“Well, if you’re going to make up some ground.. better do it now. The next two weeks are slightly different for the Pinstripes than the Scarlett Hose. The Yanks will be returning from Redlegs country to face the Rockies and the Brewers in The Bronx Zoo…. with neither team having been overly impressive lately. July opens with ‘Subway’ series @ Citi Field and depending on the fill-ins for the ‘Bombers, it could be a fairly even match (should the Metropolitans still be fairly streaky). The Boston Americans meanwhile will be taking on the entire state of PA with stops to meet Captain Jack Sparrow’s Bucs and then the pitching goliath known as Philadelphia Philadelphias (which I might add, many have picked as the World Series showdown this season.. PHI pitching versus BOS hitting). From there it is into Houston… so as you can see, two thirds of that trip will be fairly uncomfortable.
So fear not Virginia… like your summer, things are about to get more exciting and a lot warmer.”
As Captain James T. Kirk once said, “Those words were spoken by me.” I made this comment back on the 21st in response to Miss Virginia’s ‘Bomber’s Blog (http://southernbelle.mlblogs.com/ which is a recommended read)… I’m a friggin’ genius… oh joy. Why can’t I pick lottery winners this well? Well that’s fine, now the Scarlett Hose can feel free to live up to my prophecy and kick some Texan ass in Houston to make up the lost ground on the Pinstripes. The standings as of this second read something like this…
The New York Highlanders
The Boston Americans (2.5)
The Tampa Bay Smokers (4.0)
The Toronto Blue Jays (9.5)
The Baltimore Browns* (12.5)
*note: Formerly the St. Louis Browns (or original Milwaukee Brewers) not to be confused with the former Cleveland Browns. So Baltimore can’t keep it’s own teams and colors (team called the Yankees, colors went to the NY Baseball Giants) but keep taking other city’s teams named ‘Browns’ who happen to share the color scheme? Whatever works.
If we can take the Colt .45’s before heading into the last home stand before the break where we face the lower half of the AL East in the Maple Birds and O’s we should be in fairly good shape to set fire in the second half. We’ll have to be since the Eastern Division love-fest continues with trips to Tampa and the aforementioned Baltimore. The month will run through with a home stand against the Seattle Nintendos (think Ichiro could be moved by then?) and Kansas City Royalty. We close with a visit to the Chicago Bleached Hose who haven’t been especially nice this season. Riding into the break on a high note could be fairly important as the Pinstripe’s will be looking at a fairly matched schedule coming out of the second half gate. They’ll close out with a Subway series at Citi Field against the still surging Metropolitans then travel to Cleveland to face Chief Wa-Hoo’s tribe before finally closing in the Bronx Zoo against the Rays. They then get hip deep in the love-fest as they travel to both Toronto and Tampa before returning to the House That Ruth Financed to play the Athletics (diggin’ those yellow retro uniforms) and the Nintendos before closing the month with the O’s.
This past week was to be the preview of the Fall Classic… well, let’s hope we fare better in the fall. But like a few of the MLB and BB Tonight analysts have said, “This was just a feeling out period…” Curt Schilling did raise a fairly interesting point though, that the emphasis now has to fall on the All-Star Game because home-field in the World Series could make or break the series. Think of the Sox having to open at Philly versus their fully healthy rotation with no DH? (And before anyone out there starts giving me protests over “How do you know it will be the Sox?” Fine. Think of the Yankees doing it, cause if it isn’t an AL East team versus the Phillies in the World Series you better pack your sh!t and jump in the TARDIS because the Earth will have officially fallen off it’s axis… ’nuff said)
Congratulations go out to ‘Tito’ for winning his 700th game as manager of the Boston Red Sox. Throw in two Championship titles since he took over in 2004 and I’d say he’s done a lot better than the people in Philadelphia ever imagined. Also, Jon Lester’s victory on Wednesday was the 100th decision of his career (71-29). For all he’s been through in his still young career and developing into his prime, kudos to him.
(That’s a Super Friends reference by the way…)
Well, that’s the first Duckboat Parade down… and one to go. Josh Beckett apparently had that mind this evening down in Tampa, allowing just one hit and collecting his first complete game since 2009. Even sweeter coming against an AL East foe, dropping the Rays some 41/2 back in what will be a stretch where 14 of their next 30 some odd games come against the Scarlett Hose and The Pinstripes. The season is a marathon and this could be the lead in to Heartbreak Hill where we can create some distance. To me however, the best part is seeing a finally healthy, mentally focused Beckett looking like the Beckett we traded for oh so long ago and not the Beckett we were fairly hesitant to extend just a few off-seasons ago.
Meanwhile Kevin Youkilis has been nice enough to remind everyone that you just can’t pitch around this Boston Americans line-up. Well, not anymore… the adjustment period is over. If you walk one, you still have to face another. And even when you walk the AL batting leader, you have to face a guy who is not exactly a slouch and is often forgotten for being in the top 5 of AL MVP voting for a few years… sure, you can walk him too.. but then you still have the ever rejuvenated Big Papi…. and should you go around him you have the fire-starting Crawford… of course this all contingent upon the fact you haven’t been initially torched by Ellsbury and Petey in the one two holes…
… Sh!t… we have a damned good line-up.
We’re getting hip deep into the season when the All-Star game is roughly a month away and the weather ain’t the only thing heating up (especially here in Vegas). The Red Sox were enjoying the longest winning streak in the Majors this season, having outscored opponents 83-36 during that span but hit the wall against the Floridians who have been a tough play for them to date.
But streaks are like that… streaky. When one ends, you might just start another.
Any ‘Whovian’ or fan of Doctor Who will know what that particular phrase means… and the 2011 edition of the Boston Red Sox are about to make you think something along the same lines. Granted, the Scarlett Hose are not going to score 14 runs everyday (one of those days only being 8 rain shortened innings!) but 2 days in a row is giving us a bit of an insight and the rest of the AL perhaps a chill? Does it mean we’re that good or both Cleveland and Detroit just happened to catch the same plague..? We shall see… but like the blue police box I feel we’re about to see that the Sox are about to swing the doors open and let us all know they’re a bit bigger on the inside. If this is the team bonding, the season heating-up, the stars finally coming together then perhaps the American League East should borrow one of The Doctor’s simplest warnings… and “Run”.
Sure it will never be that easy in Baseball’s hardest division, yes the Bronx naysayers will rise up like the Cybermen and give us a whole round of “blah blah championships” and “woof woof Dynasty” but they’re looking the 36 years old the team’s core is averaging and with both Jeter and Posada seemingly on the sons of King George the Only’s bad side… they may finish themselves just enough to keep a race for the wildcard with the rest of the pack. Of course, it is the Pinstripes and a trade is always lurking.
Sound confident? Yes. The Red Sox are the David to the Phillies Goliath. The same yet opposite. The Phils pitching, barring injury or an invasion of Daleks will carry them through to the postseason and I’m thinking deep into it. The Red Sox combo of speed and power will do the same for them. Yes, the Phillies can hit just as the Sox can pitch, but that’s what bolsters the firepower they specialize in.
I of course realize that the AL East is a minefield in and of itself… maintaining anything will be rough going against the powerhouse of the ‘Bombers and the young scrappyness of Toronto or Baltimore or the ever dangerous Tampa. But the Sox are hitting a major stride, a wonderous discovery of average and power while two of the five starters are on the DL. Lackey will be returning and history shows he can be a Hoss and a little p!ssed (such a wonderful motivator) when things aren’t going right in his season… Wakefield much like The Doctor has appeared when the skies turned dark and reminded everyone that the 900 some odd year old Time Lord has nothing to lose… Dice-K may be lost for the year and though for some it may seem like a blessing, it’s an arm that when he felt like it (Daisuke being Dice-K?) could pitch a near Cy Young worthy performance. It’s all “wibbly wobbly timey wimey spacey stuff…”
Of course between Aceves, Reddick and the rest of the supporting Companions who travel along in the TARDIS it would appear help may be here when we need it.
Now… onto the Buster Posey thing. Should catchers have special exemption from the physicality of being catchers? Let’s ask Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Gary Carter or Jason Varitek. Taking a look at each of these greats at their position.. you see a common theme… unlike football or hockey, the players haven’t developed body armor through the generations. The position is still true to the game. Is it unfortunate that such a good young player had his season possibly ended in the fashion his injury occurred? Sure. But it comes with the position… end of story.
Posey’s agent wants guidelines for catchers protection? That’s easily done… move him the AL and become a DH.
And what is Bud Selig to do with the growing National League concern in both NY and LA? Two of the most historic NL cities, two of the largest media markets and one of the oldest and most historic franchises in the whole of baseball… and monthly payrolls are a growing concern? Two owners looking on the verge of a breakdown both personally and professionally.. one who verbally lashes his team while the second verbally assaults baseball’s governing body?
And MLB still won’t let Mark Cuban own a team?
And in the thick of it we appear to be…
No, not so much the Wild Card race with Tampa hitting the brick wall and Texas slowly crashing in the flames of injury but the AL East race. Upon waking up this morning, we are but 5 games back of the (insert catchy phrase of doom here) Yankees with three games in the season series still left to be played in our remaining two weeks of the regular season. Jeter, Texeira and Rivera… oh my!
Now, generally this time of year, the true New England sports fan becomes slightly
psychotic… with the Sox in the midst of the stretch run and the Patriots being two or three weeks in (1 – 1, just another reason to hate NY)… plus the Bruins preseason getting underway (so long Phil Kessel) and the Celitics gearing up for camp…. it makes you want to pull out the remaining hair that hasn’t turned prematurely gray or fallen out!
A few tidbits in passing….
This post-season may well rest in the hands of Victor Martinez, and rightfully so. V-Mart made the play of the entire Red Sox season last week in sacrificing himself (his knee in particular) to block the plate and prevent the Rays from scoring on such an incredibly close play. Sure, Tampa is out, but who knows what the outcome of that run scored may have been if it happened. Teams on the bubble can use a lot less as motivation to hurl themselves back into the race… nevermind the fact Vic could have been injured and brought a Grand Canyon sized hole to the three spot in the line-up. Easily, and I believe everyone would agree, Martinez has been the single biggest mideseason pick-up in recent Sox lore. Sure, Bay is no slouch, especially considering who he was traded for, Orlando & Doug for Nomar in ’04 sealed the deal in the long run for the Series title (and Larry Anderson will forever burn in the Lou Gorman designed trade for Jeff Bagwell… but that’s for another blog)… but Bay is a FA this off-season and neither Doug nor Orlando stuck for the full cup of coffee. Vic on the other hand is obviously a cog for the future. He’s a leader on the field and a very present voice and personality in the locker room. He credits ‘Tek for his success with the pitching staff, especially coming in mid-way and raves about the comfort level with his guys. He’s helped Buchholz settle in and volunteered to catch Wake (doing a stellar job of it too) all while playing two different fielding positions, spot filling at designated hitter and bringing a stability to the line-up not seen since Manny stopped being Manny and became a grumpy little pr!ck.
V-Mart also carries with him a lot of questions. Where does this leave Varitek next season? Both he and the club hold an option on his contract for 2010 and on top of that, he’s Jason Varitek. Do you drop him and try to use the money to help re-sign Bay or make the run for a Matt Holiday while promoting a Pawtucket talent to back-up? At the time of the trade, the Indians noted to Theo that Martinez shouldn’t be pushed to catch more than 100 or so games (as noted by Peter Gammons), meaning the current situation appears to work… this combined with the fact neither Varitek nor Mike Lowell can field their positions for more than half the season would lead you to believe it could remain status quo or one of them is getting ejected from the plane. With Lowell still a capable hitter and fill-in at the DH spot, all eyes again fall on Tek.
The Hot-Stove Season should be interesting and possibly quite heart-breaking.
NASA called and informed the NL that both John Smoltz and Brad Penny had returned to Earth. Thank God.
Speaking of returns… Dice-K put down the pastries and apparently felt like pitching well for a
team other than Japan this week, pitching two stellar performances to help cement the rotation going into October. Wakefield is due to return tonight though still suffering from his back problem and walking with a slight limp… granted he pitched well in his last few appearences with the same ailment, but the human back is such a touch and go thing. Should Wake be a no go for the October hunt, Dice-K appears to be a very viable option in the 4 spot… for now, that could change at a moment’s notice as has much of the staff’s fortunes this season. That doesn’t mean we won’t see one or the other out of the ‘pen. With Manny Delcarmen currently struggling, Wake or Dice-K could fill the middle/long relief hole in his spot.
Speaking of the ‘Pen, Billy Wagner has found himself a very comfortable role in the form of 7th or 8th inning holder /set-up guy… working well in conjuction with Saito/Okajima to bring in Pap. And what slightly immature closer didn’t want Wagner here? The bullpen, still ranking as one of the tops in all of baseball is looking fairly fresh, healthy and ready for the Hunt. Talk still swirls that Pap may be trade bait in the offseason with Bard pegged as the Closer of the Future. Either way, it’s good to see Papelbon smoothing out around the edges this past week and getting away from what Gammons refers to as “The Tower of Terror”.
The kids are heading back to school which means Summer is winding down and the holiday weekend is coming up. At this point though, it’s just another three day weekend in The Nation. This weekend being no exception.
Now, suddenly there are a lot of comments going around such as “the Sox underestimated New York” or “the Yankees have the Sox number” and of course the ever popular “Choke Artists”, but as we all know you never underestimate the Bombers and the ‘Choke Artists formerly known as the Mets” reside in the other new stadium in NY.
The New York / Boston series is simply going to come down to performance… pretty much like every game against every other team during the season in every sport. It’s just two teams spanking each other all season long. We spanked them 8 straight, they spanked us.. and now we’re just passing the paddle. Yesterday, Cy Young candidate A.J. Burnette underperformed and was cut to ribbons while today it was Cy Young Candidate Josh Beckett (who other than the long ball was fairly effective). The hitters simply swapped performances as did the pitchers. End of story.
But you know… Cy Young pitchers have those days at all ages. Pitch 5 innings where your control is fairly unhittable collecting a few K’s and then BAM! give up a few homers to the NASA moon-shot program and your team loses. But hey, other times you debut with a new team pitching a half-dozen or so shutout innings collecting nine or so K’s. All in how far to the left or right your Cy Young hangs, huh? (I guess there is something to that ‘moving from the American to National League’ idea, right? Oh wait, Sabathia and Cliff Lee dispelled that. So maybe the ‘not giving a veteran pitcher time to adjust to his new recieving corps. and newly repaired probably diffrerent feeling shoulder while not exactly throwing the run support out there for him’ idea has some legs? )
Back to the subject matter at hand…. With summer winding down, September is upon us as is the wrath of the Wild Card and its demon seed known as the schedule makers. As we know, September is also known as AL East month and this year it will be a stomach acid churning affair. Sure, you mix in a few appearances by the ever pesky Pale-Hose and the Kansas City Royalty (who much like British royalty are apparently just for show) but then you have not only the f^@&in’ Rays and Yankees but the Angels swinging though to p!ss on the Sox parade which I’m sure Toronto and the slowly maturing Orioles are looking to spoil. The birds of a feather are calling up all their young talent come Sept. 1st and have absolutely nothing to lose and a lot of confidence to gain… lets just hope they kick NY & TB around in equal fashion. With 6 games versus the Rays and just 3 versus the Yankees, lets talk turkey…
Brad Penny has been temporarily placed in the ‘Pen. Yes, many will say he deserve
s to be there while others will say he should be designated and ejected from the cockpit just like Smoltz. Well, at this point, we need him. He’ll be filling a vital role this week as the back-stop to both Wakefield and if still available, Tazawa. With Wake making his first start since The Break he may exit early. If the forty plus year old shows his 11-3 form, then ‘Hoss will be available to jump in if Tazawa should not show the same ability he did in that great Yankees performance. After all, Junichi is a kid and may not rebound so quickly as we all saw in Buchholz last season. Will Penny stay in the Bullpen? No. If Beckett or Lester continue to show the signs of wearing down, you can bet an extra day of rest with a Penny spot start is already planned. His velocity was up in that NASA launch pad game the other night and against a team like KC or even the O’s his confidence could get a boost. But hey, everybody goes on waivers this time of year, right?
As we know, the Sox placed a claim on Billy Wagner the recently returned ‘super’ closer ejected by the Mets last week. What you may not know (nah! not in this media market) or may not have expected to happen depending on which source you read, is that Jonathan Papelbon is supposedly not happy with the idea. ESPN hints it may be some professional jealousy or insecurity while other report he simply doesn’t want the ‘Pen to change as he and his mates are secure in their set-up. Well, September is nearly here and the rosters expand so that’s a moot point…. So just what might the real problem be? It can’t be confidence. Not from the guy who said he could see himself exiting the ‘Pen in pinstripes in the House That Ruth Financed once Mariano Rivera retires. If he’s slipped and the Sox are looking to use him as trade-bait or if he has a long secure future in the ‘Williamsburg’ region of Fenway Park the fact is Wagner is an older reclaimation project who wouldn’t serve a long term solution to any closer role problems but just might be helpful as a spot lefty Holder/Set-Up down the stretch. We’ll see how this continues to unfold.
It’s very good to see Big Papi slowly and rather steadily coming around. Let’s hope it’s for more than a week or so this time. With Youk and Martinez holding their own among the league’s best right now, Bay beginning to really catch some fire, Ellsbury really looking comfortable again at the plate and Petey following his lead… this could be a the end of the funk we’ve all been waiting for and just in time. (And then I can say “I told you so” to the non-believers of The Nation)
Congrats to Bruntlett in Philly for turning that unassisted Triple Play (forgiving his very poor effort earlier in the same inning and ending the game a Pedro Martinez win), the first in a thousand years and only second in baseball recorded history but please tell Sportscenter to stop showing it every eleven seconds (who are now pitching it as a ‘first’ becuase the ancient occurance happened in the AL).
In regards to that Smoltz debut eluded to earlier… Pujols hit homer number 40 on the season (possibly en route to his first 50 HR season) but while he leads the NL in homers and is second in RBI’s he currently sits outside the top 5 in Average. The Triple Crown watch is still on until season’s end as Yaz’ last recorded crown holds its place in history. Oh yeah… Smoltz wearing #30? I’d rather have seen him go with #92 since Carpenter couldn’t part with it for the whole two months (Yes the Cards will see October) the future HOF’er is in St. Louis.
And no blog having to do with the Boston Red Sox would be at all complete without a huge ‘Welcome Back!’ to Jerry Remy. All-Star, President of Red Sox Nation, NESN’s anchor (well, in regards to the Sox anyhow) for two decades, Cancer survivor and all around Rem-Dawg.
That of course means a big ‘Thank You’ to ‘Eck, Frankie V., Dave Roberts, et al… who I’m sure we’ll still be seeing on road games.
Well the ‘Dog Days’ are carrying on for ‘The Nation’ and more than hot summer air is hitting the fan. Jubilation turned to fits of panic quickly this weekend and perhaps rightly so.
The Sox took a good hold of the Tigers last week, a team with newly established pitching and re-establishing their hitting game. Something Red Sox Nation should be keeping in mind. Of course, the joyous cries of “We’re saved!” sounded from the rooftops of New England in response to actually winning a series since the All-Star Break. Awesome… we’re Wild Card champs and on our way to re-taking the East.
Enter The Dragon… or perhaps Dragon Slayer, or just the Texas Rangers. Now, I’ll admit, just a week ago I gave an opinion that while the Rangers’ pitching got younger, it hadn’t gotten particularly stronger. Yeah. Well, a weekend series with the Sox and they look like a Cy Young collective. Not only that, they ran their a$$es off on us… or is that they ran our a$$es off? Granted it was not Varitek’s fault. Brad Penny is not only a ‘hoss but a house and his delivery reflects such. Anyone who can run, will on Brad. Twice this season a team has stolen 8 bases on Penny & Varitek, which again shouldn’t reflect on Jason, but will give his ‘boo-birds’ plenty of ammunition… especially with Victor Martinez in hand.
The last team to steal 8 bases on the Sox? This season’s Tampa Bay Rays. While the Sox have been dancing the dance of poor play since The Break, Tampa has been putting all the peices together and solving their own mysteriously poor first half performance. They have recovered on the mound and are slowly re-establishing their hitting game beyond Longoria. Again, two concepts The Nation needs to keep in mind as the ever evolving August roster unfolds. While we have been skidding along, The Rays have been winning in tandem with The Rangers to seriously challenge our currently inept Sox.
Now let’s look at this as a whole. The pitching has sucked… plain and simple. The ‘back-half’ of the rotation has been fairly Mickey Mouse since before the break. To be serious, it’s been more than half since Wake went down during the break…. Beckett & Lester & hold your breath. Wakefield, the ageless wonder he is, will be back shortly. Dice-K and Paul Byrd are making their way back into game shape… hoo-ray?! It sadly may be too late. Beckett, Lester and Bucholtz have pitched well, Bucholtz pitching better with every start.. but the line-up is giving them little to nothing to work with. You can have 5 starters with an ERA of two or under, but if your boys can’t score one, two or three runs to beat the other team, you lose. Youk will be back and hopefully unfazed by his MLB spanking (as well as the partial bodyslam delivered by that Detroit pitcher) to resume his great all around play. He’ll also be right on time to spell Mike Lowell who has played obviously well. Martinez seems to be adapting, like Youk, to being a multiple position player on a regular basis. Alex Gonzalez? Sure, we got Lugo to replace this guy ’cause he was slowing in production… why not get him to replace Lugo who was apparently slowing in production. Bay appears to slowly be coming around, and at this point slow is better than not at all.
Let’s talk seriously for a moment. The bottom half of the line-up, barring steroids or cyborgs becoming legal in MLB is in serious f^@%in’ trouble. Ellsbury may finally be settling into the lead-off spot (though I believe a nine spot may still work for him if a better alternative to the top spot can be found) and following up with Petey, Youk, Bay and Martinez is solid once they get consistent. Now comes the hard part. Yeah, Big Papi. He’s beginning to look the age that no one really knows he is. We know him, we love him… but it may be time to just sit him. David is no longer 2003 to 2007 Papi… he’s Minnessotta David Arias, a left handed bat off the bench. I don’t think we’re in a position to wait for that hot streak… as we have all season. Would you rather keep getting one to two really good hits a week out of the DH or maybe put Mike Lowell’s bat in and see if we can find some consistency in the 6th spot. I’m sorry Papi. I thank you for 2004 and 2007 and all the wonderful moments before and after, but the train looks to have come into the station. J.D. Drew? I’ll admit, when the Sox signed him to that rather hefty contract a few years back, I was iffy. He has a track record of breaking down to go with that skills set and streaks of great hitting. Well, like clockwork, he keeps breaking down between those streaks of great hitting. If he keeps smackin’ them off the Monster at home we may only really need to worry about him on the road… which means a platoon… once he’s back regularly in the line-up. Rocco has done what we figured he would and Brian Anderson? Moving on. Varitek. Hey, we knew this guy would just keep slowing down as the year went on. Same as last year, same as next year. His worth is behind the plate and gives the bottom half of the order one more empty spot.. a good deal of the time as he is still dedicated and works his tail off. And Gonzalez phase two… Me, I’d rather put him in at 8th and insert Jacoby at 9th and see how it shakes out.
I’m not going to write anything off yet. The Yankees showed shades of the late season breakdown last week which could take effect fairly soon. Remember, with no A-Rod, Tex has little hitting to feast on. They won’t drop out, but they may fall back to Earth. Tampa isn’t really going to fall too far off the radar so their in it as is Texas whose pitching may hit a growing pain or two but will have hitting to carry them through. Right now, the Sox are a good hamstring away from “Maybe Next Year” signs going up all over Fenway. The pitching can’t get worse, neither can the hitting really so it will depend on how long it takes to right the ship. Can you repair the ship at full speed ahead while diverting floating mines? Guess it all depends if you’re piloting a tugboat, the QE II or the starship Enterprise.
I’m banking on the Enterprise. “Mister Epstein, take us out.”