Monday, September 27, 2010

Forcing Rivera To Blow A Save Not Enough

Damn you, bullpen. Damn you, Theo.

Another impressive fight to win squandered by Papelbon and Oki last night in the Bronx killed whatever microscopic hope for making a wild card berth this year. Kalish and Hall steal a total of 4 bases on the best closer ever in the 9th and Mikey Lowell hits a sac fly to take the lead! That was awesome. But it was short lived.

Papelbon gives it right back. Oki walks in the winning run. UGH-mutha-freakin-UGH.

We had given up on the season a month ago, only to realize this weekend we were not mathematically eliminated yet. Hell, win out all the games and we had a shot, especially since the Sox had taken 2 of 3 in the Bronx and made Yankee pitchers look like minor league scrubs (and we had 3 more games at Fenway against them next weekend).

2010 was a very difficult year for this team, but they hung on just enough to tease us in this last week. I guess it's only fitting that I felt a twinge of what it's like again to have hope for this team. It's easy to blame the 19 DL injury moves for the demise of the team, but that is the most shallow of views. The starting pitching was only good from 2 of your 6 starters (if you count Wake in there which I do since he played enough). The bullpen was, well, we know it stunk up the joint. Management went cheap at the trade deadline and hopefully is banking on spending some cash and key trades in the offseason.

There are so many moving parts it's hard to know what this team will look like in 2011. But will it matter if 3 of the 5 starting pitchers gets knocked around weekly?

I sincerely hope Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre are given good contracts to play for the Red Sox in 2011 and beyond. They had impressive years and showed a lot of heart and character, and really seem like they fit in with the Youkilis and Pedroia grinder mentality. And don't forget Scutaro's fine year getting on base and knocking singles and doubles. I really like everyone surrounding the pitchers mound immensely.

I also think Kalish has earned an outfield spot. Drew was consistent, but not worth the coin he is being paid (at least he played a ton this year, so thanks for being stable).

I thank Lester and Buchholz for carrying the pitching burden this year, but am disgusted by Josh Beckett and John Lackey and their awful contracts. The bullpen is a total engima.

I hope Mike Cameron is gone. Happy retirement to Mike Lowell and Tim Wakefield (if that happens). I actually hope the Sox exercise their option on Ortiz. I think he deserves another year.

And lastly, I hope the Sox go and get a better trainer.

Go Twins! Rangers!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Mets Have a Much Better Bullpen Than the Red Sox

Don't tell me you cannot compare bullpens in the National League to the American. Sure, there is the the DH in the AL, and there is that virtually-automatic out with the pitcher in the NL, so in theory it should be harder for the AL and the NL would dominate the bullpen rankings. Not so fast.

Half of the top 10 bullpens by ERA in the entire major leagues are from the AL.

That's right. AL pens have the second (Twins), fifth (Tampa Bay), sixth (Rangers), eighth (Yankees) and tenth (White Sox) BEST earned run averages in all of baseball and they are all playoff-contending teams.

The Boston Red Sox rank 20 out of 30 teams in the majors with a bullpen ERA of 4.36. Yup, they are down with the Mariners, Indians, Orioles, Angels and Royals--not to mention all of the worst teams in the NL like the Pirates, Astros, Brewers, and Diamondbacks.

If there is one thing that is KILLING me this year it's the total lack of getting new, effective pitching in that bullpen. Sure, August waivers are not done yet, but in the meantime the hopes of catching the Rays for the Wild Card spot keep fading--slowly--like a deadly bacteria eating at the core of my being.

Dice K keeps the offense in the game yesterday but is replaced by Manny Delcarmen who serves up a fat, first-pitch meatball to Michael Young for the 3-run shot to left center. Ugh. As if it wasn't enough to have to watch Ellsbury go back on the DL for the third freakin' time on Friday on a play at first base!

I'm not even really talking about Bard or Papelbon here (I'm willing to ignore the Toronto meltdown right now because the flukes will happen). I know they have the talent to get outs. It's the rest of these guys that are killing me. What is it going to take for Theo to make a freaking move with this pen? If run prevention is so damn important, how can you begin to compete with all the playoff contending teams in the AL without some legitimate 6th and 7th inning help?

Out of the 14 teams in the AL, the Red Sox rank 9th... Ugh. It's unreal. It's not easy catching the pitching of this division, I get it. But let's be clear, management is not recognizing its problem with its employees. Take action during the season...

I didn't want to pick on the Mets, but hey, it's at least something positive coming out of Flushing. They rank eleventh with an ERA of 3.77. Omar Minaya is better than Theo with his bullpen signings and picks.

Now that stings.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Someone Has Red Sox Voodoo Dolls, And They Are Working

Youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuk... is now on the DL. So is Mike Cameron (but he can stay there for the rest of the year).

That's right. The number 4 hitter. Our clean up guy. The most consistent hitter. The "soul" to Pedroia's "heart" of the team--Kevin Youkilis--is on the 15 day disabled list with a torn thumb muscle and may need surgery. The team is seeking a second medical opinion, but if surgery happens, he is done for the year.


There are not words in the English language to capture the angst produced by the sheer volume of injuries experienced in 2010. Incredu-ludi-crous? Someone in Pelham or Patterson or Port St. Lucie has Red Sox voodoo dolls and knows exactly how to use them. There is no other reasonable explanation for the coincidental circumstances here. Two players on the same team have major thumb injuries in the same season? Two players had rib injuries? Two players have had major foot injuries? There are nagging back injuries and obliques and even mononucleosis!

There are mystical, secretive forces at play. Dare I say, evil forces? Yes. Someone has voodoo dolls with knife-sharp pins. Someone... Anyone with information on the location of these dolls should contact the Massachusetts State Police or Joey McIntyre [If you have not seen the brilliant Masshole spoof of Mad Men, you are missing out].

But don't tell that to Mike Lowell. Lowell is the beneficiary of Youkilis' bad-finger fortune and will get the call to play first base. Last night, Lowell hit the first pitch in the Monster seats while he was getting a standing ovation. It was a great moment, and as Remy said on the NESN broadcast, probably the best moment of the year for the team.

Lowell is a fan favorite, and hell, I love the man's history with this team, but I'm not going to say he should have been playing the whole year. I'm not going to jump on that BS bandwagon that forgot how hard it was for him to run down the first baseline last year or the countless game inning double plays he hit last year. His hip injury was severe and the newly discovered thumb injury in early 2010 was enough to keep GMs across baseball away. He was supposed to go to the Rangers. Now, he's playing first base until Youk can make it back. Go get 'em, Mikey!

In the meantime, keep your (no pun intended) fingers crossed for Youk. We will need him down the stretch.

Lowell, a classy guy, had this to say about taking over for the injured Youk:

I think this is not a day for us to be happy. Our best hitter has a serious injury. I don't think that's ever a good thing. I don't get any joy out of getting playing time when someone gets hurt. With Youkilis out of the lineup, you're not a better team. He has been our most consistent hitter and over the last three years he has arguably been one of the best hitters in the league.
One last note, Josh Beckett has been pitching well.

Yes, he hit a few batters last night, but his pitching was solid overall. He gave up only 3 hits, struck out 8 and went 8 innings before he was thrown out in a bench clearing situation for running on the field after Cleveland threw behind Adrian Beltre. I honestly do not think Beckett thre at anyone intentionally last night. That may sound bias, but I am not afraid to call a guy like Beckett out when I see it.

Beckett is coming back to form.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Expect Theo To Make a Relief Move

Recent history with Theo (as Gordon Edes of ESPN deftly points out) tells us he will do everything he can to get a quality reliever either at the deadline or during the August waiver period. Edes gives a very nice timeline back to 2003 of all the key relief pitching moves Epstein has made in his Sox tenure--many that were crucial pieces of playoff and World Series-winning teams--and moves that opened up roster spots for now-legends of Red Sox lore.

Edes reminded me of the Scott Williamson trade who had an amazing run in the playoffs in 2003 (and I'm still not sure why Grady Little didn't use him in place of Pedro in the ALCS game 7). He also reminded me of the Shea Hillenbrand trade to the D-backs that allowed David Ortiz to get more playing time. Don't forget about Myers in 2004 or Bradford in 2005 or Billy Wagner last year.

The problem is the team could have used one right before the West coast trip. The pen has a collective ERA of something like 4.44 (I read somewhere) and is the fourth worst in the league. You can't get to the playoffs with those kind of numbers.

With knowledge of how deeply invested the Sox are in starting pitching, the relief pitching has to be a real target. Can Theo stay that patient as close games are consistently being lost in the 8th and 9th innings? That debacle on Sunday with Oki and the pen was very troubling.

Some rumors are that Sox are courting Scott Downs of Toronto heavily (as are the Yankees). 

My fears about this road trip are almost completely true. Some good starting pitching has been there, but not for the bullpen. At least V-Mart and Hermida are back. Buccholz pitched very nice last night, getting out of jams and going pretty deep with only one early home run given up.

Ellsbury played in the Gulf league and is due back with the team next week. Hopefully guys forget all the BS with where he rehabbed and welcome him back.

Still, even with the win lat night, the Yanks and Rays also won (Garza, the bastard, threw a no-hitter), so they're still 8 games back. Not 9 games back, but too damn close.

Lackey takes the hill tonight in his former home stadium in Anaheim. Should be a bit surreal for him--especially after he drills one of his former teammates in retaliation of a Fernando Rodney fastball in Beltre's back after Ortiz hit a 2-run homer last night off him. The umpire was way too quick to warn benches last night and Tito could visibly be seen saying either to Rodney or the umpire (probably both) "F U C K You!"

That was awesome.

I am always leery of guys who go back to their old stadiums, so I don't expect much from Lackey tonight. He'll probably get a mix of cheers and boos, though since it's Anaheim, he's bound to have a strong Red Sox following. I've been to that place many times and the Sox fans come out of the woodwork in the OC for that series.

Time for tortillas as frisbees and loud chants of "Let's go Red Sox!" and, of course, death to the rally monkey.

Friday, July 23, 2010

For Beckett, It's All About the Curveball Cheese

Josh Beckett's return tonight against the Mariners is going to be watched with trepidation and curiosity.

In my mind, I'm looking for one major thing: Can he throw his curveball 12 to 6 with downward, swing-and-miss tilt? If he lives on the fastball alone this summer is going to get a whole lot worse for this team than it already is... It's not as if the entire season is in the hands of one guy with all the injuries, but Beckett and his big contract extension are very disconcerting if he cannot turn it around.

Lester is a stud on Cy Young pace, but is he as good as Cliff Lee, David Price or Carston Charles down the stretch with the current bullpen? That will be tough... Buchholz has some expected rust at present, but based on his first half, I think he bounces back with a very good season. Lackey has pitched well in the last week, and Dice K had a very nice game on Monday against the A's, but knowing how inconsistent they have both been, it's hard to know where they are heading.

As far as trade deadline stuff, the bullpen HAS to be dealt with as soon as freaking possible, please. The guy I think who is a probable target will be very unpopular with fans, but I think could make a nice splash with the team: Kyle Farnsworth. Yes, the goggle-guy and a former Yankee we all loved to watch implode. He has some of the best numbers for potentially available relievers on a team--the Royals-- that is not in the division, wants scrubs for their farm system and has a history of making deals with Theo and crew.

Don't believe me? Read Krasnick's (ESPN) take on the bullpen market and tell me Farnsworth's numbers are not the best choice here? At least he has playoff and Al East division experience and is a major upgrade over what is there now... Please send Ramon Ramirez away as soon as possible.

Make sure to read this very well done article by Jeremy Lundblad of ESPN on Beckett's stats. He contends it's the changeup that has been hurting Beckett in 2010, but Beckett has never been much of a changeup pitcher in my mind. Lundblad wrote:

In 2009, opponents hit just .191 on at-bats ending with a changeup. This season, it's up to .500. That includes a .563 mark against lefties, who hit just .171 against the pitch in 2009. Beckett allowed only four extra-base hits off his changeup last season, but has already allowed three in just eight starts in 2010. Meanwhile, after fanning 17 on the changeup in 2009, he's yet to do it once this season.

Hard to call a pitch in the 89 to 90 MPH range a changeup when the fastball is 94 to 95 on a good day. His curve has been his out pitch for a long time. But a flat pitch in the low 90s or a hanging breaking ball are too easy for major league hitters to blast, so whatever you want to call them, it simply cannot be those kind of pitches.

Until then, we watch nervously and see if Beckett can return to form. Please throw the curve and make their knees buckle.

[Image by SoxyLady via Flickr cc 3.0]

Monday, July 19, 2010

Remy, Orsillo Make GQ's Best Broadcasting Team Ranking

Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo ranked number 4 out of 5 in the GQ list of the best and worst broadcasters in baseball. They were on the best side, and according to Orsillo and Remy on a recent broadcast, ranked the best in the AL.

I think they are hilarious and the most interesting duo to watch because you never know when they will go off an a tangent and start laughing their collective asses off, do a dance or poke fun at NESN's fringe programming. Sometimes, the laughter will last an entire inning, especially in a blowout game. My wife, a life-long Yankee fan, loves Remy and Orsillo as well (and like me, totally loathes the Yankee announcers in broadcast and radio).

Incidentally, there was a great moment on Saturday night's game when they showed some footage of Remy and Orsillo realizing they were first in the AL on the GQ broadcasting list and they did some kooky dance. It was fantastic (I wish NESN would put up these videos for linking... I cannot find it anywhere).

I will never forget them going off during a game when NESN was filming the Red Sox dating show Sox Appeal at Fenway. They loved to rail on the guys during the dating and tried to guess how bad dates were going.

GQ wrote of the duo:

Remy has an arresting voice, with a thick Massachusetts accent—not the sound of your typical broadcaster—and he talks in a string of short bursts. He also has no volume control. In fact, when he first chimes in, one worries that some beer-brave Sawx fan has stumbled into the booth. It's a big personality to cram into a headset, but Orsillo makes it work by playing the straight—if bland—man, by calling a solid game, and by getting out of Remy's way, when necessary. Remy will misspeak (hilariously) on occasion, like: "Sometimes it's hard to get down that sacrifice fly," on a botched bunt attempt. But it's always in service of the game's action, and it never slows him down.
I think this is sort of accurate, but totally misses how great the chemistry is between he and Remy, not to mention how much Orsillo laughs and loses his straight-man demeanor with one good Remy quip.

Listen to Remy go off on Christmas letters and Orsillo make fun of NESN broadcaster Tom Caron.

You must watch Remy play air guitar too.

And be sure to watch this silly commercial on that dating show Sox Appeal:

The Towel, And Where to Throw It... If At All

If you've talked to me over IM or in person about the current state of the Red Sox right now I would probably tell you in all seriousness "I expect them to be about 9 games back by next week."

Where I once saw resiliency, I now see strikeouts;  Where I once saw a laser show, I now see a fading, fizzling ball of barely-flickering gas.

Losing three of four at home after the All-Star Break to the first place team in the AL West doesn't help. Lester losing on sloppy defense and a close call at home (with an anemic offense)? Ugh.

The injuries are serious and there are simply too many of them. The bullpen is undeniably awful. The always changing lineup is not working. Our outfield scrubs--Nava, Patterson, McDonald, Cameron-- are mediocre players. John Lackey is a waste of money. And even with the trade deadline coming, it's very hard to expect Theo and management to give up the farm that easily--and for whom?

Am I to be enamored of Beckett coming back later this week in Seattle? Who the hell knows if this guy can pitch anymore? He gave up several runs to AAA players on Saturday. Is that encouraging? A guy who catches has a bad broken thumb on his catching thumb and can barely clutch a bat... Doesn't really add up.

I am sure to be overreacting; I am sure to be fixating on those issues that keep me thinking this is virtually impossible to overcome in a few month's time. Sometimes you run in to a good pitcher (like C.J. Wilson yesterday... Did anyone see how bad he made Ortiz look at the plate yesterday? No wonder lefties are hitting under .100 against him.)

Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe thinks this is far from over. Abraham writes in his latest column:

The reality is the Red Sox are 3.5 games out of a playoff spot with 70 left to play... Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte is out 4-6 weeks with a groin tear and A.J. Burnett's 4.99 ERA has him punching walls. Derek Jeter's OPS is a few points better than Marco Scutaro's. The Yankees are a good team, but they're not as good as they were last year, so do not discount the division. Jeremy Hermida will be back Thursday. Josh Beckett returns on Friday. Victor Martinez played catch today and figures to get a little better every day. The spring-training lineups will start to disappear soon enough. You also have to be encouraged by a bullpen that now includes Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Manny Delcarmen and Michael Bowden in key roles instead of Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez and that combustible crew.

Abraham makes some good points, but the question marks outweigh the certainties by a wide margin to me. The Yankees were willing to rent Cliff Lee for three months; They will make a starting pitching move at the deadline, especially with Pettitte on the DL.

This rag tag Red Sox team is headed West and has little resting time. This team has been only ok on the road, with slightly more wins than losses (22-20). Some say take comfort they are playing Oakland and Seattle.

I don't. I will be rooting them on all the way, but the reality is tough to swallow right now.

I hope I am wrong. I really do.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Here's to You, Daniel Bard

Don and I were talking Sox earlier today, and after commiserating on the poor state of the team in the past few days - a shifting cast of characters in the outfield, an infield now rife with injuries, and a bullpen when key guys like Ramirez, Okajima, and Papelbon have stopped performing - we finally found a bright spot: Daniel Bard. As it turns out, not only has Bard felt like a rock this year, but the numbers show he's pitched like one, too, with that stellar ERA+ of 217 front and center.

But digging a little deeper, you see an interesting contrast that stands out when you compare season totals: Bard has increased his control, but at the expense of strikeouts. WHIP, hits per nine, walks per nine, strikeout to walk ratio; they've all improved (and Bard is about ten innings shy of his 2009 totals, so this is a great time to compare), but strikeouts per nine (and total strikeouts, of course) are down. Presumably Bard has taken something off of his fastball to improve his control, but what I find so interesting about this change is how obvious it seems. One seemingly minor adjustment has ripples across a whole group of performance numbers...and even better, all of those ripples are positive. So here's to you, Daniel Bard: thanks for being such a rock.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ugh: Who Will Be the Next Major Injury to this Red Sox Team?

Resiliency is about to get ludicrously challenged.

Friday: Pedroia fouls a Jonathan Sanchez pitch off a bone of his foot and lands on the 15-day DL. Despite whatever positive spin you might be hearing, Lil' Shit is on crutches and cannot put pressure on his left foot. Don't expect him back until mid-August. Maybe even September. By then, Sox could very much be out of the playoff picture. Sox brass are going to rightfully baby this injury.

Saturday: Clay Buchholz comes up gimpy running from first to second base a few minutes after he hit a single. Initial reports on him are that it's not too bad, but expect a start or two skipped.

So, along with Navajo Jewish Lawyer (Ellsbury), Josh Beckett, Jeremy Hermida, a day-to-day Mike Cameron, a gimpy JD Drew, and now Mike Lowell (who went on the DL this week to make room for Daisuke coming off the DL), Pedroia's injury is the worst kind of blow to a team in the playoff hunt. As Bill Hall told reporters over the weekend, Pedroia is the second captain on this team for the offense. He is a leader and motivational player who leads by example, and a very tough replacement for the 2-hole, though he did hit in the 3 hole on Thursday in Colorado where he had a HUGE game going 5 for 5 with 3 home runs.

Pedroia, who saw NESN broadcaster Don Orsillo in the clubhouse in LA on Friday, was overheard in front of reporters saying to Orsillo "“How many times did you say ‘laser show’ last night? You should start calling it the ‘rocket blasting show.’ ’’

All you can do is hope there are some teams with talented veterans looking to unload some salary at the trade deadline. The Sox quickly dealt for a cheap option and picked up Eric Patterson from the Oakland A's. Patterson can play second and the outfield, so he gives them some defensive versatility. The big question mark is whether he can hit. His career stats point to a streaky hitter. For the time being, Bill Hall, Patterson and Angel Sanchez--who the team called up from Pawtucket as well--will be jumbled around.

I hope JD Drew can get back in there soon and get his bat going. Beltre, Ortiz, Youk and Martinez have been playing well, but it's going to take a full team effort. That means you too bullpen.

[Image by Lucky + 13 via Flickr cc 3.0]

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

There Are No Words for This

This was auctioned off in 2004 for charity, so we're way late to the game, but who cares? This is so unbelievably awesome. If you want to see close ups and a ton of angles of Fenway Park in Lego splendor, check out the full range of thumbnails here. Thanks to my brother-in-law for finding this at Uniwatch.

You Got Your Offense In My Defense! Sox Bats Defy 'Bridge Year' BS

The Red Sox are leading THE MAJORS or are right behind the leader in plethora of offensive categories  right now. Yeh, you heard me right: The entire major league.

Don't believe me? Take a look at the numbahs:
  • #1 in Hits with 689 (Number 2? The Kansas City Royals; I know, it's totally crazy)
  • #1 in Doubles with 174
  • #1 in RBI with 373
  • #1 in Runs with 390
  • #1 in Total Bases with 1158
  • #2 in Average at .278 (Number 1? The Kansas City Royals at .279)
  • #2 in Home runs with 93 (Number 1 is still the Blue Jays)
  • #2 in On-Base Percentage at .353 (A tie with the Braves of Hotlanta; That team from the Bronx leads at .359)
  • #3 in Walks with 277 (behind that team from the Bronx and the Braves of Hotlanta)
The team who plays on Yawkey Way are middle of the pack in one category: Strike Outs. They currently rank 17th which is fairly decent. At the bottom of that list are the Chicago White Sox and, once again, the Kansas City Royals.

If only the Royals had a few more decent starters... Speaking of Kansas City, they could be a team the Red Sox try to bargain with for a trade. Gordon Edes of ESPN started dropping some names recently and he mentioned Scot Podsednik as a target for Theo. He hits, he steals bases and he runs the bases well... I have some other ideas on potential targets, but more on that later.

Despite all this offense, the Red Sox have to be on the market for an impact outfielder with the injuries to Ellsbury, Cameron, Hermida and now, Drew. Drew is supposed to play tonight in Colorado, but I will not be surprised if Tito gives him more time off to let that hamstring calm down. Luckily, he did not land on the DL, but you'd be foolish to rule that out with Stephen's older, richer brother.

While the team-offensive numbers have been solid, the overall offensive contributions from outfielders are tenuous aside from Drew. Sure, there have been great rookie moments from McDonald and Nava, and some nice lefty at bats from Hermida (who is hurt), but let's be clear: We cannot expect these triple-a guys (and an inconsistent Bill Hall, who is really a back-up infielder) to go the rest of the season. In an effort to reach the playoffs, the Red Sox need another Ellsbury-type player who can get on base consistently, be a real base-stealing threat and generally be a nuisance to pitchers.

Looking at the outfield, Edes recently examined the offensive state of these players:
Relying on patchwork combinations that have featured McDonald, Jeremy Hermida and Bill Hall, with a cameo appearance by rookie Josh Reddick and now the latest import from Pawtucket, Nava, the Sox outfield collectively ranks next to last in the league in hitting (.257), 12th in OBP (.329), seventh in slugging (.421) and fifth in home runs (22).

And now I digress on Mike Cameron... I was doing a little research on contracts and still cannot believe Theo gave him over $7 million dollars. Yeh, he can play the outfield, but you had to know his age was a bit of a liability. Considering the abdominal injury and his lack of everyday status at present, perhaps now is the time to package him up with someone from the minor leagues and let him and his lousy batting average, lack of power and ZERO stolen bases go elsewhere.

[Image by therob006 via Flickr CC 3.0]

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hey, Look at That! Sox Are 2 Games Back (Oh, And Manny's Back)

We're midway through June in the year of our Lord 2010 and the Boston Redsox are 2 games behind the 2 best teams in baseball. By winning percentage as of today (.588), the team that plays in Fenway is the third best team in all of baseball. Woo hoo! Give us a bronze medal!

We got plenty of problems with the pitching staff and injuries, but I guess there is one interesting thing to say about how this team has been resiliently playing: Thank you, all-knowing, all-giving Jah, for interleague play! The Sox have been beating the crap out of teams like the Phillies and Diamondbacks with a strange combination of a banged up outfield, some grit and toughness from the bullpen, and a lineup that never gives up. Things are oddly clicking, and it's got to have Yankee and Rays fans sweating in their Underoos.

Seems like every other day someone is landing on the DL or getting a coritsone shot or having a hurt back and neck... So to be the third best team in all of baseball must feel really freaking good considering.

I'm mightily impressed by the bounce back and mental toughness of Lester, Buchholz, Scutaro, Beltre, Martinez and Ortiz. These 6 guys have been doing a tremendous job of being good when it matters. There have been many contributions, so not entirely fair to single them out, but for different reasons, these 6 gentleman stick out to me.

Lester is dominating. Buchholz is giving the team a chance to win just about every outing. Scutaro is getting on base consistently and scoring. Beltre is hitting the cover off the ball (and incidentally is the second hardest swinger I have ever seen next to Gary Sheffield). Martinez is a patient, methodical hitter who is not afraid to put pressure on the defense by getting on base and taking walks. And Ortiz is back to Big Papi status knocking balls to the deepest part of Fenway for home runs, but also going opposite field and hitting singles and doubles with regularity.

I shouldn't be gushing in mid-June, but I can't help it. A month ago we thought there was no chance in Hades this team was playoff bound, but with solid, consistent play, this team is showing it deserves a real shot.

Two things to note: First, Manny is back in Fenway, and while he will be booed in his at bats, I think he deserves to be applauded for the championships he was part of for Boston. Yeh, he's a flakey-bakey nutjob (and the way he left was downright retahded), but he's also one of the greatest and feared hitters ever to play the game.

Secondly, the Sox have called up triple-A prospect Felix Doubront for a start against the Dodgers tonight. This lefty has been pitching really well for Pawtucket , so I'm excited to see what he can do against the likes of Manny, Kemp, Ethier and the rest of a decent swinging, first-place NL team. Doubront moved from Portland to Pawtucket this year and in 12 starts for both teams is 6-1 with a combined ERA of 2.11.

[Image by Eric Kilby via Flickr cc 3.0]

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fear the Boof!

It's the eighth inning. You're down by three runs to an Indians team whose pitching staff boasts an ERA+ of 87, the worst (by a mere two points!) in the American League. Who do you bring in to keep the game close while waiting for your offense to wake up? Might it be...The Boof?

Not that the Sox had much choice: Bonser was out of rehab assignment time and had to be activated, Papelbon is out on bereavement leave, Bard is pitching so much he's risking having his arm file for divorce, and MDC had an aching back that didn't resolve itself until a side session yesterday. Clearly, things were a bit tight in the pitching department, and Boof fills a potential role, despite having not recorded an out since late September of 2008. So, out he went, and the bases filled with Indians, and pretty soon afterward the game was very much out of reach. I'll give Bonser the benefit of the doubt and say that he needed the live fire exercise (and maybe a few other kinds of exercise) to get back into fighting trim. I'll also say - to borrow a phrase my friend Alan - that Boof Bonser is the Towelie of major league baseball. See, they even look a bit alike:

Friday, May 28, 2010

This Would Be Why They Play the Games

If I were a superstitious man, I would say that the probability of success in Dice-K's most recent starts is inversely proportional to whether or not I start him in my fantasy baseball line up. I put him in against the Yankees, and he gave up seven earned runs on nine hits in four and 2/3rds innings. I benched him against Philly - logically, I thought, given the team - and he came close to throwing a no hitter. I put him in against Kansas City, a team so wretched that Joe Posnanski has taken to titling his Royals updates "Diary of a Losing Team"...and he gives up three runs on a career-high-tying eight walks.

I might therefore be forgiven for thinking that last night's rather humiliating loss was somehow my fault, but fortunately Matsuzaka gave the quote to set me straight:
“'My lower body wasn’t cooperating today, so I had to rely too much on my upper body...Between these two starts I had noticed a little bit of soreness there, but I didn’t have any problems with my side session. It wasn’t at the forefront of my mind going into my start tonight.

Also, I knew that during my pregame warmup in the bullpen tonight, my pitches weren’t great but I couldn’t make the necessary adjustments.'

"The right-hander added that 'it’s been a long time since my body didn’t cooperate like this, and like I said at the beginning I had to rely a lot on my upper body. I think the velocity was there, but there was no movement and there was no bite to my pitches, not to mention any command.'”
Well, that might explain it, then. From my understanding of body mechanics, acquired mainly through playing baseball badly as a child and bowling with mixed success as an adult, the lower body has far more impact on the eventual placement of the ball than it logically should. If Dice-K's lower body wasn't "cooperating," it's not particularly surprising he was handing out walks like candy at Bob's Discount Furniture. I just wish he'd thought to have said something before making the start.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Things Begin to Look Up

Don't look now, but the Sox have finally started to click since I wrote that half-facetious post last Wednesday, beating the Twins twice at Fenway before going back on the road to take two of three from Philly and the first of three from scary-good Tampa Bay. Over those six games the offense has remained efficient if not overwhelmingly scary, converting about 42% of the baserunners into runs while hitting .261/.315/.438 and generally beating their opponents by four or five runs. The pitching has (re)turned into something special, with a marvelous 2.04 ERA and 0.94 WHIP against three teams that lead their respective divisions. For the past week, at least, it's been less about struggling to remain a middling team and proving that the 2010 Sox really can run with the big dogs.

There are individual achievements to celebrate, too. Ellsbury is back in the line up after an absence of about a month and a half, though his OPS of .133 over his first 15 plate appearances indicates he's got some work to do before his stroke reappears. Big Papi has reached base safely in his past nine games and is hitting .408 with 5 home runs and an OPS of 1.363; over the same time period, Kevin Youkilis has five home runs of his own and an OPS of 1.485. I got all kinds of excited seeing them hit back to back last night, just imagining the possibilities. The team is nowhere near close to being able to call things safe - not with the Rays so far ahead, and not with Toronto on a surge of their own - but for the first time since early April these Red Sox feel like a real team.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

We Went 2 and 3!

I still can't quite believe we made it through that road trip with a 2 and 3 record. I mean that in a positive way, too: the Sox faced a pretty good Tigers team and an excellent group of Yankees and still managed to win two games out of five. In fact, that record doesn't tell the whole story: subtract a hit from Manny Delcarmen's line on Saturday and two from Papelbon's total on Tuesday and that record turns into a far more impressive 4 and 1 road trip.

Of course, those three hits - and the 28 runs given up by Red Sox pitching over that five game stretch - are indications of the problem Don's brought up over the past few days: the starters aren't pitching up to standard. The relievers aren't pitching up to standard. The offense is red hot in a way that really wasn't supposed to happen this year - the team slugged .486 with 11 home runs on this field trip - but if the team were a Viking longship, it wouldn't be clear if the offense was the only ones pulling the oars because the pitching needs a moment to catch its breath or because someone shot an arrow through its collective chest and it's dead. I don't want to give up hope just yet, because there are still flashes of life, but it would be awesome if both elements of the team would start clicking simultaneously. In the meantime: we went 2 and 3 on a road trip, and I'm pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why Papelbon May Not Get a Big Contract From the Sox

It's not like the Red Sox are going to sign the current closer to a big contract next year simply based on his performance against one team, right? Well, I would not count on it.

John Henry, Larry Lucchino and company are not big fans of that team from the Bronx (remember...they dubbed the Steinbrenner's obsession with winning as the "evil empire"). But when it comes to Jonathan Papelbon, the Yankees have hit amazingly well against the man for a few years.

Don't believe it? Have a looksy at the numbers, as found by the Elias Sports Bureau via Gordon Edes,

In his past 18 appearances against the Yankees, dating to June 3, 2007, Papelbon is 0-5 with a 7.85 ERA. He has seven saves against the Bombers, but they have hit five home runs in 18 1/3 innings off him, are batting .293 overall and slugging .547.

Papelbon had probably the second worst night of his career last night after a terrible blown save performance in Game 3 of the ALDS last year against the Angels.

I love what this guy has brought to the team when it has mattered the most, but it is hard to ignore some of these facts. Given that the playoffs are not really in the picture this year it's premature to say what the Sox would do, but it is certainly a reminder of the challenges of putting a championship caliber team.

Is he trade bait? Do you let him ride in to the off-season free agency sunset? Is Bard the guy come 2011?

Here's a little perspective. Over the last 3 years, Papelbon's numbers have been as follows:

37 Saves, 58.1 Innings Pitched,  1.85 ERA, 84 Ks

41 Saves, 69.1 Innings Pitched, 2.34 ERA, 77 Ks

38 Saves, 68 Innings Pitched, 1.85 ERA, 76 Ks

So far this year, he's had 9 Saves, 19 Innings Pitched, 3.32 ERA, 14 Ks.

I don't think Papelbon is done by any stretch, and his numbers are fantastic, but I think he has lost some of the life on his fastball. Up until last night he had been mixing in his slider and splitter much more often this season. I didn't recognize any of those pitches last night. His fastball was up and it was flat. Hence the 4 runs. I understand the tendency to go with your strength, but sometimes it simply isn't there.

Will he still get close to the high 30s or even over 40 mark in saves this year? Probably. But the contract he wants (and deserves) may rest on his ability to quiet the two best teams in the AL East.

Yet another work in progress in 2010.

[Image by apdonovan via Flickr cc 3.0]

Red Sox in the Bronx: 2003 All Over Again

This team is bipolar.

When the starting pitching is going bad, the offense has the ability to fight back and scrap together runs and compete (case in point: last night's game). When the starting pitching is going well, the bullpen can implode rapidly. Last night was an insane back and forth of polarized emotional states. It was all of this wrapped up in the highs of mania and lows of crushing defeat.

It was 2003 all over again.

At 7 pm last night I discovered that the YES Network was--for once--not the only broadcast showing the game last night.  Oh cool, I thought. No annoying ass-licking Michael Kay and the douchebaggery of the rest of the YES Network. Woo hoo! Instead I could watch ESPN with color commentary from Nomar, some dude, and Aaron Boone.

Yeh, that Aaron Boone--that mutha-freakin' lucky, hanging knuckle-ball hitting, 2003 Game 7, ALCS-killing, SOB. Whatever. Boone has been erased by rings in years after. Boone Schmoone.

Talk about irony.

He and Nomar were entertaining, actually. We learned they have known each other a long time. They both grew up playing ball in Southern California, that they were on the same team in amateur Summer leagues on Cape Cod between their sophomore and junior years in college. Both Nomie and Boonie were self-deprecating, made fun of their ages, and took swipes at their own rail-thin body types.

After Jonathan Papelbon entered last night's game in the bottom of the ninth with a two-run lead in the Bronx, but before he threw a pitch, it was Boone talking up the effectiveness of Boston's closer. It was one of those filler moments where they come back from commercial with the pitcher still warming up, throwing his last pitches and getting his rhythm as they flash stats and talk about the man on the hill.

Boone and Nomar were talking about how Papelbon was 9 for 9 in save opportunities in 2010, and that it was Papelbon's use of his splitter and secondary pitches that was helping keep batters off kilter. They even brought up how Papelbon had watched his blown save against the Angels in the playoffs last year over and over and over as a reminder to mix it up a bit more.

Secondary pitches? Not last night.
Now, I'm not writing this to take insanely reactionary swipes at the closer,  nor would I suggest that management needs to make changes in the pen to the closer (the pen should be shaken up, a good lot). It's not as if Daniel Bard makes me feel any more comfortable. He was a bit shaky in the 8th himself.

But I will say this on Paps: You now have another video to watch over and over from 2010, and you need to mix up your pitches. You may be able to blow a heater by a guy a few times here and there, but not mixing it up is only going to screw you when you have to face strong hitting teams.

Every closer is going to blow saves. Even the great Rivera can walk in a run and give up grand slams (as happened Sunday in the Bronx). A blown save is accepted.

But last night was another huge emotional blow. Your offense gets you back in the game after Andrew Dice-K sucks it up in the first giving up 5 runs, and another in the second. It was 6-1 in the 3rd with the Yankees best pitcher on the hill--Phil Hughes.

Hats off to the Sox offense. Timely walks and hits and the big bomb were in play last night. Sox hit 5 homers with Victor Martinez hit two solos, Ortiz, Youkilis and  J.D. Drew hit a huge 3-run homer off of Hughes to tie the game. It was all for not.

Will that be the cliche of this season? The irony this season could be clawing your way back in to a playoff run only to give it up on your supposed strength in pitching.

Oh, and you want more irony? It was Wakefield's 2 innings in relief of Dice-K who was in line to get the win. Screw you, Aaron Boone. Screw you.

[Image by Mike A. (RAB) via Flickr cc 3.0]

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Another Expected Win Squandered by the Pen

Can you control chaos in baseball pitching? My gut tells me you can, but what the hell do I know from my teak-veneer, living-room table for an office desk.

The baseball cliche "you are only as good as the team you put out there" is in direct conflict with the idea that you can manage bad pitching when it's happening in front of your face. Francona puts faith in his players and doesn't like to overreact. But with this bullpen, I think past performance does not always translate in to present success.

Last night was one of those games when a guy who had been running well in the pen for the last 6 appearances suddenly stunk up the joint. This time: Hideki Okajima and it was pretty obvious that he didn't have much there.

It was 6-4 in the 8th and Oki couldn't get outs giving up hits, a walk and 2 runs to the first 4 batters he faced to tie the game up at 6-6. A shorter leash might have been in order here, Tito. Instead, it became an extra-innings game. Instead, Ramon Ramirez ends up walking in the winning run for the Tigers in the 12th (he threw 4 straight balls nowhere near the zone). 

These are the kind of games that separate the teams at the top from the teams that flounder in the middle to the bottom of the standings. Emotionally, you feel like every step forward with this team to get over .500 baseball is let down by late-inning inadequacies and situational failures. You know how talented this team is supposed to be, but it simply doesn't matter. The Yankees and Rays are playing hot baseball and win close games regularly.

The Sox are not in the same class as these teams in mid-May 2010 and it comes down to the bullpen.

In a night when the starting pitching and offense are clicking, when a hot Lester, Drew and Ortiz stay hot, when a utility guy like Bill Hall hits another home run, when Papelbon goes 2 innings and a third, the morning after hangover of disappointment and disgust is glacial.

The Red Sox bullpen--despite Papelbon and Bard--is a steaming heap of crap.

Lester pitched quite well despite the 4 runs he gave up. He was dominate for most of the outing striking out 10 and throwing a cut fastball to righties that dropped out of the zone. He looked great again.

It may not be completely fair to pin the game on one person last night... You could make the argument that Lester let the Tigers back in, that he was left in too long, and that the offense wasn't able to muster any extra inning magic. You could also say the Tigers pen is that much better than the Red Sox. Ok, sure. Go ahead and make your reasoned thinking.

But a 6-5 lead in the 8th inning and one of the best closers in the game waiting to get the save, you end up keying on that one guy who could not get it done. If Oki isn't throwing well by allowing base hits and a walk, bring in Delcarmen or someone else (Bard was not available last night). Don't rely on your faith in a guy when he simply isn't getting the job done. Slow the game down. Make V-Mart walk out and talk to Oki. Send Farrell out there. Get guys ready. Okajima would be the first one to tell you he did not have it and he's not going to be hurt if you have to take him out.

A little more tough love for the pen to protect a lead and win a game is in order here as is proactive bullpen management. Take them out if you have to, please!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Blaming the Umpire

It would have to be Wakefield, wouldn't it? On the day when Timmy Knuckles became one of four active pitchers to achieve 2,000 strikeouts and made an excellent return to the starting role with a quality start (3 runs in 7 innings), the offense was non-supportive: Ortiz got a hit. The Sox came close to scoring at least once, but blew opportunities.

I've been mentally assigning these losses to bad luck for a few years now, as I've been scarred by that stretch from 2007 to 2008 season, when Wakefield had fifteen starts where the Sox scored 0 to 2 runs, and 21 starts where they scored 3 to 5 runs. But that feeling isn't particularly fair: throughout his career, the offense scored three or more runs in two-thirds of Wake's starts. He's been far more likely to score a victory when they score six runs or more, which has happened in about forty percent of his starts. The real problem was Marcum, who's had a lot of success against the Sox (2.91 ERA in 55.2 innings) and even more in Fenway (2.08 ERA in 26 innings) and had no problems bringing more of the same yesterday. We'll call it a mix of bad luck and opponent skill.

But there was more, of course: Boston finally broke through for two runs against closer Kevin Gregg in the ninth and seemed likely to at least garner a tie thanks in great part to David Ortiz, who already two hits on the day and seems to be emerging from his winter slumber. With one out and J. D. Drew on second, Ortiz struck out looking on a pitch so far out of the zone it made home plate umpire Dale Scott's already elongated strike zone look, was enough for Jerry Remy to call it ridiculous, and it was enough to get Terry Francona out of the dugout. The out wasn't the end of the game - Beltre singled in another run in the next at-bat - but it feels like enough of an unnecessary gut shot for me to call it the difference between a win and a loss. Just Wakefield's bad luck, right?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Daisuke Deals Darts in 6-1 Win Over Toronto

Most people in New England were probably watching the Celtics make Lebron James look like some below-average corporate league player in Cleveland last night and decided to skip watching Matsuzaka's start at Fenway. Or they were watching Lost.

It's too bad because the man-who-wiggles-his-bum-on-the-mound had a very live fastball last night with late movement and swing and miss action.

Matsuzaka struck out 9 Blue Jay batters and gave up 1 run on 3 hits over 7 innings with ZERO walks. You heard it correct. Not a one. He threw 106 total pitches, 71 for strikes. Additionally, he had 5 1-2-3 innings out of the 7, so an excellent and efficient outing against a team that has been hitting.

He did not nibble. He attacked the strike zone much like he did in the first few years in Boston. It is a very good sign.

Will it last? Who the hell knows with this guy, but seeing that many fastballs being thrown and watching batters miss tells me he found something in his delivery to key on. If he can keep batters off base, then he doesn't need to pitch out of the stretch--something I believe gets him out of his rhythm at least in the last few seasons.

On the offensive front, Jason Varitek caught Dice and hit a monster shot in to the upper deck of the parking lot across Lansdowne Street for a 2 run homer. Sox were able to muster 6 runs against Dana Eveland for an excellently pitched game. Ramirez and Okajima were given the ball in the last two innings, so Bard and Papelbon were able to keep their arms fresh.

Today is a day game at Fenway with Wakefield on the mound. Light rain is expected, so hopefully they get it off.

Note: Josh Beckett was checked out yesterday and the brass says he's got nothing more than back spasms. My prediction on the DL is obviously premature, but I will still not be surprised if everyone else is pitching well that they may let him rest the back and actually go on the DL for a week. When will he start next? They aren't saying right now.

[Image by Dave Delay via Flickr cc 3.0]

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Beckett Now Has Back Spasms from Taking BP?

Stirring up unnecessary controversy is not my thing, but I do find the timing of announcing the recent rotation moves with Beckett to be a little fishy. Good fishy, but suspicious nonetheless.

Let's be clear: I'm all for the moves. Put the man on the DL if you want to take him out of the pressure and focus on mechanics. The DL is not being openly discussed yet with the media, but I expect it is happening between Theo, Farrell and Tito already. I think it's coming. I do not think Theo and crew are willing to keep putting a guy they signed for four more years (at $18 mil per) back out there right now.

I will be honest, the back spasms thing feels like a convenient story and I totally understand why they come up with these white lies. It's to keep the media off his back and out of his head. His self-frustration is at an all time high. There is no doubt in my mind he threw at Jeter to force in a run. A guy who does that needs some of the pressure of being called "the ace" released, and it's the kind that can only come from working side sessions and possibly facing Triple A or Double A batters.

Work on the mechanics, build the confidence back up. Shut him down for a week or two. Yes. Do it.

All weekend and through yesterday, Tito and crew have been saying there is nothing physically wrong with Beckett, but that there were some mechanical things to work on in a side session, particularly with his curveball and his sidestep. Ok, so Beckett will skip the Toronto game on Wednesday (who has seen Josh frequently), Wakefield goes back in to the rotation and Beckett would pitch Friday in Comerica against the Tigers. Sure. Sounds reasonable.

"The additional side for Josh is to reinforce, particularly out of the stretch, him getting back to the proper balance point and not getting too spread out to where he loses his balance on his fastball,'' Farrell told ESPN's Gordon Edes. "When he gets in proper position, his curveball is less readable to an opposing hitter. Part of this at times is his constant use of the slide step. That can cause some of the havoc we're trying to correct.''

Then, evidently, Beckett was taking batting practice last night in the indoor cages (for inter-league games a couple of weeks from now--yes, that works) and tweaked his back, and, oh hey by the way, he had been feeling some pain in his back over the weekend, but no one knows when exactly. During the game? After? No one really knows.

Fine. Whatever. I think we know why this is going on. He's in a extremely negative place. After the Yankees debacle Friday, Beckett was asked by reporters how we would describe his season up to this point. His answer? One word: S-H-I-T.

Bottom line: They want to get Beckett right, and I applaud them for taking whatever action they need to make this work. If the media buy this back spasm thing, then fantastic. Let the man sort it out.

I could totally be wrong and the story is true. I do not hope there are back spasms because that would mean the next 4 years are going to include frequent trips to the DL.

Here's an interesting thing to note from last night's game from Amalie Benjamin of

Former director of performance enhancement Don Kalkstein was in the clubhouse before the game. Kalkstein used to be the Sox’ sports psychologist, and still consults with the club.

Perhaps this consultant was in the indoor batting cages advising Beckett on his swing?

[Image by dgaproductions via Flickr cc 3.0]

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Beckett May Need A Baseball Shrink

The first three innings for Josh Beckett at Fenway last night were the best three innings I have seen him pitch this season. His fastball was crisp, his cutter had late life and his curveball had crazy 12 to 6 tilt. The aggressive Texan had 6 strikeouts through 3 innings against some very good hitters in the Yankees.

One of the biggest issues he has had this season is with his secondary pitches, particularly his curveball. When it does not have the big vertical hook, it flattens out in the middle of the plate and becomes a 77 MPH batting-practice spinner. I actually thought that pitch was mostly working last night (as evidenced by nice ratio of swing and miss strikes), but a few times (as in the Swisher 3-run homer), it simply disappeared. Despite how poorly this game ended up for him, seeing that curveball dive to the dirt against lefties is encouraging. Remember, he did have 8 strikeouts last night (matching his season high).

The question is, can Beckett put aside all the negativity and bad feelings he has about himself and simply pitch to his ability? In seven starts, he has one win. He should have 3. Two of his three starts were lost by the bullpen. The other four starts, well, they have been horrid.

Like Buchholz with runners on base, Beckett seems to lose some of his trust and confidence and tries to overcompensate by throwing his fastball harder. Beckett has always been an emotional pitcher, and when he is on, he is able to harness it effectively without panic.

Right now, Beckett is in panic mode.

His frustration with not making a few pitches got kind of ugly last night when he pegged Derek Jeter in the back with the bases loaded. That one was obvious. Many people will argue that he tried to hit Cano, but I don't buy it. He had been throwing inside on almost everyone last night, and the cutter to Cano missed and hit him on the knee. Who goes after a guy at the knee? It was a fluke.

He seemed upset by crossing up Varitek with a fastball that hit Tek in that upper shoulder region where there is little protection (when Tek actually called for a curve ball). He was upset at giving up hits, walking a few guys. The whole thing got out of hand quickly with him. I will not be surprised when one of the Yankees pitchers hits Pedroia or Youkilis or Drew in this series. Expect it. It will happen.

As much as I like Francona, my biggest gripe for years has been how long a leash he gives his starters when they are obviously struggling and need to be taken out. Beckett needed to be bailed out after hitting Jeter. He should have been reprimanded privately for intentionally taking his frustration out by giving up runs. If a base open, that is one thing. But with the bases loaded? Unacceptable. Throwing in the towel is unacceptable.

Luckily, this hasn't bitten Francona when it really matters all that much (no Grady Little moment in the playoffs or World Series--maybe Masterson in the playoffs against the Rays in 2008).  But when it comes to Josh Beckett, he may need to revisit his policy on trying to give his "ace" confidence.

Beckett is not an ace right now, and he may need a little time off to figure his mental stuff out. His pitching stuff is not far from being there. He needs to trust that he has it and can get out of jams. Right now, it's pretty obvious he is unable to handle much pressure. It's time to address it head on.

What's the over/under on Beckett winding up on the DL?

[Image by Jeff Valois via Flickr CC 3.0]

Friday, May 07, 2010

Now is the Time

The Sox did it. They buckled down, put the disgraceful Baltimore series behind them, and came back home to sweep the Angels, proving they can still beat up on middling teams when given the chance. The team's battling splits in the last seven days are miles above their 2010 totals: compare .335/.419/.619 (Batting Average/On Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage) to .275/.351/.467, or the tOPS+ of 152 to the season's total tOPS+ of a perfectly average 100. Almost a third of the 40 home runs the team has hit this season have been hit since last Thursday. They're only striking out 18 percent of the time instead of 19 percent, and on and on.

Point is, the Sox are wicked hot with the bats right now and they have the chance to make the Yankees look bad in this coming series, starting with Phil Hughes and his obscenely low ERA. A series win this weekend would be the next step in rebuilding after the craptastic start to this season and demonstrate that Boston actually has the capability to outplay the big teams and make this Summer one of interesting possibilities in what could be a three-way competition for the AL East crown. A series win would be marvelous...

...but that would ignore the iffy pitching situation. Two of the games against Los Angeles were shutdowns where the Sox held the Angels to one run, but two of them were slugging matches where a win came from taking advantage of an LA pitching staff that's even weaker than the one in Boston. The Sox aren't going to get those kind of breaks this weekend without some extraordinary luck, so the pitching needs to step up the way the bats have and keep the Yankees off the bases. Now's the time to make an impact.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Pedroia Defends Papi; Reminds Media of His MVP 'Laser Show'

I love the look on the face of Lil' Shit when he asks the reporter about what happened when he was hitting under .200 a few years ago... Brings new meaning to the idea of a laser show. I love the defense of his teammate and the rejection of the constant struggles of Ortiz.This happened last year, and the guy will hit. And if he doesn't, management will take care of it.

Everyone slumps.

Repeat the mantra: Proven players have earned patience. Proven players have earned patience. Proven players have earned patience.

Laser show is gonna be so rad.

Seeds of Sox Strengths Starting to Sprout

Pitching. Defense. Timely hitting. It's starting to sizzle a bit at Fenway in the way Theo and crew drew it up.

It's been doom and gloom in the baseball column of Sportstown, USA, but the last four games have me feeling a whole lot better than last weekend's meltdown at Camden Yards.

Last weekend's series sweep by B-more was a crying shame. Dice K had it working for four innings in his debut, but then, it became batting practice... It was awful to watch an already-dejected Wakefield enter from the bullpen only to let the O's think they were the Rays. Poor Wake. He may end up back in the rotation if Matsuzaka can't figure it out.

There were, however, two bright spots over the weekend. Two homers in one game from Ortiz and an improved Josh Beckett. Yes, they lost the game he pitched on Sunday, but Beckett pitched nicely: 7 innings, 2 earned runs, 0 walks, 6 strikeouts. Considering what it has been coming from the big Texan, I will take that all day long and then some.

Back at Fenway, it's been a very nice week of beating up on the Angels with the bats and letting the top starters do their thing. Last night, John Lackey threw the best I've seen all season. His fastball moved and it sunk. Lackey's line: 7 innings, 2 hits, 1 earned run, 2 walks, 12 ground ball outs.

Lester was dominate again: 8 innings, 5 hits, 1 run, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts. Buchholz pitched decently, though, he still looks very timid out there at times and gets rattled when there are men on base. His biggest issue in my observation is the same one Beckett has had this season: Throwing strike one. He was saved by crazy offense Monday night when the bats muscled up 17 runs (with Mike Lowell going 4 for 4 with 4 RBIs).

Buch's line: 5.2 innings, 4 earned runs, 8 hits, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts.

Other key things to note: Beltre and Scutaro are showing their value on both sides of the game. Beltre has had two home runs over the last few games (his firsts of the season), and has made some excellent plays at third. Beltre hit a bomb last night to straight away center (over the camera well)  in the 8th inning to give the Sox a 3-1 lead and an insurance run.

Scutaro has been getting on base at a high clip (filling in at lead off for an injured Navajo Jewish Lawyer) and also flashing his skills up the middle and in the hole on defense. It's been refreshing to see both of these guys play up to their talents on the left side of the infield after a few weeks of questionable defense.

Beltre is hitting well-above average at .340, and Scutaro is hitting a nice .288.

So, tonight... Well, the Sox face Scott Kazmir who was good when with the Rays, but now he's all over the place. On the mound for the Fenway Faithful is Andrew Dice K and his 11.57 ERA (not fair, only one start, but damn it was ugly).

Will it be another batting practice or will our $150 million pitcher feel comfortable at home?

BTW: Ortiz hit a single and opposite field home run last night. Hope he keeps it up.

[Image by johnkreese.nomaa via Flickr cc 3.0]

Sunday, May 02, 2010

On the Oddity of Home Run Trots

Joe Posnanski had a post - a few weeks ago now, but I only got around to reading it today - about how the home run trot is the only celebratory moment in sports that's an actual part of the game. To wit:
As far as I know, it’s the only individual celebration that is actually a function of the game. What I mean is: Someone scores scores a goal in soccer, he or she can rip off the shirt, do cartwheels show off the sports bra, run around while shaking both fists — which seems like the official “Yay me!” celebration in European and South American soccer. It doesn’t matter. It’s not part of the game. Touchdown dances, of course, come in all varieties. They’re not part of the game either. Someone scores in hockey, and the game’s structure quite liberal about giving the goal scorer a little freedom to hug teammates and some time to celebrate self. The clock does not run in any of these. There is no direct contact with the action.*

*There are other examples. One in-game celebration is the breakaway dunk.

But in baseball, the celebration is part of the action … you hit a ball over the fence and you are still required, by the rule of the game, to run around the bases to complete the play.
The subconscious understanding of this requirement seems like it could be the source of traditional baseball antipathy to drawn-out home run trots, watching the ball when it leaves the bat, and all of the other things that Manny Ramirez used to do - and probably still does, to be honest - whenever he hit a home run. Those who respect the game, it seems, make sure the ball is on its way out and then go into a trot that's fast enough to demonstrate that they remember that jogging out a dinger is as much a function of the structure of the game (to crib on Joe's phrase) as it is a celebration of achievement. In other words, a properly-placed home run trot is as much a part of good baseball etiquette as hustling down to first.

I bring this up because I just watched J. D. Drew's 5th home run of the season. It was more of a line drive than a fly ball and it had a low enough angle to the field that Adam Jones in center had a shot to catch it. In fact, he almost made the catch: the ball sailed just out of reach, over the wall in left center. On the replay, you could see Drew watching the ball as he ran down to first. Drew isn't much for displays of emotion, as we know, and once he knew the ball was gone he tucked his head down and completed his circuit without giving Jones or the wall a second glance. But for a moment, as he watched the ball sail towards the wall, it almost seemed like he'd put aside wondering whether or not he'd have to go a higher gear to stretch out a double and enjoyed the circumstances that allowed him to celebrate his home run by requiring him to watch it.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Report Card for the Red Sox : D+ to C- With Upside

It hasn't exactly been a full month of Red Sox baseball, nor is my grade of the team exactly scientific, but screw it. If there is anything that drives a baseball fan to blog it's the love of examining the micro, tossing it with everyday observations and then making macro assertions.

The guys who get paid to do this are making lists about the Sox woes, so let's throw our tiny opinions in the till and see where we end up...

It's not a great revelation to say the Red Sox are a well-below average team right now with traces of stinking failure. The concerns are real.

ESPN's Gordon Edes has it right when he lists the Sox woes including: how the team is struggling mightily at DH, how the run differential numbers are quite scary, how throwing-out base runners is horrid, how enigmatic the pitching of Josh Beckett is and the struggles of a taxed bullpen. And those insanely high-performing Rays are smacking the ball around like they are playing slow-pitch softball. They are a ridiculous team. You want to see differentials? The Rays, as Edes pointed out, are outscoring the opposition 120-42.

Despite all these issues, the Red Sox are saved by one thing and one thing alone: The potential talent of proven players. The emphasis is on proven. It's very easy to wallow in the disappointment of expectations in April, but there is so much more that will happen [insert marathon vs. sprint cliche here].

That water coming out of your eyes is not only from the pollen, but from the panic. Get a tissue. Blow your negative nose and take a deep drag off your inhaler. Despite every issue we can pinpoint over a month for this team, patience may still show reward. So breathe.

Let's get a little perspective: An rib-injured Ellsbury hurts a whole lot. But next month, a Ben Zobrist could dive for a ball at The Trop and end up on the DL. A Matt Garza could get hit by a line drive up the middle. CC Fatsackia could rip something other than a bag of pork rinds.While I don't wish injury on anyone, they happen and they happen to every team.

Victor Martinez will heat up. Josh Beckett will turn it around. The bullpen will get more rest. The left side of the infield will improve its defense. Navajo Jewish Lawyer (Ellsbury) will return, and he will eventually swipe bases (though it could be slow going since it's a rib injury).

We will likely be surprised with offense from Beltre, Drew and Ortiz.

Clay Buchholz has been solid. Lester, by evidence of his last outing, could be making a run. There have been some key contributions from Hermida, McDonald and Scutaro. Youk and Lil Shit are money in the bank. Papelbon has saved games. Lackey is a fighter and should get that ERA down and go deeper in games.

We've already seen that this team can beat up on lesser-talented teams. The challenge will be to beat the really good ones. After getting smacked around by the Yanks and Rays, it will serve this team well to wear that smackdown on their shoulders and grind out games.

I truly believe this team will be competitive. Now how about a sweep in Baltimore this weekend?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lester Back to Dominate Form in Shutout, Sox Sweep Jays

Jon Lester had his best outing of the year giving up only 2 hits and striking out 11 Blue Jay batters. He threw 119 pitches over 7 full innings.

The kid was awesome. All of his pitches were moving, biting and hitting spots in the zone.

Moved his cutter in and out, and used the change-up and curve for a ton of swing and miss strikes. Nothing rattled the lefty. When the Jays had runners on and were threatening, Lester was able to muscle his 95 mph fastball past swinging Jays batters.

Lester, who has had problems with walks this season, limited the base-on- balls to only 2 in this outing. A very good sign.

It went Lester for seven, Bard for one, then to Paps for the save (who has 7 saves in 7 opportunities). This is the kind of shutdown pitching we have come to expect from Lester and the power arms in the pen.

Lester dropped his ERA to 4.71.

The Jays lefty starter Brett Cecil stifled the Sox for 6 innings, but gave up a double to Darnell McDonald, who was later knocked in by Lil Shit on a sac fly for the first run of the game. McDonald has been consistently getting on base and contributing.

One thing to note about last night's game was the benching of Ortiz against another lefty starter. V-Mart was the DH and Varitek caught Lester. Is this the trend we should expect to see? Righty bats against lefty starters? Lowell made a number of DH appearances against lefty's and as a pinch hitter.

Ortiz and his lack of production is finding its way to the bench more often than not, as is Varitek behind the dish. It's been hard to ignore Tek's contribution to the offense, but I'm not confident it will sustain the season. I hope he proves me wrong.

With the sweep of Toronto, the Sox move ahead in the standings to third place behind that team from the Bronx and the Rays. Sox are back to .500 at 11-11 behind first place by 5.5 games. In the last 10 games, the Red Sox are 7-3 with a solid road record.

On to Camden in B-More where it will be so very nice to keep the winning-vibe flowing.

The key outing to watch this weekend against the O's will be the return of Dice-K on Saturday. A healthy and effective Matsuzaka could be a welcome distraction from the struggles of Josh Beckett and parts of the bullpen.

[Image by clareperretta via Flickr CC 3.0]

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

For Those of You Who Were Fans of Bay's Glove now get some sort of vindication, thanks to an announcement by the creator of Ultimate Zone Rating that he's revised the UZR formula to better account for ballparks like Fenway that have unusual outfield layouts. Bay and Ellsbury - another member of the negative UZR club - had their 2009 totals increased, with Ellsbury rising from 18.3 runs allowed to a slightly less ugly 10.3 runs allowed, and Bay making the leap from 13.8 runs allowed to a much nicer 1.2 runs prevented.

However, before anyone see this change in formulas as a sign that the Sox screwed up by letting Bay go, don't get too excited: it turns out Theo & Co. have their own formula for measuring defensive capabilities, and they saw both Bay and Ellsbury as being about average in the field. This revelation led John Tomase to conclude that Bay's time in Boston was done earlier than we initially thought:
The new UZR wouldn’t have impacted the Sox’ decision to let Bay walk. Even with the adjustments, Bay is still at minus-55.9 runs lifetime, though part of that can be explained by his 2007 knee surgery.

More importantly, we now know he was as good as gone once contract talks collapsed at the All-Star break over his medicals.
It's an interesting conclusion, though I have to wonder if the deal still had a chance until the two parties realized they were nowhere near meeting on price.

Someone Actually Shorter Than Pedroia on Sox Roster

Before last night's 2-1 win in Toronto, Dustin Pedroia (aka 'Lil' Shit' in my vernacular) evidently stood back-to-back to lefty Pawtucket call-up Fabio Castro and discovered to his scrappy delight that Castro was a slightly shorter man, according to

Castro is listed as 5' 7"; Pedroia is officially listed as 5' 9" but as the Globe reporters noted,  Pedroia the Destroia was only a little taller than Castro. Castro prompted number 15 to call him his "favorite pitcher of all time."

In related news, Castro was sent back to the Rhode Island team today to make room for--wait for it--Alan Embree. Yeh, he was money in the bank in the 2004 playoffs and World Series if I recall, but he was also roughed up quite a bit in the regular seasons he pitched with the Sox. Given the recent woes of Okageemah and the pen in general, another lefty could be helpful.

Embree, 40, pitched for Colorado last year and had an ERA of 5.84 in 24.2 innings.

Nervous yet? I am.

Buchholz Very Effective in Toronto
As far as the 2-1 Buchholz win last night, the young Texan gave the bullpen a much needed rest after Monday's Beckett implosion hitfest. Buch went 8 innings and gave up one run in the first inning. He pitched to contact outs and saw some good defense behind him from Scutaro who was likely feeling comfortable in the "Sky Mall" where he played last year.

Buch pitched out of jams well getting a ton of fly ball and ground outs and lowering his ERA to 2.19 for the best in the rotation. Given that Shaun Marcum was stifling Sox hitters, Buchholz kept the team in the game.

Mike Lowell, who pinch hit for Ortiz late in the game, took a bases-loaded walk that brought Lil' Shit (who went 2 for 5) home for the eventual win. Ramirez closed the game.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Love for Manny Fading in LA?

Funny post over at Vin Scully Is My Homeboy--a solid Dodgers fan blog--about how Manny went back to L.A. to treat his strained calf while his team was playing the Nationals in Washington.

Evidently, Manny was so bored being at home--while his team played an extra innings game in D.C.-- he needed to do some shopping at a BestBuy in Pasadena (which one commenter claimed was to buy The Sopranos dvds).

The woman who snapped this pic now finds Manny despicable. KellyKelll wrote on her TwitPic:

Official manny hatter!!! Uhhhh dodgers are in extra innings and he is "hurt" shopping at my store. Uhhh

In defense of most of the other Dodger fans commenting on the site, they generally don't see the big deal as long as he gets his treatments. Most Red Sox fans would have been sending him death threats and calling for his trade (until the playoffs when we loved him).

I still miss his swing and Yankee killing.

At least he wasn't spotted at one of the many medical marijuana spots in Cali. He must send someone out to fetch for those treatments.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Red Sox Pitching Is A Big Fat Mess Right Now

A 4-1 lead was squandered Sunday by the Red Sox bullpen for a 7-6 loss in 10 innings. The Oki-Doke gave up a bomb to Miguel Tejada and the pen went south from there. Sunday suckage.

The offense--which has looked anemic at times (especially during the Rays series)-- was a bit more clutch during the Orioles and Rangers series, but it can't play comeback kings every day. At least some of the key-injury replacements in Hermida and McDonald have been producing for Navajo Jewish Lawyer (Ellsbury) and swing-and-miss Mike (Cameron). But as Mazz rightly pointed out, run differentials in the last week were abysmal. He wrote:

In six games against the Orioles and Texas Rangers, the Sox scored 32 runs … and allowed 32. (For the sabermetricians: that’s a run differential of zero.) All four Boston victories were by a single run and both Boston defeats came in games in which they were leading or tied entering the seventh inning.

The bigger and more alarming issue is the pitching. When I say pitching, I mean all of it: Starters and relievers. The numbers don't lie: Walks are way up for everyone. Earned run averages are bloated. They all seem to be struggling to keep opponents off the bases and out of scoring position.

Don't think the starters are that bad so far? Four out of the 5 in the rotation have ERAs over 5. OVER 5! Only Buchholz is showing solid starter numbers so far at 2.70--and not one reliever has an ERA under 2. Surprisingly, Manny Delcarmen has the best ERA of all relievers at 2.16.

Here's an ERA breakdown of starters and key relievers:

Lester: 6.23
Beckett: 5.26
Lackey: 5.09
Wakefield: 5.40
Okajima: 4.70
Ramirez: 7.56
Papelbon: 2.70

Feel free to argue that it's really early and these guys have spring kinks to work out. I would agree except for another major statistical problem: Walks. Add to that the inability to throw runners out and you have intense pressure on pitchers to either get strikeouts or pitch to contact. Contact has not been leading to enough outs.

Look at these walk numbers (BB per 9 innings):

Beckett: 3.51
Lackey: 3.52
Lester: 5.40
Buchholz: 3.78
Wakefield: 2.88
Papelbon: 7.20
Delcarmen: 6.48
Okajima: 4.70

So while the Red Sox took two of three in the last two series, the numbers are tough to swallow. Don't be surprised to see some bullpen moves from Theo soon. For starters, Wakefield moves to the pen as Dice K is due to pitch this coming weekend at Camden Yahds in B-More.

Time to beat up on the bottom rung of the AL East.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Rest My Case

Sure, Wakefield didn't pitch particularly well and after the first inning it seemed like they weren't going to score again until the next game (maybe), but then the bullpen came together, the offense broken their 0-for-32 with RISP streak, and the defense didn't commit any errors.

Well, unless you count those nine stolen bases.

But the stolen bases were in the first half of the game, right? The bad half of the game, where it seemed like Boston was going to lose its sixth straight game and look pretty terrible in the process. The good half of the game was pretty awesome, because the ratio of runs given up to runs scored suddenly flipped, the score tied up, and a 31-year-old AAAA player named Darnell McDonald who had just came up from Pawtucket to replace the injured Ellsbury got to be a hero twice. In fact, he got to be a hero by bashing opposite field balls over and off the Monster, so not only is the guy giving the Sox their first piece of good news in a long time an underdog hero, but he did it in the old-school Red Sox style.

So: take away the day games and suddenly the Sox get a win. So my theory clearly has merit. Especially after I conveniently ignore that the two pitchers who served up the heapin' helping of come-from-behind victory were Darren Oliver (of long-standing Red Sox infamy) and Frank Francisco, who as a closer has more hits than strikeouts and innings put together. Hopefully the Sox will ignore those two as well and use the confidence boost from last night's win to get back on the victory bandwagon.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stop the (Day Game) Insanity!

I have a theory about Boston's current streak of sucktastitude, their 4 and 9 start, their 5 game losing streak, their 1 and 6 home record, their 3 for their last 10, and it has nothing to do with voodoo like team slumps or lack of gelling or anything crazy like that. No, the real problem is a preponderance of day games.

Bear with me, I have a half serious theory on this one.

Six out of the first thirteen games took place during the day (including some weekend games), which was fun for me because it meant I got to listen to baseball at work, but seems to have been absolutely awful for the Sox, because they lost most of them. They even lost the Patriots' Day game - where the Sox have the advantage because that game is so bloody early - and lost it so badly that Paul Revere is probably still spinning in his grave from shock. And besides coincidence, here's why day games matter: strong defense requires stealth, and stealth cannot be accomplished without the dark of night. Unlike our Baltimorean neighbors in the standings, the Red Sox are not a .300 team; it'll just take a few less day games to start that climb back to respectability.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

If The Blue Jays Win the A.L. East, I Will Eat a Cockroach

You will be wasting your time if you save a roach for me to eat, people.

The Jays--while a fine Canadian organization with good fans--are about as likely to win the AL East as the Mets are to win the NL East. It's called pitching, and the Jays and Mets don't have enough of it to go around.

After 8 games, however, the Roy Halladay-less Blue Jays have been tearing the cover off the ball with odd contributions from a power-hitting Alex Gonzalez (with 4 dingers in a week) and a hot Vernon Wells. They are 6-2. Enjoy the fall from the top, kids-in-the-skymall or whatever the hell that place is called.

Our beloved Red Sox are playing .500 ball and currently sitting above the Baltimore Orioles in 4th place. It means about as much as having a wrinkled grandpa Steven Tyler belch out "God Bless America" at Fenway on opening night. I don't want to disparage Aerosmith's contribution to 1970's hard rock, but at this point, he can't sing worth a damn. Go back to Lynn and endorse Kelly's Roast Beef or something. That dude looks more and more like an old lady with every passing season.

It's early to make any definitive arguments about the Red Sox, but some of the concerns I had are increasingly becoming evident. Mike Cameron has a long hill to climb before he gets my support. I want contact hitters, not chase and miss guys. His defense is nice, but Ellsbury should not have lost his job after the plays he made and his contribution at the top of the lineup.

Call it "defense" when you want to save some coin with the Cameron signing. I can live with the savings as long as V-Mart is locked up and everything in their power is done to get Adrian Gonzalez at the trade deadline.

Sox could have signed Jermaine Dye, kept Ellsbury in center and had another big bat in the lineup. Probably could have had Dye on a nice one year deal. Offense matters in close games too, but as long as that money is put to good use elsewhere I can scream at the tv and Mike Cameron for a year I guess.

Beltre and Hermida are looking like good fits (and I expect Hermida to get more playing time). Beltre could take a few more pitches too for walks, but hard to complain when he has been hitting. He's hitting .375 with 6 RBIs and no walks in 24 at bats.

Scutaro has been decent too at the plate, but his glove and arm are not impressing me yet. I hope that changes.

Ortiz looks lost again early, especially against fastballs, but he has had a few opposite field hits (both against Twins), so patience is key. I said it last year after guys like Bill Simmons said his career was over: He can still hit. He will hit. Get off his large Dominican back.

He's not the same guy since Manny took the chronic train to Chavez Ravine. He's not the same guy since the wrist injury. And about the roids (aka "vitamins and supplements"): he did them at one point, but he showed real resilience last year. He finished as one of the hottest hitters in the league by the end. Without him, Sox do not make the playoffs last year. Basta. Enough. The man will hit.

The most surprising thing to see so far is the Sox pitching. It's all over the place. Lackey has looked good, but Beckett and Lester have not been particularly solid. And the bullpen? Not sure what is happening there. Bard and Papelbon need to get their other pitches working because guys are sitting fastball all day long. It has hurt them a little already.

So now what? More Twins at Target Field tomorrow and then 4 against the Rays at Fenway which should be tough. Rays are a very talented team.

Also, the Yankees are still the best team in baseball. I don't like admitting that, but they have a lot of balance. I don't envy a pitcher who has to face that lineup from top to bottom.

Go Sox.