Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Finally, It’s Official!

It wasn’t the easiest way to clinch a playoff spot. It certainly wasn’t the most exciting way to do it either. But, there are no style points when it comes to October baseball. (Unless you’re Derek Jeter, I guess) The Red Sox are in the playoffs, and Texas isn’t. That’s really all it comes down to.

Please spare me the whole “backing in” line. I’ve already had two Yankees fans use it on me today. You don’t “back in” to the playoffs. You get in because you win more games then the other guy. It doesn’t matter when the wins and losses come. As long as the wins add up to more at the end, it’s good. If the Sox had won Monday night, they would have clinched the playoffs when the Rangers lost on the left coast. Would that have been “backing in”? What if the Sox were on a ten game winning streak, but on an off day the Rangers lost. Is that backing in? You can’t make the playoffs, even if you’re from NY, unless the other teams lose at least one game. You can’t make the playoffs without help. It doesn’t work that way.

The Sox officially don’t need to try anymore. I know. If they’ve been trying up to now, they’re in trouble. But, it’s officially rest the starters week in Boston. I would expect plenty of Lowrie, Kotchman, Baldelli, and any of the September call-up spending time of the bench. The real players will suit up just long enough to stay fresh. After all, nobody wants a line drive off his knee at this point.

It’s also the time to start setting up that rotation, and the rest of the playoff roster. Make sure that the starters have exactly the amount of rest they’d like. Make sure that you know who the long man is going to be. Figure out whom you can trust with the game on the line, and whom you can’t. (I’m looking at you Mr. Delcarmen) Is a third catcher more important than a back-up infielder? Is there a Dave Roberts type ready for the bench? Is it Joey Gathright? Are there enough lefties in the pen? How about on the bench? This is the week to figure it all out.

The Angels will be a tough team. I don’t care in the least how many years the Sox have beat LA in the playoffs. These are different teams. Do I like the Sox chances? Of course I do. I think a healthy Lester and Beckett go a long way in a five game series. I like the line-up at the moment. They seem to be complimenting each other nicely. The Angels don’t have a pitcher that scares me to death like a Verlander. I think the Sox line-up should be able to get to just about anyone the Angels float on the mound. As long as the Sox rotation can keep things under wraps for a bit, it should go Boston’s way.

I guess we’ll all see next week.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Um….OK then.

So, not exactly what one hopes for over a weekend. You would have thought that the Sox could have pulled out at least one of those games. But, that’s the way the ball bounces sometimes. Looking for bright spots? You’ve come to the right place.
Jon Lester is supposed to be OK. This would have been crushing. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see if it’s really not going to be a problem. We’ve heard a million times that a pitcher legs are more important that it would seem. So, a sore or bruised quad could be an issue over constant pounding. I’m not a pitcher, so I don’t know if it’s better that it’s his plant leg, or not. We’ll have to see next time. Of course, that line drive is the best reason why the Sox wouldn’t be trying for the division. It was in the early innings, so it’s not such a huge deal. But, if it was in the eighth inning of a close game that they didn’t need to win? That would have been annoying. I’m predicting five or six innings from here on out form the Sox starters. Let the September call-ups in the bullpen earn their World Series rings.
Dice-K’s start couldn’t be more encouraging. I don’t know what people were expecting. But, I for one didn’t expect that. If our number four starter can do that, the Yankees can go ahead and take the longer ALDS schedule. I’ll take the Sox’s chances with Dice on the mound. It’s rounding into a pretty formidable rotation that the Sox can throw that would match up well with anyone.
Even Paul Byrd threw a pretty good game. He probably has a spot on the playoff roster as a long man, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing. I haven’t run down the players and the spots to see where he’d fit, but having a playoff veteran out there in the pen has to be a good thing for the Sox.
Is it too early to be talking about playoff rosters? Of course not. Even if the Sox put me in the rotation, they could go 2-5 at home against Toronto and Cleveland. Plus, they only need to be that good if Texas can go undefeated the rest of the way. That’s not exactly likely either. So, the Sox will go in as the Wild Card, which is actually nice. It really helps with the scheduling. We know which games will be at home already. It’s not going to suddenly change. It makes planning so much easier. Plus, the Red Sox keep sweeping teams, so the home field advantage doesn’t come into play anyhow.
I can’t wait for October!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Collecting the Sox: Tickets

Tickets or ticket stubs are a great collectable. They’re attractive, fairly easy to come by, and lead to many different collecting opportunities. They are certainly one of the more basic collectables out there.

The easiest way to get into collecting tickets is to simply save the ticket, or stub, when you go to the game. In the old days, when you went to the game, the ticket taker would actually tear off a piece of the ticket, and leave you with the stub. That made a clear difference between an unused ticket, and one that was used for a game. While the unused ticket was cleaner, and potentially more attractive, many people liked that there was a “story” behind a stub. The stub had actually been at the game to witness the event. Nowadays, at Fenway at least, the ticket is simply scanned in when you go through the turnstile. That leaves no difference between the unused and game used version, unless you fold the ticket to get it into your pocket. You can also purchase tickets from other people. While they don’t hold the memory of the game, they are still a Red Sox collectable, and can lead to several topical collections.

If you have a favorite player, you may want tickets special to that player. I saw a person advertise online that he wanted a ticket stub from all of Nolan Ryan’s 324 wins. That was a pretty ambitious project. Tickets can sometimes be one of those collectable that are plentiful, but scarce at the same time. Obviously, there are tens of thousands of tickets printed for every game. But, finding a specific ticket, for a specific game can be a manner of luck. That can be the fun of a collection, tracking down exactly what you’re looking for. Obviously, recent tickets will be easier to find that older tickets since fewer people will have thrown them out. So, if you’re looking for all of Tim Wakefield’s wins from 2008, that’s easier than all of Jim Lonborg’s wins in 1967.

Another angle is to look for special, or historic events. Ticket stubs from no-hitters, or perfect games are a popular collectable. Specific games where records are set are also commonly collected. Games where players make their major league, or team debuts can be a nice addion to a player collection. Or, special games. When I was leaving the All-Star game in 1999, there was a guy standing at the exit offering to buy any ticket stubs that were available. World Series or other playoff games are great tickets to save.

The nice thing about recent tickets is that they have become very attractive. Obviously, World Series or All-Star game tickets have had bold graphics for a while. Lately, even regular tickets are sprucing things up. The last few years, the Red Sox have featured pictures of different players on their tickets. (Maybe a collection of all the 2009 tickets featuring Jon Lester?) They’re also fairly easy to store. A few tickets can be nicely framed and hung on the wall. They can also fit easily into plastic sheets for binders.

You can find tickets all over the place in the secondary market. A quick eBay search will find piles of tickets from different games. The easiest way to get a collection, though, is to simply go to a bunch of games. I’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon Derek Lowe’s no-hitter, Jacoby Ellsbury’s major league debut, and Pedro Martinez’s 1000th career strikeout. Just by not throwing things away, you can build up a nice little collection.

Anyone have a favorite ticket they’ve held on to?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Yankees in September!

That means one of two things. Either, it’s one of the most important games of the season, with playoff implications. Or, it’s another game playing out the string because the playoffs spots have all been decided.

This year, it’s pretty much the latter…I think. Technically, the division isn’t decided yet. Technically, the Wild Card isn’t decided yet. But, they really are. With the Red Sox magic number in the Wild Card, even the Nationals would be able to win enough games to close it out. The Yankees lead in the division isn’t much less secure. Unless. The Sox were supposed to at least make it more interesting by winning more games in KC this week. Currently, the Yankees lead sits at 5.5. It would have been more fun at 4.5, but it’s not. The Sox currently enter a 3 game set in NY. In theory, a sweep would put the lead at 2.5 with a week to play. It would be interesting, if anybody cared. With both teams in the playoffs, wins will almost be by accident.

Tonight’s match-up looks to be in the Sox favor. Jon Lester faces off against Joba Chamberlain. Lester has been the Red Sox best pitcher over most of the season. He’s well on his way to becoming the ace so many people thought he’d be. Joba, on the other hand, is showing that if it weren’t for his funny name, and the pinstripes on his uniform, nobody would know who he is. He has been nothing short of awful lately. What some Yankees fans considered a distinct NY advantage at the 4-spot in the rotation has become anything but. As the Yankees have put the newly minted Joba Rules in place, Chamberlain looks to be performing worse and worse. Probably not what the Yankees were hoping for heading into the playoffs. It almost assures that if the Yankees end up with the best record, they would pick the longer series to try and skip his appearance. If that’s the case, the Sox would face the Angels in the shorter series. That puts the pressure back on Dice-K to show his stuff in the ALDS. I’d like to think that having to use a fourth starter helps the Sox, but we’ll have to see.

At this point, it’s all a waiting game. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out. Winning probably isn’t as important as staying healthy. I would imagine that pitch counts will be strictly held to. It’s just keeping everyone fresh and ready to go in two weeks. It’s almost a spring training feel to everything. Sure, it’s the Yankees, but the bile just isn’t there.

At least until Joba throws another one at Youk’s head.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

List of 36: Best Red Sox Pitchers of the Past 36 years

1. Pedro Martinez
2. Roger Clemens
3. Josh Beckett
4. Jon Lester
5. Luis Tiant
6. Dennis Eckersley
7. Bruce Hurst
8. Jonathan Papelbon
9. Tim Wakefield
10. Juan Marichal
11. Derek Lowe
12. Curt Schilling
13. Bill Lee
14. Bob Stanley
15. Dennis Boyd
16. Lee Smith
17. Ferguson Jenkins
18. Mike Boddicker
19. Daisuke Matsuzaka
20. Bret Saberhagen
21. Jeff Reardon
22. Mike Torrez
23. John Tudor
24. Frank Viola
25. John Burkett
26. Steve Avery
27. Aaron Sele
28. Keith Foulke
29. Hideo Nomo
30. Scott Williamson
31. Tom Seaver
32. David Wells
33. Jeff Suppan
34. Clay Buchholz
35. David Cone
36. Bartolo Colon

Monday, September 21, 2009

Can the Sox Schedule one More Series in Baltimore?

I was amazed when I saw the final record this season for the Red Sox against the Orioles. The O’s were always that team that gave the Red Sox fits. They were a horrible team for years, but always seemed to play the Sox even. This year, though, they worked out exactly how they were supposed to. If it weren’t for the O’s, I’d be afraid to guess what the Sox record would be. It’s the sign of a good team, though, that the Sox won the games they were supposed to win. That’s how you make the playoffs.

With the scores of the games over the weekend, it would be hard to say that the pitching is what did it for the team. Most of the games were won with plenty of room to spare. It’s interesting to see, though, how the reaction to the pitching differed from game to game. Lester went out Saturday, and tossed one of those “quality starts” that means so little. When the game was over, the standard opinion was that he was “off” a little. He wasn’t really his dominating self. A win is a win, sure, but he could do better. Then Dice-K goes out the next day. It would be hard to say he pitched better than Lester. He almost got a “quality” start out of it, but didn’t. But, the reaction has been mostly positive. Another step in the right direction for Dice. It’s funny to see how expectations play such a role in the outcomes.

The big picture for the Sox is that the rotation is looking pretty good. Dice wasn’t perfect by any means, but he’s just fine for a fourth starter. Beckett looks like he’s remembering that it’s crunch time. If I started a playoff series against anyone tomorrow with Beckett-Lester-Buchholz-Matsuzaka, I’m feeling pretty good about the Sox chances.

Who makes the call whether to try for the division? Do Theo and Tito sit down and discuss it? Is it up to the manager? Does ownership get involved? The Sox are currently 5 games back heading into a series against KC. The Yankees play LA. Were it not for Greinke, I would expect a sweep. With Greinke, it’s still likely. So, if the Sox sweep, and the Yankees (in full coast mode) take two of three from LA, the Sox are only 3.5 games back. From there it’s a three game series in the Bronx. When does the division come into play? Obviously, having the rotation set up properly is much more important that the division. But, a little tinkering? If I count out the games, I have Lester starting the last game of the season. If the Sox are down one game, with the division on the line, does he pitch? Do they flub around with the rotation a bit to get Lester a start in NY next weekend? Are they even having this conversation internally? At some point having home field throughout the playoffs has to mean something. I’m reminded of the Bulls when they won 72 games. Their last game was against the Pacers, who had already beaten them earlier in the year. The Bulls were, obviously, in the playoffs. They had home court. But, if they won that last game, it would mean that they would have single digit losses, and that no team would have beaten them twice. They ended up in coast mode, and lost the game. But, did they think about going all out? It’s in the back of everyone’s mind. Does Francona still give the same rest as if the Yanks were 7 up? I don’t know.

I wonder who does.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Red Sox A-Z: I is for…

Israel Alcantara

Israel Alcantara is an interesting example for Red Sox fans. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, he was quite a prospect in the farm system. He would tear up the International League every year. His power numbers were superb. Clearly, this was a player who would make a huge impact for years to come. He just never really materialized that way.

There may be a few reasons as to why that happens. Some people are just called AAAA players. They’re too good for AAA, but not good enough for the majors. That’s always surprising to me. There are some relatively poor players playing in the major leagues. It always seemed weird to me that a player batting .330 with 35 home runs in the minors couldn’t at least hit .250 in the majors. Some of that could come down to expectations. When a player comes through the system as a role player, that’s all he’s expected to be. When someone comes through as a star, though, you expect it to continue. If they don’t end up with stardom, you’re more disappointed than you would have been.

It is possible that there is some hitch in the talent level. I’ve mentioned before that the difference between someone with 200 hits a season and 150 is 2 hits a week. It doesn’t take much to make a huge difference. It’s possible that a player can be a tick slower with the bat, for instance, and be OK against inferior pitchers. But, in the majors, that weakness is exposed. Or, a real good curveball may be too much for some players to pick up on in time. The fine line between minors and majors could eliminate some players.

Or, there could be a mental reason. Someone with all the talent who doesn’t show the effort could be in for a rude awakening once they get to the show. Sure, some players can excel while looking lazy (Manny Ramirez and JD Drew come to mind). But, there’s far more who have less talent who only stick around because they have the extra drive. Dustin Pedroia, for example. I don’t know Izzy, so I have no idea his mental state. I did see him loaf after a couple flyballs during a September game. It struck me that a player doing his best to make the team ought to show more effort than that. After that performance, I hoped the Red Sox would have replaced him mid-inning, and sent him down. When Manny hits 45 home runs a year, it’s OK to let a base hit drop in now and then. But, when you’re trying to prove you belong, you need to go all out. Maybe Alcantara felt he already belonged?

Of course, the elephant in the room with Alcantara is the fabulous fight video of him. If you haven’t seen it, you should look for it. Like any number of players, after being plunked by a pitch he charged the mound. Unlike many players he thought it over first. Before he charged, he made sure to give the catcher a quick kick in the chest. That made sure the catcher wouldn’t be able to stop him from reaching the pitcher. He didn’t want anything stopping him from reaching his goal. It’s that kind of foresight that should have led to a capable Major League career.

Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work that way.

I is for Israel Alcantara.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pretty Much as Expected

OK. Everybody raise your hands if you thought Dice-K would pitch well last night. Now put your hands down. I guess you were right. Everybody raise your hands if you thought he would get the win. OK, put them down. You were right too. Everybody raise your hands if you thought he would pitch 6+ shutout innings, and have the game finish in less than 3 hours. Ok, put your hands down. You’re liars.
That was not the Dice-K we’re used to seeing. Thank goodness. There is nothing you can say about last night’s performance that isn’t positive. About the worst thing you can say is that it’s only one game. If that’s the argument, I can’t wait for the next one. This wasn’t the Patriots barely beating a horrible team at home. This isn’t John Smoltz mowing down the Padres. This was Dice-K shutting out a likely playoff opponent. It was putting the beat down on one of the best offenses in the league. It wasn’t facing their fifth starter, or a September call-up filling space. This was a match-up against a key member of the LAA rotation, and Dice got the best of him. If, and it’s an “if” this is what we’re going to see from Dice-K, things are looking way, way up for the Sox this postseason.
Just look at what the Sox have done the last four games against quality teams. (I’ll still call Tampa a quality team) The assumed playoff rotation of Beckett-Lester-Buchholz-Dice has gone, and dominated. If the Sox can get that rotation doing that in a couple weeks, I dare a team to toss up a better pitching staff. The best part is, with the bullpen the Sox have going right now, they only need the six innings from Dice-K they got last night. Wagner-Bard-Papelbon can take it from there. It’s a pretty deadly rotation, and I wonder if everyone else is shaking in their boots. It looks like the Sox have picked exactly the right time to all come together.
The best part of the past few days has been the drop off from the Rangers. I know the magic number still sits at 14, or something like that. But, it looks like the Sox will be able to cruise to a playoff spot. If they have the chance to line up the rotation exactly as they’d like it, it could be everything. If the Sox can throw Beckett and Lester in games 1 and 2 of the ALDS in LA, I think I like the chances of a split. Then, it’s just a matter of taking 2 of 3 while throwing Buchholz, Dice, and Beckett. The key is just to get the wild card taken care of as soon as possible. I bet a few of the regulars could use the rest as well. It would be nice if Martinez could take a load off a few days, and at least not have to catch. Lowell, I’m sure, could use a quick day off here and there. The Sox don’t have any scheduled off-days from here on out. So, getting the playoffs clinched early is the only way to safely get these guys some time off.
If the Sox keep going the way they’re going, that shouldn’t take long.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Or, actually, maybe it should stick around for a bit. The rain may have been annoying, especially for the fans, but it would be hard to argue with the results.
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Saturday’s game. I think the officials were a bit gun shy about playing in the rain after what happened on Friday. Friday night, they started the game on time. I can only assume they expected it to be dry, or at least playable, for quite some time. The rains came in, though, before the top of the first was even over. Whatever clouds they thought might pass obviously didn’t. They sure as heck didn’t want to make the same mistake twice in a row. So, Saturday’s game was delayed due to the forecast of rain in the area. Naturally, this time it never came. So, everyone sat around for two hours high and dry before they finally decided to start it. Wouldn’t you know it, it started to rain around 10:30. If they had started the game on time, there’s a good chance it would have been over. But, with the delay, it was touch and go as to whether it would even be official. Thankfully, they just squeaked in the minimum number of innings, so it ended up being a good day.
Once again this proves, that when it comes to the rain, the Red Sox can’t win. Friday they try to play. They start the game on time, and hope for the best. They lose out. Naturally, everyone complains. How could they start it if they knew rain was coming? If it was going to be rained out, why not call it before it starts so fans wouldn’t have to make the trip in? So, the opposite happens the very next night. There’s a chance of rain, so they delay it. I sat there for two hours with my scorebook at the ready. (You know it wasn’t raining if I had my scorebook out in the elements) Is everyone happy? Of course not. How could they delay it if there’s no rain? They just wanted the fans waiting around so they could sell more beer. It’s a lose-lose for the Sox. I think it’s probably time to call off the conspiracy theories. They’re doing the best they can with the best information they can. Sometimes, as you may have noticed, the weathermen aren’t 100% accurate. That’s the way it goes.
Lost in the rain may have been the best pitching weekend for the Sox in a while. If there were doubts about the rotation going into a playoff series, this weekend was certainly a good sign. Right now, Beckett-Lester-Buchholz look to be the first three starters in a potential series. How’d they do this weekend? 20 innings, 2 earned runs. Two wins, one complete game. (Yeah, I know) Could they have done any better? Beckett fought through the distractions on Saturday to throw the best he’s thrown in a while. Is this Beckett rounding into postseason form under the September pressures? Wouldn’t that be nice? Buchholz had yet another great outing against a great opposing starter. The fact that he seems to amp up when he’s facing another quality arm bodes well for the playoffs. Good chance of facing another top starter there. As for Lester, he’s been great for a while now. This is just another example of it. I wonder if Francona has considered having him throw an inning two days before every start?
Another great item from Saturday. The Sox beat up on a pitcher they’ve never seen before. In fact, only one team had. Usually, those are the no-name pitchers who give the Sox fits. To see them run him right out of town was encouraging.
Most teams would have a problem with a double header since it would be hard for their closer to go both games if needed. This is how sick the Red Sox bullpen is. Papelbon goes in game 1. In game 2? They’re forced to settle for Billy Wagner. (I know it wasn’t a save situation at that point…but I bet it was the plan all along) What other team has that as a second option. Wager wasn’t perfect, but he struck out two when it mattered the most. It’s just unfair.
What will Dice-K show us?

Team Sets: 2007 Topps Team Set

Players Included: Josh Beckett, Coco Crisp, JD Drew, Mike Lowell, Julio Lugo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Ortiz, Wily Mo Pena, Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, Kevin Youkilis

Best Picture: Coco Crisp. Another great shot of a batter in action. Crisp has smacked a ball, and it ready to do what he does best…run. The bat is falling to the ground, and Crisp’s eyes are following the flight of the ball. I can’t help but wonder what happened next.

Hall of Famers: none

Future Hall of Famers: Manny Ramirez. Curt Schilling should just miss. Varitek may be able to make a case, as a catcher, but probably won’t. Papelbon could get there if he keeps going.

Reason to Buy the Set: This is a special “team set” that Topps has started producing in recent years. While the design is the same as the stardard Topps offering, the numbering is different as well as some of the pictures. So, as a Red Sox fan, it’s the only way to get these cards of the Sox players. As a single card, the Daisuke Matsuzaka rookie card is the key aspect.

Overall Reaction: While I like the special “team sets” from Topps, they aren’t quite different enough for me. If I have a “regular” Topps team set and this “special” set, it’s too much of the same design. In this case, though, anything having to do with a championship season ranks pretty high in my book.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Collecting the Sox: Bats

I was going to make a joke here about the little flying mammals, but you’re all better than that, right? When it comes to baseball collectables, the bat is right up there with the ball as the most basic. It’s one of the most integral pieces of equipment there is. As such, it makes a perfect Red Sox collectable.

As with any collectable, bats can be broken into a few categories, all with their plusses and minuses. For bats there are souvenir bats, custom bats, official bats, used bats, novelty bats, mini-bats, and on and on and on. It’s the mark of a good collection when you can tailor it to you wants and desires.

The most obvious segment of Red Sox bats is the game-used versions. These are bats actually used by a Red Sox player during a game. What a perfect way to own a piece of the game. The nice thing about bats, as opposed to balls or bases, is that they’re specific to a player on a team. If you catch a game used foul ball, is that a Kevin Youkilis ball? A Josh Beckett Ball? If a Yankee pitcher threw it, and a Red Sox player fouled it off, is that a Yankee ball, or a Sox ball? But, with a bat, you know which player actually held it in his hands. You can usually see pine tar on the handle, or a ball scuff on the barrel. It just adds to the snapshot of that bat’s time in the game. Baseball card companies are now also cutting up bats, and placing them in their baseball cards. You can debate forever if it’s insanity to cut up a perfectly good bat. But, it does offer many collectors the chance to own at least a small piece of history.

Just beneath the game used bats are the official model bats. These are the bats made to a player's specifications, but not actually used by him. They usually still have the player’s name engraved in the barrel. These are nice bats to collect. They display nicely, and make great backdrops for autographs. Some players use very specific looking bats as well. With different colors and shades, a whole collection of bats can create a dramatic look.

From there, you find the custom and souvenir bats. These are made to be collected. Sometimes they’re made to honor a player or team. Maybe a special event or milestone in a player’s career. They’re usually quite colorful, and are again wonderful for the addition of autographs. I like the ones made by the Cooperstown Bat Company, but there are any number of places making bats for collectors. They even make some right in front of you at a stand in Fenway Park itself. Bats are everywhere. A newer segment of the hobby is custom bats for almost any occasion. Call up the company, and they’ll engrave a bat with your wedding date, birthday, or Little League Team. It’s a nice special way to remember any part of your life.

As with many collectables, storage can be an issue with bats. A standard bat is two and a half feet long. That’s a daunting storage problem. You can get smaller versions, naturally, that are usually about 18” long. Those can help with the displaying of your collection. The easiest way to display a bat collection may be to get a rack hanging on the wall. This way a handful of bats can stack on top of each other only taking up wall space. It’s up to you.

And really, that’s the whole point of any collection. It’s up to you. If you want a game used bat from members of the 2004 Red Sox, go for it. Do you want every member of the 2007 team to sign your hand painted version? That’s great. Do you want a custom bat made as a going away present for a coworker? Sounds good to me. There are plenty of options out there.

Anyone have a favorite bat in their collection?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Buchholz, Bowden Better Birds

Ok, that’s the last alliteration for a bit. Promise.

Last night’s game was much better. I get that it’s against the Orioles. But, doing exactly what you’re supposed to do is never a bad thing. If the Sox won 2-1 or 5-4, I could be worried about just beating a bad team. But, they didn’t eek out a victory. The demolished the visitors, and that’s great.

Clay Buchholz’s performance should not get lost. Sure, he had a huge lead right from the start. But, he didn’t use it. It previous starts, with previous leads, he’s struggled. I remember a similar game with a similar lead; he couldn’t even go long enough to qualify for the win. So, staying in the game for seven shutout innings is a tremendous plus for the Sox. They need him to remember he can pitch if he’s going to be the third starter in a playoff series.

It’s nice for the bats to come alive as well. Once again, I need to consider the opponent. But, any change the line-up can get to feel comfortable has to help going forward. Pedroia was in an annoying little slump. So, at the very least he can go into tonight’s game having hit two home runs the night before. His stats on the scoreboard look a little better than they did. That can’t hurt, right?
The Red Sox record stands at 80-58. They’re currently on pace for 94 wins. After 138 games last year, the Sox were 81-57, finishing with 95 wins. The annoying part is that after those 138 games last year, the Sox were only 4 games back. So, it’s not so much that the Sox have been struggling…even after the rough series in Chicago. It’s that the other teams keep winning. The Yankees won again last night. The Rangers swept a double header. So, the Sox won and not only didn’t gain in the division, but they lost a half-game in the wild card. That’s just rotten luck.

The Sox desperately need tonight’s game in the bag. That way, when the big boys come into town, the pressure won’t be as crazy. If the Sox do what I ask the rest of the way and play .500 on the road, and win the series at home they’ll finish with 95 wins.

Can’t ask for much more than that.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Byrd Bounced, But Beckett Better

OK, not the world’s best weekend for our Boston Red Sox. While I usually don’t expect to win a series on the road, this is one of the times you think they’d at least split. Especially since their two aces were scheduled to appear.
Just when you thought that the Sox had picked up an aging free agent that actually worked, Paul Byrd blew up on Friday night. To be fair, blew up might be a harsh term. He got nibbled and nibbled to death. It’s the sort of performance the Derek Lowe was famous for. A liner off an infielder’s glove. A blooper just over the infield. A dribbler that just makes it through. Just as you’re telling yourself that things aren’t so bad, they go crazy. Franona can’t exactly pull a guy for giving up a bloop and a dribbler. But, before you know it, they’re down seven runs and on the way to a laugher. I don’t know if that shows anything for next time. Was that just a run of bad luck, or does it mean that Byrd’s hittable? Only time will tell.
Once again Jon Lester showed everyone why he’s one of the bright young stars in this league. He passed the 200-strikeout mark, which is pretty remarkable. Thinking back to the inconsistent Lester of a few years ago, who would have thought he’d be in the games long enough to reach 200 K’s? 200 walks, maybe. This shows exactly the kind of progression that requires patience with young pitchers. After a couple years of being “blah”, it wouldn’t have been way off to wonder if Lester would ever get it. It looks like he’s done exactly that. It’s another reason that Clay Buchholz deserved a little time…even thought he’s older than Lester was at the same stage of his career.
Of course the bigger start of the weekend belonged to Josh Beckett. Not only was it a pretty good pitching match-up, but you had to wonder what, exactly, Beckett would give you. While he drew the loss, I’m pretty encouraged with the way Beckett performed. He continued with the high school English pitching. He gave up a couple walks this time, but didn’t give up a home run. He put together one of those “quality starts.” While you can argue how “quality” seven innings of 3-run ball is, it’s better than he had been doing. Quite honestly, if Beckett goes seven innings, and give up 3 runs, the Sox will win quite a few of his starts. I’d say things are looking up.
A couple nice things happen for the Sox in the coming weeks. First, they start a smooth 8-game homestand. Any long stretch at home is much appreciated. They also start it off with a couple games against the Orioles. While I hesitate to look past them, I’d prefer to face them than a lot of other teams. They also have an amazing two days off in the next week. So, if anyone is looking for a rest, now’s the time. The bad news? That’s the last rest the Sox will get all season. After the O’s, the Sox host Tampa and LA. Those aren’t exactly cupcakes. Also, after playing LA, the Sox head out on a 10-day 10-game road trip. While it starts with Baltimore and KC, any trip that long and packed is never a good thing. And, true to form, the schedulers made it extra tough on the Sox by scheduling the Yankees series as the last three games of the trip. Why does it always seem that the Sox go the Bronx at the end of a long road trip? Oh, right. It’s because they do. In May, they closed out a 9-game/10 day trip with a couple in NY. In August, they closed out another 9-game/10 day trip with four in the Bronx. The 10-game/10 day trip next week is even worse. (Usually the Yankees are just finishing up a nice homestand when the Sox come calling. Often with a day off the day before the series opener. Or does it just feel that way?) Would have been nice to start in NY and close in Baltimore. But, that’s the way it goes.
No matter what, the Sox need these next two.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

You Know What They Say About an Old Penny…

Sometimes, right after you give them their release because they pitched so pathetically they come right out and throw eight shutout innings while getting the win for their new team.
OK, so it’s not a real common saying. But, it certainly applies in this case. How does Penny come out and mow down the Phillies? When Smoltz did it against the Padres and Nationals, you could at least blame the competition. But, this was the defending World Champions at home, and Penny cut through them like it was nothing. Is the NL really that bad? I know there’s always the kidding that they’re the weaker league, maybe even at the level of AAA. But, I would have been shocked if Penny was sent to Portland and tossed 8 shutout innings. What gives? How does this happen to the Sox twice?
More importantly, does Theo get to say he was right? When two pitchers he took a chance on do end up dominating, but only after he finally releases them, does that show he made the right call? Apparently they both did have something left in the tank. They both did come back from arm troubles to be a factor on a playoff contender. It just wasn’t in Boston. Maybe a half-point for each of them?
Just as important, can Theo use these examples to fleece other National League teams? Can Theo offer struggling pitchers to NL teams, and convince them they’ll be Cy Young contenders? Can he convince the Cardinals that, say, Daisuke for Pujols is a more than fair trade? Would it work for position players too?
Speaking of struggling pitchers, what going on with the ace? Beckett’s stats continue to baffle me. He gives up runs like they’re on sale, but the rest of it looks pretty good. He went six innings yesterday, giving up 4 runs. That’s not a good start for anyone, let alone a top of the rotation guy. But, if you didn’t know that and I just said, “Beckett pitched last night. Went six innings, didn’t walk anybody, gave up seven hits, and struck out nine.” You’d assume the Sox won big. That’s a heck of a performance. Pitchers with 1.17 WHIPS are league leaders. That works to 13.5 K’s/9 innings. You’d pray for that kind of dominance. Once again though, despite the supporting numbers, he gave up runs in bunches. It’s hard to say, then, that he’s doing much wrong. I can’t say he must be hurt, or he wouldn’t be striking out nine guys. He’s not wild, since he didn’t walk anybody. Is he, perhaps, suffering from being too controlled? Maybe he needs to go a little Nolan Ryan and throw the ball all over the place for a while. Players appear to know that his fastball is going to be around the plate. They aren’t punished for swinging for the fences, so they do. Maybe brush a few guys back to regain the swagger? I don’t know the answer.
He better figure it out pretty dang soon.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Red Sox A-Z: H is for…

Hideki Okajima

Okajima was signed by the Sox in November of 2006. At the time, the Sox had won the rights to negotiate with Japanese super-pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. The signing of Okajima was seen as a way to encourage Dice-K to sign. Most of the public thought the move was to give Matsuzaka a friend on the team. It may have worked, too, since Matsuzaka ended up signing a couple weeks later. I’m not sure if even the Sox front office knew that Okajima would turn out to be a steal.
Things may not have started out great for Hideki, as he game up a home run on the first pitch he threw in the major leagues. But, he shut everyone down after that. He didn’t allow a run for the next 20 games he appeared in. He ended up making the All-Star team, which is amazing for a “rookie” set-up guy. The Sox rode him hard down the stretch, and into the playoffs. He didn’t give up a run in the ALDS or the ALCS in 2007. He ended up being a major factor in the 2007 World Championship. Just so Daisuke would have someone to talk to.

When I think of Okajima, I think of two things. The first is his delivery. I didn’t get to see many Sox games on TV during the 2007 season, relying mostly on the radio. So, it wasn’t until the playoffs that I noticed his delivery. He doesn’t look at the plate as he releases the ball. Which coach let him get away with that all his life? Instead of keeping his eye on the target, he looks straight at the ground. Is that unnerving to the hitter? Do they realize this guy is throwing a no-look pitch? Creepy.

The other thing about Okajima is his entrance song. I don’t know many set-up guys with such an identifiable entrance song. If you haven’t heard it, go search for Okajima on itunes. It’s worth downloading. It’s both energizing, and campy at the same time. I can’t hear it enough. I don’t know the history of the song, but it’s just great.

These days, Hideki is still a vital piece of the Red Sox bullpen. I shudder to think where the Sox would have been without him these last few years. he was an amazing pick-up. I wonder if anyone predicted it.

H is for Hideki Okajima.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

36 Questions: Why Do Rosters Expand in September?

Every September, ML teams are allowed to expand their rosters. They can add more players to help them out for the last month of the season. I’m just not real sure as to why they do it.

Because of the pitching rotations, baseball is already one of the few sports that really changes from the regular season to the post season. A football team that performs well in the regular season, probably will perform as well in the postseason. Unless someone gets hurt, most of the same players will play in each game. In baseball, that’s different. With the number of games played during the regular season, most teams use a five-man pitching rotation. So, a team with 5 pretty good pitchers will probably win more games than a team with two great pitchers, and three scrubs. In the postseason, though, the team with two great pitches can configure them so that’s really all you need. Just ask Arizona fans. So, what you get, is a team that is built for the regular season, but not the playoffs…ore vice versa. The September call-ups would look to add even another wrinkle. In the case of the Red Sox, they had a pretty deep bench, and pitching staff. They had the different qualities they’d like in bench players, and have benefited from that. Suddenly, other teams are allowed to improve their bench without trying. By sheer volume, they can have players on hand to do whatever they may find that they need. That happens in the pen too. Suddenly, the bullpen is stocked with any kinds of arms a team could want. So, what happens is to really have three seasons. There’s the regular season from April to August. In this season, teams are rewarded for depth, and careful bench selection. Then, when the playoff run starts, teams are given the advantage of quantity. Depth isn’t as important, because everyone has depth. You don’t need a guy who can play first, third and outfield. You just find a guy who can play first, one that can play third, and one that can play outfield. Not to mention, that most of these call-ups won’t be able to play in the postseason. So, for the most important month of the season, teams can use players they can’t use later. Why would baseball upset the competitive balance like that? There must be a good reason…right?

By September, many of the minor league seasons are winding down. It is nice for some of the top minor league talent to have something to do. Although, I remember the Red Sox teams of years gone by waiting to call up extra players so that they could compete in minor league playoff games. But, killing time better not be the reason. Is upsetting the league worth getting some youngster a couple extra at bats? Heck, lots of the time the call ups are on the bench anyway. It’s nice for older teams to have the extra subs on hand. It allows players to get a little extra rest after a long season of aches and pains. But, isn’t that forgiving the teams without the foresight to employ younger healthy players? Once again, a team that did a good job to obtain an advantage sees that advantage taken away. It’s nice for the call-ups. Most of them are making their ML debuts. For some of them, it will be the only time they spend on a Major League roster. But, I can’t imagine a league messing with things so players can feel good about themselves. You know, other than Joe Torre’s All-Star teams.

So, what’s the reason? What’s so important that MLB is willing to change the whole dynamic of the league. Why does it penalize smart teams when it matters the most? I don’t get it.

Why do rosters expand in September?

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