Monday, June 06, 2005

Losing (and Winning) Ugly

The Boston Red Sox of Swampscott took two of three from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this weekend and could very easily have had the sweep. Except for one little nagging problem: relief pitching. In my infinite wisdom, here's something I wrote a few weeks ago:
The question at the end of the night was if Alan Embree will ever get anybody out again (or maybe it should be, will the real new Derek Lowe please stand up: Foulke or Embree?) -- followed closely by: why the hell does Tito continue to trot Embree out there?
OK. I doesn't require 'infinite wisdom' to pick up on the fact that the bullpen is, in the words of Fred Smoot, skrugglin'. In fact, it's this kind of insight that helped guys like John Kruk and Screamin' A. Smith make it all the way to the top. Whatever the case, the bullpen is going to have to get exponentially better if the Red Sox hope to be in this thing for the long haul (and the answer to the question I posed above is a resounding 'No'). There are only so many times that Papi can hit a game-winning homer (Thursday), or Mark Bellhorn can hit a sacrifice fly that gives the Sox the lead late in the game (Sunday).

Early in the season, Foulke was the obvious answer to the question, "Which relief pitcher was most likely abducted by aliens and replaced with Heathcliff Slocumb?" But after a clandestine visit to Alabama during an off-day a few weeks ago, he's been much better. And if anything, since then, Foulke has been really unlucky. And Friday night was as good as an example as any. He started the 9th with a three-run lead and promptly got two outs. Three really crappy hits later, Foulke had the bases loaded and was a 83 mph fastball away from another blown save. Luckily he got the strikeout and for the moment, Tito had one less thing to worry about.

In years past I've often thought of Alan Embree and Mike Timlin as the two-headed monster. Two guys -- one a lefty, the other a righty -- who throw in the mid-90s but inexplicably can't get batters out on a consistent basis. This year, after tiring of the confusion, Timlin has started strong. His ERA is under 2.00 and his predilection for walks has been replaced by strikeouts. Embree's struggles, on the other hand, are well documented. But unless you're a masochist you'd really have no idea how bad things are for Embree in particular, and the bullpen in general. Luckily Chris Snow did all the dirty work:
The Sox bullpen's ERA swelled 56 points to 5.27, worst in the American League. Embree was branded with the loss, the bullpen's 10th, which is the most of any AL team based outside of Kansas City, Mo. Opponents have taken Sox relievers deep 19 times this season, which, not including last night's late games, was fewer than only Seattle and Kansas City, both with 21. Furthermore, the Sox relief corps is the only unit in the AL yet to record 100 strikeouts. The Sox have 96, and the AL average, entering yesterday, was 121.
Disgust quickly followed by incredulity were the narrow range of emotions I felt as I read this. Apparently giving up 11 earned runs in three innings Saturday will tend to swell an ERA 56 points. And for all the gnashing of teeth concerning Millar seeing the field in any other capacity than the guy who drags the field before the game (and yes, I admit that I'm suspect #1 in the "Stop Millar Now" movement; and yes he was 5 for 7 this weekend with four of his hits either hitting or clearing the wall; and yes I'll give him a break for a game or two), the real weak link(s) on this team are sitting in the bullpen.

But I have an idea. Trade Millar to some team (any team) looking for a DH (unless some team thinks he can contribute in the field as well; in which case, maybe we can unload Embree too and pass him off as a closer) in exchange for middle relief help. And I'm not talking about Mariano Rivera circa 1996 type help. I'm talking about a guy who throws strikes and can get people out on a semi-regular basis. Since I really have no sense of how GMs make trade decisions, and what constitutes a good or bad trade, I'm really just making up stuff at this point. That said, I think this is something Theo should give serious consideration to. Millar could go on to hit 80 home runs this season, but if Tito keeps trotting Embree out there, the Red Sox will be lucky to win 75 games this season.

Speaking of pitching, Saturday night as I was waiting for the US-Costa Rica World Cup qualifier to come on, I watched a few innings of the Nationals - Braves game. Tomo Ohka was the starting pitcher for the Nationals and after 3.1 innings, and a 3-3 tie, Frank Robinson had seen enough. Apparently so had Ohka because he turned his back to Robinson as he came to the mound to remove him. When Ohka finally turned around Robinson snatched the ball from him in much the same way you might expect Casey Hampton to jump over several chairs, knock over a couple of tables and grab the last doughnut at the post-game spread. Well, it didn't stop there because on Sunday the Nationals fined Ohka for 'contempt.' I'm not sure if Judge Mills Lane presided in the hearing, but either way Ohka will be a little lighter in the wallet.

Which, after seeing Robinson's surly demeanor, sounds like he got off easy. Robinson seems like the type of old school player/coach who slugs you a few times if he feels disrespected and then asks you if you were actually being disrespectful. I don't think it would've been surprising to see Robinson tackle Ohka from behind as he made his way back to the dugout Saturday night. And then start waling on him like Will Hunting waled on that one unlucky townie from Southie during the scene at the basketball courts. OK, maybe that's exaggerating a bit, but you get the point. I wonder how Robinson would deal with guys like Millar and Manny on an everyday basis? For some reason I don't think he'd buy into the whole "we're idiots" shtick.