Lowell’s Road “Woes” Take the Night Off in Toronto

Seven for Forty-Four with one extra base hit and two walks. That is what Mike Lowell’s 2010 “road” resume looked like through six innings of last night’s game.

With numbers like that, it makes you wonder why the Sox even take the guy out on the road. In fact, those numbers are so poor that yesterday I felt compelled to offer the following:  “It saddens me to say but Lowell simply lacks the power to do much damage in bigger ballparks.”  Thankfully, Toronto’s Rogers Centre doesn’t play like a “bigger ballpark” because if it did, I would have absolutely NO defense this morning and my breakfast would consist of eggs and three pounds of crow hash.

It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyways. Mike Lowell saved the Sox bacon last night because after the Jays tied the game in the 7th, I don’t see how anyone could have thought the Sox were going to pull that game out. I certainly wasn’t confident. Sorry, not with this team. Not on the road. Not with Bard unavailable. And most importantly, not against a team that is killing the ball and could end the game with one swing of the bat. This just had all the makings of a frustrating loss where the Sox strung together nine bad at bats in a row and Toronto ended it in the tenth with somebody taking Scott Atchison deep.

So count me in the camp of those who were pleasantly shocked when Mike Lowell took Shawn Camp deep with two outs in the 8th. That the ball cleared the left-center fence by less than a yard makes no difference. All that matters is Lowell found 366 feet of length at the MOST opportune time and the Sox managed to win a game that they seemed to have lost ten times earlier this season. It may not have been comfortable. And it was highlighted by some dubious starting pitching and maddening defense, but it was an important win over a hot team and a hot pitcher.  Give me three more just like that and this trip will be a great success.  

MATSUSAKA UPGRADED?

I was looking over my “ratings” of each Boston pitcher early last night and found myself wondering why I still had a “sell” rating on Daisuke Matsusaka. After all, Matsusaka has thrown very well over the past two months. And after the first inning last night, where Matsusaka struck out three on fifteen pitches, I was dutifully convinced that my rating was stale and Matsusaka deserved an upgrade to at least “neutral,” and perhaps even “outperform.” Well, it took a couple of innings, but Matsusaka reminded me once again why it is so damn hard to get constructive on his stock.

Staked to a 4-1 lead after two and half, Matsusaka did the unthinkable ….. he walked the number nine hitter (John McDoanld) to lead off the third and then walked the next guy, the ALWAYS dangerous Freddy  Lewis. That Travis Snyder followed with a home run was almost inevitable at that point and surrendering the bomb really isn’t the worst part of the crime. Instead, Matsusaka’s real crime is he recklessly endangering a lead by walking a couple of stiffs. This is just unacceptable. I realize that he can’t just groove 88 MPH fastballs to guys like McDonald and Lewis as these guys are major leaguers and they can do something with a cookie. But Matsusaka has to better than this if he wants to stuff good teams, especially with a lead and against the bottom of a lineup.

That being said, I still think I have Matsusaka rated too low. A “sell” is just no longer warranted for a guy who has pitched well since May and really wasn’t horrible last night. In fact, I thought he bounced back pretty well from that third inning debacle and gave the Sox some needed outs that turned out to help later on. So I am upgrading Matsusaka this morning from sell to neutral. He’ll probably make me look like a fool by getting killed on Sunday down in Dallas but I think the upgrade is warranted because over the longer haul, this is no longer a guy who should be shorted.   

POINTS OF INTEREST:

* Two two-out RBI hits in the second …. and then a Sac Fly in the third?  Where the hell have those been for the last month?

* Jed Lowrie is not an .870 OPS guy so expect some regression in the days ahead but boy has he been helpful. He’s been so good, in fact, that when Pedroia returns, Lowrie probably deserves to get some at bats at first.

* Marco Scutaro needs DAYS off. Not singular. PLURAL. His bat is dead and he is playing at about 2/3rds speed in the field. MS is now just three for his last thirty-four and it would actually surprise me if Ellsbury wasn’t leading off tonight and Lowrie wasn’t playing short.

* David Ortiz has been miserable against lefties this year and Scott Downs sure had no trouble with him last night but there is one southpaw he has no trouble with and that is Ricky Romero.  With two hits last night, Ortiz is now 8-16 of Romero. So rather than claim Ortiz has fixed his southpaw problem, I prefer to say that Ortiz merely had a good night off a guy he loves to face.

* The Sox caught a small break yesterday when the Jays decided to mix up their rotation. So the Sox will no longer be facing a lefty on Thursday afternoon. Instead, it will be Brad Mills and that is not the same Brad Mills who used to be the Sox bench coach. I know Thursday is a get-a-way matinee and those have been bad news this season but the Sox should be handle Mills.

* Matsusaka gave up some runs but credit he and Doubront for not folding after having their defense let them down. To recap all the Sox charity: Martinez dropped a playable popup in foul ground that should have been caught by Lowell, Lowrie muffed a double play ball that kept an inning alive, Scutaro couldn’t come up with a tough chance off the bat of Fred Lewis and then he kept an inning alive by bobbling a two-out FC in the sixth. Yet with all these misplays, the Sox didn’t allow a run. So credit Mats and Doubront for picking up their teammates.  By the way, credit Doubront for just being a stud. Yeah, he gave up a shot to Batista but this guy is going to be a nice addition down the stretch.

* MDC did a nice job last night and he has now done what has been asked of him seven straight times. Until last night, none were really high leverage spots, but I am not going to harp on that little detail. Listen, MDC has been wildly inconsistent and when he is bad, he is fucking terrible. But inconsistent relievers can get hot and boy would that be a shot in the arm if MDC were about to go on a month-long tear, especially if that tear begins NOW (and those last two weeks don’t count).  

FARM REPORT: Last night, the entire system chalked up Ws. That means Boston, Pawtucket, Portland, Salem, Greenville AND Lowell all went home happy. Yet in all of that success, there really weren’t any huge performances from top prospects so today’s mention goes to lesser known David Renfroe. The Lowell shortstop is an over-slot bonus-baby from last year’s third round who struggled mightily out of the gates for Lowell. And by struggle, I mean STRUGGLE. How does 19-115 with a bunch of errors sound? But Renfroe has picked it up of late and last night, he had a couple of knocks which raised his average above .200. He is now 13 for his last 38 and showing signs of why the Sox cut him a check for $1.4M last August. Renfroe is obviously raw but the Sox are betting that his game will catch up to his athleticism in the years ahead. Given his recent streak, perhaps that game of catch-up has already begun.

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