, should instantly improve the club’s defense.
As for his bat, he hit second in both games he played in up in Toronto, and will more than likely be penciled in the 1 or 2 spot going forward. He provides some much needed speed into a stagnant lineup, and as I wrote about last week, could bring that spark to really get this offense operating at full strength.
Middlebrooks returned from his calf strain in the Toronto series as well, and immediately made his impact in the bottom-half of the lineup — going 3-for-11 with a home run and 3 RBI’s in three games up north.
With Middlebrooks back, the Red Sox now have a legitimate power threat rounding out the bottom of the batting order. He should get plenty of opportunities to drive in runs considering the Sox are 8th in the league in OBP at .329, and he’ll get a chance to play everyday at third, hopefully showing off more of what he did during his rookie season.
Good news on all fronts.
Jackie Bradley Jr.’s defense
Some people love watching home runs. Others like pitchers’ duels. I personally love me some great defense, which is why watching JBJ patrol center field over these last few weeks has been incredible.
It’s not flashy by any means. He’s not diving all over the place or going for full-gainers left and right. His method is much simpler: an uncanny ability to track the ball off the bat and run it down with relative ease.
Check out this excerpt from Grantland’s Michael Baumann on JBJ:
Bradley is the size of a large seventh-grader, and while his appearance has caused every national or out-of-town announcer I’ve seen to rave about his speed, Bradley is an average runner at best. Though it’s logical to assume that limited speed would prevent a player from becoming an impact defender in center field, Parks’s write-ups make Bradley seem like a telepath in the outfield. Red Sox teammate Shane Victorino, a former high school track champion, will, at the crack of the bat, run in any direction more or less at random, then use his speed to course correct and chase down the fly ball. Bradley, though slower, is more economical in his movements, taking shorter routes and judging the ball’s flight correctly almost every time.
He makes a good point when mentioning JBJ’s speed because the prototypical elite center fielder would be much faster than Bradley. But where he lacks in speed, he makes up for in reading the path of the ball. Just because he makes it look easy doesn’t mean it is. He gets to a lot of balls that only a handful of other outfielders can, and you could make the case that at the age of 24, he might already be a better outfielder than Jacoby was at that age.
Daniel Nava demoted
Despite things looking up for the Red Sox last week, there was some sad news to pass along.
Daniel Nava — a key member of the 2013 World Series championship team — was sent down to Triple-A Pawtucket to eventually make room for Shane Victorino (originally he was demoted for reliever Alex Wilson).
Nava was struggling mightily at the plate, hitting just .149 in 67 at-bats with an unusually low .240 OBP, and with the resurrection of Grady Sizemore this season, Nava was the odd-man out in a crowded outfield.
Was it unfair to demote a player enduring a brutal slump? Yes, but baseball isn’t fair. It’s a game of numbers and production. I guarantee Nava will be back up with the Major League club before season’s end, but it can’t be an easy thing to take in stride, especially after spending an entire year with the team in 2013.
That’s it for this week folks, I’ll be back next week with 5 new takeaways.
Check out the Boston Red Sox team page for all news and notes throughout the year.