Thursday, August 27, 2009

Things we learned

So in the last week we learned that the Sox won't be catching the Yankees when the Yankees took 2 of 3 and beat ace Josh Beckett (soundly). Against what was needed most, we found out the return of Jerry Remy to the booth was not going to be a rabbit's foot and allow the Sox to enter contention for the division again. (welcome back RemDog!) We learned Jacoby Ellsbury is the best base stealer in RedSox history (the Sox missed another opportunity with Taco Bell) as he passed Tommy Harper's long standing record of 54 steals. Ellsbury has done it at around an 80% success rate which is impressive too. Ellsbury has quietly accomplished what we hoped all along, decent on base percentage, hit around .300, play great D and add excitement with his legs. Back in April-June everybody was writing him off, he still takes too big a swing too often but he is still learning. We have learned that John Smoltz can pitch effectively against the Padres. Tomorrow night we see step 2 in his NL return against the mighty Nationals. With all due respect, I hope he gets starts against the Pirates, Reds and Mets to finish off 5-0 since returning to the NL. We also learned that Jonathon Papelbon is a bit insecure and is taking lessons from Jim Rice in how to retract statements made irresponsibly to the media. We have learned that Billy Wagner could be a valuable piece against the likes of Sox killers Matsui, Pena, and Damon. Time will tell on that one.

We have learned that Mike Vick will be a potentially significant part of the Eagles this season. The willingness on the team's part as well as evidently McNabb's part is honorable and will allow Vick an opportunity many didn't think he would get this quickly. Many here in Atlanta are saying they have forgiven him for his illegal acts but some/many are still upset that his immaturity and behaviour while here in Atlanta showed total lack of respect for the job he had. Stories of lack of committment to working at it and lack of support for teammates etc. are all over the place. He was just too wrapped up in personal business to be a great football player. We saw brillance oviously, at times. Perhaps with dedication (can only hope he really has learned from his experience) and support he can be magical on the field again and sustain it.

We have learned, in the media at least, that Tom Brady has the best advisors around. No doubt he is anxious to get more money when he sees the contracts being given to some of his peers. He is relatively underpaid all things considered and yet publicly says he wants to perform and help the team win. Many many many other players would be all pouty in public and some would even be holding out looking for a renegotiation. Even if he is doing that behind the curtains I gotta give him props for not doing it in public. If he truly doesn't care about that and is focused soley on winning, awesome (and unusual).

We have learned that Florida is the greatest college football team of all time. Seriously, when was the last time a team on a run over multiple years has received the hype...wait for it...and backed it up year after year. If they win the championship this year, give them the nod as best all time over a 3 or 4 year period. Every game the other team is gunning for them and they continue to find ways to emotionally and physically beat the opponents.

We have learned Tiger Woods isn't automatic in Majors when he leads late. Age, fatherhood, injuries all have played a role in the "bringing Tiger back to earth" movement. I love it. I like and absolutely respect Tiger. I am one of those fans that doesn't want him to beat Nicklaus' major championship record though. Yep, makes me old. Let him get his 18th in about 5 years, then deal with getting older and make it real tough for him to win/dominate. A tie of the record would be just fine for me.

We learned it is better to hit a pedestrian and kill them with your car while drunk than it is to foolishly shoot yourself in a nightclub. Plaxico Burress' 2 year sentence either is an injustice, or, if it is correct, then Stallworth's 24 days in prison should be a benchmark for idiocy from a judge. My vote is the judge in the Stallworth case should be removed from the bench never to pass judgement again. Oh yeah, throw in the time spent by Mike Vick as another crime, somewhere in between Burress and Stallworth as far as severity and risk to society.

We have learned that the Little League World Series tournament continues to captivate a big audience. I have found myself bouncing back and forth from watching RedSox games to the LLWS games between innings. It is relatively innocent and fun to watch. One beef I have is that these kids are 12 and 13 years old and playing with the Little League rules that are for younger kids, right? At least where my kid plays. My son is starting up "fall ball" right now and it is prep for next spring's rules which include moving up to a bigger field (he is 11) and allowing leading off base for the first time. LLWS still plays with the foot on the base until the ball crosses homeplate, which is how my son has played up until now. Interesting, maybe it varies by town/region.

Enjoy the wildcard races, there are only a couple of divisions still truly up for grabs.

*edit : I just learned the Sox released Brad Penny to make room for Wagner. Article I read says Penny asked for his release. At one point in June this looked like a nice move by Theo, since the break it has been totally miserable watching him pitch. Pounding the strike zone usually is a good thing if hitters are missing or taking the pitches, Penny pounds the zone and watches hitters pound him. Hope he finds his way back to the NL and produces for somebody.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


In 2003 there was a movie released called holes. The description from IMDB is "A wrongfully convicted boy is sent to a brutal desert detention camp where he joins the job of digging holes for some mysterious reason".

What does this have to do with sports right now? Probably nothing. Needed a title for this post though and "Holes" seemed appropriate. Besides, "digging holes for some mysterious reason" sounds a little like the RedSox lately.

The Yankees won a dramatic game in a dramatic fashion last night on an Arod 2-run blast in the 15th hanging up the only non-zeroes of the night.

What the RedSox have accomplished, if accomplishments are like "whole" numbers with a scale that goes negative too, is almost unimaginable on July 14th, the night of the All-Star game.

On the 14th, the Sox owned a modest 3 game lead over the Yankees, were 20 games above .500 and seemingly in the driver's seat and healthy. Here is what I would have said that day had I posted a recap of the first half:

Catcher - Varitek has been a pleasant surprise so far, not for his average but for his production. He has been contributing and not hurting the team so far and has, for the moment, quieted the criticisms.

First - Youkilis has been very good. His torrid start to the season went into May. He is a force to be dealt with and a good partner for Pedroia on the right side of the infield.

Second - Pedroia hasn't gone on a tear yet but has played well and as always, played hard. Will likely have a great 2nd half.

Short - the position of mystery for Theo Epstein's tenure. Nick Green has played way above expectations while filling in for injured Jed Lowry. Need Lowry's return to improve for the 2nd half.

Third - Mike Lowell has been hitting well but is limited now in the field. He no longer is a very good defensive player. Better results so far than could have been expected.

Leftfield - Jason Bay has had a first half that is reason enough to resign him now. Enough said.

Centerfield - Up and down, Jacoby Ellsbury has recently found some consistency hitting lower in the lineup. Getting on base more will help in the 2nd half.

Rightfield - JD Drew has hit decently but without much power this season. He continues to play good D and is what he is.

DH - biggest disappointment this season so far. David Ortiz is lucky to have the support of the management and maintain his status as an everyday player.

Starting Pitching - early trouble by Dice K has left him rehabbing. Beckett is Beckett and Lester is Lester. Penny has had bright spots and won some games. Wakefield has been terrific and made his first All-Star game.

Relievers - awesome combination of arms, best in baseball despite Papelbon's wildness and love for pitches not his fastball.

Overall grade :A-

Now, since July 14th, things have dramatically changed. Read this reply by an unnamed fan (not me - wish it had been though, my thoughts completely) on the (boston globe) site yesterday to an article:

Ok - it's reality time
Theo finally remembered that this is a business and not an old boys country club.
He jettisoned Smoltz- too late but better late than never- sometimes experiments don't work - lose him and move on
Now Papi - When he warmed up in June and raised his average to a lofty .241, everyone gave him a pass. Well, now he's back to .221 and still hitting in the middle of the order. I AM a statistician, but anyone with a grade 5 education knows that after 3 months hitting .241 total, you need to be way under .200 in July to drop it back to .221, like around .180 or less. He's not even thinking about baseball. He's trying to play CYA for the steroid thing.
Now he says he didn't know - the other 103 guys knew, but someone forgot to tell the biggest and fattest guy in the room....yah probably...cut him loose - waive him, designate him, put him on a bus to anywhere with a one-way ticket. Jonathan Van Every won't bat .180...and he can actually play the field instead of just block the sunshine in half of the dugout
Brad Penny - needs Smoltz therapy - another guy with only one pitch and it's very hittable
Shortstop - call me up. I'm 62 and can play better than they can......what a disgrace.
Jason Bay - wrap up your leg and get out there dude- the season is slipping away - it's not Pittsburgh, where the season ends when the Steelers head to pre-season camp
Ditto for Drew - suck it up
And last and certainly least - V-tek, the capt. of the Titanic....hitting in the lofty .220s again......41 RBI with all those guys in front of you getting on are a sad glad you're a catcher of sorts- any other position you'd be out of baseball or the third stringer on the Ft. Myers Miracle..." called strike three " - Orsillo's favorite comment when you're up......when you come up with a guy on base, I hope you strike out, so there won't be a double play
The Yankees are running away and here come the Rays.......there are no prizes for finishing third
By the way - Wakefiled went to the all-star game in fine health
didn't pitch there or even warm up
comes home and can't walk - what the hell was he doing there??????
Did he try to climb the St. Louis Arch from the outside and fall off?
And there sits our leader, Francona...what a frontrunner.....things are bad dude...wake up and do something...start showing some emotion...I wish someone would take his private capt. chair in the dugout and rap it over his head....the season is going away - do you know? - do you care?
I've watched day after day of excuses, never raising a voice, never getting fired wonder the players love doesn't matter if they do anything.....
CAN'T WATCH ANYMORE - thank goodness I have the MLB package...there are other real games to watch........ by the way, how is Cliff Lee doing with Philly? Couldn't we have had him?..ditto Halladay...........

So back to Holes. The Sox have dug a hole that is far greater than the 4.5 games they currently sit behind the Yankees. Lets count the # of holes:

Hole #1 : catcher. What? You thought getting Victor Martinez was the patch job for this pothole? It coulda shoulda but until I see Tito using Martinez more often as catcher I am not convinced. His loyalty to Varitek will leave this as a semi-filled hole.

Hole #2 : shortstop. Lowry's recent injury to his arm/hand didn't take a hot bat out of the lineup, it was the further developing sinkhole known as shortstop for the RedSox organization. This hole continues to get bigger and bigger.

Hole #3 : thirdbase. Mike Lowell can slap the ball around still but doesn't really drive it anymore. He is a liability at third now and the beginnings of a nice big pothole has emerged. While it isn't and won't become a sinkhole, a hole is a hole.

Hole #4 : Leftfield. Jason Bay was tremendous through most of June. Then he slumped, all the way down to the .250 range. That would have been ok, slumps happen, rebound in the 2nd half and all slumps get forgotten. Unfortunately he now has hamstring issues and while still slumping is out of the lineup.

Hole #5 : Rightfield. JD Drew's play has slumped in June/July as well. He too battles nagging injuries and we haven't seen his annual back issues show up yet.

Hole #6 : DH. David Ortiz has struggled to hit .220 all year long. His bat is no longer feared by the opposition and with the defensive shift his lackluster bat often grounds out to the right side.

Hole #7 : SP. The rotation was over crowded a month ago. Down goes Wake. Down goes DiceK (thankfully). Down and out goes Smoltz. Add in a Penny that has no shine anymore and the rotation is in trouble. Clay Buchholz, the untouchable young arm, doesn't appear ready emotionally to pitch and help. Today should be fun to watch and see if he self destructs in Yankee Stadium.

It is tough to feel sorry for your team. As has been written, so much promise was put on signings of past injured players, players that were relatively cheap in nature. It really hasn't panned out and the revamping that will need to be done again in the offseason will be a true test.

What can this hole ridden team do for the last 54 games? Maybe they can still win the wildcard, maybe. They need Jason Bay back soon and producing again. They need Tito to catch Martinez more often than Varitek. They need Buchholz and Penny to come up big once in a while and eat some innings. They need Ortiz to hit .250 the rest of the way with some RBI once in a while. They need Nick Green not to throw away balls late in important games. They need the players that have been steady to continue to be steady. Phew, seems like a long list of things to hope for over a short period of time.

If you fill in holes as fast as they appear are you ever getting ahead?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Preview - Yanks Sox for 4 in the Bronx

The rest of the world seems to complain whenever the RedSox and Yankees square off:

"ESPN loves the Sox/Yankees"
"There are other games/events ya know"
"I'm sick of the Sox and yankees"
etc etc etc

But for RedSox and Yankee fans, there is nothing better.

This is old school :

Cowboys vs. Redskins

Canadiens vs. Bruins

Celtics vs. Lakers

Jack vs. Arnold

Ali vs. Frazier

Phelps vs. Cavic ?

The biggest difference in Yankees/RedSox matchups and these historical matchups is how frequently they occur. I get it, the Sox and Yanks play at least 19 times a season. With any luck, more in the playoffs.

The peak of modern wars between the two teams was surely in the 2003/2004 timeframe when things got a little crazy. There was the Pedro stares into the dugout, the Pedro throw down of Zimm, the Aaron Freak'n Boone game, the idiots, the comeback in 2004, the bloody sock. Exciting times for fans of both teams.

Lately things have settled down considerably, you know, nothing newsworthy really. Pettitte/Clemens/Arod/Manny/Ortiz connections/allegations to PED's. The courting and signing of Mark Texiera. The Joba Chamberlain and Kevin Youkilis love fest. Jeter getting plunked every series it seems.

The 8-0 start to the season series this year by the Sox has set the stage for an interesting 4 game series in the Bronx. The goose-egg means nothing going into these 4 games, really. New York has been the much more consistent and potent team since the all-star break and seemingly has the edge going into the series.

Momentum: While momentum in baseball can be easily overstated and reversed it currently favors the Yankees. The Yankees are 14-5 since the break and have charged ahead of the Sox by 2 in the loss column. The Sox on the other hand have slumped to an 8-10 record since the All-Star game.

Starting Pitching matchups:

Thursday - Smoltz vs. Chamberlain - clearly the edge goes to NY ; Smoltz has not thrown effective starts together and seemingly gets beat up big in an inning along the way. Chamberlain is coming off one of his best starts in his career.

Friday - Beckett vs. Burnett - the most compelling matchup of the weekend . Beckett has been fantastic after a terrible April start. Burnett has been up and down at times but overall very effective. While the matchup suggests it will be the best game of the series, sometimes those games will be the 12-10 type of game.

Saturday - Buchholz vs. Sabbathia - the Yankees have a huge edge here. Sabbathia hasn't pitched as great as the Yankees hoped but this type of matchup, in the pennant race, in August, is exactly what will change their perception. Buchholz has been less than great since his initial outing a few weeks ago.

Sunday - Lester vs. Pettitte - Lester gives the Sox a chance to win every time out. The other night he did just that but the team still lost in a pitcher's duel with Tampa and decided in the 13th inning. Pettitte has been very inconsistent. His time is winding down, you don't know if you will get a good start or not out of him. He still is capable. Advantage Sox in this one.

Bullpens: Much has been written about the Sox advantage this year in the pen. Lately they have been a little more hittable and showing some wear and tear from the innings needed in support of Smoltz, Penny, Dice K and Buchholz. The Yankee pen has been terrible early in the year (3 or 4 players since removed) and good lately. No clear edge for either team, if starters don't go into 7th innings most games it could get interesting with the pens taking over.

Hitting: As I said above, the Yankees are on a roll and the Sox are not. Arod has been hitting better (not for power though), Texiera is lining up votes for MVP, Jeter is Jeter, Melka hit a cycle recently, and Johnny Damon has been big lately. On the other side, the bats have been slumping for the most part. See prior post below. Youkilis and Pedroia have turned it around and are smacking the ball around as is new comer Victor Martinez. Jason Bay will miss a couple games most likely as he aggrevated his hamstring problem last night. JD Drew is also hurting but will have to play with the news on Bay. Mike Lowell is a shell of his former self, still can slap the ball around but defensively does not even resemble his stellar fielding days now behind him. Ellsbury has been steady and good, Varitek, while the ESPN made mention his HR and RBI numbers are 4th best in AL for catchers he is not to be feared. Nor is Lowry at SS. Ortiz used to be walked to avoid situations, now players will be walked to get to him. Advantage Yankees.

What does it all mean? Who knows? Did anybody expect the RedSox to win the first eight meetings this year? Really? A sweep by the Yankees would not totally surprise me. Neither would a split...or any other result.

My prediction? Yankees 3 of 4.

Tell your non-Sox/Yankee friends to relax and enjoy the coverage. ESPN might not recognize there are other teams in baseball this weekend and rightly so...this is Yankees RedSox after all.