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.