Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Looking toward 2008

Now that the 2007 season has ended in glorious celebration, it’s already time to look forward to next year. There are two key free agents about whom Theo will need to make a call. Curt Schilling will declare, and if I were the Sox, I would say “Thanks so much for everything you’ve done for us, Curt. You were a true warhorse. You gave us your talent, heart and soul, and those 2004 and 2007 flags wouldn’t have existed without you. We’ll never forget you. Good luck next year wherever you end up, and we’ll see you in Cooperstown. If you’d like to wear a Red Sox cap on your plaque, we’d be honored”. There are reports circulating that Schilling has already written goodbye notes to his teammates, so that makes his intentions clear. If I were Theo, I would send a very different message to Mike Lowell. Even though he’ll turn 34 at the end of February, he was the team MVP (and World Series MVP) in 2007. His bat and his glove were irreplaceable, not to mention his professionalism. I don’t believe there’s another 3B available who will be an adequate replacement (yes, I know about the guy who just left New York. Lowell remains superior because he’s a winner). Given what the Red Sox will be saving by not giving Schilling his $13 million and change, I’d try like hell to re-sign Lowell as soon possible, while the cheering from the parade is still fresh, and before the market develops and jacks up the price to JD Drew levels. Even if the price is already wacky, do it anyway. He’s proven he’s a pro’s pro, and he’s worth it. Just remember what ARod would cost, and count yourself lucky.

Assuming they can lock up Lowell, the lineup isn’t likely to change much from what you saw in 2007. It would be good to jettison Drew, but that isn’t happening, certainly at his bloated contract value and substandard performance level (at least before October). We’re stuck with him. Maybe he’ll play better in 2008, this time picking it up before Labor Day. Same for Julio Lugo. I’d still unashamedly rather have Alex Gonzalez or Orlando Cabrera back at short, but that’s the way it is. Lugo did well enough and had a terrific October, so we could clearly be in worse shape. Rookie of the Year Dustin Pedroia should be playing second base for the next 10-15 years. Ditto Youkilis at first. Captain Varitek is signed through 2008. We can worry about him in another year, or perhaps sign him to an extension now (yes yes, I know that’s not happening, but I can hope, can’t I?).

A month ago, I would have said that Jacoby Ellsbury should be ready to take over in center in 2009. However, everything changed when Terry Francona put him in the lineup in the ALCS and kept him there through the World Series. Now, Coco Crisp is likely out of a job. I think Theo is going to try to get what he can for Coco on the open market, in spite of Crisp’s likely Gold Glove award. Manny Ramirez will remain in left for one more year. This extends the remarkable lineage of Red Sox left fielders that started with Ted Williams in April of 1939 and has extended through Yaz (1961-1974 in left field), Jim Rice (1975-1987), Mike Greenwell (1987-1995) and Troy O’Leary (1996-2000) before Manny arrived in 2001. Only six full-time left fielders over almost 70 years. Amazing, isn’t it?

The rotation is probably close to set, as well. Assuming Wakefield doesn’t retire, next spring’s rotation should be Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholtz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Jon Lester. You could make the case that you never have sufficient pitching, and therefore Schilling should be brought back, but 6 doesn’t go into 5, so pick who’d you’d like to get rid of. I think it’s time to get younger, not older. There are bullpen questions, to be sure. It would not surprise me to see Mike Timlin retire. Eric Gagne should be shown the door. In fact, I’m relieved he didn’t accidentally guide his duckboat completely off the parade route. Other, smaller holes exist, but they don’t have to be solved in November. As long as Okajima, Delcarmen and Papelbon are there, the rest can be sorted out.

Way to Go

There’s a proper way to do things. One of the major disagreements that Theo Epstein had a couple years ago with Larry Lucchino was that Epstein found Lucchino’s public feuds with the Yankees unseemly, unprofessional and completely counter-productive. Beat them on the field, but don’t get into pissing matches with them over El Duque or anything else. There’s no need for it, and it makes you look boorish. Do your job and let them do theirs. During his entire career as both player and manager, Joe Torre always conducted himself with the utmost respect for the game, his opponents and the uniform he wore. Torre never showed up the competition, and he was a role model for Terry Francona. The two of them developed a profound respect for each other, and when Torre resigned, Francona was late for a post-season press conference because he was busy watching his colleague’s words on television. There is a way to behave, and that includes showing respect for the game and your opponents.

As the Red Sox are doing their best to win the right way these days, not everyone gets that. Enter Hank Steinbrenner and Alex Rodriguez. Hank is the son of the Boss. Clearly, the apple does not fall far from the tree. When Torre determined that the contract “offer” he was given included not just a pay cut but performance incentives that shouldn’t be necessary for someone of his experience and track record, he walked away. That was, of course, his right. Rather than saying “We’re sorry that Joe Torre did not find our contract offer acceptable. We’d like to thank him for his extraordinary performance as Yankee manager, including his 10 AL East division championships, 6 American League pennants and 4 World Series titles. He always handled himself and his team the with the utmost professionalism, and exemplified the Yankee Way. We wish Joe the best, and we know he’ll be a tough act to follow”, Baby Bluster instead said the following

“Where was Joe's career in '95 when my dad hired him? My dad was crucified for hiring him. Let's not forget what my dad did in giving him that opportunity -- and the great team he was handed”.

What a colossal shmuck.

Then, there’s Alex Rodriguez. It should not have been a shock that ARod was going to opt out of his contract and walk away to seek even greener pastures. Seriously, his agent is Scott Boras. Let’s just make it easier and call the pair Borod. Did you really believe that Borod would do anything other than seek the greatest possible remuneration on the open market? If you honestly did, you don’t understand either of them. It’s not about rings, it’s about the greenbacks. No more, no less. They had every right (and tens of millions of reasons) to walk away, but to do it during the clinching game of the World Series represents unconscionable egomania and arrogance. The next day, MLB was pissed.

"There was no reason to make an announcement last night other than to try to put his selfish interests and that of one individual player above the overall good of the game. Last night and today belong to the Boston Red Sox, who should be celebrated for their achievement, and to the Colorado Rockies, who made such an unbelievable run to the World Series."

Correct. But selfish interests are all that matter to Borod, and all that have ever mattered. The timing of the announcement is further proof of the most damning sin of all: Alex Rodriguez doesn’t get it. He’s never been a team player, but worse than that, he doesn’t respect the game, nor does he even bother to pretend to anymore. He pissed all over the clinching game of the World Series because he felt that while he was standing above it, he might as well draw attention to himself. Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News put it best: ARod upstaged more World Series games than he actually played in. Alex Rodriguez is going to be elected to the Hall of Fame some day, but nobody should cheer for him. I wouldn’t want to be associated with the team who’s cap he wears. His next team is about to see up close what the Mariners, Rangers and Yankees know all too well: Not all statistics tell the complete story.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

2007 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox are the 2007 World Series champions. The series was over soon after the first pitch of game 1 in Boston, since neither the Sox pitching staff nor their bats allowed Colorado to participate. Going in, although the Rockies were white hot, they just weren’t in the same league with the Red Sox, literally or figuratively. They never had a chance.

I had the strangest feeling when Josh Beckett dominated the Indians in Game 5 of the ALCS. The Red Sox and Indians were going back to Boston with Cleveland still up 3 games to 2, but I honestly believed the series had just turned an irreversible corner. After game 4, I thought the Red Sox were cooked. After game 5, they were a different team, and I was suddenly sure they would take the ALCS and win the World Series. As far as I was concerned, the Indians were the only dangerous team left, and Boston had just exposed them. Fearing the Rockies never made much sense to me. What was there to fear? I felt their great streak masked a team with no depth, shallow pitching, and a lineup that could be controlled by a quality pitching staff. I thought that, in spite of the winning streak, the Rockies were the weakest league champion since the 1998 San Diego Padres. How could Colorado match up with the Indians, much less the Red Sox? Turns out they couldn’t. And for the second time in four years, the Red Sox sit on top of the baseball universe.

In the 7th inning of game 4, the last pitch thrown by Aaron Cook landed in the left field seats after it was launched off the bat of World Series MVP Mike Lowell. That pitch finished the Rockies once and for all. A solo homer by Brad Hawpe didn’t much matter, as Bobby Kielty (of all people) made up for it on the first pitch he saw, swatting it into the same spot where Lowell had homered an inning earlier. Even the homer by Garrett Atkins didn’t change anything. Meanwhile, Jon Lester turned in a performance that Josh Beckett and Curt Shilling could be proud of. Lester’s next stop will be the 2008 Red Sox starting rotation (after the Duck Boat parade, of course).

This Red Sox team led almost wire to wire, but didn’t really find its championship personality until very late in the year. Calling up Jacoby Ellsbury the final time from Pawtucket changed everything. The team already had the odds on choice for the league’s Cy Young award winner in Josh Beckett and the probable Rookie of the Year in Dustin Pedroia. Mike Lowell was acknowledged to be the team’s MVP, and everyone in baseball respects Captain Tek as one of the great on field leaders. Curt Schilling was gearing up for October, and Jonathan Papelbon was perfectly prepared by Francona and John Farrell for the pressure innings to come. Still, it was clearly Ellsbury, wearing Bob Stanley’s #46, that the Red Sox needed to be the final catalyst. He changed the lineup. He was the perfect fill in for Manny Ramirez in left, and he seemed to function like some kind of speedy left handed enzyme that the team had obviously lacked.

The chemistry experiment exploded all over Cleveland, then Colorado. In 2004, the Red Sox won as a veteran team. Schilling, Martinez, Lowe, Foulke, Millar, Bellhorn and Damon were the war horses. In no small part due to the new generation of talent exemplified by Beckett, Papelbon, Lester, Matsuzaka, Okajima, Pedroia and Ellsbury, the World Series championship banner will be raised once again over Fenway Park next April.

World Series Game 3: Lots of ways to win

The Red Sox have won three World Series games three different ways. Game 1 was an old fashioned ass kicking. Game 2 was a classic pitchers duel. Game 3, in the thin air, was a baby slugfest. We score 6, you score 5, we then come back and pound your vaunted former closer/current setup guy with another 4 runs to salt the game away. It bodes well for Boston’s future that all three of the linchpins of the Game 3 win are rookies: Daisuke Matsuzaka (5 1/3 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs, 5 strikeouts, plus a 2 out, 2 run single), Jacoby Ellsbury (4 for 5, 3 doubles, 2 RBI) and Dustin Pedroia (3 for 5, 2 RBI).

The 2007 Colorado Rockies are not the 2004 Boston Red Sox. They’re not coming back from a 3-0 deficit. This Rockies team doesn’t have the pitching, the hitting, or the ability to be anything other than what they are: a team that wouldn’t have even made it into the American League playoffs

Now, we’re one win away from finishing what’s been a lopsided series. Game 4’s starters are Jon Lester and Aaron Cook. It’s impossible to handicap this matchup, given that one (Lester) only made 11 regular season starts and hasn’t pitched since September, and the other one (Cook) hasn’t been seen on a mound since August 10. Anyone who tells you that they *know* what’s going to happen is frankly lying. It can’t be predicted, as there’s no data.

What we do know is that Boston is hitting reliably and Colorado isn’t. Boston has outscored Colorado 25-7 in three games. In the 6th inning of game 3, the Rockies scored two runs. That was the first time in 29 innings that they’d strung together more than 1 run in the same inning. The last time they’d done it was the bottom of the 4th of NLCS Game 4 against the pathetic Diamondbacks. The Red Sox have scored two or more runs 24 times in the 2007 postseason. 24 different innings of multiple runs.

Sit back and enjoy game 4, because a Red Sox loss would only set up another appearance by Josh Beckett.

Friday, October 26, 2007

World Series Game 2 Thoughts

  • What exactly do you think Matt Holliday was doing when he was caught leaning the wrong way off first in the top of the 8th inning? Was he contemplating stealing second, with Todd Helton at the plate? Very strange play. If Clint Hurdle was calling for a steal with the #4 hitter up and two outs, shame on him. Dumb call that essentially ended the game. If that was just Holliday napping, even weirder.

  • Mike Lowell, Mr. Clutch RBI Guy for 2007, just keeps chugging along. He’s had at least 1 hit and 1 RBI for four straight games now, dating back to game 6 of the ALCS. Last night’s RBI double, of course, knocked in the winning run.

  • The litany of Curt Schilling’s October numbers make you shake your head:
    1) He’s the only pitcher to win a postseason game in his 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.
    2) He has a lifetime postseason winning percentage of .846. That’s the best there’s ever been, when counting pitchers with 10 decisions or more.
    3) Over 19 appearances, his lifetime postseason ERA is 2.23

  • Quick, who’s more valuable, Hideki Okajima or Jonathan Papelbon? Tough question, isn’t it?

  • J.D. Drew is looking forward to seeing Denver this weekend. His career numbers at Coors Field are comforting indeed:
    25 games, 87 at bats, .368 batting average, 6 doubles, 2 HR, 18 RBI, .467 on base percentage, 1.065 OPS

  • The current parlor game in Boston is guessing who gets stuck on the bench in Denver. You didn’t ask me, but here’s my opinion:
    1) Defense is incredibly important in that cavernous outfield, and for that reason I’d play Coco Crisp in center over Jacoby Ellsbury. Remember, Manny has to play left, so Crisp’s bat becomes much less important than his glove and defensive instincts. Ellsbury’s fast, but Coco’s a gold glove.
    2) However, Coors Field’s infield dimensions are exactly the same as Fenway’s (and everywhere else in the majors). With or without the humidor, if the ball’s going to fly farther, I’d rather it be coming off Big Papi’s bat. For that reason, (assuming he’s healthy) I’d start David Ortiz at first, and bring in Kevin Youkilis in the late innings if there’s a need for a defensive replacement. While Ortiz isn’t Youkilis or Todd Helton or Keith Hernandez with the glove, he’s no Kevin Millar or Jason Giambi, either. Of course, if Ortiz is more hurt than we know, the equation changes a bit.
    3) Leave Mike Lowell right where he is, period, full stop. The lineup loses its center of gravity without him. He only gets taken out if we’re up by 12 runs again, and even then I’m not so sure.

  • For the third time this month, we’re all wondering which Daisuke Matsuzaka will be showing up tomorrow night. I’m hoping that Colorado’s never having seen him will help.

  • Rockies SS Troy Tulowitzki is quoted as saying “We’re going to make a series out of this.” I’m assuming he then added “Honest, we are!”, sounding just like Ron Howard’s Richie Cunningham from Happy Days.

  • If you want my free taco, you’re welcome to it. I’m waiting for the free lobster.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

World Series Game 1 quiz

1) In October, it’s all about:
A) Eve
B) Pitching
C) The Great Pumpkin
D) Free tacos

2) David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez are to clutch post-season hitting as:
A) Fish are to bicycles
B) Julia Child was to French cooking
C) Britney Spears is to good parenting
D) Kazoos are to symphony orchestras

3) Hitting against Josh Beckett these days is akin to:
A) Shooting billiards with a rope
B) Expecting relatives of the Nigerian president to make you fabulously wealthy
C) Waiting for Barry Bonds to admit “Ok, you got me. I’ve been using steroids for the past decade”
D) All of the above

4) The Colorado Rockies need the following to happen before game 2:
A) The Arizona Diamondbacks to switch places with the Red Sox
B) The World Series to be suspended until the Rockies can find better pitching
C) The World Series to be decided based on who has the uglier uniforms
D) All of the above

5) 197, 94.5 and 4:
A) What three numbers add up to 295.5?
B) What are the IQ’s of Albert Einstein, George W. Bush and Paris Hilton?
C) What are the number of pitches thrown by the Rockies in game 1, Franklin Morales’ current World Series ERA and the total number of runs allowed by Josh Beckett in the 2007 postseason?
D) What is the number of times TBS showed promos for FrankTV during each playoff game, the frequency of an FM station and 2+2?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Boston's newest banner

The 2007 American League Championship banner, flying atop the old Hancock Tower

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

2007 World Series Prediction

In 2004, the St. Louis Cardinals were a juggernaut. They had great pitching, the most frightening lineup in the game, a solid bullpen, and one of baseball’s smartest managers. Before that series started, predicting a Red Sox sweep over that Cardinals team would have been damn foolish. The Cardinals were just too good to simply roll over. Ironically, the one thing that the Cardinals lacked was a rock solid belief that they not only could beat the Red Sox, but that of course they WOULD beat the Red Sox. Confidence is self-perpetuating, and once the Red Sox started winning, they just kept winning, all the way through Game 4 in St. Louis.

Confidence matters on this stage. The Larry Bird -Kevin McHale-Robert Parish Boston Celtics walked into the gym knowing they were going to win, not just hoping. Same for the Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers and the current New England Patriots. I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe in the Colorado Rockies because I honestly think that they’re just thrilled to be in the World Series. On this stage, I look for the team that has an absolute confidence in themselves. Josh Beckett uttered the following quote after the ALCS ended, “When I’m out there, I feel like the guys are all behind me, and I just feel like we’re better than everybody else”. That’s called swagger, and it ain’t bragging if you can back it up. Beckett and the Red Sox have been backing it up. They overcame injuries to Curt Schilling, Kevin Youkilis, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, and still led the American League all season. They earned home field advantage, and used it to dispose of the Angels and outlast the Indians, who may well have been the second-best team in all of baseball.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but in October, it’s all about pitching. The Red Sox pitching staff is far superior to anything Colorado saw in the playoffs. Colorado has decent pitching, but only 1 true ace, and Jeff Francis is going up against Josh Beckett in game 1. Again, they’ve never faced a team that’s as disciplined and patient as the Red Sox. The Rockies are undeniably hot, but they’re just not that *good*. Their defense is stellar, but their lineup showed surprisingly little power during the playoffs. Colorado has good speed at the top of the lineup in Willy Tavaras and Kaz Matsui. However, as was shown in the ALDS with the Angels, if you keep the speed merchants off the bases, they can’t do very much harm. They’ve probably got the NL MVP in outfielder Matt Holliday. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki could very well be the Rookie of the Year. Still, there aren’t enough weapons to keep up with the Red Sox’ shut down pitching.

Tim Wakefield will not be starting game 4 for Boston, which is going to set up a decidedly odd World Series matchup: It’s probably going to be Jon Lester, who hasn’t started a post-season game, against Aaron Cook, who was Colorado’s Opening Day starter, but hasn’t been on a major league mound since August 10 (strained abdominal muscle). I’m not quite so worried about game 4 in any case, since the Red Sox game 5 starter will be Josh Beckett.

I think that once the series shifts to Denver for game 3, it’s not coming back to Boston. The Rockies may well win one game, but that might be stretching it. I don’t see this World Series being very close, but I’ll be conservative. Red Sox win the 2007 World Series in 5 games.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

2007 American League Champions

Sweep the ALDS in 3 games, then survive a grueling 7 game battle against a division champion to take the American League pennant. That was the script in 2004, and now again in 2007. The Indians were as good as we thought, just in different ways than we expected. Neither Sabathia nor Carmona were worth a damn, but everyone else compensated. They never rolled over, they just ran out of bullets at the end. Ultimately, Cleveland wasn’t outplayed so much as they were outpitched, and there is no shame in that. I tip my cap to a very talented and deserving Cleveland Indians team.

This Red Sox edition is a tough, focused, professional bunch. They have some similarities to the 2004 team in their defensive and offensive balance, but this team has a bunch of young kids and rookies (including two veteran rookies from Japan) who give it a completely different character. It doesn’t appear to be the collection of wingnuts of 2004 vintage. There are no “idiots” like Millar, Damon and Cabrera. Instead, there are the tough as nails kids: Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jonathan Papelbon, alongside a core contingent who were present in 2004 (Ortiz, Ramirez, Youkilis, Varitek, Schilling, Wakefield and Timlin), plus key contributors who know exactly how to handle the bright lights of October (2003 WS and 2007 ALCS MVP Beckett and Mike Lowell) and our new Japanese pitchers, without whom we couldn't have won game 7, or even gotten to it (Matsuzaka and Okajima).

But like the 2004 team, they play exactly the same way whether they’re sweeping the Angels or fighting back from an ALCS hole on the road. Everyone chips in. In game 7, Ortiz and Manny were invisible offensively, but Dustin Pedroia was the man. In game 6, it was J.D. Drew. In both games 6 and 7, Kevin Youkilis homered. If all the weapons contribute, this Red Sox team is not going to be beatable. Even if some of them just take turns, as happened Saturday and Sunday nights, it’s good enough to get them to the World Series.

Bring on the Rockies!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

ALCS: Ready for a Game 7

As stated in previous posts, in October, it’s all about pitching. A freak performance from J.D. Drew notwithstanding, the stories of game 6 were the reappearance of Curt Schilling’s legendary October pedigree and Fausto Carmona’s inability to be even remotely effective. Not that Drew and everyone else didn’t do a great job, but the Royals could have hit Carmona tonight. I’ll say it again: in October, it’s all about pitching. Boston has had it in games 1, 5 and 6. Cleveland had it from the middle of game 2 through game 4.

Seeing J.D. Drew hit tonight was a wonder (3 for 5, 5 RBI, a grand slam HR). Youkilis is locking in again. Pedroia’s getting good swings. Lowell has been solid, of course. The lineup has looked good since game 5. If everyone shows up offensively tomorrow night, and Dice-K pitches effectively, game 7 could be great fun, and cap another phenomenal comeback. If, however, Matsuzaka and Jake Westbrook both pitch the way they did in game 3 at Jacobs Field, we will be left to ponder what could have been. Here’s my concern: Dice K has had one quality start since the beginning of September. Tomorrow night would be a dandy time for another one.

When the ALCS started, I predicted Boston in 7, and I’m going to stick to it. I’d love to see a Red Sox – Rockies matchup and see if Colorado truly is for real. They played great in the NLDS and NLCS, but seriously, the Phillies and Diamondbacks weren’t exactly great measures of competition. Neither of them would have made the playoffs if they were in the American League. I still insist that this ALCS will determine who wins the World Series, which makes tomorrow night that much more momentous in my book.

Game 7's are the great spotlights of sports. Pull out the cliches. This one is for all the marbles, win and move on or lose and go home, do or die. No matter how you describe it, the best part of tomorrow night: it's at Fenway Park.

Friday, October 19, 2007

ALCS: On Josh Beckett

What Josh Beckett is doing in the post season is more than simply impressive. He isn't just silencing the Indians after dominating the Angels, and he's not merely winning key ballgames. He's putting himself into rarified company. So far in this postseason, Beckett is 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA, 26 K's and 1 walk in 23 innings. He's holding opponents to a .181 batting average, and his 2007 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) is a laughable 0.61. Those are numbers you'd be hard-pressed to duplicate in a video game. Beckett's all-time postseason numbers are 4-0, 1.78, 73 strikeouts, 13 walks in 65 2/3 IP. These aren't just good numbers, they compare with all time post-season stats for Sandy Koufax (3-1, 0.95, 61K/11BB), Bob Gibson (2-1, 1.89, 92/17) and the estimable Mr. Schilling (8-2, 2.23, 111/23). This year's ALDS and ALCS performance by Beckett is also augmenting what will almost certainly be 2007 Cy Young numbers (20-7, 200 IP, 3.27 ERA, 194 K, 40 BB, and a WHIP of 1.14)

As we sit today, pondering how Curt Schilling may add to (or detract from) his glittering postseason numbers at Fenway tomorrow night, it's worth noting that Josh Beckett has joined him in an elite class. Remember, Beckett is already a World Series MVP. Combine that with 2007, and we're witnessing the blossoming of a talent that stands up quite nicely alongside the primes of the great money pitchers of the last few generations. One other point to remember, for those who say "Sure, but how long can he keep this up?": Josh Beckett will turn 28 next May 15.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

ALCS after Game 4

Things we know now about the Indians:

  • The starting pitching is plenty good enough
  • Their bullpen is better, especially the setup guys
  • The lineup is very balanced and patient
  • Their ability to get key 2-out hits is scary
  • They’re playing like they can smell the World Series

Things we know now about the Red Sox:

  • Nobody other than Ortiz, Ramirez and Lowell can be counted on to produce
  • It’s all about pitching in October, and
  • The bullpen is back to its mid-summer shakiness
  • Eric Gagne still sucks, and can’t be in the game with less than an 11-run lead
  • Of the starters, only Josh Beckett has gotten through the 6th inning.
  • The last man I want at the plate with the game on the line is J.D. Drew
  • They don’t look like league champions, (though the 2004 Red Sox looked worse, and were facing a 3-1 deficit with games 6 and 7 in New York)

    Other important things we know
  • Tim McCarver is just as annoying as ever
    “Can you BELIEVE David Ortiz is swinging away with a 3-0 count? That’s just extraordinary!” No it isn’t, you pinhead. He’s done it consistently for the past few years.
  • If someone doesn’t figure out a way to control the Rockies, it might not make any difference

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

2007 ALCS Preview

This is a damn good Indians team, and it should be a helluva series. Don’t assume that the Red Sox are going to do to Cleveland what they did to the Angels. Remember, the team that just finished rolling over New York tied with Boston for the best record in the league. C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona are the best 1-2 punch going right now. Sizemore, Hafner, Martinez, Garko and Peralta are all hot at the same time, and of course both Trot Nixon and Kenny Lofton have seen October before. If I had a vote for Manager of the Year, I’d give my second place vote to Eric Wedge. The 2007 Cleveland Indians are not a fluke.

That said, the Red Sox have never been in better shape all year. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez have never been both healthy and on fire at the same time all year – until now. This creates a much more frightening lineup. Defensively, this is among the best teams in Red Sox history, with as many as five legitimate Gold Glove candidates (Crisp, Drew, Youkilis, Pedroia and Lowell). Nobody in baseball calls a better game or handles a pitching staff better than Jason Varitek. The starting rotation in the ALCS will match up almost evenly with the Indians. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 0-0 score in the 7th or 8th inning of game 1 (Sabathia vs. Beckett).

You can go down the rosters, and see mirror images of each other. The only significant difference between the two teams that jumps out at me is experience. Many more members of the Red Sox have been here before, including three of the four starting pitchers. Most importantly, Terry Francona won’t be intimidated. Experience matters, and given a team that knows what to expect vs one that’s living in the crucible for the first time, I’d lean toward the veterans. Schilling, Beckett and Manny have all been World Series MVP’s. Of the Indians, only Trot Nixon, Paul Byrd and Kenny Lofton have even been to this point before.

I’ll take the Red Sox over Cleveland in 7 games.

Goodbye to a classy foe

I’ll address the ALCS in another post, but first I want to say something about the ongoing drama of Joe Torre’s status as Yankee manager. Although there had been persistent rumors earlier this summer that George Steinbrenner was suffering from extreme senile dementia, it appears that rumors of Steinbrenner’s demise were greatly exaggerated. And if that’s the case, it’s a terrible shame. If Steinbrenner is indeed still in charge, and his words to the Bergen Record are true, Steinbrenner is going to make sure that Torre is made to pay the consequences.

Joe Torre will walk the plank because George Steinbrenner is still the same shortsighted, arrogant prick he always was. By now, everyone knows the story. Torre, a former MVP and 9-time all star, took a Yankee team that had only sniffed the playoffs once in 14 years and led them to 12 consecutive playoff appearances, 9 American League championships and 4 World Series titles.

After all those years, amassing the 2nd best record in the history of Yankee skippers, I think 2007 was far and away his best job. This year’s Yankee team was dead and buried after the first two months. Their rotation was in tatters, the bullpen exhausted. The lineup looked old and creaky. And they made it to the post-season anyway. He had a bullpen of worthless nobodies, and a starting rotation held together with stickum and sunflower seeds. The Yankees managed to hold off the Tigers and Mariners and win the wild card. In the first series they went up against the Indians, who were tied for the best record in the league. They ran out of gas against the Indians, but they never would have appeared in Jacobs Field in October if Torre hadn’t gotten them there.

Joe Torre didn’t sign Roger Clemens, Brian Cashman did. Joe Torre didn’t force Jason Giambi to take steroids and ruin his career. Against the Indians, Joe Torre didn’t cause the Yankees to strike out 35 times and force Jeter, Posada, and Matsui to combine for a only 11 hits in the division series. The players lost the series. The Yankees were out-pitched, out-hit and outclassed by a vastly better team. Clemens was old and hurt. Mussina was just plain old. Alex Rodriguez was barely better than worthless.

And very possibly the classiest man to ever wear the uniform will be unceremoniously dumped. As a Red Sox fan I’m thrilled. The Yankees are going to SUCK for the next few years. ARod is gone. Posada, Rivera, Giambi, Clemens, Mussina, all will be history over the winter, many of them jumping ship in part because their leader will have been dumped. This will be great for the Red Sox, but as a baseball fan, I’m nauseated.

Farewell, Mr. Torre. You were always a class act, and you’ll be missed.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

ALDS Game 3: Checking out early from Hotel California

In 2004, David Ortiz completed a sweep of the Angels in the AL Division Series with a monster homer at Fenway. Today, Big Papi got things started in the fourth inning with a monster home run off Jered Weaver at Angel Stadium. After that, it was Manny’s turn to take Weaver deep. Although it was only 2-0 at the time, the game was over that fast. The 7-run 8th inning was just piling on. Curt Schilling put all his skills on display today. He didn’t have great stuff, especially early on. In the first couple innings he was a little wild within the strike zone, though he never allowed the Angels to score. It helped that Los Angeles / Anaheim / SoCal couldn’t get men on base, and therefore couldn’t move them over, much less get them in. Schill did his job, and once again cemented his reputation as one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time.

In retrospect, it’s clear that we faced the Angels at the right time. They were tired, banged up and playing at much less than full strength, but that’s what happens after a long, tough season. You work with what you’ve got. The Red Sox were just flat out better, period, full stop. No different than Colorado vs the Phillies and Arizona vs. the Cubs. Tonight we’ll see if it’s going to be four sweeps in four division series.

I have a friend who is a member in good standing of the BBWAA. When it comes time for voters to consider Curt Schilling’s resume for Cooperstown, what he accomplished when the calendar read “October” should be exhibit A. Great players become even better when it matters most. (a point of particular note to Alex Rodriguez)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

ALDS Game 2: Man oh Manny

It was a matter of time. You keep walking David Ortiz, and Manny is going to burn you. Manny Ramirez is what ballplayers call a "Christmas Day Hitter"; he can get into the batter's box on Christmas Day and hit. The strained oblique muscle that took him out of action for the end of August and most of September appears to have cleared up, and the timing of his recovery has punished the Southern California Angels.

Let's talk about the pitching, Daisuke Matsuzaka specifically. He's got a bulldog's tenacity, a la Orel Hershiser. What he doesn't appear to have is Hershiser's control. When he's on, he pounds the strike zone with all his pitches. Otherwise, he's a "power nibbler", as the broadcasting team said last night. If you can't demonstrate mastery of the strike zone, umpires won't give you the corners. Josh Beckett is the perfect example. He was able to stretch the zone in game 1 because he showed that he was locating his pitches. Dice-K fought hard, but he was doing a hire wire act through his entire appearance, and he's shown a lot of that. In a critical situation against a better lineup (read: Cleveland), I'm a little concerned.

Then there's the bullpen. 4 1/3 innings last night. No runs, no hits, 4 K's. That's a shutdown performance, and the way Francona spread out the workload means that nobody's unavailable Sunday in Game 3. Curt Schilling vs. Jered Weaver. 3pm Eastern.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Indians up two games to none

Before the Indians-Yankees series started, I had an email conversation with a friend and former colleague who also happens to be a Yankee fan. I posed to him what I suspected were going to be some of the key questions in this series. A few already appear to getting answered:

-Can the Yankees' starters remain effective enough to keep the bullpen fresh?
Not really, no. Even Andy Pettitte's game 2 brilliance didn't save them.

-Can they control Sizemore and Hafner?
Evidently not. Sizemore's hitting .375 after two games, and Hafner won game 2 with a blistered single to right in the 11th inning.

-Can the bullpen be effective if/when it's called upon?
That would be no. In game 1, Ross Ohlendorf allowed 4 hits and 3 runs in 1 inning, and Phil Hughes gave up a pivotal HR to Ryan Garko. The bullpen was better in game 2, until it wasn't. There's a reason why Luis Vizcaino has pitched for 4 teams in 4 years....

-Can Messrs Sabathia and Carmona shut down the Yankee offense, specifically Jeter and ARod?
Yes. Jeter and ARod are a combined 1 for 14 after two games.

-Will the Indians be spooked by the bright lights of the post-season?
Clearly not.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

ALDS Game 1: Dominance

Short of a no-hitter, it just doesn’t get any better than what Josh Beckett did to the Los Angeles, Anaheim and all of Southern California Angels tonight. John Lackey’s inability to get people out was very much a secondary story to the performance put on by #19. In any series, game 1 is important. In a short series, game 1 is critical. Beckett didn’t just beat the Angels, he demoralized them. Mike Scioscia has to be aware that even if they have the ability to come back and make it a five game series, Game Five will be at Fenway, and it will be Beckett vs. Lackey again. Right now, I just don’t see a Game Five in this series. I think the Red Sox will return to Fenway, though, because they’ll have home field advantage for the ALCS.

Cal Ripken put it well tonight. What would he do if he were stepping in to face Beckett? “Stand up real close to the plate and hope he hits me”.

In the meantime, I don’t understand how the Rockies are so good, but they clearly are. In fact, nobody in the National League really frightens me. They’re all deeply flawed. The Rockies, Phillies, Cubbies and Diamondbacks are playing for the right to lose to the AL champion.

El Tiante's 2007 Awards

American League:

MVP: Alex Rodriguez, NYY; Honorable Mention: Magglio Ordonez, Detroit

Cy Young: Josh Beckett, Boston; Honorable Mention: Chien-Ming Wang, NYY and CC Sabathia, Cleveland

Rookie: Dustin Pedroia, Boston; Honorable Mention: Delmon Young, Tampa Bay

Manager: Joe Torre, NYY; Honorable Mention: Eric Wedge, Cleveland

Comeback: Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay; Honorable Mention: Sammy Sosa, Texas

Biggest Disappointments: Chicago White Sox and J.D. Drew

Best stories: Clay Buchholtz’s no-hitter in his second major league start and return of Sammy Sosa to the Rangers after flaming out in Baltimore

National League:

MVP: Matt Holliday, Colorado; Honorable Mention : Prince Fielder, Milwaukee, Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia

Cy Young: Jake Peavy, San Diego; Honorable Mention: Brandon Webb, Arizona

Rookie: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee; Honorable Mention: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado

Manager: Lou Piniella, Chicago Cubs; Honorable Mention: Bob Melvin, Arizona and Clint Hurdle, Colorado

Comeback: Dmitri Young, Nationals; Honorable Mention: Rick Ankiel, St. Louis

Biggest Disappointments: The New York Mets, Barry Zito, the New York Mets and the New York Mets. Also, the New York Mets.

Best stories: Rick Ankiel’s comeback as a power-hitting outfielder, Mets collapse and Phillies division championship