Sunday, April 23, 2006

Back On Track

Okay, my apology for the whole Bloggerman thing seem to have worked as the Sox won today. Sorry again for that particular bump in the road.

Some really nice developments today. The back end of the bullpen performed in a textbook fashion, with Timlin holding the line in the eighth and Papelbon slamming the door in the ninth. More importantly, Foulke looked to be his old self again. He threw nearly two innings of flawless ball, getting five outs on five hitters, including three strikeouts. Suddenly his ERA is down to 3.55, the difference between his fastball and his changeup is once again enough to baffle hitters, and he seems to have his swagger back. A very nice development. Throw in the return of Manny Delcarmen, who was blowing through Triple A hitters, and the matching 0.00 ERAs of Craig Hansen and Edgar Martinez in Portland, and suddenly the bullpen depth looks much more promising than it did just a week ago.

Further good news came in the form of Matt Clement, who pitched well into the sixth and picked up the win. Remove his terrible start against the Blue Jays on April 13th and he's 2-0, 4.19 ERA, which I will take pretty much any day. We already know that Schilling and Beckett are blowing people away, and Wakefield has been great (2.74 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) since getting rocked in his first start of the year, which leaves only the Wells-DiNardo hole in the rotation to worry about.

The offense is back to looking decent again, and I give the credit for that to Trot Nixon. He's played just 14 games this year due to his groin injury, but when he's played the team has scored. They are averaging 5.36 runs per game when Nixon plays, and just 3.00 runs per game when he doesn't. Manny is hitting, Papi never stopped hitting, and Youkilis is becoming a valuable everyday major league player before our eyes. When Crisp returns in May, this team will score a nice number of runs.

All in all, I'm not sure why I ever screwed around with this team in the first place.

Other Sox News:

  • Jon Lester finally had a nice, but not great, start in Pawtucket, but it looks like they're limiting his pitch count. That's probably a good idea as he works out his issues, but it does mean that the Sox can't count on him to fill that problematic rotation slot any time soon.
  • Clay Buchholz, one of last year's many first round picks, is ripping up opposing hitters in Greenville. He's 2-0 in three starts, with a 1.20 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and an average of one strikeout per inning, so there is yet another arm that might progress rapidly to the big club.
  • vWhile the club's top minor league pitchers all seem to be doing pretty well, with only Lester as a possible exception, the same can't be said for their young hitters. Dustin Pedroia just returned from his Spring Training shoulder injury and is struggling so far in Pawtucket. Jed Lowrie has a .677 OPS in Wilmington. There isn't a single hitter at Portland with an OPS above .723, and the team's two top outfield prospects there, David Murphy (.680) and Brandon Moss (.549), are leading the charge to mediocrity. Of the postional prspects who the Sox hoped might make a push for the big club this season, only Jacob Ellsbury (.333/.375/.483/.858 at High-A Wilmington) is performing well. To be fair, Jeff Natale is destroying the Sally League at the moment, to the tune of .370/.493/.611/1.104, but that's low A-ball, and Natale isn't high on the Sox's list to contribute anytime soon. Overall, the team's four current minor league clubs are a combined 32-35, and it's startign to look like the Sox are going to need another great draft this year before they are completely past having a disappointing farm system.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


Okay, my bad.

I posted my belief that I had uncovered a secret super power of which I had been unaware. The Red Sox promptly lost three in a row. Consequently.....

I renounce my super powers! I am not, in fact, "Bloggerman", or any other entity with supernatural powers to control the Red Sox and their fate. I am but a simple fan, who happens to write a blog and occasionally stumble upon a prescient thought or two that later actually occurs. This is in no way a "super power", and I was flatly wrong for announcing it to be one. For that, I offer my most sincere and humble apologies to the Red Sox and all of Red Sox Nation for the losses of the past three days.

Now can we get back to winning, please?

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Apparently, I have super powers. I'm just as surprised as you are.

Trust me, had I known that I possessed the ability to merely write something in my blog and have it come true, I would not have confined my ramblings to something as pedestrian as the Red Sox offense or the thin bullpen. Instead, there surely would have been a blurb in this space about Iran's nuclear program, or a bloodless end to the war in Iraq, or making a scientist inventing a diet where consuming pasta and ice cream for every meal would be healthy beyond reason. Certainly some mention of the lottery would have appeared.

Alas, I was unaware of my power until last night. Imagine my shock as the Red Sox addressed every note of caution I pondered yesterday. We need to score more runs? Okay, little man, here's a seven-spot in the third inning. Run differential not big enough? No problem, we'll double our season total in one night. Thin bullpen, eh? How about scoreless innings from three different relievers. Low strikeout rate? Bam, we'll drop a neat dozen K's on the Devil Rays. Since I have serious doubts that the Red Sox read my blog, I can only assume that some unseen force was at play, systematically negating everything I wrote.

But now I have a problem. Was this a one-time thing, or have I had this power all along and simply not noticed it until a truly stark example of it presented itself? Does the phrasing matter? Is there some special sequence of words that I need to include before this power kicks in? Is this power limited to just the Red Sox, or does it apply to baseball in general and other, broader topics of import in this crazy world? I simply don't know, leaving me to wonder if I can ever replicate the magic of yesterday's events.

I'm willing to give it a shot though. Maybe it won't ever happen again, but I feel it's my civic duty to exercise this newfound gift for the greater good if at all possible. On that note:
  • A home run by Manny tonight would be a nice pick-me-up, a sign that he's found his stroke again.
  • A repeat of his recent strong performances by Tim Wakefield, keeping the streak of the rotation's quality starts going, would make me happy.
  • How about an early return from the DL for Coco Crisp?
  • Jim Rice sure does belong in the Hall of Fame, doesn't he?
  • Really, the whole Iraq thing? That's got to end.
  • Gas prices need to drop by about a buck a gallon. I won't be greedy here, oil companies can make their profits and keep their investors happy. But $2.89 a gallon? Come on, be reasonable.
  • World peace would be pretty cool, wouldn't it? And an end to famine. Hey, why not.

Let's see how that goes for starters. If some of this stuff works, maybe I'll open a hotline, start taking some requests. Who am I to hoard a gift that could help so many?

Oh yeah, one last thing. In the morning, when I wake up, it sure would be a pleasant surprise to be fifty pounds lighter and six inches taller.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Note of Caution

There are two reasons why I like 10-4. First, it reminds me of CB radios and Smokey and The Bandit, the first somewhat bawdy movie that I ever got to see in the theatre with my friends, instead of going to some cheesy kid flick with my parents. That's always a fond memory.

The second, is that 10-4 is the Red Sox record so far this year, a mark that is tops in the American League and only a half-game behind the Mets for the best record in all of baseball. What's more, they've done it despite having a hole in the rotation (that may or may not be filled by the devilishly handsome yet uninspiring Lenny DiNardo), having their leadoff man and center fielder on the DL since the season's first week, missing their right fielder for several games, having their captain and catcher working his way through a strained keister muscle, having the grand total of one truly reliable relief pitcher in the bullpen, having one of the new relievers miss the first 10 days of the years as a result of being utterly insane, and having their $20 million cleanup hitter go into his fourteenth game without an extra-base hit.

They've done it, quite simply, on pitching and pitching alone. The once-vaunted Red Sox offense has struggled, scoring just 67 runs in their first 14 games, a pace that would see them score about 135 fewer runs than last season's league-leading total. With no Coco Crisp at the top of the order, and with Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek ailing, plus Manny's prolonged slump, the team simply couldn't score, no matter how well Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Mike Lowell and Mark Loretta started the season.

No, this team is now built on its rotation, and they've been simply spectacular. After Matt Clement's performance last night, the rotation has now thrown nine quality starts at the opposition in those fourteen games, a 64% rate that would have led the league last year by a wide margin. Their 3.96 team ERA is leading the league easily. With a 1-2 tandem of Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett, few teams in the majors can match up with them, particularly with Jonathan Papelbon turning into a dominant closer right before our eyes.

Still, I'd like to inject a note of caution here. The Sox are six games over .500 despite outscoring the opposition by just eight total runs. That kind of ratio typically translates into a winning percentage well over 100-points lower than their current mark of .714. They are 5-0 in one-run ballgames, and that is likely not going to continue, particularly if their pitchers continue to be just ninth in the league in strikeouts per nine innings, a key indicator of future success. They've been great at keeping the ball in the yard (just 13 homers allowed, 2nd in the league), and they don't walk many (just 33 walks allowed, 3rd in the league), so maybe they can be the exception to the rule about letting the other team put the ball in play too much. Still, it scares me, particularly since they have scored the fewest runs in their division by a wide margin. Frankly, that's not going to get it done over the long haul.

We need Manny being Manny, and we need Coco Crisp back and Trot playing regularly. We need someone besides Papelbon in the bullpen to step it up and be a reliable option (sorry, Mike Timlin, you haven't impressed me much this year). We need to fill that fifth spot in the rotation with someone who isn't grossly out of shape (David Wells), inexperienced and underwhelming (DiNardo), or a rookie (Jon Lester, who hasn't done well in Triple A so far this year).

The Sox need to start performing on the field as well as their record looks in the standings. Keep in mind folks, despite their current losing record and last place status, the Yankees still have the best run differential in the division (85 scored, 62 allowed). The day will soon come when their lights will be flashing in the Sox's rear view mirror.

And as Sheriff Buford T. Justice always said, "You can bet your ass on that, boy."

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Catching Up

Sorry I missed the last few days, but you try working a full-time job, raising two kids, starting a new diet and exercise program and keeping multiple blogs up-to-date all at the same time. Woe is me.

Anyway, it's probably best that I said nothing the last few days anyway, because no sooner did I praise the starting pitching when they threw two straight stinkers out there. David Wells was dreadful, and he has mercifully been returned to the DL where he belongs. I gotta say, Wells has an impressive streak of disruption going. He demanded a trade pretty much as soon as the last season ended, but then failed to rehab his surgically repaired knee while simultaneously saying he only wanted to go to a contending team on the West Coast, all of which made him virtually untradeable.

Once he finally accepted this fact, he rescinded the trade offer, but his balky knee kept him from doing much of anything in Spring Training. Still, despite it being obvious that he wasn't ready to pitch, Wells did find time to call his manager an idiot and demand a rotation spot. The attitude made it even less likely that the team could ever get anything in return for him if they continued to pursue trades, so they dealt Bronson Arroyo instead. Arroyo, of course, has started hot for the Reds, while Wells continued to pitch like crap in Pawtucket, his enormous, unrepentant bulk putting ceaseless pressure on his rehab-free knee. Activiated nonetheless, he promptly brought the Sox's 5-game winning streak to a screeching halt before being returned to the DL. Now the team that started the Spring with seven viable starters to choose from has the utterly forgettable Lenny DiNardo in the rotation. The lesson here? David Wells is a prick. No real surprise I guess.

Thankfully, Curt Schilling got the rotation back in shape with a masterful performance yesterday against Seattle. He's been his old self this year, and that is looking to be more and more critical because Matt Clement has struggled, Wells is Wells, and Tim Wakefield is hit and miss as he finds his way with a new catcher. Without Schilling going great guns, the rotation would have no reliable starter but Josh Beckett, who seems to be permanently on the brink of either raising a blister on his pitching hand or punching out a member of the opposition. With the bats being pretty unimpressive so far, what with two-thirds of the outfield injured and the other third, Manny, not hitting, without Schilling's performance so far (backed up by Jonathan Papelbon), this team would likely be tied with the Devil Rays for last place in the division. And that's not even an exaggeration.

One reason for this is a trend I noticed last year with Terry Francona that he's decided to continue this season. On random days, seemingly at a time that corresponds with Jason Varitek having the day off with Wakefield on the mound, Tito will sit a handful of other regulars, too. Today is a perfect example. Varitek is out with Wakefield pitching. We already know that Coco Crisp and Trot Nixon are out of commission too. So Tito naturally decided that today would also be a good day to give Mike Lowell and Mark Loretta a day off. What the hell? With three known lineup spots sporting backup players, how in the world does Tito think the team can afford to have two more regulars on the bench? These aren't the dog days of August. It's April, and none of these guys should be so tired that they have to have a day off this early in the season. But Terry sat them anyway, and, predictably, the Sox were shut out. These early games count in the standings, too, don't they?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Home Opener

Just a few quick thoughts on the team so far:
  • I guess that theory about Mike Lowell being done is now worthless. If he hits this way all season, coupled with Beckett's performance, that trade is going to look like the steal of the century, no matter how good those prospects play in Florida.
  • As always with this ownership group, the events today at Fenway were first class. For all of the front office mischief that often takes places, these guys can throw an event like no one else. The 1946 team? The little guy from the Jimmy Fund singing the anthem? The flag that covers The Wall? Classic. Well done.
  • Okay, so Coco broke his finger doing something stupid. If it was going to happen, now is a good time, with Stern still hot from Spring Training and the WBC. I'm perfectly comfortable with that kid in center field and his approach at the plate is solid right now.
  • Trot tweaking a groin muscle this early in the season isn't a good sign, particularly with Wily Mo Pena wearing a clown suit for the entire first week of the season.
  • On the flip side, the rotation looks beautiful so far. Five quality starts in the first seven games, with the only exceptions being Clement's scoreless six innings that were ruined when Tito kept him in the game too long, and Wakefield's first start with Bard as his catcher. Beckett and Schilling have been good beyond reasonable expectations, and Wakefield and Bard bounced back very nicely. Throw in a solid back half of the bullpen (Foulke's two runs today were the fault of Wily Mo), and this staff looks pretty damn good. And trust me on this because I just watched the Yankees number three starter and middle relief corps get ripped by the Royals of all people, but they're just not that good. Minus The Unit and Mariano, they don't have a pitcher on their staff I would take on the Sox.
  • Kevin Youkilis is a stud. That guy is going to hit all year. Mark it down.
  • On the other hand, Alex Gonzalez probably won't hit his weight. I'm okay with that given the defense I've seen so far. He's the real deal. Combined with Lowell, and what I've seen from Youkilis (and J.T. Snow) so far at first, the infield defense this year is going to be sick.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Schill As In Thrill

Welcome back Curt. It's nice to have you.

After a second straight great performance, I'm willing to declare Schilling back to his old self. The first great start in Texas could have been attributed to Opening Day adrenaline, plus nice warm weather that let him get loose fast. Last night was an entirely different story. The game was delayed by 90 minutes due to rain, and it stayed cold and damp the entire night. Schilling didn't seem to be affected at all, and was still popping fastballs at 96-MPH in his final inning. Just a commanding performance all the way around.

A healthy Schilling makes this rotation scary. With the way Beckett has looked all Spring, and how Clement looked until his final inning, when Francona inexplicably left him in a blow out too long, suddenly this team's got three power arms striking out hitters and shortening games for the bullpen. The back end of the pen, with Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Timlin and a seemingly recovering Keith Foulke, is fine. If the two other geriatrics in the rotation, Tim Wakefield and David Wells, can be just league average, the shallow bullpen becomes less and less of a glaring weakness. That, in turn, gives the Delcarmens and Hansens of the farm system time to develop, making them more likely to be contributors whenever they are finally called up.

A healthy Schilling makes all of that flow, and it's a beautiful sight to see.

Other Sox Notes:
  • Papi, shut up. I know that the quality of umpiring has been poor ever since Sandy Alderson left the MLB front office, but there are a couple of things at play here. First, you're not special. Umpiring has been bad all around, not just for you and not just for the Red Sox. Quit playing the martyr. Second, you really, really crossed the line with that "hangover" comment. Let me get this straight. You're publicly demeaning the professionalism of the umpires by saying that a decent percentage of them get plastered the night before a ballgame, to a degree that it affects their performance, and you think this is somehow going to help the situation? Have you lost your mind? What kind of pitches do you think are going to be called against you now? More importantly, what kind of pitches do you think Red Sox pitchers are going to get? Your mouth is doing more damage than your bat at the moment, Papi, so shut it, and concentrate on your job.
  • While I don't expect the team to maintain an .800 winning percentage for the year, it is fair to note that their current 29-23 run differential translates to a winning percentage of .604. That means 98 wins for the season and a guaranteed playoff spot. Small, small sample, but all systems appear to be go, at the moment.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Sox vs. Rangers, April 5th, 2006

The first running diary of the season! Yahoo!

Pre-Game – Crap, we get the Rangers home broadcast tonight, with that weenie Josh Lewin as the play-by-play man, and Tom Grieve, whose nickname is “Tag”, as the colorless color man. And it’s one of the Fox networks. God help me.

Top 1st – Kameron Loe on the mound for Texas, yet another new member of the Stupid Spelling Hall of Fame…

Let me be clear about something I’ve said previously in regard to bunting. Yes, I hate it when it’s an attempt to do nothing but move a runner over. But I’m okay with bunting for a hit, like Mark Loretta just tried, or a suicide squeeze that nets you a run. On the other hand, Loretta just laced a shot into left field that could have been a double if Wilkerson had misplayed it, so to hell with bunting…

Okay, I’m officially giving Mark Teixeira the Gold Glove again this year. Every time I turn around he’s fielding a hard-hit ball like it’s a practice grounder and turning it into two outs.

Bottom 1st – Okay, here’s why Josh Lewin is a moron. The first official hitter faced by Josh Beckett as a member of the Red Sox, Brad Wilkerson, just smacked a double to right field, to which Lewin said, “Welcome to the American League, Mr. Beckett.” Apparently Lewin forgot that the guy who hit the ball, Wilkerson, is a career National Leaguer, who is playing just his third AL game. Schmuck…

1-0 Texas on an RBI single by Michael Young, who at least has a normal name…

Beckett labored pretty badly in that inning. The stuff was there, regularly at 96-97, but they were sitting on his fastball and his location wasn’t the best. Let’s hope it’s first day jitters….

Top 2nd – Now Lewin is making fun of Manny’s hair. Like Josh Lewin has any room to criticize someone else’s looks. And he didn’t even get the description right. He called Manny’s hair “cornrows”. They’re dreadlocks, runt.

Bottom 2nd – Well, Beckett looked much better, location-wise. He gave up a hard single and a long fly ball out, but his command was much more crisp. Unfortunately, he’s already up to 39 pitches…

Top 3rd – Hey, Ernie Banks is in the house. I’ve got an autographed ball from him, a nice couplet with my autographed ball from Buck O’Neil, the man who found him for the Cubs. Always good to Ernie, a true gentleman…

Now Lewin is rambling about how Greg Maddux had a lot more errors as a fielder than his teammate Tom Glavine, trying to make to foolish point about how errors and Gold Gloves don’t equate. Mercifully, “Tag” reminded him that you’ll make more errors if you reach more balls. Duh…

Don’t look now, but the Sox aren’t hitting this Kameron Loe guy, funny spelling or not.

Bottom 3rd – Uh oh. No more runs, but lots of hard hit balls, and a pitch count over 60 already. Plus I got to enjoy the pleasure of Josh Lewin ripping the Royals for pretty much the entire half inning. Hey Josh, the Royals aren’t part of this game. Focus!

Top 4th – Lorretta’s second at bat, his second hit, the team’s second hit. Now Papi, don’t hit a ground ball to Teixeira again…

Okay, Papi, I guess I should have said no ground balls, period. Boy do I hate double plays…

Bottom 4th – Jeez, another rocket. Beckett is fooling no one. D’Angelo Jimenez? I didn’t even know he was on the Rangers…

Another wild pitch. Can any catcher on the Red Sox actually, you know, catch?…

Well, it’s still 1-0, but Beckett is over 80 pitches. This could end badly…

Top 5th – Ground ball…

Ground ball…


Deep fly ball, out. Not much joy with the bats today. Can some of our pitchers change to funky spellings on their names?…

Bottom 5th – Wow, a blessed 6-pitch inning for Beckett, easily looking the best he has all night. Now if the bats can just do something against this Loe dude…

Top 6th – Ground ball…

Go Coco Go!!! Triple. Gotta say, he’s much faster than Johnny Whathisname ever was. He flat out flew around the bases. Now comes Loretta, who has the only other hits for the Sox tonight…

Ground ball. Again. Ho hum…

Ground ball. End of threat, end of inning. What’s so annoying is that even Lewin has said that Loe has thrown nothing but sinkers all night, most of which drop out of the strike zone, but the Sox keep swinging at it anyway. Just stop swinging guys, until he throws something else. It’s not like he’s used any other pitches. He’s going to throw sinkers until you boobs stop swinging at them and hammering them into the ground.

Bottom 6th – Beckett is certainly settling down. It’s only taken him 16 pitches to get through the last two innings, so he’s still under 100 for the game. Should be good for the 7th inning at least. Now if Manny “Cornrows” can start us off right…

Top 7th – Sinker, no swing, ball one. Good…

Crap slurve, no swing, ball two…

Outside, ball three…

Gift called strike…

Manny nearly kills himself fighting off an inside fastball…

Sinker, no swing, take your base. Good job Manny baby! See guys? Not that hard…

Boom! After Trot also took the first pitch, Loe decided to throw a regular fastball, which Trot just deposited into the first row in right field, 2-1 Sox…

Varitek takes the first pitch…And the second. I sense a plan developing…

Boom, solid single to center field. See? Patience really IS a virtue…

Now Lowell takes ball one…then promptly ruins the good vibe by popping up a sinker that was easily a foot low. Thanks Mike…

Snow tries to re-start the vibe, taking ball one…but flies out to left field. Not a bad ball to hit though, and he got good wood on it, just right at Wilkerson…

Single for Gonzalez, the supposed weak link offensively, and that does it for Kameron Loe. Credit where it’s due, the kid was fooling the Sox all night until the seventh, when they finally realized his sinker wasn’t a strike unless they swung at it…

On comes Joaquin Benoit, and Coco is feeling it well enough to foul off the first three pitches. None of this “taking” stuff for him…By the way, Coco has a flutt4ery finger thing working on the bat handle as he waits for each pitch. Kind of annoying, actually, now that I’ve noticed it. No matter, he just whiffed on a nasty curveball that no one saw coming…

Bottom 7th -
Here comes pitch number 100...nasty 88 MPH split. The pitch before was at 94,so I think there's plenty of zip left in his arm...

Okay, we've got a tense one run pitcher's duel going, so what do you think the Rangers' broadcast crew just spent a few minutes talking about? A hot dog eating contest between two fans in the upper deck. Riveting television...

One-two-three for Beckett, on just 13 pitches, so he might come out for the eighth as well...Nope, he's trying to give the umpire a "good game", so he must be done. God, it's good to have pitching for a change...

Between innings - I'm officially tired of how the Extra Innings Package will show the "We'll Be Right Back" graphic during some of the commercials this year. Kinda maddening, and it makes me think the signal's been lost every time I hear the music that goes with it...

Top 8th - Nice, professional at bat for Mark Loretta, who just drew a walk on a borderline pitch to lead off the inning...

Wow. Papi just swung through a fastball that would have landed in Fort Worth if he'd connected, and followed it up with a rope down the right field line that barely went foul. He's got Benoit timed pretty well here...So Benoit pulled the string and struck him out on an 85-MPH slop ball. Gotta say, that was a good pitch to throw there...

Ball four to Manny, who had Lewin mocking him openly in the booth during the entire at bat. I'm about to hit the mute button...

Okay ,Teixeira is making me sick with his glove. He just caught a popup by Trot a row into the stands that he had to track for twenty feet along the wall and camera bay. Finally, a Ranger first baseman who earned his Gold Glove...

Threat over on another popup, and here comes Mike Timlin for the first time this season...

Bottom 8th - And promptly surrenders a lead-off single to Teixeira. That guy's everywhere...

And following a hard out to right field, he walks Hank Blalock on four pitches. What was I saying about having good pitching?...

Now TImlin can't find home plate. He's 2-0 to Kevin Mench with the tying run on second base...

Bang, single to left field, and the Rangers' third base coach foolishly tests Manny's arm. First of all, the ball was hit really hard, so it got to Manny quickly. And second, Manny, for all of his faults in the field, has a good arm, and hit Lowell perfectly for the relay home. Teixeira is out at the plate, so now it's first and second, two outs...

Make that second and third, following one of the uglier wild pitches you're ever going to see. Settle down Mike. Just one more strike...

Ground ball to Loretta, and we go to the ninth. Whew!...

Top 9th - On comes sidearming Scott Feldman, who looks about as athletic as I do. And yet he promptly got the Sox to go down in order on eight pitches. Who knew?...

Bottom 9th - Um, here's an interesting development. Out of the bullpen to save the game comes...Jonathan Papelbon, and not the mysterious and grumpy Keith Foulke. Oh my, how the talk radio boys will be singing about this one tomorrow, no matter how it turns out...

Lewin just made the inevitable "That's All, Foulke" joke. Tee hee...

One down, on a nasty 95-MPH gasser on the outside corner...

Two down, on a popup on the very next pitch...

You can always tell when the home announcers think one of their hitters just got a gift from the ump, because they become absolutely silent...

Strike three, ballgame. My oh my, did Papelbon look good in that closer role.

Thank you and goodnight ladies and gentlemen. The running diary mojo is back!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Bard As In Hard...To Watch

As I type this, it's just the fourth inning of Game 2 against the Rangers, and my eyes are already bleeding. It's 4-0 Rangers, and much of the reason for it is the hideous performance by Josh Bard as he makes feeble attempt after feeble attempt to catch Tim Wakefield's knuckleball. It's really clear that the Sox are going to have to re-think their strategy, either by replacing Bard with a different backup catcher, or by letting Jason Varitek catch Wakefield.

Who knew how badly we would all yearn for Doug Mirabelli?

Other Sox Notes:
  • What, exactly, was the point of yanking Alex Gonzalez out of the starting lineup after just one game? I know the official version, Alex Cora was a better matchup against Vincente Padilla. But does it make any sense at all to pull a struggling guy out of the lineup just after he finally had a two-hit game, and on Opening Day no less? I don't think so. I think this might have been some moronic play on Tito's part to punish Gonzalez for his boneheaded baserunning play yesterday. That would be dumb, too, but at least it makes a touch more sense than getting Alex Cora into the lineup because of his bat.
  • Okay, enough of the Roger Clemens rumors. Great, he visited the Red Sox before the game and met with Theo, then said some nice things about the team and city. That's swell. But until I hear him say, in plain English, "I'm going to play this year and it's going to be for the Boston Red Sox", then there is video of him signing a contract, then he actually appears in uniform in a game, I simply won't believe it. His credibility on matters of this kind is simply shot to hell.
  • Finally, did you notice the spelling skills displayed by the parents of Rangers center fielder Laynce Nix? Laynce? With a Y? Where did they come up with that, and, more importantly, how did they decide that his name should still be pronounced "Lance"? I'm mystified, but at least I have a new entry in the Stupid Spelling Hall of Fame, alongside Jimy Williams and Wily Mo Pena. Congratulations Laynce!

Monday, April 03, 2006

The More Things Change...

It all looked awfully familiar this afternoon, didn't it? Schilling was on his game, Tek had a big hit, Papi hit a bomb, the center fielder/leadoff hitter scored from first on a double and made a great catch, and Manny made a routine play pretty exciting out in left field. If not for Foulke getting hammered in the ninth inning, it would have looked like 2004 all over again.

Other than Foulke's inning and a boneheaded baserunning play by Alex Gonzalez, the day couldn't have gone much better. Schilling had every pitch working and appeared to have both his old movement and much of his old velocity back, a wildly encouraging sign. Mike Lowell's recent discovery of his swing resulted in a homer, just the thing he needs to get his confidence where it's needed. Coco Crisp made that special catch, and looked faster than Johnny Damon ever did on that sprint home in front of Papi's double. Papelbon was lights out in his one inning. There were even a couple of hits from Gonzalez and a base hit by Trot Nixon against a lefty.

Lots of questions were answered today, and most of them in favor of optimism. Now if the A's can just beat the stinkin' Yankees tonight, we'll start the year a game up. Like I said earlier today, color me happy...

Ah, Spring!

I am a happy man. That is always the case on Opening Day, and though I don't know that I have much more reason to be happy this year than others in recent Red Sox history, I find myself surprisingly pleased with this year's team. After all of the off-season turmoil and upheaval, I came out the end of it all with a positive outlook on the team.

Coco Crisp has been great, as has Mark Loretta and Josh Beckett, three huge new additions. Kevin Youkilis responded better than anyone could have hoped to being handed a full-time job, posting a monster Spring. Manny is in the best shape I've ever seen him in a Sox uniform, and the same could be said of Trot Nixon. Papi is Papi, and The Captain is The Captain. The only lineup spots that concern me are on the new left side of the infield, but Alex Gonzalez wasn't brought in for his bat, so anything we get there is a bonus. And Mike Lowell not only brings Gold Glove defense, but a professional attitude and a bat that, when working properly, can be dangerous in Fenway. Since it looked like he found his stroke at the end of Spring Training, I'm guessing he'll be just fine, thank you, at third base this year.

Sure, there are bullpen questions, and I still don't know where J.T. Snow or Wily Mo Pena really fit on this team, plus a lot of the starters are old. But this is a good team, there's even more talent on the way, and hardly anyone is picking the Red Sox to make the playoffs, let alone win anything, so there's no pressure of any kind.

Color me happy.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Your 2006 Boston Red Sox

It looks like the Opening Day roster is essentially set. The article I linked to lists everyone who is leaving, so let me list the final 25 who will make the team.

CF - Coco Crisp
2B - Mark Loretta
DH - David Ortiz
LF - Manny Ramirez
RF - Trot Nixon
C - Jason Varitek
3B - Mike Lowell
1B - Kevin Youkilis
SS - Alex Gonzalez

Nice group, and as I have written before, while I think the Sox will take a step back from the 900 or so runs they're used to scoring, they will still be a top-5 offense.

Bench - J.T. Snow
Bench - Wily Mo Pena
Bench - Adam Stern
Bench - Josh Bard
Bench - Alex Cora

Not bad. I'm not in love with any of these guys, but Stern has looked spectacular, and Pena can be valuable if he's limited to a platoon against lefties. Bard seems to have Wakefield's confidence, which is really all that matters, and Cora can be a defensive star anywhere in the infield. Snow is likely to be gone whenever the Sox feel like recalling Hee-Seop Choi., and I hope that happens sooner than later

SP - Curt Schilling
SP - Josh Beckett
SP - Tim Wakefield
SP - Matt Clement

That's it for now, with David Wells slated to come offthe DL to be the fifth starter a couple of weeks into the season. Again, a really solid group if Schilling is healthy and approaches his old self. If this group (including Wells) is healthy, this may be the best, deepest rotation the Red Sox have ever had.

CL - Keith Foulke
RP - Mike Timlin
RP - Rudy Seanez
RP - David Riske
RP - Julain Tavarez
RP - Jonathan Papelbon
RP - Lenny DiNardo

I'm much more comfortable with this group than I was with last year's bullpen, but I'm still pretty nervous. Foulke's knees are a complete question mark, Timlin is 40, Riske and Seanez have been terrible this spring, Papelbon is actually a starter, DiNardo is temporary help once Wells returns, and Tavarez is utterly, completely insane. My guess is that Foulke will be fine, and so will Timlin. Same with Papelbon, who is a stud. But I can see Riske, Seanez and Tavarez being long gone before the All-Star break, their spots taken by Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen and a permanent role for DiNardo. That group would actually make me feel pretty good.

All in all, I'm happy with the club. My only concerns are Mike Lowell's bat, the health of the rotation, and the volatility of the bullpen. Two of the three, Lowell and the pen, have solutions ready to deploy (moving Youkilis back to third, bringing up the young relievers), leaving only the rotation's health as something we'll have to watch for. To me, that's the key to the entire season.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Goodbye, Tony

Well, I'm not too happy about the fact that the Sox will now get nothing in return, but I'm glad for Tony Graffanino that the club finally waived him. Now he can catch on somewhere (St. Louis? The Cubs or Mets?) that he's wanted and needed.

This was pretty much a forgone conclusion once the team offered him arbitration, a move I still don't understand. By offering it, they pretty much guaranteed that no club would offer him a contract and surrender a draft pick to the Sox. That, in turn, forced Graffanino to accept arbitration, which at least meant that he would be guaranteed a decent contract. Unfortunately for both him and the Sox, that move made him completely useless to the Red Sox, who already had Mark Loretta in camp and Dustin Pedroia waiting in the wings. With other teams knowing the Red Sox had to move Graffanino or waive, no one would offer them anything of real value in return, making today's waiver inevitable.

Keep in mind, the arbitration offer that set all of this off was made while Theo was still doing social work. For all of the posturing Johnny Damon has done about the Theo void and how it prevented him from returning to Boston, I think that's a load of baloney. But Graffanino, on the other hand, is a good guy and a good player who truly was victimized by the team's profoundly disfunctional off-season front office shenanigans.

I hope someone in the front office offered him a sincere apology on his way out the door.

Other Sox Notes:
  • I love the signing of Hee-Seop Choi. The rumors all spring have been that both Mike Lowell and J.T. Snow are showing their age worse than Farah Fawcett. Signing Choi, who has always fit the Sox offensive blueprint of patience combined with power, allows them to cut Snow loose if he can't cut it anymore, or move Youkilis back to third if Lowell can't cut it anymore, or both. Plus, he still has a minor league option left, so they don't have to make these decisions anytime soon. Just a perfect signing all around.
  • So, Josh Beckett even plays his Spring Training games with a chip on his shoulder? Beautiful. If this guy can stay healthy, I get the feeling I'm going to like him for a long, long time.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Fenway Got Fisk Into The Hall

I was playing around with some numbers on Fenway Park's advantage to hitters when I learned that the advantage Jim Rice enjoyed in Fenway was actually less than the advantage enjoyed by Carlton Fisk.

Rice certainly hit better in the Fens, with home field gaps of 43 batting average points, 44 on-base percentage points, and 87 slugging percentage points over his road games. But then look at Fisk. He batted .300 in Fenway and .259 everywhere else. He got on base at a .377 clip in Fenway, .329 everywhere else. And he slugged .532 at Fenway and just .433 everywhere else. Take his career averages everywhere except Fenway and extrapolate them out to his full career, and his numbers look a tad worse than Ted Simmons.
























Now, Simmons came nowhere near being elected to the Hall of Fame (he received 17 total votes in his one year on the ballot), while Pudge got in on his second try. Why is it that his Fenway numbers weren't counted against him, while Jim Rice's are? Someone please explain that to me.

Other Sox Notes:

  • Where to begin? How about with the pleasant news that Juan Gonzalez decided to pack it in as soon as he heard about Wily Mo. Maybe I was a bit hasty in evaluating Pena's value. By getting rid of Gonzalez, he's providing benefits already...
  • It looks like Pena will still be used as an outfielder, meaning that Dustan Mohr is the odd man out, but he played well enough this spring to have some trade value, so a nice signing by Theo and Gang nonetheless. This also means that Youkilis will still be the regular first baseman (at least as of now) and the Lowell will still be the starter at third, so I guess the front office isn't panicking about him yet. His bat has picked up in recent days anyway, so I guess there's hope...
  • So Johnny Damon doesn't approve of the Arroyo trade, huh? So let me get this straight: I'm supposed to care about the opinion of a self-described "idiot" who told the world in his autobiography that he cheated on his wife then married a pole dancer before leaving town to our arch-rival over money? Ummm, I don't think I'll be losing any sleep over Johnny's sage assessment of Theo's moves. Here's a tip Johnny; Get over it. You asked for more money and years than anyone but New York thought you were worth, then settled for the same number of years the Sox offered without ever giving them the chance to match the money. You made that bed, so quit crying "disrespect" and go play for your new team.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Welcome, Wily Mo

A big thank you to David Wells for dropping his trade demand, then immediately turning around and demanding a certain rotation slot and calling his manager an idiot. Those two actions simultaneously make the Sox want to trade him again, while making other clubs even more leery about giving up anything in return. Well done, David. Well done...

And now it looks like that won't happen, as Bronson Arroyo leaves town in exchange for Wily Mo Pena. A couple of thoughts on this one. First, sorry to see Bronson go, because he was a likeable enough guy and had a great arm, but his head never did seem to be screwed on straight enough for my taste. This almost certainly means that Jonathan Papelbon won't start the season in the rotation, which is okay with me for now because he hasn't looked that good in the rotation and Lord knows the bullpen can use the help. This cleans up the staff to a great degree, and that's a good thing.

My other thought, however, is that Pena wouldn't have been my first choice. He doesn't fit the Red Sox mold in terms of patience (.303 career OBP) and is a defensive butcher everywhere he goes. Either Austin Kearns or Adam Dunn would have been my strong preference. Plus, this is a bad sign for the overall value of Mike Lowell. The only place Pena fits is in right field or at first base (though he has never played first in the big leagues). I don't see Trot Nixon going anywhere soon, not with the spring he is having and not with his right-handed backups slaughtering the ball. That means Pena has to play first (or DH while Papi goes back into the field), leaving Kevin Youkilis nowhere to go but back across the diamond to third. That leaves Lowell as the odd man out at $9 million per year. Great guy, great glove, but that's a freakin' waste of money. Maybe there are other moves pending (and please, God, don't let them involve someone like Juan Gonzalez anymore), but as of now I look at this deal as a bit of a panic move to shore up the offense

Other Sox Notes:

Get well soon Needlenose.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Hit 'Em All Curt

I love the way Curt Schilling is throwing the ball, and I love the fact the he is now proclaiming his willingness to throw inside. Let's face it, for a baseball player, Schilling is old, and he's been throwing the same way for a lot of years. Coming off an injury, he needs every edge he can find, and if that means a few scrubs get dusted in Spring Training as he establishes his new reputation, so be it.

Other Sox Notes:

  • Don't look now, but the bullpen looks like it could be a mess again this year. David Riske has an ERA over 10 in his four outings, and Rudy Seanez's mark is nearly 16. Throw in Bronson Arroyo's hideous 19.64 ERA, Keith Foulke's continued absence, and Mike Timlin and Julian Tavarez both being out with their World Baseball Classic teams, and suddenly the entire projected bullpen is either missing or throwing poorly. Color me nervous...
  • On the positive side, it looks like there may be two viable options to platoon with Trot Nixon in right field. Adam Stern was just sick for Team Canada in the WBC (.667/.727/1.333), and he has to stay on the major league roster for a few days anyway to start the season due to his Rule V status. And Dustan Mohr has been destroying the baseball this Spring. He's hitting .500/.588/.929 so far, including two homers, and he apparently loves to hit in Fenway Park, posting a career OPS of 1.140 in five games there. And, oh by the way, Trot himself is raking the ball this Spring, too (.500/.600/.833). I love Gabe Kapler, but if these guys can keep this up when the season starts, I don't know if Gabe will have a spot when his Achilles is healed...
  • To expand that thought, for those of you who were nervous about the offense this season, pay attention to what's going on this Spring. Trot is raking the ball. Papi and Varitek have been huge in the WBC. Manny came into camp in spectacular shape, and stroked an RBI single on the first pitch he saw. Three newcomers, Coco Crisp (.615/.667/.923), Mark Loretta (.455/.500/.455), and J.T. Snow (.417/.417/.500), have all been hitting lights out. Only Alex Gonzalez and Mike Lowell have struggled. Kevin Youkilis has too, but Snow is there to back him up, and frankly I worry less about him than the others. He's a patient hitter, and when you are patient, you're helping your club offensively even when you don't get many hits (see Bellhorn, Mark). I'm telling you now, this team will score. They will have one of the top three offenses in terms of scoring in the entire league. That means, with the vastly improved defense, that it all comes down to the pitching again this year.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Mind Who You Trust, Jim

You will find no greater supporter of Jim Rice's induction into the Hall of Fame than me. Of all the arguments in his favor that have appeared on the Internet in recent years, I honestly think the majority of them have originated with me. Obviously, I would love to see him get elected, and I would dearly love it if he would break his usual silence on the subject.

That said, I don't think Jim did himself much good with his comments in
today's column by The Asshole Dan Shaughnessy (hereafter to be known just as "TADS" in this space).

Look, Jim, I know you were a dominant player, and, personally, I put more weight on being dominant for a shorter period than being merely very good for a longer time. I know what you were trying to get at in your points about
Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. But, I'm sorry, you weren't better than them. You just weren't. Were you a more dominant hitter for twelve years? Certainly over Ripken, and maybe over Gwynn. But they weren't exactly slouches. The gap between you and them offensively, if it exists at all, isn't that big. It certainly isn't big enough to make up for the fact that each of them played longer than you and each of them was an outstanding defensive player.

Now, I suspect that much of your commentary was directed and then spun by TADS, not someone you should trust under any circumstances to represent your best interests. I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you were prodded into commenting on the recent election and hadn't planned your argument in advance. But please, if you ever do this again, think before you speak.

And, for God's sake, pick someone else to tell your story for you.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sox Off-Season Analysis

This one is for Rich White, my little brother and soon to be a first-time daddy, who properly pointed out to me over dinner at Johnny Cascone's that I have been remiss in my Sox blogging this winter. Sorry Rich, I'll try to keep this up better during Spring Training, and I'll get back on my daily schedule for sure once the season starts.

Let me address the club's major moves and give them my grades.

Acquired Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota for four prospects. Grade: A

Anytime you can grab a potential number one starter before his 26th birthday, especially one who has already beaten the Yankees in the World Series, and you only have to give up prospects in return, you do it. Period. Beckett is worth the young players, not one of whom is a sure-fire big league star. Trading young unproven potential for young proven potential is a no-brainer. Sure, the Lowell part of the deal is a risk because of the size of his contract, but he's only had one bad year, making him a great bet to return to his previous form and post 25 homers and 90 RBI, all while playing Gold Glove defense. Even if he sucks, getting Beckett makes this a deal the Sox couldn't have turned down.

Acquired Mark Loretta for Doug Mirabelli. Grade B+

This would be a no-brainer A+ if Loretta wasn't coming off an injury, but he is, so I scaled it down a bit. Still, when you can get a starting second baseman for your backup catcher, you make the deal, injuries or not. Loretta fits perfectly in the Sox's lineup and overall offensive strategy. With a career on-base percentage of .365, almost exclusively in the National League, Loretta is a great bet to match or exceed that mark in the American League, injury or not. Throw in the fact that he grades out as an above-average defensive second baseman AND an average defensive shortstop, and the deal looks like an absolute steal. I'll miss Doug Mirabelli, but this deal had to be made.

Acquired top prospect Andy Marte for Edgar Renteria and cash. Grade C

I'm fine with getting rid of Renteria. He'll probably bounce back and have a solid season for Atlanta, but his personality didn't fit the pressure in Boston, and his defensive play, the one part of his game that was always reliable, was terrible last year. When he then blamed much of his trouble on the playing surface at Fenway - a ludicrous claim since the entire field was replaced with a multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art surface just last off-season - it proved that his character was not something worth taking a chance on salvaging. And getting an exceptional prospect like Marte was very nice, even if the Sox then flipped him to Cleveland in the Crisp deal. But the dollars that the club had to include in the deal stand as stark proof of what a terrible contract they gave Renteria last year. For that, they can't grade out higher than a C on this deal, but I won't penalize them any further because they deserve credit for recognizing the mistake and being proactive about fixing it.

Acquired Coco Crisp, David Riske and Josh Bard for Mota, Marte, Kelly Shoppach, cash and a player or considerations to be named later. Grade B

This was a move that had to be made, and I'm pleased with it for the most part. A rising star and still just 26, I think Coco Crisp's game and personality will be a great fit in Boston. Getting Riske in the deal was also nice, he should be a nice upgrade in the bullpen over the Mike Myers' and Chad Bradfords of the world, who were only reliable for one or two hitters at a time. Giving up a prime prospect like Marte is painful, because I can see him plaguing the Sox for a decade as the Indians' third baseman. And I would have rather hung on to Mota than bring in Riske, because I think there's just more talent there, but overall this was a nice deal that filled the team's biggest remaining hole.

Signed Alex Gonzalez to a one-year contract. Grade C+

Not bad as a stopgap measure, because he plays really good defense and makes both Beckett and Lowell more comfortable. Plus he's comparatively cheap. But Gonzalez isn't likely to do much at the plate. He may have a bounce-back year and smack 15-20 homers, but I'm not counting on it. For the first time since Pokey Reese was getting regular playing time a couple of years ago, it looks like the Sox will have a hole in their lineup. Still, that season turned out pretty well, didn't it?

There are two other moves I want to address quickly. First, I'm 100% okay with Kevin Youkilis playing first base every day. He's fine with the glove, certainly better than Kevin Millar, and will have three above-average-to-excellent defenders throwing to him anyway, so the defensive aspect of this move doesn't scare me at all. In terms of offense, no, he won't hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs, like a prototype first baseman. But on the other hand, the Red Sox haven't had anyone like that since Mo Vaughn in 1998, and all they've done is go to the post-season four of the seven years that followed, including winning the big one in 2004 with a guy, Millar, who hit only 18 homers and drove in only 74 runs. That's something Youkilis can do, and he's a great bet to exceed the .383 on-base percentage Millar posted that year. Trust me folks (including you, Rich), Youk will be fine.

Finally, the Johnny Damon move simply had to happen. It would have been absolute lunacy to commit $52 million to a guy who will be almost 36 when the contract expires. The Yankees can do that, the Sox can't. Remember, if payrolls are a fair representation of a team's income, then the Yankees have about $1.64 for every dollar the Red Sox can spend. That means that the $13 million the Yankees can pay Damon annually is the same as the Sox giving him about $8 million. Anything over that would mean the Sox would be paying Damon a premium on their smaller payroll. They tried to do just that, offering Damon $10 million per year for the same four years the Yankees gave him. But giving him $13 million, as the Yankees did, would have meant paying him over 10% of their total available payroll dollars, and the Sox's front office was smart enough to realize that they couldn't do that.

Think of it this way - for the same money they would have spent to retain Damon at the price he got from New York, the Sox instead got his replacement (Crisp, $2.75 million), a Renteria replacement (Gonzalez, $3 million) and a new ace for the rotation (Beckett, $4.325 million), with enough left over to acquire a 6-time Gold Glove winning backup first baseman (J.T. Snow, $2 million), and still have a million bucks to spare. I hate to say it, but long live Scott Boras. He just conned the Yankees into a deal that quite likely saved the long-term future of the Red Sox.