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Posts Tagged ‘World Series’

Welcome back, Jacoby Ellsbury! And just in time, too.  I’m telling you, I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.  We’ve played so well without him; imagine what we can do now that he’s back.  He looks comfortable, controlled, and, most importantly, very, very hungry.

Ellsbury hit his seventh pitch, the seventh pitch of the game, for a single.  Then Victorino singled, Pedroia grounded into a force out, Papi doubled in both of the baserunners, Nava lined out, and Papi scored on a single by Salty.  And with two outs in the third, Nava singled and scored on a double by Salty.

Things got powerful in the fourth when Peavy actually doubled, which was so cool, and Ellsbury walked, and Victorino went yard on a full count with one out.  It was a monster of a home run all the way out to left for three runs.  Salty singled to lead off the fifth, and then Drew doubled, and it was Middlebrooks’s turn to turn it on to right field.  For him, it was a slider, the seventh pitch of the at-bat.

And last but not least, the eighth.  Victorino singled, Pedroia flied out, Snyder got hit, and Nava singled to load the bases.  Salty singled in Victorino to score a run and keep the bases loaded.  Drew popped out, and then Middlebrooks was at it again.  He took a fastabll for a strike, fouled off a curveball and another fastball, and got a curveball that missed.  But Middlebrooks picked up on it and made the Rockies pay.  We were already well on our way to burying the Rockies under a mountain of runs (pun intended).  But when that ball ended up beyond the left field fence, the deal was officially sealed.  Four runs.  One grand slam.  Epic.

Unfortunately, it was kind of an off night for Peavy.  I should say it was kind of a mediocre night for Peavy.  With one out in the second, he gave up a solo shot followed by a lineout, a walk, and an RBI double.  Then in the third, he gave up two singles and a walk to load the bases with nobody out.  One strikeout later, he gave up a successful sac fly and an RBI single.  He gave up a walk followed by an RBI double in the fifth.

Peavy’s night was over after the sixth; Tazawa pitched the seventh, Breslow pitched the eighth, and Dempster pitched the ninth.  The final score was 15-5, which is the same score with which we won Game Three of the World Series in 2007 except with five more runs for us.

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The small stuff first.  We signed Nick Punto to a two-year deal; it’s a solid signing.  He’s a scrappy player with a decent bat who’s great in the field.  He also seems to have a reputation for a good clubhouse character, which may be helpful at a time like this.  We signed Albers to a one-year deal, and we tendered Aceves, Bard, Morales, Aviles, Ellsbury, and Salty.  Rich Hill is now a free agent.  Jenks had back surgery.

Incidentally, the bid for Japanese pitching phenom Yu Darvish is rumored to be even greater than Dice-K’s bid.  He’s going to Texas.  Some say he’s better equipped to succeed here, but Dice-K has made me skeptical and bitter.

Bard is unofficially officially a starter.  I know that because we just traded Lowrie and Kyle Weiland to the Astros for Mark Melancon, a reliever who played for the Yanks in 2009 and 2010 but who closed for Houston last season.  Obviously, Lowrie is the one of those two with the higher profile.  He had phenomenal potential that was substantially hindered by injuries; there’s no escaping that fact.  The team had needs that Lowrie, as a result, was unable to fulfill; perhaps he will help the team best as trade bait.  But we won’t know that until Melancon has pitched well into the season for us.

Truth be told, I would argue that, although his stuff seems impressive enough, we don’t really know all that much about him in the context of the Major Leagues.  Last season was his third in the big show; he pitched 74.1 innings in seventy-one games, gave up five home runs, walked twenty-six batters, posted an ERA of 2.78, and struck out sixty-six.  His WHIP was 1.22.  Last year was the first season in which he posted a save at all, and he posted twenty of them.  And he’s twenty-six years old.  From all of this, we can learn that he’s young, he’s new, and he knows absolutely nothing about what it means to close regularly for a team like the Red Sox in a city like Boston in a league like the American League in a division like the AL East.  As I said, it seems like he’s got the raw goods, but at this stage, I do not feel comfortable with him being slotted as our regular closer right off the bat (pun not intended), hands-down, no questions asked.  Throw in the fact that he had major surgery on his right elbow early in his career, and there are definitely some doubts.

Then again, the surgery was a few years ago, and Paps at one time was also untested, and so is Bard as a closer.  They have absolutely electrifying fastballs; Melancon gets up to ninety-five miles per hour.  He also works with an effective cutter and curveball.  Brad Mills seems to think he can do it.  All I’m saying is that Melancon has some big shoes to fill in the biggest baseball town in the country.  Hold onto your hats, folks.  Hold onto your hats.

Bill James’s predictions for the coming season are in.  He has Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez, and Papi all declining in batting average; Youk’s average is slated to markedly increase since he hopefully will be starting the year more healthily than the way he finished last year.  We can expect one additional home run from Papi this year; more importantly, James’s prediction shows that Papi’s power will perpetuate.  Gonzalez and Ellsbury are also slated to go yard more frequently.  Pedroia supposedly will be stealing about ten less bases, but the reason why he probably didn’t get a strong projection all around is because he was injured.  Provided that he isn’t injured, he’s going to rock it.  Look for Gonzalez to perform better than expected as well, since he’ll be entering his sophomore season with us and since he’s now sufficiently removed from his offseason shoulder surgery.

And lastly, literally, it looks like last season really was Tek’s last season with us.  Salty has found his footing, Ryan Lavarnway is coming up, and Kelly Shoppach is coming back.  Obviously it won’t technically be official until Tek signs with another team or retires, but it looks like the year of the goodbye will continue.

We acquired Tek from the Mariners in 1997 and probably didn’t even know at the time the extent of the impact he would make upon arriving.  His entire Major League career was played here.  His development as one of the best catchers in the game was completed here.  Honestly, I always thought he would retire here, and it’s a true shame that he isn’t.  True, his last several seasons saw a marked decline in both performance on the field and leadership influence off the field, but we’re looking at the whole picture here.

Since he’s spent his entire professional baseball life in Boston, we can speak in terms of career numbers.  He is a career .256 hitter with 193 home runs, 757 RBIs, 614 walks, and a .341 OBP.  But we never expected him to be a hitting catcher.  We expected him to be a catcher, period, and what a catcher he was.  He has played in 1,488 games and started 1,372 of them.  He has picked off 10,166 batters and caught 184 stealing.  His fielding percentage is .994; last year he made only four errors, and the year before that he made none.  His catcher’s ERA is 4.17.

And obviously some of his greatest contributions go well beyond even those stellar fielding numbers.  He was a true leader in every sense of the word both on and off the field, which is why he wore the “C” on his jersey, a rarity in baseball these days.  He knew the pitchers inside and out and could adapt on the fly in any situation, which is why he caught and called four no-hitters, a Major League record.  There is also something to be said for having such a veteran on the team, especially with a collaborative and positive personality like his, to ease transitions and be a moderating force in the clubhouse.  And, of course, no tribute to Tek would be complete without mentioning the contribution of the forever-to-be-remembered A-Rod fight on July 24, 2004.  It was a turning point in the season.  It was legendary and historic.  It was epic.

To his credit, he has a Silver Slugger, a Gold Glove, three All-Star selections, two World Series championships, and the respect and affinity of Red Sox Nation.  He was the quintessential team player, and I firmly believe that his character and quality as a player and teammate warrant consideration for employment within the Red Sox organization, hopefully as a coach.  We remember what you’ve accomplished here, and we won’t forget it.  You’ve seen us at our best and worst; it’s been a phenomenal ride.  We as Red Sox Nation salute you, Tek.  And you will most definitely be missed.

In other news, the B’s shut out the Kings, womped the Sens, and crushed the Flyers in a particularly impressive six-zip shutout.  We scored our first goal in the first minute of the game and four goals in the first period alone.  We’re nursing a four-game winning streak and are tied with the Flyers at the top of the conference.

I’ll be taking a break for the next two weeks.  I expect winning signings when I get back.  Good, solid deals that will address the team’s needs.  It doesn’t have to be flashy; we’ve seen the detrimental effects of fixing what isn’t broken and being flashy for flashy’s sake around the league, and we’re not going to do that.  Just some good, solid deals and we’ll be fine.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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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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Well, we’re more or less right back to where we started.  We’re only half a game out of first place.  This past two-week stretch didn’t go nearly as well as I’d hoped; I thought that Interleague would power us way past the Yanks for good.  Apparently not.  But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s recap.

After we swept the Yankees, we played the Jays, who we also swept before heading into a day off.  We won the first game by a score of 5-1; Buchholz pitched a stellar outing and the first third of the lineup delivered in a big way.  We absolutely crushed them the following day, 16-4; Lackey’s mediocrity didn’t matter in the face of eighteen hits, five of which were for extra bases and two of which were three-run homers, one each for Tek and Papi.  The 14-1 series closer was just as decisive; Lester pitched eight innings of one-run ball, and we hit six doubles and four homers.

We completely failed to carry any of that momentum into our series opener with the Rays; if only we could have transferred some runs from those games to that one.  We were shut out, four-zip.  Beckett returned the following day to pitch a complete-game shutout, his finest performance of the season, hands down.  In fact, take away a ridiculous and nonsensical hit down the third-base line that was barely a hit at all, and he’d have had a perfect game.  Not a no-hitter.  A perfect game.  He did not issue a single walk during those nine innings.  He was absolutely remarkably brilliant.  It was the first one-hitter of his career, and in retrospect, that was one of the most infuriating hits I have ever witnessed in my entire baseball-watching life.  I really can’t stress that enough.  We ended up winning the series; Buchholz pitched a short but ultimately sweet five innings, and our four runs were enough to handle the Rays’ two.

We then went home to take on the Brewers.  We crushed, 10-4; Lackey, Gonzalez, and Papi delivered solid performances.  We lost the next day, 4-2; Lester just didn’t have it.  But we crushed in the rubber game, scoring four times as many runs to win it, 12-3; Wake pitched masterfully for eight innings.

Then the Padres came by and we crushed again, 14-5.  Andrew Miller started that one; he didn’t pick up the win, but he did have some flashes of brilliance.  We lost the series by dropping the last two.  First, we lost, 5-4; Aceves didn’t have it.  Then, we lost, 5-1; Lackey really didn’t have it.  He didn’t even make it through the fourth.

Then we had another off day, and we are now in Pittsburgh playing the Pirates.  On Friday, we lost again, 3-1.  Lester didn’t have it, and the lineup was obviously out of whack due to the fact that we were in a National League park, so the pitchers had to hit.  On Saturday, we lost again, 6-4, despite three long balls.  Thankfully we preserved a shred of dignity on Sunday with a win, 4-2, to close out the series.  Miller pitched decently, and we only had one extra-base hit; naturally it helped that the Pirates made four errors, since all but one of our runs were unearned.

Youk and Beckett got sick.  Drew has a bruised left eye.  Lowrie, Crawford, and Buchholz hit the DL.  Jenks is still on it.  Paps was given a two-game suspension as the resolution of the brawl earlier this month.  Gonzalez tallied his one thousandth career hit, a triple against the Brewers.  Ellsbury garnered American League Player of the Week honors.  Our nine-game hitting streak that ended with our series opener with the Rays was the longest winning streak in the Major Leagues to date.

When we won, we played really, really well.  It’s just that we shouldn’t have lost to those Interleague teams.  The health issues are concerning, but the best you can do is hope they’ll end quickly so that everything can return to normal and we can get back to steamrolling over the opposition.  Right now, we’re in a good place.  I don’t think we’ll be phased by any amount of health issues after what happened last year.  Would I have liked to head into Interleague firing on all cylinders? Obviously.  But at least we’d been playing easier teams.  Now, though, we’ve got the Phillies.  That series will obviously be pitched as a World Series preview.  More importantly, we’re just going to have to keep our heads down and play our game.  You have to win first in order to get to October.

In other news, for the first time since 1972, the Boston Bruins have brought the Stanley Cup to what with this championship has truly become, in every sense and on every front, Title Town.  On June 15, 2011, down to Game Seven, the Boston Bruins became the champions of the entire National Hockey League.  The final score was 4-0.  A thirty-seven-save shutout by Tim Thomas, winner of the 2011 Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophies.  Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron each scored two goals, the last of which was an empty-netter.  There was a victory parade.  There was an appearance on the Today Show and at Fenway Park.  But it really started to sink in when Zdeno Chara, winner of the Mark Messier Leadership Award, hoisted the cup.  He picked it up like it weighed nothing, and you knew every single Boston fan could see it, and not because he’s so tall.  To see that cup being held by a Bruin in Vancouver was just incredible.  It was at once unbelievable and thoroughly believable.  The glory-basking is epic.  It was one of the greatest moments in any Boston sports fan’s Boston sports life.  Congratulations to the 2010-2011 Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins! Welcome home to Title Town!

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The Giants won the World Series.  That in and of itself has absolutely nothing to do with us, other than two facts: we were one of only four teams to post a winning record against them this past season, and free agency has finally begun.

We declined options on Felipe Lopez and Bill Hall.  I like that move on Hall.  He proved to be an incredibly key asset this season with all the injuries, but it makes more sense to defer action on him until we get more of a sense of the direction we’ll be taking this winter.  We did exercise our option on Atchison.  I’m fine with that.  He’s not the best reliever in the world, but he is a reliever, and we need those.

Beltre declined his option.  That’s about the most surprising news I’ve heard in the last minute.  He’s actually not in as good of a spot as he thinks he is.  His value is up this offseason because of the awesome season he just had with us.  But one of the reasons why he had that awesome season with us is Fenway.  As soon as he signs with another team, he doesn’t play in Fenway, and his bat changes.  I’m not saying Fenway made him the great slugger he was this past year, but I’m saying it was certainly helpful.

V-Mart and Tek both filed.  V-Mart and Tek will, in all likelihood, both be back.

We picked up Papi’s option.  There’s an interesting story.  Papi spent this past week very publicly expressing a desire for an extension.  He didn’t want to return only for one year because all the speculation about the possibility of his decline would return.  I see where he’s coming from, and I believe him.  We probably will spend all of the first half of next season reading the exact same articles that say the exact same thing they said last year before, lo and behold, he returned to form and a good time was had by all.  So if I were him, I’d be tired of all that too.  At the same time, I respect Theo’s decision.  Theo has his own reasons for only wanting to lock Papi for a year, and he can’t abandon those reasons just because of the media’s obsessive tendencies.  Extensions were discussed, but the parties couldn’t agree.  Now that the option has been picked up, Papi isn’t upset about it.  He told Theo he’s cool with it, in those words.  And Theo basically said afterwards that they wouldn’t have picked up the option if Papi weren’t cool with it.  The man hasn’t been a free agent since 2002.  I don’t think he’s going to be a free agent any time soon.  He’ll have another monster year this year, and again, a good time will be had by all.

We picked up Brent Dlugach from Detroit for cash considerations or a player to be named later.  He’s basically a career minor league shortstop.  He gives us depth, and the transaction isn’t even finalized until April 15, so we get all of Spring Training to see how he does.

Meanwhile, Youk continues to be the picture of versatility and teamwork.  He said he doesn’t care where he plays – first base, third base, even shortstop – as long as the team’s needs are met and as long as he gets to stay in the infield.  I personally would love to see him just stay put at first.  He’s also excellent at third, but at first he’s a cut above everybody.

What could complicate that is the fact that the Padres are going to trade Adrian Gonzalez.  That is a verifiable fact.  And we are going to be interested.  That is another verifiable fact.  The problem is that Gonzalez wants a Teixeira-like contract: lots of money and lots of years.  The question is whether he’d be worth it, and that depends on how our offseason goes.

Finally, last but most definitely not least, we have our new pitching coach: Curt Young.  For all intents and purposes, Tito knew Farrell would be gone, so he and Farrell independently compiled their own lists of good fits.  Young was at the top of both lists, and I’m going to trust in whoever makes the top of two different lists like that.  Young leaves one sabermetrics-obsessed team for another.  He coached for the A’s for the last seven seasons but turned down their extension in favor of free agency to come here.  Last year, Oakland had the best ERA in the American League with 3.58.  During his seven years, Oakland has an AL-best ERA of 4.03 and an AL-best OPP AVG of .257.  They allowed an AL-low 1,062 home runs.  John Farrell will be sorely missed, and I really wish he’d stayed on with us because he’s basically the best, period, but if I had to pick someone to replace him, I’d agree with him and Tito.  There really isn’t much more to say.  Farrell left, we needed a pitching coach, and Young it is.  Welcome to Boston.

In other news, the Bruins had a record game this week.  We beat the Sabres, 5-2, on Wednesday in an epic contest.  But then we lost to the Caps and to the Blues in overtime, which shattered our status as undefeated on the road, which did set a new franchise record.  Thomas is undefeated in eight starts this season and is the first goalie in franchise history to be so.  We are seven, two, and one overall, second in the division behind the Habs whom we will surely soon surpass.  The Pats killed the Vikings, 28-18.

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We celebrated another anniversary this week, also epic, also on a Wednesday.  Six years ago this past Wednesday, we won Game Four of the 2004 World Series.  We swept the Cardinals right out of St. Louis, broke the Curse of the Bambino, vindicated one Nation under Sox, and ushered in a new era of dominance by Boston baseball.  The ALCS victory was the greatest comeback in sports history, but the World Series was the greatest win in sports history, period.  Never gets tired, never gets old, and never gets forgotten.  I still get chills when I think about Foulke to Mientkiewicz.

Meanwhile, we have a problem.  It’s a huge problem.  Congratulations to John Farrell, the new manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.  He’ll be missed.  He’ll be sorely missed.  That’s our problem.  Let’s temporarily forget about the fact that Jays pitching is known to give us trouble in September.  More importantly and urgently, we now need a new pitching coach.  Let’s not kid ourselves; Farrell was awesome.  He was great.  He was one of the best pitching coaches you could possibly have asked for.  He knew the staff inside-out, and he’d worked previously with V-Mart.

We’re looking inside and outside.  So far, we’ve interviewed former A’s pitching coach Curt Young.  We’re going to interview Ralph Truel, our minor league pitching coordinator, and Major League advance scout Mike Cather this week.  We also might be looking at Brewers pitching coach Rick Peterson, who worked with Tito when he was in Oakland.  At this point, whether the guy comes from the outside or the inside is not the issue.  The guy just has to be good.  Only two of our starters are home-grown, so it’s not like Truel would have that much of an edge over the other three.  The guy also has to be hired as soon as possible so he can start, because he’s got a lot of work to do.

The front office will also be busy, and not just because the stove is about to get hot.  A new agreement between the players’ union and the owners has shortened the free agent exclusivity period from fifteen to five days after the conclusion of the World Series.  That moves up the deadline for teams to offer arbitration by about a week, and so has the deadline for players to accept.  The tender deadline has moved up by at least a week.  I have faith that Theo is totally on top of his game.  I’m just saying that, with our own, we’re going to have to act fast.  Five days.  That’s, like, no time at all.  So we need to get moving.  We’re also going to have to be very shrewd in managing our payroll so it doesn’t get out of hand.

Congratulations to Wakefield, who won the 2010 Roberto Clemente Award for his community service.  He does it all, from local hospitals to the Jimmy Fund to Wakefield’s Warriors, where he invites children from the Franciscan Hospital and the Jimmy Fund to Tuesday home games to meet him and watch batting practice.  If you ask me, he’s been due for a long time now.  This was his eighth nomination.  But, ultimately, he gets exactly what he deserves.  Nobody deserves that award more than he does because, not only does he do a lot in the community, he does all of it quietly and without any thought about recognition for it.

Peter Gammons is convinced it’s going to be Carl Crawford, not Jayson Werth.  Papi wants an extension rather than just an option pick-up; no surprise there.

Good news: ticket prices will basically stay the same for 2011.  Bad news: it doesn’t matter much since most of us don’t purchase our tickets at face value anyway.

Other news: we shut out the Leafs on Thursday, two-zip.  Thomas made twenty saves.  Then we shut out the Sens yesterday, four-zip.  Krejci had a goal and an assist, and Thomas made twenty-nine saves.  Love it.  And the Pats beat the Chargers with the same final score we used to beat the Ravens: 23-20.  It was close, but it was still a win.  We’ve got the Vikings today.

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Last night was another “wow” contest.  That’s two in a row! Can you believe it? We are now officially on a three-game winning streak, and even though the season is winding down, we’re starting to climb back up. We’re now seven games out of first place.  Hey, it’s an improvement over nine.  All I’m saying is that you never know.

If the standings situation is a long shot, we made a statement to the contrary last night via the long ball.  We won, 9-6, so it wasn’t a true slugfest because the score wasn’t that lopsided, but scoring nine runs in a single game is a big deal for us.  We’ve struggled throughout the season to string hits as well as wins together; last night we did both.

It all started in the second when Lowrie clobbered a home run to left with Papi on base.  It was a changeup inside on a 2-1 count to make up for Beltre being thrown out at the plate.  The ball left the field in a hurry.  But Lowrie was just getting warmed up.  You look at the kid and power isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but this season he just added the art and science of home-run hitting to his arsenal of talent.

V-Mart hit an RBI single in the third, and Lowrie hit a solo shot to the same place in the third, but this time it was a fastball down the middle in a pitcher’s count.  This was his first multi-homer game ever.  I’m telling you, I don’t really know where that power comes from, but if you got it, rock it.

We didn’t score again until the eighth, but when we did, it was huge.  Big Papi, ladies and gentlemen! It was a far cry from the sixth, when he snapped his bat over his knee because he turned a prime pitch into a weak popup.  With two out and two on, he absolutely avenged himself on a ninety-six mile-per-hour fastball to the point where you knew the ball was out just by the sound of the ball-bat contact.  Ichiro just watched it.  That was his thirtieth home run of the year, making 2010 his sixth thirty-homer season with us, his first since 2007, tying him with Manny Ramirez on the franchise all-time list.  Ted Williams obviously leads with eight thirty-plus seasons.  It was ridiculous.  It was almost like the ball left the park of its own free will.

In the ninth, we added two for insurance; Patterson scored on a fielder’s choice and Reddick hit an RBI single.  Figgins hit an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth, but it did not matter.  We had it locked.

V-Mart, Papi, and Lowrie all went two for four; Beltre went three for four.  Patterson and Kalish each stole bases.  And this was the first time since June 30 that our starting lineup included our captain.  Tek went 0 for 3 with a walk, but he threw out Figgins twice.  It’s so good to have him back.  And I don’t think it’s necessarily a coincidence that the team has been playing well of light right when the captain has returned.

When I saw we had it locked, I’m referring exclusively to the offense.  Dice-K most definitely did not have anything locked.  He left the game so unlocked, he practically invited a theft of the win.  Luckily, the offense provided ample insurance just in case, but it’s like I always say: that kind of thing should not be necessary.  If the offense scores a lot of runs, the game should end with a lopsided score because a good starting pitcher should always be able to win a game with three runs or less.  Dice-K didn’t do that.  He lasted six innings, gave up five runs on eight hits, walked four, and struck out three.  He helped Seattle snap their streak of scoring at most three runs in their last sixteen home games.  He gave up at least four earned runs for the sixth consecutive start.  He threw 105 pitches.  He relied on a great cutter, curveball, and fastball.  He mixed in a decent changeup and slider.  He ran into all kinds of trouble in half of his innings.  His best inning by far was the fourth, during which he only fired nine pitches.  But then he went right back and allowed two runs an inning later.  His release point was tight and his strike zone was packed, but he couldn’t hold the lead.

The bullpen also was not helpful.  Tito replaced Dice-K in the seventh with Okajima with Bowden with Hill, and you only stopped hanging onto the edge of your seat when Bard came on.  Hill got the win, Bard got a hold, and Paps gave us a scare when he allowed that run in the ninth but finally the game was over and we walked off with the W intact.  But this is what I mean.  None of that should have been necessary.  There should be absolutely no reason whatsoever for anyone to be concerned when your team scores nine runs.  That should be a blowout, and if it’s not, the pitchers need a talking-to.

Drew will probably be back on Wednesday.

We got the win.  We inched up in the standings.  We believe.  And we look forward to the future.  Like tonight, when Buchholz is undoubtedly going to unleash a world of dominance for the sweep.  And like next year.  Next year’s schedule is out! We’re starting the season on April 1, unfortunately with a six-game road trip.  But the home opener is on a Friday, April 8, against the Yanks, followed by Tampa Bay, so that should be a blast.  We’ve got three days off in April before heading into a grueling May, which is mostly at home but with only one day off.  June will include our second trip to the Bronx with five days off as well as some good Interleague action; the Brewers and Padres will come to town, and we’ll visit the Pirates and Phillies.  We finish Interleague in Houston in July before a homestand leads us into the All-Star break, the game being in Phoenix this year.  We start things up again with a road trip followed by an easy homestand against Seattle and Kansas City.  In August, the Yankees will come to town twice and Tampa Bay once.  In September, we’ll face Tampa Bay away and at home, we’ll go to New York one more time, and we’ll finish the season on the road in Baltimore, the last game on September 28.  So some easy, some not so easy, but all in all it looks like a really good schedule.  We’ll see a lot of action in the AL East, so we’ll have chances to make dents directly.  We definitely have something to look forward to here.  In 2006, half the team fell apart, we didn’t even make the playoffs, we suffered through a winter during which everyone wondered when we’d next win the World Series, and lo and behold the very next year we were the best team in baseball.  So you have to figure that if the injuries this year were even worse than in 2006, next year we’ll be even stronger than we were in 2007.

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