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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Cubs’

Oh, the glory.  Oh, the epic glory and elation.  Oh, the epic glory and elation and wonder and virtue and justice that has been delivered again to Boston this year.  I don’t even know.  I can’t even adequately verbalize the truly awesome epicness of this entire situation.  Oh, the glory.

I just have to say this.  Ladies and gentlemen, we, Red Sox Nation, are the official diehard supporters of the Boston Red Sox, the official World Series champions.

Actually, I have to say this multiple times.  THE BOSTON RED SOX JUST WON THE WORLD SERIES!!!! THE CROWN HAS RETURNED TO ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE!!!! THE UNIVERSE HAS NOW AGAIN BEEN MADE RIGHT!!!!

And again.  WE ARE WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS!!!!

Think about where we were this time last year.  We were not busy winning the World Series.  We were busy trying to deal with the pain of watching some other team win the World Series, let alone play in the World Series, let alone make it to the playoffs.  The circumstances surrounding the team were so disappointing and disillusioning so often, and we were just hoping that we could turn it around in the offseason.

After that offseason, since day one of this season, the pieces have fallen into place.  This year’s team is brand new in so many innumerable and yet vitally important ways.  And it was really a team, from the first game of Spring Training to the last game of the World Series; even through everyone said we wouldn’t amount to anything this year, a different guy was getting it done every night, and everyone was relying on everyone else to deliver their own core strengths.  The clubhouse dynamic has been healthy, and that really translated well onto the field.  So in terms of big-picture team qualities, I think this year’s team just had so much in common with past teams that have won the World Series.  And I don’t think that that’s a coincidence.

To go from worst to first, it takes a team.  A whole team.  It definitely takes a team.

This posteason hasn’t been easy.  We had our work cut out for us the whole way through.  And this is the first of our last three championships that we hadn’t been able to sweep.  It was nerve-wracking and nail-biting.  It was like that all the way down to the wire.  Of course, in the end, part of that had to do with the fact that, even though I was seeing it with my own eyes, I couldn’t quite believe it until the field was mobbed and the goggles were donned and the champagne was sprayed and the trophy was hoisted and and we won it all.  That last out was just so brutal; the seconds lasted forever, and then it was over so fast.

And we won the World Series.  This whole organization turned itself around, and we became champions of the world.  I am so proud of this organization and this city, and I am so proud to be a member of Red Sox Nation.

Alright.  Down to the monumental contest itself.  Obviously, we came home needing to win only one more game to cap the year with the greatest accolade that the Major Leagues has to offer.  Lackey got the call, and he most definitely did not disappoint.  He delivered one of the best starts this month, giving up only one run on nine hits over the course of six and two-thirds innings while walking one and striking out five.  He threw 105 pitches, two of which were wild and seventy-six of which were strikes.

But that doesn’t even tell the whole story.  He went one-two-three in the first.  He gave up two singles in the second and ended the inning with three straight outs.  He went one-two-three in the third despite giving up a single thanks to a double play.  He gave up a single and contended with a second baserunner in the fourth thanks to a fielding error by Pedroia but escaped unscathed.  He pitched around another two singles in the fifth and went one-two-three in the sixth.

His problem was the seventh.  Lackey is an incredibly fierce competitor, which is something you really, really want in a starting pitcher.  Unless they aren’t very good at letting go.  Two outs into the inning, he gave up a single, a double, and an RBI single.  That run was the Cards’ first of the night, which broke up a potential shutout.  I’ll be honest with you.  A win is a win no matter how many runs the opposition scores as long as you score more, but after having played close games against this team, I just really, really wanted the shutout.  Whatever.  We won the World Series, so in the end it doesn’t matter.

Anyway, then Lackey convinced John to leave him in but proceeded to issue a walk.  And that was it for Lackey.  But not before he received an incredibly well-deserved standing ovation.  The organization turned around, and so did he.  And earned the start last night, and he earned that standing ovation.

Then Tazawa ended the inning.  Workman came out for the eighth and mowed right through, going one-two-three in the inning.  And then I could taste it.  I could just feel that glory about to wash over this great city.  A city that’s been through a lot this year, and a team that’s helped everyone get through it.

The epic awesomeness was supplemented by offense.  Obviously.  Because without hitting and scoring, you can’t even win a single game, let along a World Series.  Whoever hunkered down for a long night after two scoreless innings looked really, really incorrect really fast.

We scored three runs in the third and another three in the fourth.

Ellsbury singled to lead off the third and moved to second on a groundout by Pedroia.  Papi walked intentionally, Napoli struck out, and Gomes got hit to load the bases.  Victorino yet again came up with the big hit, clearing the bases with one swing.

Then Drew homered on the first pitch of the fourth.  It was a fastball clocked at ninety-one miles per hour, and he powered that ball out of the park in right center.  It was epic.  It was also the lone power display of the night.  So in this game we had some of everything: small ball, long ball, and most importantly, everything else.

Ross struck out, Ellsbury doubled and moved to third on a flyout by Pedroia, and Papi walked intentionally again.  Then Napoli singled in Ellsbury, Gomes walked to load the bases, and Victorino singled in Papi.

And that was it.  Six runs in two innings.  We couldn’t have known this at the time, but the game was won after we scored our second run in the third.

And then Uehara came on for the ninth.  And he recorded the first out.  And the second out.  And the third out.  It was happening right in front of me and it was something so beautiful and incredible to see, and I couldn’t believe it.  And yet simultaneously I could, because I knew that this is where we were, in Boston, at the end of October.  Right here.  Right now.

And then it was over.  And the field was full.  And we won.  We won it all.  And The Standells played, because now Boston is everyone’s home.

The final score was 6-1.

It was the first time we won the World Series at home in ninety-five years.  The last time? 1918.  Against the Cubs.  The first time we won the World Series since? 2004.  The team we played? The St. Louis Cardinals.  Coincidence? I think not.

Again, I point out the glory.  The sheer beauty of the thing and the glory, glory, glory that is Boston’s this year.  The glory that belongs to every single player, and coach, and manager of course, and staff member, and brass of this illustrious organization.  The glory that belongs to Big Papi, the official World Series MVP, and to everyone who was a part of this win.  The glory that belongs to each and every beard, real or fake, that’s been feared.  The glory that belongs to each and every rally cap that’s been turned upside-down.  The glory that belongs to the people of Boston after having endured such tragedy this year.  The glory that belongs to Red Sox Nation the world over, because the World Series is ours.  I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I congratulate ourselves on a truly incredible journey that has brought us to the end of a truly incredible year.

WE DID IT!!!!

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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Finally! Okay, now we’re in business.  I don’t want to necessarily say that the news is big news; I think a year or two ago it would have been really big news, but players age year to year, and last year’s phenom is this year’s solid, all-around acquisition who’s good but doesn’t necessarily have that wow factor anymore.  But given our needs and our situation, I’d say Ben’s moves during and after the Winter Meetings were good and much-needed ones.  He’s putting together a stable team while maintaining a healthy amount of financial flexibility, and John Farrell is happy with the developments.  All in all, I’d say we’re definitely going in a great direction.

Anyway, let’s get down to it.  We’ve signed Mike Napoli to a three-year contract worth thirty-nine million dollars.  Don’t let last season’s aggregate stats fool you.  He batted .227 with twenty-four home runs and fifty-six RBIs with an on-base percentage of .343, but look at his numbers in his new home: .307 batting average, nine home runs, twenty RBIs, and a 1.14 OBP.  Admittedly, the sample size of seventy-five at-bats is small, but numbers aside, he’s known for pulling the ball, and his swing will thrive in Fenway.  As for defense, he’s a catcher by trade, but don’t expect to see him behind the plate.  He’ll probably end up at first.

Our next name is Shane Victorino, the Flyin’ Hawaiian.  It’s another three-year, thirty-nine-million-dollar deal.  Last year, he batted .255 with eleven homers, fifty-five RBIs, and a .321 OBP.  Don’t forget that he bats switch, though, and while he batted .229 as a leftie, he batted .320 as a rightie.  But he had vastly more at-bats from the left than the right, so again, the sample size must be considered.  Still, versatility has never been frowned upon in our organization.  As for defense, like Napoli, Victorino will not field in familiar territory.  All trade rumors concerning Ellsbury are patently false, and Victorino will not be playing center.  He’ll be playing right for sure.  And it’ll be a welcome relief.  Fenway’s right field can break any veteran, but Shane has the stuff to handle it.  He has three Gold Gloves and a center fielder’s speed and arm, and that combination in right, once he learns the fatal angles out there, will be formidable.  It’ll be nice breathing easy with a steady patrol out there.

It’s worth noting that Ben and John met in person with Josh Hamilton, but don’t get too excited.  We already have Ellsbury, and Hamilton wants either Texas or a long-term deal, neither of which we will provide.

And we signed Ryan Dempster to a two-year deal worth $26.5 million.  Granted, he has spent almost all of his time in the National League aside from a few handfuls of games last season, which he started for Texas.  But his ERA was 3.38 last season, and his WHIP was 1.20; not too shabby.  Just as important, if not more important, to why we were interested in him in the first place is the fact that, before last season, his last for seasons totaled at least two hundred innings, and last season he clocked 173 innings which isn’t too far behind.  That means three things: durability, durability, durability.  On the other hand, durability doesn’t mean much unless you’re good, and his brief stint in the American League didn’t go well at all, so I’m concerned as to how he’ll make out in the AL East, which, as we all know, is the toughest division there is, basically.  So I’d say we can approach this one with cautious expectations.  But at least we got some sort of starting pitcher, which is a step in the right direction.  We also added Koji Uehara, who signed a one-year deal.  In thirty-six innings last year, he posted a 1.75 ERA and an 0.64 WHIP.  That means good late-inning work for us.

We finished the Zach Stewart trade by acquiring Kyle Kaminska from the Pirates and assigned him to the PawSox.  We also claimed Sandy Rosario from the A’s, and he has since been claimed by the Cubs.  Gary DiSarcina, formerly the Angels’ minor league field coordinator, is now the PawSox manager.

So we had gaps and voids, we identified them, and we set about filling them with solid, stable choices who will fit in both on the field and in the clubhouse.  We now have some powerful hitters and defenders in the lineup whose numbers admittedly were not great last year but who stand, given the right circumstances, to do great things, and we have some great additions to the clubhouse as well.  We also have a starter who’s spent hardly any time in the AL and whose time he did spend in the AL was nothing to write home about but who has considerable potential.  We still have a lot of work to do; we need more and better starting pitching, for one thing.  That’s a big one.  But slowly but surely we’re getting it done.  We don’t need to make the world’s biggest splash to put a team together that can go the distance.

In other news, the Pats beat the Dophins, 23-16, and the Texans, 42-14.

AP Photo

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On June 12, we beat the Marlins, 2-1, in an obviously close game.  Buchholz was a big part of that; he pitched seven innings and gave up only one run on five hits, while walking one and striking out two.  One of those five hits was a solo shot in the seventh.  Padilla received a hold for the seventh, and Aceves got the save in the ninth.  We scored both of our runs via small ball in the seventh; Youk grounded out, Middlebrooks singled, Gonzalez flied out, Shoppach doubled in Middlebrooks, and Aviles singled in Shoppach.  We completed our series against the Marlins with a win as lopsided as that one was close, winning by a final score of 10-2.  Doubront delivered unquestionably his best start of the season, pitching a full seven innings and giving up two runs on three hits while walking one and striking out nine.  One of those three hits was a solo shot with two out in the sixth.  Padilla, Miller, and Albers combined to pitch the rest of the game.  And our hits were really busy; Aviles scored on a groundout in the third, Papi homered in the fourth, three consecutive singles and a sac fly in the sixth yielded two more, and we put up a six-spot in the eighth, when we sent eleven batters to the plate! Punto doubled, four straight singles yielded three runs, Middlebrooks got hit, Salty scored another with a sac fly, Sweeney lined out, and two straight singles scored our last run.

On June15, we started our series against the Cubs, and I am both relieved and pleased to say that Dice-K had himself a phenomenal start! He pitched six innings and gave up three runs on four hits while walking three and striking out three.  He threw ninety-three pitches, sixty-two of which were strikes.  Atchison and Melancon finished the game on the mound.  But we were shut out and lost, 3-0.  We had better luck in the next game, which we won, 4-3.  Lester went six and two-thirds innings and allowed three runs on seven hits while walking one and striking out eight; he gave up a two-run shot with one out in the seventh.  Salty homered with Papi on in the fourth, Middlebrooks singled in another run in the sixth, and then Podsednik singled in our final run in the seventh.  We ended up winning the rubber game by a final score of 7-4.  Beckett was out with inflammation in his right shoulder, so all those times I called for the bullpen to start rather than the starter finally paid off.  Morales pitched five innings and gave up two runs on four hits while walking none and striking out five; all in all, I’d say he was spectacular given the circumstances, including the fact that it was his first start since 2009.  He threw eighty pitches.  Albers then received a blown save for giving up the tying run; Miller, Melancon, and Atchison held the fort until Aceves allowed a run in the ninth.  In the first, Pedroia doubled and Papi singled for two, Papi led off the fourth with a solo shot, we scored three in the seventh on a single and two sacrifices, and we scored one in the eighth on a force out.

We played the Marlins again starting on Monday, this time at home, and this time we swept them.  The first game’s score was 7-5; Buchholz gave up five runs on nine hits while walking one and striking out three.  Albers, Miller, and Padilla performed well in middle relief, and Aceves picked up the save.  Papi hit a two-run shot in the first, Shoppach hit a two-run shot in the second, Ross hit a solo shot in the fourth, Gonzalez hit a sac fly in the fifth, and Middlebrooks doubled another in in the sixth.  The second game was a 15-5 blowout.  Doubront gave up four runs on nine hits while walking one and striking out four; Mortensen gave up one run, and Melancon pitched a shutout inning.  Aviles hit a three-run shot in the second to start the scoring.  Ross hit a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double in the third for three more runs.  We blew it wide open in the fourth; Kalish singled in one, Papi smacked a grand slam, and Salty hit a solo shot! Punto scored on a wild pitch in the fifth, and Middlebrooks hit a two-run shot in the eighth.  We barely won a nailbiter to complete the sweep.  Dice-K gave up four runs on four hits over five and a third innings; he walked one and struck out four.  Miller gave up one run, and it was Atchison who picked up the win and Aceves the save.  We got on the board in the fourth when a single and a sac fly brought in two, and we tied it up in the fifth with a single.  Then they led by two until the eighth, when Middlebrooks hit a two-run shot and Nava singled in a third run.  After Aceves’s performance, we had the sweep in hand.

After the Marlins, we hosted the Braves.  We lost on Friday, 4-1, but it wasn’t for lack of starting pitching.  Lester pitched seven innings and gave up three runs on ten hits while walking one and striking out five.  This time it was Melancon who allowed a run while Mortensen recorded the game’s last out successfully.  We scored our only run in the eighth on a double by Nava.  We won on Saturday, 8-4; Morales started again and was fantastic.  He gave up three runs, two earned, on seven hits over six innings while walking one and striking out eight; he threw eighty-six pitches.  Atchison, Miller, Padilla, and Aceves all appeared in relief.  Gonzalez singled in one and Middlebrooks doubled in another in the first, Pedroia doubled in two in the second, Middlebrooks homered in the third, Ross doubled in another in the fifth, and Nava singled in two in the seventh.  We ended up winning the series yesterday with a final score of 9-4.  Cook started in place of Buchholz, who was hospitalized due to a gastrointestinal problem.  Cook gave up three runs, two earned, on six hits over five innings.  He walked none and struck out none.  Albers allowed another run in relief; other than that, Miller, Atchison, and Melancon performed well and took care of the rest of the game.  Ross hit a three-run shot in the fourth, followed by a solo shot by Gonzalez.  Middlebrooks brought another one in with a sac fly in the fifth, followed by another home run by Ross, this one for two runs.  Nava doubled in another run in the sixth, and Youk tripled in our final run in the seventh.

It turned out that that run would be the last that Youk would bring home and third base would be the last base that Youk would defend and that game would be the last that Youk would play in a Boston uniform.  He was traded yesterday with cash to cover the remainder of this year’s salary before that at-bat to the Other Sox for utility man Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart, who the team has been scouting apparently since his college days.

Even before the at-bat, the crowd knew it was probably their last time seeing this phenomenal player playing for them; they had already given him a well-deserved standing ovation before his first at-bat in the second, and Youk had already returned it with a tip of his helmet.  In classic dirt-dog fashion, Youk legged out that triple, admittedly with a little help from the Braves, and went into the slide, and the standing ovation that he received afterwards was huge, thunderous, and extremely well-deserved.  Punto came out to pinch-run, since Ben didn’t want him injured, and after an emotional hug, as the two have been friends for years and years through Athletes Performance in Arizona, Youk returned to the dugout.  He tipped his helmet and was greeted by everyone at the entrance for more hugs and then emerged for a curtain call for both the crowd and his teammates, initiated by none other than Big Papi himself.

On the day, Youk went two for four with the triple and the one RBI.  Obviously, he also walked once and was involved in a controversial defensive play in the third during which there was some concern that he may have sustained an injury but flashed his characteristic leather throughout.  Also obviously though, there is more to a player than his final at-bat for a ballclub.  Youk was more to us than a triple and some good plays at third.  We picked him in the eighth round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2001 and raised him ourselves on the farm, and his first year in the Majors culminated in a World Series ring, our first in eighty-six years; with this trade, Papi is now the only member of that team still playing for us today.  Three years later, he added another in 2007.  He finishes his career in Boston with a batting average of .287, an on-base percentage of .388, 728 strikeouts, twenty-six stolen bases in forty attempts, and 961 hits.  Of those, 239 were doubles, seventeen were triples, and 133 were homers.  He batted in 564 runs and scored 594.  He played in 953 games and accumulated 3,352 at-bats.  Last but not least offensively, two of the stats for which he is most renowned throughout Major League Baseball, he walked 494 times and was hit by eighty-six pitches.  Now that’s a combination of eyes and patience if I’ve ever seen it.

In addition to his offense, the second aspect to Youk’s incredible game as his fielding, and this was where his versatility really shone.  Youk was a fixture at the corners.  Both of them.  It is fitting that he ended his Boston career at the bag where he began it, but he will be remembered as someone who routinely crossed the diamond without a word or a hiccup.  His fielding percentage at third in 362 games and 320 starts is .966; his fielding percentage at first in 594 games and 546 starts is .997.  In his career thus far, he has also played second base, left field, and right field and has made 986 assists, 4,788 putouts, and only forty-four errors.

There are all sorts of comparisons to be made between his stats and those of other greats the game has seen, but he was such a unique player that he shines in his own right, which brings me to the third and final aspect of Youk’s game, which was his character and leadership off the field.  As is the case so often for veterans who have played here, he was an extremely classy player.  He gave everything he had for every single at-bat at the plate and every single play in the field; he was completely invested in the well-being of the team, as evidenced by his visible and often physical expressions of frustration at his recent lack of production.  Every extra-base hit he legged out, every diving play he made, every walk he worked, and every batting helmet he threw were all the result of a fierce desire to see this team succeed.  He was a terrific mentor to the younger guys, including his replacement even as he was conscious of the fact that he was being replaced, and had a fierce, determined, and committed will.  He earned every All-Star vote he ever received and represented us three times as someone who really embodied the spirit of what it means to play here.  He was committed to his teammates as well, as evidenced in their extremely heartfelt goodbyes.  Pedroia said he loves the guy, as do well all.

We all knew this was coming.  Youk was being sidelined by Middlebrooks constantly, and the lineup was all convoluted to try to fit him in, and he didn’t exactly get along with Bobby V., and the rumors were steady.  But putting all of that aside, it speaks volumes about the type of player but also the type of guy that Youk was that after a big win that gave us the best record we’ve had all year, the mood in the clubhouse was sad, somber, and serious.  Youk helped us win two World Series championships and gave his all to this team, this city, and this game.  To say that he will be missed is an extreme understatement.  Youk, we salute you.

AP Photo

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The story that I am about to tell has been all too familiar to us this season so far.  It’s a story that’s a recipe for disaster going forward; indeed, it’s already been a recipe of disaster every single time it’s taken place.  It’s an ugly and unfortunate story, and technically it’s a story that could have been avoided (but that’s another story).  Right now, on this team, it’s the worst story of all.

It’s the story of the bullpen.

Everything started out so nicely.  Doubront allowed one run on four hits while walking three and striking out seven.  That one run was the product of a solo shot with two out in the sixth.  His only one-two-three inning was the fourth, during which he threw fifteen pitches, but his game low was eleven in the third; at the other extreme, he threw twenty-two in the second and twenty-one in the fifth.  All in all, a very solid start indeed and one that was half of why we were in the game after he left.

The other half was the offense, which made itself busy by scoring nine runs before the Evil Empire scored any: two in the first, three in the second, two in the third, and two more in the fifth.

In the first, Gonzalez and Papi both hit RBI doubles.  In the second, Aviles and Pedroia both hit RBI singles, and Sweeney hit a sac fly.  In the third, McDonald hit a sac fly with the bases loaded, and Aviles hit an RBI single.  In the fifth, Salty opened with a double after which Ross homered to center field.  It was a wallop of a swing on the second pitch of the at-bat, a slider clocked at eighty-seven miles per hour.  It sailed straight out.

Those were the only runs we scored in the entire game.  Even after Doubront allowed the home run, we were up by eight.  I don’t know about you, but I was looking forward to that drubbing going on record in order to even our record against the Yanks this year and to deliver some sort of thrashing before they left Boston.  I was hoping that it was going to be the first step in a series win and a compensatory measure for the loss we had to accept on Fenway’s hundredth birthday.

And then the bullpen entered the picture, and it ruined everything in the worst way.

It began almost immediately; the seventh inning saw three different pitchers alone.  Padilla was first; he managed to secure the first out with a strikeout on four pitches.  Then there were two consecutive singles and a four-pitch walk followed by that insult of insults: a grand slam, which was exactly what we needed on Friday to tie it.  To add further insult to that insults of insults, it was hit on the first and only pitch of the at-bat.  It was a thoroughly horrible experience to have to witness it.  Now, you would think that at that point Bobby V. would change pitchers; more likely, after the bases were loaded you were probably thinking that he should change pitchers.  Only after Padilla allowed a double after that did Bobby V. change pitchers.

He went to Albers.  Aviles put runners at the corners thanks to a fielding error, and then Albers allowed another home run.  Then he was replaced by Morales, who allowed a single followed by two quick outs, including a strikeout on three pitches.

The eighth saw four different pitchers.  Morales stayed on the mound long enough to allow a single before he was replaced by Aceves.  Aceves allowed an eight-pitch walk and an RBI double followed by an intentional and an unintentional walk.  Then there was another RBI double and another intentional walk, at which point Aceves was relieved by Thomas.  Thomas induced a double play but then allowed another RBI double followed by a single, at which point he was replaced by Tazawa, who allowed an RBI single and then the final out of the inning.

We went down in the eighth, the Yanks went down in the ninth, and in the bottom of the ninth we hit two singles and that was it.

So just to recap: the Yanks scored fifteen runs.  One in the sixth, and seven each in the seventh and eighth.  Not seven total over two innings, which would have been bad enough.  Seven each.  As in, they scored seven runs twice in two separate innings, during which our bullpen faced a combined twenty-three batters, in the same game.  It was actually sickening to watch it.  Sickening.  It was so egregiously bad that I just don’t know what to think anymore.  Something obviously has to be done; it’s not like we can afford to have a bullpen that keeps doing this.

It’s humiliating and embarrassing and gut-wrenching and completely pathetic to hold an eight-run lead and then lose it over the course of essentially two innings.  But did we really have to go through that at the hands of the Yankees? Of all teams, why did it have to be the Yankees?

It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen the bullpen fail so epically and totally.  I mean, it was a whole failure in every sense of that phrase.  The bullpen left absolutely no stone unturned in ensuring that Red Sox Nation was privy to one of the worst losses we’ve ever had the displeasure to see in a very long time, and that includes all of the other badness that’s happen to us this season so far.

Aviles, Pedroia, and Ross all went two for five; Papi was perfect at the plate with a four-for-four performance.  We posted seventeen hits, seven of which were for extra bases, all but one of which was a home run.  So even if the Yankees had scored seven runs in only one of those innings and not the other, we would have managed to win by one.  But no.  Our bullpen had to let the Yankees take batting practice.  And our closer, in case you were wondering, didn’t even record a single out for the third time this year.  The final score was 15-9.

By the way, we traded Michael Bowden and a player to be named later to the Cubs for Marlon Byrd, being that most of our outfield is on the DL and whatnot.  And Youk left the game in the fourth with a left quad contusion.

In other news, the Caps beat us again, 4-3.  There is no room for mistakes anymore.

Getty Images

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We finally made it! There are no more days to count, no more Spring Training games to play, no more side sessions to throw, and no more simulated games to complete.  There is nothing left.  It’s happening now.  Today is officially Opening Day, our first game of the regular season! As we all know, we’ll be playing the Tigers in Detroit, and Lester will be starting.  As we all know, this season is going to be interesting, to say the least.  Now, the wait is over.  The long, cold winter has come to an end.  The lineup: Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Papi, Youk, Sweeney, Ross, Salty, and Aviles, obviously in that order.  Baseball is finally here!

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our final two pitchers: Doubront and Bard, respectively.  Since Lester is a lefty, it wouldn’t have made sense to have Doubront be the fifth starter, since then you’d have two lefties starting back-to-back.  Anyway, are we surprised? No.  Should we be surprised? No.  Doubront had a phenomenal spring, and he’s had some experience starting in the Majors before, even if that experience wasn’t always the best.  As for Bard, you and I both know that Bobby V. wasn’t about to move him back to the bullpen after he declared that he was going to train him as a starter.  And that bothers me because unlike Doubront, who as I said had a phenomenal spring and who was therefore awarded a spot in the rotation based on explicit merit, Bard did not have a great spring and seems to have been awarded a spot in the rotation based on potential and possibility alone.  I’m not saying he won’t be a phenomenal starter; I’m saying that I have yet to see consistent glimmers of phenomenalness from him in that role.  Still, he’s shown that he can learn from his mistakes.  He probably picked up that skill while en route to becoming the next elite closer in the Major Leagues; oh, well.

Aceves had a fantastic spring also, and when he did have bad days, he rebounded nicely in his next outing, which is a critical quality for a starter.  At least we can count on him for solid long and middle relief.  And late relief, at least in the beginning, since Bailey will start the season on the disabled list with a thumb issue that will require surgery and that will make him stay on the disabled least until the All-Star break.  This is ridiculous.  He started last season on the disabled list with an arm injury, and he started Spring Training on the disabled list with a lat injury, and now he’ll start the beginning of the season on the disabled list with a thumb injury.  And don’t even get me started on the fact that we had to trade Josh Reddick to get Bailey in the first place.  So Aceves is in line to replace him, in case you were wondering.  Yeah, that gives us huge confidence in our new closer.

And as if that weren’t enough, Beckett apparently is having some sort of issue with his right thumb.  Apparently he’s had this issue for eighteen months.  He was examined and is fine to pitch now, but he said surgery could be inevitable at some point down the road.

In addition to actually knowing who are starters are going to be, we can be happy that Pedroia is healthy, Papi is in shape, and both Bobby V. and McClure have really connected with the team.  We can be unhappy about the fact that Crawford is still out and that Youk, Gonzalez, and Ellsbury haven’t hit a home run all spring.  And we will begin the season with nine guys on the DL.  Before the season even gets underway, we will have nine guys on the DL.  That’s just great.  As if we didn’t have enough to contend with during the start of this year’s season already.  Those nine guys account, in case you were curious, for $59.7 million.  And let’s not forget the fact that Chris Carpenter, the supposedly significant compensation that we were looking forward to receiving from the Cubs for Theo Epstein, is injured and has no command.  He is one of those nine.

Of course, you might say that at least that frees up some roster space.  And that’s true, but that’s only a plus if it’s used wisely.  The twenty-five-man Opening Day roster is carrying thirteen pitchers, which means that Bobby V. only has three backup bats on the bench, one of whom is a backup catcher.

We beat the Twins, 5-1, on Sunday.  Padilla and Atchison both appeared.  Sweeney singled, Ross and Aviles doubled, and Ellsbury tripled.  Since our record against Minnesota this spring has been four and two, we have won the Mayor’s Cup series, which began in 1993.  Since then, the Twins have won eleven series; we have won five of the last six.

We beat the Nationals, 4-2, on Monday.  Cook pitched five innings and gave up one run on two hits.  He walked one, struck out two, and threw forty-three of seventy pitches for strikes.  Padilla pitched the sixth.  Gonzalez and McDonald both singled, and Papi doubled.

We beat the Nationals, 8-7, on Tuesday.  Buchholz retired his first twelve hitters but also gave up a solo shot and a three-run home run.  All told, those four runs were his only runs; he gave up four hits in five and two-thirds innings.  He struck out five and walked none.  Bowden and Aceves both made appearances.  Pedroia went two for three with three RBIs, but the hero was Jason Repko, who ironically replaced Ellsbury and proceeded to hit a tie-breaking double and make a perfect throw home to secure the win.

In other news, the B’s beat the Rangers and Penguins.

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The coaching staff has now officially been finalized.  Tim Bogar is the bench coach.  Jerry Royster will take his place as the third base coach.  Alex Ochoa is the first base coach.  Dave Magadan will remain the hitting coach, and Gary Tuck will remain the bullpen coach.  Our new pitching coach is Bob McClure.  The Royals let him go after finishing in fourth place in their division last season, and then we hired him as a minor league instructor and special assignment scout.  Obviously on the surface, this doesn’t exactly bode well.  However, it’s worth mentioning that his professional profile is similar to John Farrell’s; like Farrell, he’s been a player as well as a coach, and he has a knack for evaluating talent.  But by now I have learned how fruitless it is to delve analytically into anything that Bobby V. does before I actually see how it shapes up in action.  Regarding McClure, I’m not sure I know what to think at this point.

We now officially have a closer, and it turns out that it isn’t Mark Melancon.  Melancon will obviously be in the mix, but we traded first baseman Miles Head, right-handed pitcher Raul Alcantara, and, yes, even Josh Reddick to the A’s for outfielder Ryan Sweeney and, more importantly, Andrew Bailey.  Bailey has a career 2.07 ERA and 0.95 WHIP with seventy-five saves and only nine blown saves in his three seasons in the Majors.  He has been injured, which restricted him to less than fifty innings in his last two seasons.  But because we expect him to own the ninth only, I don’t see a problem.  The Bailey-Melancon one-two punch shows considerable promise.  Like Paps, Bailey tends to induce his fair share of fly balls, so Melancon serves as a nice complement to that; in his career, Melancon has induced double the amount of ground balls as fly balls, and only three pitchers last season had a better ratio.

So, to put it lightly, he’ll do.  Now let’s look at Sweeney.  His hitting stats obviously don’t match up well with Reddick’s, but he’s got a solid OBP and he can play all three outfield positions, which we know is incredibly useful.  However, I’m still not happy about that part of the trade because, while Sweeney has obvious upsides, he technically doesn’t even come close to Reddick.  I mean, Reddick has the makings of a Major League superstar.  Of course, we have to moderate that a little by accounting for the fact that he’s young yet and hasn’t seen much action relatively speaking, but still.  I see this trade as addressing our short-term needs rather than considering our long-term needs.  There is a time and place for doing so, but I’m not convinced that this was it.  Again, we’ll have to wait and see.  It’s important to remember that this is Ben’s team now, and he deserves a chance to prove that he has as much foresight as anybody.

Ryan Kalish will miss the start of the season; he just had surgery on his left shoulder to repair a torn labrum.  In all likelihood, so will Jenks, who had another surgery.

The Yankees signed Okajima to a minor league deal; oh, how the mighty have fallen.  The Cubs hired Bill Buckner as a minor league hitting coach.  I hope Theo has fun with that.  Incidentally, in case you didn’t notice, that was sarcastic.

In other news, the Pats have been on an absolute tear.  We beat the Redskins, Broncos, Dolphins, and Bills.  We’ll see if we can convert that into anything of note when it counts.  The B’s have been similarly dominating; we beat the Habs, Panthers (eight-zip shutout), and Coyotes; we dropped our game against the Stars.  We womped the Devils and Flames (seriously, a nine-zip shutout) and lost to Vancouver in a very eventful matchup in which Vancouver was obviously trying to make a statement.  I’d say it was grasping; they may have beaten us by a goal, but the last time I checked, we are still the reigning Stanley Cup champions.  The benches cleared, though.  Five Canucks charged Shawn Thornton for defending a hit teammate, and then all the gloves dropped.  Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault says we’re too physical, probably because the Canucks can’t match us.  By the way, Milan Lucic did indeed take the ice legally on a line change.

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Ben called back Sveum for a second-round interview, but we didn’t make Sveum an offer, and the Cubs picked him up.  We may be interviewing Bobby Valentine next, and I’m not sure I like that.  Actually, scratch that.  I don’t like that.  I don’t like that at all.  Valentine is the antithesis of what we need right now, and the fact that he’s even being considered reflects some serious misdirection and scrambling on the part of our front office, something we haven’t seen in years.  I have full confidence in Ben, but at the moment he looks like he has absolutely no idea what in the world he’s doing, and that may be because he legitimately is lost at this point or because Larry is lost.  Either way, it’s not yielding good results.  It’s yielding a public image of an organization that is in complete and utter chaos.  Whether or not that’s actually true, I do not like that.

Speaking of managers, Tito will stay out after all next season.  I guess Jerry Remy was right.

Ben has had good talks with Papi’s camp.  Supposedly we’ve made contact with Francisco Cordero, and there has been mutual interest expressed in having Heath Bell pitch for us.  Supposedly we may be interested in Roy Oswalt.

Thankfully, Don Orsillo signed a contract extension with NESN.  Thankfully, Heidi Watney has not.  Watney is leaving for Time Warner Cable in California, who now have the Lakers.  She’ll be a sideline reporter for those telecasts.

In other news, the Pats sunk the Jets, 37-16.  The B’s barely beat the Devils and Blue Jackets but laid it on thick in our crushing assault on the Isles for an eight-game winning streak.

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