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Posts Tagged ‘Blake Wheeler’

Now that’s the Josh Beckett I’m talking about! (And hopefully that’s the one who signed the contract extension.) Last night, Josh Beckett made the Royals look like, well, the Royals.

Three runs on nine hits with a walk and four K’s over seven innings.  I would’ve liked to see less hits and runs allowed, but after his Opening Day performance, I will take what I can get and I will like it.  That was his longest outing yet at Kauffman Stadium.  Essentially he cruised.  He got in trouble once, in the seventh, when there were runners at the corners with nobody out.  But he was able to exchange a run for a double play, which reminded all of us how nice it is to have stability at shortstop.  Also in the seventh, Beckett almost went down.  DeJesus hit a line drive up the middle that hit Beckett in the in the back of the head.  That was so scary, for an instant I didn’t even notice that a run was scoring; I just wanted to see Beckett still standing.  But he was pitching so well that, if the seventh had been an easy inning, we probably would’ve seen him come back out for the eighth.

Overall, he essentially cruised.  He had a stretch where he retired seven in a row.  He threw seventy-three pitches through the first six innings.  That’s a really low pitch count.  And his stuff was so much better yesterday than it was on Opening Day.  Unlike that performance, during which he relied too heavily on his fastball, he used all of his pitches effectively last night, mixed and located them well, and threw them for strikes.  And he had some really nice movement on his fastballs.  He’ll take the win.  Say hello to the first decision for a starter this season.

By the way, I agree with Jerry Remy; Podsednik’s swing in the third inning was awful.  That was just disgusting.  That was a desperate grasp of a swing.  If you look up the word “pathetic” in the dictionary, you see a picture of that swing.  He was looking to make any kind of contact whatsoever, but not only was he being defensive, he was also way out in front.  Very ugly.  That’s what a Beckett cut fastball does.

The final score was 8-3, and there you have your offense.  One of the things I loved about last night’s game was that it afforded no opportunity for naysayers to refute the offense’s skill based on Kansas City’s usual pitching.  Usually Kansas City is terrible.  It’s one of those teams you look forward to playing so you can beat up on them and gain a boost in the standings.  Not so last night, because last night Greinke was on the mound.  He’s no walk in the park; he throws any pitch in any count, including that slider of his.  And yet we still took him for four runs, enough to give us the lead by the time Beckett left.  (Presumably, as the season continues, those four runs would’ve represented a more significant lead, provided the starter doesn’t allow almost the same amount.) And not only that; Francona also called out the reserves, so Tek, Lowell, and Hermida started.  And none of them disappointed.

Seeing Lowell and Tek start was a sight for sore eyes.  You’re talking about one of the game’s classiest guys, who said he’ll probably retire after this season to spend more time with his family, by the way, and one of the game’s greatest team leaders, both on and off the field.  It was good to see them, period, and it was good to see them playing so well.  Both of them looked like they haven’t lost a step.  Lowell was great in the field; he made a nifty play in the fourth when a ball hit by Butler propelled his gloved hand behind him, so he turned a three-sixty and fired to first.  Also, to make room for Hermida in left, Ellsbury started the game in center.  That was great to see, and it’s good that he’ll have chances this season to return to that position, being that his skill set was made for it and all.

Okay.  Basically, in the fifth inning, Hermida and Tek went yard back-to-back.  Those were hit on hanging curveballs.  As a side note, the most home runs Hermida ever hit in a season was eighteen in 2007, but his first at-bat ever with the Marlins was a grand slam.  His second at-at bat with Boston is apparently a home run.  Then in the seventh, Ellsbury took advantage of that huge gap in right center and doubled in Scutaro, and Pedroia flied in Ellsbury, which broke Greinke and he left.  Then in the eighth, Youk went yard.  Then in the ninth, Tek went yard on a changeup; On May 20, 2001, Tek had a three-homer game at Kauffman Stadium.  Say hello to April 10, 2010.  The man still packs.  Then, Pedroia went yard with Ellsbury on base, and that game was done.  We couldn’t do anything to the Royals bullpen two nights ago.  Not so last night.  Honestly, who in his right mind throws a fastball middle-in to Pedroia.  Eight runs.  Done.  Point being, the B team brings it big.

Ellsbury finished the night three for five.  There’s your leadoff hitter! And Scutaro stole a base.  Funny; Greinke hit Pedroia in the fifth and Scutaro in the seventh.  Greinke is known for his control.  I’m not saying he did it on purpose; I’m just saying it’s interesting.  Good thing that was after Beckett left.  Otherwise, I think it’s safe to say we would’ve had some sort of retaliation.

In other news, Dice-K had a great outing for Pawtucket during which he threw forty-three of seventy-three pitches for strikes and topped out at ninety-three miles per hour.  He walked one, struck out three, and hit two over five shutout innings.  Most importantly, he felt great during all of them.  And congratulations to Boston College for shutting out Wisconsin to win its fourth NCAA hockey title!

So the bench proved itself, Beckett was sharp, our starter earned a decision, and our bullpen was flawless.  That’s the way to be.  The Royals lineup isn’t the hardest to contain, but you have to start somewhere.  Maybe this is what we needed to get the ball rolling.  It does wonders for your confidence, not to mention the standings.  After Buchholz’s start tonight, we’ll have officially completed one rotation of our starters.  He’ll start opposite Meche.  Let’s take this series.

The Bruins lost to the Caps in overtime (way to force the issue!), beat the Sabres, and finally clinched a playoff spot yesterday! They beat Carolina (oh, the irony) thanks to some short-hand goals and a heads-up play by Patrice Bergeron.  At one point, the puck careened off Wheeler’s stick toward our empty net, but Bergeron scooped it out in the nick of time, when it was mere centimeters from the goal line.  The final score was 4-2.  It’s certainly been an interesting season; Savard was injured, Lucic was injured, and basically each of our defensemen was injured.  And key players from last year couldn’t find their form this year.  We had an early three-goal lead, which we of course squandered.  But the important thing is that we’re in.  Tomorrow we have another game with the Caps and that’s it before the playoffs.  Who knows? Maybe everything will come together.

Fire Brand of the American League
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We celebrated the fifth anniversary of our complete and total decimation of the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS on Tuesday.  Just thinking about that 10-3 final score gives me goosebumps.  That was the greatest day in the history of New England for all of a week before we won it all.  World champions.  I said this at the time, and I say it every year, because it’s true: it never gets old.  No matter how many wins anyone else may be able to rack up, none of them will ever measure up to 2004.  Ever.  And no defeat will ever be as painful as the one the Yankees experienced.  There’s a reason why it’s called the greatest comeback in the history of baseball.  And I wouldn’t have wanted to get to the big stage any other way.

Meanwhile, Tim Bogar and Brad Mills interviewed for the Astros’ managerial job.  That’s not something I want to hear.  Mills has been our bench coach for the past six seasons, and he’s done a great job.  Obviously I’m rooting for his success, but I just hope that success is achieved in Boston, not in Houston.

And supposedly we’re chasing Adrian Gonzalez via trade.  This could get very interesting, very quickly.  At twenty-seven years of age, he hit forty home runs, batted in ninety-nine RBIs this year, led the Major Leagues in walks, and finished the season with a .407 on-base percentage.  But wait; the plot thickens.  One of our assistant GMs, Jed Hoyer, is about to become the Padres’ GM.  (This leaves Ben Cherington as our only assistant GM.  The decision is likely to be announced in the next few days.  Bud Selig doesn’t want clubs making such major announcements during the World Series, so it’ll happen beforehand, especially since Hoyer will need to get his personnel in place and prepare for the GMs meeting starting on November 9.) So if one of them lands the job, our options become wide-open, and the road to the trade just got re-paved.  The important question here is who is on the block.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Mike Lowell and prospects; Youk would then move to third permanently while Gonzalez plays first.  But I don’t know if the Padres would bite.  I think it’s safe to say Youk won’t be going anywhere; he’s too good at the plate and in the field.  And I don’t think Pedroia even enters into this discussion.  So I think Lowell, prospects, and bench players are up for grabs.

Speaking of Pedroia, check this out.  During his MVP season, he swung at the first pitch fifteen percent of the time.  This past year, that stat was down to seven percent.  Furthermore, during his MVP season he hit .306 with eight doubles and two dingers on the first pitch.  This past year, he hit .167 with four hits, period.  And if you don’t consider his one-pitch at-bats, his numbers from the two season are almost exactly the same.  But there’s a trade-off.  With more patience came twenty-four more walks and a comparable on-base percentage despite the thirty-point drop in average.  And while we’re on the subject of examining the season via stats, the only Red Sox catcher since 1954 who’s had a better average in September than Victor Martinez is Carlton Fisk.  Just to give you an idea of how ridiculously awesome V-Mart is.  Youk has had the highest OPS in the American League since 2008.  (It’s .960, a full ten points higher than A-Rod’s.  I’m just sayin’.) Jacoby Ellsbury is one of only six since 1915 to bat over .300 with forty-five extra-base hits and seventy steals; the other five are Ty Cobb, Rickey Henderson, Willie Wilson, Tim Raines, and Kenny Lofton.  David Ortiz hit more home runs than anyone in the AL since June 6, but only six of those were hit with runners in scoring position and struggled immensely against lefties.  In three of his past four seasons, Jason Bay has experienced a slump starting sometime in June and ending sometime in July that lasts for about a month.

Saito cleared waivers on Monday, but mutual interest in his return has been expressed.  Why not? He finished the year with a 2.43 ERA, the eighth-lowest in the Majors for a reliever with forty-plus appearances.  Wakefield had surgery at Mass General on Wednesday to repair a herniated disk in his back.  The surgery was successful, he’ll begin rehab immediately, and expect him to be pitching before Spring Training.

In other news, Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt fired his wife, Jamie, from her position as CEO of the organization.  Ouch.  Now she’s amassing an army of investors in an effort to possibly buy out her husband.  Ouch times two.  This could potentially ruin the team; when the organization’s top officials are preoccupied with marriage and ownership disputes, it’s harder to focus on free agency, harder to allocate funds to the right players, and therefore harder to be good.  Not that I’m complaining; Joe Torre and Manny Ramirez blew it this year and I’m looking forward to the Dodgers dropping down in the standings.

That’s a wrap for this week.  Not too much goes on until the stove gets hot, but this is when Theo gets his winter game plan together.  If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that he’ll be making some serious moves.  After a postseason finish like ours, that’s really the only thing you can do.

The Pats crushed the Titans last weekend.  Seriously.  The final score was 59-0.  It was ridiculous.  The Bruins, on the other hand, could do better.  We lost to Phoenix, shut out Dallas, lost a shootout to the Flyers, and won a shootout to the Senators.  We traded Chuck Kobasew to the Wild for right winger Craig Weller, still in the AHL; rights to forward Alex Fallstrom, a freshman at Harvard; and a second-round draft pick in 2011.  So it could be a while before we see a return on this move, but it freed cap space in preparation for next offseason, when Tuukka Rask, Blake Wheeler, and Marc Savard all hit the free agent market.  And make no mistake: Peter Chiarelli was sending a message.  If you underperform, you’re gone, because we can use the financial flexibility of a trade to make us more competitive than you’re making us right now.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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January’s winding down, and we all know what that means: moving vans on Yawkey Way headed to Fort Myers.  I’m so stoked.  And we’ve done some good business this week.  We cut a one-year deal with Javier Lopez for $1.35 million and avoided arbitration.  And we neatly avoided arbitration with Paps through a one-year, $6.25 million deal.  It’s the richest contract ever for a reliever in his first year eligible for arbitration, and it makes him the eleventh-highest paid reliever in the Major Leagues.  And his agent isn’t even Scott Boras (he’s with Sam and Seth Levinson).  But he deserves it.  I mean, the man is a beast.  He’s literally the best closer in the game right now; ask anybody.  Don’t get me wrong, I would’ve wanted to lock up a multi-year deal, but this is fine for now.  He’s not a free agent until after the 2011 season, and avoiding arbitration was a good move.  It’s a very ugly process, because you’ve got the player and the team presenting salary proposals to a panel of three arbitrators, who choose one one of the proposals after the player argues for his worth and the team argues against it.  So basically the team talks down its own player in front of a third party.  It’s totally base; let’s say the team and the player emerge from arbitration with a salary in place.  Then what? The player continues playing for the team that verbally destroyed him.  That can’t be good.  So it’s great that we’ve never gone to arbitration during Theo’s tenure.  Yet more proof that he’s a genius.

We dealt David Pauley to the Orioles for reliever Randor Bierd, and we dealt David Aardsma to the Mariners for lefty Fabian Williamson, a nice addition to our minor league roster.  As far as Varitek is concerned, you know how it goes.  Everything’s still under wraps.  But it has been confirmed that there’s an offer on the table, and this time I’d be very surprised if Varitek doesn’t accept.  When Varitek declined arbitration, he gave up an opportunity to secure a salary at least comparable with last season’s, somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million.  I doubt the offer he’s been given is worth that much, but he has nowhere else to go.  Other teams don’t want to give up draft picks to sign him, and Scott Boras epically failed.  I know I said that last week, but it never gets old.  Scott Boras totally, completely, absolutely, positively, epically epically failed.  So, in all likelihood, look for Varitek to return, but at a discount.

I think it’s worth mentioning that Manny Ramirez, one of the great right-handed hitters of this period in the sport’s history and pretty much guaranteed future Hall-of-Famer, hasn’t signed a contract with anyone yet.  I wonder why.  I’m not worried, though.  Boras will figure something out.  It’s just a shame that Manny’s own worst enemy is himself.

Sean Casey is retiring; he’s already accepted a position with the MLB Network.  Good for him.  His personality is perfect for television.  Unfortunate that we won’t get to see him at bat anymore, though.  He hit line drives like nobody’s business last year.  Jon Lester will be honored with the Hutch Award, given for honor, courage, and dedication.  That’s basically Lester in a nutshell.  That, and he’s also very intelligent, which we can see in this quote:

Anytime you can go to Boston and somewhat succeed, if not succeed, you can pretty much play or pitch anywhere, maybe with the exception of New York.

Because who in their right mind would want to play for New York? (With the emphasis, of course, on the “right mind” part.)

Anyway, the end of the offseason is in sight, and maybe we didn’t accomplish everything on our list, but we’re in a good position for 2009.  We saved money while maintaining our flexibility, we secured deals with our home-grown talent, and we fixed last year’s big problem: bullpen depth.  I think it’s safe to say our bullpen is pretty much locked and loaded.

In other news, it was All-Star Weekend for the NHL, and Boston was represented nicely with four of our finest: Blake Wheeler, Marc Savard, Tim Thomas, and Big Zdeno Chara.  All four did Boston proud. Wheeler won the YoungStars MVP, Savard came in second in the Elimination Shootout while Thomas made some unbelievable saves, and Chara defended his title as Hardest Shot with a record-shattering 105.4 miles per hour.  Can you believe that? 105.4 miles per hour! I saw it, and I still can’t believe it.  I’m telling you, I would not want to be on the receiving end of one of those.  And as for the All-Star Game itself, the Eastern Conference walked away with the victory.  The final score was 12-11.  It was a shootout to end all shootouts, and guess who was in net for the winners.  Tim Thomas.  He stopped Shane Doan, winner of the Elimination Shootout, no less, and Rick Nash.  Roberto Luongo stopped only Vincent Lecavalier.  Thomas should absolutely win the Vezina Trophy this season.  Nuff ced.

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