Saturday, June 20, 2009

Serious about pitching

Last night at Fenway, Kenshin Kawakami of the Braves pitched exactly the way Daisuke Matsuzaka was supposed to be pitching, and Dice-K pitched like John Wasdin always did. The solution for Matsuzaka should be simple, but it isn't. He NEEDS to be taken out of the rotation and sent down to Pawtucket to work out whatever's wrong with his head, his shoulder, his arm, his guts, or whatever his problem is. The catch is, he'd have to give his permission to be sent down, since his contract stipulates that he can't be demoted to the minors without his explicit say so. The other alternative is to put him on the disabled list with whatever excuse the Red Sox care to concoct. "Tired arm" always works. That way he can save face and rehab as long as necessary without having been technically shipped to the International League. Trading him not only isn't an option (I don't even think the Yankees would take on a contract that big), but it's not smart. He will return to form, but he should do it away from the pressure cooker of the American League East.

I'm excited for John Smoltz's Red Sox debut in Washington against the laughable Nationals (First in war, first in peace, and now last in the National League!), but I also hope we're about to wave goodbye to Brad Penny, in exchange for someone who will be useful down the road. Penny's pitched exactly well enough to be traded, and he should have a great second half in someplace innocuous, like San Diego or Houston. Besides, dealing Penny would open the rotation for Clay Buchholtz, who's done everything asked of him but sell hot dogs and popcorn in Pawtucket. The kid's been the International League pitcher of the week twice this season, he's 5-0 with an ERA of 1.90, he's got 65 strikeouts and 17 walks in 71 innings, and he'd have already made five or six starts on every major league staff except Boston by now. It's not the kid's fault he's stalled in the most pitching rich organization in the game, but to have Daisuke Matsuzaka be as worthless as he's been while Buchholtz is utterly dominant is a situation that can't continue. It's about winning ballgames, and the Red Sox can't afford to keep Buchholtz down much longer when there's a need and a chance to rectify the situation. The deeper the rotation is, the better the Red Sox will be. Fun's fun, but it's time to put the hammer down and strengthen the team for the second half. We're too close not to do this, and thereby shut the door on the Rays and Yankees.

Friday, June 12, 2009

2009's Tom Seaver

Well that was interesting, wasn't it? We're still having trouble with Tampa Bay, but 8 games into the season series, Boston appears to own New York, and the Red Sox have rented and furnished a room inside the Yankees' heads. Having David Ortiz back in the realm of hitters you don't watch with your fingers latticed over your eyes changes the complexion of the lineup. Jason Bay remains the happiest offensive surprise for 2009. The team is clicking well, and we all know they still have a long way to go.

One of the biggest thrills I've ever had in my baseball watching life took place on an otherwise innocuous, pleasant Tuesday in July of 1986. The Red Sox were in first place by 8 games, and riding a 5 game winning streak, they debuted their newest starter. 41-year old future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver had just been traded by the White Sox to Boston in exchange for Steve (Psycho) Lyons. Seaver made his first appearance in a Red Sox uniform that night, and beat the Blue Jays and Doyle Alexander 9-7. Seaver wasn't terrific in his first Red Sox start. He gave up four runs on nine hits over seven innings, striking out two and walking two. However, Seaver joined a rotation that already included a couple promising young studs: Roger Clemens and Bruce Hurst, along with Oil Can Boyd and Al Nipper. For me, seeing the big red #41 in a Red Sox home uniform was a huge thrill. I had always admired him, and now he was ours. Although he finished with a 5-7 record and promptly retired after the World Series to start the clock for Cooperstown, Seaver's presence made a giant difference that year.

This year's Tom Seaver is named John Smoltz. Like Seaver, Smoltz is a slam dunk first ballot Hall of Famer. Also like Seaver, Smoltz may or may not have a lot left in the tank, but he'll act as a stabilizing influence on a rotation that only needs one more quality guy to take the AL East by the throat. I'm even more excited because Smoltzie wears my number: number 29. Along with Rod Carew, I'd say Smoltz is the best major leaguer in history to wear the number. And starting next week against the Marlins, he's ours. We're going to have a rotation of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester (both of whom have shown no-hit stuff already this season), John Smoltz and Tim Wakefield. Something still needs to be done in terms of what to do with Daisuke's predictable unpredictability. Brad Penny's going to be the odd man out, perhaps traded for a shortstop or another solid bat.

No matter how you slice it, that's a helluva rotation. No other team in baseball will get to augment their staff with someone of Smoltz's character, talent and will to win. He's our Seaver, and that really may be good enough, adding to a team that's already applied a chokehold on the Yankees and has demonstrated to the rest of the league that this year, the American League Championship march will have to go through Boston.