Monday, March 31, 2008

And Now: Three Games That Don’t Matter

Did you like that? Did you like that little taste of semi-legitimacy the fiasco in Japan gave us? For a brief moment we were in the regular season were every game was a life an death struggle for our beloved Sox (ok I exaggerate… but stay with me) and then it was cruelly snatched away and replaced with a sham of a croc of a sham series with the Dodgers in a damn football stadium that is older than Timlin, not to mention the fact that the team is freaking exhausted from being half way around the damn world for a week. AHHHHHHHHH!

Whew… sorry about that. The tease of REAL baseball got me worked up. Let me give you a short breakdown of the weekend festivities.

Game 1- Boston Red Sox 1, Los Angeles Dodgers 3:
Wow the Coliseum is both big (huge amount of room for the fans and 400+ in center field) and freaking tiny (like 250 ft down the left field line). Colon pitched a hell of a game and is giving a running (well maybe rolling) start into his spot as the 5th starter. Well after he finishes a stint in AAA. Offense forgot to show up to this game and the bats were shut down by a mix of Chad Billingsly and Scott Procter. Yeah not pretty. Sox lost this thing in the 8th when so guy I never heard of (Holdzkom?) gave up the go ahead double to Mark Sweeny. More spring, more losses. What else is new?

Game 2- Boston Red Sox 7, Los Angeles Dodgers 4
Looks like EVERYONE came to this game. 115K showed up to watch the Sox get some of the cheapest homers ever down that piddly little line in the Coliseum. Youk and Cash went deep (not THAT deep) to push the Red Sox to a hard earned victory. Wakefield had a great day in a park that could have killed him if he kept his knuckler up. A good season out of him would be fantastic. Oh, and Papelbon gave up some more runs. Try not to panic.

Game 3- Boston Red Sox 0, Los Angeles Dodgers 8
Say it with me: “It’s only Spring Training, it’s only Spring Training!” They got freaking ONE HIT! If Pedroia didn’t lead off the game with a walk, it would have been a perfect game through 8 innings. Lets not even think about the fact that Buchholz got massacred (again) and only lasted 3 innings. And the strikeouts?? The Red Sox had 12. I want to crawl under my bed and hide. The real deal is in Oakland on Tuesday and this is the quality of play we are going to see? Do you understand how tough the schedule is this first month? If the Sox go 5-15 in the first 20 games I won’t be shocked at all.

Is it too early in the season to start drinking?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Game 2: Banzai!!!

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 1, Oakland Athletics 5


1. Japanese war-cry, 1893, lit. "(may you live) ten thousand years," originally a greeting addressed to the emperor, from ban "ten thousand" + sai "year."
2. The sound made by balls thrown by Jon Lester as they flew off Oakland bats.

As we've observed in the past, Lester is a wild man with the pitches; his (unfortunately) "classic" appearances flirt with disaster like a drunk man on a tightrope with no safety net in sight. Usually he escapes with too many walks and too many pitches over too short of a period of time but no run damage; other times, the offense catches up with what he's offering on a silver platter and forces the runs down his throat.

Today was the latter scenario: three walks, five hits, and one very damaging home run killed Lester's Japanese good time and knocked him out after four innings and 83 pitches. With Rich Harden doing his level best to keep the Sox in the yard and off the bases, it was only a matter of time until Oakland sealed the win.

Once again, this appearance begs the question: how much rope does Jon Lester get to play with before he hangs himself out of the rotation? In his favor: thanks to Schilling's injury, for the first time in Lester's career, he's not only healthy, but has the opportunity to pitch once every five days until he either self-corrects or self-destructs. Now's the time where he can work out the massive kinks in his repertoire and prove that he belongs at the major league level without any pressure except his own failure. Against his favor: we've seen Lester pitch 28 times since 2006, and in that time he hasn't proven himself to be anything more than a league-average pitcher (ERA+ score of 101, which is about as average as you can get). He averages a little over five innings a game, gives up as many walks as he does runs, has a WHIP approaching 1.6, and overall appears to be destined for a career as a fifth starter, comparable with someone like Julian Tavarez.

And maybe that's all Lester's meant to be: a back of the rotation guy who will learn to eat innings and save the bullpen from work while carrying an ERA of 4.80. It'll be sad to watch someone so highly touted fail to live up to expectations, but I guess I'm ready to accept Lester's mediocrity as more than an unlikely possibility. Hopefully he'll prove me wrong.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Game 1: Mistakes Were Made

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Oakland Athletics 5

After the game ended, ESPN 2 had a phone conversation with a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, asking her if she thought if both teams played well. She took this enormous softball and whiffed it completely, pointing out one flaw (I believe she said something about Matsuzaka's first few innings) in a veritable sea of pretty ugly mess-ups. I mean, hey, I'm glad we won, but I'm still looking the gift horse in the mouth by pointing out all of the terrible things both teams did. Call it Opening Day jitters, call it needing time to gel as a team, call it the effects of an early ending to Spring Training, here are the big flaws of Game 1:

Daisuke's first two innings: Matsuzaka's fastball was a thing of beauty today, which was a good thing, because his breaking ball had about as much break as a speeding car on an icy New England road. In what quickly became my - and every other Red Sox fan's - early morning nightmare, Dice-K threw fifty pitches in two innings, struggling as pitch after pitch sailed way out of the strike zone. It's a wonder Jason Varitek caught most of them, but it's even more of a wonder that the A's couldn't take advantage of what seemed to be an enormously palatable situation, scoring a meager two runs through Matsuzaka's meltdown.

The upside: Dice-K settled down in the third inning and translated his fastball and an off speed pitch into a pretty deadly combination that shut down the last seven A's he faced. If that's the Dice-K we're going to see more consistently, then John Farrell's a genius and much of the AL's hitting is in trouble.

Land of the Rising Double Play: While the A's were busy drawing five walks against Dice-K, the Sox were hitting into double plays - or near misses. The official total was two, but that doesn't take into account third baseman Jack Hannahan's dropped ball, or the near miss where the A's just couldn't get the ball to first fast enough.

The upside: Those double plays - particularly the ones that the A's failed to develop - were all rockets. Once Boston figured out how to hit Blanton, they knocked him out pretty quickly.

The closers (nearly) blow it: Jonathan Papelbon. Huston Street. Two of the game's premiere closers, both looking like the ugly side of Todd Jones on the mound today. Street's home run to surprise hero Moss spelled the begnning of the end for the A's, while Papelbon had us all on the ropes in the bottom of the tenth with three hits, a walk, and the winning run in scoring position. Dishonorable mention to Kyle Snyder, who blew up Matsuzaka's partially resuscitated coming home party by surrendering Oakland runs number three and four via the long ball.

The upside: The Okie-Dokie wasn't the perfect kill pitch it's been in the past, but congrats to Okajima for stealing Dice-K's thunder and becoming the first Japanese pitcher to win a Major League game in Japan. All you trivia buffs better remember that one for the trivia night twenty years from now.

Walking Papi to Pitch to Manny: Really? Were Street's odds against righties (or Manny) that good that it was worth taking the risk that Manny would do exactly what he ended up doing and smashing a double a foot short of going out? I know clutch hitting doesn't exist in a consistently measurable fashion, but that still seems like a really ugly bet.

The upside: We heard a few times during the broadcast about Manny's off-season conditioning programming in Arizona. Clearly one effect of his Winter training is that he's able to watch deep fly balls and still make it to second base standing up.

J.D. Drew's back seizing up: The mistake here was mine for expecting otherwise, particularly after Drew had rocked homers in both exhibition games. According to the official organ, it's unclear whether or not Drew will play tomorrow, and there's no real need for him to play again until April 1 when regular play resumes. Fingers crossed, this will be a temporary setback at the start of a breakout season.

The upside: Brandon Moss! The scratch starter making good and joining the elite few (Joey Hamilton! Charles Thomas!) who've hit their first regular season home run in a game outside the US or Canada is the stuff of underdog legend, even if Moss is one of Boston's top prospects.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The AL East: Ego and Super Ego, Revenge of the Bad Picks

So once again, Eric and I are gonna go head to head and discuss the AL East. His opinions are the ones based on numbers and graphs and junk… mine (Robin) are in italics and are correct.

After my AL West preview generated so much positive energy and because I revel in the idea of creating as much controversy as possible (you’re a doof and think the A’s are gonna do better than the Mariners), I've once again decided to use Baseball Prospectus's depth charts as the basis for my AL East preview. Don't like it? (Nope!) The comments await your written scorn. (Why wait? I’ll skewer you here!) Let's get started:

Fifth Place: Baltimore Orioles

Don't look now, but the Orioles are still terrible. Fortunately (or unfortunately - as a fan I like more competition, but as a Sox fan I'd like it to be somewhere outside of the AL East), they're taking steps to fix the problem: trading Tejada and Bedard for 10 players almost guarantees some sort of payback down the road, and the O's built in some insurance, too: after Brian Roberts (who's also heavily rumored to be heading somewhere National), off-season acquisition Adam Jones is the team's best hitter, while Luke Scott and George Sherrill will do a serviceable job filling holes in the outfield and in the bullpen. But all of these small changes won't make the Orioles winners any time in 2008: when your best starter is Daniel Cabrera and his projected WHIP of 1.47, forecasting a baseball-worst 66 wins and 96 losses in the tough-as-nails AL East doesn't seem like too much of a stretch.

Hmmmm, he started strong. I agree that the Orange Bird boys have “jack and squat” and even those guys aren’t hitting better than .210 this year. I think Baltimore is going to be in a “rebuilding year” for the next decade. Trading your best big name hitter (Tajeda) and best young pitcher (Bedard) in the off-season is a great way to stick it to the fans with the Cal Ripkin tattoos. I expect the Royals to laugh at this crew as they pass them in win totals.

Fourth Place: Toronto Blue Jays

No doubt you're now confused: you're probably wondering how the Jays could fall to fourth place when they made more improvements to the potent (if injury-prone) 2007 edition of their club. While it's true that David Eckstein and Scott Rolen might be improvements over Troy Glaus (maybe in terms of grit?), the Blue Jays still lack the offensive punch to score runs, and their predicted OPS and SLG numbers paint a very clear picture of placement in the run-happy East. Combined with the expected 4+ ERAs of fourth-fifths of their starting corps, suddenly a fourth place finish for the Jays doesn't seem so far fetched.

Here we go. The only thing you are right about here is your first sentence: I AM confused. How is this team going to slip into second to last place? They have an ace in Halladay, they are getting B.J. Ryan back from injury and this could be the year that Burnett puts together a healthy season. I expect these guys to finish second with hope for the future. I can’t believe this is your 4th place team… who did you pick to win the NCAA tourney? Portland State?

Third Place: Tampa Bay Rays

In the decade since Major League Baseball put a baseball team in the middle of a body of water, the hapless Rays have never finished above fourth place, and have only avoided the cellar once, in 2004. So what are they doing in third place in 2008? New year, new name, new ballgame, baby. Seriously though: after years of ridiculously effective farm development with nothing to show for it, things are finally starting to fall into place for the Rays. Carlos Pena will have a breakout year batting cleanup, and supported by Crawford and Upton will anchor a lineup strong enough to generate the type of offense that would garner them second place in a several other divisions. On the rotation side of things, James Shields and Matt Garza will both put up very respectable numbers, and Scott Kazmir will have the kind of dominating year that will almost guarantee he'll be in pinstripes (or maybe red socks?) in a few years. Unfortunately for Tampa, the Rays still haven't solved their bullpen issues; Troy Percival isn't the kind of closer you need to anchor a relief staff. If they address that problem, they could very well push their way to second place, especially in a weak year.

For the love of all that is holy… it’s the DAMN RAYS! Yeah they got their name changed from a killer fish to a sunbeam, but they still play in an oil drum in Tampa and they still are gonna be a joke. Kazmir is starting the year HURT and even YOU pointed out that Percival the Horrible is going to attempt to close games for them. Like most rational people, I don’t see them doing this well… but I think I am going to get a bit irrational when I read your next pick.

Second Place: Boston Red Sox/First Place: New York Yankees

Normally I wouldn't combine two finishing spots, but this year's edition of the biggest rivalry in sports promises to be the best we've seen in a few years. Off the field, Hank Steinbrenner has taken up the Boss' fallen torch, wading into the fray with a host of inflammatory comments picked up by a gleeful media. Is Steinbrenner a blow hard? Sure, but the Sox/Yanks rivalry has been missing someone with that kind of outspoken attitude (to put it euphemistically) for a while, and I'm glad it's back. It was getting tough to hate the Yankees for a while, and we really can't have that. In the clubhouses, both Boston and New York are relying heavily on a group of young players to fill vital roles, creating an element of uncertainty. Will Pedroia flop in his sophomore year (the magic eight ball says no, but don't look for him to be quite as big of a powerhouse this year, either)? Will Ellsbury and Joba Chamberlain live up to the incredible promise they showed last year? How about Buchholz and Lester, or Hughes and Kennedy? Are they rotation ready?On the plus side, all of these side plots feed into two teams who should keep their race as close and interesting as a fan could ever hope. Unfortunately for us Sox fans, though the offensive numbers for Boston and New York are nearly equal, and though the Sox will have the better group of starters and the better closer by Value Over Replacement Player, they're still expected to give up more runs than the Yankees. In the end, those additional runs will spell six fewer wins, relegating Boston to second and a fight with Detroit for the Wild Card.

I don’t even know where to begin. I think I’ll start with a quote from Billy Madison:

“…what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever
heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to
anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is
now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have
mercy on your soul.”

Whew. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, we can continue. The Yankees are done. Call me a homer, call me a hater, call me whatever… but the Yankees have had their time in the spotlight and now it’s time to move on. Someone tell this New Boss (same as the old boss) that his words are hollow and fall on deaf ears. They are a third place team with JUST over 80 wins. The vets are too old, the rookies are too green and the depth is just not there. They have 4 guys that are better off being DHs (Giambi, Matsui, Damon, and Abreu) and that leaves Melky Cabrera and Shelley Duncan in the outfield… not exactly Mystique and Aura. They have a young unproven pitching staff in a division that is hyper competitive and a bullpen… that beyond Joba… is a disaster. But sure, GIVE them first place…

Meanwhile, the Red Sox are the Champions of the World. They are the incumbent and deserve to be treated with some damn respect. It’s idiotic to think that they will be fighting for the Wild Card with the Tigers… because BOTH of these teams will be winning their divisions. The Sox have a deep bullpen, grade A starters and hitting that will be even better than last years Championship team. Ortiz is healthy now, Manny is in great shape and this Jacoby guy you may have heard about is going to be a phenomenon. Yes the injury to Schilling and the start in Japan is worrisome early on (even though they seem to be rock stars in Japan), but this is a group of guys who have proven that they can win even in the roughest situations. I don’t want any flack from the stat heads that I respect… but you can stick your VORP up your ass. The Sox with 96 wins… win the division. Now beating the Tigers in the playoffs? That’s another story…

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Land of the Rising Sox

Tokyo is on fire! The whole town is a jumping party! Hear the screaming throng of fans? See the madness of the crowd? What could cause this mass hysteria?

Is it a rock band? A religious leader? Is it me? Nope...

THE Boston Red Sox have landed! The Sox are in the building! They are here and they are ready to ...ummm... sleep. It was an 18 hour flight. Let 'em rest, ok?

We'll get the AL East Preview up tomorrow and then next week all the games count and will be covered in-depth. That means Eric and I have to get back into "everyday update" shape. Maybe we should rest up too...

The NL Central: Letters of the NL Central

This week's preview of the NL Central comes courtesy once again of Yankee Mike, who analyzes the strengths and weaknesses (mostly weaknesses) of the National League's most interesting division in letter form.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 65-70 wins

Dear Pirates season ticket holder,

It is that time of year again: time to break out the checkbook and renew your season tickets to your Pittsburg Pirates. Look what you have to be excited about: You get to follow the Pirate lottery, and see who we decide to trade by midseason. (Jack Wilson and Jason Bay both have value). Also, look how we improved this offseason. We didn’t didn’t decide to sign any random veterans this offseason, which opens space for Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth and Jose Bautista to play and maybe have some success. The top of our rotation is solid enough with Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny, and while you’ve never heard of either of them, trust us, they are pretty good. Our bullpen also isn’t totally terrible with Damaso Marte, John Grabow, and a few other guys no one has heard of but somehow manage to get the job done. It’s true that we might struggle to score runs - Bay’s help in the middle of the order is Adam LaRoche and Xavier Nady, after all, and the top and bottom of the order doesn’t get much better - but hitting a baseball is hard, and our players try their best. Also, remember not to panic, things will get better, even though we rank as one of the 5 worst farm systems in baseball.

Assuming our new GM isn’t a moron, and our owner will spend some money, it may seem like we’re a few years from being relevant. Maybe we won’t contend at all this year, which will give us an excuse to blow up the team and rebuild. For our long term potential of success we ask our fan base to not hope for a .500 record through our first 50 games to take away all temptation of trading for veterans. Take heart Pittsburg fans, the Steelers training camp is only a few months away, but until then, spend some time at the ballpark with us, your Pittsburg Basement Dwellers…I mean Pirates.


The Pirates Sales Staff

St. Louis Cardinals: 70-74 wins

Dear every player, fan and employee associated with the St, Louis Cardinals,

I am writing to inform you your bill is passed due and now is the time for collection. Because you won the World Series two years ago as an 84 win team, you have thrown the scales out of balance and now it is time to return things to order. Consequently, we have decided to take the following actions:

  1. Your best player (Albert Pujols) now has an elbow injury that will sideline him for the year if operated on, and although he says he can play, currently cannot extend one of his arms fully.

  2. Your best pitcher (Chris Carpenter) underwent Tommy John surgery last July and is out until at least midseason, and possibly will not return until 2009. Your second best pitcher (Mark Mulder) has not even begun to throw batting practice yet, and has not faced a live hitter since last July.

  3. We have decided to have your middle infield consist of Adam Kennedy and Caesar Izturis. Enjoy the combined .250 BA, 50 RBI and eight home runs.

  4. We have decided to saddle you with the following outfielders: Rick Ankiel, Skip Schumaker, Ryan Ludwick , Scott Spiezio, Josh Phelps and Colby Rasmus (who will be a fabulous player in a few years). Please pick three to man your starting outfield spots.

  5. With Mulder and Carpenter out, we have decided to grant you Braden Looper, Kyle Lohse, Joel Piniero, Anthony Reyes, and Brad Thompson to fill out your starting rotation. Enjoy the quality pitching.
To show that we are not all bad, we did grant you Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright, and Colby Rasmus, who will provide entertainment. Plus, we removed Scott Rolen from town, removing LaRussa’s temptations to go out drinking and driving. Enjoy Troy Glaus and all of those DL trips!



Houston Astros: 72-76 wins

Letter to a therapist:


Lately I have been feeling very conflicted, like two different parts of my brain (one smart, one stupid) are fighting for control. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore (and no one else has been able to figure it out either). Here’s what’s happened:

First, I traded some middle of the road prospects for Miguel Tejada. This should be a good move for me, as Tejada should put up huge numbers in Minute Maid Park, although reports out of Spring Training thus far suggest that he has about as much range at short as Robin and might not be able to play a full season at the position.

Next, the dumb side of my brain kicked in, and I let Adam Everett go after the Tejada deal instead of keeping him as insurance in case Tejada can’t play short. Then my smart side kicked back in, and I traded Brad Lidge and his Pujols-battered psyche for a centerfielder - but then I followed that deal up by signing another centerfielder (Darin Erstad) even though we have nowhere to put him. Then the smart side put together a lineup that may actually score some runs, with Tejada, Berkman, and Carlos Lee providing power in the middle, and possible contributions from Wiggington and Hunter Pence. True, Kaz Matsui probably won’t hit outside of Coors field, and no one seems to know what Michael Bourn will do, but we’re in the National League; we could do worse.

Unfortunately, the bad side of my brain took over building the pitching staff: I have an ace (Oswalt), a third or fourth starter (Wandy Rodriguez) and three fifth starters (Backe, Williams, and Chacon), which adds up, at best, to a mediocre rotation. Our bullpen isn’t much better: we have Doug Brocail as the top setup guym but the rest of the bullpen had WHIPs last year of 1.44, 1.40, 1.38 and 1.64. I did sign Jose Valverde at the back of the bullpen as the closer, but I’m pretty sure the warring sides of my brain have messed up my team’s chances of competing until I can work this problem out. Please help.


Ed Wade, Astros GM

Cincinnati Reds: 81 wins with upside

Dear Mr. Dusty Baker, Manager, Cincinnati Reds,

We realize you have been in the Major Leagues a long time, and successfully managed to ride Barry Bonds to a World Series. However, we feel that we must make the following points about handling the Reds this year:
  1. Veteran players are not always better. You have Joey Vatto, Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey, and Johnny Cueto all sitting there, ready to play, get some Major League experience and give you some serious upside potential. I’m sorry, Corey Patterson and his .304 OBP is not the solution to your lead off troubles, nor is 38 year old Scott Hatteburg the correct answer at first base. Please, please, please play the kids and see what happens.

  2. You need more than 2 starters to win over the course of a season. Yes, Aaron Harang is one of the best pitchers no one knows about, and Bronson Arroyo does a good job in the National League. As much talent as Bailey and Cueto have, asking them to be a combined reliable number 3 starter is a stretch, which leaves you with Matt Belisle and his 1.44 WHIP and 5+ ERA. We’re sorry, that isn’t going to get it done.

  3. Yes, Francisco Cordero is a solid closer, but getting him the ball are the likes of David Weathers, Bill Bray, Mike Stanton, and Gary Majewski; not exactly a shut down bullpen. Remind us again why you spent 46 million dollars on Cordero when your team will never hold a lead to hand him the ball?

  4. We hope you’re feeling blessed, because you will have to outslug people to win, and to do so you need a healthy Griffey Junior, a repeat year from Brandon Phillips, and improvement from Edwin Encarnacion. You’ll also need to actually play Joey Votto and realize that Corey Patterson is a black hole at the top of your lineup.
Please sir, we beseech you: do not fall into the veteran trap; go for the youth!


The Concerned Fans in Cincinnati

Milwaukee Brewers: 85 – 90 wins

Dear Magic Eightball,

Please grant me the answers to the following question, so that I may know my beloved Brewers will do this season.
  1. How many starts will Ben Sheets make? If he makes 30 starts, the rotation with Jeff Suppan, Yovani Gallardo, Save Bush and Carlos Villanueva looks pretty good. With Sheets on the DL it looks slightly more ordinary.

  2. How good will the bullpen be? On paper, it is one of the better bullpens in baseball. Eric Gagne, David Riske, Derrek Turnbow (when he throws strikes), Salmon Torres, and Guillermo Mota all have histories of success, but bullpens vary wildly from year to year. How will this group perform?

  3. Which of the young guns will take a giant leap forward? Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, and Ryan Braun all have shown some serious offensive potential, and if they continue to build on that success, this could be a very dangerous lineup, especially since JJ Hardy, Bill Hall, and Mike Cameron fill out the other slots in the order nicely.

  4. Which will be higher, the combined batting average of Tony Gwynn, Jr. and Prince Fielder, or the combined weight of their fathers, Cecil and Tony Gwynn, Sr.? Not really a baseball question, but one that Vegas should definitely take bets on.

  5. Who will win the most sausage races: the bratwurst, the polish sausage, the Italian sausage, the hot dog or the chorizo? Will the hot dog be able to defend his 2007 title? Inquiring minds and odds makers need to know.

Bernie Brewer, Brewers Team Mascot

Chicago Cubs: Beyond winning and losing

Dear Baseball Gods,

We realize you are very busy this time of year, but please, hear our impassioned plea. We have been suffering for 100 years since our last championship, and now they are trying to rename our beloved Wrigley field to something like the Maxi Tampon Center or something. The ownership has finally done the right thing, adding Kyusoke Fukodome to fill the void that was right field. Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez on the corners of the infield can both hit, and Alfonso Soriano has more talent than most people could wish for. Carlos Zambrano anchors a good a rotation with Rich Hill, Ted Lilly, John Lieber and Ryan Dempster, giving us easily the deepest rotation in the NL Central and maybe the best top to bottom of any National League team not named the Padres. Even the bullpen could be good, assuming you in your wisdom prevent Kerry Wood’s arm from falling off and keep Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol anywhere close to what they were last year.

Please also grant Lou Pinella the wisdom not to hit Soriano and Theriot one and two ahead of Lee and Ramirez, so the middle of the order actually has guys on base when they come to bat. Finally, please give the Orioles the wisdom to realize that they’re beyond terrible this year, and trade us Brian Roberts so we don’t have to rely on Mark “Definition of Average Player” DeRosa.

We have endured 100 years of losing and the Curse of the Billy Goat; we watched Bartman tip that ball, and we suffered as Mark Prior and Kerry Wood get hurt year after year. We watched in 1984 and 1989 as we blew leads in the NLCS and we watched last year as the Diamondbacks swept us out of the playoffs. On paper, we have the best team in the NL Central; please in your wisdom let the standings reflect that statistical truth at the end of the season.


Every person in Chicago, minus all those stupid White Sox fans

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No Sushi For You, Mr. Selig

Edit: Oh good, the idiocy has been resolved. Early drinking is still on!

Through fortuitous circumstances, I have next week off, so I was planning on reliving my college years by drinking my breakfast and watching baseball from Japan at six in the morning in a bar (note that only one of those things actually happened in college) when the Sox start the season against the A's on Tuesday. Except now that might not be happening, because Major League Baseball isn't going to be paying the coaches the $40,000 stipend they'd allegedly promised them for making the trip, and the players are threatening to boycott the trip. Two thoughts about this choice PR fiasco:
  1. Major League Baseball is in super awesome profit mode right now, as a quick news search will reveal. Are they really going to screw a fairly small group of people out of a comparatively small amount of money, especially when they're forcing those people to go on a trip that really only benefits Major League Baseball and - hopefully - Japanese fans? I mean, come on now, MLB: the players and staffs of two teams flying thousands of miles to act as ambassadors for major league American baseball - you know, the institution you control with an iron fist covered with hundred dollar bills - going on a trip that will inconvenience many of their fans and quite possibly throw the entire first part of their season out of whack, and you don't have the courtesy to make it worth their while? That's corporate asshattery of the worst kind, and hats off to the players for calling it for what it is.
  2. To the numerous douchebags who are calling the coaches selfish for wanting the money and the players idiots for backing them: are you serious? You're really going to tell the people who have the toughest jobs in the sport - and make far less money than everyone else - that they don't deserve the money from a corporate parent who can afford that small monetary drop in the bucket many times over? Yes, these guys still make far more than the average joe, but saying they're being whiny over money is retard logic; adjust the relative pay scales in your head so it fits your position and you'll hopefully get why not paying them to go - especially after you've promised to do so - makes Major League Baseball the selfish ones.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The AL West: Weak is the West

I'm not exactly a slave to statistics, but for this preview we'll pretend I am, because it lets me make predictions based on someone else's science. In this case, "someone else's science" are the predictions of Baseball Prospectus, encapsulated in depth charts the company has put together for 2008. However, it's not cheating, exactly: I'm looking at their numbers and analyzing why the American League West will stack up in a slightly new order this year, and throwing in some surprised commentary along the way. Let's do this.

Fourth Place: Seattle Mariners
This pick surprised me, too. Or maybe it just surprised me, and no one else. Anyway, I figured that the Bedard trade, which gives Seattle a second quality starter, plus a quality closer like J.J. Putz has to be more than enough to give the Mariners third place, with some hopeful looks at second. And it would - Seattle's projected runs allowed far outstrips those of third-place Texas - but there's one problem: the Mariners field some pretty anemic hitting. Not just any anemia, either: we're talking myelophthisic anemia, where a disease gets inside your bones and starts killing bone marrow, Rambo style. In fact, Baseball Prospectus predicts Seattle's offense (as measured by the Runs Scored statistic) to be so bad, it's not only the worst in the American League, but second worse in baseball, beating out the Giants by a mere 34 runs. A long way to fall from last year's 88 and 74 second place finish, but that number isn't too surprising when your offense's (offensive) Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) averages out at a crappy 11.4, and your two offensive stars are Ichiro and Beltre. Enjoy the cellar, fellas.

Third Place: Texas Rangers
Somewhere out there, there's a joke about pitching that has the Texas Rangers' staff as the punchline. Twelve seasons removed from their only playoff win, the Rangers continue to struggle to find the pitching they need to match the consistently strong hitting they've fielded over the years. This year is no different; anchored by *snort* Kevin Millwood and his stellar predicted VORP of 16.5, the Rangers are setting out to become the antithesis of the Mariners by posting the second highest runs allowed in the majors, right above the Rays. It's too bad, because a decent Texas team would probably blow the rest of the AL West out of the water. However, there's one consolation: by outslugging the Mariners to end up just one full game higher in the standing at the end of the season, the Rangers will become one of those beloved exceptions to the baseball maxim about pitching always beating hitting.

Second Place: Oakland Athletics
Athletics manager Bob Geren may not think the A's are in rebuilding mode - or at least he won't admit it - but if there was ever a year where the retooling philosophy of Moneyball underlies team-building decisions, 2008 is it. Slated to finish the year two games under .500 (80 and 82) after last year's injury plagued 76 and 86 finish, the A's have a surgically repaired third baseman (who's fallen so far in the esteem of fantasy owners, by the way, that he went in the reserve round of my league's draft. Ouch.), the mighty Joe Blanton, a converted reliever (Justin Duchscherer) as their third pitcher and an average team age of somewhere in the neighborhood of your local little league.

Of course, that's been Oakland's way for more than a few years now; 2008 just happens to be a particularly extreme example because it feels like Billy Beane had his annual fire sale before the season started, instead of halfway through. 2008 won't be the year that the A's return to prominence, but barring any major upsets, I expect them to overtake Los Angeles in 2009.

First Place/Division Champion: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Baseball on the West Coast seems like it's going to have a particularly weak year in 2008, with division winners in both leagues posting win-loss records that would merit second or third place finishes anywhere else in the country. The Angels epitomize this weakness: their projected runs allowed isn't bad - in fact, compared to the top two teams in the other divisions in both the AL and NL it's pretty good - but once again, their offense rests on Vlad Guerrero and whoever the Angels find to bat behind him. This year it's Torii Hunter, whose projected VORP of 25.1 puts him in the lower middle of cleanup hitters in the American League, but the story is the same: Vlad, Howie Kendrick, and a cleanup hitter do not an offense make. The Angels will win the division - their strong array of starters and the consistently powerful K-Rod will see to that - but they'll once again be a first-round knockout for whichever team is fortunate enough to draw them as an opponent.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Farewell Dougie

In a SHOCKING turn of events, the Red Sox have RELEASED Doug Mirabelli. He was put on waivers and shown the door like any other run of the mill, overweight, .190 hitting, police escort taking, back-up catching loser...

But he wasn't some loser. He was the Belli. He was Wake's battery mate. He was one of us.

A fat slob who welcomed legends of eggplant parm. A gritty backstop who could catch a knuckleball that made lesser men retire in fright. This was a man who could catch a phone book, rip it in half and then smack it high, far, and deep into the night sky (only to watch it be caught shy of the warning track).

And do not go accusing me of unwavering fandom. I know this Goliath of a man was not without his faults. He was "Molina-esque" in land speed. His lumbering around the basepaths caused much hilarity for local fans and fear for local seismologists. Also, sadly, his hitting had started to decline. In fact, it went from" awful" to "below Mendoza-line measurements" with little hope of return. Even his streaky power has dropped off... but the ravages of time will claim us all won't they?

So now we must turn our eyes to Kevin Cash? Is this anything but a lateral move? Cash isn't much faster or younger or even much of a hitter... and his talents as a knuckleball fetcher does remain to be seen. So if all he brings to the table is "change" the value worth the loss?

Only time (and Wakefield's ERA) will tell.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The NL East: That's Weird, This Division Only Has Three Teams: NL East Preview

Continuing our series of season previews is Dave, a Mets fan who pulled a me in reverse, growing up in New York and moving to Boston. He offers his take on the NL East, where it sounds like another hard fight to the finish is brewing.

I’m writing this being still bitter a die hard Mets fan, but I shall try to be as impartial as possible in my assessments. The top three teams in the NL East this year are a toss up, with the big ticket bout of the Mets and Phillies, and the under the radar Braves with a possibility of an upset. All the factors for each of those three teams rely on the usual factors, consistency and injuries. As for the other two teams in the division, they’ll not win the division, or even tease for the wild card, but instead battle it out for who finishes last, or perhaps provide a spoiler for a team trying to make the playoffs (Read: Marlins and Nationals take a combined 5 of 6 games from the Mets to end the season/break my heart).
5. The Marlins (Nationals)
Really you can put either team here, but the Nationals have more recognizable names on their team, and a potentially better offense, so they can have the number four spot. This is a roster of “Who are you?” names, and a few players who provide a good spot on your fantasy baseball team. They have some players who have performed well over the past two seasons, but with the loss of Miguel Cabrera – who gave the other teams someone to pitch around – those players’ numbers may likely go down. The Marlins also dumped off Dontrelle Willis to the juggernaut Tigers, which may have seemed really dumb two years ago, but may prove to be a good move if he continues to get shelled now in the more dominating offensive league. The players who provided momentary sparks for the Marlins are Dan Uggla, Cody Ross, Josh Willingham, and of course, Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez definitely proved to be the player he should be, and would get even more recognition if he played on a team that mattered.

The pitching staff is a slew of young names from ex-Tiger Andrew Miller to Rocky Nolasco. They had a seemingly good arm in Anibal Sanchez throwing a no hitter a couple years ago, but he’s been bitten by an injury bug and missed a ton of last season and out probably until the All Star break. Their closer, Kevin Gregg, who put up 32 saves last season, is the highest paid man on the roster with a salary of $2.5 million for this season.

4. The Nationals (Marlins)
The Nats’ biggest acquisitions in the offseason Mets castoffs: drug pusher Paul LoDuca and potential spark plug Lastings Milledge. With LoDuca you know what you’re getting: a guy who hits for little power but a consistent average until about July or August. I didn’t hate LoDuca for a majority of his time on the Mets, but always was perplexed why teams didn’t just stand on second base when he was at bat, as more than sixty percent of his hits just rolled up the middle. The “let’s stand on second base Paul LoDuca shift,” might drop his average by 100 points.

The outfield is Washington’s big question mark: they have Wily Mo Pena, Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes. If Wily Mo continues into this year like he did in September, and Elijah Dukes and Milledge become the players people expected them to be, this could be a slightly dangerous little outfield platoon. This will not translate to winning games. Ronnie Belliard, Ryan Zimmerman and Felipe Lopez make up the projected infield, then the battle everyone is talking about at first base: Dmitri Young versus Nick Johnson. I like Dmitri Young better, but they’re probably going with Johnson.

As for the pitching staff, pick a name, there’s a good chance you don’t know a lot about any of them, or did, but forgot they still played baseball: Shawn Hill, Jason Bergman, John Patterson, Matt Chico, John Lannan, Tim Redding, and Ryan Wagner. Good luck, guys.

3. The Braves (The Sleeper)
Now on to the teams that will compete. With all of the hype landing on the Phillies and Mets, the Braves may just sweep in and pop one or both teams out of the division lead/wild card. This may be a stretch to say, but I feel you shouldn’t ever underestimate a team that managed to hold its division for the decade of the ‘90s. If the players, mainly the oft inured pitching staff, managed to stay healthy all year, this could be a nice year.

We’ll start with the pitching, the source of their bygone magic. The Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine era was a thorn in the sides of much of the National League ten years ago, so the Braves have brought back Mets scapegoat Tom Glavine for a bit of a reunion. Glavine has become a solid number three starter; he’s not going to dominate you, but he’ll make all his starts, win you at least 10 games and have an ERA around 4.00. Smoltz has proven to still be effective coming off a 14-8 season and an ERA of 3.11. He hasn’t really shown any reason why those numbers may not continue. The rest of the pitching staff is the question mark. Tim Hudson has been inconsistent when not injured, and Mike Hampton has been nonexistent for the past 2 seasons. Hampton was relatively effective over the last seven seasons when healthy, but health for him has suddenly become a sad rarity. I’d give him about three to five starts before he’s out for the season. The fifth starter spot is a toss up, but probably will land on Chuck James, who quietly put together a so-so year last year, wining 11 games (but losing 10) and posting an ERA just over 4.00. If he pitches the same and the offense is consistent, look for those numbers to go up a bit.

The offense has its mixed bright spots. The Braves replaced Andruw Jones with Mark Kotsay for an offensive and defensive wash, but Jeff Francouer and Brian McCann are real deal hitters, and with Mark Teixiera could create a dominant trio if all three click at the same time. If you add in the still consistent (when healthy) Chipper Jones, the Braves have a very effective lineup that is not getting a lot of press, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them in the thick of the race come September. Of course, because they’re the A-Rods of baseball, they won’t get it done in the post-season when it matters, and if they make the playoffs, they probably won’t add to the club’s World Series trophies.

2. The Phillies (The Team to Repeat)
Jimmy Rollins made his inane prediction last year and I was at opening day at Shea when he dropped a ball and his error opened the door to a rally and a seven run inning, embarrassing the Phillies and striking up a “Jimmy Rollins!” chant from 50,000 fans. Those were the days…and then by season’s end he’d made all New Yorkers look like idiots, swiping himself an NL East title, an MVP, and the ire of Mets fans for the remainder of his career. Well, Jimmy Rollins will be back, and will surely be the same effective player. Toss him in there with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, and the Phillies have quite an offense. They got the injury plagued Geoff Jenkins patrolling their outfield this season, and still have Pat Burrell out there as well, probably set for another season of 25+ home runs and an average slightly above .250.

The weakness of the Phillies lies in their pitching. Cole Hamels and Boston’s favorite Brett Myers are going to win you games. Kyle Kendrick showed signs of greatness last year, but is getting battered this spring, while Adam Eaton won a few games but sported an ERA over 6.00. Then there’s Jamie Moyer, who is still winning games despite being 75 years old. The biggest presence in the clubhouse this spring so far may be that of Anna Benson, whose husband Kris is battling for a fifth spot – and I’m sure she’s offered to sleep with someone else if he doesn’t pitch well (Remember when she said if he cheated on her while on the Mets she would sleep with every man in the organization, right down to bat boys and equipment managers? Isn’t it just amazing how many Mets were trying to get Kris Benson drunk and flirty with other women that year?). The inconsistency of their starters may hurt them and I actually may give the Braves the advantage on that one. The Phillies bullpen was already a question mark depending on what Brad Lidge came out to close games for them. He didn’t let us find out and instead got injured for a few weeks, but claims he’ll be ready for opening day. If Lidge can consistently save games, they can keep winning them, but with this potent offense he may not actually get as many opportunities to do so.

1. The Mets
The Mets were dominant last year and looked to make me happy and charge into the postseason. Then it happened: the worst month that I – and baseball – have ever seen. The worst collapse in baseball history has been hanging over the Mets since October. Before they fleeced the Twins to bring a guy named Santana into camp, they may not have hit this top spot. Yes they did give away some potentially great prospects, but still kept the outfield one they liked best (Fernando Martinez), and got arguably the best pitcher in baseball.

Santana will be the ace of an already capable staff of pitchers. John Maine is now even slotted to potentially be the number 2 starter, after having the best spring of any of the pitchers so far and his 15 win season last year. He and Oliver Perez had similar seasons in 2007, Perez also getting 15 wins and 10 losses, but having a lower ERA of 3.56. Then there’s Pedro Martinez. He made only five starts last season, won three of them and posted a 2.57 ERA. He asked for the ball on the last day, but Willie Randolph decided to not risk overworking and re-injuring him. This did not pan out as hoped.

The ageless El Duque is trying to be the 5th starter, and may or may not lose the job to young Mike Pelfrey, who has yet to prove himself in the majors. The Mets’ biggest pitching weakness comes in the bullpen. It was overworked and just looked tired at the end of the year last year, and coughed up runs and more runs like they were trying to give the games away, with September seeing the Mets blow two 4 run leads in 2 days. Aaron Heilman is an adequate reliever and Duaner Sanchez is returning after a year off from surgery. Billy Wagner is still closing games, but they have become a lot more nerve wracking then in his earlier days. He’s not yet John Franco’s “let’s put two or three guys on base and then close the game” status, but he’s moving towards there.

The Mets offense remains the same. The collapse perhaps cost David Wright the MVP, and there’s no reason to think he will not be a 30-30 guy again this season. Beltran has played well, and if Reyes doesn’t hit .197 in September again he is a spark plug at the start of the lineup. Luis Castillo is not the speedy guy he once was and worked last season, but is already plagued by injury to start this year. Carlos Delgado couldn’t do much last season in terms of getting on base, but they won regardless. Moises Alou is effective when he can play, Ryan Church is a good outfielder who might even eclipse expectations for Lastings Milledge, while Brian Schneider is an upgrade in defense and a downgrade in offense.

All in all, on paper the Mets are the team to beat in the division, but it all comes down to injuries. Each of the top three teams have guys that can easily make or break the entire team’s season with a ticket to the disabled list. We’ll see who is healthiest and who is first come September. Watch it be Washington.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Buchholz, Lester: You're Going to Japan

So what the hell is going on with our starters? Are they really that terrified of pitching two games in Japan to start the season? How else do we explain the random injuries and other nonsense (a baby? Really? What kind of excuse is that, Dice-K?) that may have removed the top three options from the rotation to start the season? Beckett says not to count him out, but any time I hear "back," "MRI," and "not sure where the pain is coming from" in the same sentence, I'm inclined to a little doubt and a lot of concern.

Anyway, let's assume the worst (isn't that fun?) and say the choice is coming down to Wake, Buchholz, and Lester for the choice of the two slots of who's going to go to Japan. All things being equal, who do you choose?

I'm inclined to go with Lester and Buchholz, despite their combined 13 runs in two games, for one reason: Tim Wakefield is elderly. Not in a bad way, since he's still pitching and pitching effectively, but remember this is the guy who finally succumbed to injury in September of last year after what seemed like years of stress-free pitching. Do you really want Wakefield flying 13 hours to Japan and twisting something in his sleep, only to land on the DL for the month of April while the Sox flail like a drunk guy in a bar fight? I'd rather take two somewhat shaky younger guys than risk the first part of the season on two games.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Papelbon is Ours! Wait? What Do You Mean He Already Was?

So you may have heard this flap about Papelbon. He was not too pleased with his contract and the inevitable renewal. He felt he was getting low balled and wanted his prime cut.

And then I saw Prince Fielder said something too…

And then Nick Markakis?

What’s going on here? These are second year guys! Sure they have some great numbers and are set to be future all-stars… but big paydays? Not so fast fellas. I hate to stand on some soap-box and say things like “players didn’t want so much back in my day” cause let's face it… my “day” was like the ‘90s… but this trend of “money before numbers” is pretty ridiculous.

Well at least it seems that the Papelbon issue was semi-resolved. The Red Sox gave the big guy a pretty impressive contract that wasn’t EXACTLY where he wanted it… but it was enough to keep him sated.

At least until its time to sign him for real. Theo, get your checkbook ready.

In Support of Wrigley

A moment of support for our (former?) spiritual national league brothers and sisters, the fans of the Chicago Cubs. Their team has fallen on hard times of a nature far more serious than "wait until next year": owners Tribune Company (in the form of CEO Sam Zell) has ignited a firestorm of incredulity by stating (and restating) that any deal by the beleaguered newspaper company to sell the team might just include new naming rights to Wrigley Field.

I think corporate naming rights are a little ridiculous, but I recognize they're a necessary evil - for the most part, and depending entirely on situation. The "new" Boston Garden (or whatever it calls itself now) is a modern edifice, devoid of the weight of history that we like to call character. The owners can call it whatever they like, because it's not a landmark. Same thing with the faceless monstrosities of the 1970s; you can sell the naming rights to the Oakland Colosseum and have it sport the logo of whatever antivirus company you'd like, because it's devoid of the history that makes a ballpark a ballpark. Or maybe I just hate the concept of baseball games taking place in football stadiums.

My point: I offer this public, electronic, and (I don't fool myself) ultimately irrelevant bit of support because I can empathize with anyone who bleeds Cubbie blue. I can imagine the tragedy (and the riots) if the owners of the Sox decided to sell the naming rights to Fenway, and when I see the overpriced tickets and food and the ridiculous scalping that goes on (legally, mind you) through sites like StubHub because there aren't enough seats for every fan who wants to go, I know these are the crosses that must be borne to avoid the specter of John Hancock Park or Raytheon Park or - horror of horrors - a new stadium that attempts to replicate the past with 5,000 more seats. I've never been to Wrigley Field, but I hope one day to go - and I hope it's still called Wrigley Field when I do.

Monday, March 03, 2008

My Eyes! My Eyes! Some Things You Can't Un-see!

This is my team? These guys? This THING? What the HELL?

No it wasn't the devastating loss to the Twins (ouch Buchholtz) that I'm complaining about. That's just Spring Training.

I'm a little more concerned with the loss of dignity. Papelbon... you look like a tranny. I never thought I would be saying THIS, but thank God Mike Lowell can dance. Oh and Pedroia? Put a shirt on. Damn...

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Jon Lester, Wild Man

I guess control was too much to ask - but we won anyway. Lester acknowledges his mistakes, but insists that he's happy with how he did - even if the numbers (and his pitch count) say otherwise. I guess that's better than him getting bummed out about a premiere performance and spiraling into self-doubt and uselessness, and it's encouraging to hear him say that some of yesterday's blow away pitches would have been contact last year, but I wonder how much of that is rust on a Twins team that has a paltry 21 hits in its first three games. I know, I know, it's far too soon to pick apart Lester's performance - even if it's what's becoming a classic Lester - and we should all focus on the positive, like the fact that his arm didn't fall off. I just think it's indicative, and so does PECOTA: if you believe in statistical projections, Baseball Prospectus ranks Lester far below Clay Buchholz, ranking Clay higher in a whole variety of categories: everything from wins and games started to strikeouts/walk, strikeouts per nine innings, VORP, WARP, and the aptly named Stuff.

The point: yes, Lester's pitched once, and Buchholz hasn't pitched at all, but I won't be surprised if - and this is if push comes to shove about the rotation - it's Buchholz who gets the roster slot.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


Final score after three games: Boston Red Sox 47, Everyone Else 3. That's the how the 2008 Red Sox roll, bitches: with blood and thunder and a serious beat down for all opposed - even if two-thirds of the victims are college players. I can almost taste the sweet, sweet tang of a Mayor's Cup victory.


Seriously though, how about that George Kottaras? A good year and a half since receiving the dubious honor of being the player to be named later in the David Wells trade, the free-swinging catcher started the pre-year out right by going 2 for 2 with a walk, two runs, three RBI and Red Sox home run number three of the evening. One good day doesn't make Kottaras a threat to take Tek or Mirabelli's jobs just yet - can he catch a knuckleball? - but if he's motivated to make 2008 the year he reverses his ugly collection of minor league stats (more than two strikeouts for every walk? Not cool), there's no better way to get started. I'm very interested to see how many rounds of cuts he lasts, and what he's able to do while he's getting the big league playing time.

Tomorrow: round two versus the Twinkies in an afternoon game with the inimitable Jon Lester. Will he dazzle the Twins with his Harry Houdini style? Will the will-o-the-wisp of ball control be his at last to grasp? Only time and your favorite text-based play by play display will be the judge.