The Red Sox are on a hot streak. Winners of seven of their last eight and their last five in a row, the Boys from Beantown battle the visting Braves, who just took two of three from the first-place Yankees.
Ben Buchanan from Over The Monster was kind enough to take some time and answer some questions I had for him.
TC: Let's start with the manager. What was your initial opinion of the Red Sox hiring Bobby Valentine and how would you rate his performance this year?
OTM: Bobby Valentine did not exactly receive a warm welcome from the Over The Monster community or myself. Viewed as an old-fashioned traditionalist at odds with the current style of Red Sox baseball, some of those fears were assuaged by comments he made in the past and leading up to the season which suggested that he was perhaps more progressive than we thought.
Unfortunately, the actual progression of the season has borne out all of our worst fears and more. Not only has Valentine used small-ball strategy to the detriment of the team, but he's shown terrible bullpen management by leaving starters out far too long far too often, playing bad relievers in big situations for no apparent reason, and under-utilizing some of his best assets. Add in his occasional controversial statements to the media (see: the Youkilis incident from earlier in the season) and some early-season lineup curiosities, and you've got one bad report card. Even the community at OTM, which typically believes the manager can't effect games much either way, has him already pegged for three or four losses.
It would be unfair of me to pretend that he has not improved, however. While there are still occasionally some baffling bullpen decisions and he still likes the bunt, the bad decisions have become fewer and further between. He's still not good, but he's not quite as big of a disaster.
More Q&A plus pitching matchups after the jump.
TC: With Kevin Youkilis struggling, the Red Sox have been publicly shopping him around for trades. Do you think he'll be traded at all and if so, what would you expect Boston to receive in return?
OTM: Kevin Youkilis' trade seems almost as inevitable as Manny Ramirez' during the 2008 season, and after the last couple of nights have left will Middlebrooks with a line of .316/.356/.551, it's gotten to the point where last night's postgame conference led off with "how can you possibly keep Will Middlebrooks out of the lineup?"
Based on his current numbers and a recent slump that saw him go 0-for-18, Youkilis is unfortunately not going to bring much of anything in return unless he can go on a decent run in what playing time remains to him. The expectation of Red Sox fans right now is that the team will have to make a decision: are they just out for salary relief to make room for another move, or do they want something in return? If they do pay all or most of his remaining contract, the hope is that someone will be desperate enough to cough up a prospect who would grace the top-20. A quick look at your system makes me want to use Kyle Kubitza as a reference point, but take that with a grain of salt given my unfamiliarity.
TC: In addition to Youkilis, what are some other surprises you've seen, good or bad, from this team?
OTM: The whole team has been a surprise for better or worse this year. On the negative side of things you've got Jon Lester's mediocrity, Clay Buchholz' terrible beginning, Dustin Pedroia's spiraling numbers (thanks to injury in his defense), and so very many injuries. We thought the team had paid its dues in 2010, but at any given point this season the team has had two full outfields on the disabled list, not to mention a closer and, often as not, the aforementioned Youkilis. On the bright side, the Sox are seeing tremendous performances from the players who are stepping in for them. Will Middlebrooks has been everything you'd want from a top prospect, Felix Doubront has been one of the most composed and consistent starters on the team, and it's simply unbelievable what Daniel Nava is doing with the bat right now. It's no fun going on five-game losing streaks all the time, but at the very least when they're playing well it's because of players you're excited to see.
TC: At this point last year, Boston was leading the AL East. In your opinion, what has been the primary cause of the Red Sox underperforming so far in the 2012 season?
OTM: Injuries is the easy answer, but there's also just the fact that this was a flawed team heading into the season that ownership chose not to invest in, even rejecting one-year contracts to plug holes in the rotation. The by-necessity inventive solutions of Ben Cherington has been at best a mixed bag, with the Daniel Bard experiment flopping miserably. The hope is that, when healthy, this team can put together an honest run and make up some ground on the wild card race, but the problem is the returning players will mostly fill spots that backups have performed admirably in. Right now the team needs a trade--probably for pitching--and the scary thought is that Ben Cherington will sacrifice what has become a very exciting farm system to provide a playoff run for a team that doesn't deserve that level of investment.
TC: What can we expect from the Red Sox starting pitchers in this series?
OTM: I wish I could be more optimistic about Lester, but the sad fact is that his cutter just hasn't been there this season, and so there's not a ton to fear. He won't give away the game easily, but he won't win it like he was capable of doing in the past. You Braves fans probably have more experience dealing with Franklin Morales as a starter than I do, but at least in his first start for an injured Josh Beckett he was tremendously impressive. As for Clay Buchholz, he may have awful numbers on the season and be coming off a mediocre game, but it would be Atlanta's mistake to take him lightly. He seems to have put it all together in the last few weeks, and he looked a lot more like the good Buchholz in his last start than the bad one. It was just bad luck and Logan Morrison doing him in.
Please don't trade for Logan Morrison. It would make us all very sad.
Thanks for the cooperation, Ben. I hope to see a great series.
Friday, June 22, 7:10 p.m. ET
#49 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves
Jan 29, 1986
|2012 - Jair Jurrjens||0-2||4||4||0||0||0||0||16.1||30||17||17||5||10||8||9.37||2.45|
#31 / Pitcher / Boston Red Sox
Jan 07, 1984
|2012 - Jon Lester||4-4||14||14||2||0||0||0||87.1||92||49||44||8||26||70||4.53||1.35|
Saturday, June 23, 7:15 p.m. ET
#40 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves
Feb 09, 1990
|2012 - Randall Delgado||4-7||13||13||0||0||0||0||74.1||62||35||34||6||37||60||4.12||1.33|
#46 / Pitcher / Boston Red Sox
Jan 24, 1986
|2012 - Franklin Morales||0-1||23||1||0||0||0||0||28.2||25||10||10||2||8||29||3.14||1.15|
Sunday, June 24, 1:35 p.m. ET
#36 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves
Dec 26, 1987
|2012 - Mike Minor||3-5||13||13||0||0||0||0||76.0||77||53||51||15||30||66||6.04||1.41|
#11 / Pitcher / Boston Red Sox
Aug 14, 1984
|2012 - Clay Buchholz||8-2||14||14||1||1||0||0||86.1||99||55||53||15||34||58||5.53||1.54|