Thursday, December 20, 2007

Checking Back In

The work piled up higher than I expected, so this will be my first entry in about three weeks. Sorry about that but that's how it is. Now that I'm done with school yet still stuck here until tomorrow because of yet another snowstorm, why not check in with a blog on the happening (and non-happenings) since you've last heard from me? It's not like I have anything better to do.

I'll briefly address the Mitchell Report, lots of people have been asking me for my take. In general I try to stay away from the steroids stuff because I'm more interested in what is actually happening on the field than anything else. The Mitchell Report, in my opinion, was about as useful a document as a Larry King marriage certificate. Buster Olney has covered this, but the report did nothing to show why the steroid culture of the '90s spread so rampantly, and did not pin any blame directly on anyone within baseball. I would have been fine if the report included answers to those questions and the series of recommendations that were actually in it. The "naming of names," most of which came from hearsay, served absolutely no tangible purpose in helping the game move on, which is what the report should have been about. I guess we were all wrong to expect more from Bud Selig.

As for Roger Clemens, if he really did not do all the things alleged in the report, he absolutely must use everything at his disposal to clear his name. Corroborative evidence against Brian McNamee's testimony, testifying before Congress, suing Mitchell for libel, taking a polygraph test; whatever it takes. Of course, I actually do believe what was in the report about him, it was something we all suspected for years. Now, instead of thinking of Clemens as a lying, arrogant, dirtbag mercenary, I can think of him as a lying, arrogant, cheating, dirtbag mercenary. So it's not all bad for me personally.

Moving on to more important things. The winter meetings wound up really just being a whole bunch of nothing in regards to the Johan Santana discussions. Not much has changed since the meetings ended, with the Red Sox leaving two very good offers on the table and the Yankees lurking around somewhere in the background. I'd still love to see it happen but I'm perfectly content to go into this season with the team they have as well.

The big news of winter meetings was the blockbuster trade of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers for star young lefty Andrew Miller, CF uber-prospect Cameron Maybin and four other players of minimal note. Taking chances on these two highly-touted, highly-expensive draft prospects in the 2005 and 2006 drafts paid off bigtime for Detroit, as they were able to turn them into veteran talent and make them instant World Series contenders. In Cabrera, the Tigers add perhaps the best young power slugger in the game not named Prince Fielder. Finishing in the top ten in OPS in the NL each of the last three seasons, his most comparable hitter by age to this point in his career is Hank Aaron. Now, he's moving from a terrible park for right-handed hitters to one that will much better suit him. There's a lot of issues about Cabrera's often brutal defense at third base, and there was some discussion around the time of the trade that he'd move back to the outfield. For now, the Tigers will keep him at third as they shop Brandon Inge (if Inge takes away his trade demand, he automatically becomes the best utility man in the league and gives the Tigers a huge advantage as a late-game defensive replacement. I'm sure he could still catch if needed as well).

Getting Willis in the deal was a good gamble for the Tigers as well. It's conceivable he could regain his stuff and revert back to his 2005 dominance, but he is going from the NL East to the AL Central, which is not likely to result in short-term success. Today news came out that Willis had agreed to an extension with the Tigers, one that buys out his last two years of arbitration and first year of free agency at around $10 million a season. As Tim Dierkes put it today over at MLBTR, around $10 million a year seems to be the going rate for an innings eater. In fact, that rate might be a slight bargain considering that it appears Carlos Silva is about to sign for 4/48 with the Mariners, and I'd think Willis' upside right now is a hell of a lot more than Silva's. In three years, it might be that $10 million is an even bigger bargain, especially if Willis does find his 2005 form. At the same time, I wonder if the Tigers will regret not waiting a year to see if Willis can pitch in the AL Central before giving him an extension. It's not like they have anything to lose since he could not have become a free agent until after 2009 anyway. Either way, the money won't set the Tigers back too far.

Miller and Maybin both have major star potential, as I think it's possible Miller will outpitch Willis in 2008. Maybin has been called the "next Griffey" by some, but his swing is awfully long and will likely never get the chance to play in Triple-A to work on it. At least he can say he got his first career hit off Clemens if things don't work out. Overall I'm fairly confident the Tigers won this trade solely based on acquiring Cabrera to cement the most potent offense in the AL, even more potent than the Yankees. The questions about their pitching depth, both in the rotation and the bullpen, keep me from calling them the favorites in the division in 2008. It's pretty close right now between them and Cleveland, and the offseason is still far from over. This trade also totally depletes the Detroit farm system, which now can only sport 2007 draft steal Rick Porcello as a blue-chipper.

Out west, Billy Beane finally decided to pull the trigger on moving Dan Haren, shipping him off to the D'Backs for a bevy of young players. Of the players they got back, only OF prospect Carlos Gonzalez looks like he might be a star, with lefty starter Brett Anderson also primed for a top-of-the-rotation future. I was a bit surprised to see him deal his best pitcher for a package of quantity over quality, but Beane is a mad genius and maybe knows something about one or two of the other guys he got back that we don't. For the Diamondbacks, Josh Byrnes did a phenomenal job getting a frontline starter without disrupting much of his 2008 club. The rest of the National League must be shuddering at the thought of Haren being teamed up with Brandon Webb for the next three years at well below market value (with 2010 options included, these two guys will cost a total of $36.75 million for Arizona. Holy shit.) and they'll also have Randy Johnson ready in spring for one last go-round. With a young, developing lineup centered around Chris Young, Justin Upton, and Stephen Drew, these Diamondbacks seem poised to sit atop the NL West for many years to come.

I'm already tuckered out by all this. Happy Holidays everyone.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Winter Meetings Eve

Tomorrow the best and brightest of baseball's world will converge on the Opryland Hotel in Nashville for that annual week of transaction madness, better known as the Winter Meetings. This is one of my favorite times of the entire year, and for baseball hot stove junkies like me, this provides a glimpse of the warm spring to come during the coldest days of winter. There is plenty to talk about, and it begins with Johan Santana.

I've been following the negotiations intently for the past week or so. Once again, these sweepstakes have become a battle between the superpowers of the game, the Red Sox and Yankees. What we know right now are the following: the Sox have decided to include Jacoby Ellsbury in their offer, but they have removed Jon Lester. Their proposal right now most likely is Ellsbury, minor league shortstop Jed Lowrie, and one of Justin Masterson or Michael Bowden, both minor league right-handed hurlers. The Yankees have put their future ace Phil Hughes on the table along with their regular CF Melky Cabrera. The third prospect in their offer is still undecided, but some potential players include minor league OFs Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata or pitchers Alan Horne and Ross Ohlendorf. The Red Sox could put Lester back in their proposal but they'd demand another player back from the Twins as a result. The Yankees have set a deadline for tomorrow to get a deal done, but absolutely no one believes they would adhere to that.

So what do I think? I was pretty against the Red Sox making a move if it meant giving up either Ellsbury or Clay Buchholz in a trade. The Twins made it clear they wanted nothing to do with Coco Crisp and the $10.5 million still guaranteed on his deal. The only way the Red Sox would get Santana would be to include a position player of Ellsbury's talent and upside. I've decided that the current Red Sox offer is just about right. They are giving the Twins young, talented hitters in Lowrie and Ellsbury that they desperately need much more than pitching (the Twins are pretty deep in starting pitching). At the same time, the Twins may want that solid starter in return that could replace Santana right now. That would leave the Yankees to give up Hughes, whom I think is the best player in either offer. And all along I've felt the Red Sox were in this to make the Yankees give up a ton of players and money for the player the Sox don't really need. The inclusion of Ellsbury does mean the Sox are playing hardball, but it's still not an end-all offer and the Twins could easily take the Yankees offer.

If the Red Sox do trade Ellsbury, it will likely be unpopular amongst the less-learned denizens of the Nation (of which there are many). "How could we give up Ellsbury? The guy just helped win us a World Series! He's the effing man!" For those that will say this, take a look at some incredible Santana stats from the past few seasons, courtesy of ESPN's Jayson Stark. Over the last four years Santana has led the AL each year in fewest baserunners allowed, a feat that had never been accomplished before. Also in that span, Santana became the first pitcher in history to finish either first or second in the league in strikeouts for four consecutive years. He also has a better career K/9 than many of the games best closers (JJ Putz and Huston Street are both at 9.14 and Joe Nathan is at 9.10, while Santana's is a staggering 9.50). These three stats that I have just listed are truly astounding. His recent four year-stretch of dominance is almost on par with what Pedro accomplished between 1997 and 2001, and Red Sox fans remember what that was like. Unlike Pedro, Santana does not have a fragile body or arm and is poised to pitch well deep into his 30s. He's got three plus-plus pitches, including one of the best change-ups in history. In short, Johan Santana is the best pitcher in the world.

We tend to fall in love with young players and prospects with a world of potential. But it's easy to forget sometimes that these guys are "prospects," guys who still need to prove themselves. Given his performance during the final six games of the Red Sox World Series title run, I'm fairly certain Ellsbury is going to be an All-Star caliber player for many years to come. Johan Santana, on the other hand, has nothing left to prove except whether he can anchor a World Championship team. One day in the future, barring injury or bewildering ineffectiveness, Santana will likely take his spot in Cooperstown as one of the most dominant pitchers in history. If this guy is worth giving up a young, talented prospect for, then I don't know who is. There are very few players that I would give up Ellsbury for, but Santana is unequivocally one of them.

So I say we do it. Give Santana an extension and create the best pitching staff ever. I can't see any team in baseball stopping the Red Sox if their top two starters are Josh Beckett and Johan Santana. Also, this would force the Yankees to engage Billy Beane in trade talks about Dan Haren. Good luck on not getting completely screwed on that one. I think I've said enough on this topic.

Elsewhere, the meetings will likely be a hotbed of trade chatter, given the lack of attractive free agent options. The Miguel Cabrera-to-Angels talk has quited down mostly because the Marlins are being relentless in their demands. Lemme get this straight: they want Howie Kendrick, Jeff Mathis, Nick Adenhart, AND Ervin Santana? Why didn't they ask for Vlad and K-Rod while they were at it? If the idiots running the Florida front office come to their senses there will probably be a deal this week. There are rumblings that the Indians are prepared to make a run at the Pirates' Jason Bay, which would be a huge get for them in that competitive division. Look for there to much talk about Miguel Tejada, Scott Rolen, Dontrelle Willis, and maybe even Jose Reyes.

I'll try to update this as much as I can, but the work is piling up, so it might not be easy. You'll hear from me for sure whenever anything major happens.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Free Agent/Trade Predictions, Part 2

Before I get to my next batch of offseason predictions, I'll need to address the unlikelihood of one of my picks from earlier in the week. At some time tomorrow I would guess that Alex Rodriguez will have finalized a massive new deal with the Yankees that will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $275-$300 million over ten years. It appears that A-Rod kissed and made up with the Steinbrenners and now looks poised to man the hot corner during the infancy of the new Yankee Stadium. I guess we shouldn't be surprised, all along the Yankees were the team with the most money and now they will continue to have the highest paid player in baseball. Scott Boras' posturing about a $350 million contract ended up being all hogwash, and now baseball's super agent looks pretty bad for not getting his client what he hypothesized.

It would appear this would pave the way for a re-signing of Mike Lowell, but the Empire isn't done throwing large sums of money at corner infielders just yet. Tonight it is being reported that the Yankees have offered Lowell between $56-$60 million over four years to switch positions and play first base in the Bronx. As I said last time, the Red Sox did not and will not budge from their three-year offer for the World Series MVP. I've got to be honest; if the Yankees want to go to four years and that much money, and want to move him off the position at which he is Gold Glove-caliber, and bring him into a stadium where his numbers will be significantly worse than at Fenway, then by all means, the Red Sox should let the Yankees take him and happily accept the 28th overall pick in the 2008 draft in return. One thing you cannot possibly fault the Red Sox for in recent years is their willingness to set a value on a player and stick to it. I'm still surprised the Sox did decide to go past two years with Lowell.

Don't get me wrong, I love Mike Lowell as much as the next obsessive Red Sox fan. I know that after the World Series I implied that I wanted the team to do whatever it took to keep him around. But in retrospect, Lowell is going to be 34 at the start of next season. Do I really want to the Sox to handicap themselves into an unmovable mess of a contract if Lowell's skills diminish in Year Two of a four year pact? I mean, it's bad enough that they already have J.D. Drew's deal around their necks if this past year wasn't an aberration. Should the Red Sox make that mistake again? Let the Yankees make that mistake, again, if they want to. If they do sign Lowell, they'll have quite the logjam at the 1B/DH/LF positions, forcing them to deal off either Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui to make it work. Isn't it possible that in a few years the Yankees will have a whole TEAM full of guys who can only play first or DH? Good luck on that one.

Again, don't get me wrong: I want Lowell to stay with the Sox. He's a class act, a true professional, a phenomenal defender, and has a swing built for Fenway Park. Sure, by the time he's 37 he might not be that great of a player anymore. The Red Sox, however, have no viable options in the minor leagues to step in, nor do they want to move their Gold Glove first baseman back across the diamond to fill the void, nor are they willing to trade their valuable young commodities to another organization for the likes of Miguel Cabrera or Miguel Tejada. The best they could do would be to trade Coco Crisp for someone like Hank Blalock, a move that would excite absolutely no one in the Northeast. Despite all this, I still feel the Sox would do one of these things should Lowell go elsewhere and it would work out fine. Given the lack of interest from the Phillies and the difficulty of hitting in other parks competing for his services, Lowell needs Boston more than Boston needs Lowell. Therefore, I think the Red Sox have done their best to try and keep Lowell at their price. Either he takes it or he doesn't, and if not, they'll take the draft pick and move on. Getting into a bidding war on this particular player is a bad idea.

On to some more predictions:

Bartolo Colon - Mariners. It's hard to believe only a couple years ago that Colon was hands-down the best pitcher in the American League. Now he'll probably sign an incentive-laden one-year deal with a team so he can gain some value and try to hit it big next offseason. Any team willing to take on Colon will be taking a huge risk given his health/conditioning concerns. I think the Mariners are such a team, considering their decision to bring in Jeff Weaver last offseason to mixed results. The Mariners need to have it written in the contract that Colon can only visit his local McDonald's twice a week.

Francisco Cordero - Houston. Ladies and gentlemen, the Ed Wade Era in Houston has begun! I can't imagine the phone conversations GMs around baseball must have had after finding out Wade dealt off prime closer Brad Lidge for a sack of potatoes and a six-pack of Natural Ice. The previous GM of the Astros, Tim Purpura, never seemed willing to give up Lidge for anything less than top-flight talent. I know the Red Sox tried to get him, and the price always seemed way too high for a guy that is often unhittable but is also prone to the gopher ball. Within a month of getting the job, Wade, who was run out of Philly on a rail a couple years ago, shipped Lidge to his former employers as if to say, "Sorry I was such a bad GM for you guys. Here's my best reliever and all I want back is an overrated burner, a burned-out reliever, and a prospect no one has never heard of." To compensate, I expect baseball know-nothing Drayton McClane to open up his wallet for Wade to spend on Cordero. It only makes sense at this point. I had also expected the 'Stros to take a chance on Mike Cameron, but since acquiring Michael Bourn in the Lidge trade I don't see that happening anymore.

Tom Glavine - Atlanta. Another popular pick this offseason. There's a lot of incentive for Glavine to head back to the Braves: his family still lives there, he gets to team up with Smoltz one last time, and he gets to continue to climb his way up the record books in the uniform that brought him fame and fortune. Had the Red Sox failed to sign Schilling, I would have loved to see the Sox bring in the Billerica product to be that veteran presence on the pitching staff. Of course, I'm forgetting a major fact here, which is that Glavine really doesn't have that much left. Some are saying he will be lucky to get through another whole season. If he didn't want to go back to Atlanta I don't see why he declined $13 million to play another season for the Mets. Glavine has never been one to turn down a large sum of money given his long-standing leadership in the Player's Association. He wants to go back home for 2008 and wait for that call from Cooperstown in five years.

I had originally predicted that Barry Bonds would sign with the Padres, but now that he's finally been indicted on federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges, I now honestly believe we've seen Bonds play in the Majors for the last time. Any team willing to take a chance on Bonds right now is either criminally insane or run by Ed Wade.

I've also got Kyle Lohse replacing Glavine with the Mets, Carlos Silva taking big money to replace Kenny Rogers in Detroit, Paul Lo Duca heading back to South Florida to play for the Marlins, and Japanese stars Kosuke Fukudome and Hiroki Kuroda landing with the Cubs and Mariners, respectively. Now I'm going to move on to four trade candidates, and where I think they will end up.

Coco Crisp - Twins. Minnesota will bid farewell to Torii Hunter this winter and can welcome Crisp as his replacement. Red Sox fans all across the Nation are willing to help Coco pack his bags following Jacoby Ellsbury's performance over the final six games of the 2007 playoffs. Signing Coco to that very team-friendly contract extension during the 2006 season will end up being a savvy move by Theo Epstein as most any team in baseball will be able to afford the $10.5 million still owed on Crisp's deal (with an $8 million team option for 2010). The Twins seem like a natural fit, but my only concern is that the Red Sox have been asking a lot for Crisp thus far and I'm not sure what the Twins can offer. Just getting one reliever like Juan Rincon or Dennys Reyes back in the deal doesn't seem like enough. The Red Sox are in a good position here, and can wait until the dust clears on center field free agent signings before they make a move with Crisp.

Miguel Tejada - Orioles. Once again, Miguel Tejada will bitch about the losing culture in Baltimore that he just so happened to will himself into (the $72 million had nothing to do with his decision, apparently), and demand to be traded. Once again, Baltimore brass will canvass the masses and ask far too much for a loud-mouth hitter that can longer admirably play shortstop. Once again, no one will take the bait. Once again, Tejada will enter spring training donning the orange and white of Baltimore. And once again, the Orioles will suck. Doesn't this make anyone else sad?

Miguel Cabrera - Dodgers. This prediction was based on my belief that the Angels would sign A-Rod. With recent developments, the Cabrera sweepstakes are wide open, and based on some reports coming out of LA today, it appears that the Angels may be in the lead. I expected the Dodgers to finally put together a deal to bring in a big bopper with all the pieces they have: Matt Kemp, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, James Loney, Jonathon Broxton, and even some others on the table as well. The Dodgers have been shy to involve these players in any trade talks, while the Angels are ready talk about putting up previously untouchable players like Howie Kendrick, Brandon Wood and Nick Adenhart to get Cabrera. I expect this trade to happen either way around the time of the Winter Meetings.

Johan Santana - Twins. I actually do think Santana will be traded. Now before you jump all over me for the incongruity of those last two statements, I only have Minnesota as his destination at the outset of the 2008 season because I have no idea who will trade for Santana. The Yankees are a logical fit, but they are unwilling to part with their young troika of Hughes, Chamberlain and Kennedy (sounds like a bad law firm). Maybe whichever LA team loses out on Cabrera can cash in their chips for Santana instead. If you're the Twins, don't you have to deal away your most prized possession while you still can? It's not possible to sign him long-term, and if they don't trade him they'll left with nothing to show for it when he departs after making $13 million this season. Someone will pay the price to get the guarantee of 230 innings of Johan each year once they sign him to an extension.

This looks to be a great offseason. I'll be checking in quite often with analysis of moves/non-moves that will affect how the 2008 MLB season plays out.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Free Agent/Trade Predictions

I figured I'd check in at the end of this long weekend with some of my feelings on where the winter's most coveted free agents and trade candidates will end up. Tonight at midnight, teams lose exclusive negotiating rights with their free agents, allowing those players to finally talk dollars with other teams. Tomorrow, the real offseason begins as most of the activity will take place between now and Christmas, with the Winter Meetings taking place December 3-6. I entered in a couple online contests with my picks and felt like sharing some with you right now.

Alex Rodriguez - Angels. It seems like too perfect of a fit to not happen. A-Rod gets to move back to the West Coast and play in a region where his every move won't be scrutinized by an invasive sports media and unappreciative fans. After watching the Angels in the playoffs, it's clear their biggest need is offense. Plus, there can be an ongoing debate between A-Rod and Vlad about who is a more inept postseason hitter.

Torii Hunter - Rangers. Every expert and learned baseball prognosticator feels this is the most sure thing of this winter, and I agree. Hunter's Arkansas home isn't too far away, and the Rangers always seem willing to throw their financial weight around at veterans. In that ballpark I don't see why Hunter can't have a major offensive resurgence and be a top-tier player for years to come.

Mike Lowell - Red Sox. I highly doubt Lowell will accept the Red Sox offer of three years and between $36-$45 million without seeing what else is out there. It's his right and I hope the Red Sox don't get offended by it. The market for Lowell is pretty good, and the Yankees have been somewhat vocal in their feeling that he will return to Boston, which isn't a good sign. That seems to be a Yankee tactic, swooping in and taking a player they say publicly they can't get or don't want. The Phillies don't seem to want to give up their draft pick, and who knows what other teams will do. In the end I feel the Sox will do whatever it takes to keep their 2007 team MVP in the fold for at least another three years.

Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera - Yankees. Both of these guys seem to want to stay with the Bombers, and that interest is mutual. I'm fairly certain if Rivera accepts the reported three years and $40 million offered by the Yankees it might be the worst contract ever given to a 38 year old reliever who is not likely to get better over that period of time. Posada might also be in bad shape at age 40 if he gets four years and somewhere around $15 million per year. But this is what it's like when you're the Yankees.

Andruw Jones - Dodgers. I'm pretty much guessing on this one, but if the Dodgers don't want to spend the cash on A-Rod they can look to get Jones at a discount. Boras will be pushing for a big deal but I don't see it with Jones coming off a .222 average for Atlanta. Hell, if no one bites Boras could just throw Jones out there for a one year pact to reestablish his value. If Jones hits anything like his former self in 2008, he could be one of the better bargains of this offseason. For the Dodgers, the only snafu I see is the potential of having Juan Pierre move to left field. And no one wants that.

Aaron Rowand - White Sox. A reunion on the South Side is likely if Kenny Williams is willing to dole out the dough. The Phillies were discouraged to learn that it would take $84 million to keep Rowand around and with so much money tied up elsewhere they seem willing to hand the reigns over to Shane Victorino next in 2008. I think the White Sox will be looking to right their mistakes of shipping off both Rowand and Chris Young after winning the World Series in 2005 and finally get some stability in centerfield as a result.

More to come later in the week.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

World Series Thoughts

This is going to be a short entry because I'm pretty tired but I wanted to put something here about the Sox and their awesome run to another World Championship. I was so glad to be home for the final three games of the series and I got to experience the win with family and friends in the place that bred my love for baseball and this team. When Seth Smith flailed at the final Jon Papelbon fastball, I rejoiced and did something that I didn't even do when the Red Sox won in 2004.

I cried.

It has been such a long grind of a season, a team made up of unproven rookies and hungry veterans, some who far exceeded or fell far below expectations and still found a way to win 96 regular season games, come back down 3-1 to the Indians and then dispatch the Rockies in the blink of an eye. I was with them from the first pitch of spring training all the way until Sunday night, and the release of emotions came following seven months of holding my breath with this team. I was there earlier this month when Josh Beckett, the Ace of Aces, pitched his heart out for nine innings and brought the Fenway Faithful to their feet one strikeout after another. That night I could tell that something special was happening. They lost their way for three games against Cleveland, but they found it again at just the right time. They needed to be tested if they were going to be champions, and they passed the test to show all of us what the collective power of team and unity can accomplish just as they did three Octobers ago.

Mike Lowell was a deserving MVP, considering he was the MVP of the team over the course of the entire season, but there was a bevy of players that could have laid claim to the trophy. The Red Sox rookie trio (Jacoby Ellsbury, Hideki Okajima, Dustin Pedroia) could not have taken to the spotlight better in the World Series. All four of the Red Sox starters turned in solid showings, including Jon Lester's inspirational outing in the clincher that put the entire series in perspective. Throughout the playoffs, Manny was Manny, and Papi was Papi. Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew overcame the difficulty of their regular seasons to become integral parts of the Sox playoff success. And finishing the games was the wild-eyed closer, Jonathon Papelbon, rested from the regular season and able to go 6 1/3 innings over the final five games. As a friend of mine suggested, the Red Sox don't have a franchise player, they have a franchise team.

The Sox are built up to get back to the Fall Classic many times in the near future. Given the makeup of this team and its ownership, I can't imagine why they won't do it. It's imperative the Sox keep Lowell this offseason. It's not my money, and if it takes four years, screw it. At least we know the effort will always be there. Let some team out West take on 10 years of A-Rod. I won't have anything to do with the guy after the classless display his agent put on Sunday night.

Mostly, I think my emotions came out because I care so deeply about this team, and in effect, the game itself. If it wasn't for baseball, we wouldn't have been subject to Pedroia's inner fire, to Youkilis' unstoppable drive, to Papelbon's burning energy (and killer dance moves). We'd never know about Big Papi's smile, Beckett's glare, and Manny's flowing locks. We could never learn about Tito's calm, Schilling's nerve, and Lester's courage. If it wasn't for baseball, all of our lives would be that much less enriched. And while the tears came down early Monday morning, all I could think was how blessed I was that I had been born with baseball running through my veins, that the one thing I cared about most when I was six can still dominate my thoughts all these years later. As a Red Sox fan, we all feel like we're a part of what's happening. And I can honestly say that being a part of the 2007 Red Sox was a blessing that I'll never forget and never take for granted.

Stay tuned to this blog all winter, because starting next week you will start getting my opinions on all the happenings of the Hot Stove.

Red Sox report to spring training in 107 days. Just thought you might like to know.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

World Series Preview

On the eve of the 103rd World Series, I present to you my preview of this year's Fall Classic. The Nation is rejoicing after yet another October comeback, while the Rocky Mountain gang will have eight full days to rest for the World Series. The Red Sox and the Rockies will face off Wednesday night at Fenway to decide this year's World Champion. As I've done in the past, I'm going to break down the series with each aspect of each club and then give my prediction. But I'll break the suspense for you right now: the Sox are winning this series. Big shock to all of you I'm sure.

Starting Pitching: I'm about to start sounding like a broken record with this for the rest of my preview, but the Red Sox certainly win out in the experience department over the Rockies with starting pitching. Josh Beckett has cemented himself as the best big-game postseason pitcher of his generation, carrying the Sox in a must-win Game 5 in Cleveland to continue the series. Following Beckett will be Curt Schilling, who also continued to live up to his postseason reputation with a great Game 6 at Fenway. I'm a little leery of him pitching on four days rest in Game 2, but he should be alright. I'm more worried about Dice-K going in Game 3 at Coors Field, but the spotlight should hopefully continue to bring out the best in him. Looks like Jon Lester will get his first postseason start in Game 4, but he pitched well in his one relief outing in Cleveland should be good to go. As long as he has confidence in his fastball and Varitek can guide him through six innings, Lester should do well.

As for Colorado, Jeff Francis has been the second best pitcher this postseason behind Beckett. The first matchup between Francis and Beckett is interesting because at one time they were each the top pitching prospect in baseball, and now find themselves as the aces on baseball's two best teams. The Sox hitters cannot underestimate Francis, who won 17 games in 2007. After Francis this Rockies' starters have been great of late but haven't had to face an AL offense yet. Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Fogg have been strong but no one knows how they can do on the big stage with so much rest. Aaron Cook will throw in Game 4 and he hasn't pitched in a game since August 10. Although this Rockies rotation has a chance to do well against Boston, I must defer to the rotation with big game experience and momentum heading in. Edge: Boston.

Offense: Both clubs are terrific in this department, and both teams have given forth full team offensive efforts to get here. Right now, the Red Sox are firing on all cylinders unlike they have at any point in the season. Kevin Youkilis was completely on fire in the ALCS, Dustin Pedroia came alive, and the 1-2 punch of Papi and Manny continued to make opposing hurlers throw fits. Mike Lowell has cooled some since the mid-point of the ALCS, but is fully capable of turning it on again. When J.D. Drew hit what Bill Simmons is calling the "$14 Million Grand Slam" in Game 6, it erased a miserable first season in Boston and since he's facing the NL again I expect him to continue hitting. Jacoby Ellsbury keep producing in place of Coco Crisp, and I don't think the Red Sox will turn back now. The Sox will lose one of either Ortiz, Youkilis, or Lowell in Colorado, and even though they'll lose some offense it won't get to the point where it will hurt the team that bad. Expect Ellsbury to lead off if Youkilis sits.

Colorado has historically been an offensive powerhouse and this year is no different. They are led by the likely NL MVP in Matt Holliday, a horse of an outfielder that can do no wrong with the bat. Todd Helton is the stalwart who gets on base just as much as he ever did. Super rookie Troy Tulowitzki and emerging stars Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe compliment Holliday and Helton. They are balanced by the speedy Willy Taveras and Kaz Matsui. Few of the Rockies' hitters actually have high batting averages so far in the playoffs. The layoff will affect the offense more than the pitching, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Rockies don't get back on track until they return home to Denver on Saturday. The bottom of the Red Sox order is probably better than the Rockies have, but the depth of their firepower is unmistakable. I think the Boston pitchers can take care of them, but going into this series they deserve the advantage. Edge: Colorado.

Defense: I can't help but feel that this is where the biggest mismatch in this series lies. The Red Sox are a fine club on defense, but they can't compare with the Rockies. Colorado beat the 2006 Red Sox all-time highest fielding percentage and showed their prowess in the postseason to this point. I'm so excited to watch Tulowitzki play, as his glove work is considered tops in the game and seeing his highlights thus far in the postseason has been astounding to watch. They have no weakness here. Between Ellsbury/Crisp and the Sox entire infield, they should hold their own but the Rockies clearly are better. Edge: Colorado.

Bullpen: Once again both teams are strong in this department, yet the Rockies once again lack experience here. Brian Fuentes and Manny Corpas have created a strong combination for late game success, but it does not rival the Red Sox combination of Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon. I can't say I know that much about the rest of the Rockies bullpen other than their complete dominance of the NL clubs since mid-September. The Red Sox have bizarrely chosen Kyle Snyder over the seasoned Julian Tavarez and the stronger Brian Corey to replace Wakefield on the World Series roster, but I guess I have faith that Terry Francona and John Ferrell have made the right choice. Mike Timlin, Javier Lopez, and Manny Delcarmen should prove to be important parts of this series. And with the way Eric Gagne pitched in a totally non-pressure situation on Saturday, I actually have some level of confidence in him right now. Again, some level. That's all I have to say. Edge: Red Sox.

Manager: Clint Hurdle has become a star over the last five weeks, and I personally think it's long overdue. Since he became the Rockies manager the club has actually produced very well and the team has responded to his offbeat style. I am so happy for him because I have always liked him since he took over the club. A team does not win 21 of 22 games without a manager that knows what he is doing. It's also pretty obvious the Rockies are confident in his ability to lead them.

On the other side, Terry Francona in my opinion has done about as good a job as possible since I ripped him in September for mismanaging his bullpen. He deals with people as well as anyone that has ever managed in Boston, and I appreciate his sincerity in disclosing his decision making process with the fans and media. He made the right call in going with Jacoby Ellsbury in center field when the ALCS shifted back to Boston, and I know it wasn't because of the public pressure to do so. It was just the right move, and it paid off. I'm not saying that Francona can do no wrong, but I believe that between John Farrell (who I'm now positive will be entering his final games with the Red Sox and will take the managing job in Pittsburgh, and I speak for all of Red Sox Nation in wishing him the best of luck), Brad Mills and Francona, the Sox have an extremely bright and thoughtful braintrust making all the important decisions. And having been here three seasons ago also helps. Edge: Boston.

Intangibles and Loose Ends: Every year there always seems to be the "Team of Destiny," I've talked about it a lot. I think the Rockies, having lost exactly one game in the last month, would qualify as that team this time around. They are a fantastic story, right on par with the story of the Red Sox in 2004. But this is the World Series, and they are going up against a hot team on a real mission. I really believe the eight days off between the NLCS and tomorrow night's game will hurt them badly, especially in the first game against Beckett. From there, the Rockies rotation is not that imposing to an AL lineup, and despite losing the DH, if the Red Sox take the first two games of this series you can pretty much lock up a second World Series crown in four seasons.

I'm ready to watch this Sox team, which has labored through a long, arduous, and at times very trying season come home with the hardware. Because of 2004, Red Sox fans now expect good things to happen. After being down 3-1 to Cleveland, I knew that if Beckett could come through they could take the final two games back at home, and it happened. I was barely worried at all. I know this Rockies team is good, but I'm going to make a bold prediction as far as the outcome of this series: the Rockies will take Game 3 against Dice-K at home, and that's it. This series will not come back to Boston for the final two games. After Thursday night, the next time the Red Sox set foot in New England will be with the World Series trophy in hand for another winter of all things Red Sox Nation. And like I said, I'm ready.

PREDICTION: Boston in 5.

See you next week.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Gearing Up for the ALCS

As some of you know I attended Game 1 of the ALDS, certainly an experience I won't soon forget. Josh Beckett put on a performance that sticks with those in the stands for the remainder of their days, completely dominating the hapless Angels bats. Perhaps Beckett put the hex on the LA hitters for the series, because they could only muster four runs off Sox pitching following the Game 1 shutout. Yesterday afternoon, the Red Sox dispatched an over-matched Angels team to advance on in this year's playoffs. I'd have to think that either Cleveland or New York would be scared to come to the Hub on Friday night, similar to how scared the Diamondbacks must be about welcoming the Rockies to Arizona on Thursday.

What we saw in this series against the Angels was a team ready to go deep into this month and return to Boston with its second World Series crown in four seasons. It was nearly impossible to pick a star of the ALDS for the Red Sox. Even when Matsuzaka struggled in Game 2, the resilient Sox bullpen bailed him out big, with four pitchers busting through 4 1/3 innings of hitless relief. David Ortiz proved nearly impossible for the Angels to deal with as they only retired him twice in the three games, and also came up with two big home runs. Dustin Pedroia had difficulty in his first ever playoffs series, including jamming his shoulder in Game 2. But he played through the pain, turned in some big defensive plays, and delivered a double in the 8th of Game 3 to begin the clinching rally. Curt Schilling, the postseason master, turned in yet another October gem in Game 3, providing a gusty seven innings and pitching through some major jams with his no mediocre stuff. And Manny Ramirez was reborn, blasting two towering shots including the jaw-dropping walk-off in Game 2 that sent a Nation into a frenzy.

Much like the '04 team, the Red Sox are winning in October of 2007 not because of the contributions of a few but with the combined effort of many. Terry Francona has these guys believing in the collective power of unity that drove them to the 2004 crown. All of the problems leading up to their eventually clinching of a playoff berth have been erased, and the team seems to be hitting its stride at just the right moment. It is my firm belief that with two dominant playoff starters, an untracked duo of Ortiz and Ramirez, and a consistent Timlin-Lopez-Okajima-Delcarmen-Papelbon bullpen, the rest of the team will rally around these factors and there's just about no chance this club won't bring home the hardware yet again.

The Indians can sport a relatively inexperienced yet dominant postseason duo themselves, but I can see the Sox pitchers taking care of the Tribe hitters fairly easily. The Yankees don't seem as invincible as they were at the end of the season, and I'd feel pretty good about an ALCS against them in which the Sox have homefield advantage. The Red Sox are a seasoned playoff team, with about a dozen members sporting at least one World Series ring. I feel confident in their ability to get through the next series, and while Arizona and Colorado are both dangerous clubs, I can't help but feel the Red Sox are the odds on favorites to be World Champs again.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fuming Mad

Basically this blog post is going to come across as a total rant and I don't really care. I just watched the Red Sox drop their fifth game out of their last six when there was basically only one of those games that they flat out lost (probably the Sunday night game against the Yankees, but even that one is up for debate). Earlier this month I would have had a hard time believing that the Sox would not have wrapped up the division by Sept. 20. When the club wakes up tomorrow, they will be a scant 1.5 games above New York for the AL East crown and will still need three wins/Tigers losses to get into the playoffs. It feels like this has happened so fast. But the reality is that in a very short period of time the Sox have gone from easily being the league's best team to truly backing into the postseason and scraping just to get into October.

There's not one aspect of this team that can be relied up on right now. Not one. The starting pitching has gone from the best in baseball to iffy as a complete unit. The bullpen has gone from the best in baseball to essentially a bust. Without Ramirez, Youkilis, and Crisp, and with Varitek turning into an automatic K and overuse of Hinske, this Sox offense is as rudderless as any in the majors. One would think that without Manny, Ortiz could still be productive with Lowell hitting cleanup, but unfortunately Lowell has chosen the worst possible time to slump, rendering the fragile Papi punchless (edit: I'm an asshole. Lowell has been doing fine lately. My bad). The defense hasn't been terrible, but they certainly lose something when Hinske has to play and Ellsbury and Crisp aren't both out there. And with Julio Lugo's lack of hustle with the bases loaded in the 7th tonight, I wonder how much some of these guys care.

But the aspect of the team Red Sox fans must have their least amount of faith in lies with the manager. At this blog and my old one, Terry Francona has been the sacred cow. I've barely criticized him for anything over the years, partially because he'll always be the guy that led this team to glory in '04. But I can't possibly overlook his terrible mismanagement of this team over the course of the last six weeks or so, specifically towards the bullpen. I'll get to that later, but first I want to address my difficulty understanding his dealings with a certain injured outfielder.

I don't claim to know how serious Manny's oblique injury was when it first happened. They told us first that Manny would be out for 7-10 days and he's now missed 21 straight games. So I'd like to believe he's legitimately unable to play for this team, but since this is Manny, I have to say I'd like to believe it. There's no telling whether Manny will contribute anything upon returning because this has been one of his least productive seasons ever even when healthy. There is no questioning, however, whether or not Manny's presence in this lineup is important, given the way the team has stopped hitting. Francona has predictably decided to let Manny set his own timetable for a return to play, even though Manny has taken upwards of 40 BP swings on a daily basis for the last week or so. That said, it seems strange that Manny is still too hurt at a time when the team needs him. Manny doesn't exactly have the reputation of being someone who burns to play when he's not at 100% (or even when he is 100%). I'm bringing this up because I believe Francona has become an enabler for Manny to conduct himself in such a way. Would Manny still be watching from the bench if his manager was Jim Leyland? Or Eric Wedge? Or Mike Scioscia? I really don't think so. Francona has become more concerned about saving face with his fading veteran superstar than making sure he's on the field to help the Sox will games. Correction: win a game.

A lot of times in his run as Sox manager, Francona has struggled with his bullpen, mostly because he's been given some terrible bullpens to deal with. In 2007, Francona has been supplied with his best bullpen unit since he arrived, and since the acquisition of Eric Gagne, I have never seen a manager suck this badly at dealing with a bullpen. Even Grady Little was never this bad. First of all, I think there has been an overall mismanagement of the use of Clay Buchholz since his no-hitter. This doesn't rest on the shoulders of Francona alone, instead sharing the blame with Theo Epstein, John Farrell, and other Red Sox development people. I'm all for keeping Buchholz's innings down because there's nothing worse than overworking a talented young pitcher. At the same time, with the struggles of Gagne, Okajima and some other bullpen arms, I don't understand why the Red Sox chose not to utilize Buchholz as a setup man similar to how the Yankees have used Joba Chamberlain to phenomenal success. Instead, between his no-hitter and his shortened start tonight, Buchholz pitched three scoreless innings to get a relief victory in Baltimore on Sept. 6. And that's IT. I can't believe he could not have contributed more to this team than that. Behind Beckett, Schilling and Papelbon, can you make the argument that any other pitcher on this roster is better than Buchholz? Can you?

Hideki Okajima's fairy tale season has truly ended in a Greek tragedy, and I believe there's a chance he could be shut down the rest of the way. He should never have been in that game last Friday. Trading for Gagne has proven to be one of the team's biggest blunders in recent memory. Bringing in Gagne in last night's game, and then not getting anyone up behind him when he completely lost control, was simply mind-boggling. Friday night, Francona threw Papelbon into a bases-loaded situation with terrible results. Five nights later, Francona did THE EXACT SAME THING WITH THE SAME EXACT RESULTS. I came across an amazing stat tonight, courtesy or Papelbon has gotten two doubles plays in 122.2 innings since the start of the 2006 season. Do you mean to tell me Francona doesn't know this? Based on this information, how much sense does it make to ever bring Pap in with men on base and less than two outs? Couldn't anyone play this right with this information?

I'm starting to get tired so I'm not going to say much more. I know that teams that win the Wild Card have won many Series titles recent years, but most of Red Sox Nation will be as fuming mad as I am if the hated Yankees end up with a better record, again. No one wants to back into the playoffs, but the Cardinals certainly backed into the playoffs in 2006 but ended up going all the way. There is still greatness in this Red Sox team. If they can get their walking wounded back, find some effectiveness in those arms, and have their manager grow a brain, I have no doubt the Red Sox can do the same.

If all those things happen, it would make the '04 miracle look like nothing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Red Sox Evals Part III

This isn't going as quickly as I would like it to but at least it's actually happening. I've got, you know, homework and stuff like that to do. But I'm still finding some time to update this thing for the first time in a few months. Maybe it's just because this team has a lead I don't want it to lose, but I really want this Red Sox regular season to end now. They've labored through what has been a tough season, some key players are injured or need rest, the team needs the playoffs to begin. Or maybe I just need it to begin. Either way, it needs to happen.

Let's continue with the evals with a look at the Sox' second baseman.

#15 - Dustin Pedroia - 2B - 2007 salary: $380,000.
It became obvious at the end of the 2006 season that the Red Sox were going to go in a different direction for the future at the keystone corner than re-signing veteran Mark Loretta. As a high draft choice with great success in the minors, Dustin Pedroia came into spring training this year with the second base job his to lose. After an adequate spring, Pedroia came out hot at the very start of his career as a big league regular but quickly cooled off. On May 1, the diminutive Pedroia was hitting just .172 and Alex Cora was already starting to take away his at bats. Many, myself included, became convinced that Pedroia was uncomfortable and not ready for the big leagues, swinging at bat pitches and trying to pull everything.

Quickly thereafter, all phases of Pedroia's game came alive. With the season almost over, I think Pedroia is a shoe-in for AL Rookie of the Year. His .325 batting average is currently 6th-best in the AL and has only 38 strikeouts in 456 at bats. Pedroia's glovework has come around significantly from the start of the year, as his range and strong arm have resulted in many game-saving plays. By being attentive to the nuances of the game at this level, and not burying his head in the sand when he easily could have, Pedroia has established himself as a top-of-the-order presence on the best team in the majors.

As you can imagine, Dustin Pedroia is the type of player that I absolutely adore. The guy is definitely not blessed with extreme physical talents, yet he gets the most out of his body and potential through hard work and determination. He plays with a muted cockiness that most good players of his ilk possess. He is gifted with tremendous hand-eye coordination that will allow to one day become one of the league's best contact hitters if he isn't there already. Many people in baseball wonder if this season is a fluke for Pedroia, and some don't see him ever producing like he has this year again. I wholeheartedly believe that the best is yet to come for Pedroia, and I am looking forward to see what he does, and I also believe he will be a leader for this team going forward.

Next time I'll look at two key members of this year's rotation, Dice-K and Beckett.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Red Sox Evaluations, Part II

Back to the evaluations, and I'll try and bang out three tonight. We begin with Coco Crisp.

#10 - Coco Crisp - CF - 2007 Salary: $3.5 million.
After an injury-riddled, abysmal first season in Boston for Coco Crisp, the immensely talented Sox center fielder came out cold with the bat once again in 2007. He spent the first two months mostly hitting at the bottom of the batting order, and hit at a .229 clip with only 15 RBI on June 1. In June and July Coco turned it around, and raised his average as high as .284 with some pop. He cooled off in August but is hitting again down the stretch. His most important offensive contribution to the club has been his 23 steals, and he's also seven runs scored behind his career high.

Without a doubt, Crisp has made a much bigger impact with his glove in 2007 than any other aspect of his game. It has significantly outweighed any disappointment his offense has provided. Watching him run down just about every ball in the outfield this year has certainly been something to behold. It's usually pretty hard for center fielders not named Hunter or Suzuki to win a Gold Glove in the AL, but it's difficult for me to believe that anyone that's paid any attention to the Red Sox this year could say that Coco is not deserving of the award. The number of game-saving grabs that he's made this year is roughly comparable to the number of clutch hits by David Ortiz in the last few years.

The future for Coco Crisp in Boston is rather cloudy. With the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury this month, it seems like the Sox could shop Crisp around this winter. He's signed to a very team-friendly contract with an option for 2010, and I think it would be very attractive for teams like Atlanta or Minnesota that figure to lose their center fielders to free agency. Had Coco enjoyed a better season at the plate, the team could be able to wrestle a top prospect out of one of those clubs but I kind of think that won't happen now. I wouldn't mind it if this Sox kept him around but I think Ellsbury can be a star and Coco's time may have passed. Either way, his defense has been an integral part to the Red Sox success this year.

#12 - Eric Hinske - 1B, LF, and RF - 2007 Salary: $5.625 million (half paid by Toronto).
When the Red Sox took on half of Hinske's remaining contract last season, I felt like he could be a pretty useful bench player for the club going forward. I'm not sure that I could categorize his .217 average in 70 games as useful this season, but it's always good to have guys that have versatility. It's an interesting time in baseball when a guy like Eric Hinske, who plays four positions all at below-average level, can't hit, can't run, can't throw, and is typically a huge liability whenever he's on the field can earn $5 million and make it through the whole season on the roster of the best team in baseball. He'll probably make the postseason roster even though he doesn't deserve it, and it will likely come at the expense of Ellsbury. I don't expect the Red Sox to re-sign Hinske upon the completion of this season.

#13 - Alex Cora - 2B and SS - 2007 Salary: $2 million.
Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook knows about my affinity for the Red Sox super utility man Alex Cora. When Dustin Pedroia was going through his difficult times at the outset of 2007, Cora provided a perfect alternative at a time when the club really needed it. I was among the people who called for Pedroia to be sent back to Pawtucket in favor of Cora when Pedroia was running so bad and Cora was coming up with seemingly every clutch hit the team needed. But Dusty came on and Cora went back to his better role on the bench. Since then he has made a positive contribution to the club with his defense and small-ball ability. I love the guy and I hope he will be with the team for the foreseeable future.

More to come.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

I almost forgot that I had this thing. After an excellent summer of working and living in the Mount Washington Valley, I'm back on the UNH campus ready to rock out my junior year. If you happen to be around the area, feel free to stop by room 301 in the brand spankin' new SERC A building on the far end of campus. It's totally sweet. Anyway, I'm back and this time I will try to post something just about everyday. In order to motivate myself to do this, I am going to begin a series of evaluations of the 2007 Red Sox for each player. I'll try and do at least one in each post, and I'll probably get to more based on the amount of writing I feel like doing. I'm going to do it by uniform number, which means that I must unfortunately begin this list with J.D. Drew.

#7 - J.D. Drew - RF and CF - 2007 Salary: $14 million.
Back in the winter time, I was fully in favor of the Red Sox brining in Drew, since it was obvious that he was an upgrade as an everyday player from Trot Nixon and that the left field wall would perfectly suit his hitting style. Drew was hot at the plate in Fort Myers and carried it with him through the first three weeks in April. Since then, he's been nothing short of horrendous, batting as low as .222 on June 1 and currently sitting at a putrid .256. Since June 20, he has hit exactly one home run and his seven on this season is easily his worst since his rookie season. He has failed to come through in clutch situations numerous times and his position in the middle of the Sox lineup for most of the season has proved costly.

Last night, the Blue Jays walked Mike Lowell with 1st base open so they could pitch to Drew, even with a right-handed pitcher on the mound. That tells you just about all you need to know about how this season has gone for Drew. He's taken a lot of heat from the media and fans, but he clearly has no intention to at least show that it's getting to him. I wouldn't say the perception about him that he doesn't care about winning or about baseball in general is true, instead I feel he's just one of those players that has an easy style and doesn't get too wound up like Kevin Youkilis. Drew hustles on the field just as much as anyone else, but he just hasn't produced this season to make anyone feel happy about that. Defensively, Drew hasn't made many memorable plays but has made his fair share of bad onces to be sure.

Drew has looked old at times this year, and it may come as a shock to some that he doesn't even turn 32 until this November, and the Red Sox are on the hook for $56 million more through 2011. The question going forward is whether or not this year is an aberration or if this is the J.D. Drew the Red Sox will be stuck with going forward. It's possible that Drew has played through nagging injuries like those to his shoulder and legs and it's negatively impacted his ability on the field. He's also had to deal with health problems regarding his infant son, who underwent an operation earlier this summer. We cannot speculate about what kind of effect this has had on Drew's psyche over the course of the year, but it may have been weighing on him for some time. I'd like to think that in the offseason, Drew will work as hard as ever to prove he is worth the money the Sox gave him. I'm also not ruling out the possibility that Drew could come alive when it really matters for the team. But that might be a fantasy in this lost first season for J.D. Drew.

That's all for now. Good night and good luck.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Interleague Play Sucks

I know I promised more frequent posts, so I here I am. After another great day for the Sox, and proving to any doubters that they are for real after taking three of four from a very strong Tigers club, the wonderful world of interleague play begins once again. Bug Selig might be happy about it, and tell us that more people "like it" than ever without providing any real info to back that up, I can't tell you I know anybody that follows baseball that actually likes it.

It's been 11 years since it started, and I think most people at this point just accept it as part of the game. But I think it continues to be one of the biggest mistakes of the Selig Era, as there's very little about interleague play that I can consider positive.

I don't understand why it makes sense to have interleague play when there's already such a focus on the unbalanced schedule. You've got the Red Sox playing the Yankees, D-Rays, O's and Jays 18 or 19 times a season, which of course is more of a benefit to the Red Sox and Yanks compared to teams this year in the AL Central that are going to beat the crap out of each other until October comes. But take the Tigers for example. Given how competitive the Central is this year, there's a very good chance that either they, the Indians, or the Twins will wind up with the Wild Card this year. Instead of having more chances against other playoff contenders (like Oakland, LA, New York, or Boston), those games get taken up against NL East opponents during the summer, and end up being pretty meaningless in the long run. As stupid as this is, it's only the second-biggest reason why I hate interleague play.

Since the farce of interleague play began, my biggest peeve with it is how much of a disadvantage the AL teams are put at when they play in NL parks. It's easy enough for an NL team to come to an AL park, throw its best bench player in the DH spot, and go play. But for AL teams in NL parks, they must tell their pitchers, who actually are only concerned with pitching for the rest of the year (what a concept), to wield a bat and run the bases which many of them have not had to do since high school. This discrepancy has been somewhat evened out in the last few years because the NL has turned into a joke and last year the AL owned interleague regardless of where the games were held. But it remains that there's no competitive disadvantage for NL clubs in interleague, unless of course, that NL team sucks.

Interleague also cheapens the mystique of the All-Star Game and the World Series. If the Sox and Braves end up facing each other in the World Series, is it really going to be that cool to see them facing off if we'd already seen them during the season? There's something about that matchup of leagues that has been totally lost because of interleague play.

I do feel like Chipper Jones and Jeff Francoeur have a legitimate beef about how their club is getting shafted this season. I know that even though the Sox were 16-2 in interleague last year, there have been numerous years when the club has been invariably hurt by interleague. They have missed the playoffs or been put in worse playoff standing as a direct result of poor performance in games that should never have been played in the first place.

Hopefully the next commissioner will have the sense to give interleague play the long-overdue boot.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Long Time No Write...

Hey everyone. I'm sorry that I haven't written in this space as often as I originally promised (like, at all in the last three weeks or so), but I've been very busy with end-of-the-semester-crush ordeals and doing other important things like sleeping as much as possible. Next Wednesday, I will be home for the summer, and you can expect daily posts from me. This time, I promise.

There is really not much at all to complain about when it comes to the Red Sox these days, except I just wish Sox players would give a simple "No comment" when a reporter uses the words "Barry Bonds" in a question. They've just wrapped up a tremendous road trip during which they won five of six and made the Blue Jays look like they belong in the Eastern League. Their only losing effort was a game that Julian Tavarez actually out pitched Johan Santana, only to have the Sox offense sputter in run-scoring situations. While I think it's safe to say the Sox hitters as a whole are nowhere near their peak, they've been winning because of how consistently they have been pitching.

As a team, the Sox are third in the majors in ERA, second in WHIP, lowest in runs allowed, second-lowest in opponent's batting average, and fourth-lowest in home runs allowed. They have gotten quality start after quality start from all five starters. Tim Wakefield has truly been a revelation, and after his relatively effortless outing last night, he is the surprise AL ERA leader. I cannot imagine many people in preseason would have pegged Timmy Knucks to be leading the league in ERA on May 11. I can't personally figure out what the change in him has been, since his K/BB numbers aren't out of whack, and he's still giving up his fair share of hits. However, to this point Wake has only given up 2 homers, hit just one batter, and is yet to uncork a wild pitch. The Sox haven't been scoring runs in his starts, and let's hope they can keep last night's eight-run performance is a harbinger of things to come.

Matsuzaka-san was excellent Wednesday night, pitching lights out and putting the collective mind of Sox Nation at ease. I think it makes a lot of sense to allow Dice to do exactly what made him successful in Japan, hell, that performance made the Sox invest in him so heavily in the first place, right? I think much of his success this first year in Boston will depend greatly on his level of comfort. We had the expectation out of the gate that this guy was going to be lights-out, but with the hype and adjustments in lifestyle, I don't think we can blame the guy for trying to do too much out there. Just give it some time, and I think we will see the Dice-K that dominated the sport in Japan soon enough.

Of course, the biggest of all the Sox starters, and certainly the number #1 contender for AL Cy Young right now is Josh Beckett. His easy delivery and methodical approach to pitching in this division has changed Beckett from the disappointments of 2006 to utter domination in 2007. No, Beckett's not going to go 35-0, and he'll probably lose a game sooner or later. But that doesn't change the fact that he's looked truly unbeatable to this point. When Beckett came out of prep school in 1999 with the second overall pick in the draft, everyone had huge expectations. It's taken eight long seasons, but Beckett has finally become the pitcher we all thought he would become back then. Working with new Sox pitching coach John Farrell has worked wonders (as much as I loved Dave Wallace when he was here, it's obvious the team made the right call in letting him go and bringing in Farrell instead. I mean, did you ever see a pitching staff like this under Wallace?), and Beckett appears on the fast track to being the true ace of the staff. His numbers speak for themselves: 7-0, 2.51 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 40/10 K/BB. I can't wait to see what he can do over this full season.

Schilling continues to be Schilling, and Julian "Nacho Libre" Tavarez continues to keep the seat warm for Jon Lester. I wouldn't be surprised to see Tavarez on the trading block once Lester is deemed ready for the bigs, and I've heard Tavarez linked with the Rockies recently and in the past. The bullpen has also been a revelation so far for the Red Sox, mostly because the starters have been so good and the relievers haven't been taxed at all. Through 33 contests, the Boston bullpen has only thrown on average two innings a game, a staggering statistic that bodes very well for the unit's productivity over the course of the season. Think about how screwed the Yankees are with their over-reliance on relievers and how none of those guys are going to be effective come September and October as a result. The Red Sox are not likely to have that problem. Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate relief pitchers, so the less I see of them in Red Sox games, the more I'm going to enjoy this season.

The rest of the month of May should present some challenges for the club, including contests against the AL Central-leading Indians and Tigers at Fenway, the first Interleague bout of the year at home versus the strong Braves, and six games on the road at the Yanks and Rangers. It's hard to make concrete guarantees before Memorial Day, but if the Sox are still seven games up when Roger Clemens makes his likely return to Fenway during the June 1-3 series, it may just be a forgone conclusion that the Sox will win their first division title since the Rocket himself was on the club (by the way, in 1995 Erik Hanson and Wake were far and away the two best starters on the Sox, with Clemens, his groin problems, inflated salary, ego, belly, and overall asshole-ness a distant third).

Good luck to everyone on their finals and I look forward to seeing some of you in the coming weeks back home in the MWV.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sox/Yanks, Phil Hughes and more

I can't say enough about last night's game, and it's mostly already been said anyway. I didn't catch much of the Sox historic back-to-back-to-back-to-back dingers because I was actually watching "The Sopranos" and only saw replays except for Varitek's bomb, which I caught live. Dice-K wasn't as sharp as we all wish he was, but he battled, and got a hard-earned victory. Big games last night were had by Mike Lowell, obviously, but getting lost in the shuffle was a possible break-out game by Dustin Pedroia. He hit the ball hard, especially on his first extra-base hit of the year, and made a potentially game-saving grab at a key spot late in the game. I think it was important for him to get out there and make a strong showing after Alex Cora had been so good in recent days. Pedroia of course has a much higher ceiling than Cora, but he'll need more games like last night to cement his place as starting 2nd baseman.

As I write, WMP just dove and made a catch on what actually did look like a trap, and then doubled off a very surprised Aaron Hill. We'll see what the final ruling is on that one. Timmy Knucks is dealing again, should be no surprise there. I'm not sure what it is but he's got more control over that knuckler this year than any time I can remember recently. Good for him, and definitely not good for opposing hitters. Now looking at the replay, it does look like Wily Mo did catch it. Hill was confused because the 3rd base umpire made the out call and not the 2nd base umpire. That's why you've always got to be on your toes, kiddies!

Thursday night, the Yankees will call up righty Phil Hughes, the 20-year-old phenom that graced the cover of the 2007 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, to make his MLB debut against at Rogers Centre in Toronto. I had lauded the Yanks for refusing to call him up during the recent troubles with their starting staff, but the decision to call on Hughes smacks of desperation after being swept by Boston. Hughes has had one good start out of three at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he had never pitched before this year. The book on Hughes is that he's the complete package, with stuff, command, and fortitude to be an ace in the Bronx. He figures to be the Yanks best homegrown starter since Andy Pettitte. Besides a mid-90s four-seamer and a high-80s two-seamer, he features an absolutely devastating curveball that according to BA is a "true power breaking-ball" in the low-80s. BA's concerns with him were his still-developing change up and his durability. They also felt like he'd make his debut in June, but the situation has dictated a much earlier call-up. I expect Hughes to struggle out of the gate, and it remains to be seen if this move is permanent. Certainly he'll be a fixture for the Yankees in 2008, but this will be a big test, with the Yankees really needing a shot of life right now. For fantasy purposes, someone probably already has him in your AL-only league, but in a mixed league, take a shot on him, stash him on your bench until he makes a big start, and then ride the wave because this guy is going to be the real deal.

Sad news about David Halberstam tonight, who died in a car crash in California at age 73. I have only read two of his books, "The Teammates" and "The Education of a Coach," plus his introduction to "The Best American Sportswriting of the Century," of which he was the main editor with Glenn Stout. What I have read of his was the top grade of American nonfiction writing, and made a significant impact on me as a young writer hoping to replicate his style. Halberstam was a genius with words and sentence structure, and I will read much more of his works to try and find exactly how he made his words sing so beautifully. The world of not just sports but the world of writing has lost a true legend.

Way to go Dustin, puttin' the Sox ahead. The Sox need more runs so they won't have to rely on Timlin or Piniero to finish the game. Later.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sox vs. Yankees, Round 3, and other things

Needless to say, this has been an excellent series for the Red Sox against the Yankees. They've proven to be more efficient in most phases of the game than the Yanks, and it's been fun to watch the matchup bring out the best in some Sox players (Okajima, Crisp, Cora, Ortiz, others).

I'm hoping tonight's game will give Dice-K an opportunity to pitch with a lead. The Sox haven't seen Chase Wright, and in recent years it seems like the Red Sox don't do so well against guys they don't have a book on. Of course, Jeff Karstens would beg to differ. I think if the Sox can get Wright on the ropes early, Matsuzaka can settle down against the vaunted Yankees lineup and not have to press right out of the gate. The key for Dice-K, as always, will be whether or not he can harness his offspeed stuff. He did that in KC, but didn't against the M's and the Jays and the results were clear.

You've got to love how the Red Sox have plowed through Yankees pitching over the past two days but the only thing anyone wants to talk about on TV is how A-Rod is tearing up the world. I wonder why nobody cares to mention that he lined out to second base in the 9th inning on Monday. No, he's not God, people. Sorry.

In other news, don't look now but the Blue Jays have dropped five straight and were swept by the Orioles over the weekend. It seems like injuries have depleted some of their key components, but after a while a team like Toronto can't use that as an excuse. And last time I checked, none of those injured guys were starting pitchers. If the health problems don't go away, the Jays don't have any prospects they could seriously move to bring in new players. They will need to ask Adam Lind, a fine power prospect that starred for the Fisher Cats a few years back, to fill in some offense for the time being. Meanwhile, the O's have won eight of nine and Nick Markakis has taken the team on his back. Erik Bedard is an ace and Daniel Cabrera has finally found it. Watch out of the Orioles. Seriously, I mean it.

Some people have expressed to me their dismay about Alex Gordon, and the terrible start he's gotten off to. Yesterday he hit his first home run in front of the Royals fans, and it seemed like he would finally be ready to break out. But today against Ramon Ortiz and the Twins Gordon went 0-4 with 2 Ks. For fantasy owners that have Gordon, I don't think there's any reason to drop him especially if you're in a keeper league. Just stash him on your bench until he starts hitting, because he definitely will. According to those that watch him every day, he's not doing anything that points towards him not being able to handle the pressure, or him mechanically not being where he should. Gordon will be fine, trust me. He's got more talent than he's shown.

That's all for tonight. Look another post tomorrow evening.

The First Post...

Hi there folks. As you can see, I've created a new blog to replace the old one that I used to keep in my AOL profile. I'm going to try and use this space exclusively for talking about baseball, and not just the Red Sox, and I'll hopefully use it a lot more than I've used my old one.

I made this new blog so that people could see it without me having to be online. This will be helpful this summer when I'm stuck at home with my lousy dial-up connection. And because this is online so that everyone can see it, maybe I'll be more motivated to write more often.

If you still want to check out posts from my old blog, I'll leave the link to it in my AOL profile. My screen name is JakeOD21 for those of you that don't have it already.

The title of my blog isn't very exciting. If anyone has any ideas for something new, let me know!

Bookmark this page! Check back often! I look forward to working in this space and I welcome all of your comments and suggestions.