A few days taken for a family emergency… but nothing too exciting had been missed, in Red Sox Nation anyway.
The Patriots won 23-20 over the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game: The Patriots advance to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis on Feb. 5. It will be the team’s fifth Super Bowl appearance in Bill Belichick’s tenure as coach (2000-present) and is the Patriots’ seventh Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick become the first starting quarterback/head coach combination to advance to five Super Bowls. For Brady, he ties his boyhood idol, Joe Montana, with his 16th career postseason win as a starting quarterback.
Just a ‘Classic’ game. At one point, Brady’s emotions showed as he was jawing with Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis after the quarterback scored on fourth down goal-line drive in the fourth quarter, a play in which he took a big hit from Lewis. The Ravens had a chance to win with 22 seconds left when Lee Evans dropped a touchdown pass. Then, after cornerback Sterling Moore deflected a pass on third down, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal wide left that would have tied the game. A breath-taking ending.
The Red Sox signed free agent outfielder Cody Ross to a one-year deal worth about $3 million: Boston had maintained an interest in Ross throughout the signing season, but pounced after his asking price dropped significantly (initially, he was seeking a three-year deal) and after left fielder Carl Crawford underwent surgery last week to address an arthritic condition in his left wrist. The signing followed the Sox’ trading of infielder Marco Scutaro and his $6 million salary to the Rockies, which freed up the money they privately said they needed to have before making additional upgrades. Even before Crawford’s injury, the Sox had maintained a healthy interest in Ross, who has hit left-handed pitchers well, with a career .912 OPS, even though his 2011 season could be considered a slight disappointment. Ross, 31, is a .261 career hitter with 100 homers in eight seasons with Detroit, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati, Florida and San Francisco.
Right-hander Scott Atchison was designated for assignment to create space for Ross on the team’s 40-man roster.
The Sox are still interested in adding another starter to the mix at the right price. Roy Oswalt remains their No. 1 target, though a team source acknowledged fears that Oswalt would prefer to pitch for either the Rangers or Cardinals (the free-agent turned down an offer from Detroit). If they do not succeed in signing Oswalt, to whom they have made an offer (supposedly for $5 Million), a team source said Wednesday night, they most likely will shift their focus to trying to swing a deal with the Chicago White Sox for right-hander Gavin Floyd, with free agent pitcher Edwin Jackson a long-shot option at this stage.
The Sox also are thin at shortstop after dealing Scutaro, with veterans Nick Punto and Mike Aviles and rookie Jose Iglesias their only options at this time. The Sox have indicated they do not want to rush the 22-year-old Iglesias, who has fewer than 700 professional at-bats, and with neither Punto and Aviles the answer on an everyday basis, the Sox are expected to seek more help there. Punto is the better glove of the two, Aviles a better bat. At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much shortstop help available. Even the soon-to-be 45-year-olds have signed, Omar Vizquel coming to terms Monday with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Clay Mortensen, received from Colorado in the Scutaro trade, will compete for a spot in the bullpen, but more likely will open the season in Pawtucket. Don’t look now, but the Sox have the makings of a potentially strong bullpen, especially if Franklin Morales and Andrew Miller can click from the left side. If the Sox succeed in acquiring another starting pitcher and elect to return Alfredo Aceves to the pen, on paper they look strong with Andrew Bailey closing and Mark Melancon sharing setup. If Bobby Jenks can be healthy and Matt Albers proves he just ran out of gas last season, the Sox pen has a chance to be strong and deep. If.. If.. If…
With Jorge Posada announcing his retirement Tuesday after 17 seasons with the Yankees, it would appear to be a matter of time before we hear similar announcements from Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek. Wakefield’s agent, Barry Meister, said the 45-year-old knuckleballer just returned from a vacation in Mexico, and that he hasn’t had substantive conversations with him in about 10 days. He acknowledged that while there have been inquiries from other teams, there’s nothing in the works. As Bobby Valentine noted the other day, it’s inconceivable that Wakefield would accept a minor-league offer from the Red Sox. Varitek turns 40 just after Opening Day and got married in the offseason. No word from the player or his agents on Varitek’s plans, but the signing of Kelly Shoppach virtually closed the door on a return to Boston, and while Varitek last spring expressed a desire to play for as long as he can, he may have reached the endgame.
Tim Thomas Skipped the White House: Boston Bruins president Cam Neely admitted Tuesday that he would have liked goaltender and Stanley Cup MVP Tim Thomas to be with the team when they visited the White House on Monday, but that Thomas “felt very strongly about not going” so the team respected his wishes. He said the team didn’t make the event mandatory because “we didn’t think it would be an issue.” Neely said he doesn’t expect the controversy to adversely affect the Bruins’ chemistry, pointing out with a laugh that not a lot of political discourse occurs in an NHL locker room.
Thomas explained Monday night in a Facebook page posting that he skipped the White House event due his disappointment in the federal government. His post read:
“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.
This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.
Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.
This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT”
Later Monday night, Neely released this Bruins statement:
“As an organization we were honored by President Obama’s invitation to the White House. It was a great day and a perfect way to cap our team’s achievement from last season. It was a day that none of us will soon forget. We are disappointed that Tim chose not to join us, and his views certainly do not reflect those of the Jacobs family or the Bruins organization. This will be the last public comment from the Bruins organization on this subject.”
Of course, Timmy ‘The Tank’ is not alone. Theo Epstein, who had made a campaign appearance on behalf of John Kerry, was not on the stage when President Bush honored the team in 2005, choosing to sit in the front row of the audience next to Stacy Lucchino, wife of the Sox CEO. The reason, he said, was because he wanted attention focused on those most deserving. Epstein was with the group of players who subsequently visited wounded vets at the Walter Reed Medical Center. Bush was still in office when the Sox won again in 2007. Epstein did not attend the ’08 ceremony, citing “family reasons,” and his absence barely registered. It was overshadowed by the no-show by Manny Ramirez, whose absence from the stage was noted by the President himself.
And then of course… there’s this:
Prince Fielder stood with a smile and recalled his earliest memories of old Tiger Stadium, when he would hang out at the ballpark where his father hit so many massive home runs. “For me, it was always Sparky saying I was going to pinch hit—and I really believed him,” Fielder said, referring to former manager Sparky Anderson. “I’m just glad I get to come back.” The Tigers introduced Fielder on Thursday after finalizing a $214 million, nine-year contract with the free agent first baseman, who is expected to hit a lot more home runs than his dad. Detroit plays at Comerica Park now, and times have changed. Jim Leyland manages the Tigers, not Sparky Anderson.
Fielder was born in 1984, the last time Detroit won the World Series. After luring him back to Michigan with the fourth-largest deal in baseball history, the Tigers are hoping Fielder will help usher in a new championship era for the Motor City. “This is awesome, it’s kind of a dream come true. I’m excited.” Detroit began seriously pursuing Fielder after designated hitter Victor Martinez tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during offseason conditioning. Now the Tigers have three of baseball’s biggest stars—Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander—all in their primes. Detroit won the AL Central by 15 games last year but lost to Texas in the AL championship series.
It will be up to manager Jim Leyland to figure out where to play all of his powerful hitters. He said Thursday the Tigers will move Miguel Cabrera from first base to third to make room for Fielder. He also listed a possible batting order, with Cabrera hitting third and Fielder fourth. It’s a lineup based on power, not speed. That much is clear. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski indicated he’s satisfied with his roster heading into spring training, although it’s hard to rule out any more moves after the Tigers shockingly emerged with Fielder. The pitching rotation is anchored by Verlander, who won the Cy Young Award and MVP last year, but Detroit’s fifth starter spot is still uncertain. Dombrowski said the Tigers could bring in some non-roster invitees to compete for that job. “I think positional player-wise, we’re pretty well set,” he said.
Fielder’s father Cecil became a big league star when he returned to the majors from Japan and hit 51 home runs with Detroit in 1990. Cecil played with the Tigers into the 1996 season, and young Prince made a name for himself with his prodigious power displays during batting practice at Tiger Stadium.
I’d say it was a fairly productive weekend….
I honestly believe this Scarlett Hose / Baby Bears rivalry will endure to be a rather historic one, ya’ know… should MLB decide to keep interleague play. They beat us over the head with ‘Interleague’ and then once we get used to it,
build some cool rivalries and deepen the cross town hatreds (NY, LA, CHI, Bay area) and the interstate opponents (Florida, CA, PA, etc..) and look at ancient encounters like Oakland vs. Philly and The Boston Braves.. oops… Braves vs. Sox or ghosts of world series past including Yankees vs. Dodgers so on and so forth. I’m sure I’ve left many a nice matching such as O’s vs. Nats, Rangers returning to aforementioned Nats, The battle of the Show Me state and more out but you get the gist. Aside from the historical splendor of the Cubs return to the site of the 1918 World Series (which should really give the baseball folks outside Boston or Chicago an idea of why we’re so rabid and fanatical.. 1918 b!tches), the games themselves were quite meaningful. If we can put the 8th inning meltdown and those forgettable Clorox Bleach uniforms (or the ‘ubbies road jersey) behind us, it was true baseball.
And it was almost a flashback of sorts in another way. Just like 1918, the Sox are a recent multiple time champion, a mecca of baseball and looking like they’ll be competing at a championship caliber with pitching and power for years to come while the Cubs will forever continue to be the Cubs (which is like being the Yawkey Red Sox) with flashes of brilliance under good teams led by great field generals who just can’t carry the team with various holes. However, this isn’t about poking the caged bear (we here in Boston love baby bears.. right Tim Thomas?) as much as it is genuine fan appreciation.
But the season rolls on and we collapsed against Cleveland tonight. While Chief Wahoo’s Tribe has been the surprise hit of the season and the game was far from a blow-out and ‘collapse’ may be slightly overreacting.. I don’t care. Clay pitched well for the weather and Justin “Traded for Detroit’s Victor Martinez” Masterson did comparably well. Looking back, I hate the f^#%ing trade. V-Mart was a great player, an awesome spark plug and a very needed stop-gap playing C/1B/DH in the Big Papi power outages while Mike Lowell hit retirement age head-on due to injury and Varitek just began to hit the wall. I was sad to see him go but hurt worse by what we gave up in Masterson to get a ‘short-term’ blue chipper. And hearing the Sox Brass call Salty, who I very much like as a developing player, “The guy we’ve wanted for years”… didn’t help. Did the Brass have an idea they couldn’t sign him when they traded for him… I wonder. He was a slightly older centerpiece who couldn’t catch more than a 100 games a season and would soon be reliable DH/1B/C utility player at a centerpiece price and may have made it harder to keep a Papi, Youk and now A-Gon line-up together. Remember, they’ve been chasing Adrian Gonzalez for years and I have to believe in their eyes V-Mart, like Jason Bay, was a calculated risk. Obviously not Jeff Bagwell for Larry Anderson, but if Casey Kelly becomes an all-star caliber pitcher or even a reliable Number Two Guy in the Padres rotation, at least we know getting A-Gon long-term was a positive investment.
Of course, I’m the guy who was a bit more keen on the Sox entering the Prince Fielder sweepstakes over Adrian Gonzalez… so what do I know.
The 2010 Boston Red Sox probable line-up card as proposed by Boston.com…
1. Jacoby Ellsbury
2009 defensive stats: 150 starts (center), .994 FPCT, 2 errors.
Ellsbury played only center field last season, but he started 36 games in 2008 in left field and 15 in ’07. Francona said Ellsbury was initially disappointed about his switch, but he’ll be entering the season never having committed an error in left.
As the leadoff hitter, he improved his on-base percentage from .336 in ’08 to .355 last year. The Red Sox would like to see another such leap this year.
2. Dustin Pedroia
2009 defensive stats: 154 starts, .991 FPCT, 6 errors.
Pedroia said last year he hoped to play 162 games; he played 154 after playing 155 in his MVP season in ’08. In other words: Good luck convincing him to take a day off, Tito.
Offensively, Pedroia is as good as it gets as a No. 2 hitter, batting .296 with 15 homers and 72 RBIs last season in his follow-up to his AL MVP-winning campaign in 2008.
3. Victor Martinez
2009 defensive stats: 82 starts, .982 FPCT, 4 errors.
Martinez, who was sensational after coming over from the Indians at the trading deadline last July, will get the majority of the starts behind the plate, with captain Jason Varitek serving as the capable veteran backup.
Neither is a particularly adept defensive catcher — they combined to throw out 13 percent of basestealers last season — but both are respected by pitchers, and the switch-hitting Martinez’s offensive prowess will give the Sox far better production from the position over a full season than they had a year ago.
4. Kevin Youkils
2009 defensive stats: 77 starts, .998 FPCT, 1 error.
Youkilis, a Gold Glove winner in 2008, started most of his games at first base a season ago and was nearly flawless. With the defensively brilliant Adrian Beltre signed to play third base every day, Youkilis won’t have to shuffle between corner infield positions this season.
At the plate, he should remain one of the premier offensive players in the AL. Last year, he hit .305 with 27 homers, 94 RBIs, and a .961 OPS.
5. David Ortiz
2009 stats: 150 games, 541 at-bats, .238 average.
Ortiz will start the majority of games at DH, but it’s possible Mike Lowell, if he’s somehow not traded once he recovers from thumb surgery, will see starts against lefthanded starters.
The Red Sox, who have lost Jason Bay’s 36 homers and 119 RBIs, are counting on Ortiz to have fewer peaks and valleys than he did last season, when he hit .238 with 28 homers and 99 RBIs despite starting the season in a horrific slump.
6. J.D. Drew
2009 defensive stats: 124 starts, .992 FPCT, 2 errors.
Drew isn’t flashy, but he plays a very steady right field, has an accurate arm, and rarely makes a mistake.
Last season, he batted .279 with a .392 on-base percentage, a .914 OPS, and 24 home runs. While he not known as durable, he did play 137 games last season.
7. Adrian Beltre
2009 defensive stats: 110 starts, .959 FPCT, 14 errors.
Beltre, a tremendous, spectacular defensive player, takes over for the popular Mike Lowell, who lost most of his range last season as he recovered from hip surgery.
Beltre, 31, hit 25 or more home runs from 2006-08 with the Mariners, but fell to eight last year as he was hampered by injuries. The Sox believe his power will be enhanced by playing half of his games at Fenway rather than cavernous Safeco.
8. Mike Cameron
2009 defensive stats: 146 starts, .990 FPCT, 4 errors.
Cameron, a two-time Gold Glove winner with a knack for the spectacular and excellent range even at age 36, bumps Ellsbury to left field, meaning the Sox should have all the gaps covered.
He is a lifetime .250 hitter who batted — yep — .250 last season. But he has legitimate power — he has hit at least 19 homers in all but one season since 1998.
9. Marco Scutaro
2009 defensive stats: 143 starts, .984 FPCT, 10 errors.
All of Scutaro’s starts came at shorstop, but if need be he can play second base. Scutaro committed 10 errors at short, but that’s still 15 fewer than the number of errors combined from Red Sox shortstops in 2009.
Jon Lester: 32 starts, 15 wins, 203.1 IP
John Lackey 27 starts, 11 wins, 176.1 IP
Josh Beckett 32 starts, 17 wins, 212.1 IP
Clay Buchholz 16 starts, 7 wins, 92 IP
Daisuke Matsuzaka 12 starts, 4 wins, 59.1 IP
Both Buchholz and Matsuzaka had their ups and downs in 2009. Both pitchers might be top three starters on any other team, but it’s probable that Matsuzaka will be the fourth starter, and Buchholz the fifth. Both have a high upside, but both also have a lot to prove.
It has been a little bit since the last entry… needed time to cool off, simmer down and just plain get over it. But of course, New York goes on. So one does indeed have to ask the question (as most everyone does at some point during the spring training, regular and post season) are the Yankees back? Will we be seeing another 4 titles in five or six years again? It’s entirely possible.
Many here in the Nation will look back on the Hot Stove Season of 2008/2009 as a huge misstep in Theo’s tenure. He allowed the Evil Empire to buy a gift card and have free reign of the toy store in some baseball billionaire’s sweepstakes. Theo and the Sox meantime went to Goodwill and picked up a few hand-me-downs.
Now obviously not all of this revolves around Mark Teixeira… but it does revolve around ‘Tex’ and C.C. Sabathia. The two biggest free agents this half of the decade were basically escorted to NY to try on their pinstripes while we drove the limo. Through either lack of effort or severe underestimation of Boras/Teixeira the Sox missed out on a cornerstone and it did, over the course of this season alone, hurt. Teixeira has used the Sox before (as a darft-pick), as has Boras (let us count the ways) and they played their card extremely well this time around, knowing the Sox were hot for him and pitting the two biggest rivals in sport on and off the field at each other once more. Credit the Yanks, they used Sabathia and Burnett as a smokescreen to quietly take the ‘dark horse’ role and slip Tex in their pocket. The Sox meanwhile were luke warm in the Sabathia hunt and too busy plucking “Low risk High reward” stalwarts such as Penny and Smoltz out of the sky. The Yanks, who since the dawn of the Free Agent era have shown themselves to be very much in the “Big Risk Big Reward” mold, and with the exception of the mid 80’s to mid 90’s (where they couldn’t learn to adapt, spend properly and very few teams in baseball were overly impressive) and the Giambi era of this decade, have had a little something to show for it.
Now, all of this, at this point, is moot. The road to riches goes through Philly and currently they match up fairly well.
However, consider this. While the Sox were feeding us the happy, yummy goodness of “Mike Lowell will recover, as will Big Papi and Jed Lowrie is the shortstop of the future blah blah blah..” NY was adding a Cy Young and MVP to the roster to compliment A-Rod (steroids or no), Jeter, Pettite and Rivera. Wonderful and wishful thinking. Of course the Nation was bursting at the seams come mid-season as we torched the Yanks for 8 straight and they looked like they couldn’t hit batting practice. And while we hobbled along on the backs of Lester and Beckett the Yanks suddenly (as all teams do) jelled together upon A-Rod’s return and uh-oh, ouch time. Think of what Sabathia may have done to round out the top 3 spots and drop Dice-K in at four. Yeah, awesome but a friggin’ pipe dream. Or how about Tex hitting third or fourth behind Youk or Petey. Now imagine we still got Victor Martinez and installed him right there in the four or five hole. Yeah… I know.
But here we are going into the Hot Stove Season for 2009/2010 and now we’re right back where we were, only worse. Bay may be gone. Theo and Scott Boras are like oil and water at this point with the ill-liked Boras holding all the cards. Matt Holliday is the most obvious candidate and perhaps a better one, but he prefers the National League and again, St. Louis is nuts to let him walk while they still have Pujols in his prime. This may be Theo’s time to shine and shock the sh!t out of everyone. If Prince Fielder is on the market as the Brewers have said… get him. He’s an impact player who could do serious damage at Fenway. Sure, there’s the weight issue which could translate to a health issue… just like Papi’s declining age and Lowell’s balky hip. Some have suggested switching Lowell & Youk on the corners, allowing for Mike’s now limiting range… a short term answer which seems fine. Insert a new powerplant at 1st, Youk at 3rd and platoon Lowell with Papi at DH or make him the DH all together. Yes, Papi is that much of a question mark if you couldn’t tell by Theo’s end of season comments.
The Sox came of age in 2003 and matured in 2004. But that core is gone, through either FA or age. Schilling, Pedro and Damon are not here anymore, neither is Millar. They were not interchangable parts on that squad, they were the heart and soul of it and when they left we carried on with their successors in Beckett, Youk, Petey, Lester and Papelbon… but there was a constant… Varitek, Papi and yes, Manny. Even with Bay for Ramirez, Papi is looking as old as no one really knows he is and Tek has just met reality in the form of a heroic, older, weatherbeaten catcher. Even for all his fire, Fisk couldn’t stop time. Unlike many teams in both leagues before them, the Sox have an advantage… they can financially compete with New York. As many teams watch their legacy crack, fade and crumble in on itself while grasping at ‘veteran’ (see old, overpriced) talent while waiting for the next big phenom to arrive and save them (ask Lou Gorman), Boston like NY can skip all that. Got older veteran talent and a good young core that hasn’t quite developed or matured yet? Buy the peices and slip them in. Not a sure fire thing for immediate results, but again look at NY. Mixing their veterans with their youngsters was a fairly good success, add the two best players in the game at their positions and all of a sudden everyone is the same age and working like a team. The Scarlett Hose need to bridge that gap. Victor Martinez was a great help, but now who?
Luis Tiant was the soul of a mid-seventies Sox powerhouse that ownership p!ssed away.
“Looo-eee” bridged the gap between Yaz and Jerry Remy so to speak and for three years, those teams were solid, it was ownership and a slightly misguided Zimmer who sucked and completely failed under the new Free Agent system (to retain talent, nevermind import it). The 80’s epitomized the “25 guys 25 cabs” era while the 90’s started off poorly for a word (see the above mentioned Lou Gorman; Jack Clark, Andre Dawson, et al). As Frank Viola said “We were waiting for the youth movement.” Jim Rice and Dwight Evans never seemed to have a bridge. Pedroia and Youk are bridges, young, lively heart & soul guys who can relate the wisdom of Varitek and Tim “I played with Roger Clemens in Red Sox” Wakefield with Ellsbury, Tazawa and Josh Reddick. They are cornerstones who along with Ellsbury and now Vic Martinez need a few big guys slipped in till the next crop of Paw Sox are ready to shine in two or three years, and according to most, they will be ready.
So, where are we now? What is the state of Red Sox Nation? Fairly good for all intents and purposes to this point, but what do we do to improve next year and solidify ourselves for the next three to four years. Good thing we have time to ponder it….
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”.
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.”
And while NY and ESPN were so quick to jump up and down and pull out the brooms and blah blah… we took the first 8 in row… doesn’t that qualify as a Sweep or two? Not that it matters, we have a few more of these to go and whoever won the last game gets their say…
Now, I am a true believer that the Sox will be snapping out of this slump. The pitching is slowly coming around… they didn’t have too bad of a weekend if you look past Smoltz (and the Traber sacrifice) and Bard’s little hiccup. The Yankees won because they had what we are currenly lacking (if not on paper) and this is Hitting plain and simple. At this point, my boys couldn’t hit water from a boat. If the Vic Martinez homer had won the game, we’d be flipping out and saying “The slump is over!”, however that would be premature.
A trip home may be just what is needed. Not that we’re going to feast on Detroit pitching, far from it, but being home will let the Fenway faithful smother them in love while guys like Drew and Ellsbury can knock the Monster around a little and Bay can maybe sharpen up a bit. Ortiz is spent at this point, mentally and physically. He’s a presence in the line-up but lately the fear factor seems a little diminished. Like a good deal of the line-up he’s much ado about nothing at this point. The real problem is even simpler… the big bats all went silent at the same time and unfortunately an Ellsbury or a Pedroia just can’t carry the team. Ortiz could carry it, Bay and probably Martinez or even Youk for a short stretch but Petey and Jacoby need a big bat to go in unison with them.
It will happen. Ellsbury will find his place in the line-up (probably a nine spot and not the leadoff) and get even more consistent while the rest of the boys will settle in and pick it up. What we need to do as a team and as The Nation is not piss and moan over the AL East. We are now a Wild Card Champion and better get our collective a$$es in gear to keep it. NY will settle itself through the rest of the season series (and remember the Yankees have yet to hit their late season breakdown, which large or small will happen) however Tampa and Texas are here and need to be addressed. Texas seems ready to breakdown as their pitching is getting younger but not stronger to this point while Tampa is slowly getting over that World Series hangover. We’ve experienced the sober Rays in a two game series and it wasn’t nice… we need to be ready. As everyone knows, it only takes a few days for the season to ressurrect itself or go up like Hiroshima.