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Posts Tagged ‘Eric Gagne’

Just so you know, this is not going to be a happy post.

First of all, it’s pretty much unofficially official.  Theo is going to take over the Cubs.  It’s a five-year deal, and the only thing left is for the two clubs to agree on compensation since Theo is technically entering the last year of his contract with us.  The deal is currently worth twenty million dollars, which reportedly includes said compensation.  As of late, Theo’s title within the Cubs organization is unclear, but it supposedly is something higher up.

The bottom line is that he’s leaving us, so we’ll have to find a first-base coach, a manager, and a general manager.  Here’s an understatement: this offseason, we’ve got some serious work to do.  With any luck, we won’t actually have to find a general manager and will instead be looking for an assistant general manager; I wouldn’t mind having Ben Cherington take the helm.  That’s where it looks like we’re headed, anyway.  He’s been included in all club dealings so far during the offseason.  He’s been Theo’s right-hand man for years, and the two of them started with Larry Lucchino in San Diego anyway.  It obviously won’t be the same, but it’ll be pretty close.

That is, if you like the job Theo did.  Sure, he made some huge mistakes.  Eric Gagne and Dice-K were the most notable of those; if Jenks doesn’t recover properly he’ll be another, and if Crawford and Lackey don’t turn it around they’ll be a third and fourth.  But I would argue that his good so epically and completely eclipsed his bad that this discussion isn’t even necessary.  His drafting and farming decisions were legendary and include Pedroia, Ellsbury, Youk, and Lester.  He is the youngest general manager to be hired, and he is the youngest general manager ever to win a World Series.  After almost delivering us in 2003, his first season, he lifted us out of the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 and reminded us that we weren’t dreaming in 2007.  His acquisition of Gonzalez was absolutely masterful.  He brought sabermetrics to Boston and made it feel at home here.  He wasn’t just a professional removed from everything; he was a baseball guy and, worth noting, a Red Sox fan.  He’s from Boston, specifically Brookline about two miles from Fenway Park, and that’s something Chicago will never change.  Chicago’s dysfunction as an organization goes well beyond any single position that Theo could possibly fill.  Make no mistake; he won’t simply waltz in there and have them winning World Series left and right.  If he could do that in Chicago, we would have been winning every single World Series title since his takeover of our team, and clearly that didn’t happen.  And if it didn’t happen here, it’s not going to happen there.  But that’s neither here nor there.

This is about what Theo did for this city in his nine memorable years here.  He brought a new approach to the game and put the pieces in place for us to win.  He established a winning culture here.  He’s a genius and will be sorely, sorely missed.  Here’s to you, Theo.  Here’s to everything you’ve done for us and for the game of baseball.  Here’s to the good, the bad, and the ugly, and here’s to smiling through all of it because, all along, in Theo we trusted.  We know that other fans in other places rooting for other teams will be trusting in you from now on.  But we also know that you can take the general manager out of Boston but you can’t take Boston out of the general manager.  We just hope that the great things you’ll accomplish will not be at our expense.

Secondly, all of the pieces to the devastation puzzle are now coming to light.  It’s an ugly story.  Here goes.

It wasn’t one pitcher responsible for the beer-drinking between starts.  First of all, it wasn’t just drinking beer; it was also ordering in fried chicken and playing video games.  Secondly, it wasn’t just one pitcher; it was three.  Beckett, Lackey, and Lester.  I never thought I’d see Lester on that list, although I should point out that the degree to which he actually participated in these goings-on is highly speculative, and it’s possible that he wasn’t really a mainstay.  Apparently they not only drank beer but ordered fried chicken and played video games, all at the expense of working out, and they were starting to get more players involved.  All I know is that when we needed them to deliver most, they didn’t, which is unusual for them so something must have been going on.  We knew they were health, so that should have tipped us off, but I never thought I’d see the day when such people would actually knowingly put on pounds and thereby sabotage everything the team worked for.  It’s sacrilegious. Pedroia probably couldn’t believe his eyes and must have been seething.

Meanwhile, Tito was losing influence with both old and new guys, he was having health issues, and he was living in a hotel due to marital issues.  He insists that the former wasn’t due to the latter two, but I’m also sure that Beckett, Lackey, and Lester insisted that their very visible extra fat and subsequent tanking wasn’t due to their clubhouse habits either.  I’m actually inclined to believe Tito, though; he’s focused, dedicated, and committed, and we can’t just assume that he doesn’t know how to handle personal issues in his life and balance them with his job.

Then, apparently, the team accused the brass of caring about money more than results when they scheduled the doubleheader in response to Hurricane Irene.  Then the veterans on the team, including Tek, started pulling back on leadership.  Wake exacerbated this problem by calling for a return next year so he could break the all-time wins record; neither the time nor the place when you’re days away from playoff elimination.  And Youk, as you can imagine, was more of a clubhouse pain than usual, which we all knew but didn’t feel because all of these other issues weren’t present before.  At least, if they were, we didn’t know about them to this extent.  Youk was the only player to call Ellsbury out for his time on the DL last year due to his rib injuries.  And it’s obviously admirable and dirt-doggish indeed that he played through his injuries this year, but doing so apparently brought the worst out of him socially in the clubhouse.  And when you’re hanging on by a thread in the standings, that is so not something you need.  Gonzalez, of all people, joined in the pettiness by complaining about the late-season schedule.  I honestly thought he would be much more Pedroia-like than that.

Ellsbury, by the way, is officially the American League’s Comeback Player of the Year.  I can’t think of anyone who would deserve it more.  He earned every last bit of that honor this past year, so hats most definitely off to him.

Add to that the fact that the signing of Crawford was largely a push from Theo over which the brass was divided.  If you ask me, I would have said it was the other way around.  Crawford’s strengths, both in practice and in numbers, aren’t that compatible with sabermetrics, the philosophy used to build the team.  So I thought that we would all find out that it was Theo who was against it, and it was the brass who was pushing him to sign Crawford because of the wow factor of bringing in a star or something.

All in all, the team this year turned out to be one big, dysfunctional family on every front.  Nobody, from the players to the brass, was spared.  Everyone who had issues let them loose at exactly the wrong time and in exactly the wrong ways.  Players on whom you depended to carry your team through the stretch in the clubhouse either withdrew or sunk to the level of the players you never thought would sink to that level in the first place.  It seems like it was just an awful atmosphere completely non-conducive to anything positive or constructive.  Obviously you’ve got to consider sources of this information when you read stories about this, but I guess now that we know the end story, we saw the signs all along.  That’s true of Theo’s departure as well.  At the time to us on the outside, all of the signs were too subtle for us to keep putting two and two and two and two together to come with what is clearly a very elaborate set of social circumstances that spiraled out of control and led to our painful and epic downfall.

Organization chemistry, both in the clubhouse and in the front office, is a very difficult thing to fix and cultivate.  It’s organically grown, and you either have it or you don’t.  You can’t force it.  Now Papi is claiming that he’s seriously considering free agency as a way to escape all the drama.  It’s all been meshing so well recently; how, in such a short time, could we become “that team” with all the drama? It’s like a soap opera.  Seriously.

John Henry even drove down to 98.5 The Sports Hub on Friday completely on his own because he felt like he had some records to set straight.  He said that Crawford was not signed to boost NESN ratings, although he confirmed that he did oppose it but ultimately approved it because baseball operations were for Theo and Larry to govern.  Henry also implied a confirmation that Theo is going to Chicago while saying that he wishes that Theo would stay.  He said that, during the season, he let the brass know that he was all in favor of picking up Tito’s options and that the only time he thought that that maybe wasn’t such a good idea was when Tito told the brass that he didn’t want to come back.

Significant changes to the organization could potentially be afoot, and that’s either good or bad.  There’s no way to know who’s on the radar or what we should expect.  There’s nothing to do.  No amount of speculation would ever shed any light because this organization keeps everything under wraps, as is appropriate and right even if it is annoying for us fans hanging in the breeze.

The whole situation is crushing.  Make absolutely no mistake whatsoever about that.  It’s crushing.  It’s devastatingly epically crushing in every conceivable sense.  We’ll get through it because we’re Sox fans and we always do, but it’s just so remarkably and epically depressing and crushing.  I can’t even believe that this whole situation is happening.

Ultimately the big question is short and sweet and simple but revealing of the trepidation that’s currently racking all of us.

What’s next?

Also, Scott Williamson is auctioning off his 2004 World Series ring.  Why in the world would you ever do that? That’s completely sacrilegious.

In other news, the Pats summarily disposed of the Jets, 30-21.  Would I have preferred a blowout? Obviously.  But hey, that score is a lot better than the score we put up against them the last time we played them last season, so I’ll take it.  And the Bruins, since beginning their season on October 6, have beaten Philly, Colorado, and Chicago and have been beaten by Tampa Bay and Carolina.

AP Photo
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Smile, Red Sox Nation! We made it to the All-Star break! At the traditional halfway mark of the season, we’re sitting on top of the American League East, one game ahead of the Yankees.  We’re much more battered and bent than I thought we would be, and the standings don’t reflect the kind of dominance I thought we’d surely be exhibiting by now.  But given the way we started the season, I have absolutely no right to complain.  Instead, I’ll be thrilled we’ve made it this far, even if we didn’t make it this far in one piece.

In keeping with tradition, I’ve graded the entire team on their performance up to the All-Star break, as I do every year.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: B

He’s batting .251 with twenty-four RBIs.  He has a slugging percentage of .437; he’s hit twelve doubles, two triples, and six home runs.  He’s had ten passed balls, forty-nine stolen bases, and only sixteen caught-stealings.  His fielding percentage is .997.  He has a wicked arm.  He’s new to the club, and he’s a starter.  Given who he is as a player as well as his position, we expect him to hit fairly well and nail runners.  For the most part, he’s done the first but still needs work on the second.

Jason Varitek: A

Tek’s grade tends to be pretty consistent year-to-year.  Part of that has to do with the fact that we don’t expect as much from him as we used to.  Now that he’s technically no longer a starter, that’s even more true.  As he ages, his value to the team lies less and less in his ability to perform as a player and more and more in his ability to perform as a father figure and team leader.  And in the latter department, he excels to the utmost.  And he’s still top-notch with the pitchers and defensively, even if we consider him an out that gets easier with every passing year.

Kevin Youkilis: A

Over the course of these past few games, he’s really boosted his average, which is now up to .285.  He has forty-nine walks, which ties him for ninth in the American League.  He has twenty-six doubles, which ties him for third in the American League.  He has sixty-three RBIs, which ties him for sixth in the American League.  His average wasn’t too high before this last hot streak of his, but he’s certainly been contributing.  His fielding percentage is .967, which for him is a little low.

Dustin Pedroia: A

Earlier in the season, he was in the middle of one of the longest slumps of his still-young career.  He was getting skittish in two-strike counts, and the high inside fastball was giving him a bit of trouble.  Now, all of that is in the distant past.  His OPS is .837; his OPS over the course of the last seven days is 1.142.  As with Youk, he’s boosted his average a lot recently.  He’s now up to .284.  His fielding percentage is .990.  Even if you look at the big picture with the slump, he contributes.  If he’s not hitting, he’s walking and playing good D.  And if he is hitting, he’s still doing those things.

Marco Scutaro: B

As with Salty, consider what we expect from Scutaro.  Given the fact that our shortstops haven’t exactly been the highlight of our lineups in recent years, we expect him to hit decently but play fantastic D.  With a .259 average, six doubles, and three home runs, he has hit fairly decently, although he should be batting in more than fourteen runs.  His fielding percentage is .977; for a shortstop, I expect more.  It’s the most challenging infield position; we’re halfway through the season, and he’s already made four errors.  Last year, he made eighteen errors.  If he makes another four errors during the second half, that already would be a huge improvement.  But our standards are higher than that.  Besides, what if those four errors cost us four ballgames? We can’t afford that.

Adrian Gonzalez: A

Anyone who gives this man less than an A must have the wrong Gonzalez.  He has done everything we ever expected him to do.  He leads the American League in batting average, hits, doubles, and RBIs (ironically enough, Adrian Beltre is right behind him).  He’s third in runs and on-base percentage, fourth in at-bats, fifth in fielding percentage, and tenth in home runs.  The only thing he doesn’t do is steal bases, but we have Ellsbury and Crawford for that.  Collectively, those numbers tell us that he’s a powerful, durable, and beautifully well-rounded player capable of doing damage in any situation.  In short, he is worth every single bit of his contract.

Jed Lowrie: A

It’s not his fault he’s injured.  Before that, he was swinging a hot bat and playing well in the field.

Yamaico Navarro: B

Not great at the plate but literally flawless in the field.  He’s only been filling in temporarily anyway.

Drew Sutton: B

Sutton may be on the roster for the same reasons as Navarro, but he’s the exact opposite: not great in the field but outstanding at the plate.

JD Drew: B

Same old, same old.  Perfection in the field, mediocrity at the plate.  It’s really sad that that hasn’t changed.  Although I should mention that his highest monthly average of the season, 2.69, occurred in April, when everyone else’s monthly averages were probably at their worst.

Jacoby Ellsbury: A

Given last year’s injury and the fact that his season was therefore cut way too short, Ellsbury has had some catching up to do.  Not only has he caught up to our expectations; he has surpassed them.  He leads the American League in stolen bases.  He’s fifth in at-bats and average, sixth in runs, third in hits, and tied with Youk for third in doubles.  He’s set a new career high in home runs so far this year, and we still have half a season left to play.  Also worth mentioning is the fact that, over the course of the last seven days, Ellsbury has batted .467.  In the field, he has five assists, a new career high, and has yet to make an error.

Carl Crawford: C

I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t thinking about his contract when I gave Crawford this grade.  But the truth is that he deserves it.  The contract is simply a manifestation of the expectations that both the organization and therefore the fans have of Crawford, who has proven that he can meet and even surpass those high expectations.  So far, he’s done nothing of the kind.  Before he made his way onto the DL, he batted below .250, failed to post home runs in the double-digits, and walked and stole bases less than ten times each.  He also made two errors.  He was supposed to excel in every single one of those categories.  He was supposed to be the left-handed Adrian Gonzalez who could run.  So far, not so much.

Darnell McDonald: B

He said it himself: he’s not contributing at the level he could or should.  The added playing time helped him last year; thankfully, we have more guys healthy, so he doesn’t have as much playing time this year.  But the art of the bench player is the ability to perform when necessary, playing time or no playing time.

Josh Reddick: A

He’s just as good as we’ve ever seen him.  He performs whenever we need him; he practices the art of the bench player.  Obviously, that’s because one day he won’t be a bench player; he’ll be a starter.  In the meantime, he’s a great kid to have around.

David Ortiz: A

It’s pretty simple.  He’s batting above .300 and slugging about .575 with twenty-three doubles, nineteen home runs, and fifty-five RBIs.  He’s not supposed to field; as a designated hitter, he’s supposed to slug.  And that’s what he’s doing, and he’s doing it well.

Offense Overall: B

The team leads the Major Leagues in runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.  Despite this and the fact that there are a good number of players performing well on an individual level, the offense as a whole doesn’t get an A because it’s streaky.  Sometimes we’ll average about seven runs a game during a stretch; sometimes we’ll be lucky to score at all.  The mark of a good, solid offense is not to sometimes average seven runs a game; the mark of a good, solid offense is to do so consistently throughout the season.  That’s not something we’ve seen yet.  Until we do, we’ll just be a lineup with great hitters in it, not necessarily a consistently great lineup.

Defense Overall: C

We lead the Major Leagues in errors with forty-four, and we’re sixth in fielding percentage with .987.  That’s not good.

Josh Beckett: A

Beckett this season has been a model of consistency in the most positive of ways.   2.27 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, eight and three record, and ninety-four strikeouts and only seven home runs.  He’s a changed man from last year; this year, he’s found his former self.

Jon Lester: A

I’m going to give him an A because his numbers are fine enough, but I expect more from him.  His ERA is 3.31; it should be under three.  His WHIP is 1.21; it should be under one.  He’s given up fourteen home runs; it should be less than ten.  But he has ten wins by the All-Star break, which means he could have twenty by season’s end, and he has more than one hundred strikeouts.  Excellent, but not as excellent as I thought he’d be.

Clay Buchholz: B

Before he was injured, he wasn’t as great as he could have been.  Unlike Lester, his numbers aren’t that sufficiently good as to warrant a better grade even though he hasn’t performed to expectations.  He has a 3.48 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP, a record of six and three, only sixty strikeouts, ten home runs, and thirty-one walks.  He’ll need to work hard in the second half in order to return to form.

John Lackey: C

Lackey’s most recent start was the only start this year in which I felt we were seeing the Lackey we signed.  During all the other starts, we saw some pitcher we’d never even think of signing.  His ERA is 6.84, and his record is six and eight.  But you don’t need the numbers to tell you how inconsistent, spotty, and unpredictable his outings are and how porous and lacking in command he’s been.  It’s gotten to the point where him being on the DL is a good thing.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: D

I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that I’ve had just about enough of this.  We’ve been waiting and waiting for years now for him to show us even a small glimpse of the greatness he exhibited in Japan.  Well, guess what.  We’re still waiting.  And now he’s done for the season because he needs Tommy John surgery.  This could go one of two ways: either he won’t recover well at all and he’ll be even worse afterwards or he’ll make a spectacular recovery and it’ll turn out that the surgery corrected mechanical issues that were the root of the problem all along.  Either way, no matter how you slice and dice it, he didn’t pitch well this season.  You don’t need numbers to tell you that either.

Tim Wakefield: A

His ERA is in excess of four, and his WHIP is 1.27.  But technically his job is no longer to be a starter who can put the team in a position to win every fifth day.  His job is now to come in for an inning or two when necessary and keep the team in a position to win, and sometimes, when a starter is injured, to put the team in a position to win.  He is on the verge of making history with his long career, and age doesn’t seem to affect him at all.  He’s like the Benjamin Button of baseball.  He’s the ultimate team player; he answers the call of duty and he doesn’t complain.  Sometimes his knuckleball doesn’t dance like it should and he has a terrible night out.  But overall, when we need him to do something, he just does it.  It sounds simple enough, but not every ballplayer can do it.

Alfredo Aceves: A

Aceves has gone above and beyond.  He went from being a question mark during Spring Training to starting material.  He has an ERA of 3.41 and a WHIP of 1.22.  He has a record of four and one with one save.  How many pitchers can say that, after both starting and pitching in relief for half a season, they have a winning record as well as a save? Not many.  He can pretty much do it all, and that’s not even what he signed up for.  He can start, he can provide reliable middle relief, and he can close too.  I don’t think anyone expect him to be the versatile pitcher that the circumstances of the injuries to our staff have demanded he become.  But he rose to the occasion and continues to impress every time out

Matt Albers: A

Here’s another guy who continues to impress.  Again, during Spring Training, I don’t think anyone could have envisioned the dominant reliever he’d turn out to be.  He’s been as solid as solid gets.  2.55 ERA, thirty-for strikeouts, and almost two innings pitched per appearance.  So he’s both dependable and durable, arguably the two most important characteristics of a good reliever.  And with the way some of our starters have been pitching, if not for Albers we’d have been in desperate need of a good reliever.

Scott Atchison: B

He’s been better.  Like Morales, he’s a pitcher, and we need pitchers, so we’ll take what we can get and we’ll have to like it.  But to be honest I never like the look of a 4.70 ERA or a 1.43 WHIP.

Rich Hill: A

He’s appeared in nine games and thrown eight innings.  His ERA is zero.  That’s pretty good.

Andrew Miller: B

Yet another Spring Training question mark of whom we’ve seen much more than we ever thought he would.  He’s pitched decently.  For what we were expecting, he’s not great but not too bad.

Franklin Morales: B

Morales came into the fold when we were desperate for pitchers, period.  He hasn’t been outstanding, but he’s a pitcher, and given our circumstances that’s been good enough for us.

Dan Wheeler: B

His WHIP and his ERA are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  The good news is that he has an ERA of zero when pitching in day games.  So all we have to do is use him in relief during the day, and we’re guaranteed success.

Bobby Jenks: D

So far, Jenks is an epic fail.  Enough said.

Daniel Bard: A

Bard’s ERA is 2.05, and his WHIP is 0.80.  His ERA was zero for all of June as well as July to date.  Of the seventeen teams he’s faced in his career, he has an ERA of zero against twelve, including the Rays and the Phillies.  He has faced only five batters after throwing fifteen pitches.  Not too shabby.

Jonathan Papelbon: B

If only Paps were as consistent as Bard.  His ERA is almost four, and his WHIP is much too large for a closer.  And yet somehow he has twenty saves to his credit and has blown just one.  He’s on pace to lower his walk total from last year’s, which is definitely a good sign.  But as long as I have to hold my breath whenever he comes out of the bullpen, I won’t be able to give him an A.

Pitching Overall: B

Giving the pitching staff an overall rating is very complicated and in some ways not even fair.  The reason why it’s fair for the lineup and not for the pitching staff is because the pitching staff doesn’t have a responsibility to perform well as a unit in the same game.  Each pitcher has his time to shine; if he has it, great, and if he doesn’t it’s on him.  Ellsbury’s ability to get himself into scoring position may be contingent on what the hitter before him does, but Beckett’s abiltiy to secure a win has nothing to do with the fact that Jenks can’t hold it down.  But in keeping with tradition, I’ll grade the pitching staff on the whole.  Such a grade must reflect the entire staff, which unfortunately includes some very sad cases.

Terry Francona: A

Arguably one of the best managers in club history.  Certainly one of the best managers active in the game today.  It’s a travesty that he didn’t win Manager of the Year last year.  The way he manages all the personalities in this club and maneuvers through injuries, he’s Manager of the Year every year in my book.

Theo Epstein: A

Jenks and Dice-K (and Lugo and Gagne, while we’re at it) were fails, but you can’t blame him for trying.  Crawford can’t be judged yet.  Besides, for Gonzalez alone, he gets an A.  That deal is one of his masterpieces.

Team Overall: B

It’s hard to argue with the fact that we lead in so many offensive categories as well as in the American League East.  Why the B? Because we’re only in first place by one game and we’re already halfway through the season.  Granted, we’re pretty injured, and it’s hard to conquer when your staff is on the DL.  But in the grand scheme of things, many of those injuries have been fairly recent.  Nobody was injured in April.  There’s no way we should have had the start to the season that we did.  We should have been running away with the division last month, if that late.  It’s all well and good to build some momentum during Interleague and take four games from the Orioles, but any team can do that.  Our team is better than being satisfied with sweeping Baltimore.  We should be sweeping New York and Philadelphia.  We have two and a half months to get our act together and show everyone why we’ll be winning the World Series this October.  So let’s get on with it already.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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Mike Cameron was basically the only good thing that happened last night.  The rest of it was all bad.  It was all just really, really bad.

First, there was Dice-K.  Early in the game, his right elbow started to tighten up.  He went out to the mound, and he did not deliver a start similar to what he should us his last two outings.  He pitched to one batter in the fifth, failed to record an out, and was finally pulled.

So he only pitched four innings but threw eighty-two pitches.  He gave up three runs, only one earned (thank you, Lowrie and McDonald), on three hits.  He walked four.  He struck out four.  So as you can see, he was not on the way to pitching another fantastic outing.  He actually claims that he could have kept on pitching but that it was Tito’s decision to remove him.  A truly inspired decision, I might add.  He was officially pulled due to right elbow stiffness.

Albers came on and pitched two solid innings.  And then things started to get interesting.

Seattle scored two runs in the top of the first, but we got one back in the bottom of the second when Cameron walloped a home run on his first pitch of the night, an eighty-eight-mile-per-hour two-seam outside.  It was a home run right after Johnny Pesky’s own heart.  It wrapped right around that pole for a run.

McDonald led off the third with a walk, and Ellsbury grounded into a force out.  Pedroia flied out, Gonzalez singled, Ellsbury came home on a single by Youk, and Gonzalez came home on a single by Papi.

Cameron led off the fourth with another home run.  This one was on the third pitch of the at-bat, an eighty-mile-per-hour changeup down and away.  And there were no doubts about this one.  This one sailed all the way to the Monster seats.  So, note to opposing pitchers: do not throw pitches with speeds in the eighties range that are away to Mike Cameron.  This was his first multi-homer game since 2009.

So we scored four runs.  Those four runs were the only runs we would score.  We didn’t score a single run over the game’s last five innings.

This is the interesting part.  Jenks came on to pitch the seventh.  At that point, we were leading Seattle by one.  But Ichiro singled, Chone Figgins doubled, Milton Bradley struck out, and Suzuki scored on a groundout.  Justin Smoak walked.  Figgins scored on a double.  Adam Kennedy grounded out.  And that was it for Bobby Jenks.  Okajima and Bard did what they could to keep us in it after that.

Let’s think about this for a moment.  This is not a one time thing with Jenks.  Lately, every time he comes out, you know your lead is not safe.  I really hate to say this, but if he doesn’t do something soon, he’s going to become Eric Gagne, and we all know how that turned out.  In Jenks’s first ten games with us, his ERA is 8.64, opposing batters are hitting .324 against him, and he has allowed runs in four of his last six appearances.  All this after he was untouched in his first four appearances this season.  Now that is more than I can say for Gagne, so it’s just strange.  This is the longest struggle of his career.  Tito thinks it’s location, and I have to agree.  He doesn’t have a velocity or versatility problem.  He throws his pitches well.  He just doesn’t throw them precisely enough to hit his spots.  That’s a problem you can fix, which is a good sign, because to this day I have no idea what was going on with Gagne.

For a few seconds, it looked like Lowrie would come through in the ninth.  He hit what I was convinced was a home run until it turned out to be a fly ball because, as luck would have it, he hit it to the 420-foot mark, the deepest part of the park where the center fielder actually had room to corral it.  And them Cameron stepped up, and you know you were thinking that this could be the day he hits three.  So he hits one, and it’s sailing through the air, and you’re thinking that if this ball could just get out, we’ll get this thing in extra innings.  But no.  The ball ends up right in Ichiro’s glove.  Drew struck out looking to end it, 5-4.

So that was the first game of an eleven-game homestand.  Not really the type of opening, or should I say closing, you hope for.  We’ve lost three of our last four games and are now eleven and fourteen.  And we had Dice-K looking like Dice-K, Jenks looking like Jenks, and Drew looking like Drew when he struck out looking to end the 2008 ALCS.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at Drew striking out looking the same way again.  Well, we have Lackey coming up.  My goal right now is just to get to .500.  That should not be that difficult.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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On Wednesday, we celebrated the sixth anniversary of the day we won Game Seven of the 2004 ALCS.  The day we hand-delivered a world of hurt to the New York Yankees.  The day we crafted a homemade mountain of win.  And the last day that we would believe and keep the faith in vain.  That day marked the greatest comeback in sports history and the beginning of a journey that would take us right to the first Rolling Rally in almost a century.  That, ladies and gentlemen, was an unbelievably miraculous day.  It’ll never get tired, it’ll never get old, and it’ll always remind us where we came from and how we got to where we are today.  The gift is in the struggle.  The struggle was long.  But now the struggle is over, and we are awesome.

Part of where we come from is Fenway Park.  The team just wouldn’t be the same without it.  Thankfully, our ownership group recognizes this scientifically verifiable fact and is committed to taking care of it.  As usual, the brass unveiled renovation plans, which include three new high-definition video screens, concrete repair, waterproofing, concession and merchandise improvement, and something most definitely worth debating.  They’re considering widening the bullpens in order to make relievers more comfortable.  Right now, they’re pretty cramped, but the new plans would add workout facilities, bathrooms, and just some space and room to move around.  But there’s a tradeoff.  While widening the bullpens by six feet would bring them within Major League Baseball regulations, they’d bring the right field fence in by six to nine feet.  So, yes, wider bullpens might make a reliever more competitive and effective if he’s comfortable while warming, but the same thing goes for the visitor’s relievers, plus the fact that a closer right field wall may mean more ground-rule doubles and, worse, home runs.

When I said that this point was worth debating, that was an understatement of substantial proportions.  This is not a good change to make.  First of all, in terms of the reliever’s competitiveness, it makes absolutely no difference: either things stay as they are, or things change and the reliever becomes more competitive to a degree just sufficient enough to deal with the dimensions change.  Either way, it’s the same result.  But it’s more than that.  This is Fenway Park, America’s most beloved ballpark and the oldest in the country.  You can’t just tinker with Fenway Park’s dimensions.  You just can’t.  Part of our ridiculously massive home field advantage is the insanity that is the dimensions of the outfield: you have this small sliver of territory in left, you have the dreaded triangle behind a huge yard in center, and you have an obscenely large plane in right.  Diminishing that extremity makes Fenway more similar to other parks, which diminishes our home field advantage, not to mention the fact that the dimensions haven’t been changed since 1940 when Tom Yawkey moved the bullpens to the outfield in the first place, and he did that because Ted Williams was jacking balls out of the park left and right.  He didn’t do it because he thought that maybe, possibly, perhaps a reliever might or might not be more competitive just enough to offset the other dimensions change that such a move would cause.  Ted Williams was Ted Williams, and sure, nowadays we deal with opponents hitting home runs into the bullpens too, but Ted Williams was so potent that the tradeoff was worth it.  I don’t think it is in this case.

If something is not broken, there is absolutely no need to fix it.  And in no conceivable sense is Fenway Park broken.  The interior of the bullpen, as in the people who use it, does indeed need work.  And that’s one of the hardest jobs a general manager has to face.  Fixing the bullpen is always a challenge.  The way you fix it one year is in no way the same as the way you’ll fix it next year.  Your needs change every year.  The market changes every year.  As Theo himself said, basically you want a group of guys who can hold down spots.  You want a lefty specialist, a long man, a setup man, and a closer.  And you want a few others to fill it out.  We have a closer.  We have a setup man.  But the other spots aren’t so well-defined.  Okajima isn’t as reliable as he used to be.  Delcarmen and Ramirez are gone.  Doubront is a starter by trade, and Bowden and Richardson weren’t all that great.  So a really good acquisition this winter would be Scott Downs, but we’d probably have to give up a first-round draft pick.  So there’s no way to predict who Theo is going to get, how much he’s going to pay, how many years he’s going to give, and the list goes on.  We’ll just have to wait and see.  One thing’s for sure: Theo is firmly committed to improving the bullpen, so we can look forward to some sort of change come next year.  Theo always keeps the bullpen in mind – indeed, his first signature move was wrenching Alan Embree from the Padres in 2002 and, in light of what I opened this post with, we all know how epically glad we are for that – so whatever he does will be a step in the right direction.  (The obvious exception being Eric Gagne, but if that’s the worst mistake he’s going to make, I’ll live with it.)

Congratulations to the sizeable chunk of the team that was nominated for MLB.com’s This Year In Baseball Awards.  Tito is in line for best manager, while Beltre is in line for top hitter.  Lester and Buchholz are both in line for top starting pitcher.  Paps is in line for best closer.  Bard is in line for top setup man.  The game we played against Texas on April 20, the one where Cameron and Ellsbury were both placed on the DL so McDonald was randomly called up an hour before the first pitch and proceeded to tie the game with a pinch-hit homer in the eighth and win it with a walkoff single off the Monster in the ninth, is in line for most memorable game of the season.  And Nava’s grand slam is in line for best moment of the season.  All those nominations right there just go to show you what kind of team we were and what we could have done had we stayed healthy.  I’m just saying.

Speaking of just saying, the Yankees were eliminated by the Rangers.  Let me say that again: the New York Yankees are out of the playoffs.  One more time: the Evil Empire plays no more in October.  In the same week that we celebrated the above anniversary.  Coincidence? I think not.  Order has now been restored to the universe.

In other news, the Bruins played three games this week.  We started off by beating the Caps, 3-1.  We continued by beating the Caps, 4-1, in our home opener.  Timmy Thomas made thirty-eight saves.  Too bad we had to end it with a close 3-2 loss to the Rangers.  But I have to say, I like what I’m seeing.  The team is young but very talented and capable.  What we are seeing right now is greatness in the making, and I have full confidence that the black and gold will be a force this year.  The Pats played a fantastic game against the Ravens last Sunday.  We won, 23-20, in overtime thanks to a barely fair field goal.  But a win is a win, and we will most certainly take that one.

Celebrate Boston

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On Wednesday we had our first full-squad workout.  Folks, Spring Training is very much underway, and we’re in business! We have mere weeks until Opening Day.  (I’m sorry; I refuse to call it Opening Night.) Theo and Tito were pleased, which means things are going well.  Did I mention that we have mere weeks until Opening Day?

Dice-K was cleared on Monday to start throwing at sixty and ninety feet.  He increased that to 120 feet on Thursday, so that’s progress.  And we have our starting rotation for the first week: Casey Kelly will throw first, Bonser will throw second, Beckett gets the Grapefruit League opener during which Wakefield will be a priority reliever, and then Lackey followed by Buchholz.  Not bad.  I’ll be interested to see how Kelly fares.

Turns out Drew spent most of last season playing through a sore left shoulder, which has been repaired with surgery this offseason.  He’s going to start Spring Training slowly and raise the bar as it goes on.  On a related note, I don’t like this.  The secrecy with the injuries has to stop.  If something’s wrong with you, you take some sort of measure to fix it immediately, end of story.  But don’t make it worse.  Obviously any true competitor will want to power through it, but after a point you need to step back and measure whether you’d be helping or hurting the team by hurting yourself.  It’s a fine line.  Speaking of which, Delcarmen has promised to be more open about his injuries.  Call that a case in point.

I would like to take a moment to say that Mikey Lowell is the epitome if classiness.  He is a classy guy’s classy guy.  If you look up “classy guy” in the dictionary, Mikey Lowell’s picture is right next to the definition.  He has no idea what is fate is, either with or without us this season, and he’s completely okay with that.  This is what he had to say about his current situation:

“I’m getting ready for a season.  I think I’m pretty intelligent in the sense that there’s no real playing time for me here barring a major injury, and I’m not really in the business of hoping somebody gets hurt just so I can get at-bats.”

Now, there’s a man who knows what’s up.  None of this prima donna drama you find around the league with arrogant big shots with one foot out the door who need a lesson in humility.  I’m telling you, however this ends, Lowell has certainly set himself up as the ideal role model for other players.  And as far as we, the Nation is concerned, he said he loves our support.  I think I speak for all of us when I say he’s most definitely earned it.

Boston Dirt Dogs called out the Red Sox for not being original in designing their new Lee County Spring Training facility.  Apparently the Sox can’t do anything “beyond Fenway replicas.” Call me crazy, but when you want your guys prepping for the season, doesn’t it actually make sense for the training park to resemble the actual park? Especially for the new guys and prospects? If you’re playing eighty games in one stadium, you want everyone completely comfortable in there, and one way to do that is to train in a park that looks and feels like it.  So I fail to see the problem with that.

Finally, I’m getting really sick and tired of listening to everyone complain that this year’s team has no offense.  We lose one guy, Jason Bay, and suddenly our offense has evaporated into thin air? Yeah, right.  Let’s not forget the fact that we have Youk, and Pedroia, and Ellsbury, and V-Mart for the entire season (as opposed to last year’s half season due to this arrival at the deadline).  Add to that a revived Papi and Scutaro and I really don’t think there’s any huge cause for concern.  I mean, look at this past season.  It’s hard to get past the epic fail that was the 2009 ALDS, but we did finish third in the Major Leagues in runs.  The negative view of our offense this year is motivating, I guess, but we should also keep in mind that it’s not entirely founded.  I refuse to worry about the entire team’s offensive production simply because we allowed one dude to walk.  One guy does not a baseball team make or break.

On Monday, Eric Gagne confessed his use of human growth hormone.  That sure explains a lot.  Johnny Damon is a Tiger, which makes our lives a whole lot easier.  Believe that.

Sox Nest

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That was one of the most unusual clinchings I have ever seen.  That was because, strangely, we didn’t clinch.  The Rangers clinched for us.  We lost, 8-7, to Toronto, but if the Rangers lost last night, we were officially in.  But the Rangers were in Anaheim, so it was a late start, so after our game, the players sort of trickled out of the ballpark but stayed in the area to return to celebrate a Texas loss.  I heard Daniel Bard went to his apartment across the street to have dinner, Ortiz went out somewhere in the area, and Pedroia put his son to bed.  But when the Rangers lost, just before 1:00AM, almost the entire team was on hand to break out the champagne, because ladies and gentlemen, we officially won the Wild Card.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are officially going to the playoffs! On the backs of the Texas Rangers, but who cares! We were getting there ourselves one way or another anyway.

As for our game, it’s both concerning and dismissable.  On the one hand, it was a loss, and by Clay Buchholz, who pitched horribly.  Honestly, he looked like his old 2008 self.  Seven runs on eight hits with a walk and four strikeouts.  Five home runs.  Five.  I’m not making this up.  Four were solo shots; two were lead-offs, one with one out, and one with two outs.  The other home run was a two-run shot by Adam Lind, who would go on to hit two more.  The man finished the night with three home runs.  Three.  Seriously.  Not once in all of last year did Beckett allow five home runs, and home runs were his big issue! And Clay Buchholz has to allow all five in one game right before the playoffs? Is he trying to send all of Red Sox Nation into collective worry? At least he was efficient; he threw less than eighty pitches.

Ramirez was good, Saito allowed a sixth home run, and Wagner and Papelbon were both good.  Especially Papelbon, who took care of the ninth in seven pitches.

Like I said, the final score was 8-7, so the offense put up a good fight.  Ellsbury went two for five and stole, Pedroia went three for five with a double and a caught stealing, V-Mart and Youk each batted in a run, Ortiz went two for four with a double and an RBI, Bay walked twice and scored twice, and Drew went three for four with a towering three-run shot with two out in the eighth.  That was a huge home run.  It made me think of his grand slam in October 2007.  So at least we know his bat is ready if we need it.

Aside from Buchholz, on the other hand, we have to consider the fact that Toronto always does this.  We consistently have trouble with them in the month of September, and the later in September we play them, the more trouble they give us.  I remember we almost lost the division in 2007 because we played them and Eric Gagne was on the mound.  (Although the narrow outcome of that particular game had more to do with Gagne than with Toronto.) But one more run and we would’ve headed to extra innings, where we would’ve won it and clinched the conventional way.  But a clinch is a clinch, and you have absolutely no idea how psyched I am for October.  The second season.  It’s almost here, for the sixth time in the past seven years! But Tim Wakefield had a point.  The fact that the team celebrated as one at the ballpark despite the circumstances speaks to the team’s character.  It takes a pretty uniquely special group of guys to feel that a playoff berth was deserved and hard-won together no matter how it may have technically been made official.

But wait; it gets better.  We’re facing the Angels in the ALDS! Again! For the third year in a row and the fourth time in the past six years! And the best part? We’re nine and one in all of those series and have won all of them!

Meanwhile, Halladay at Wakefield.  This is just as much for Wakefield as it is for October’s starting rotation.  Wakefield needs playing time so he can recover, and October’s starting rotation could use a rest.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Smile, Red Sox Nation; it’s officially September! And there are a whole lot of reasons to love September baseball.  First of all, it’s cooler.  August in Boston is oppressively hot, and the fall brings a second wind for the fans but also the players.  It’s easier to relax and focus when you’re not drenched in sweat and struggling to breathe the humid and muggy air.  Secondly, it’s exciting.  Every game this month takes on a whole new meaning, and that meaning can bring the best or the worst out of a ballclub.  After such a long season, the rejuvenation that September brings makes a player want to put his entire skill set on display.  Especially because it’s so close to the offseason, when free agents are courted and extension contracts are signed.  And last but not least, it’s only a month away from October! September helps to decide who gets there and who doesn’t, who’s likely to go deep and who isn’t, who’s in the best position and who isn’t.  During the month of September, fans of teams across the country watch their rivals in the standings as much as they watch their own clubs.  And for us, that includes the Rangers and the Yankees, with whom we have a series at the end of the month that could either make or break the division for us.

So, in light of all that, it’s important to begin September on the right foot.  Which is exactly what we did last night.  Against the Rays.  In the Trop.  Which makes it even better.

We’ll start with pitching.  Look at a box score of last night’s game.  Look down at the pitching.  It’s so comical that I actually laughed out loud.  They used eight pitchers to our four! That’s just absurd.  But I digress.  Lester was nothing short of brilliant.  Two runs on seven hits over six innings with two walks and nine strikeouts.  (He was pulled after six because he’s had a sore groin recently and Tito was being cautious.  Good move.) I really like the fact that he’s consistently recording around ten K’s per game now.  In fact, he has now surpassed Bruce Hurst’s record, set in 1987, for most strikeouts by a southpaw in a single season.  Hurst had 190; Lester now has 196, and the season isn’t even over.  He gave up a home run to Carlos Pena to lead off the fourth, but it happens.

Wagner was again spectacular.  It may be early to tell yet, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s clear to me that Billy Wagner is most definitely not Eric Gagne.  So far, he’s faced seven batters and retired six, five with strikeouts.  (Meanwhile, the Mets’ disabled list is worth a little under $90 million.) Okajima, not so much.  He pitched to five batters in the eighth inning without recording a single out while instead allowing two runs on four hits and a walk.  Not very 2007 of him, if you ask me.  Paps earned his thirty-third save, a two-inning, twenty-eight-pitch effort (twenty of those were strikes, by the way) which included escaping a bases-loaded situation.  I knew in the long run he’d give us nothing to worry about.  Paps always buckles down.  Yet another reason to love September baseball.

As for the other main attraction, the offense, we were all over it.  The final score was 8-4, so we scored runs and more to spare.  We scored a run in every inning except the first, third, and seventh, and we scored three runs in the fourth.  Ellsbury went two for six with a triple, two RBIs, and one of his best plays of the season.  In the top of the eighth with the bases loaded, Ellsbury snagged a hard-hit fly on the slide and fired into the infield.  No runs scored.  That’s what I call a play of the game.  V-Mart went two for four.  Lowell went two for three with a double, an RBI, and a throw across the diamond to end the first that would make you wonder whether there really was something wrong with his hip.  Every member of the lineup reached base.  Even Pedroia, who failed to record a hit, walked twice.  Gonzalez made a throwing error, but I’ll take our one error over Tampa Bay’s three any day.

Three home runs last night: Drew, Bay, and Youk.  The usual suspects.  Fourth inning, 1-0 count, man on second, and Drew buries a ball about a third of the way up the right field stands.  Fifth inning, 1-2 count, nobody on, and I thought Bay was trying to remove the cover from the ball.  That was a very loud crack of the bat, and the ball went around the left field pole for the home run.  Eighth inning, 1-1 count, nobody on, and Youk gets it out of left field by inches.  That, my friends, is power.

One more reason to love September: callups.  We’ve added five to our roster: outfielder Joey Gathright, George Kottaras, infielder Chris Woodward, Junichi Tazawa, and outfielder Brian Anderson.  Expect Jed Lowrie and Dice-K’s to also join the roster within the coming days.

Jerry Remy will provide color commentary only for home games for the rest of this season.  Another cautious and good move.  It seems that A-Rod has actually altered his batting stance to imitate that of Albert Pujols.  He thinks this is going to turn him into a clutch hitter.  I’m serious.  Apparently, a ballplayer’s psyche and natural style has nothing whatsoever to do with it; the entire skill is solely dependent on the stance.  Yeah, right.

It’s Beckett at Matt Garza tonight.  We should watch for his command in the lower half of the strike zone, as I said, but I hope that this outing will be the start of a string of good ones that lasts through the end of October.  And speaking of October (or should I say Soxtober), you can’t imagine how psyched I am.  Seriously.  It’s the second season, and it’s just around the corner!

On a football note, we say goodbye and good luck to Tedy Bruschi, who announced his retirement on Monday.  He spent thirteen seasons with the Patriots during the team’s most successful era, and he was integral to molding the team into the powerhouse it is today.  Bruschi had strength, but he also had heart, and it was the mixture of both of these that made him, as Bill Belichick said, the “perfect player.” Belichick actually got emotional while making his statement, and as much as he’s usually a rock, that’s something I believe because, yes, Tedy Bruschi was that important to the Patriots.  He was a professional.  He was such a mainstay on defense.  He was talented, and not only because he helped lead New England to three Super Bowl championships.  And because of all of that, he will be missed.  So goodbye, Tedy Bruschi, and good luck.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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