Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Maple Leafs’

We have avoided arbitration yet again by locking down one-year deals with Carp, Tazawa, and Jonathan Herrera.

The big baseball news lately is the expansion of instant replay.  Obviously, this has been a hot issue since it became an issue.  Both sides of the debate have been pretty vocal in presenting their opinions, but I think it’s interesting and significant that the instant replay expansion was approved unanimously at the Owners Meeting, after which the Players Association and Umpires Association gave the go-ahead.

Starting this season, in addition to the review of close-call home runs, managers will have one challenge per game.   The manager will be able to communicate with someone monitoring video being the scenes so he can make a decision about whether or not to use a challenge.  As an extension of that, camera angles in all the parks now have to be standardized.

The has to verbalize his challenge to the umpire in a very detailed manner, so the umpire knows which parts of the play are being disputed, and in a timely manner, so the umpire doesn’t call for disciplinary action.  If it’s denied, he’s used it up.  If it’s approved, it’s replaced by another new challenge, but he can’t make more than two challenges.  If he doesn’t use it before the seventh inning, it expires, and after the seventh inning, the umpire can elect to institute a review.  All reviews will be conducted at the Majors media headquarters in New York, where four-umpire crews will be on hand, swapped out by rotation.  Field umps would communicate with them via a headset behind home plate, and their decision would be final.

And, last but not least, now replays can be displayed on jumbotrons inside the park.

So most plays will now be potentially subject to review.  As we all know, sometimes the lack of instant replay has burned us bad, and sometimes it’s helped us out.  But that’s true for any team because it’s been the nature of the game; everything tends to balance in the end.  Now, we’ll have to see whether instant replay balances things from the get-go.  It’s just going to be a huge change.  I mean, this is historic.  Baseball has stayed the same for most of its existence when it comes to instant replay, in part because the technology didn’t exist in the early and middle years.  Everything evolves, but we’re just going to wait and see what happens.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Ducks, 2-5, and Kings, 2-4, but won a close one against the Sharks, one-zip, before losing to the Leafs, 4-3, and besting the Stars, 4-2.  And the Pats, of course, bested the Colts by a healthy score of 43-22.  Onward to Colorado!

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Let’s get the small stuff out of the way first.  We non-tendered Bailey and Kalish.  Also, congratulations to Lackey on a well-deserved Tony Conigliaro Award.  Not that that’s a small achievement, but it’s not disturbing and alarming like the big news of the week.

This week, we’ve had to deal with some significant departures.  This is going to be rough.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is our first departure.  He is now a Florida Marlin, having signed a deal for three years and twenty-one million dollars.  We acquired him as a veteran, and now he leaves as a veteran having helped us win the World Series.

Last year, Salty batted .273 with fourteen homers and sixty-five RBIs.  He posted a fielding percentage of .994 and a catcher’s ERA of 3.88.  But as with all great catchers, he contributed innumerable qualities like leadership and work ethic and skill with calling games and managing pitchers.  Needless to say, the last three years, including October, would have looked very different without him, and he will certainly be missed.  Salty, we thank you, and we salute you.

We welcome AJ Pierzynski, who has signed a one-year deal pending a physical.  Last year, he batted .272 with seventeen homers and seventy RBIs.  He posted a fielding percentage of .998 and a catcher’s ERA of 3.63.  He’s gritty, and he’ll fit in just fine.  We also welcome Edward Mujica, the righty reliever, who signed a two-year deal for $9.5 million.

Our other departure is different.  This isn’t someone we brought in who has now decided to leave for a three-year contract.  We say goodbye to someone we raised, who spent his entire career thus far with us, and who didn’t go to just any team.  Jacoby Ellsbury is now a New York Yankee.  It’s basically the same old story.  They lured him over there with the type of contract that only the New York Yankees could provide: seven years and $153 million.  So the Evil Empire offers these contracts like it’s made of money, since it basically is, and no other team can compete with that.  I mean, it’s not like we haven’t seen this before.  A star center fielder who bats leadoff and makes spectacular catches and helped us win the World Series and who is a Boston icon leaving for the dark side; where have I seen that before?

It’s just awful.  Our job is to raise players in the farm so they can stay here.  Out job is not to raise players in the farm so they can win a ring and then just leave and give their services to the highest bidder.  That was never what baseball was supposed to be about.  But that’s the reality in which we and the game find ourselves now.

It’s not our fault that we choose to be a responsible team that conducts itself in a responsible way.  A contract worth that many years and that much money does not allow for much flexibility, which is what you need if you’re going to win.  Think about our performance over the course of the past decade. Think about our performance over the course of the past year, about the acquisitions we made last offseason and where they led us in October.  We should feel good about our success and about the business model and strategies that got us there.  Hindering our flexibility by committing almost a whole decade’s worth of years and millions of dollars in three digits has not, historically, been one of those strategies.  That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us. It means there’s something wrong with them.

Let’s take a moment to celebrate Ellsbury’s achievements in Boston.  He’s been hurt, but he has always powered through in true dirt-dog fashion, never shying away from making the tough plays no matter what mind kind of pain waited as a consequence.  In his career, he’s bagged .297 with sixty-five homers and 314 RBIs.  He has led the American League three times in steals.  And he made only three errors last year.  He helped us win not one but two World Series championships, making his presence  seen and felt in both.  I don’t think we’ll ever forget the way he patrolled Fenway’s center field with ease and made it look as easy as it really was for him to make catches that didn’t even seem to be humanly possible.

His seven years are up, and now he’s joined the darkness. Ellsbury, we thank you, and we salute you.  But we feel disappointed, insulted, and betrayed.

Fortunately, Napoli is coming back.  So there’s that sign of hope and optimism.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Habs, 2-1, but beat the Penguins, 3-2, and the Leafs, 5-2.  The Pats just barely, and I mean that in every sense of the phrase, eked out a win against the Browns, 27-26.  It really went down to the wire.  Seriously.

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Congratulations to Papi for reeling in his sixth Silver Slugger, a very well-deserved award indeed! Pedroia has been named the AL Defensive Player of the Year, and John is up for AL Manager of the Year.

Other than that, it’s still really early in the offseason, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens as things start heating up.

In other news, the Pats walked all over the Steelers, 55-31.  The Bruins lost to the Stars, 3-2 in a shootout but went on to beat the Panthers, 4-1, and the Leafs, 3-1.

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It is an unfortunate sight indeed when a pitcher falls victim to the ugly specter of the one bad inning.  In the beginning, it looked as if Tampa Bay would be no stranger to this phenomenon.  In the end, however, they had the last laugh.  Their one bad inning was our one good inning; our one worse inning was their one better inning.

The game began on such a high note.  Ellsbury got hit by a pitch.  That, in and of itself, was obviously not the high note.  That was an unfortunate accident.  His getting on base was the high note.

Victorino then struck out, Pedroia singled, and then it was Papi’s turn.  He got two fastballs.  The first, a two-seam, he took for a ball.  The second, a four-seam, he sent beyond the right field fence.  It was a straight-shot rocket; if it had stayed in the park, it would have been one of those hard-hit line drives.  The ball couldn’t wait to get out of the park.  With that one swing, we scored three runs in the first inning alone.

It was the first and last time we scored.

We went down in order in the first, second, and third.  Drew doubled and Ellsbury walked in the fourth, giving us runners at the corners with two out, but all hope for a rally died out when Victorino flied out.  Pedroia walked to lead off the sixth, and Drew and Ellsbury both walked in the seventh.  But we didn’t turn those opportunities into rallies.  We went down in order in the eighth and the ninth.

Tampa Bay’s experience was about the same.  The only difference was that they scored two more runs than we did.

The Rays went down in order in the first and second.  Lackey gave up a single, a double, and a walk to load the bases with two out but bore down to end the inning on a groundout.  Lackey’s poison of choice was the fourth inning.  He gave up two consecutive singles and an RBI double before recording the inning’s first out with a strikeout.  But he was right back at it with a two-run single followed by another single, a flyout, and a second two-run single.  The fourth ended almost exactly as the third had: with Ben Zobrist grounding out on an off-speed pitch at the end of a five-pitch at-bat.

I’ll say something else about that second two-run single.  Pedroia and Napoli both had their eyes on it, but Napoli had that ball.  At least, he should have had it.  He should have had it, the game should have tied at three, and we should have forced it into extras if necessary and eventually won.  The fact that Napoli missed that catch and let the ball drop is egregious.  Make no mistake, folks.  It happened because of the roof.  That white roof is a criminal backdrop against which to try to pick out and track a baseball.  It’s awful.  This is not the first time this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last.  But it should not be an issue.  Players, not ballparks, play ballgames.  And I do not fault Pedroia’s decision not to touch it; if it rolled foul, it’s possible that we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.  He had no way to know that the ball would stay fair.  In the end, however, he made a good effort, but there was nothing that could have been done at that point.

One out and one double into the fifth, Miller relieved Lackey; the frame ended with a strikeout and a caught thief.  After he allowed a single to lead off the sixth, Mortensen came in and gave up a walk but nothing else.  Two flyouts into the seventh, Breslow came on and ended that inning, recorded the first two of the next, and gave up a double.  Wilson came in and ended the eighth.

The final score was 5-3.  We spent three and a half innings under the assumption that it was us who would be celebrating the deleterious effects of the one bad inning.  We could not have been more wrong.  This game was essentially a pitcher’s duel.  The question not only was who would crack first but also who would crack worse.  We scored first but lost.

In other news, in one of the most suspenseful nailbiters I’ve seen on the ice lately, we have emerged victorious! We vanquished the Leafs, 5-4, and are moving on to the Rangers! Both teams each scored a goal in the first period.  The Leafs took the lead by one in the second and scored two in the third, but we scored three to tie it up, and Toronto fell in sudden death.  Wow.  I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to make quick work of the Rangers, that’s for sure.

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We really are in the middle of quite the slump.  This team looks completely different from the one that had the best record in the Majors.  Our record is now 22-16; if we continue at our current rate, we’ll have to start winning just to stay at .500, and we all remember what that feels like.  We got swept by the Rangers; at least, at the time, we felt like the Rangers were a good match.  But Minnesota’s pitching staff has one of the lowest strikeout counts in the Majors, and Toronto’s pitchers are mediocre at best and their hitters swing at almost anything.  We are losing games we should not be losing.  Not that there’s ever a game that we should lose, but still.  Speaking of the Jays specifically, it would have been very nice to escape the series without allowing them to hit a slew of home runs.  Sure, we hadn’t been able to win by doing that, but at least we, for the most part, eliminated their chief mode of attack.

Dempster was not so fortunate.  He didn’t keep the ball down.  His heat is more lukewarm than anything else, so you can see why location would have been the key to a successful performance on his part.  He lasted only five innings and gave up six runs on seven hits while walking one and striking out three.  And he allowed three home runs.

It started in the second.  He gave up a single, a double, and a three-run home run with two out.  He gave up a solo shot to lead off the third, and he issued a walk and then allowed a two-run home run in the fourth.  It would have been worse had Victorino gotten hurt trying to haul the ball in for an out.  He tried to catch it right at the bullpen fence but fell flat-out; he left the game in the seventh with some stiffness.  Dempster gave up another solo shot in the fifth.  On a splitter.  If Dempster is anything, he’s a splitter pitcher, so the fact that he missed his spot with a splitter says something.  Dempster, overall, has been pitching very well, at least for him.  But, yes, all of his runs scored via the long ball, which is exactly how the Jays like it.

Miller came on for the sixth and gave up a solo shot on his third pitch.  After recording the inning’s first out, he gave up a single, issued a walk, and was replaced by Mortensen.  Mortensen gave up a successful sac fly followed by a two-run home run.  He had a one-two-three seventh, and Breslow had a one-two-three eighth, making him our only pitcher to not allow any runs in the game.  Jose De La Torre came in for the ninth and gave up a double, a walk, an RBI single, and an RBI double play.

All in all, that’s twelve runs.  By the time we got on the board in the fourth, we were already down by five.  Napoli answered the Jays’ power with his own, smashing a solo shot on the second pitch of his leadoff at-bat in the fourth.  And he hit it to one of the deepest parts of the park.  It was a nice piece of hitting; if only such a phenomenon were more common for us.

We didn’t score again until the sixth, when Pedroia singled and scored on a sac fly by Nava.  We went down in order in the seventh, and then Ciriaco hit a home run.  It was also a solo shot, and he also led off an inning.  It was the second pitch of his at-bat, also a fastball.  But he hit his beyond the Monster.  Either way, it was still also a nice piece of hitting that we also could have used more of.

Then Pedroia flied out, and Napoli singled, Nava walked, and Gomes got hit.  Just like that, the bases were loaded.  It was Salty’s turn to bat, but a force out was all he could muster; Napoli scored our last run of the game.  Napoli went three for four; the only other person to have a multi-hit game was Pedroia, who went two for five.  Napoli alone scored half of our runs.

So the Jays finally got what they wanted: a win via the long ball.  Dempster, a single pitcher, accounted for half the runs they scored, while the relief corps divided the other half among themselves.  The final score was 12-4; we scored less than half the number of runs that Toronto scored.  We left eight on base and were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position, so our dismal streak of being completely ineffective in situations when we need effectiveness most continues.  Dempster took the loss, but it was a team effort.

In other news, the Bruins got shut out by the Leafs, two-zip.  So it all comes down to tonight.

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You know, Lester pitches all the time.  And I watch him pitch, and I know that he’s a human being.  But it’s kind of hard to reconcile that fact with what you see him do.  He’s a human being, but he pitches like he’s superhuman.  Like pitching is the easiest thing in the world.  Like it’s no big deal to be truly amazing at throwing one of the best cut fastballs in all of baseball.

Yesterday, we almost witnessed something spectacular.  We almost couldn’t believe our eyes even though we knew that we were watching every second of it.  We almost stared incredulously as Jon Lester tossed the second no-hitter of his career.

But forget about the no-hitter.  What Jon Lester did yesterday almost left that in the dust.  We almost saw Jon Lester pitch a perfect game.

Maicer Izturis doubled in the sixth.  There were two outs, and it was the first pitch of the at-bat: an eighty-seven mile-per-hour changeup.  The ball ended up in left field, and Lester’s no-hitter evaporated just like that.  It would have been even more painful had it come in the ninth, and there are pitchers who could tell you what that’s like.  That would have been completely devastating.  But this wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either.  It was awful.  It was the only blemish on Lester’s line for the entirety of the game.  That was the one thing standing between Lester and a perfect game.  At least, had it been a walk, he would still have been able to pick up a no-no.  But it was a hit, and both bids were crushed instantly.

Thank about that for a minute, though.  Lester faced twenty-eight batters during the game.  That’s it.  Twenty-eight batters.  That means that he didn’t give up a hit or issue a walk before that double, and he didn’t give up a hit or issue a walk after it.  It’s not uncommon for pitchers who’ve just had their no-hitter bids broken to implode.  But Lester didn’t do that.  It was like nothing happened.  It didn’t affect him at all.  To prove it, he retired the next ten batters he faced, just like he retired his first seventeen.

I’m going to take this inning by inning because I want very much to relive the moments.  Needless to say, the sixth inning was the only inning in which Lester faced more than three batters.  In the first, Lester induced two flyouts and a groundout.  In the second, he induced two groundouts and a swinging strikeout.  In the third, he induced a lineout, a swinging strikeout, and a groundout.  In the fourth, he induced two groundouts and a flyout.  In the fifth, he induced two groundouts and a popout.  In the sixth, aside from the double, he induced a lineout, a flyout, and a swinging strikeout.  In the seventh, he induced two groundouts and a popout.  In the eighth, he induced a flyout, a groundout, and a lineout.  In the ninth, he issued two called strikeouts and a groundout.  Sensing a pattern?  The Jays have homered a lot this year, but Lester never let the ball get off the ground.

He threw six pitches in the first, thirteen in the second, twelve each in the third and fourth, fifteen in the fifth, twenty in the sixth, fourteen in the seventh, seven in the eighth, and nineteen in the ninth.  To close the deal on his strikeouts, he used changeups, sinkers, and mostly, of course, cut fastballs.  His cut fastball was absolutely lethal yesterday.  It was the epitome of everything a cut fastball should be, and Lester was the epitome of everything a pitcher should be.  He put the exact amount of movement on the ball, his release point was consistent, and his command, efficiency, and control were unparalleled.

I suppose that the seventh inning is really when it starts to occur to everyone that a no-hitter may be in progress.  If the hit came in the sixth inning and if there were more afterwards, then it wouldn’t seem like such a big deal; no-hitting the Jays through six would have just been Lester being Lester, an impressive feat for any other pitcher but business as usual for him.  The fact that Lester didn’t let the hit get to him at all, in any way whatsoever, is part of why Lester’s start yesterday was so absolutely amazing.

Obviously, we won; it’s difficult not to win when your pitcher shuts out the opposing team for a full nine innings.  We got on the board until the second, when Nava walked and scored when Middlebrooks reached on a force attempt.  We turned the order over in the seventh; Ellsbury, Victorino, and Pedroia hit back-to-back-to-back singles to lead it off, scoring one.  Two strikeouts later, Nava and Salty hit back-to-back doubles, scoring three.

And that was all we needed.  It was a clean, crisp, five-zip win.  I will say this about the offense.  We had a runner on base in every single inning but clearly didn’t score during all of them and certainly didn’t take advantage of a prime opportunity to really mount a lopsided outcome.  Instead, we left fourteen men on base, and we went 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position before Pedroia singled in the seventh.

But this is Lester’s moment now.  He threw 118 pitches in the whole game, a season high and a much-needed effort to give the bullpen the day off.  I am so crushingly disappointed that Lester didn’t get the perfect game.  So epically crushingly disappointed.  But it would be a disservice to what Lester did achieve to continue bemoaning that fact.  At the end of the day, it was a clean, crisp, five-zip win, and Lester mowed them down like grass.

In other news, the Bruins dropped one to the Leafs, 2-1.

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Boy, things against the Twins have gone from good to bad to worse.

Allen Webster started, and it was not pretty.  At no point did he possess even a modicum of command or control.  He struck out the first batter he faced but then issued two consecutive walks, an RBI double, a successful sac fly, and a two-run home run.  He gave up a solo shot to lead off the second.  He then issued a walk, gave up a double, and got the inning’s first out.  After that came another successful sac fly and another RBI double.

John had no other choice.  He had to take Wilson out, but the bullpen has been overworked lately.  He didn’t have anyone else to turn to.  So he turned to a starter.  Doubront relieved Wilson, but he was not an improvement.  He issued a walk and gave up two singles and a double that resulted in four runs total.  Only one of those was inherited and therefore attributed to Wilson.

Doubront gave up a single in the third but no runs scored.  He wasn’t so lucky in the fourth.  He gave up two singles and a walk that loaded the bases.  He was fortunate to escape that jam with only one run scoring, which at least resulted from a double play.  He gave up a double to lead off the fifth; two outs later, he gave up an RBI single followed by another single and an RBI double.  Amazingly, he had a one-two-three sixth and gave up two singles after a runner got on base thanks to a throwing error by Ciriaco, all without allowing any runs in the seventh.

I suppose we tried our best to hold our own in this one.  It wasn’t a slugfest for us, but we did score a quantity of runs that I would deem sufficient to win any ballgame.  Any pitcher should be able to win with the number of runs that we scored, and the fact that we didn’t shows that the pitchers really dropped the ball this time.  Miller pitched the best inning of the game: the eighth, in which the Twins went down in order on three strikeouts, two swinging and one looking.  Tazawa came on for the ninth and ended the game similarly to how it started: with runs.  He gave up two consecutive singles and hit a batter to load the bases.  And then he gave up a successful sac fly.  Okay, so it was only one run, but still.

Ellsbury struck out to open the first, but Victorino and Pedroia then hit back-to-back singles.  Papi struck out, and Napoli walked to load the bases.  And then something really amazing happened.  It was something so beautiful and so rare that you need to watch replays of it to convince yourself that it really happened but also just to see it again.  Oh, man, it was awesome.  It was awesome, awesome, awesome.  Gomes stepped up to the plate and took a slider for a ball.  Then he got a four-seam at ninety miles per hour that he really, really liked.  He laid into it with all he had.  The ball sailed beyond the Monster, and Gomes sailed right into a mob waiting at home plate.  Ladies and gentlemen, Jonny Gomes hit a grand slam.

And then Salty doubled and scored on a single by Drew.  And that was the first inning.  We scored a grand total of five runs on two swings, and of course we scored four of those on only one swing.  I maintain that we should be able to win a game in which we hit a grand slam.  We deserve to win any game in which we hit a grand slam.  That’s the sad part.  We’d have had to score the equivalent of at least three grand slams to win this one.

With two out in the second, Victorino hit a solo shot.  The count was 2-0, and he got a four-seam that he liked as well, which he also hit beyond the Monster.

Other than that, Salty singled in the third, Ciriaco and Ellsbury worked back-to-back walks to lead off the fourth, Napoli singled to lead off the fifth, and we went down in order in the sixth.  Pedroia and Napoli both singled in the seventh, and a sac fly by Gomes brought Pedroia home.  We had a repeat performance in the eighth; Drew and Ciriaco both singled, and a sac fly by Nava brought Drew home.  Needless to say, we went down in order in the ninth.

In the end, we lost by the ugly score of 15-8.  No baseball team should lose after scoring eight runs, and yet despite those eight runs, twelve hits, and four walks, we lost to a team that scored almost twice as many runs as we scored.  We batted .300 with runners in scoring position, four of our hits were for extra bases, and let’s not forget about the grand slam.  But when your pitching staff gives up fifteen runs on twenty hits, there’s really not much you can do about that; eight runs should always be considered sufficient, and if we’d happened to score more than fifteen runs, then that’s just great.  But it shouldn’t have to be essential.

In other news, the B’s beat the Leafs, 4-3.  We now lead the series, 3-1.

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