Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Who would have thought Toronto and Boston - or heck, any two teams - could have played the same game twice in two days? Or that Boston could end up winning both games the exact same way? The two sides might have traded off the youth and experience of their starting pitchers between games, and the score ended up two runs (and one blown save) higher on the second night, but for all intents and purposes this game was anyone's game until the last seconds, when Manny, Rod Barajas, and an off-line throw from center field all missed their intersection and formed a near-miss date with destiny.
Speaking of dates with destiny, Daisuke Matsuzaka should be the third Red Sox pitcher in eight years to go 5 and 0 before the end of April. Too bad the bullpen blew it again, squandering a Big Papi just-barely (the wind was not helpful tonight) home run into the right field seats. Once again, Manny Delcarmen was (mainly) to blame; in fourteen appearances this year, there's only been three times where the formerly much-vaunted MDC has not allowed a base runner, and he's now got a fifty percent failure rate when it comes to allowing a run to score. Something has to be going on; there's no good reason why a guy who broke out such stellar stuff last year should fall off track so quickly.
Anyway, what blows my mind about this game is not so much that the Sox won it - because you can't give this offense five base runners in two innings and not expect something to happen - but that it was very nearly Jed Lowrie who ended up jumping into the arms of his teammates, celebrating a successful walk-off run home, instead of Manny, and on the play before they won! Back to back singles to the same part of center, back to back throws home: one nails the runner, one misses by a few feet, and one team ends up - once again - with the win.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but how much do the Blue Jays suck right now? Lester allows four walks and one hit (through eight innings, but still), and no one scores? Oh - he didn't allow them consecutively. That's probably the key, huh.
Oh, who am I kidding: Lester came in, faced down Doc Halladay and the five game losing streak like Frank McLaury at the O.K. Corral, only with less gunfire and a better fastball. And not dying at the end of the fight, either. Anyway, he rocked, and rocked hard, and Youkilis - who had as much of a right as anyone to get that winning hit, going two for four against a tough pitcher - well, he rocked hard, too, putting that 1 and 0 middle-in fastball just far enough out into center for Big Papi to chug his way home from second for the win.
So remember about ten days ago how I said Lester needs pressure to perform? Tonight would appear to be another example to add to the proof pile: Lester pitched roughly the same number of innings, struck out the same number of batters, and allowed the same number of base runners (but did not, ever so fortunately, allow the same number of runs) as one of baseball's premiere pitchers, on a night when his team desperately needed him to perform. I'd say he's gunning for the Big Game title pretty hard - now he just needs the same level of enthusiasm when the offense scores him some runs.
By the way: happy fourth birthday, Keep Your Sox On! It's been a great four years, and Robin and I are both very happy (and grateful) all of you readers come to check us out every day. Thanks for sticking with us...
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Playing the hard drinking announcer Harry Doyle, the immortal Bob Uecker said in Major League:
“That's all we got? One goddamn hit?”
Well the Red Sox did better than that... they got two. Ugh. Scott Sheids shut them down for a complete game shut out that made me want to crawl back in bed. Not a happy Sunday.
Worse than that, the Sox wasted the 13K gem from Beckett. He dominated over 7 innings and would have had an even better line if it wasn’t for the 2 error run in the 3rd and the solo shot by Longoria in the 7th. It seems every good pitching performance is going right into the loss column lately. It’s easy to blame bad luck… but it’s even easier to blame the bad hitting… so I am gonna do that.
Now factor in a bullpen with more leaks than a canoe made from swiss cheese (they gave up another run today) and we got a fantastic losing combination. That’s 5 stinkers in a row if anyone is counting. Care to close it out Harry?
“The post-game show is brought to you by... Christ, I can't find it. To hell with it.”
Well, thank goodness our losses have some variety, or I don't know what I'd do with myself. I'm going to skip the frustrating negative of this loss, because a.) giving up two runs over eight innings ain't nothing to cry about, and b.) it's hard to get down on the offense for scoring one run against a pitcher on his game. Pitching does beat hitting, after all.
No, instead I'm going to do a double salute. First, to Clay Buchholz, whose pitching last night was a microcosm for how he's done pretty much all year. Throw out his two worst appearances (April 5 in Toronto, where the entire team was fighting through a post-Japan crash, and April 16 in New York, where he faced overexposure to the Yankee bats), and he's been exemplary: never less than six innings, never more than three walks, two runs, or four hits in three starts against three different teams. We (or maybe just I) might have lingering bad impressions of him because the Sox don't seem to win when he's on the mound - the team is 1 and 4 with Buchholz pitching, but two of those games were mediocre to bad starts, and two against pitchers having spectacular evenings - but clearly he's establishing himself as a fairly formidable pitcher, and he did the team a solid favor last night by keeping the relievers off the mound.
Second, to Kevin Youkilis, who knocked some dude with the awesome name of Stuffy McGinnis out of the record books by completing 1,701 plays at first base without an error. Of course, because defense is the red-headed step child of baseball, particularly when it comes to first basemen, the record breaking didn't receive much of an acknowledgment: a Google News search reveals one article on the accomplishment, and neither Youkilis nor Terry Francona were aware when the play happened. I think it's worth a significant mention because I keep thinking back to 2006, when Boston signed J.T. Snow as insurance against Youkilis not making a good transition to first base, only to find that Kevin seemed born to the position, and that Snow was a $2 million extraneous replaceable part. Funny how things work out.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Let’s put it this way… I took a drink every time the Red Sox should have scored and a shot every time they allowed a run they should have prevented.
Wake… runs… no… Cash… damn… crap… allowed. DRINK.
Sox basses juiced and (hey can I have a triple shot of…) damn no runs again… what the hell is wrong here… DRINK.
Hey look! It’s my favorite punching bag Lugo taking a routine ground ball off the heel of his glove! Another run? Fill me up barkeep!
Aardsma+Lopez+Corey=NO DRINKS? Must be getting buzzed cause that doesn't make any sense.
Extra frames… big Papi you are so clutch when you… what? Why are you sliding head first into first base? I know I’m wasted but… Huh? DRINK.
I think Timlin is trying to kill me. Oh my god… here he is again. What do I have to sacrifice to make him go away forever? Forget the 2004 and 2007 games… what can I do to make him leave now? Nothing? Damnit… I would have paid good money for something… DRINK another cause the game is over… ugh.
Fantastic. It’s my first “Pass out drunk” game of the year. A few more of those and I can get a Red Sox logo tattooed on my liver. Happy days! Now excuse me while I make a head first offering to the porcelain God.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
I really, really, really wanted to write about Justin Masterson and how well he did: six innings, four strikeouts, the eleven ground ball outs you'd expect to see from a sinkerballer, four walks that did no damage, an escape through a double play, one home run but a good job keeping things low in the zone (see the number of ground ball outs), etc. He brought peace, love, good will to all men and a controlled score to a team still staggering from flu-related illnesses, and if the bullpen could have done their jobs and kept the score under control, you'd all be treated to three paragraphs of discussion on sinking fastballs and the need for a strong defense. However...
We made up the Red Scare tag last spring as a joke about the embryonic nature of Boston's bullpen. This year, we've used it a (judicious) four times (counting today), but it's come to acquire a more menacing meaning: the Red Scare is becoming the collection of Red Sox arms who, despite expectations to the contrary, come into a game, blow the lead, and put pressure on the offense to win the game in spite of the damage. What's worse, the problematic pitcher (or pitchers) differs from game to game, so we're never exactly sure who's going to suck today. It's like watching a baseball version of Russian roulette, except no one gets a thrill when the bullet doesn't end up in their brain. It makes me wonder if someone's systematically poisoning the Red Sox, not giving them the flu.
Anyway, what amazes me is that the score ended up as close as it did. After the Angels exploded for six runs over the last three innings while their bullpen did the normal thing and kept the Sox off the bases, I entered fatalistic mode, where I console myself with fantasy baseball points and pray for the quick ending to the final outs. What's fortunate about this team (thus far) is that - unlike me - they don't give up: the ninth inning was exciting because despite the dispiriting shift in momentum, the Sox still managed to score two runs. I'll take that resurgence as the silver lining (it's April, after all, and I'm allowed), and hope that someone figures out the bullpen situation mighty quick.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Call it a super bug. This freaking flu has downed Tek, Beckett, MDC and now Dice-K. Lowell is down with his wrist injury, Coco’s hammy still sucks, Cora has his bum shoulder and now Youk is out stiff neck. So starting for the Sox this week could very well be you, me and Dom Deluise. But on the bright side, they called Craig Hansen back up! Oh wait… that’s not much of a bright side.
So instead of 4 game winner Dice-K, we get the embattled Jon Lester and his 10,000 pitches… oh and he only has 3 days rest. You can imagine how this one turned out.
Actually it was a lot closer than I thought it was going to be. Lester pitched 5 innings and gave up 4 earned, but walked far fewer than his usual allotment (he did give up 9 hits). As for the bullpen, well…
Hansen + Lopez + Timlin = just enough to lose.
That crew gave up 2 runs, one from Hansen right after a Papi homer tied the game at four and one by Timlin late to ice the game. As much as I love the late inning comebacks, the Red Sox bats cannot carry them with out SOME bullpen help. Especially now that the whole roster is so banged up. Sox need to heal up… and quick.
These come from behind victories have got to be getting frustrating for our string of vaunted (and now vanquished) foes: the Sox are now the proud owners of ten come from behind victories, posing the team's hitting as a serious bullpen threat: when a lead of five runs isn't safe, what is? Pleasantly enough, it's not just Manny or Big Papi who's providing the run-scoring spark for these end-game thrillers, either: congratulations to Jacoby Ellsbury on his first ever multi-homer game, and for channeling the spirit of Dave Roberts with some bunt single, distract the reliever, score from first on a double magic.
You may have heard that Ellsbury has some holes in his strike zone that more adept teams have exploited this year - they're most likely the reason why Ellsbury has had a bit of a slow start this month, and would be the biggest hurdle he needs to overcome to meet expectations after his incredible post-season success. The Boston Globe has an in-depth scouting report on Ellsbury from Inside Edge that shows the holes very clearly: pitch him inside middle in or high and outside and his average drops to .267 or lower.
The point of these stats: either Ellsbury's made some adjustments, or Jared Weaver and four guys from Texas aren't hitting the right spots, because Jacoby has nine hits in the past five games. Both of last night's home runs were in strike zone sweet spots, reinforcing the bad placement theory, but I have my hopes that Ellsbury will start to make pitchers pay for leaving balls up and away by tagging them into left field.
Monday, April 21, 2008
For those who are not familiar with the history of Patriots Day, this is the anniversary of the day Paul Revere sneaked 3 hookers into Boston Common (2 by land, 1 by sea) for the enjoyment of Ben Franklin and Sam Adams. Or something like that. More importantly, the Sox start early, they run the Boston Marathon and I get the day off.
Today the Red Sox are going for the 4 game sweep of the Texas Rangers with Clay Buchholz facing off against former Sox Kason Gabbard. Yeah this is the guy we gave up for Gagne last year... so we better beat him today or everyone is gonna look really stupid.
Lineup is as follows:
CF-Ellsbury (Coco has a sore hammy)
3B Lowrie (giving Casey the day off)
C Cash (another day off for Tek cause he's got the flu)
LF Thurston (Manny gets his second day off thanks to the ejection)
RF Murphy (the other guy we gave up for Gagne)
Looks like fun! I'll be back after the first inning and every following inning with updates. Fire it up.
Apparently Tek and Manny aren't the only stars with the day off. Jerry Remy is out sick so we get to hang with Ken Macha and his monotone. After getting the first out, Buchholz gave up a double to Michael Young, but gets out of trouble with a K and a line drive to Thurston (who looks shaky out there). Buchholz has good velocity on his fastball and is locating his devastating change up.
Gabbard works quickly. Jacoby lasts the longest, but Kason makes quick work of the first three batters he sees. I hope this isn't a long morning for Sox hitters. Sox 0, Rangers 0
Buchholz was struggling to locate is curve ball, but is still managing to punish the strike zone. After getting 2 quick outs (and another K), Murphy waits on a fastball and bloops it into center. Laird puts a bunt down the third base line and reaches cause Lowrie is was playing so far back (come on, it was the freaking catcher). Drama as a walk loads the bases (gulp), but a pop up for Kinsler prevents any damage. Whew... he threw a ton of pitches (up to 42 now) but it could have been worse.
Gabbard dropped himself (slip!) on the mound and caused a brief commotion with the trainers but it didn't look like he was hurt. Drew drew a walk (see what I did there!), got the Sox their first base runner and advances to second on a pass ball. Lowrie advanced the runner to third and in steps Lugo. I freaking loathe this guy and cannot believe that he was able to draw a walk. I think my hate fuels him. Macha completely writes off any chance of Cash getting a hit and is as shocked as I am when he walks... but any chance of scoring is thrown out the window when Thurston strikes out on 3 pitches. Left the bases loaded. I hate this AAA lineup. Sox 0, Rangers 0
Up and down inning for Buchholz. Young got a 4 pitch walk, Hamilton got a 3 pitch K, fly out for Bradley (would have been gone in some parks), single for Blalock and a pop out from Botts to end it. Other than the UGLY walk, he looked much better that inning.
In a SHOCKER Gabbard was pulled right before the start of the third inning. That slip might have really hurt him. So much for his no hitter. He is replaced by Dustin Nippert and his near infinity ERA. Jacoby draws a walk right away, steals second and Dustin singles him over with the first hit of the day. In steps Papi... and out steps Papi. He still isn't his old self just yet. Bad strikeout. Now cue the WORST BASE RUNNING EVER. Youk popped up to shallow center Jacoby tagged, but CHANGED HIS MIND half way home. Pedroia tried to distract him by going to second (and that worked!) but then Jacoby tried to score AGAIN! He was tagged out easily. My words don't even do that disaster justice. I just opened my first beer. Sox 0, Rangers 0
Ken Macha is putting me to sleep. I almost missed the GREAT catch from Thurston in front of the monster. Buchholz is up to 73 pitches but gets his 4th K and his first 1,2,3 inning to end the top of the fourth. He looks like he is settling down.
Fundamental baseball this was NOT. After a Drew walk, Nippert balks, and Jed Lowrie pops a bunt up to the short stop... that nobody bothers to catch! Then Lugo singles up the middle and gets the freaking run home! Maybe I need to keep bad mouthing Lugo and he'll hit a grand slam next time up. Then Cash hits a blooper right to Kinsler and he almost picks Lugo off first, but instead throws it away. Another run scores and Lugo gets to second. Jacoby hits a ground ball to short and the Rangers almost throw this away too as Jacoby reaches safely! It's little league out there. Pedroia capitalizes on this madness with a 2 run double. I love the quick kids! But wait there's more! Papi hit a fly ball to Bradley who loses it in the sun and ANOTHER run scores. Meanwhile Nippert can't find the plate and loads the bases again. I guess that was the incentive the Sox batters needed to end the inning. Damage was already done though. Sox 5, Rangers 0
Another quick inning for Buchholz with his 5th K. I'm glad the long half inning didn't have any negative effects.
Poor Nippert is back out again. He must have run over the pitching coaches dog or something. Big double in the corner for Lugo (he must love my abuse) and Cash moves him to third with a bloop hit, Thurston pops out foul (this guy has NO bat) and Jacoby singles Lugo home. He is SO locked in right now. Finally Nippert is rescued and replaced by German. He gets Pedroia quick, but leaves one in the zone for Papi... box score shows that as his 2nd RBI double... but we have to thank Bradley for the first one. Texas gives up 3 more. Sox 8, Rangers 0
Buchholz comes back out and gives a liner up to Bradley, but then gets a money double play and his 6th K to end the inning. He looked really really good today.
Who is this and what have they done with Julio Lugo? He rockets a ball off the wall and my jaw is on the floor cause he's 3 for 3. A few more walks and the bases load for Thurston... who pops out in foul ground again (yeesh he is awful), Jacoby Ks and Pedroia pops out. Bases loaded with no outs and they can't score... and I'm not mad? We must be kicking butt. Sox 8, Rangers 0
Aardsma replaces Buchholz (who had a great line) and immediately walks Murphy and gives up an RBI double to Laird. Not too good. He bounces back with 2 Ks before Francona replaces him with Lopez who gives up another RBI double off the wall. He too comes back with a big K to end the threat. Kind of a shaky inning from the pen.
Papi leads off with a walk (that's 11 walks from Texas if you're keeping score) but the Sox can't capitalize off an newly rejuvenated German. Weird, I know. Sox 8, Rangers 2
Lopez still in there and looked much better at first. After two quick outs (and another K), Murphy doubled one off the wall in center before Lopez got the third out on a weak grounder. I like these low drama situations.
German is pulled for Benoit who we hammered on Saturday. Got to love this Texas bullpen. Lugo gets his 4th hit of the day as fire and brimstone falls from the sky. 4 for 4? I may have to reexamine my life. It's almost scripted as Cash hits into a double play and Thurston pops straight up AGAIN. Now THIS is what I expected from the scrubs. Sox 8, Rangers 2
Enter Delcarman to close this one out. He started rough looked pretty good lately but kind came apart this afternoon. MDC made quick work of the first 2 batters before Young smacked a double down the line and Hamilton doubled him home. No further damage as Bradley grounded out to the mound to end the threat, game and series.
Great game from the "B Squad" on this Patriots Day. Love to see offense from the backups and I especially love to see a 4 game sweep.
FINAL SCORE: Boston Red Sox 8, Texas Rangers 3
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Manny was due for a day off and was going to sit on Monday anyway, but after a disputed call in the 2nd (looked low, but might have been strike 3) he decided to sit… well the home plate ump decided… but you know what I mean.
So enter Joe Thurston (who?) and Jed Lowerie (giving Pedroia a night off) and now prepare for a typical “sorry Wake but we ain’t scoring you any runs” type of game.
And that is exactly what it looked like to start. The Rangers Kevin Millwood wasn’t completely dominating, but he was getting out of any jam the Sox put him in. Unlike Wakefield (who went 8 and gave up 5 runs) Millwood would load the bases and get out of it… over and over. 14 left on base by the days end. Almost enough to make you start sniffing glue.
So enter the 7th and it all falls apart for Texas. Millwood gives up a few hits to start the inning, and the bullpen just blows it. That’s right: another Red Sox late rally! Honestly I would feel a little bad for Texas if it wasn’t so goddamn exciting. Pretty much everyone got involved in this win after the 6th inning. All the kids (Jacoby, Lowrie, and pinch hitting Pedroia), super quick running Papi (you have to see it to believe it) and ever patient Drew and Casey led this gutsy powerful comeback. Also, because Wake stuck it out and pitched 8 innings, he was in line for the win as Paps locked it down. Fan-dastic-tastic comeback!
Stay tuned tomorrow, the Sox go for the 4 game sweep with the early Patriots Day game… and I am gonna live blog the bastard. Yep, I am gonna thank the Commonwealth for the day off by drinking beer and watching sports all day. It’s paradise.
Oh, Texas bullpen. You're clearly no good for anyone, particularly for keeping a lead. Or maybe it's just Joaquin Benoit - six runs in a little over six innings doesn't sound like the sort of average you'd want a closer to carry. In any case, I guess it really doesn't matter who's pitching: contract year Manny is a monstrous entity who eats up pitchers, hits massive game-winning home runs, and panders for a four year contract in Boston. Add in a game-tying single by Big Papi to get the scoring started in the eighth, and you have the back to back horror for which Boston's version of the Bash Brothers are justifiably famous. So much for the hitting (and it feels great to say that after eight innings of hitting frustration); let's talk starting pitching.
I have a theory about Lester and his competitive level: a bit like Dice-K and how his performance seems to suffer when he's given a large lead, Lester's pitching abilities seem to suffer when the Red Sox score first. Here's what I have as far as evidence: Lester's made five starts so far, and he has a 1 and 2 record. In the games where he pitched to either a loss or a no-decision, he either had some sort of lead to protect, or - in the case of the first game against Oakland - he pitched poorly enough to surrender the lead very quickly. Assuming the Oakland game was an aberration (and ignoring the very small sample size), a pattern starts to emerge: as soon as the Sox give Lester a lead, his pitching falls apart: more walks, more hits, fewer innings. It remains to be seen whether or not this theory holds water, but I like it for an explanation for why this talented pitcher seems to be so inconsistent on the mound.
Friday, April 18, 2008
There are triumphant returns, and then there are triumphant returns. Ortiz's big masher off Luis Mendoza, still reeling (three batters and two walks later) from a snapped streak of eight retired batsmen via the bat of scorching hot Jed Lowrie, had all of the marks of the high, deep, gone super smash as soon as it left the bat, landing in the Monster Seats with a glory made all the more poignant by the delivery of Mr. Clutch after such a long and heart-rending time of hitting misfortune. Wracked with guilt for hoping for the best but expecting the worst when Ortiz came to the plate with two outs and a big inning on the line, I haven't pleaded with a ball to clear the fence that much since J.D. Drew's equally unexpected grand slam last October.
Many runs later, Ortiz returned to the plate in the eighth inning with two men in scoring position. The Sox had broken the score open wide enough to justify confidence of victory, even in the hands of the shaky back end of the bullpen, and normally it would seem to be gluttony to ask for more offensive production. These were not normal times, however: a newly created hot streak was in danger of being stillborn if not feed a steady diet of hits, no matter how ridiculous the score differential. I asked the baseball gods to grant Ortiz another hit.
They were really only too happy to oblige, as Big Papi corked a single to right that scored Casey and Ellsbury. Watch the replays: you'll see the big man's swing and timing are dead on, classic Ortiz, the awkward weight shift and the power drive in place once again. David Ortiz is back, ladies and gentlemen, and he's ready to start destroying the ball again. Everyone else is in big, big trouble.
Revenge is a dish best served cold or (in this case) red hot and full of vitriol. Now cue the Sox bad men. That’s right… Beckett and Manny. Two guys ready to kick ass, chew gum and take names. They saw how ugly it got last night and wanted some quick and dirty justice. And boy did they provide it.
Beckett was awesome. He pitched 8 innings of great baseball… 3 runs in a rough 5th but other than that he was just what we expected from our ace. I cannot get over how much this saves the Sox as a team. I joked with my dad that after yesterday Francona took Beckett aside and said “Hey kid, you better go 9 ok? You get paid for 9, you pitch for 9.” Ok so he didn’t go the full circuit, but he came damn close and was damn good.
The other monster? Mr. Bad Man himself: Manny “Contract Year” Ramirez. 2 HR off Mussina who looked as done as Timlin looked last night (I mean really, the Yanks think they are getting 10+ wins off of him this year? Crazy talk). This sparked a interesting reaction from one Yankee relief pitcher Kyle Farnsworth… you may know him as “That Douchebag.” Yep, Kyle threw BEHIND Manny in the 7th and caused the ump to warn both benches (NESN immediately cut to Beckett nodding vigorously… file that away for payback).
This is exactly what I wanted (minus the Papelbon 2 run scare) after yesterday’s mess and is what we need from the Red Sox this year. Quick and unavoidable vengeance against all teams. You beat us? We beat you back and better. From a VERY creditable eyewitness (Matt) we got some “Let’s Go Red Sox” chants in the 9th inning. I expected better from the newly named Yankee Universe. (BTW that is a good cause but stop copying us…seriously).
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
There is ugly, butt-ugly, fugly, SUPER fugly and then there is this game.
But wait, are we doing this again already? This weird home/away schedule means that the Sox play the Yanks 5 times in 7 games. It’s almost enough to wear down the hype a bit. I guess the biggest problem I have is the fact that Buchholz gets stuck going up against Wang again. Kind of unfair that the rookie has to take on the Yankees ace twice in a week.
Well he didn’t have to suffer long. The Yanks beat him soundly and early for 7 runs in 3 and 2/3 innings. The fast ball didn’t have the bite and hits were sprayed all over the field. It was hard to watch.
And then Wang followed suit almost to the letter. He was walking every Sox hitter, giving up big doubles and left with 8 runs of his own in just 4 innings. Combined line for these two? 7 2/3 innings, 17 hits, 15 runs, 4 BB, 4 K. Yeah… and then it REAL ugly…
Both the Sox and Yanks pens were less than perfect, which is like saying Paris Hilton’s SAT scores were less than perfect. Olendorf couldn’t hold the lead for the Yankees as he replaced the troubled Wang. This would have put a smile on my face if Tavarez didn’t give it right back to them that INNING! The throwing error by Lugo (who needs to be run out of town… seriously… he brings nothing to this team) didn’t help, but the heap of the blame needs to be put on Tavarez. His pitching was as rough as his complexion and even more uneven.
It took Aardsma for the Sox and Hawkins for the Yanks to put some ICE on this fire. Both pitched very well and tamed the rampaging bats in these lineups. Then, like adding gas to smoldering ashes, Timlin came in to put the game WAY out of reach. Boy oh boy does he look toasted. After the dust cleared, the Sox couldn’t get it done against the Yankees bullpen… you know… ACES like Olendorf, Hawkins and Bruney. Meanwhile the Yankees stomped all over Tavarez and Timlin.
I can’t stand it. Just so many disasters in this one, but it always seems this way when the Sox venture into the Bronx. I cannot wait for them to knock that freaking building down. I only hope they accidentally destroy the new one too.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Despite the absence of Mike Lowell and the relative absence of David Ortiz (and his two game hitting streak) I've started to develop a genuine affection for how this year's offense works when it clicks. Partially it's the overwhelming effectiveness, where last night, for the second time this season ,the offense picked up the pitching and returned runs lost to the opposing team with vicious interest, scoring two for one, four for two, etc. You can't help but like the hitting on a team that stays that effective under pressure. But my affection also stems from how the Sox are stringing together hits - or how they seem to be stringing together hits - and how that differs from past teams. Let me explain.
Note: the following is based only partially on statistics and partially on impressions, and as is such is quite possibly wildly inaccurate. Bear with me. In the past (say 2003 to 2005), when Boston wanted to score runs, they'd do the baseball equivalent of filling up the power meter (yes, a video game metaphor) and then try and clobber the opposing pitcher. For the most part it worked, and the team enjoyed winning records, even in 2005 when the pitching wouldn't have scared (or stopped) a little leaguer. More recent teams have flirted with speed, courtesy of first Coco Crisp and then Julio Lugo, but - so far - the 2008 edition mixes speed, hitting, and plate patience in a way that opens far more offensive options. The mix of hitting and plate patience (and here's where statistics come in) is particularly interesting: most of Boston's hits come in more aggressive counts (the twenty hits on the first pitch exceeds hits on any other count, and hitters are more likely to swing and connect with two strike counts), but as the number of balls increase, so do the likelihood of walks.
The end result: the team has an sOPS+ (a measurement of the team's offensive ability relative to other teams) of 110 (100 is average). We're on a hot streak, and that helps, but I think what we've seen in the past few games is how the 2008 Boston offense is supposed to work, and not a case of luck. The pitching may still be a question mark, but the offense looks championship-worthy.
Monday, April 14, 2008
I’ll give one thing to Jon Lester: He has balls (usually four per batter). I mean he is as inaccurate as I have seen from a pitcher. He has good stuff, but can almost NEVER get it over the plate. It is excruciating how he labors with every batter and it makes every start a white knuckled affair for any Sox fan. Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy and his story as a cancer survivor is amazing, but sometimes I wonder if I am gonna survive him.
So even though the Sox got the early lead on a cold Cleveland night, Westbrook looked good and kept them to one run while Lester fell apart in the 4th and 5th. It looked grim.
Then in steps Tavarez. Yes JT Killer was a strikeout machine and kept it close for the remainder. He was a baby stomping scarefaced monster… only in a good way. It’s kinda hard to describe. Timlin looked good too (bout time) and kept the game in reach.
So down by 1 in the 9th (after a big fly from Youk) Tribe closer Borowski comes in to lead Cleveland to a one run victory. At least that’s what I figured. Isn’t it too early in the season for late inning drama? Shouldn’t we get settled into summer before the heroics grip us again? Hmmmm… maybe not…
After Lugo (big double), Coco (sac bunt) and Pedroia (sac fly) get the run across to tie it, Big Papi steps in and hits a TALL bloop the opposite way… and I couldn’t be more happy. The second hit of the night for the big guy who got a weird ceremony before the game from the rest of the team. It seems to have worked cause Ortiz was taking some very good swings….almost as good as Manny’s last swing. The Bad Man Manny deposited his 493rd homerun in the Cleveland stands to give the Sox a hefty 2 run lead.
Cue Papelbon (5th save), exit drama, enter the win. I love me a comeback victory. Now instead of being mad at Lester before I go to bed, I get to sleep well and worry about him tomorrow. Not too shabby.
We didn't make a big deal about it because:
a) I thought it was a joke
b) Honestly, it is really silly and who cares?
Well it looks like the Yankees cared. They went and dug that thing OUT. Through layers of concrete, the team that hasn't won since 2000 went digging in the new foundation to try and avoid a supposed Curse on their new home. Wow. Two World Championships for Beantown and the Yankees turn superstitious. I thought they were above these things. I thought they had Mystique and Aura and left Curses to losing franchises like the Sox and Cubs and other "lesser" teams.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. One little Ortiz jersey (who didn't even play on Sunday) can make you go digging like rover with a soup bone. Forget being in your foundation... the Red Sox are in your head...
Sunday, April 13, 2008
In between the bouts of mind-numbing idiocy that Joe Morgan regularly injects into his broadcasts, he made an interesting point (I know: I was shocked, too): Dice-K doesn't seem to have the same intensity when he's pitching with a big lead that he does when things get close and tight. Not that Matsuzaka was pitching particularly well before Boston staked him to a big lead - he'd surrendered four walks of his six by the end of the third inning, when Boston's lead was only three runs - I wondered if there might be some statistical validity to Morgan's statement: does Dice-K need to keep his head in the game when he's acquired a large lead?
According to these stats I dug up on Baseball Reference, a change in focus might not be a bad idea: as the difference in score increases up to four runs (winning by or losing by), Dice-K's stats get worse and worse in all relevant categories: more hits, more walks, and most importantly, more runs. Compare those stats with high stress situations like close and late (tie game, ahead by one, or tying run on deck in the seventh inning or later) or (for a larger sample) with two outs and runners in scoring position, and Matsuzaka becomes much harder to hit, as if he needs the right pressure to perform at his highest level.
Hitting that extra level would have helped tonight. The Sox got lucky with Phillips Hughes' inexperience, and even luckier that David Aardsma and Javier Lopez had ten outs between them to stave off the Yankees' ever present offensive threats, but they scraped the bottom of the bullpen barrel a bit tonight right before going off to Cleveland. We'd better see the good side of Jon Lester tomorrow, or the relief pitching will revert to Red Scare faster than you can say, "ridiculously tough April schedule."
Totally unrelated, but way to go Gabe Kapler! The Hebrew Hammer strikes again!
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Oh FOX sports... I think you are what I hate most about the “GREATEST RIVALRY IN SPORTS!!!!!111one11!!! blaw blaw” nonsense. You sensationalize everything, your graphics make my head hurt and your announcers must have been born under power lines while eating paint chips. I know it’s been said over and over again, but let me just get it out of the way one more time… Buck and McCarver should be announcing peewee hockey in Brazil.
But enough about the atmosphere… the game itself was a pitching and defensive battle from start to finish. Beckett was awesome and his curve and fastball looked great until he ran out of gas in the 7th. He gave up 3 runs and it wouldn’t have bothered me much if the Red Sox were killing the ball… but they were NOT.
Battered Yankees pitcher Mussina looked like he was ready to be shelled, but he was aided by good defense, bad base running (Tek out by a mile) and Ortiz with men on (he is no longer “Big Papi” but is now known as David “Struggling” Ortiz until further notice). It was Manny who provided the offence for the day. Big solo shot and then an even bigger 2 run double in the triangle. God bless the contract year!
So with a 4-3 lead in the 8th, Oki gets 2 quick outs and then Cabrera walks and Abreu singled… 2 on 2 out… A-rod up… Papelbon in… I’m on the edge of my seat… and…
It freaking starts raining a TON.
Yep the tarps come on and make me wait about 2 hours with that tense situation writhing in the back of my mind. It wasn’t even raining that hard but still we had to suffer through freaking NASCAR warm-ups. I was pissed. A big sushi dinner helped.
Anyway, once the game resumed Paps seemed pretty OK… for a GOD LIKE MAN-CHILD. A-Rod down by way of the K, Giambi and Posada too… that left Cano to weakly ground out to short. Live it… love it. Papelbon is unstoppable. Neither rain nor sleet can hold him back.
Not that I saw every pitch… FOX cut away in the middle of the at-bat to go back to NASCAR. A quick jump to the F/X station was the only thing that prevented me from going on a 6 state killing spree. Yeah, we got lucky.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Can I say something? Can I inject a big caveat into the Chien-Mien Wang lovefest that's going down on YES - damn you, local blackouts - a caveat that I will preface by saying I didn't expect Buchholz to out pitch Wang tonight (ask Alan, he's the witness): yes, Wang pitched an excellent game tonight, stymieing the Sox over and over again with but the accidental home run and the error that should have been a single to mar the perfection. Yes, he was economical, efficient, exemplary in his extra-special ability to elicit out after out after out. But here's the thing: the weather helped him out like a mofo.
Wang is a sinkerballer, by definition a guy who lives and dies by the ground balls he generates. He didn't rely as much on the sinking fastball tonight because he was getting the outs in the air, but that heavy, damp air, with its 64% percent humidity, and dropping (read: stormy) pressure was taking out Red Sox fly balls with an efficiency that would make the DC Sniper envious.
Take the fifth inning, for example: four deep flies to center and right field, which all seemed like sure-thing home runs or wall-ballers when they left the bat. Only one (Drew's home run) reached its hoped-for destination, and only then because Bobby Abreu misplaced his leap. On a normal night, a few more of those flies turn into hits, Wang relies more on the sinker, and maybe the face of the game changes. Maybe his confidence drops a little bit, and that early success doesn't feed into a late-inning dominance. I don't begrudge the Yankees for winning on a smart strategy (or a coincidence), but I wouldn't have minded some sharing of the love.
Also: I regret writing off Clay too quickly today. He looked pretty good tonight, especially before the wheels started to come off in the fifth.
What a great night for DC to make his game blog debut! His eyewitness report is after my italics... wish I went with him.
If you didn’t watch this game then you’ll have to trust me when I tell you, this was the closest 12-6 game that I have seen in a very long time. The Old Town Team spent most of this game putting themselves into jams and then wiggling out of them with minimal damage and may have lost if the Tigers weren’t in the process of holding open tryouts for their bullpen.
Tonight was one of those nights when it was a little too windy for Timmy Knuckles to be effective. As usual, this resulted in a lot of full counts, a lot a walks (5) and a couple of hit batsmen. Possibly the most telling sign of Wake’s struggles: 100 pitches in 4 1/3 innings of work. The good news is that the offense finally realized that run support is a good thing and picked up the slack enough to get Ole Timmy Knuckles his first win of the season.
Wakefield wasn’t the only one who took his lumps tonight. Tavarez took it upon himself to make this game close by giving up 3 hits, 2 walks and 3 runs in just 2/3 of an inning. I don’t know if he just wanted to give Papelbon a save situation or forgot to ritualistically kill some livestock last night, but he was a great double play by Lugo away from costing Wake his victory and in the process boosted his own ERA from 0.00 to 7.36. Don’t you just love the first couple weeks of the season when stats can change more drastically than Michael Jackson’s appearance over the last 30 years?
The most exciting thing that happened tonight was the re-emergence of the well rounded offense that we have come to know and love. Most of the production tonight came from unexpected and unheralded sources. The “hated” J.D. Drew (3 for 3, 1 BB) and the “untrade-able” Coco Crisp (2 for 3, 2 BB) each plated 2 RBI’s, and continued their hot starts (hitting .404 and .304 respectively). Sean “The Mayor” Casey (in cause Lowell is now on the DL) chipped in 3 RBI’s of his own and even Kevin Cash (who has one of the coolest names ever) drove in one of his own. The remainder of the runs came from Youk (who also shined on defense) and Manny who according to the drunk BU student on the bus ride home will be the American League’s MVP this season.
A couple of other notes on this game:
1. Miguel Cabrera looked FOOLISH trying to hit the knuckleball. It was painfully clear that he’d never seen anything like it in the National League. Seriously, to all those overbearing dad’s out there… if you want junior to make it to the pros, just teach him how to throw this pitch effectively. I promise, you’ll thank me later.
2. All I can say about Big Papi… STRUGGLING!!! Pretty soon Tito is going to call up the President from 24 and see if he still has that little voodoo doll from Major League.
3. Tonight was Japanese Night at the ball park. The pregame festivities featured martial arts displays, little girls dancing in kimonos, and the Japanese national anthem. This all begs the question: How hard could it have been to schedule this on a night when Dice-K was actually starting? Perhaps the marketing department over there on Yawkey Way needs to hire some new people?
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Maybe it’s Detroit Walk City. The Tigers pulled 8 free passes between Lester, Aardsma, Corey, Tavarez and Lopez. Every one made me want to pull my hair out. Lester continues to frustrate. He takes forever on the mound, he throws ten thousand pitches and manages to walk a guy an inning. He gave up a 2 run double to the detestable Renteria and a SHOT into the monster seats for Thames. Not a good start...
After a pretty good 2 inning band aid from Aardsma, Corey pretty much pitched himself onto waivers. To save a roster move, DC suggested that when Timlin comes back he should just shoot Corey and bury him under the backstop.
Tavarez added some excitement by loading the bases, but with a slow tapped back to the mound from Sheffield, he and Tek combined for a 1-2-3 double play. Tavarez celebrated by eating a fetal pig. Good times. Oh and Lopez gave up a solo shot in the 9th. Bad times.
The Red Sox bats looked patient and hot to start (Bonderman looked ripe for a shelling) but the could get nothing done with men on. After a bases loaded walk, Lugo (who had a good night) muscled in a single for another run in the 2nd… but that was as good as it got. Lots of guys left on, lots of bad breaks, lots of squanders. Now factor in Mike Lowell’s thumb injury (just a sprain, Casey filled in) this was pretty much a downer all the way around.
The biggest disappointment at the plate HAS to be Ortiz. He is now 1 for the last 19 and is making everyone wince a little when he comes to the plate. Besides the fact that he is getting nothing to hit, he just looks uncomfortable out there.
So the Tigers finally get one in the win column. You had to figure they weren’t going to lose 162 games… I’m just pissed the drought happened to end in Boston.
Anyway, tomorrow it is the return of Wake to Fenway and a special guest game blogger! Our own angry commenter DC will be in attendance and will bless us with his first-hand recap. Couldn’t be more excited!
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
In retrospect, I'm not sure why Robin was worried; how could the Sox not win today? To quote myself from the last ring presentation in Fenway (oh, wonderful self-referentialism): "Marvelous. But then again, with the jubilant mood in Fenway, full of confidence, how could things go any different? Heck, half of Boston's sports heroes from past 50 years were in the Park; the amount of pro-Sox karma in the place practically guaranteed a win itself." The Sox outdid themselves this time, if possible: Bobby Orr, John Havlicek, Bill Russell, Tedy Bruschi, assorted other sports legends, championship trophies from all four major sports...the Tigers were done before they even started, and the game was just a pleasantry for the fans. And that's not even thinking about the enormous karmatic debt that every Sox fan paid off today by standing and cheering their hearts out for Bill Buckner, throwing that first pitch to Dewey Evans. So that was good, then.
Then there's Dice-K, achieving the dictates of the Three Start Rule with effortless ease. I don't know if he's finally adjusted to pitching in the MLB, or he's established the correct lines of communication with Varitek, or he's just on a hot streak right now and we're in for some ugly surprises at some near-future date, and I don't care: he's given up eight hits, three runs, and nine walks in a bit over eighteen innings, he's struck out 22 batters, he's the awesome right now. Booya.
Meanwhile...the batting. Oh, the batting. Yes, five men in white and red crossed the plate today - one of them helped by one of the Tigers' two errors - but the long and the short of things is that the Sox won today because Dice-K outpitched the Gambler, and Boston's bullpen didn't flub things up for the first time since Oakland. Sure, every starter got on base at least once, but the Sox still managed two ground into two double plays and leave 11 men on base, including six who waited in vain in scoring position for that ticket home that never came. In other words, the Tigers were lucky today's score wasn't much, much higher, while the Sox still find themselves in the environs of a slump. I won't dwell on it too much right now - I'm just happy they won - but all of the pistons aren't firing properly quite yet.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
Seriously, who gives a care about those ice eating, moose screwing, northerner bastards? The Sox get swept by the blue-birds of unhappiness and it hurts even MORE because we got the ACE back today… and what was he good for? NADA, NOTHING, ZIP!
Well Mr. Ace Beckett loaded the bases, and MDC unloaded them with one pitch (Ugly). Then when you include the batting problems (Hideous) it was just about what you would expect (Margaret Thatcher FUGLY).
Man… I am in shock here. This was supposed to be the gimme win and we are left with a solo shot from Jacoby (full on man crush), Tek (captain comes through), and J.D. Drew (total 180 from last year? LOVE IT)… and that’s it? Sigh… that’s nothing compared to Lugo’s 3 damn errors!
Look, I just want someone to tell me when I can freak out. 2 weeks? 4? A month? Just let me know when it isn’t too early to flip my lid. Let’s say I wait a week before I go into crazy “trade everyone cause they all suck” mode, but isn’t that going against the evidence? Overwhelming evidence like:
Starting pitching? Not there.
Relievers? Shaky and dwindling.
Bats? Not too hot yet.
If I was in CSI then the trendy music would already be blearing as I gaze at the bad guy from across the table. Cause I know that bastard is gulty.
But maybe it’s just the location. Maybe three countries in as many weeks is too much of a strain on any team. We will cross these bridges of dementia and bitterness after the first home stand. Come on final opening day… deep breaths.
Saturday, April 05, 2008
The sign in the Fenway home clubhouse could read: "Truly Bronson-Free Since 2008," after the news today that Kyle Snyder may be not only out of a long relief job, but out on the waiver wire with a DFA to make room for the return of Josh Beckett. It's sad, really, that a man can't be giving up four runs in one and two-thirds innings without getting packed off to the nearest desperate team for a draft pick, especially when that man has such a wonderful resemblance to the much-loved (by college girls and Sox fans alike) Arroyo. But it was do or die time as regards to Beckett, and Snyder had the misfortune of opening the door for the Jays to change today's midday contest from close through trailing to blowout. Giving up two runs per appearance probably didn't help, either.
But I do have to wonder: why Snyder over Bryan Corey? Actually, that's a foolish question; Corey's not only been Francona's go-to guy this far (his four appearances topping anyone else on the staff), but he's tied with Delcarmen as second most effective reliever in the pen. Or at least he was until today, when he let Snyder's two base runners and four of his own cross the plate over the course of a third of an inning, making his own case for a demotion - or at least a cooling off period. I guess my point is that Snyder's DFA seems a little arbitrary, or maybe I feel like it's a gut decision (though I'm having a harder and harder time justifying it as I look at the relative numbers) because I enjoyed seeing him pitch. If he's really gone, though, good luck on the market. Thirty seems too young to let a career come to an end.
Or maybe you can't stop the instant karma from an Opening Day ceremony honoring Roberto Alomar. Or maybe, just maybe, you shouldn't hang change-ups to Frank Thomas, even if he's one for seven against you. Tough way to waste what Robin drunkenly described last night as the beginning of Drew's "monster season," but when Toronto's fifth starter shuts down the bats for two-thirds of the game, there's a bigger problem going on.
The Sox are in a hitting slump. In their first five games, the OPS is an anemic .685 (compared to the much healthier .806 OPS from all of 2007), the number of strikeouts outnumber the number of walks by a measure of three to one (a ratio that's twice as big as the 2007 results), and - most telling - on a scale of 0 to 200, where 100 means average, the team has an OPS+ of 85. The numbers improve a little bit when you take out the two games in Japan, but overall the tough stretch of games coming up is going to turn into a real make-or-break April if the Sox don't start hitting.
Going back to the theme in the post title, where the does throwback uni love come from anyway? Are we so locked in to the culture of irony that we think that powder blue or rainbow stripes really look cool? No doubt that's a part of the mix, along with nostalgia - because we all know the only thing bigger than irony right now is bonafide love for the past - allowing America's biggest population needs another outlet to relive its youth, while their kids engage in an exercise of self-loathing and pretend to enjoy something they have little connection to. I'm sure the teams love it as a chance to sell more merchandise. If I can play the purist for a moment (while acknowledging my own hypocrisy as an owner of several non-standard items of Red Sox gear), I think that dredging up the past to feed the present cheapens the game a bit. If we're all going to live in the past, what's the point of playing now?
Friday, April 04, 2008
I don't know about the relative quality of play in the Shikoku Island League, but Wikipedia notes the league has 132 players on six teams and started three years ago, so I'm guessing something equivalent to a Minor League team. I do know two things, though: first, Matsuo doesn't sound half bad; he pitched 5.1 innings a start last year, and he's been good for a strikeout an inning for the past two years. Second, the Shikoku Island League has some of the best team names and logos in all of baseball: besides the Guyners (and I've yet to find a good explanation of what a Guyner may be, although I'm really hoping - based on the logo - that it's some sort of giant green demon), there are the Mandarin Pirates, the Indigo Sox, and the Fighting Dogs, whose mascot seems to be sporting the sort of collar Michael Vick might approve of.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
A bold statement, if you're willing: the Jon Lester on the mound today was the Jon Lester who danced into our consciousness in 2005 as Boston's top-rated prospect, the leader of the young guns movement that's revitalized the Red Sox pitching staff. To be sure, his control wasn't perfect - three walks remain, as ever, a sign of danger - and he had some help from his defense, most notably in the form of a fantastic catch by J.D. Drew, but it seemed today that like Matsuzaka yesterday, when Lester missed his spots, he didn't miss them by much. Equally as encouraging, his escapes by three (count 'em) double plays didn't have the heart-failure-inducing super tension of his usual flirtations with disaster; instead, Lester made each groundball-inducing pitch seem like a natural act, an intentional portion of the baseball canon that recalled Derek Lowe in his better days.
Here's the problem, though: I'm thrilled to death about Lester's pitching this afternoon. Absolutely thrilled. You know, like a complete reversal of how I felt a week ago. I can't help but worry that I'm setting myself up for disappointment, so I've made a momentous decision: Lester's getting the Three Start Rule. I'm pretty sure I originally developed this idea after watching the roller coaster ride that was David Wells, but I haven't documented it until now. The idea is simple: as a historically shaky pitcher, Jon Lester gets "real deal" tag after three quality starts, a measurement defined either by statistics (Baseball Reference's Game Score measurement, for example) or something more subjective, like the amount of vitriol in Robin's writeup. It all depends on how I'm feeling.
So, Jon: three quality starts in row. Impress me. I want to be proven wrong.
So let me get this straight: Opening day in Japan, opening day in Oakland, opening day in Toronto and then the home opener in Fenway next week. By my count that’s 4 opening days and all the stress that comes with it. Not for the Sox (honestly I think they could care less) but I am on the edge of my seat for 2 solid weeks! Yeah I know it’s only April (I hate saying that), but these are big crowds, big games and big stages for this team to make their first impression.
So here is opener #2 and how do they look? Yeah, not bad.
Dice-K looked awesome. He had his K ball running, he gave up a HR to Cust and a single… and then NADA. Nothing. No walks or other base knocks over 6 and two thirds. This guy could be the big piece this year if he lives up to his rep. This is a good start.
The pen was solid too. Oki pitched an inning and had some luck, but managed to keep the score the same. Papelbon was called to get 4 outs and he did so with dominance. He got a grounder in the 8th, but in the 9th it was all K and it was all good. The scare in Japan was no big deal. The Paps is still king.
But enough waxing positive about pitching, lets delve into the middling bats. The Sox strung together 9 hits and looked to break it open a few times in this game, but clutch hits were few and far between. Tek got ROBBED on a homerun (umps called it a RBI double), Youk had a monster game (big triple and both runs scored) and Jacoby reminded us all why we love him with a big RBI, but that was the best it got. Papi still is rocking a .000 BA and couldn’t come up big with the bases loaded and both Coco and Lowell struck out a couple times. Yeah the win was great, but I may start to worry about where the runs are going to come from.
So can we call this a season in a bottle? Of course not. Is this the best it is going to get? Don’t even think that. I just feel that this could be a foretelling of things to come… wins… but close wins. Who knows? It’s still only April.