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Posts Tagged ‘Mike Timlin’

After the final out of the game, I thought two things.  First, I thought it looked and felt eerily similar to Game Seven of the 2008 ALCS, when Drew was at the plate with the game on the line, and he struck out looking.  No swing.  He just watched the ball go by.  And second, there was the classic, obligatory, and completely warranted “No!”

Lester got rocked.  Last night was not an example of his best work.  If you look up the word “ace” in the dictionary, you will usually see Lester’s picture, but last night it wasn’t there.  In six innings, he gave up four runs on eleven hits, a new career high, while walking two and striking out seven.  He threw 116 pitches, and two of those hits were home runs, both by Peralta.  The first one was hit on a changeup that Peralta dug out.  The second one was hit on a pitch that was absolutely disgusting.  The Tigers didn’t waste time either; they scored their first run in the first, no thanks to Cameron, whose glove provided a springboard for the RBI hit.

Lester’s cut fastball was sharp, but his offspeeds, his sinker, changeup, and curveball, weren’t working.  He didn’t really have one particularly bad inning; he threw at most twenty-one pitches in the fifth and at least thirteen in the sixth.  That’s not a huge disparity, and he was pretty consistent count-wise.  So that wasn’t the issue.  The issue was that the pitches he threw weren’t good.  He just didn’t have it.  He never settled in or found any sort of rhythm.  It happens sometimes.  It’s particularly inconvenient when you’re trying to dig yourself out of an enormous hole in order to get to the playoffs.  But it happens sometimes.  He took the loss for the third time since the All-Star break.

Believe it or not, that’s not even the point.  Sure, if Lester had been his usual dominant self we probably would’ve won the game.  But that is not the point.

The point is the offense, which did almost nothing for the first eight innings of the game.  Scutaro hit a solo shot in the fifth, but that was it.  After Scutaro’s shot, Youk bounced a hard liner off Galarraga’s right ankle, chasing him from the game.  This after hitting Dan Haren with a liner in the arm that chased him from the game.  It’s just ironic that Youk is probably one of the most frequently hit batsmen in the game.  Anyway, Papi walked after that, and V-Mart hit what looked like something for RBIs and possibly extra bases, but it was caught for a flyout in front of the Monster.  That’s a shame.  It was a tough play.

Ramirez pitched the seventh, with a little help from Patterson’s right-on-the-money throw home to get Boesch out at the plate, and Wakefield pitched the eighth after ten days of rest.  In accordance with his summer of milestones, he officially passed Eck to become the oldest Red Sox pitcher to pitch in a game.  He’ll turn forty-four on Monday and might not want to remember this appearance; the Tigers took two against him, one on a wild pitch.  Also, Youk’s missed tag was not helpful.  Kind of reminds me of a less terrible version of Mike Timlin’s thousandth appearance, during which he was horrible.

Now we get to the bottom of the ninth.  Valverde loaded the bases with three walks, and Big Papi hit a grand slam.  That’s four runs on one swing.  I felt like I was back in October 2004 again.  Bottom of the ninth, game on the line, bases loaded, Big Papi steps up and completely unloads them.  It was crazy.  It was a fastball middle-in and it wasn’t staying in the park.  It really doesn’t get much better than that.  The ball ended up in the first row of seats right in the heart of right field.  And just like that, the Tigers had only a one-run lead.

Beltre doubled to left.  Drew pinch-hit, intentionally walked, and made way for Hall to pinch-run.

Cameron stepped into the batter’s box.  At this point you’re thinking it’s not possible that we just came all the way back only to lose now.  It’s only one run; we have the tying and go-ahead runs already on base.  Cameron needs to do something here.

Instead, he did nothing.  He worked the count full and waited for a fastball but got a splitter instead and struck out looking.  Kind of like Drew in 2008.

Of all our wins this season, this one would have been the most improbable and therefore one of the biggest.  And Valverde was laboring.  He ended up throwing a career-high sixty pitches.  That’s an obscene number of pitches for a closer to throw.  He was really struggling.  And that mound slap at the end just made the whole thing worse.

Of all the ways to open a homestand, it doesn’t get much lower than this.  Your offense does nothing for most of the game, all of a sudden you’ve got life in the bottom of the ninth, you climb all the way back to within one run, the table is set, and the batter just looks.  It’s agonizing.  But I guess there’s nothing to do now but hope Dice-K gets something going today.  Every game now is a must-win.  So let’s win this one.

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We’re more than halfway through the season.  In fact, it’s already August, when more than the weather gets hot.  Each and every Major League club goes into playoff mode, but only a select few will get there.  There isn’t a doubt in my mind that we will most definitely be one of the few.  We’ve dominated our division.  Toronto started the season strong but has since slipped into fourth place and was seriously contemplating trading Roy Halladay to get some much-needed fresh blood into the clubhouse.  The Baltimore Orioles did the usual: fell to the bottom of the pack.  They’re twenty games out now, which is quite pathetic.  The Rays have been nonexistent in third place, even though somehow they just managed to sweep us in a two-game set, and we’ve been wiping the floor with the Yankees and are ready for another go-around.  It’s been fantastic.  We’re currently undefeated against New York.  Let me say that again.  We’re currently undefeated against New York.  Feels good, doesn’t it? So we start the two-month playoff rush in a decent place: two and a half games out and ready to rock and roll.  Not great but it could be worse.

Every year, Boston.com grades the team individually and overall at the All-Star break, with a little help from Tony Massarotti.  You can find Boston.com’s report card here.  I’ll be taking a break for about twelve days, but I’ll leave you with a report card of my own: a late-season grading of that team we all know and love.

Jason Varitek: A

Compare this year to last year.  So far this year, he’s hit thirteen home runs, batted in forty-four runs, scored thirty-seven runs, and has sixty-four hits.  Last year, he hit thirteen home runs, batted in forty-three runs, scored thirty-seven runs, and had ninety-three hits.  And this season isn’t even over yet.  So he’s significantly exceeded his numbers from last year in all of those categories, and he’s thirty-seven years old.  Experiencing a renaissance at the catcher’s position and at that age isn’t easy, but he worked closely with hitting coach Dave Magadan to make that happen with very positive results.  And we still get all of the goodness behind the plate; he’s got a 3.72 catcher’s ERA, the fourth-lowest in Major League Baseball.

Victor Martinez: A

Theo landed him at the trading deadline to add another big bat to the lineup.  Victor Martinez has done that and more, making an immediate impact and finding a groove right away.  He adds his .294 average, sixteen home runs, and seventy-three RBIs as well as a fielding percentage of upwards of .990 at first base.  He hasn’t made an error at catcher all season.  He plays first, he catches, he DHes; he does it all in the field and, as a switch-hitter who bats .307 from the left and a decent .258 from the right, at the plate.  A brilliant acquisition yet again by our general manager.

Kevin Youkilis: A

I have nothing to complain about here.  He consistently bats at or above .300 with a .422 on-base percentage and a .580 slugging percentage.  He’s hit twenty home runs this year, so his power numbers are up but not at the expense of his walks (fifty-six) or other hits.  That, plus his defense.  He moves between third and first like it’s the easiest thing in the world.  And these are his numbers with a stint on the DL and a slump during which he batted .194 over twenty-eight games.

Dustin Pedroia: A-

I give the kid an A.  Unlike many reigning MVPs, he’s not having a bad season the year after winning the award.  He’s batting above .300.  His power numbers are down, but he’s batted in forty-six runs and hit thirty-one doubles.  He’s second among Major League second basemen in runs and doubles, third in hits, fifth in walks, third in batting average, and fourth in on-base percentage.  Of course the top-notch fielding can’t be ignored, even though his .987 fielding percentage is low.  Still, he’s a dirt dog if I’ve ever seen one.

Mike Lowell: B

His 2007 season was outstanding.  His 2008 season, not as much.  His season this year will be a test of whether he can successfully rebound from his hip surgery.  He’s done that so far, posting a .296 batting average and .817 OPS, good for fifth in the American League among third basemen.  And after his three weeks on the DL in the first half, he’s really come on strong in the second.  We headed into the All-Star break thinking we needed another bat, and now we have one.  (Actually, we have two, since the acquisition of V-Mart.) As far as his fielding goes, the hip does prevent him from going the extra mile sometimes, but that’s rare enough.

Nick Green: B

Nick Green really stepped up to the plate.  Definitely an unsung hero of the team.  Jed Lowrie was out, and we were looking at a long stretch of errors from Julio Lugo.  Then some non-roster Spring Training invitee stepped in and lo and behold.  Lugo lost his job, and Green made the most of his opportunity to start.  His offense is his weakness, walkoff home run notwithstanding.

Jason Bay: A-

This man is phenomenal.  Theo Epstein hasn’t been able to lock him up yet, but he will.  Jason Bay is too good to let walk into the free agent market.  We’ll sign him.  Anyway, he does the usual.  He hits for average (the .252 is a little low but the .279 career gets the point across) and power (twenty-one home runs).  He fields (no errors at all this season).  He’s seventh in the American League in RBIs and first in walks with seventy-one.  He did go through a rather pronounced slump during which he batted .153 and struck out twenty-five times in seventeen games, but with a strong second half, which may be hampered by his right hamstring issue, he could be in the running for MVP along with Youkilis and Pedroia.

Jacoby Ellsbury: A

Whatever issues he may have had at the plate last year have been solved.  Ellsbury batted .287 in April, then .308 in May, then .313 in June.  He’s now batting .301.  With six home runs and thirty-five RBIs.  He’s gotten really comfortable at the top of the order, and there’s that whole stolen bases thing.  Since the start of last season, only Carl Crawford has more thefts.  And that steal of home against Andy Pettitte will be playing on highlight reels for the rest of the decade.  This speed translates perfectly from the basepaths to center field, where he makes the most difficult and convoluted catches look like walks in the park.

JD Drew: B

Theo Epstein knew exactly what he was getting when he signed Drew to a five-year, $14 million-per-season contract.  He’s batting .248.  With an on-base percentage of .365.  Consistently.  That’s the key.  You always know what you’ll get with Drew: nothing great, but nothing too bad, either.  And get this: the Red Sox are fourth in the American League in OPS in right field.  He’s put those numbers to good use in the leadoff spot, and the one-two punch of him and Pedroia has become something to be feared by opposing pitchers.  With Ellsbury fitting perfectly into that leadoff role now, he finds himself batting lower in the order, but his consistency remains intact.  He mans right field well, which isn’t something you can say for everyone who plays the position in Fenway Park.

David Ortiz: B+

I never thought I’d give that grade to David Ortiz, but you can blame it on his horrendous first two months.  His lowest point was June 2, when he batted .186 with one home run, eighteen RBIs, and an OPS of just .566 in forty-seven games.  Ugh.  But then, what a turnaround.  I want everyone who said he was done to take a good, long look at the following numbers: in his next thirty-four games, he led the team in home runs with eleven, RBIs with 29, and OPS with 1.011.  That, my friends, is Big Papi.  So far he’s batted .225 with fifteen home runs, so the numbers continue to climb.  With a solid second half, the season might not turn out to be so bad for him.

George Kottaras: B-

Let’s remember why he’s here.  He’s here to catch Tim Wakefield.  He’s not here to hit or to take the reins from Jason Varitek; those two responsibilities fall squarely on the shoulders of Victor Martinez.  He’s here to catch knuckleballs every fifth day and give the captain an extra day of rest if he needs it.  And he’s done a great job of that.  Less than ten passed balls and a 5.08 catcher’s ERA.  As far as offense goes, there really isn’t any, but again, that’s not the point.

Jeff Bailey: C

Again, we knew what we were getting here.  Key players were out with injuries, and we needed someone to fill in.  He’s significantly better against lefties (.400) than righties (.111), and the defense is fine enough (no errors).  He wasn’t staying in the Majors anyway, so it’s not a big deal.

Rocco Baldelli: A-

He was signed to provide backup in right field and to handle southpaws.  He hasn’t seen much playing time because of his health concerns, but he’s still batting .261.  Something he’s not usually credited with is a really strong arm.  He practically won the game for us when Lester dueled with Kansas City’s Brian Bannister on July 10; Ellsbury had been ejected for throwing equipment in frustration when called out at the plate, so Rocco Baldelli came in.  He gunned down a Royal at second, something Ellsbury probably would’ve have been able to pull off.  That was key.

Josh Beckett: A

Obviously.  Quite simply, he is an ace.  He is one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever seen.  He had a 7.22 ERA to start June, but look at him now.  In his last thirteen starts before the All-Star break, he’s 9-1 with a 2.14 ERA.  Currently, he’s thirteen and four with a 3.27 ERA that just keeps dropping.  This is shaping up to be a Cy Young year.  Again.  Hopefully they’ll get it right this time.

Jon Lester: A

It’s almost the exact same story.  His rough patch was about two weeks longer than Beckett’s, but his turnaround was just as rapid and just as dramatic.  He is now the best southpaw in all of Major League Baseball.  In the middle of May, he was looking at a 6.51 ERA.  In his ten starts before the All-Star break, he was 6-2 with a 2.01 ERA.  He’s now nine and seven with a 3.79 ERA, but don’t let that fool you.  Theo knew what he had here.  Who needs Johan Santana when you have Lester.

Tim Wakefield: A

He’s eleven and three with a 4.31 ERA.  He’s an All-Star.  He carried a no-no bid into the eighth inning on the road against the A’s this year.  By the way, did I mention he’s forty-two years old? He’s the longest-tenured member of the club, and all he does is consistently give us quality innings and put us in a position to win.  It’s not his fault if he doesn’t get any run support.

Daizuke Matsuzaka: F

Fail.  Epic fail.  Without a doubt, this is the lowest grade I gave this year.  Eight starts, 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA.  The Sox’s record is 2-6 in those starts.  Awful.  Just awful.  And we can thank Bud Selig and the World Baseball Classic for that.  Dice-K went hard during the Classic and basically blew his season along with his shoulder.  He finally seems to be receptive to adapting to the Major League way of doing things (but only after airing his grievances), and after a stint on the DL, he’s now down in Fort Myers basically catching up on all the Spring Training he missed while pitching for Japan.  Just a big, huge, epic fail.

Brad Penny: C

He’s a number five starter.  He never pitches less than five innings, and he never pitches more than six.  He usually gives up about three runs per outing.  And he does this every single time he starts.  Consistency has been the name of his game, but it’s withered considerably in the second half.  He’s been struggling lately.

John Smoltz: C

Two and four with a 7.12 ERA isn’t the John Smoltz I was expecting, but then I stepped back and remembered why we signed him.  We signed him for October.  He has more wins in the postseason than any other pitcher, and he’s here to bring some of that success to us.  We can weather regular-season spottiness if it means some major Ws in the postseason, but the problem is that it just doesn’t seem like he’s peaking at all.  If the goal is to peak late, we should see glimmers of brilliance this month.  Maybe we will, starting tonight.  It doesn’t look likely, though.

Ramon Ramirez: A

The bullpen’s unsung hero.  Theo’s trade of Coco Crisp for this man was genius.  During his sixteen-game rough patch in the first half, his ERA was 5.02, and we all know it wasn’t pleasant to watch him during that stretch.  But he’s gotten better.  And he’s one of the best overall.  His ERA is 2.28, and less than ten relievers in the Majors have an ERA lower than his.  One of them being Jonathan Papelbon.

Daniel Bard: A

Daniel Bard has a long way to go, but he’s getting there fast.  As his confidence grows, so does Terry Francona’s.  He’s using him more and more, and Bard is stepping up and delivering.  A 2.25 ERA, and keep in mind that what you are seeing here is our setup man of the future.  Who tops out at one hundred miles per hour.  Imagine that.  The one-two punch of Bard and Papelbon.  Unhittable.

Takashi Saito: C

He was supposed to be our third-day closer, but with the bullpen being the best in baseball and all, he hasn’t really been used that consistently.  Actually, he’s mostly used when we’re losing.  If the bullpen stays healthy, we don’t really need him that much.  He’s been decent; 3.32 ERA.  But we have better.

Manny Delcarmen: B

He’s a workhorse who gets the job done and keeps the ERA low at 3.05.  Delcarmen is consistent, healthy, and can handle more than one inning of work if necessary.

Hideki Okajima: A

We keep talking about his epic season in 2007 while he’s having one of those right under our noses.  Since the start of that season, he’s been among the top ten relievers in the game in ERA.  A 2.98 ERA is not something to be taken for granted.  He’s a fantastic setup man.

Javier Lopez: D

He had a horrible start to the season and was optioned to the minor leagues.  Tito used him when he shouldn’t have been used: against righties.  But now the bullpen is having some trouble handling lefties, and he’s improved in the minors.  If he’s able to works his way back up, we could be all too ready to welcome him back.

Jonathan Papelbon: B

Many of his saves have been sloppy.  The one-two-three inning that’s been his trademark in the past hasn’t been as common this year.  But that’s changing.  Here’s the thing.  Papelbon has to be used every so often whether we need him or not because he needs to get his work in.  But when you put your closer in again where the team is leading, he doesn’t get the same high-pressure, adrenaline-rush-inducing sensation, and he relaxes.  And when he relaxes, he can’t sustain that fierce competitiveness.  I think Papelbon’s experienced that this year, which incidentally is a credit to our lineup.  The point is that recently, in close games, the one-two-three inning has resurfaced and seems to be appearing more and more often.  Numbers-wise, his problem is walks.  He’s giving up many more walks this year than he did last year.

Terry Francona: A

Again, obviously.  We’re almost leading the division again.  We’re set to appear in October again.  We’ll win the World Series again.  All with Terry Francona at the helm.  This is the first year of his three-year contract extension, and he’s the first Boston manager to begin a sixth season in about sixty years.  Sixty years.  Finally.  And rightfully so.  There are a lot of different personalities floating around in that clubhouse, and they all blend together seamlessly without a hitch.  A lot of that has to do with Tito.  Now that the revolving door for manager has closed, it’s time to seal the one at shortstop, too.

Theo Epstein: A

The man is a genius.  In Theo we trust, and he always comes through.  He’s made two major mistakes that I can recall: Eric Gagne and Julio Lugo, and so far that’s been it.  And even those weren’t that bad in the long run.  He went after bargain pitchers this offseason, and it paid off; we have one of the best rotations and definitely the best bullpen in the game.  All we need to do is work on hitting for the long-term and we’ll be all set.  Theo Epstein is someone Red Sox Nation and I can trust to do that.

The Boston Red Sox Overall: B+

We’re heading into August and we are poised to go on a tear.  The postseason is approaching.  Expect us to win it all.  We have what has to be the deepest team in Major League Baseball.  We have hitting.  We have pitching.  We have fielding.  We have the wherewithal to bring another World Series trophy to the city of Boston.  And we will.  Because we can.

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That was Beckett’s 100th career start in a Red Sox uniform, and he did not disappoint.  After pitcher’s milestones like this I sometimes think of Mike Timlin’s 1000th appearance, and that isn’t something he’ll want to remember at all.  But this was nothing like that.  This is something Beckett will recall for years.  This, my friends, was a gem.  Plain and simple.  Seven full innings, only tree hits, only one run on a solo shot by Joe Crede in the second, four walks, eight strikeouts.  He started the game with four consecutive K’s, had a one-two-three fifth, and retired eleven in a row before walking Morneau in the sixth.  He tied his second-highest K count by throwing 69 of 111 pitches for strikes.  Like the Twins actually expected to beat Beckett anyway.  Please, with the way he’s been pitching? No chance.  If the Twins were going to do anything, it would’ve been in the fourth; after Crede hit his jack, Beckett gave up back-to-back walks.  But he stayed with it, regained his control, and was air-tight for the rest of his outing.  If doesn’t prove he’s back, I don’t know what does.  Okajima got a hold, and Paps got a save, and this time it wasn’t half bad.  Brian Buscher struck out via swing and a miss to end it.

Jason Varitek was solely responsible for our first two runs, and the long ball was solely responsible for plating them.  The captain hit two leadoff home runs last night, one in the fifth and one in the seventh.  Both of them were beautiful swings.  Both were never going to stay inside the park.  And both are reasons why it’s realistic to consider Varitek in the All-Star voting this year.  That second homer ended up in the second tier of seats.  Power.

Ellsbury snapped his hitting streak at twenty-two games.  During the streak, he batted .340.  Pedroia was batting .462 heading into last night but then went hitless in the final game of the series.  Jason Bay got the day off.  Hey, if he’s eighth in the Majors in runs, sixth in home runs, second in RBIs, and sixth in walks, he earned it.  Drew went hitless but almost had himself a triple in the sixth, had Span not outran it and hauled it in for an out.  Youk had a hit and a beautiful diving catch on a right-handed line drive.  That’s a tough play for a first baseman to make, and it almost looked like the ball took him off his feet, but he made the catch and ended the inning.  Ortiz didn’t do well.  In the sixth he struck out swinging and was furious.  Early in the at-bat, he broke his bat and got a new one, and after the at-bat, he broke that one across his knee in the dugout.  So we know he has strength and power; all he has to do is use it on a baseball.  As angry and frustrated as we are about his slump, you better believe he’s that much more angry and frustrated.  And it’s not just the lack of home runs.  During the first month or so of the season, he wasn’t seeing the fastball.  He’d be late or get under it or something.

And then we have our third run scored by Bailey in the seventh.  Pedroia hit a sac fly to Kubel, who threw the ball to Redmond at home, but home plate umpire Todd Tichenor called Bailey safe.  Redmond disagreed so he got in Tichenor’s face, at which point Tichenor threw him and Gardenhire, who came out to protest, out of the game.  To be fair, Redmond didn’t swear or touch the umpire, but he was livid and you could see it.  Same with Gardenhire, which was unusual because he’s so mild-mannered.  Then in our half of the frame, Beckett was noticeably frustrated that a close pitch that’d been called mostly for a strike earlier had been called a ball.  Beckett was showing a little bit of body language, so Tek turned around to talk to Tichenor and keep Beckett out of it, at which point Tichenor threw him and Francona, who came out to protest, out of the game.  Wow.  You don’t see that too often.  It was like Tichenor was hitting for the circuit in umpire terms.  And I have to say it was completely uncalled for to toss either Tek or Francona.  Tek wasn’t expressing himself angrily; not only was there no swearing or touching, but there wasn’t even harsh language, angry gestures, or unsportsmanlike conduct.  There was a conspicuous difference between Redmond’s and Tek’s behavior, and his ejection of Tek disregarded that completely.  As for Francona, he came out to defend his catcher who shouldn’t have been ejected in the first place.  There was no way he wasn’t going out there to say something about this absurd action.  So that was just ridiculous.  It was a farce.

I’ll say something about Anthony Swarzak.  I give him credit for limiting us to three runs and, for six frames, seriously engaging Beckett in a pitcher’s duel in only his second career start.  Ultimately we won but from the way we were playing, that was to be expected.  We made Swarzak work, and that’s key because he’s a young guy who hasn’t reached his maximum endurance.  Long at-bats made him throw more pitches, which tired him out and which allowed us to see more of him and adapt to him quickly and effectively.  It’s the classic situation of not having much luck against a starter, so you wear him out and wait him out, and eventually he’ll break, you’ll figure him out, and/or you’ll get into the bullpen.  The other thing is that he had to watch Beckett every half-inning from the dugout.  That’s not necessarily a good thing.  For a young kid to watch a pitcher like that work can put incredible pressure on him to match that pitcher fastball for fastball.  And that just wasn’t going to happen.

Ron Coomer partnered with Don Orsillo in the booth last night.  Apparently Coomer played for Tito when he managed Double-A which, according to the good man himself, makes him feel old.  Small world.  Tito even managed Michael Jordan in 1994.

And just like that, we’ve played our last game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.  It’s been a great ride.  Next year, the Twins will have a new park, outdoors, with real grass.  I’m a purist in that regard, because I’m not a fan of turf.  When someone slides into a base, I want to see dirt stains, and when an outfielder dives for a catch, I want to see grass stains.  But leaving an old park is a difficult thing to do.  Especially when you’ve played well there, and that goes for the Twins and Red Sox.  Unfortunately for the Twins and fortunately for the Red Sox, our last contest in the Metrodome ended with us showing them who’s boss.  Not that I’m complaining.

Chris O’Meara
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Not much wheeling and dealing went on for us this past week.  I mean the rumor mill never stops, but Theo’s been biding his time like he always does.  And in the end it all works out.  We’ve hired Tim Bogar as our new first base coach, we’ve extended arbitration to Tek, and we’re about to sign Japanese righty Junichi Tazawa.  The Tigers may be interested in Alex Cora as a low-budget option for shortstop, the Angels are pursuing CC Sabathia instead of Mark Teixeira, and Clay Buchholz seems to have rebounded nicely in the Arizona Fall League.  Let’s hope he’ll have his act together for ’09, because his ’08 was just abysmal.  I don’t even want to talk about it.  There was a stretch where he was like a younger version of Mike Timlin: as soon as he steps on the mound, it’s a loss.  So I hope he’s back to his ’07 form, preferably something reminiscent of, oh, I don’t know, say a certain game against the Baltimore Orioles in September?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to thank our team for giving back.  The Red Sox do more in the community than any other team I’ve seen.  I’ve said this before, and here are some stats to prove it.  We raised $4,800,000 at the 2008 Jimmy Fund telethon.  Since its creation in 2002, the Red Sox Foundation has raised $29 million.  The Red Sox Foundation’s current project is a rehabilitative assistance program for war veterans at the Brockton Veterans Administration Medical Center, and players participate routinely in this program.  During the offseason, our activities extend not just to communities in Boston but also to communities in New England, across the country, and across the world.  For example, David Ortiz will host his golf classic in the Dominican Republic.  So far this year, Red Sox players, managers, and coaches have participated in 541 community activities, setting a new club record.  Let’s keep in mind here that participation in these activities is done after hours, so we’re talking thousands of off-the-clock hours of volunteer work.  That’s a lot of hours.  And 369 of those 541 activities took place during the regular and playoff seasons.  As far as other individual players go, Youk hosted an entertainment event at for his Hits for Kids Charity.  Josh Beckett and Manny Delcarmen each held bowling tournaments.  Mikey Lowell hosted a dance competition in which almost all of the players participated.  Tim Wakefield works year-round with many different charities and devotes many of his efforts to children with illnesses.  So as you can see, the reasons to be a part of Red Sox Nation just keep coming.  Hearing something like this just makes you really proud.

In other news, the Pats defeated the Dolphins, 48-28, but were then crushed by the Steelers, 33-10.  But if there’s one team in Boston that needs talking about, it’s the Bruins.  Unquestionably the Bruins.  Their last two games were wins: a 7-2 burial of the Islanders followed the next day by a 4-1 burial of the Red Wings.  And that last one is pretty important, because we all thought the Red Wings were stacked when they landed Marian Hossa in the off-season.  Turns out they’re beatable; who knew? And not only that, we’re 8-1-1 in our last ten games, and our 36 points tops the Eastern Conference and is second in the NHL, only five behind San Jose’s 41.  We’re playing outstanding hockey so far this season.  Outstanding.  Sometimes I can’t even believe what I’m seeing.  The veterans are as sharp as ever, and the young guys are really stepping it up.  After years of frustration we’ve got a team that can potentially win the Stanley Cup.  Imagine that; the Stanley Cup comes back to Boston.  It’s got a nice ring to it.

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We’re getting there.  The rumors, the meetings, the interviews, the renovations, the big transactions; it’s all getting underway.  Paul Byrd has filed for free agency, but even better, so has Mike Timlin.  Finally! No more guaranteed losses! He gave us some good years, but I think it’s safe to say those years are over.  If I were you, I wouldn’t expect to see him in a Red Sox uniform next season.  AJ Burnett has officially opted out of his deal with the Blue Jays, and as I’ve said many times I think we should go ahead and sign the man.  He’s awesome.  He gets under our skin every time we bat against him; imagine how great it would be if he did that for us rather than to us.  Other free agents include Teixeira, of course; CC Sabathia, who’s waiting to hear from the Yankees (why he’d want to play for New York, I have no idea); Manny, who’s received an offer from the Dodgers; Matt Holliday; and Jake Peavy, who has a no-trade clause directed specifically at the American League.  I’m telling you, a great pitcher like him should not be pitching in the NL, and the fact that he’s the one who’s choosing to stay there baffles me.  I know an NL team just won the World Series, but I stand by my theory that the NL is basically quadruple-A.  Tek and Pudge could clean up this offseason.  It’s a bad market for catchers, and they’re both All-Stars.  They may’ve just had bad years, but when catchers are scarce you take what you can get.  Theo and Scott Boras have already started discussing Tek.  In true Red Sox fashion, a lot of the discussion’s being kept under wraps, but the first hurdle seems to be the length of the deal.

One other thing I’d like to mention about Manny.  Theo’s still answering for him.  At the GM meetings in California, he was asked if he’s concerned that the Yankees might pursue Manny.  This was his absolutely perfect answer:

I’m sure they’ll make good moves, but we don’t plan our off-season strategy around what they’re trying to do. We’ll deal with the Yankees when we play them 19 times during the season.

Of course, he’s exactly right.  We make the moves we make, and if we happen to trample New York in the process, it’s just icing on the cake.  We don’t make the Yankees the center of our attention like the Yankees do with us.  We just play our game, and I’d say that’s been working really well for us lately.

Renovations in Fenway Park continue, and the Red Sox brass have done an excellent job of improving the park, enhancing the fan’s experience there, and making it viable for years to come.  The infield seats have been torn out, and they’ll be replaced.  The wooden grandstand seats are being refurbished but will not be replaced; they’ll remain the oldest and smallest seats in baseball.  The 383 right field roof box seats, which were installed in the 1980s and deemed temporary, are being replaced with 560 permanent seats.  The park should look great next season; it always does.  And the Red Sox brass have officially requested the 2012 All-Star Game.  In 2012, Fenway Park, America’s oldest and most beloved ballpark, will be one hundred years old.  If we do get the chance to host that All-Star Game, you better believe it’ll be a celebration you definitely don’t want to miss.  We last hosted it in 1999, but we’re due again, and I think we’ll get it.  I can’t wait! In the meantime, 2009 will go to St. Louis and 2010 to Angels Stadium in Anaheim.

The Mariners are looking for a new manager, and either Brad Mills, DeMarlo Hale, or John Farrell are expected to interview for the job.  While I wish the interviewee the best of luck, I hope all three stay in Boston.  They’ve done a phenomenal job for us, and no doubt they’ll continue their good work in the future.  They’d be difficult to replace.  We know for sure that Theo, our resident baseball genius and in my opinion the best general manager in the league, will be back for seasons to come and that he’s having a blast.

On December 6, Big Papi will host his first annual David Ortiz Celebrity Golf Classic in the Dominican Republic.  Proceeds will benefit the David Ortiz Children’s Fund.  I’m telling you, as a team and as individuals the Red Sox do more in the community than any other club I’ve seen.  It’s just another of the many reasons why I’m proud to be a member of Red Sox Nation.

Major League Baseball could be doing away with coin flips to determine who hosts division and Wild Card tiebreakers; the general managers are suggesting that the decision be based on wins and losses.  The problem with this is that the site wouldn’t be determined until after the final game of the season.  Any proposals made by the general managers would have to be approved by the owners and the players’ association, though, so we’ll see what happens.

Jacoby Ellsbury finished third in the voting for the American League Rookie of the Year.  Evan Longoria won it, and Alexei Ramirez was the runner-up.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t surprise me; Jacoby’s ’08 wasn’t exactly on par with his spectacular ’07, even though his ’07 was very good.  I think if he won ROY it would’ve been on steals alone.  He finished the season with fifty successful thefts.

And finally, last but most definitely not least, a big congratulations to Dustin Pedroia the Destroyah for earning his first career Gold Glove at second base! In my opinion, it was no contest.  In 155 games started and 157 games played, the kid made only six errors, recorded 448 assists, turned 101 double plays, and recorded a fielding percentage of .992.  If that’s not a Gold Glove all the way, I don’t know what is.  So a round of applause and a pat on the back for Dusty, the best second baseman in the league, the next second baseman to win MVP, and, in my opinion, one of the best second basemen in history.

In other news, the Patriots solidified their first-place status and extended their winning streak against the Bills to ten games yesterday with a 20-10 victory.  The Bruins are currently in first place in their division as well.  I’m telling you, they have been on an absolute roll lately; they’ve won five of their last six games.  Who knows? This could be the year a Stanley Cup finally comes to Boston.

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Sadly, for us, baseball season has come to a close a little too early, and usually when we’re in this situation it’s because something’s not right and we need to fix it.  We ask ourselves what we should do now.  But this year it’s a little different.  The Rays barely hung onto the division and barely made it to the World Series.  We don’t have debilitating flaws.  It makes you wonder how unstoppable we’d be if we hadn’t had to battle injuries and late major trades.

And that’s just it.  We don’t have that many offseason decisions to make because, for all intents and purposes, we’re already golden for next year.  Just like in 2006 and 2007, the injuries piled themselves on this year but next year it’ll be smooth sailing in the health department.  The new guys have gotten used to the city, and now that they’ve tasted October baseball they’ll want more.

But there are still some issues that need to be addressed.  Issue number one: Jason Varitek.  We love the man.  He’s our captain for a reason.  He’s a mentor to the younger players, he handles the pitchers very well, he’s caught a record four no-hitters, he’s a leader on and off the field, and he still has his moments.  Those moments, unfortunately, are becoming more and more sporadic though, and it’s not clear that the offense can afford to simply consider him an “easy out” with the assumption that he won’t hit anything and then be pleasantly surprised when he does.  It’s true that the position of catcher isn’t known for its offensive production, but it’s also true that catchers who can hit do exist.  I see three solutions here.  One is to give Tek something like a three-year deal and also take on a young catcher, and have Tek and the new catcher split playing time, such that the new guy learns from Tek and Tek becomes his mentor and teaches him everything he knows.  That way, when Tek reaches the end of his deal, we’ll have a Tek, Jr. to take the reigns.  A second solution would just be to have Kevin Cash fill the role of Tek, Jr.  He’s got a great arm and his offense has potential.  The third option I’m seeing is to keep Tek, not as a player, but as a kind of coach for the pitchers.  Sort of an assistant to John Farrell.  That way the pitchers as well as the rest of the clubhouse can benefit from his presence and leadership without having to feel pressure to compensate for his lack of offensive production.

Another concern will obviously be Mikey Lowell.  He’s set to have surgery on his right hip soon.  He’s getting old.  He spent most of the second half on the DL, and when he did play this season, he didn’t show signs of being as dominant as he was last season.  I’m not saying his outstanding 2007 was a fluke.  I’m just saying that it’s going to be more and more unlikely that his numbers will be comparable in the future.  We might want to consider taking on another starting third baseman, just in case.  This will allow Mark Kotsay to go back to being a spare outfielder, which is something else we need, and it’ll allow Youk to go back to first and get himself another Gold Glove.

I’d like to strongly suggest that we make Jed Lowrie our starting shortstop permanently.  Since Nomar we haven’t had stability or reliable offensive production from the shortstop position, and signing Julio Lugo to a five-year contract was supposed to take care of that.  We all know how that turned out.  Ironically, he came over from Tampa Bay, and little did we know that it would be a complete disaster.  The differences between the defensive and offensive abilities of Jed Lowrie and Julio Lugo are absolutely staggering, and after spending so much time watching such talent and potential between second and third base I don’t think I can go back to watching error after error and out after out.  I’d also like to strongly suggest that we keep Alex Cora and Sean Casey on board for 2009.  Alex Cora is a great utility guy, and Sean Casey hits line drives like nobody’s business.

In terms of pitching, it’s difficult to say.  Theo Epstein isn’t worried about Beckett, and after his most recent postseason start I think that’s justified.  Next year we’re in line to have three aces on our staff: Beckett, Dice-K, and Lester.  We’ll have Wake, too, and the good news is that as a knuckleballer the quality of his pitching won’t decline.  (The quality of his pitching at present is a completely different story.) But we’re going to need a reliable fifth starter.  I’d like to see Justin Masterson fill that spot.  He made a handful of starts this year and rocked in all of them.  As for the bullpen, let me state first that Mike Timlin should retire immediately.  I don’t even want to count how many games he lost for us this year, and don’t even get me started on Game 2 of the ALCS.  Even if he doesn’t retire, we’ll need at least one more reliever, two if Masterson does go back to being a starter.  The more airtight our relief is, the more invincible we’ll be.  Think about it.  A pitching staff that includes Dice-K, Beckett, Lester, Papelbon, Okajima, and Delcarmen is pretty formidable already.  Some additions and improvements could make us lights-out for the full nine innings.

In other news, Big Papi’s wrist is fine and he won’t need surgery in the offseason.  Tito, however, is scheduled to have surgery on his back.  I give him a lot of credit.  Boston is a tough place to manage, and he makes it look easy.  He is officially one of the greatest managers in the game.  The Patriots completely decimated the Broncos and won on Monday night by a score of 41-7.  And after six games, the Bruins are third in their division with a record of 2-1-3 for a total of seven points in the standings.  Manny Fernandez and Patrice Bergeron are back in action this season, and Bergeron, PJ Axelsson, and Andrew Ference are this year’s assistant captains with Zdeno Chara wearing the C.  Chuck Kobasew is on the injured reserve.  The Red Sox and Patriots have been doing some serious winning lately, and it’s becoming painfully obvious that the Bruins need a Stanley Cup.

I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I congratulate the 2008 Boston Red Sox, the American League Division champions! True, our October didn’t end like it could have or should have, but remember, there’s always next year.  And there’s always last year.

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We’re barely in the playoffs at this point.  The team I saw get hammered last night was not the team I saw play ball in the regular season.  The Red Sox are so much better than that, it’s not even funny.  But here we are, after losing 13-4 at home, on the brink of elimination from October.  If we don’t win the next three games we’re out.  No World Series, no repeat, nothing.  We’re out.

Wakefield lasted just over two innings, allowing five runs on six hits, three of which were home runs, in his first postseason start this year.  I think it’s safe to say his era of dominance over Tampa Bay has come to an end.  Masterson came in and allowed a run on two hits.  Delcarmen came in and allowed five runs on two hits.  Lopez came in and was perfect for 1.2 innings, but Timlin relieved him and of course had to allow the opposition to score, giving the Rays their final two runs.  The pitching was abysmal, and the worst part is that Tito had no way to fix it.  He ran the gamut of the bullpen, and he couldn’t tamper with the rotation.  The worst is being in a sink-or-swim situation and having to watch your team sink because you’ve run out of ways to help them swim.

The offense didn’t do much.  Nobody in the lineup had a multi-hit night.  RBIs for Cash, who homered in his first 2008 postseason start, and Pedroia.  Two RBIs for Youk.  No steals, no errors (by the way, Tampa Bay made three).

We absolutely can not jump the gun here, though.  Consider 2004.  And consider just last year in 2007.  Everyone thought there’s no way we could make a huge comeback again but we did it and went on to win it all.  So it’s absolutely possible.  But there are some reasons why it’s slightly more unlikely this year.  Papi is slumping big time, Lowell is out, Manny Ramirez is way out, and Josh Beckett is not right.  All of this indicates that if we hope to get anywhere this October we need the entire lineup to step up.  We can’t expect Papi to carry us all the way.  And the pitchers need to step up, too.  I mean right now we look like we shouldn’t even be here.

The day off today is a godsend, no question about that.  Tomorrow it’ll be Shields at Dice-K.  We need this one.  No, seriously.  We really do.

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