Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why Does Bud $elig want to ruin baseball?

I can’t blame Bud Selig for the rain. It’s a risk that’s run whenever you hold a sporting event outdoors. Frankly, I’m amazed it isn’t a factor in more showcase events than it is. But, while the rain isn’t his fault, the way this World Series has been handled around it certainly is.

First off, I will say that he made the right call in ruling that the World Series can’t end on a rainout. Can you imagine a rain delay with Philly up 2-1 in the seventh? When do you decide to actually call it? Does Tampa get a vote on whether or not the game could continue? Would that mean that the commissioner of baseball would basically award the championship? Not a good idea. Would you wait out an hour delay? Two hours? After they finally decide to call the game, does Philly rush out of the clubhouse and pig pile on the mound? A World Series deciding game absolutely has to go the full nine innings.

My main problem with the rain-destroyed game 5 is that it was still played at night. Let’s say it’s mid August and the Red Sox are scheduled to play a Saturday night game against the Twins. The forecast calls for rain to start about 7, and just pour for the next two days without letting up. Chances are very good that the Sox move that game up. Play it at 2 so they can fit the game in. Especially if it was the Twins last trip into town for the season. Why couldn’t the same logic be used here? When they looked at the forecast, why wasn’t the decision made to move the game up earlier in the day? An afternoon game would have been high and dry. Even a seven o’clock start probably would have let them get the whole nine innings in. That even would have let them get most of the game into the coveted prime time viewing session.

And, that’s really most of the problem here. The Fox network needs their ratings. I can’t really blame them. They paid a lot of money to MLB in order to carry the games on their network. They need to have the advertising money come in to pay for that fee. The only way they can do that is to get the advertisers the ratings they need. If they can get the advertisers their ratings, they can afford to bid even higher for the next contract. It’s a little bit of an endless loop. But, there is one way to end it. Just start with lower expectations.

Let’s say Fox makes an offer to MLB and says this is what it can bid if it gets these ratings. In order for that to happen, they need complete control over the start times so they can fit the games into the best ratings slots. What if MLB just said, “Nah.” How about instead, you give us half of your bid, and Game 1 will start Friday at 7:00, Game 2 Saturday at 3:00, Game 3 Monday at 8:00, Game 4 Tuesday at 7:00 and so on. If Fox doesn’t like it, there are several other networks that would. Fox would make out the same. They’d get less money for ads, but they had to pay MLB less so it’s a wash. MLB might not get as much money, but it would retain control of its signature event. Maybe the ratings wouldn’t be as high as they might have been right away. But, imagine if games were shown at the times that made the most sense for baseball fans, instead of the times when random people happen to be watching TV. If the World Series were on slightly out of Prime Time, would fewer people watch it? Would the increase of diehard kid viewers be worth the loss of indifferent adults? If you treat a World Series game like must-see TV, it will be. If you treat it like something you have to trick people into watching, it will be that instead.

Let’s pretend that baseball fans matter for once.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What went wrong?

Tonight the World Series could be over, and Boston will have no part in it. Tampa Bay earned the right to represent the American League by thumping the Sox in what should never have been a seven game series. As a Sox fan, I’m left wondering what happened. How could the defending champs have prevented this? I’m not really sure. But, there were a few problems with the 2008 Sox that could be addressed.

First, they weren’t as good as the Rays. It’s that simple. The Red Sox team that played in the ALCS was not as good as the Rays team. The Rays have built themselves a nice little organization there. Anyone who thinks it’s just because of the high draft picks they have received should let me know when we should expect the Pittsburgh or Kansas City pennant winners. They built a good team, and made some shrewd free agent signings to fill in the gaps. Kudos to them, they were the better team.

As far as things under the Sox control? I’ll bypass the obvious problems that occurred thanks to the happenings of July 31. That’s been well covered I think. Beyond that, it would have been nice if everyone was healthy. But, by the numbers, Lowell absence wasn’t devastating. In 7 games, his production probably wouldn’t be dramatically different than Kotsay’s. But, it did hurt some of the flexibility of people coming off the bench. It would have been nice to have Kotsay sitting there ready to come in, instead of having him already in the line-up. But, that’s a minor thing. It also would have been nice to have someone one the roster better than Mike Timlin. I could count that as a fault of Theo, but I’m not sure it was. Chances are that Timlin would have been on the roster as a lifetime achievement award anyhow. If the last man in your bullpen is the reason you don’t win a series, you obviously have other problems.

The big question is, was the lack of offense because the Sox were slumping, or because the Rays were pitching so well? Did the Sox need better or hotter batters, or was it inevitable? It’s the age-old question of which came first. When Cardinals fans suggested that the Sox got lucky in 2004 to get the Cardinal attack when they were all slumping, I protested. It seemed that the rotation of Schilling-Pedro-Lowe might have been the cause, as opposed to a sudden universal slump. Same held for the super hot Rockies last year. Sure the layoff might have cooled them down a little. But, Beckett-Schilling-Dice-Lester can cool down some bats on their own. So, in this case, I should give similar credit to the Rays rotation. My only problem is, I don’t think the Rays rotation is that good. I don’t look at the list and see pitchers I’d rather have in Boston. Maybe in a couple years, I’ll look back and see this as the start of the rotation establishing itself, much like I now look back at Lester’s ’07 game 4 start. At the time, it was a youngster getting lucky. Now, it’s when a youngster turned the corner. For the Sox’s sake, I hope the ALCS wasn’t the Rays rotation all turning the corner at once.

Going forward? Hard to say. A couple tweaks here and there. I don’t see the need to go crazy for a Teixeira or Sabathia. I admit, a Peavy trade idea is interesting, but I don’t know enough about Peavy to fully endorse it. Just fill in a hole here, and a bench player there, and hope to play better next year.

We just can’t count on beating up on Tampa next year.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders - by Rob Neyer

This is not a book about baseball bloopers. Neyer goes to great lengths to explain this is a book about blunders. This book discusses some of the worst decisions ever made in baseball history. A couple Red Sox examples include selling Babe Ruth, and leaving Pedro in game 7. In all, over 45 decisions throughout baseball are discussed in depth to see if they really are the blunders history has made them out to be.

I’m a Rob Neyer fan. I was a regular reader of his columns before they made you pay for them. I like the way he looks at everything with a clean slate, and doesn’t let emotions get in the way of analysis. This book could have been much better, however. It didn’t appear that he put his usual effort into the analysis. It looked like every blunder was rated as so-so, once the numbers were worked out. If we’re to believe this book, just about every decision in baseball history was a coin toss, with neither side really losing out. He also tended to quantify success or failure strictly in terms of championships won. So, if adding a player cost a team 15 wins, but the team lost the pennant by 16, it wasn’t a bad decision to add the player. They wouldn’t have won anyway. I’m more of the mindset that even if you lose a pennant by 50 games, it wasn’t a good idea to add a player that costs you 15. The book left me with a “blah” feeling, and I had to push myself to get through the whole thing.

Rating:2 bases.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Out of Miracles

Remember the Super Bowl? Remember those last few seconds? The Pats had just fallen behind on a cheapo play, and some inept defense. But, Brady had the ball in his hands, and was about to unleash a heave in the direction of Randy Moss. How often in a football game does a 50-yard pass go for a touchdown? How often does it happen when the defense knows it's coming? But, even with all that I just expected that it would happen. Of course. The Pats fell behind, but of course Brady would throw the bomb. And of course, just like in game 16, it would be a game winning 50 plus-yard TD to Moss. There's no other way it could end. And, when it didn't, I was shocked. What do you mean the impossible didn't happen? Where's the flag that would give the Pats another chance? Really? It's over?

That's exactly what happened to me last night. The Rays clearly had more talent. (Especially healthy talent) Time and time again, the Sox didn't have the weapons they really needed. Their hitters weren't hitting. The pitchers weren't pitching, and the bench never seemed to have the guy they needed when they needed it. But, even down in the series 1-3, I really thought they'd come back. Granted, during game 5 I had serious doubts. But, once the series went back to Tampa, I was back to assuming the impossible. Of course Beckett would be back. He may not have been vintage Beckett, but he was what they needed. Of course Lester would come back. He'd pitch his heart out and reclaim his ace status. Of course, when trailing by only two runs late in the game, the Sox would come back. They did it against the great Rivera. Who did the Rays possibly have that could stop it? It was inevitable. Of course the kid rookie who won the ALDS would come though. Then there was the groundball to second. And he didn't boot it. And he didn't trip on the way to the base. And the game was over. And I thought to myself, really? It's over? What do you mean?

What has happened to me? I'm a long time fan of the team that would only win today to make it more crushing when they lost tomorrow. Here I was expecting the miracle. I've always said that the big difference between the 2004 world championship and the 2007 version is that I could enjoy the 2007 version. In '04 I was in constant fear that that wouldn't really be the year. When the Sox took a 3-0 lead against the Cardinals, I was worried. I knew that the only reason they came back from 0-3 against NY was so they could blow a 3-0 lead in the very next series. That'd be crushing. But, the didn't. They finished it off, and I had the title I always worried wouldn't come. Then, along came 2007. The Sox had the best team. They had the swagger. And, I actually enjoyed the games. I didn't hide my eyes when the Indians were up. I expected the best, and got it. Which is what set me up for this year. The bar had been raised. I'm not sure it can be lowered again for quite some time.

That's just the way I like it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Calling Kenny Lofton!

Is there any chance we could convince the Rays to sign Kenny Lofton sometime in the next 24 hours? He may be the only thing that can save the Red Sox season. This is the Kenny Lofton who was on the Indians team that blew the 2-0 lead in the 1999 ALDS to the Sox. He was on the Giants when they blew the 2002 World Series after having the chance to win in 6 games. He was on the 2003 Cubs as they blew the NLCS after being within 5 outs of winning the series. He was on the 2004 Yankees that were the biggest chokes in the history of sports. He arrived in Cleveland last year just in time to be on the team that blew the 3-1 ALCS lead to the Sox. If anyone can bring a curse large enough to sink the Rays, it’s Lofton. Come on Rays, he’s your type of player. He’s fast, and can cover ground in the outfield. Welcome him to Tampa Bay.

In reality, I don’t even know if Lofton could save the Sox. I’ve never seen anything quite like their performance the last few games. Usually, when a team struggles in the playoffs, you can point to something. The Angels lost the ALDS because they ran the bases poorly. The White Sox lost the ALDS because they had to use their best pitchers just to get to the playoffs. The Red Sox lost the last three games of the ALCS because they’re just playing awful. Every single player is simply awful. It’s nothing specific. They’re not striking out too much. They’re not walking too many hitters. (OK, maybe Delcarmen is walking too many people) They’re not playing poor defense. They’re not getting the shaft from the umpire crews. They are just doing everything equally poorly. Pathetic is the word for it. I’d like to be able to say something like, “If Ortiz snaps out of it” or, “if Ellsbury can slap a couple hits” or, “if Beckett finds his mojo” they’ll be ok. The problem is, if one of those things happen, there are still a hundred other things that need to be fixed. They look old. They look complacent. They look sad.

How do they fix it? I have no idea. Francona could juggle the line-up like he did last night. But, I’m not sure the value of switching one guy who’s not performing with another player who’s not performing. Even going to the bench seems pointless. Did bringing in Coco, who can’t hit, to replace Jacoby, who can’t hit, do much? Anything in that area would simply be change for change’s sake. If you’re going that route, you may as well have the players wear different underwear to try and break things up.

There are a couple things I would suggest trying. First, the Sox need to start bunting. Jacoby needs to get on base. Start dropping down bunts and get some baserunners. You can’t disrupt the pitcher’s rhythm from the dugout. The same goes for David Ortiz. Twice in game 4 Ortiz led off an inning trailing by at least four runs. At that point, the Sox need baserunners any way they can get them. The Rays were giving Papi the ENTIRE left side of the field. I know that one of those times in game 4 he hit a triple. But, the rest of the series he was making outs. I agree that the Rays would rather have Ortiz bunt for a hit than rip a double or a homer. But, at this point the Sox would rather have Ortiz bunt a single than ground out to short right.

Second, Daisuke needs to put some hitters on their backs. In 2004, after the 19-8 pasting the Yankees delivered, the Sox had Pedro starting game 5. Good ol’ Pedro thought some of the Yankee hitters were looking a little too comfortable. So, he went high and tight to Matsui and put him on the ground. It may have been a coincidence, but the Yankee hitters didn’t get it going again after that. It seems to me that if Upton and Longoria don’t need to dust off their uniforms during their first at-bats, something’s wrong.

Other than that? The Sox just need to remember that they’re the defending World Series champions, and start acting like it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

That’s Why They Play the Games

-So, does it still matter if Lester started Game 1 or Game 3? I know I’m a little late to the game on the whole rotation argument, but I thought I’d offer my opinion anyway. From where I stand, as long as each pitcher pitches the same number of potential games in a series, it really doesn’t matter the order. If you’re convinced that Dice-K is a sure win in both his starts, does it matter when he gets those wins? Somebody else has to win two other games at some point in the series. I saw a lot of people arguing that Lester shouldn’t pitch game 7. He should have gone earlier because if the Sox lose in 6, it would have been awful to only have him pitch once. But, would it matter if he won game 6? You still need to win other games that he’s not pitching in. Let’s say it’s magic world, and Lester could have pitched game 1 and game 2. Does that help? You still need two guys to win games. Is it any different than if magic Lester pitched game 6 and 7? Nope, still need two guys to win. If two other guys get the job done, it doesn’t matter. If they don’t get it done, it doesn’t matter. Of course, Lester threw a wrench into all of that by getting himself blown out last night.

-Three games so far. One each started by DiceK, Beckett, and Lester. If I told you before the series that one of them would take a no-hitter into the 7th, would you have picked Matsuzaka? How about the one who would have thrown 96 pitches over 5 innings? There’s only one Soxtober.

-The radio broadcast of game 2 mentioned that of the last ten teams to lose game 2 of the ALCS, eight of them lost the series. That’s fairly discouraging…until you remember who the two teams were that won the series.

-Being down 2-1 in a seven game series doesn’t scare me. I’d rather be up 2-1, but so be it. And, it goes without saying that I’d rather be 2-2 than down 3-1. Even then, however, the rays would still have to beat Dice-K, Beckett, and Lester to win the series. It’s not bridge jumping time quite yet.

-OK…maybe with a series lead in the ALCS, the young Rays will finally feel the pressure and collapse? Maybe?

-I hate to say it, but I’m glad Rocco Baldelli was able to homer last night. Since, it didn’t matter in the game at all, I can be happy for him. After suffering through all the Devil Rays pathetic seasons, he was hurt most of their only good one. It’s nice to see him be able to get that postseason homerun. He deserved it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Playoff Time!

-OK. Everyone who predicted, before the season, that the final four would be the Dodgers, Phillies, Red Sox and Rays raise your hand. Anyone? How about at the All-Star break? September 1st? Last Thursday? Gotta love playoff time.

-So, I’ve got it. When the runners are safe you’re aggressive. When they’re out, you’re reckless? Is Mike Scioscia a genius or an idiot? I can’t keep track. Personally, I like the squeeze. I’ll give Scioscia the benefit of the doubt that Aybar should have been expected to get the bunt down. If it was Guerrero or Teixeira I may have questioned it more. I like the idea of pushing the envelope. I like the idea of forcing the other team into mistakes. My only problem with the move is that it was in Fenway. If the game’s in Anaheim, and the Angels get the last ups, I don’t mind a potential tie score. But, they had to know that if it didn’t work, it would ruin their scoring chance and give the Sox a golden opportunity in the bottom of the ninth. The question is one that really only someone who follows the Angels can answer. Were Aybar’s chances of hitting a flyball better than his chances of getting the bunt down? With my season riding on it, I’m not sure I would have done it. Which, of course, is exactly why Scioscia did it.

-I’m happy for Jason Bay. I’m glad he’s having a solid series. I know that if he struggled, people such as myself would by screaming that he’s no Manny. The fact that he’s keeping pace with Man-Ram is keeping the focus on the team and not what could have been. He’s still not Manny, but it hasn’t mattered yet.

-On a related note, if you haven’t read Bill Simmons’s article on about the Manny saga, you should. You can agree or disagree, but you should read it either way.

-Once again, a team that won 100 games during the regular season will not win the World Series. Since the introduction of the wild card, only the 1998 Yankees won both 100 games, and the title. Why exactly? It’s what everybody always says. The playoffs are different. In the regular season, depth is rewarded. Teams with five quality starters, deep benches and solid bullpens are well built for the long haul. In the playoffs, you don’t always need any of that. A fourth and fifth started hardly pitch. You may never use the long man out of your bullpen in a short series. Generally teams stick to the best guy or two out of the pen, and run them into the ground. Heck, the Sox didn’t even see the need to bring Mike Timlin along in the ALDS. Derek Jeter once said that the best teams make the playoffs, and the hottest teams win the playoffs. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad. It seems to me there should be a way for the same team to be good in both seasons.

-The Sox are off to Tampa for game 1 at the Trop. Which team will show up? Which Beckett will pitch in this series? Will the line-up remember how to hit? So many questions, so few answers. Once again, the two teams look about even. Once again, Beckett’s the huge x-factor. With ’07 Beckett and ’08 Lester, the Rays don’t stand a chance. Without them? Flip a coin.

Sox in 6.

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