Monday, September 29, 2008

Beat LAoA! Beat LAoA!

So, I listened to the last Red Sox game of the season on the radio last night. Well, ok, I listened to enough of the game to realize that I hadn’t heard of any of the players on either team. They were discussing the playoff series against the Angels. LA had released its roster, the Sox would at some point. Wakefield didn’t figure to get a start since the Sox would go with Beckett-Lester-Dice-Beckett-Lester. I turned off the game, which ended up being a thrilling ending when some guy drove in another guy. (Imagine being the Yankees for a moment. They’re not going to the playoffs. They have to just play out the string in Boston. The games are rainy, and yucky. Then, they actually postpone a game so they have to stay in Boston even longer. Then, that game goes extra innings. My goodness. It’s a wonder they didn’t just walk in the winning run in the 9th ) So, anyway, I wake up this morning, turn on the news and am blasted with the headline “Beckett Injured”. How did this happen? He didn’t pitch in either of yesterday’s games. Then, I find out he strained something a few days ago. How bad? Hard to be sure. According to Tito, his start is pushed back until Sunday’s game 3. Apparently, they considered Friday’s game but thought it best to wait. So, naturally, the one question on my mind is, what exactly does this mean?

It depends on how optimistic I feel like being. Hey, I’m a Sox fan. I can build my hopes up with the best of them. The new pitching rotation looks like Lester-Dice-Beckett-Lester-Dice. The Red Sox have gone into a playoff series with worse rotations. (Would you rather have Clement-Wells-Wakefield like the ’05 ALDS? How about the ’99 ALCS rotation of Mercker-R Martinez-P Martinez-Saberhagen?) Beckett hints that he’ll be ok come Sunday’s start. If he’s anywhere near normal Beckett, I’ll take him at home over any other teams third starter. So, that means they need to go 2-2 in Lester and Daisuke’s starts. Is that out of the question? Not really. First, we need to ignore the elephant in the room. I know the Sox are 1-8 against Anaheim this season. You can throw the regular season right out the window. First of all, all those games were with Manny on the team. If you listen to Curt Schilling as much as he hopes you do, the fact that Manny was hitting home runs and driving people in was hurting the Red Sox chances. In fact, six of those games were played within two weeks of The Trade. That was the period when the rest of the team was so consumed by the fact that Manny was effortlessly carrying the offense that they started making errors in the field. So, clearly, without Manny the Sox should steamroll right over the hapless Angels. Even without the Manny factor, there are too many variables in a playoff series to care too much about regular season results. Were the pitching match-ups the same? Did the teams have the same amounts of rest as they will in the playoffs? Were the line-ups the same? How often did the fourth or fifth starters match-up? So, while I’d prefer the Sox were 8-1, I’m not concerned about the head-to-head. What I am concerned about is the players themselves.

Lester’s a great game one starter. He’s already pitched meaningful playoff games on the road. He pitched a fantastic game in last year’s World Series game in Denver. I don’t see the LA crowd as the type that would rattle anybody. I know he’s a tad inconsistent, but can he take one of two potential starts? I don’t see why not. As for Matsuzaka, he’s a whole different animal. Will he wilt under the pressure? Absolutely not. Is he capable of pitching a gem? Absolutely. Is he capable of stinking up the joint? You better believe it. But, can he go 1-1? That’s what he did in the ALCS last year, including a win in game 7. So, certainly looks reasonable to me.

Basically, the teams look pretty evenly matched. They both have solid pitching with postseason experience. They both have quality line-ups. Are the Sox healthy enough to score more runs off Angel pitching than the Angels score? Possibly. I think Beckett’s the ace up our sleeve. I see the Sox winning the series, with Lester, Dice, and Beckett each winning once. Whether it takes 3 games to do that or 5, I’m not sure.

I’m sure hoping for 3.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Juiced - By: Jose Canseco

This book started it all: The Mitchell Report, the steroid scandal,
the Congressional hearings, everything. This is book zero, if you will. While it plays out as an autobiography, its main intent is to list names. It’s a collection of events in Canseco’s life, mostly involving other major league players, and mostly involving steroids. It shows how and why he started using steroids, and how he was able to pass his techniques on to others. It contains several references to how major leagues baseball has it out for him, whether it’s because he’s Cuban or because he’s an ex juicer. By the end the reader is supposed to realize that Jose has just been misunderstood and misrepresented over the years. That’s he’s a great guy, and deserves our respect.

I first read this book as a paperback. It had been out for a while, and all the juicy details had long since been splashed over the news. So, I wasn’t reading to book to see what it said, more how it said it. I also wasn’t skeptical like early readers might have been. By the time I opened it, most of the information in it was assumed to be true. So, instead of reacting, “McGwire? This guys NUTS!” I was more “McGwire…that’s how”. Naturally, this book isn’t going to win a Pulitzer. And, at this point, it’s not going to reveal any new information. But, it’s an easy read. It gives a lot of insight into a baseball player’s life. If you’re going to talk about the steroid era, you should probably read book. It was hard to put down when I picked it up. That has to mean something.

Rating: 3 bases.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Retired Numbers

It would appear that the Red Sox are thinking about revising the criteria they use to retire uniform numbers. It looks like this will be done to retire Johnny Pesky’s number this Saturday. While I admire the sentiment, I don’t like the “watering down” of the retired number.

For whatever reason, the Sox decided on three criteria for retiring a number. That the player be a member of the Baseball hall of Fame. That the Player played at least 10 years with the Sox. That the Player finished his career with the Sox. As far as I’m concerned, those are great criteria. It requires that the player be great, by making Hall of Fame enshrinement mandatory. It makes the player have a long Red Sox career of at least 10 years. That eliminates the rental Hall of Famers that some other teams may honor. The ending of the career with the Red Sox is nice, but a little harder to hold anyone to. It would be like the Bruins not retiring Bobby Orr’s number because he played that last year in Chicago. In fact, the Sox themselves fudged it with Fisk by including his front office work as a career ending. But, by and large, those are great criteria. When the Yankees started retiring numbers, it was a pretty big honor. I can never remember if Ruth or Gehrig was first, but it doesn’t matter. The idea being, that the player was so magnificent, it would be a shame to see their number worn by a lesser player. It was especially significant for those two Yankees because they were the first players to ever wear those numbers. In fact, Gehrig is the only person to have ever worn number 4 for the Yankees. That’s a pretty big deal, for a pretty big player.

I don’t think I’m insulting anyone to suggest that Johnny Pesky is not Lou Gehrig. He’s not Babe Ruth, he’s not Ted Williams, or Carl Yastrzemski. He’s a wonderful player. He’s been the heart of the Red Sox for more than a half-century. He deserves to be honored. But, he doesn’t quite meet the criteria set for a number retirement. I did not feel that Bill Buckner sullied the awesome reputation of number 6 by wearing it on his back. (Ok, maybe that was a bad example) Besides, since number 6 has been worn countless times over the years, it’s not like they’re retiring Pesky’s number. It’s also Buckner’s number, and whoever else wore the number over the years. They’re simply retiring number 6 “in honor” of Johnny Pesky. There must be another way to do something “in honor” of Pesky.

I always liked statues, and don’t think the Sox have enough of them. Other stadiums have statues littered about of their great players. Fenway has the one of Williams, but wouldn’t it be great if there were more? Imagine statues of Rice and Yaz and Pesky clogging the sidewalks of Van Ness St. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to meet your friends at the Pesky statue? I know the concourse underneath the stands is pretty crowded, but that’s another place to throw some monuments. If they can fit in a plastic Wally sitting on a bench, a nice statue to Tony C should be easy. They don’t even have to be big things. The Red Auerbach statue in Quincy Market doesn’t take up much room. Imagine Fred Lynn sitting at one space at one of the picnic tables? How about a simple statue of Bill Buckner’s high-top spikes, similar to Bird’s shoes.

Retiring a uniform number is a huge honor. Just because other teams have weakened it by retiring the likes of Harold Baines or Don Mattingly doesn’t mean the Sox have to. There are other ways to honor a player, and say how much they mean to a team and it fans.

I like statues.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

September Baseball

OK. Clearly, the Sox could have helped themselves out by at least winning one more game against the Rays. But, they’re not exactly in bad shape, and things are just starting to get interesting.

LA is sitting pretty in the West with 92 wins and 12 to play. The Rays lead the East with 90 wins and 12 to play. The other Sox lead the Central with 84 wins and 11 to play. Boston leads the wild card with 89 wins and 10 to play. Minnesota is the only other team with a real playoff shot sitting with 82 wins and 10 left to play. Phew. Boston currently leads Minnesota by 7 games. That means the Twins elimination number sits at 4. That places the Rays and the Red Sox almost assured of making the playoffs. If the Sox can’t win four of their next 10 games, including 7 at home against bust teams, they don’t deserve a spot anyway. Even the Mets couldn’t blow this lead. Especially since just about all the interested parties play each other.

The Twins visit the Trop for four starting tonight. The Rays are even in better shape than the Sox for a playoff spot. The Twins, however, need ever win they can get. Does that come into play? If the Rays sweep all four, the Twins are out, the Sox are in, and the Sox would have a tough time catching the Rays for the division. If the Twins sweep, they still trail the Sox by at least three with 6 to play. But, the Sox would, hopefully, be in great position for the division. After that series, the Twins play Chicago. At the moment, they trail Chicago by 2.5 games, so all things being equal, a three-game sweep puts them in the division lead and could remove Chicago from the playoffs. So, if the Twins win out, they’d have a good chance of catching Boston. But, they’d certainly pass Chicago, so it wouldn’t matter. Having fun yet?

Then there’s the best record. LA leads the Rays by 2 and the Sox by 4. I’d rather not have to play LA early if I don’t have to. Which set-up favors the Sox with their big-3 pitchers? The long series? The short one? Is it the same format that favors LA?

The Sox have the fewest number of games remaining. So, they get to do a lot of watching the other teams. But, since they’re all crashing into each other, it should be great to see. Not to mention that the Sox get to finish with the Yanks. So, even if it’s all decided by then, at least we can rub their noses in it a little. That’s always fun.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Round Trippers at the Trop

That wasn’t Scott Kazmir last night. I don’t know who it was, but thankfully it wasn’t Kazmir. Maybe his mind was on his home and family in Houston. Maybe he’s a 24-year old who didn’t know how to handle the most meaningful game he’s ever pitched. Maybe the Sox just caught him on an off night. Whatever it was, the Sox are now in a virtual tie for first place in the American League East.

I asked before when the Rays would mentally fold-up camp. When would they think to themselves that making the playoffs is one heck of an accomplishment and leave it at that? I’m guessing pretty soon. Having your ace blow up in a crucial game doesn’t scream winning the division. If Beckett can go out tonight at show them what a real ace does, that might be it. They had a great run, and are almost assured of a playoff spot. Sooner or later, they’re going to realize it.

A side story is, once again, Dice-K. He won yet another game moving his record to 17-2. An .895 winning percentage. Are you kidding me? Some people will point out that he, again, only went 5 innings. I would think that last night, it was more because of the 12-1 score than his poor pitching. When was the last time a 17 game winner was the #3 starter in a playoff rotation? If the Sox have the chance to set up the rotation to Beckett-Lester-Dice, watch out Chicago. Unfortunately, right now it’s Lester-Dice-Beckett…there’s some work to be done.
I love the catwalks in Tampa. The radio calls of “and he’s settling under it…and…it hit a catwalk for a home run!” are just too much. I know some people claim it’s a little bush league. A real stadium wouldn’t have a playoff game decided by a catwalk. But, is it ok if a playoff game were to be decided by a ball off the ladder? What if a World Series game was decided by a ball clanking off a foul pole only 302 feet from the plate? (Oh, wait…that already happened) Sure, it’s quirky, but all ballparks have their quirks. I like it that way. It’s one of the many things that makes baseball better than football or soccer.

One of the problems with trying to define “clutch” is that it’s hard to find a definition that applies in all times. Some of the criteria tossed around include, after the 7th inning in a 1-run game, etc. The “late and close” theory. But, would anything be more clutch than Ortiz’s home run in the first inning of last night’s game? Here are the Sox visiting the team leading them in the division. They’re facing the other team’s ace in a building they haven’t won in all year. The first two guys walk. Can you imagine if the Sox squander that chance? It would be crushing to have a chance against Kazmir in a big game and waste it. Not only does Ortiz capitalize on the gift walks, he stakes the Sox to a quick 3-0 lead before Tampa even bats. Now, instead of having the upper hand, the Rays need to look at making up three runs against Dice-K, the 16-game winner. If that’s not “clutch”, I don’t know what is. (The same argument could be made for Ortiz’s home run in game 7 of the 2004 ALCS. It may have been the first inning. But, it was after a runner being thrown out at the plate, and gave the Sox a quick lead in a must-win game. Clutch.)

This could be a fun couple of weeks.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Devil of a time

Well, now. That didn’t exactly go as planned, did it? This was the chance to take over first place for good. Instead, the Sox fell farther behind. I guess the division lead will have to wait until next week.

I think I’d be bothered by the events of the weekend more if it weren’t for the Wild Card. If the division were the only hope for the playoffs, I’d be a lot more troubled by the inability to win those last two games of the series. With a playoff spot very likely sewn up regardless, I can look at it as a stepping block instead of the end-all.

The pitching staff did very well. Lester threw his usual great performance on Monday. Who would have thought when the season began that we’d come to expect dominant outings by young Lester. On Tuesday, Dice-K had his usual start. Not awful, not great. While he didn’t deserve to win or anything like that, he didn’t pitch bad enough to lose. Yesterday, Beckett was still making rehab starts, but he pitched great. It was just like you’d hope from your recovering ace under those circumstances. The bullpen looked good. Papelbon’s going to blow a save here and there. You’d like him to nail down all of them, but he’s still human. Yesterday, the bullpen pitched a ton of quality innings. Masterson looked great getting out of a tough jam. There’s only so many scoreless inning you can expect a bullpen to throw though. If you picture the staff all lined up and bullpen in order, the playoffs look encouraging. The pitchers you’ll be counting on in October (Beckett, Lester, Dice, Masterson, Papelbon, Delcarmen) are pitching well. The others won’t be needed anyway. I can live with that.

Hopefully, the same will be said of the offense. Right now, the line-up is a jumbled mess. Drew’s still out. Youk keeps popping in and out of action. Lowell’s coming around. Once October rolls around, you’d think that the fully operational line-up looks good. I still have confidence that a line-up of Ellsbury-Pedroia-Ortiz-Youkilis-Drew-Lowell-Bay-Varitek-Lowrie can get some things done. (Would have been nice to have those two Manny homers in Fenway last night instead of San Diego) Once all those players are happy and healthy, runs should be easier to come by. As long as that happens by the time the ALDS starts, things should be ok.
While it’s nowhere near coast time, it’s not press time either. I can give Drew as much time as he needs to rest his ailing back. He’ll need it soon enough. I can let Beckett take his time getting back into form. I can test out the young guys in different situations, and see what sticks.

Thank goodness for the Wild Card.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Soak up those Rays

I think it’s fairly safe to say that this will be the most important series the Sox have ever had against the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s also a fair bet that it’s the most important series in the history of the Tampa Bay franchise. We’re officially in uncharted territory here folks.

How, exactly, the two teams view the series is almost as important as how good the teams are. I still believe that the Sox are the better team. That’s especially true with Lowell and Youkilis in the line-up at the same time, and Longoria and Crawford out of theirs. So, how important do the teams think the series is? For the Sox, I think they really want the division. Beckett or no Beckett, I want to avoid playing Anaheim in the first round. Hosting Chicago sure beats the heck out of trekking out to LA. So, the series means a great deal to the Red Sox if they’d like to advance in the playoffs. If we dare look ahead to the ALCS…right now, the sox stand 2 games behind the Angels in the race for home field in that potential series. They need the division for that to matter.

The question is, does Tampa care? At what point do they say, “Heck, who thought we’d ever even make the playoffs” and subconsciously back off a bit. When do they put it on cruise control and settle for the best season the franchise has ever had. After the Sox win the series opener? If the Sox win the first two to take the division lead? Do the Sox need to win both upcoming series? Is Longoria really coming back? It was interesting to see them activate Longoria. I’d be worried about rushing back the future of my franchise from a wrist injury. Does this mean they’re going for it this season? Does this mean an all-out blitz for the remainder of the season? What is the mindset of the Rays? Of the front office? Obviously, I don’t know the answers to those questions. But, we should find out in the next ten days or so.

Like I said, the Sox are the better team. Fully loaded and lined up, I don’t see the Rays as beating the Sox. Now, if the series starts matching Kazmir with Byrd, or the likes, that skews things a bit. (Actually, it doesn’t look like Byrd will face the Rays, but you get the point) It all comes down to attitude and desire. From the Sox standpoint as well. Right now, the Sox lead Minnesota by 6.5 with 20 to play. Even a 500 record virtually assures a playoff spot. Do the Sox start resting Lowell? Drew? Ortiz? Do they juggle the rotation and skip a Beckett start? Dice-K? Or, do they chase down the home field advantage that served them so well last year?

So many questions, so few answers. So, here’s what I think. The Sox take 4 of 6 from the Rays the next two weeks. That gives them the division lead they need. They hold onto the lead going into late September. The Rays, also having already virtually clinched a playoff spot happily grab the Wild Card. They drift back a bit, handing the division to the Sox, who can’t quite catch the Angels for the best record because they’d rather have Beckett-Dice-Lester going games 1-2-3 of an ALDS. The bloom comes of the Rays’ rose as they’re cast aside by the Angels. The Sox easily handle Chicago. That sets up one heck of an ALCS.

Sound reasonable?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Is Dustin Pedroia, Derek Jeter?

I’m not sure I mean that in a good way. There’s a lot of talk around Red Sox Nation lately that Dustin Pedroia should be the MVP of the league. The “MVP” chants in Fenway pop up every time he strides to the plate. It sounds to me that the arguments being made for Dustin are the same ones I didn’t agree with when the pinstripers were pumping up Jeter. And, looking them over, there are a lot of similarities between the two players.

Both are middle infielders, which makes their offensive expectations limited. They both seem to be .300 hitters, who can collect around 200 hits a season. At the moment, Pedroia is leading the batting race, which is a title Jeter has come close to. They both have a ROY on their trophy shelf. They both look capable of double digit home runs, and double digit steals although neither is a masher or a speedster. They both bat at the top of the order (Pedroia’s recent experiments in the clean-up spot not withstanding) for an offensive juggernot. They both score plenty of runs because of it. Pedroia’s a better defender…especially since I choose to ignore Jeter’s two bogus Gold Gloves. Pedroia might get one of his own this year. On paper, I bet their numbers match up pretty well…even before Jeter’s decline.

The other similarity is that each player has their MVP case made by using something other than numbers. In each case they are described as the driving force of the team. Pedroia’s energy is what makes the Red Sox go. Or, Jeter wills the team to victory. I guess my only problem with that comes up in one question. If Jeter can “will” a team to victory, why doesn’t he have 12 rings? What happened in 1997? What happened in 2004? I’ll admit that having a guy at the top of the order that can get on base is great. It allows for more runs to be scored. But, really that’s all Jeter and Pedroia are. They’re guys who get on base a lot, who hit in front of guys who can drive them home. Again, that is extremely valuable, but not really all that rare. Lots of players have high OBP or high averages. Is there something that makes Jeter or Pedroia’s OBP more valuable than anyone else? Joe Mauer has a pretty high batting average too. Does he get MVP consideration? Is it his fault that Morneau doesn’t drive him in all the time like Ortiz or Rodriguez? Does Dustin’s spunk or attitude make his batting average more impressive? Not to me. That’s why I never thought Jeter should win an MVP, and why I don’t think Pedroia should either.

The larger question that presents itself is if Dustin Pedroia will win the 2008 AL MVP, whether or not he should. I’d say his case is a lot better than any of Jeter’s ever were. If Pedroia wins the batting title, he’ll have that to present to the voters. He won a “major” title during the year. He may also lead the league in hits and runs. He’s a solid defender who, as I mentioned, may win the gold glove. That puts him in a good position to win the silver slugger and gold glove at second base. That’s not a bad combination if you want to make the case that you’re the best second baseman in the league. So, those are some nice lines in the MVP resume. He’s also getting especially hot at the right time. You could argue that he’s carried the sox the last few weeks while Lowell, Drew, and Youk have missed time. If he stays hot while the Sox drive to the playoffs, and especially if they overtake Tampa, that would help a lot. It’s the “clutch” September performance that got Yaz and Chipper Jones their MVP’s. It also helps that his main competition, Josh Hamilton and Carlos Quentin, are fading. Hamilton is feeling the Home Run Derby after effects on a sub 500 club, and Quentin is currently nursing an injury. If those slides continue, and especially if the White Sox miss the playoffs because of it, Pedroia’s stock will rise. Pedroia’s starting to get the national publicity he needs as well. The more times his MVP candidacy is discussed on ESPN, the more voters who will at least put his name on the list.

So, if the Pedroia gets hot, the Sox win the East, and Chicago misses the playoffs, I think the MVP is Pedroia’s. Otherwise, I think it’s Quentin’s. Pedroia’s top three either way.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Game of my Life -By: Chaz Scoggins

This book is really an anthology. Scoggins asks various members of
Red Sox history what they consider the game of their life. In some cases, it’s a major league debut. Sometimes it’s a huge playoff game. Other times it’s just a game that the player remembers fondly. Scoggins took the interviews with 20 players and turned them into the book. They recount each game, and why the player thought it was so important to them.

Once again, I was too young for this book. I wasn’t all that interested in what Mel Parnell had to say about his favorite game. The most recent player used was John Valentin. So, the stories weren’t quite in my fan wheelhouse. It was also a little annoying that some players picked the same game as another player. While it, obviously, wasn’t the payer’s fault, it would have been nice if Scoggins had weeded those out. Even combining the two would have been better than practically repeating the same chapter more than once. This is also a better read for the novice fan who doesn’t already know the stories behind many of the players. I don’t expect to bother to read this one again.

Rating: 2 bases.

What people are reading this week