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.