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Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta Thrashers’

So, again, that was the opposite of what I had in mind when I thought of what the outcome of last night’s game would be.  Same as Opening Day: I was expecting a win because Lackey was on the mound, we returned to our regular lineup for the righty, and our team is amazing.  Again, no big deal.  Right? Wrong.  So incredibly, totally wrong.

Lackey’s line was utterly abysmal.  It was literally one of the worst starts of his career; his current career high for runs given up is ten, and he gave up nine.  Those ten runs were also given up to the Texas Rangers, on September 26, 2008.  Aside from that start, the only other time Lackey took a similar beating was when he gave up nine runs to us on August 5, 2003.

Nine runs on ten hits.  Seven of those ten hits were extra-base hits.  Two of those seven extra-base hits were home runs.  One of those home runs was a leadoff shot by Ian Kinsler, who is now the first player in history to hit two leadoff homers to start a season.  The other was a grand slam by none other than Adrian Beltre after an intentional walk of Josh Hamilton.  So for this afternoon, I’d say intentionally walk Kinsler during his first at-bat, but if you do that, you might end up with a grand slam later.  Lackey walked two, struck out three, and never made it to the end of the fourth inning.

Every single time we tried to get back in it, Lackey would just give up more runs.  Papi tied it in the fourth with a fielder’s choice, and Lackey sent down his first two batters of the fourth.  And then there was the badness: a double, a triple, a walk, a double.

Lackey threw eighty-six pitches, fifty for strikes.  They were mostly cut fastballs and curveballs.  Like Lester’s outing, it’s easy to explain a cut fastball pitcher’s bad outing: the cut fastball doesn’t cut.  When a batter makes contact with a lame cut fastball that tops out somewhere around ninety-three miles per hour, you can pretty much bet you’re in trouble.  His curveball got up to eighty-five miles per hour.  Unlike Lester, Lackey’s cut fastball, his most frequently used pitch, actually was his most effective one, so he did get some strikeouts with it.  Seven of his fifty strike pitches resulted in swings.

His release point was not tight.  There were some pitches were released completely out of it.  And when he missed, he missed to the upper left and lower right corners of the zone.

As on Opening Day, the relief corps was not helpful.  Wheeler gave up two runs, and Wake gave up a run.  After that, things settled down; Reyes and Jenks both turned in very solid innings.  Bard was unavailable because he threw thirty-two pitches on Friday.  I don’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

Bad pitching again detracted from a very strong performance by Adrian Gonzalez, who is currently earning his contract like nobody’s business.  It’s a great feeling when your general manager does everything possible during the offseason to field a championship team and it actually seems to be working.  Three for five with a double and two runs.  Youk doubled.  Ellsbury blasted a two-run shot in the seventh on a ninety-two mile-per-hour fastball down and in, which is exactly the place you don’t want a fastball to end up if you’re facing lefties because they do things like hit home runs if it does.  The best part was that his swing looked totally natural, like all he does is just hit home runs all day.  Hopefully we’ll get some more of those from him this year.

And last, but of course certainly not least, Papi followed the fourth Opening Day home run of his career with his second of the season in the second inning! An eighty-nine mile-per-hour high fastball ended up in the first few rows of right field seats, good for two runs.  By the time the night was over, he made history.  He both tied, with number 1,003, and surpassed, with number 1,004, Edgar Martinez for most RBIs ever hit by a DH.  And in just two days, he already is showing more offensive prowess than he did during this entire month for the last two years combined.  During his last two Aprils, he batted .169 with one home run.  He’s currently batting .250 with two.  The monster year has begun.

The final score was a completely pathetic 12-5.  We are now 0-2 to begin the season for the first time since 2005.  Not exactly the auspicious start any of us were expecting or hoping for.  All I’m saying is that Lackey is pitching our home opener on Friday against the Yankees, and we better not have a repeat performance, because that would just be unacceptable.  Meanwhile, we’re getting our first look at Buchholz and Tek this afternoon; Salty will probably get the day off.  Maybe Buchholz should stay away from cut fastballs.

In other news, the Bruins beat the Thrashers by a goal.

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Honestly, nothing really happened during the past two weeks.  After blockbuster deals like Gonzalez and Crawford, what else could possibly have happened? Actually, I would have been very pleased to see some sort of move made regarding the catcher’s position, but with so much power added to the lineup already, I think we can weather Salty’s potential lack of production.  That means he’ll have to pull his weight defensively.  I think he will.  Theo is responsible; he wouldn’t send us out with such an important piece missing from the puzzle.  It looks like it’ll be Salty and Tek this year.  Salty will be the official starter, but playing time will be split more evenly than usual.  Like I said, as long as the defense is good, I can live with the lack of offense under the circumstances.

So, really, we’re all set.  2011 is going to be a happy new year for everyone.  Or at least for Red Sox Nation.  I can’t speak for the rest of the Major League community, but something tells me that everyone else’s baseball years may not be so good.

Okajima signed a one-year deal.  Jenks officially signed a two-year deal worth twelve million dollars.  Gonzalez confirmed that his contract demands won’t be effected by the fact that, when Pujols signs a ridiculously expensive contract that is incredibly huge in every way, his own market value will increase.  Instead, he’ll be approaching negotiations from his position in the current market.  Basically, that means that he and Theo will be negotiating during the season, rather than during free agency.  Good man.

In other news, in the past two weeks, the Ducks shut us out, we crushed the Thrashers, we won back-to-back games with the Panthers and Bolts by a goal each, the Thrashers bested us in a shootout, and we lost to Buffalo in a shootout in a ridiculously high-scoring game.  The final was 6-7.  We scored four goals in the first period alone, and the Sabres scored three.  Then they scored two in the second.  Then we scored two in the third, and they scored one to tie it.  That was one seriously hard-earned point.  We are currently first in our division, two points ahead of the Habs, and we are third in the conference.  Very nice.  Very nice indeed.  The Patriots eventually won a close game with the Packers, 31-27, and served some swift and severe humiliation to the Bills, who suffered an embarrassing 34-3 defeat at the hand of the ever-masterful Tom Brady, who is obviously about to win the Super Bowl yet again.

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Wow.  Just, wow.  Hugeness this week.  Trust me, there is epicness to discuss.

Beltre and Felipe Lopez both declined arbitration, but there is still hope for the former.  We all know that the A’s are offering Beltre a sweet deal, but he’s taking his equally sweet time in signing it.  He stated publicly that he wants to return to Boston, so he’s waiting to see what Theo’s got.

It turns out that what Theo’s got is a seriously awesome replacement.  Adrian Gonzalez, welcome to Boston! Finally! He went to Boston yesterday for a physical to make sure his right shoulder is on track after his surgery, and he passed.  We’ll be sending Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, outfielder Reymond Fuentes, and a player to be named later to the Padres, which fortunately shouldn’t hurt our farm system too much because last year’s draft was so successful.  Although it’ll be rough to see them all go.  The important thing to keep in mind about prospects is that you never know.  They could be awesome like Hanley Ramirez.  Or they could be terrible like Craig Hansen.  We already know what Adrian Gonzalez is capable of at the Major League level.

There’s room for a contract extension; Gonzalez is entering the last year of his current deal and we already acquired permission from Major League Baseball to hammer out a new one by this afternoon.  That didn’t happen, so Theo might wait to watch his shoulder in the spring, and of course there are the luxury tax implications.  But he won’t be giving up all those top prospects if he weren’t assured that an extension could be worked out, which would give us stability at all three bags.  Given Gonzalez’s age, anything from five to eight years can be considered feasible.  We offered six, but he wanted eight.  So there you go.

But one thing’s for sure: celebration is indeed in order.  Gonzalez will succeed in Boston.  His lefty swing was practically built exclusively for Fenway Park, and he was able to excel in a quintessential pitcher’s park.  Seriously.  Most of his fly balls in Petco would’ve been out in Fenway.  That’s why I’m convinced that he’ll get over his National League-ness in a hurry.  By the way, he’s got two Gold Gloves at first.  And he started almost every single game for about the last five years.  Without DHing once.  So here’s to you, Theo.  Two years later, you finally closed the deal.  And the fact that the Padres’ general manager and assistant general manager of scouting and player development both used to work with Theo is the icing on the cake that didn’t necessarily work to our advantage since they basically knew our farm system inside-out.  Gonzalez will play first and replace V-Mart’s bat, we’ll move Youk to third, and Beltre, who’s older anyway, will now probably sign with the A’s.  The deal is done on principle.  All they need to do is announce it on Monday at Fenway and that’s it.  The Adrian Gonzalez Era in Boston has begun!

One more thing.  Fundamentally this deal was not about New York; it’s about us, our team, our organization, and our hunger.  But while we’re on the subject, I would just like to point out that, not only is Adrian Gonzalez the answer to Mark Teixeira, but we now have a young infield that’s locked and entering its prime while the Yanks have guys on the downward slope of their careers.  I’m just saying.  I would advise New York to be afraid.  Very afraid.

Tek signed a one-year deal with two million dollars plus incentives; those rumors about him going to the Dodgers couldn’t have been more wrong.  They started circulating because the Dodgers had to decide whether to tender Russell Martin, who’s awesome except for injuries.  We didn’t tender Okajima, given his poor performance last season, but we already tendered Paps and will be making offers to Ellsbury and Taylor Buchholz.  Rumor has it that we made an offer to Mariano Rivera before he signed a two-year deal with the Yanks.  The Yanks seem to be avenging this action by showing interest in Carl Crawford to drive up his price.  I honestly don’t think the offer to Rivera was serious.  And I honestly don’t think New York’s interest in Crawford is serious.  Unless they don’t get Cliff Lee.  If Lee stays in Texas, New York might seriously start looking at Crawford because they could always deal Brett Gardner for a starter.

Pedroia’s foot is almost at one hundred percent.  He’s been cleared to jog and will be ready for Spring Training.  We have officially met with both Crawford and Werth, who, according to Dwight Evans, is the best right fielder in baseball and similar to himself.  This is Dwight Evans, people.  That’s seriously high praise.

Not that that’s going to help anyone.  Not even Werth himself.  Werth is now officially out of the picture and off the deep end.  He signed a deal for seven years and 126 million dollars.  With the Washington Nationals.  I’m not kidding.  That tells me two things: one, he’s not hungry, and two, he’s essentially a fool.  He’s not going to win a ring with the Nats, and seven years from now, when his contract is up, he won’t be starter material, which is obviously something that the Nationals don’t care about.  So his ring with the Phillies will be the last of his career as a starter.  If he wanted security, he sure got it.  He knows where he’ll be for the majority of the next decade, and he’s getting a whole heap of money for it.  To be honest with you, he would have been great in a Boston uniform, but I wouldn’t want someone only interested in money and years to play for us.  Especially not someone who would ever seriously consider both money and years with the Nationals.  I mean, they’re the Nationals.  Not only are they National League, they’re the worst in the National League; in fact, they’re the worst in the Major Leagues.

But wait; it gets better.  He says he’s been considering signing with the Nats since hiring Scott Boras as his agent last season.  Let me get this straight: he hired Scott Boras to get him a deal with the Washington Nationals.  That’s ridiculous.  Why would you hire Scott Boras to cut a deal with the Nationals? Jayson Werth doesn’t need an agent to negotiate a deal with the Washington Nationals; Jayson Werth can walk up to the Washington Nationals, write down a year amount and a dollar amount on a piece of paper, hand it to whoever is spearheading the process, and receive a “yes” to everything in five seconds flat.  He says he’s impressed with the Nats’ acquisition of young talent? Give me a break.  Nobody expects all that young talent to stay there; as soon as they’re able, they’re writing one-way tickets into free agency and out of town.  And then he went on this tangent in which he basically implied that he only signed with the Nationals because they assured him that they’d continue to acquire the talent necessary to compete and win, because that is very important to him.  Oh, sure.  If it’s that important to him, he would not have signed with the Nationals.  So they present their future plans to him and he asks questions about the team.  Great.  Now let’s see the Nationals follow that plan, the young talent stay put, and Werth stay in shape long enough to merit his salary at the end of his contract.  I don’t think so.

We signed starter Brandon Duckworth to a minor league deal.  He was part of the Billy Wagner trade.  We are supposedly interested in reliever Matt Guerrier.

Oh, and I fully expect Mike Cameron to morph into some sort of hitting specialist against lefties, being that many of the AL East’s elite pitchers are lefties and some of our middle bats struggled against lefties last season.  The only potential hindrance to that expectation is playing time.  Cameron has the potential to get rolling, but he can’t get rolling if he never gets going.

The Spring Training schedule is out.  We’re opening with an exhibition doubleheader with Boston College followed by Northeastern.  March features competition with Minnesota, Atlanta, Philly, both New York teams, Florida, Baltimore, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Toronto, and Houston.

On Saturday, Sox Pax and tickets for twenty-one games in April and May will go on sale.

Get psyched.  The Winter Meetings are starting on Monday, and they’re going to be very interesting.  And by interesting I also mean hectic, since most of the important offseason deadlines have moved up.  Theo has his work cut out for him; we have a bat to replace V-Mart, but we’ll need another, preferably a righty, to replace Beltre since he’ll sign elsewhere, and relievers.  Good ones.  We’ve already made a splash; the key is to fill the club’s needs without removing all of our flexibility for next year.

In other news, the Bruins dropped Sunday’s game to the Thrashers, 1-4.  But then we shut out the Flyers, three-zip, and completely decimated the Lightning, 8-1.  Krejci and Ryder each racked up three points.  It was awesome.  If this were baseball, that would be considered a slugfest.  Then we lost in a shootout to the Leafs, but at least we get a point.  The Pats take on the Jets tomorrow.

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We claimed outfielder Jordan Parraz off waivers from Kansas City.  That officially fills out our forty-man roster.  He’s going straight to Triple-A, where he’ll stay unless an injury hits.

And that’s as simple as this week’s news is going to get, so hold onto your hats.  We offered arbitration to Beltre, Felipe Lopez, and V-Mart.  They have until Tuesday to decline.

Beltre is going to decline.  That’s basically a fact.  He has a five-year offer from the A’s on the table, and Theo will not come close to that in terms of years, and that’s not even talking about the cash.  So we’re going to get two draft picks for him.  I was ready for this.  I knew Beltre wouldn’t return.  He was only here for one year, and he had too good a season.  Between those two facts, he was bound to test the market.  And his good season inflated his value.  I say “inflated” and not “increased” because, as I’ve said before, I think a big part of why his season was so good was Fenway Park.  He’s a terrific athlete at the plate and in the field, but if you take away Fenway Park, I doubt you’ll get the same production numbers from him.  And I think Theo also knew he wouldn’t return.  So this is an unfortunate but not surprising turn of events.

Lopez is a Type B free agent, so we’re going to get a sandwich-round draft pick if he signs with someone else.  If he accepts, he’d get a better salary than he would ever be able to get on the open market.  But if we cut him during Spring Training, he’s got nothing.  So he’s going to decline.  A wise move given his poor season last year.

V-Mart will not be returning to Boston.  He’s going to sign a four-year deal worth fifty million dollars with the Tigers.  So he got what he wanted: years with cash.  So the question becomes whether he would have been worth a better offer from us.  We offered him four years for forty-two million dollars.  There’s no question that that should have been enough, so the question then becomes whether we should have matched the Tigers.  A part of me does sort of wish that Theo just offered the extra eight million.  V-Mart is a hitting catcher who also plays first base, and he’s starter material in all three.  There is probably no other active player right now for whom that is true.  We already have a first baseman, but we need a hitter, and we need a catcher, and rare is the opportunity to consolidate the two into one player.  He’s improved his throwing, he’s gotten to know our staff really well, and we just spent all of last season grooming him to take on the starter’s role and be our catcher of the future.  This is not Mark Teixeira; we can revisit the Mark Teixeira episode when we start talking about Adrian Gonzalez.  We’ve kept our fair share of catchers in the starter’s role well beyond the point where they ceased to merit it.  And the reason why I brought up Mark Teixeira is that he’s an example of us in the past offering loads of cash and loads of years to a player who may or may not have been worth it.  (Again, that’s a separate issue, and I’m sure it’ll come up when we get to Adrian Gonzalez.) So given those two facts, it just seems like, if there were ever a time or a player that merited an extra eight million dollars, it would be right now and V-Mart.  There are only maybe three other catchers in the Majors who can hit like he can, and none of them are on the radar.  So we’re going to have to go with a catcher who’s solid behind the plate and compensate for the loss of production with another position.  That would explain our interest in Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, and recently Justin Upton from the D-Backs.

However, from a sabermetrics standpoint, Theo’s decision makes sense.  We all know that Theo has that line, different for every player given our situation at the time, that he absolutely under any circumstances will not cross.  And I guess that was the line for V-Mart.  It’s easy to say that Theo should’ve just kicked in an extra eight million, but it’s possible that that would’ve set off some sort of bidding war, although very small in scale because this is the Tigers we’re talking about, and the Tigers would’ve gone above that, and we wouldn’t have matched that new offer anyway.  The Tigers’ situation is completely different than ours.  They finished the season at .500 exactly, and they’re looking for shining stars around which to construct a team that can compete.  But we need V-Mart more than they do because V-Mart won’t get them to the World Series.  He might get us to the World Series.  But he’s thirty-two years old, so he’s approaching that age, which we all know comes sooner for catchers than it does for other position players.  He’ll probably only be able to catch consistently for the first half of that contract.  And let’s not forget that there are draft picks involved, something that in the past has led to the likes of Lester, Buchholz, Pedroia, Lowrie, and Ellsbury.  So, as you can see, there are all sorts of variables involved that Theo obviously didn’t think merited that kind of money for those years, perhaps because the last one or two of them would see an obvious decrease in performance.

I always say that in Theo we must trust, so we’re going to have to wait and see.  He thinks of every angle.  He places a value on a player before negotiations and sticks to it.  He doesn’t like bidding wars, and honestly neither do I.  All I know is that Salty can not handle the starter’s role.  He just can’t.  That’s confirmed by the fact that we’re already looking for replacements, who could include Bengie Molina, Mike Napoli, and Chris Iannetta.  Ultimately, we need to put a good team on the field every year.  Not just this year and next year.  So if that ability would have been hindered by offering V-Mart extra money, we can’t have that.  As long as the catcher can catch and the hitters can hit, it doesn’t technically matter whether the catcher is the one hitting or the hitter is the one catching.

Speaking of catchers, we didn’t offer arbitration to Tek because we didn’t want to pay three million dollars to a Type B backup catcher.  If he signs with someone else, we won’t get draft picks.  But he won’t sign with someone else.  He’s coming back.

We didn’t offer arbitration to Hall, who wants to go somewhere with more playing time.  Speaking of versatility, there is arguably no player more versatile than Hall.  His average keeps him from starting regularly, but he has played almost every position for us this past year: second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field, right field, even pitcher.  That, my friends, is a dirt dog answering the call of duty.

As always with arbitration, the week leaves us with lots of questions and almost no answers.  That’s the beauty of the offseason.  It’s a time when teams get the chance to overhaul, and you never know what you’re going to get.  Stay tuned.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Lightning, 1-3, but then beat the Panthers by the same score.  The Devils shut us out, and we’re playing the Thrashers this evening.  The Thrashers are hot right now, so this would be a great time for us to bounce back.  The Pats crushed the Lions, 45-24.

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Two huge news items this week: the rotation and Mauer.  I’ll talk about the rotation first because it’s awesome.

Ladies and gentlemen, your starting five: Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Wakefield, Buchholz.  In that order.  Beckett gets the nod to start the fifth Opening Day game of his career, the second of his career with us.  And let me tell you that I am looking forward to some serious, ice-cold domination over the Evil Empire because it’s going to be real interesting to see exactly how they intend to beat him.  He’s Beckett.  Beckett the Unbeatable, if you will.  He’ll start opposite Sabathia.  Then we get a day off before Lester’s start, and Lackey will make his Boston debut in the third and hopefully final sweeping game in that series against New York.  Then it’s off to Kansas City (a city I’m still having serious trouble thinking of without the 2012 All-Star Game coming to mind), where Wake will open the series, followed by Beckett who’ll be on regular rest due to the day off, followed by Buchholz, who’ll close it out.  After that it’s back to a regular rotation.

If I weren’t a Red Sox fan, I would be shaking in my shoes when I read about that rotation.  Make no mistake: that is, hands down, without a doubt, the best starting rotation in all of Major League Baseball.  If I sound confident, it’s because I am.  With a rotation like that, who wouldn’t be? Beyond that, I really don’t think there’s much to say.  Except to expect us in the World Series, which has “Boston” written all over it.

But seriously, folks: I like this rotation.  Last season was a fluke for Beckett; if he’s right this year, he belongs at the top of the rotation.  The one-two punch of Beckett and Lester has been proven deadly for the opposition, and I like having a lefty between Beckett and Lackey.  Wake is of course tried and true, and we’ll see how Buchholz fairs.  Overall, one of the strengths of this rotation is its versatility.  It includes heat, power, cunning, and some nasty off-speeds.  We’re going to win some games with these arms, trust me.

By the way, we’re officially not offering Beckett a fifth year in his contract extension.  Faced with a right shoulder like his, I agree with that.  That doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t pay him well, though.  We probably will, but for not as much time.

Big news item number two: In what was perhaps the greatest display of loyalty in the last decade, Joe Mauer, born and raised in Minnesota, signed an eight-year contract extension with a full no-trade clause that averages about $23 million a year.  Personally, I was surprised that the Twins can afford that.  It’s the fourth-largest contract in the history of the Major Leagues, but don’t let that fool you: if he pursued free agency, he almost certainly would’ve been able to command more.  It’s safe to say that he would’ve set off a bidding war between us and New York that could’ve raised his total salary to above $200 million.  But he didn’t, and there wasn’t.  I mean, you can’t get much more loyal than an extension with a no-trade clause.  Would I have loved to see the dynamic offensive catching duo of V-Mart and Mauer split time behind the dish at Fenway Park? You bet.  But this is the next-best thing, and not just because it keeps him out of the division.  And not just because it saves us considerable money since a bidding war with the Yankees is now moot.  It means there’s some hope yet in this game for loyalty like that, even with free agency.  You have to be some special stuff to exercise it, but at least we know it’s still there.  His standing ovation on Tuesday was pretty impressive.

What does this mean for us? It means we’re going to have to get ready to shell out to V-Mart when the time comes, provided he spends more time behind the dish than at the bag and still maintains his high level of play.  Keep in mind that we haven’t yet seen him be our starting catcher for a full season.  For starters, he really needs to work on throwing people out.  But even with that current shortcoming, his high offensive output at a position notorious for week hitters makes him worth it.  Besides, he knows he’ll never be able to serve a team at first or DH as well as he can at catcher, and his price decreases significantly if he pursues either of those routes, so either way he has an incentive to improve.

And now for the usual schedule recap.

On Sunday, we lost to Houston, 7-10.  Six of those ten runs were allowed by Paps, and to top it all off, the game was cut short by rain.  Apparently, he had a migraine before he went out there, so he took some medication and felt a bit drowsy.  He had no energy and proceeded to look like he was pitching to, well, not Major Leaguers.  At least it’s nothing serious, but it would be really great if this doesn’t become some sort of recurring problem.

On Tuesday, we lost to Minnesota, 7-2.  This one was on Buchholz.  In a decidedly 2008-esque performance, he allowed six runs, three walks, and three wild pitches in less than two innings.  Only half of his pitches were strikes.  Not that the offense was any help at all; we scored our first run in the eighth.  Paps did pitch a scoreless inning, though, to bounce back.  Delcmaren enjoyed a nice inning of his own, a one-two-three frame, amidst repeated delivery changes.  But Pedroia left in the bottom of the second with a sprained left wrist.  He’s fine; they benched him on Friday to be cautious, and he started yesterday.

On Wednesday, we beat the Pirates by two.  V-Mart smashed his first Spring Training home run.  Beckett completed his longest start of Spring Training: five innings of dominance during which he relinquished only one run on three hits with two walks.  Also on Wednesday, Embree debuted in a minor league contest and threw a scoreless inning.  Eleven of his twelve pitches were strikes.  It’s good to have you back, buddy.

On Thursday, we beat the Marlins, 6-4, and there were plenty of good offensive performances to go around.  Wake threw six frames and gave up three runs on six hits with two walks and five punchouts.  Fifty-one of his seventy-three pitches were strikes.  I think he’s some kind of Benjamin Button of baseball because it’s uncanny how he keeps it up every year.  I mean, he’s a knuckleballer, but still.  The bigger news was Dice-K’s successful two innings of work.  He gave up a run on two hits with no walks or punchouts in twenty-five pitches.  And he looked good! Cue: sigh of relief.  He’ll miss the first few weeks of the season because the Red Sox want pitchers to throw twenty-five innings before beginning regular season work.  But I’ll live if it means he won’t be a total bust this year.

On Friday, we barely beat the Jays.  Tek and Reddick had our only hits until a three-run ninth that included an RBI single by Papi.  Lowell fouled a ball off his knee in the first; x-rays were negative but he’s day-to-day.  He’s confident he’ll be ready by Opening Day, though.  And this just as he was getting comfortable at first base.  Lester gave up no unearned runs over six innings with five punchouts.  Paps allowed two hits and a walk but no runs.

Yesterday, we lost to the Orioles.  Pedroia and Lackey both looked fantastic, but Embree didn’t.  Hermida left with a tight hamstring.

Opening Day is one week away.  Only one week away.  That means that in one week, we’ll be in the process of watching the first win of a season that’ll probably take us all the way to the top.  (Provided everyone stops thinking our offense is non-existent, of course.) After all, we are Red Sox Nation, and that means we gotta believe.  And it all starts on Sunday at Fenway against New York.  Seven days.  Only seven days.

The Bruins lost to the Rangers and Lightning and shut out the Thrashers and Flames.  This means we’ve moved up to the seventh seed and are currently tied with the Flyers.  Savard is still on the injured reserve.

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Entering this week, I seriously felt like I was watching the Sox in the middle of the season.  You know, that time when all the aches and pains start to set in.  And it’s not exactly the world’s most comforting feeling to see a team affected like they’ve played eighty-plus games when they’ve only played eleven.

Beckett got sick.  And it showed on Friday, when the Pirates had their way with him while he coughed up a lung between pitches.  Although he’ll probably get the nod to start Opening Day.  Also during Friday’s game, John Farrell got to watch his son get a hit.  I’m not happy that the Pirates made contact off of one of our pitchers, but I have to admit that that must have been pretty awesome for Farrell.

Dice-K strained his neck.  But progress is promising: he threw forty batting-practice pitches on Wednesday, and another ten to a still batter.  The best part is that all of them were strikes.  He’s scheduled to start a minor league game today, so I’m hopeful.  Also, congratulations to him and his family on the birth of his third child and second daughter.

Jed Lowrie contracted mono.  What is this, the All-Star break? It’s only Spring Training, and the team already looked like it was feeling it.  That’s not good news.

And that’s not even mentioning Ryan Westmoreland’s surgery on Wednesday to remove a cavernous malformation in his brain.  (Basically, that’s a mass of tangled blood cells in his brain stem.) He’s only nineteen years old and was in the process of living the dream: being one of his favorite team’s top prospects.  Thankfully, the surgery went well, and he has started his recovery.  But the recovery won’t be easy.  I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say he’s in our thoughts, and we hope he’ll be better soon.

On Wednesday, Beltre showed us what he’s working with.  He made a play that was basically the exact reason why we signed him.  Cora hit a ball that nailed Lackey in the bottom of his shoe.  It rolled away from him, so Beltre barehanded it while in the air to first, and the throw was a lot more powerful than it normally would have been given the circumstances.  It was one of those critics-silencing, leather-flashing, worth-proving plays you see in Spring Training that finally convinces you that, as usual, Theo Epstein knew exactly what he was doing.  Lackey was fantastic for four (it’s a joy to watch him, partly because works really quickly) but Ramon Ramirez squandered it.  I don’t care if it’s only Spring Training and the results technically don’t count: you never want to hear that your bullpen squandered it.  Ever.  Thankfully, the squandering did not involve Paps.  On the bright side, Big Papi has a hitting streak going, which included a homer on Monday.  I’m telling you, I think he’s going to come back.

Thursday was big.  The Major League squad got the day off, so Buchholz went down the street to pitch in a minor league contest.  He did so to keep on a five-day schedule, to see if he could handle joining the rotation.  Trust me, he handled it.  Forty-five pitches over four innings of one-hit ball with four K’s and no walks.  What this means is that we currently have six options for a five-man rotation.  Folks, this is about to get really interesting, really quickly.

No, seriously.  You might be thinking the decision will be easy because Wake is running out of steam, especially after he got lit up on Monday, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  He threw five shutout innings yesterday and threw another simulated two in the bullpen afterwards.  He is really on pace to put up a fight for that fifth starting spot.  (Delcarmen threw shutout frame.  What a relief, no pun intended.) Having too many starters is a very good problem to have, and this year it looks like that’s more concrete than last year.  Our abundance of starters at the beginning of ’09 didn’t exactly pan out like we thought it would, but this year all six are proven, solid, and capable, and that translates to options come playoff time.  Also, Youk and Scutaro both homered in the contest, which we won, not surprisingly.

John Smoltz has been hired by TBS and MLB Network as an analyst even though he claims that he’s not ready to retire yet.  Yeah, right.  We’ve seen this a million times, and I bet he’ll announce his retirement pretty soon anyway.  We welcome back Alan Embree, who recorded the final out in Game Seven of the 2004 ALCS, with a minor league contract and Major League invite.  Ah, memories.  He had a tough season last year: a line drive broke his leg and that was the end of it.  But if he can bounce back and maybe pitch effectively a bit in Fenway, that’s something I’d like to see during a slugfest or something.  Just for old times’ sake.

So the week did end up improving, with plenty of flashes of brilliance to go around.  And the best part? Opening Day is only two weeks away! And with the weather warming up like it has been recently and the first day of spring yesterday, baseball is definitely in the air.  It’s only a matter of time before we’re tuning in for that first pitch.  (Which will be thrown in the dark.  Thank you once again, ESPN.  And like I said, if I sound bitter, it’s because I am.  It’s Opening Day, not Opening Night, but apparently somebody missed that memo.) And from what I’ve seen in Spring Training so far, I really like our chances this year.  So bring it.

The Bruins lost two and won one this week.  Savard is on the injured reserve.  Thomas has no idea what’s going on.  Meanwhile, we’re four points below the Habs and one point above the Thrashers barely clinging to the last seed in the conference.  Something must be done.

Kelly O’Connor

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And lo and behold, Theo completes the streak.  Hermida signed for one year and a little over $3.3 million.  So that’s eight years without arbitration.  A happy organization with happy players produces a good team, so you can chalk a lot of the guys’ satisfaction with the front office up to the fact that they haven’t been in a position where they have to defend themselves against their own team.

Tickets went on sale yesterday! Which means that by now everything is probably sold out.  But on the bright side, that means that pitchers and catchers is right around the corner! It’s been a long winter, but hang in there; not too much longer.

There is, however, a dark shroud of depression hanging over Opening Day.  Literally, that dark shroud is ESPN.  Figuratively, it’s the actual darkness of night.  Because guess what: since this year’s Opening Day at Fenway Park means the Yankees are coming to town, ESPN decided to make it Opening Night instead.  That’s right.  There will be no Opening Day in New England this year.  No day-long holiday in Boston.  No young kids running around taking it all in.  No sunshine to illuminate the field or warm you up.  No Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy.  Instead, we’ve got a whole day before the game starts.  We’ve got kids who have to stay home because it’s a school night.  We’ve got lights.  And we’ve got Joe Morgan.  It’s incredible; the first game of the season hasn’t even started, and the Yankees have already ruined it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love night games, but for Opening Day it just isn’t the same.

Lastly, let’s get this whole Bay thing over with once and for all.  Here’s the deal.  Remember that offer we made after the All-Star break, a four-year deal worth sixty million? Bay initially rejected it but then changed his mind.  But during the physical, the Red Sox didn’t like the look of Bay’s knees and shoulder, so they revised the deal: the third and fourth years would now depend on health and productivity, and Bay would have to have minor knee surgery in the offseason.  Bay acquired a second opinion that stated that surgery wasn’t necessary.  He and the Red Sox requested a third opinion, which yielded the same observation.  The insurance company’s doctor also vouched for Bay’s durability.  At the Winter Meetings, the Red Sox revised the deal again: they guaranteed the first three years but requested injury protection for the fourth year such that if Bay became injured because of pre-existing conditions identified by the club, they could void the fourth year.  The Red Sox also asked Bay to pay a large part of his insurance policy.  Bay refused, and we all know what happened after that.

This sounds a lot more sinister than it actually is.  First of all, the fact that Bay passed the Mets’ physical with flying colors doesn’t say much.  This is the same team that signed Pedro Martinez to a long-term contract after Thomas Gill, team doctor for both the Red Sox and Patriots, specifically told the Red Sox front office not to do that because his breakdown was imminent.  And lo and behold.  Secondly, what’s wrong with the Red Sox seeking protection for their investment? People are seizing on the fact that the Red Sox wanted Bay to have surgery on something that wasn’t bothering him, but after other opinions were produced, they revised that and simply asked for protection.  That’s it.  Gill insisted that such a protection be built into JD Drew’s contract, and Scott Boras agreed to it.  Scott Boras agreed to it.  If Scott Boras agreed to it, it must have been the world’s most just demand, because any team would be hard-pressed to get Scott Boras to agree to anything.  Lackey also agreed to an injury protection clause.  (His is a little different; if he ever has elbow surgery while under contract, the Sox can bring him back for a sixth year at Major League minimum wage.) And the Sox will probably build something like that into Beckett’s and Papelbon’s future contracts.  Look, if we’re looking to pay Bay millions of dollars, I think we have a right to ensure that those millions of dollars won’t be a complete and total waste as soon as Bay steps or slides or falls the wrong way.  The wear and tear alone is a cause for concern, and that’s yet another reason not to trust the Mets’ medical opinion.  Bay passed their physical with flying colors on his way to play left at Citi Field? That’s like stepping into a time warp; playing left at Citi Field will break you down twice as fast.  Besides, if Bay is so sure of his health, why didn’t he just take this most recent version of the deal and sign a new one when the time came? If he’d remained a specimen of health, the fourth year wouldn’t have been voided, and all would’ve been as per usual.  So that seems kind of fishy to me.  All we can do is wait to see if the Red Sox were right, but if in the future Bay does prove the Red Sox correct, rest assured that Red Sox Nation will most definitely be there to say, “We told you so.” Okay, maybe we won’t say it, but we will think it, and we will think it loudly.

The Bruins are something I don’t even want to discuss.  We are in dire straits right now.  Dire straits.  The Canes absolutely crushed us last weekend, and we lost to the Sabres on Friday and the Kings yesterday in overtime.  We have fifty-five points, good for ninth in the Eastern Conference.  The Thrashers and Habs both have fifty-six.  If we don’t firmly cement ourselves into a playoff berth soon, the playoffs will quickly cease to be an option at all.

Panoramio

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