Friday, October 31, 2008

Pedroia or Youkilis or Maybe Morneau

Ok you know I'm not picking that we got that out of the way.

Last year I wrote an argument for Mike Lowell as MVP knowing full well that he wasn’t going to win the award but I felt like he deserved recognition for having a great season. Well this year my insert-Red-Sox-player-name-here for MVP is back but this time it’s between two players that could (and one of them should) be named the leagues most valuable player.

To be honest I had a hard time deciding between Pedroia or Youk for MVP, so lets let their numbers and intagables slug it out and see if we can’t come up with an MVP.
Their numbers are pretty comparable, Youk had better power numbers this season but Petey led the league in more categories.

El Caballito - Dustin Pedroia

The 2007 Rookie of the Year improved in nearly every category this year and led the Red Sox back to the ALCS as one of the best hitters in all of baseball. His credentials are pretty impressive.

Petey led the AL in hits (213), doubles (54) and runs scored (118). He was also in the top five in the American League in seven other categories. He was second in batting average (.326), third in at bats (653), singles (140), runs created (123), times-on-base (270), sac files (9) and at bats per strikeout (12.6).

What the hell, for spits and whistles he was also in the top ten in four other categories. He was ninth in games played (157), seventh in extra base hits (73), his power/speed numbers were eight in the AL and he made just 474 outs, seventh in the AL.

It’s also pretty impressive that I witnessed 30,000+ people chanting ‘DON’T SUCK PEDROIA’ at a game early in the season last year and at the end of the season fans were chanting ‘MVP’. Oh yeah and he won the Rookie of the Year award last season.

Kevin Youkilis…Yooooooooook

Youk had his best season in the majors in 2008 hitting .312 while driving in 112 runs and hitting 29 homers and 43 doubles…all career highs. Youk played very well when he was moved to the clean up spot after the Manny deal and the combination of Youk and Bay proved to be a very good trade off for Manny.

Also you have to take into account the fact that Big Papi wasn’t Big Papi this year. If Papi is the hitter he usually is then I think Youk comes up with even more opportunities to drive in runs and come up with clutch hits. He’s also one of the best in the majors at making productive outs. Even when he doesn’t get on base he makes something happen. Youk tied with Pedroia for third in the AL with nine sac flies.

One of the key pieces to the Youkilis for MVP argument is the fact that he can seamlessly play two positions. That actually might tip the scales in favor of Yoooooooooook.

In 2007 Youkilis won a Gold Glove at first base making zero errors with 990 put outs and 90 assists in 135 games. He might not have been perfect this year, Youk made four errors at first in 125 games, but he also played 36 games at third base after Mike Lowell started battling injuries. He also played two games in right field. The guy gets it done, whatever the Sox need he gets it done.

Numbers are typically the linchpin of any MVP argument but Youk’s versatility has to account for something though. While the MVP award is voted on prior to the playoffs you have to think that with out his ability to play both first and third played a major role in the Sox getting to the post season.

When Youkilis moves to third you really don’t lose much defensively and it allowed the Red Sox to have Mark Kotsay or Sean Casey in the lineup. It also meant that the team didn’t have to move Jed Lowrie out of position. I’d say that Youk’s ability to play two positions definitely makes him one of the indispensable guys on the roster.

Both guys play the game the same way, which is one of the reasons fans react the way they do to those two. During the summer Tito put Pedroia in the clean up spot for a couple of games and when reporters asked him about it his attitude 'it’s about fucking time'…ahhh how can you not root for this guy.

This isn’t really a factor in the MVP race but I think it warrants mentioning. Both Pedroia and Youkilis are prime examples of the Red Sox move towards building the through the minor leagues, which is not something they were known for until very recently.

Now I’m not trying to say the Red Sox are gritty underdogs or anything like that, they’re not the Rays, I know. They do have the second or third highest payroll in the majors but they have started to build a stronger and stronger farm system under the current ownership.

Guys like Pedroia and Youkilis are prime examples of the Red Sox increased strength within the farm system. Up until recently the Red Sox would sell their prospects for big name players at the trade deadline. Youkilis was one of the first guys that started that trend for the Red Sox and it has continued with Petey, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie.

That was a little bit off topic but like I said I thought it warranted mentioning. The Sox hung onto Youk and now he’s a potential MVP and they promoted Pedroia and he responded by winning the RoY and now is in the hunt for MVP.

There is no doubt that both Youk and Pedroia had their best seasons in the majors in 2008 but it’s hard to determine which guy was more valuable to the team. Lets look at a straight up numbers comparison.

Pedroia – 157 G – 653 AB – 118 R – 213 H – 54 2b – 17 HR – 83 RBI – 20 SB – 50 BB – 52 K - .326 BA - .376 OBP

Youkilis – 145 G – 538 AB – 91 R – 168 H – 43 2b – 29 HR – 115 RBI – 3 SB - 62 BB – 108 K - .312 BA - .390 OBP

Neither guy has run away MVP numbers like A-Rod did last season but compared to the other favorite Justin Morneau they are certainly competitive. A.K.A here come the token Justin Morneau comments so I can pretend that I’m not a total homer…no worries I know I am.

Morneau – 163 G – 623 AB – 97 R – 187 H – 47 2b – 23 HR – 129 RBI – 0 SB – 76 BB – 85K - .300 BA - .376 OBP

Also in fairness to Morneau I’ll add this…He was tops in the league in games played, he played in all 163 of the Twins games, which is pretty f’n valuable, he was fifth in the AL in plate appearances (712), fifth in hits, seventh in total bases (311), fifth in doubles, second in RBI, second in sac flies (10) and first in intentional walks.

The intentional walks stat stands out because that shows how much other teams respect his abilities. He also led the league in RBI on an ok team, which again reaffirms his value.

I don’t think it would be any kind of outrage if Morneau were to win the MVP, clearly he’s got the numbers to back up the argument, but I don’t think his 2008 season was remarkably better than either Pedroia or Youkilis.

Power numbers are often the first thing that gets mentioned when you’re talking about the MVP award. Most people go straight to home runs and RBI as their first indicators of who should be MVP. There’s no doubt Youk had better power numbers than Petey but we’re not talking about a guy that only hit three homers and drove in 45 runs.

As a number two hitter Pedroia drove in 83 runs and had 17 home runs, compared to 29 from Youk and 23 from Morneau. In my humble opinion Pedroia’s all around excellence stands above everything else.

Morneau and Youk were better at driving in runs and had better power numbers but they are expected to when they hit where they do in the lineup. With Pedroia you got even more than you bargained for with the way he handled his bat hitting for both average and power, his defense and his ability to carry the team as a second year player.

I don’t think the Sox would have been nearly as good without Kevin Youkilis and Justin Morneau is definitely one of the best players in the Major Leagues, but in my opinion Dustin Pedroia gets the nod for MVP.

But I won’t be too upset if Youk wins it either. And after all that typing Justin Morneau will probably be the one that actually gets the award. Since there was no run away candidate, as a baseball fan, that wouldn’t be so bad either.

Hello Banner Number 17

Well I know one place Bron Bron will have absolutely no interest in coming when he’s a free agent in 2010. He has to hate Boston more than any other athlete right now right? They blocked his route to the finals and robbed him of a LeBron vs. Kobe showdown for the NBA and Best Player on Planet Earth titles. I can’t think of anyone else that would loathe the hub more right now than King James.

I’d just like to thank David Stern for bringing us an opening night that had the Celtics playing the Cavs at the Garden, during which the Celtics got their (totally sweet and classy) championship rings and raised banner number 17 to the crowed rafters.

For a borderline meaningless game one of 82 last night was rife with subplots. Like I said you had the blood boiling hatred I would imagine LeBron has for Boston, you had the history of the Celtics and their return to prominence on full display with the ring ceremony and then you had 48 minutes of LeBron and Pierce going shot for shot once again.

I realize that the Big Three aren’t exactly spring chickens but this has become a good rivalry game and will be as long as LeBron is in Cleveland.

LeBron did a lot to become one of those guys that fans in Boston love to hate. He forced the Celtics to a game seven doing everything humanly possible to end their dream season and last night he stayed in the locker room until after the Celtics ring ceremony.

I think that was a great move by LeBron. I know every team that wins a championship does the ring presentation and banner raising on opening day and there is always a team that has to stand there and watch. I loved LeBron’s ‘f that’ attitude, I don’t blame him I wouldn’t want to watch either. And you knew he was sitting in the locker room fuming and ready to throw down when he hit the court.

Unfortunately for King James he stuggled through a tough 9-for-21 shooting night and the Celtics shook off the emotion of the pre-game festivities to hold the Cavs to just 13 third quarter points to take the win.

LeBron did have a chance to win it late but he drove the lane and missed a shot then missed two free throws and had to watch Paul Pierce drop 27 to take another win away from him.

Pierce obviously loves his life right now. Before the game they were showing highlights from last season on Comcast Sports Net and I saw the Garnett-Allen-Pierce press conference and Pierce has a shit-eating grin the entire time. No wonder he took the mic and rambled on during the pregame. He suffered through some tough times in Boston and even though he asked for a trade two years ago (don’t blame him) he stuck it out and now he’s finally able to truly be looked at as a Celtic great.

As far as the Celtics go you’re not great without winning a championship.

p.s. my guy Rajon Rondo had 14 points, five rebounds, six assists and three steals. Plus he was 4-of-5 from the floor. To those Kentucky kids in Daytona that gave me crap for being happy that Rondo came out early…he’s better than you gave him credit for. He might not be a great shooter but he hits most of the shots he needs to.

Oh and you go Leon Powe.

Is there a guy with a bigger smile on his face than Danny Ainge right now? After changing his approach to the team about 15 times he not only totally redeemed himself (with some help from Kevin McHale) by getting KG and Jesus Shuttlesworth but he drafted well getting Rondo and Powe and made great moves to bring in Eddie House, James Posey and PJ Brown.

Long story short Danny was getting killed two years ago and now he has the same job title as Red…and Rich Pitino…hopefully it will continue to travel down the Red road and not veer off into Pitino territory.

1-0…one step closer to banner number 18.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Playoff Diaries Volume IV: The Epilogue

1st inning – Well they gave that one away didn’t they? After watching seven games of Rays-Sox playoff baseball I think it was pretty clear that the Rays were the better team this time around. The most telling stat of all came in game seven…8 men left on base, 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position…ouch.

That was the key difference in the final game of the ALCS. While the Sox got on the board early they got their lone run from the little pony’s homer and the Rays cashed in with clutch hits from the surprisingly awake Rocco Baldelli and who else but Evan Longoria and added an insult to injury late homer by Willy Mo Aybar.

Even though I’ll admit that the Rays were the better team this year I can’t help feeling like the Sox let this one get away. They were limping along but they had managed to climb back into the series, which is really a credit to the players and manager but in the end the just didn’t have it this year.

The ending kind of reminded me of what it was like in 2005 when the Sox lost to the White Sox in the ALDS. It was kind of like ‘oh well, sucks that they lost but how much can we really complain?’

Whatever your feeling is you have to admit that the Red Sox glaring weakness during the series, fittingly proved to be their undoing. By that I mean the weakness at the end of the lineup and a catatonic Big Papi. The team certainly got a couple of key contributions from Varitek (the bomb in game six), Kotsay (some great D at first) and Cora (veteran savvy & getting himself on base when he needed to) but they seemed to keep coming up in clutch situations and weren’t able to get it done.

I know we all love Tek. He’s given us so much over the years but after he hit the homer in game 6 you had to think that was about all the offense he was going to give you. He just had nothing at the plate.

With Kotsay I kept feeling like he was do for a ball to land somewhere other than in
an opposing players glove but it never happened. He just missed that ball with the bases loaded and in every other situation he drove the ball right at someone. In fact according to baseball-reference he shattered Brian Daubach’s record for THTBRAS or Times Hitting The Ball Right At Someone. Amazingly Kotsay broke Daubers single season record in just 11 games.

As for Cora, I think you expect him to come up with something to help you out. He did, sort of, when he reached on an error in the top of the eighth but beyond that he wasn’t going to give you much at the plate. He played good defense in the field but with even if he managed to get on base the lack of production from Big Papi left him stranded.

After a season of lowly numbers we’ve come to expect little production from the bottom of the lineup but the heart breaker was watching Big Papi miss pitches that normally become souvenirs. A year ago with two on, one out and Papi representing the go ahead run at the plate you know the Red Sox are taking the lead (or at least tying the game) bringing in Papelbon for a two inning save and going to the World Series but that wrist injury just took all the life out of Big Papi.

It might not have been meant to be in 2008 but it still feels like they gave that one away. Hey at least we didn’t have to deal with instant replay because of those stupid catwalks.

2nd inning – The Rays bats were ridiculous…I don’t think I’ve ever seen an offense stay that hot against a good team for that long. Beckett was able to keep them in check and Lester pitched a great game seven they just were not going to be stopped. I don’t think I’ve ever been as afraid of a hitter as I was of Evan Longoria…maybe Jason Giambi when playing at Yankee Stadium with the short porch but Longoria was playing wiffleball with a mongo bat for seven games.

Game seven came down to one of the things I’ve mentioned a ton of times and that’s timely hitting. In the clutch the Rays were trying to hit beach balls while the Sox were seeing nothing but peas. Take a look at the Rays three runs in game seven and how they were scored.

Bottom of the fourth down 1-0 – Lester gives up a single to Iwamura, K’s Upton then erases Iwamura at second with a fielder’s choice from Carlos Pena. Now there are two outs with Pena at first and Longoria at the plate – things are looking good for the Sox, the way Lester is going you have to feel pretty good plus a double doesn’t guarantee them a run…oh no…Longoria hits a two out double and Pena hustles home beating out a good relay throw from Pedroia. All tied up at 1-1.

Bottom of the fifth tied at 1-1 after Matt Garza mowed down the big three Kotsay, Varitek and Cora – Lester gives up a lead off double to Aybar and a bleeder to Navarro (Key for the Rays here is that they didn’t make a base running error – Youk caught like 4 guys napping on the bases in the postseason) then Baldelli hits another weak single through the infield and Aybar scores to make it 2-1. Things could have been a lot worse but Lester settled down and got the next three guys to get out of the inning.

The third run was obviously just the broken-bench-at-the-end-of-Tommy-Boy ‘I could have done without that’ homer by Willy Mo Aybar. The worst part about it wasn’t that it gave the Rays an insurmountable two run lead but the fact that we had to listen to that stupid Rays home run song. Congrats on winning and everything and the Rayhawks and vajayhawks and what not but seriously that song is laaaaaaaaaaaaammmmmmmeeeeee.

Really…Feel the Heat? That is weak…it might be worse than the San Diego Super Chargers song.

If you really must know it’s called ‘feel the heat’ by Living Under Venus. I will now smash my head into the wall repeatedly.

3rd inning – At least the Sox pitching came together at the end. Whoever you are a fan of it was a great game to watch. Both pitchers where phenomenal and Matt Garza officially stole the moniker ‘Big Game’ away from James Shields with his two lights out performances.

Seriously when you lose the two games you start in the ALCS you lose the Big Game moniker…I was willing to let it slide in game one because he settled down and only gave up a couple of runs but after losing a game that could have sent your team to its first World Series ever at home against a team that was done three days before you’re not big game anymore. Big Game Matt Garza, that’s something I feel comfortable with.

It was good to see Beckett get it together in game 6 and like I said you can’t blame Lester for the game seven loss. When you strand 8 runners on base and go 0-for-6 with RISP that’s not on the pitcher that’s on the hitters.

The Sox bullpen didn’t have nearly the depth of the Rays’ but they got some clutch innings out of Okie, Masterson and Papelbon in the final three games of the series. In the past when the Red Sox have been all but finished they’ve had their pitching and hitting come together in unison to stage their rallies.

Unfortunately this year they couldn’t get in sync save for a few innings, which happened to get them to game seven. When the pitchers where rolling they hitters couldn’t get it going and when the hitters were getting it done the pitchers couldn’t hold on. Like I said it just wasn’t meant to be.

4th inning – Rays bullpen and by bullpen I really mean David Price. Not to knock the rest of their bullpen but holy shnikes David Price is going to be good. It is kind of cool/creepy that Joe Maddon calls him their new toy but he’s right. I felt like they knew they had game seven so they were like ‘lets have some fun and make them face David Price they won’t know what to do. It’s going be great!’
Would you like to know when I knew the 2008 Boston Red Sox season was officially over? I’m going to tell you anyway.

Top of the eighth, two outs, bases loaded, go ahead run on first with JD Drew at the plate. David Price replaces Chad Bradford on the mount and promptly tricks the shit out of Drew with a first pitch slider. That’s when I knew that Drew had absolutely no chance of doing anything but striking out. That was the David Price Experience, have fun with that one Phillies fans.

5th inning – I don’t like the Trop…at all. I want to be clear about this, I am in no way blaming Tropicana Field for the Red Sox losing. Nor am I in some way applying that it is unfair, I just don’t like it.

I have never been there but I don’t like it. Something about the stadium just aggravates me. For example, when watching games on TV it doesn’t feel like I’m watching a baseball game at a baseball stadium. The place feels like a hockey rink or basketball arena.

Interestingly enough the Trop was formerly the Thunderdome the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Construction started in 1986…was finished in 1990…and the first team to call it home was the Lightning in 1993…when a 130 million dollar stadium can’t find a tenet until it’s third year of existence, that’s probably not a great sign for the stadium.

Ok, ok, Tampa lost out to Miami and Denver for MLB expansion teams in 1993 and then got the Rays (or Devil Rays) so I guess you have to cut them some slack there.

I’ll also cut the place a little bit of slack because it’s older than I had originally thought but they dropped 70 million to renovate the place to get it ready for the Rays. Ah…what…where did that money go…I don’t think a baseball field worth of turf and a giant manta ray tank cost 70 million.

I won’t even mention the catwalks, it’s a dome, I guess that’s what you get with a dome but how boring does that place look. I can’t say too much because I’ve never been there but every picture I’ve seen makes it look like a practice facility. It looks dark and dingy.

I’m not a huge fan of domed stadiums in general and gladly retractable roof stadiums are becoming all the rage. I understand its in Florida and there are daily afternoon rainstorms so a dome makes sense but domes suck for baseball. It’s a summer time game and putting it inside takes a lot of the feel away. That’s why I don’t like the place.

One potential positive is that it was the first pro stadium to use FieldTurf…which some might think is a good thing and others might say is a bad thing. I tend to think it’s a good thing because AstroTurf was weak sauce.
I should probably try to go to a game there at some point thought. Maybe I’ll change my mind. I am, after all, making this judgment on only my observations from TV.

6th inning – Can someone please get Jacoby Ellsbury’s bat pictured on the back of milk cartons every where?

I’m concernacus about this. In 2007 he established the existence of Playoff Jacoby then in the 2008 ALCS he was MIA or the Trop is his kryptonite.
Jacoby got similar playing time in both the 2007 World Series and the 2008 ALDS and his numbers were pretty similar.

2007 WS – 4 games – 16 at bats – 4 runs – 7 hits – 4 2B – 3 RBI – .438 BA - .500 OBP
2008 DS – 4 games – 18 at bats – 2 runs – 6 hits – 3 2B – 6 RBI - .333 BA - .400 OBP

In similar action Jacoby looked like a consistent performer then in the 2008 ALCS he hit a wall.

2007 ALCS – 4 games – 14 at bats – 0 runs – 0 hits – 0 2B – 1 RBI - .063 OBP
I’m not saying Jacoby is a choke artist. I don’t think that’s it at all I just wanted to point out that he was very consistent then he had a bad series. That’s really why the Red Sox didn’t have it this year. They had too many guys that had a bad week at the same time.

It’s certainly not Jacoby’s fault. I have a feeling he’s going to have a lot more series like the first two than the last one.

7th inning – There are plenty of positives that came out of this series despite its sour ending. One of the biggest ones is Jason Bay. I could not be happier with the Jason Bay trade. The guy came up with some huge hits during the playoffs and was one of the few guys in the lineup that you felt like could get on base during all of his at bats.

The best part of the Jason Bay deal. Now we don’t have to worry about the Manny circus that this offseason. Can you imagine how aggravating that would have been? Now we can watch somebody else deal with his shenanigans now. He’s so good but so aggravating, you want to hate him but he’s so good that you love him.

His shenanigans are not cheeky and fun they are cruel and tragic…which makes them not really shenanigans at all…evil shenanigans…

While I’m still a little pissed that we had to give up Manny and Brandon Moss to get Jason Bay (I don’t could Craig Hansen as someone we gave up…more like unloaded) but I still maintain that teams should get some kind of compensation for a player tanking so they’ll be traded and the team having to give up more to get a fair trade.

All in all I am glad to have Jason Bay to root for now. We will miss Manny at times but overall we should be stoked about a full season with Jason Bay in 2009.

8th inning – I have to be honest as a sports fan I can’t be that upset. Sure it sucks that the Sox lost and we don’t get to enjoy another World Series at Fenway but how much can we really complain?

We’ve been really lucky as a fan base to have the success that Boston has had in the last decade. I can’t think of many other places that have had the run of success that the teams here have had over the last few years.

We have the defending NBA Champions getting ready to take the court again, it’s not like we’re in Philly were they’ve gone 25 years without a championship from any of their pro teams. Lets not get too douchey and entitled here.

I know everyone hates Boston fans for a million different reasons. They call us Pink hats and fairweathers and make all other forms of disparaging comments but I don’t really care how long you’ve rooted for the Red Sox to be honest. If you are rocking a pink hat great…I wish you wouldn’t buy all the tickets but I don’t really have much scratch anyway.

That’s why I can’t hate on people for rooting for the Rays. Sure a lot of them came out of the woodwork but the same thing happened here a year ago with the Celtics. No one cared about the Celtics, I got laughed at for saying I wanted to watch Celtics games as little as two years ago and now we’re painting the town green

Mound visit - It was a little bit funny seeing the Rays fans with their sad faces and their heads in their hands on TV (because really what have you been through?) but at least they showed up.

I came to this ‘I don’t really care about bandwagoners anymore’ realization last year at the Celtics opener. After watching them flounder for years and getting over excited about guys like Gerald Green and Shammond Williams I was stoked to see Garnett.

While waiting in line for an adult beverage or four I over heard a kid behind me talking in an overly loud manner about how he never had to wait in line for beers the season before. Really? I wonder if that’s because they lost a NBA record 19 games in a row (I was there for number 19 by the way) or if it was because the highlight of the season was Gerald Green winning the dunk contest by emulating Dee Brown? Had to be one of those right?

It was then and there I decided that I don’t care. I just want to enjoy the game and see my team win, or at least play well. No wonder why everyone hates us.

9th inning – As for who I’m rooting for in the World Series…to be honest I’m probably not going to watch much of it. I guess I don’t really want the Rays to win but you kind of have to root for them a little bit. If the whole unbelievable story thing weren’t over blown I’d probably root for them at least a little. I can’t really root for an AL East team thought, unless they had beaten the Yankees to go to the World Series.

Plus they already have Hulk Hogan and Nasty Knobs rooting for them.

I guess I’m rooting for the Phillies. After 25 years and no titles in any sport I have to side with that fan base. That is brutal. I also have to admire any group of fans that is so bitter they’ll boo Santa Claus…wow…When the only title you’ve seen in the last 25 years came from a fictional boxer you have my support.

Go Phillies…Why Can’t Us or in this case I guess it would be Why Can’t Yous!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Playoff Diaries Volume III

1st Inning – WOOF…that was not an enjoyable experience, at least game two was a close game, games three and four weren’t even close. The last two games it never felt like the Red Sox had a chance. I guess that’s what happens when you give up 5 runs in the first three innings of both games and your offense couldn’t hit a…well they can’t hit that’s the long and short of it.

The Lester game definitely came as the biggest shock. No one thought the Sox would lose that game at home after the way he’s pitched so far this post season. Lester has been prone to blowing up ever now and then but it wasn’t so much Lester’s fault as it was the Rays being locked in. Right now no matter who’s on the mound it feels like Longoria could go yard on any pitch. That’s the kind of dominant feeling I used to have about Papi.

In game one the Rays were the ones that looked lost at the plate and couldn’t pick up base runners but as soon as Longoria went deep in game two the dynamic of the series changed completely.

The Sox bats went limp and so did the arms of the pitching staff while BJ Upton, Longoria, and Carlos Pena turned into Murderer’s Row. On the one hand it feels like it’s over but on the other I really can’t resign myself to count them out until the final out is made. I’m not jumping off the bridge yet.

2nd Inning – Sox pitching has been woeful with the exception of Dice-K. Who would have thought Dice-K would be the best pitcher for the Sox in this series. The most telling stat for the pitchers…33 runs in the last three games. That’s not going to get it done, even if they Sox were hitting 33 runs in three games is asking a lot from your offense.

The hitters just got enough to get the win in game one thanks to an unreal performance from Dice-K and despite the loss they bailed out Beckett in game two. In game three Lester just didn’t have it, which really isn’t that big of a deal if you can tie the series up at 2-2 with a win in game four but Wake is hit or miss and last night he was miss, now all of a sudden your in a big 3-1 hole.

True they’ve come back from down 3-1 in both of their World Series wins but if the Sox pitchers can’t keep the Rays in the ballpark we’ll be mourning the 2008 Red Sox before the week is over.

3rd Inning – Sox batters…I don’t know which has been more difficult to watch, the pitchers or the non-existent offense. The most telling stat for the offense…the leadoff spot is 0-25 in this series. You’re not going to win a lot of games when the guys that are supposed to set the table for the heart of the order can’t get on base.

I was wrong about Jacoby Ellsbury, at least as far as the ALCS has gone. He was great in against the Angels but he has looked miz against the Rays, so bad he was replaced by Coco in the field and JD Drew in the leadoff spot. Jacoby needs to turn back into Playoff Jacoby in a hurry because he’s the spark.

If he gets on base you’ve got Pedroia, Papi and Youk hitting with a man on. That changes the complexion of the game. The Rays can’t pitch to those guys the same way with a man on and no one out, especially when it’s Ellsbury who is always a threat to steal.

He’s not the only one to blame though. Ortiz has just been awful, maybe he’s hurt, maybe his timing is off, or maybe they are just pitching more aggressively to him. I don’t know what it is but he needs to find his stroke because while Ellsbury is the spark the offense flows through Big Papi. If Papi gets it going the other players are going to react. If Papi hits a long ball in game five watch how things change in the Red Sox dugout.

If the Red Sox want to win this series they need to start stringing together some hits. They haven’t been able to do that therefore they aren’t putting any pressure on the Rays pitchers. When you don’t work the count and get on base with less than two outs you don’t back the pitchers into a corner.

Andy Sonnanstine can make a mistake to Kevin Cash and give up a home run when he’s got a five run lead and he’s not pitching with runners on and an escalating pitch count. The Red Sox have to make the Ray pitchers uncomfortable. Everyone’s been talking about pitchers making Manny uncomfortable in the NLCS, well in the ALCS the hitters have to make the pitchers uncomfortable by forcing them into jams and making them throw a lot of pitches.

4th Inning – The Rays batters have really been the story of the ALCS. They looked overmatched in game one but boy did they turn that around in a hurry. After being shutout in game one Evan Longoria entered the Konami code and it’s been like he’s playing wiffle ball with one of those mongo bats ever since. The guy is on fire.

Longoria is 5-for-17 with seven runs scored, six RBI, two doubles, three home runs, two walks and four strikeouts.

He’s also slugging at a .941 clip and two of his four strikeouts came in game one. If I ever had any doubts about Evan Longoria I’m sorry. You know a guy is hot when you feel like every pitch that gets thrown to him is going to end up bouncing across the Mass Pike.

Oh yeah AND IT DOESN’T EVEN LOOK LIKE HE SWINGS. Seriously, he rolls his wrists and next thing you know Chip Caray gets to do another home run call.

Not that we don’t have a good first basemen in Youk, I love Youk and if I had to pitch between the two I’d pick Youk but I really wish we could have found more at bats for Carlos Pena. Pena is another guy who is just locked in for the Rays. Pena is 5-for-15 with six runs scored, four RBI, four walks, two homers and only three strikeouts. He also has a stolen base.

You know things are not going well when Carlos Pena steals a base. Although he is a Whirlway guy so he’s got to have some wheels.

The other guy that scares all of Red Sox nation is BJ Upton. He’s like Pena and Longoria where every time he swings I feel like I’m going to throw up. The Rays just look so much better in every aspect of their at bats.

They look like they have better bat speed, a better feel for the strike zone and they are really driving the ball. Every time some one gets on base in front of these guys it’s like an automatic run because of how well they are stroking the ball.

Continuing with the stat trend…Upton is 5-for-16 with five runs scored, six RBI, two homers, three walks and five strikeouts. Plus he’s playing stellar defense in centerfield. Compare those three with heart of the Red Sox order and it’s no wonder the Rays are leading 3-1.

Oh yeah and Carl Crawford woke up in game four, going 5-for-5, that’s not a good sign for the Red Sox.

5th Inning – The Rays pitching staff has easily out dueled the Sox. Even though Dice-K won game one it’s not like it wasn’t close. James Shields still held the Sox to just two runs, which he scattered over seven and a third.

The only pitcher the Red Sox have been able to touch is Scott Kazmir, who luckily is starting game five, which could give the Sox the break they need to get back into this series.

Unfortunately the way Josh Beckett has pitched and the way the Rays bullpen has locked down the Red Sox I’m not sure if we’ll get a chance to see what Jon Lester could do in a game seven.

Here’s why…if the Red Sox can win game five they’d see James Shields in game six and Matt Garza in game seven.

Shields – (0-1) – 7.1 innings – 6 hits – 2 runs – 2 ER – 2 BB – 6 K – 2.45 ERA
Garza - (1-0) – 6 innings – 6 hits – 1 run – 1 ER – 3 BB – 5 K – 1.50 ERA

Not promising for the Sox who would counter with Beckett and Lester.

Beckett – (0-0) – 4.1 innings – 9 hits – 8 runs – 8 ER – 1 BB – 5 K – 16.62 ERA
Lester – (0-1) – 5.2 innings – 8 hits – 5 runs – 4 ER – 2 BB – 7 K – 6.35 ERA

I guess I can understand why Joe Maddon would move Kazmir to get those matchups in potential games six and seven but like I said before I think the Lester game was an aberration, so I don’t agree with that move if that’s the logic. You can never give the Red Sox any room to breathe after all they’ve shown what they can do in these situations.

Unfortunately the Rays bullpen has also been much better than the Red Sox. The Sox pen has shown some bright spots but overall I think the Rays have been much, much better out of the bullpen.

6th Inning – The loss of Mike Lowell is really showing in the ALCS. Compare his numbers last year to Mark Kotsay’s numbers this year.

Lowell – 9-for-27 – 3 runs – 8 RBI – 1 HR – 2 2B – 2 BB – 3K - .333 BA - .375 OBP
Kotsay – 4-for-17 – 0 runs – 0 RBI – 0 HR – 2 2B – 0 BB – 2K - .235 BA - .235 OBP

It’s not that I don’t like Mark Kotsay. I think he’s a good player, he’s definitely been a good utility guy during this playoff run and the Sox have shown that you need a guy like that to win a World Series (see Roberts, Dave and Hinske, Eric) but Lowell clearly brings a lot more to the table offensively.

Youk makes the transition to third pretty seamlessly and he’s shown that with two very heads up plays catching guys rounding bases and Kotsay has been good at first but again Youk and Lowell at the corners gives you two gold glovers instead of one sort of out of position and the other playing something like his 10th game at first.
If the Red Sox lose this series the loss of Lowell will definitely be one of the major contributing factors. There’s no telling how the addition of Lowell’s bat effects this lineup, plus he’s played in a lot of playoff games.

7th Inning – Why this is like last year (why they’ll come back) – They have the best manager in baseball for this situation because he’s been there twice before. They have to approach it like they have in the past, one game at a time. They have a great chance to win game 5 because you have Dice-K, the guy that has looked the best starting and Scott Kazmir, the guy who has looked the worst for the Rays is starting game five.

I’m not sure why the Rays wouldn’t start James Shields. He looked good against he Sox, he gave up a couple runs early but Dice-K was better that night. Wouldn’t James Shield give you the best chance to send the team to their first ever World Series? Why would you send out the pitcher who looked the worst when all the other guys looked solid?

These are things that the Sox thrive on. They aren’t playing well right now but we’ve seen it before, what can happen when you give the Red Sox extra lives. Even though the scores looked a little bit different it feels a lot like last years ALCS where the Red Sox weren’t hitting and weren’t pitching.

In 2007 the Red Sox hitters looked lost at the plate in games two through four. They weren’t having good at bats and they weren’t getting good performances out of their clutch players. This year has been very similar, Jacoby Ellsbury is 0 for the series and playing like Coco last year, Big Papi is not hitting, Tek isn’t hitting and they’re only getting production out of a few guys at the plate and the same goes for the pitching staff.

Last year’s ALCS the bats woke up in the final three games and the pitching staff got their shit together winning 7-1, 12-2 and 11-2 with Beckett, Schilling and Dice-K pitching. Looking at that you have to figure that this is a winnable series because you have a similar pitching line up going forward.

Dice-K is the constant. He won game seven by holding the Indians to just two runs while Ellsbury, Pedroia and Youk got the offense going. Fast forward to 2008 and you’ve got Dice-K coming off a great performance on the road in game one and the hitters get a chance to face the pitcher that they had the most success against in this series.

We know now that Beckett is not the Beckett of last postseason but if the Sox offense can give him some early help I have full confidence in his ability to gut out a similar performance to the one Schilling put up last year. I’m not asking him to pitch six shutout innings but if the bats get going all he has to do is keep it close. That’s really all I ask is that they make a game of it.

That would leave Lester as your game seven starter and as I mentioned before he’s taken the place of Josh Beckett this postseason. I don’t think game three was indicative of what you’re going to get from Lester if the series goes to game seven. If that’s the case I have all the confidence in the world that Lester can step up and shut down the Rays like he did to the Angels in game four.

Unfortunately all this hinges on the Red Sox offense waking up, which doesn’t look promising. I do think the Red Sox pitching can keep games close but if the offense continues its impotence then this series is going to be over before it gets back to Tampa. The Rays are going to score runs, if the Red Sox can’t keep pace the 2008 World Series is going to start at the Trop on October 22.

The Red Sox also need some one to wake everyone up, the players, the fans everyone, just like JD Drew did last year with his grand slam.

8th Inning – Why this isn’t like last year or why they won’t come back to win. Three big reasons…No Manny, no Mike Lowell and no ’07 Beckett. I will be the first to say that I love having Jason Bay. He has been great and you could not possibly ask for more from him. With that said success with Jason Bay in the lineup relies on different things then success with Manny in the lineup did.

Manny changes the way pitchers throw to Pedroia and Big Papi and while Bay can certainly go yard he’s not the hitter that Manny is/was…taking all of that into account though I’m still happy that we got Bay and even if the Sox lose this series it was the best move for the team. Plus there’s no telling how many more runs the Rays score with Manny in left, Bay’s defense is worlds better than Manny.

With no Lowell and no ’07 Beckett the team is missing two of the key pieces to their championship run in 2007 it wouldn’t be as hard to cover up one of those losses but both…that’s an up hill battle and it might be too steep of a climb for the 2008 Sox to summit.

9th Inning – If it is over there are some positives…Jason Bay has shown he’s ready for prime time, Jed Lowrie, Lester, and Masterson are for real and there is life after Manny.
Despite the evidence I still can’t bring myself to count them out until the final out is made…Sox in 7

As always all stats are courtesy of

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Playoff Diaries Volume II

Well my playoff diary got a little side tracked due to my computer decided to get f’d once again. I used to compare my laptop to a hot shot starting pitcher that throws serious gas and my old desktop was like a crafty veteran, the Tim Wakefield of computers if you will.

Well I was wrong…way wrong. My laptop is more like Ryan Leaf, leading me to a 1-15 season after getting f’d twice in less than a yeah…way to work kid.
On to volume II of the diaries…

First inning – Why doesn’t anyone in Boston give Tito credit for the decisions he makes? Why do people continuously call weei and say that he’s messing up the rotation and he should have brought it Paul Byrd and what not? I know weei callers don’t represent the majority of fans but Christ on a crutch people he’s led the Sox to two World Series an AL East title and they are in the ALCS for the third time in his five years here.

He announced the ALCS rotation the other day and it’s a solid lineup.
Dice-k, Beckett, Lester, Tim Wakefield

What was the immediate reaction…how can he start Dice-k in game one…Lester has to pitch game one…on short rest.

Easy guy, it’s game one. It’s the general consensus that when you’re the road team in a playoff series you need to steal a game on the road. Realistically you want the Sox to go up 2-0 but I think everyone would be alright with the Sox returning to Boston with at 1-1.

One thing I'm really interested in seeing is how people react to the Tito vs Maddon matchup. Last year he out managed Eric Wedle who went on to win Manager of the Year. Not to take anything away from Joe Maddon, after taking the Rays from worst to first he deserves the award but Tito continues to get passed over when talking about the best managers. Like I said in Volume I he's not the best manager ever but he's the best manager for this team.

Second Inning - Dice-k has a history of pitching poorly with extensive rest and what would it do to his confidence if Tito says ‘hey Dice-K I know you went 18-3 and won a playoff game out in LA or Anaheim or wherever the hell it was but we’d rather pitch Lester and blow out his arm because he’s better than you and f up our chances to win.’ That’s were Tito is like and angel on our shoulders.

With a rotation of Dice-k, Beckett, Lester and Wake you give the first three guys pretty much normal rest plus you get Lester back at home, where he was 11-1 or something like that…yeah old Ryan Leaf the computer no internet when I wrote this and I’m far too lazy to look it up.

Also, Dice-k was better on the road and tends to lose it a little bit less when he’s on the road. We’re not talking about some stiff either, the guy went 18-3 for a reason. He’s a good pitcher and he has a good lineup hitting behind him. The playoffs are all about timely pitching, hitting and good defense. There is no reason to think that the Red Sox can’t win a game on the road with Dice-K starting.

My main reason for totally agreeing with this choice hinges on Dice-k’s command of the strike zone. Evan Longoria said yesterday that Dice-K walks a lot of guys. If Dice-k comes out and attacks the strike zone and goes after the hitters he can go at least six innings and the Sox will be in a good position to steal game one.

That might seem like I’m expecting a lot out of Dice-K but I think he’s perfectly capable of it and Jason Varitek is way smarter than I am at game planning for a pitcher so really it just comes down to execution. The Rays are going to be patient at the plate that is for sure, so if Dice-K comes out throwing strikes he can get ahead of hitters and do some damage.

It seemed like Josh Beckett was a bit of a victim of that circumstance in the ALDS. The Angles have been known for their aggressive play, their fast and loose, both on the bases and at the plate at times. Buck Martinez and Chip Caray talked at length about how the Angels were going to ‘force the issue’ which they did. That also caused them to run into a couple outs, including the botched squeeze but that might have cost them the series.

The Angels hitters also swung at a bunch of pitches out of the zone in the first two games, in game three with Beckett on the mount they got a little bit more patient and combined with Beckett’s control issues they worked walks and pounced on a mistake pitch to help them take game three.

Third Inning – Game two sends Beckett to the mound and it’s going to be a different Beckett then what we saw in the ALDS. It’s not going to be the same Beckett we saw last season but it’s going to be a better Beckett then the guy that was masquerading as Josh Beckett in game three of the DS. To be honest I don’t think he pitched as bad as people are making it out to be. He gave up two homers and his lineup didn’t help him out very much. Take away Playoff Jacoby’s three run blooper and the Sox are never in that game. Beckett needs to be better than that but so do the hitters.

Beckett’s playoff history suggests that he’s going to pitch better and I think we’re going to see a Beckett closer to what we’ve seen in the past now that he’s gotten a chance to shake off some of the rust.

Beckett’s struggles in game three came from his inability to find the strike zone with his fastball. It looked like he got squeezed a little bit but so did the Angels pitchers, so that’s no excuse. I don’t think it had anything to do with his health thought. If his body wasn’t right he probably would have looked a lot worse. He was missing but he was around the strike zone. You could see that he didn’t have confidence in all his pitches as he kept shaking off Tek.

Now Beckett is back into a routine and pitching for a chance to help his team get to the World Series and overall he’s been pretty good when that’s the situation. And like I said I think he feel victim to the Angels changing their strategy at the plate after their aggressiveness got them into some trouble both at the plate and on the bases (see Guerrero, Vlad).

Mound visit - I’m watching the Phillies-Dodgers game and Manny just launched a double off the wall in center…remember how Dodger fans were warning us about JD Drew and how he would drive us nuts, that he was soft and that we wouldn’t like him? Consider it fan courtesy but don’t be shocked when the other shoe drops with old Man-Ram. It probably won’t happen this post season but if he gets signed ooooh boy its coming.

Fourth Inning – See I told you Jon Lester is F’ing harsh. Lester has definitely filled in for the MIA Josh Beckett, as I pointed out in Volume I of these diaries Lester was starting to look like Beckett did in 2003 and he showed that again in game four. Unfortunately the bullpen nearly wasted his great start but a Jeff Suppan like base running error, Jason Bay and Jeddy Ballgame pulled it out.

Lester has been incredible this post season, which is why I’m glad he’s lined up to pitch game three. Mainly because it gives him normal rest and as Tito has said rest at this point is critical. That also means if the series goes to a game seven you have your best pitcher on the mound and it’s the first time he’s had to go on short rest so even with fewer days to recover he’ll be certainly be able to pitch effectively.

Plus he seems like the kind of guy that would respond favorably to the pressure of a road game seven. I mean it can’t be that much of a pressure situation for him, the guy beat cancer.

Honesty I don’t have much to say about Lester he’s getting it done that’s all I can really ask for out of the guy.

Fifth Inning – Game four will bring us Timmy…and the lords of the underworld…If the situation is anything different than 3-0 get ready to hear a lot of ‘why aren’t they pitching Paul Byrd’, thankfully we won’t hear any ‘Lester should pitch on three days rest’ like we did last year with Josh Beckett. I swear people wanted him to pitch games 4, 5, 6, and 7 last year.

Who pitched game seven of the ALCS last year? Dice-k, see it’s going to be alright. Tito is a good manager.

Back to Wakefield – It’s pretty much a crap shoot with Wake but I will say this…Wakefield is the definition of a crafty veteran, well I guess he’s not that crafty he only throws three pitches but he’s certainly a veteran.

He’s pitched in 17 postseason games, including 10 starts with a 5-6 record. His numbers aren’t lights out but you don’t expect Wake to be lights out you just need him to keep it close and possibly just eat up innings, which he can do.

In 17 postseason games he has a 6.36 ERA but what’s really interesting about Wake are his numbers in the league championship series’.

Wake has appeared in nine LCS games in four different seasons (He’s been pitching in the playoffs for so long he even pitched in the NLCS for the Pirates). Wakefield is 5-2 with a 4.50 ERA, two complete games, 30 Ks and 16 walks. Kind of surprising to see that his numbers are that good in that many appearances but once again Tito knows what he’s doing.

Mound Visit - I never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever thought I’d agree with Tim McCarver but he’s right Manny is a douche.

Sixth Inning – All of this is not to say that the Red Sox hitters are going to be hitting off a tee. The Rays are certainly more than legit. They won the AL East, a feat even our mighty Red Sox have only accomplished once this decade.
They also have between 75 and 90 percent of the country rooting for them. They usually large Red Sox Nation population in western Florida is going to be a lot smaller at the Trop over the next two weeks.

Might we see instant replay in this series? Considering the fact that they are playing games in a mickey mouse stadium with 18 different levels of catwalks, yeah we probably will.

The key guys that the Sox pitchers need to shut down…err…keep in check are Evan Longoria (who’s slugging like it’s cool), Mass native and fellow Whirlaway guy Carlos Pena (I wish we could have found some more at bats for him) and Carl Crawford. Crawford is a guy that makes me nervous because he can make a play that sparks a team like Jacoby.

Looking at the Rays numbers they’re aren’t a lot of players that really jump out at you stats wise other than Longoria and Pena but they are a pretty complete team. Those two guys had 31 and 27 homers respectively. They had two guys with 20 stolen bases and Crawford had 44 and only played in 109 games.

They aren’t a crazy moneyball team as far as getting on base goes and only Pena drove in over 100 runs (102) but they sure as hell get it done. 97 wins does a lot of the talking for the Rays. Including Pena they had six guys with over 50 RBI and six guys that scored 100 runs they can do it all. They can hit the three run bomb or manufacture a run, and with their pitching they can win a game only scoring a couple of runs.

Scott Kazmir has long been known as a Red Sox killer but the Red Sox have actually done all right against the Rays first three starters – Kazmir, James Shields and Matt Garza. The guy that caused them the most trouble, especially late in the season when he out dueled Josh Beckett, is Andy Sonnanstine.

Side note about Sonnanstine, he’s an alumnus of the NECBL, The New England College Baseball League where they actually let me talk into a microphone and call the plays for the Lowell All Americans. Sonnanstine was the 03 most improved player as a member of the Sanford Mainers…way to work ked.

Suddenly that game four is looking more and more interesting. Wake, who’s been big in LCS play and the former Mainer that went 13-9, second most wins on the team, throwing nearly 200 innings with a 4.38 ERA.

The Rays pitching staff is a lot like their hitters no one guy that really stands out but they all get it done. What’s more worrisome than their starters is their bullpen, which after Masterson and Okie struggled in the DS, gets the advantage.
I’ll be a lot more nervous with Grant Balfour on the mound than I was with K-Rod.

Seventh Inning – The experience factor – I heard this stat on Mike and Mike this morning. Only three Rays hitters have more post season hits than Josh Beckett. The Sox have their share of playoff new comers too but they also have a nucleus that has seen plenty of playoff ups and downs…

Seventh Inning stretch– I’m watching the new episode of South Park and there is a commercial for Shaun White snowboading…holy shit on a shingle…I can’t wait to buy that game.

Eighth Inning – Losing Mike Lowell hurts. We might try to act like it doesn’t because Yook can play third but it hurts when you consider that Mark Kotsay will most likely be playing first. Not that I don’t like Kotsay, he’s a solid player and a starter on most teams but I’d rather have Yook at first with Lowell at third and Kotsay your utility guy like Hinske or Dave Roberts.

Ninth Inning - Keys to the game – Dice-K needs to get ahead of the hitters by throwing strikes. Pedroia and Big Papi need to get it going offensively and take advantage of Jacoby getting on base…assuming that he continually plays like Playoff Jacoby and the Sox need to play good defense. The Rays are a team that can jump on you if you give them extra outs, especially with their speed and players that can drive the ball like Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria.

Ok game time…let’s go Sox

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Playoff Diaries Volume I

Welcome to the playoff diaries…

Nine innings of thoughts on the Sox playoffs

1st inning – Jon Lester is F’n harsh. Even if Josh Beckett isn’t 100% of Josh Beckett I’m suddenly not as concerned now after Lester kicked down the door to the 2008 ALDS.

Here’s what I mean by that. 2008 is Lester’s third season in the majors and the first season he started more than 15 games, obviously his development was stalled by cancer (which only makes what he’s done more remarkable), but he went 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA, 152 Ks, 1.27 WHIP in 33 starts. Those numbers look kind of familiar…

In fact they are almost eerily similar to the numbers Josh Beckett put up in 2003. When oh-by-the-way the Marlins won the World Series. By comparison 200 was Beckett’s third season in majors and only the second season in which he started more than 4 games (He started 4 in ’01 then 21 and 23 in ’02 and ’03). In 2003 Josh Beckett went 9-8 with 3.04 ERA 152 Ks, and a 1.32 WHIP.

In the playoffs he went 2-2 but appeared in six games including the clincher at Yankee stadium, in which he pitched on three days rest and officially became Captain Kick Ass.

Last year Lester made three postseason appearances, starting and winning the final game of the World Series.

Now realistically the Red Sox aren’t going to win the World Series without Beckett pitching well but looking at the numbers I’d say Lester is certainly a guy that they can ride to multiple wins much like the Marlins rode Josh Beckett in 2003.

What’s even more encouraging is the fact that Beckett’s F-you-there’s-no-way-you’re-hitting-this-pitch-ness has trickled down to Lester. He has definitely progressed from a guy that couldn’t find the strike zone to a budding ace. I have a feeling this postseason is going to be the time that he shows everyone he is a go to guy too.

Last night proved that having Jon Lester as your plan B number one starter isn’t such a bad thing. Now if Beckett isn’t good to go by game three things will be a little different but all in all taking game one on the road with Dice-K and Beckett set to start the next two games, you’re in pretty good shape.

2nd inning – You know how the Tiger Woods video game had that ‘Sunday Tiger’ character that was a 99 in everything and he was unreal, even more so than the regular Tiger. You would hit an unreal second shot on a par five and be lined up for an eagle but then Sunday Tiger chips in dropping a double eagle on you then you some how miss the eagle put. Now instead of being up a stoke your down two. Apparently Jacoby Ellsbury has that too.

There’s regular Jacoby and Playoff Jacoby. We saw it last year and he picked up right where he left off last night. Playoff Jacoby was all over the field last night. He made a sick catch in center and a play that not a lot of other players could physically do by going to third on a ground ball to the pitcher. Last night we saw Playoff Jacoby using his 99 speed a couple of times.

In 33 games last year Ellsbury hit .353 with a .394 OBP, nine steals, seven doubles and three homers. Then in October he played in 11 games hitting over .400 with seven runs scored, four doubles, three RBI and two steals…see it’s Sunday Jacoby.

3rd inning – Some times coaches and managers are just the right fit for a team. Tito took a lot of criticism when he first got here but all he’s done is win two World Series and get the team to the playoffs in four of his five seasons. He might not be the greatest manager ever, but he has been the perfect manager for this team since he’s been here. He just fits.

The same thing happened with the Celtics last year. Lot’s of people were calling for Doc Rivers to be fired. I even wrote here that the moves that Danny Ainge made saved himself and Doc from being run out of town on a rail. The Celtics obviously made drastic moves but Doc brought everyone together and found the right focal point to make things work. That’s what Tito does, he knows how to work with what he has, maybe better than anyone else in baseball. There’s no doubt Joe Maddon is the Manager of the Year but Tito has been the best manager over the past five years.

4th inning – Jason Bay isn’t not Manny, but that’s not a bad thing. Bay has been a solid addition to the Sox lineup since coming from Pittsburgh. He’s not going to intimidate teams like Manny did sitting behind Papi but he showed last night that he’s perfectly capable of changing the outcome of a game. If you like Jason Bay check out Will Leitch’s column here -

I used to be such a big Manny defender. For the last two seasons Reynolds had been emailing and calling asking if it was time for Manny to go. I always said no. I felt like he was too valuable to give away for 50 cents on the dollar. I finally came around in late August. Manny is absolutely an MVP caliber player, he has shown that in LA but he’s only that way when he’s happy Manny. When he was happy Manny here he loved it but when he was grumpy Manny or Manny le douche he was worse than anything for the team.

Obviously Bay is a defensive improvement and changes the complexion of the lineup. They lost a big bat but lets be honest Manny wasn’t producing because he wasn’t happy. The move cut the teams losses and while they didn’t get the same caliber player back they did get someone who fits the team better. As we’ve seen in the past fitting in with the team can be more positive than being a great player.

5th inning –Last year I predicted that JD Drew would breakout in the playoffs and be the teams MVP, he did hit a monster grand slam but a number of other players stepped up including Playoff Jacoby, Pedroia, Mike Lowell and Beckett. This year I’m feeling a big time performance from Jason Bay but I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised by JD Drew.

Stay with me…because Jason Bay is the guy protecting Manny in the lineup and he’s going to see more pitches to hit and he’ll probably find himself with runners on because of the depth of the Red Sox lineup. If Mike Lowell can remotely perform the Red Sox lineup is dangerous from top to bottom and I think Bay benefits from being Jason Bay.

Sometimes I think people sleep on him, like last night for example. He was struggling and looking overmatched when the Angels were throwing him curveballs then they forget and throw him a fastball and oops.

As for Drew, pretty much anything he gives you is gravy at this point because people expect so little out of him. It’s weird people expect a lot but they know they aren’t going to get it so they get pissed at him but he seems to find ways to redeem himself.

If the Sox make a deep run we’ll probably hear some start Coco instead of Drew talk on WEEI but Tito, like he does, will stick with Drew and I think he’ll be able to find a rhythm as he gets more at bats.

6th inning - The Angels are aggressive at the plate, which plays to the strengths of guys like Lester and Dice-K. If you look at some of the at bats that Vladdy da di had he swung himself into a couple of bad outs. He’s the ultimate free swinger and a lot of times he kills bad pitches but he lined out on ball four once and popped out on another pitch that was out of the zone earlier in the game. We’ll have to see if the Angels change their approach with Dice-K on the mound since he has a penchant for walks sometimes.

The Angels aggression hurt them last night. Swinging at bad pitches and Vlad running into an awful out attributed to their game one loss and if they don’t make adjustments its going to mean more consecutive playoff losses to the Red Sox.

Look at games when the Yankees have great success against the Red Sox. They are incredibly patient. Why do you think the games last five hours? You have to make the Red Sox bullpen a weakness instead of a strength. What I mean by that is you have to get to the bullpen early. If the Red Sox get to the sixth or seventh, or even the eight inning before you get to their bullpen they are going to be very hard to beat.

However if you get into the bullpen early it aids you in that game as well as future games because guys start to pitch a lot of high pressure innings very often. Dice-K has a way of getting out of jams without a lot of damage, he’s 18-3 for a reason. If Dice-K goes deep into the game on Friday night the Angels will probably be staring an elimination game at Fenway with Josh Beckett on the mound. I like the sound of that.

7th inning - I know, I know everyone is wamping about the TV coverage and I know its cliché to complain about it. This happens every year but what do you expect we get six months of pure gold with Remy and Orsillo and then we get this crap. I think it’s time to use the DVR to sync the TV and the radio (North Shore 104.9 ked) for some Dave O’Brien and Joe Castig.

8th inning - Initially when I saw the way the Red Sox celebrated clinching the wild card I thought it was a little bit over the top. Granted only four teams make the playoffs so it’s a big deal but it seemed a little much. Now I’m reminded of why this team has been so successful over the last few years. They are relaxed, they don’t tighten up, look at these guys half of them are wearing camo under their jerseys. They don’t seem to get rattled and tighten up like other teams…which sort of brings me to my next point.

9th inning – A month or even a week ago the bullpen was a point of concern but last night they looked pretty strong to me. That’s not to say they won’t have their struggles but I get excited every time I see Justin Masterson stride out of the bullpen. The bullpen is certainly strong at the back end with Masterson and Papelbon but you’re not going to get seven innings out of all of your starters every night. Like Papelbon said this after the game, the playoffs are about pitching, defense and timely hitting. The Red Sox bullpen is going to have to step up if they want to repeat at World Series champs. It’s worked in the past, riding Keith Foulke and Papelbon’s arms in the late innings and this season it looks like Tito will be calling on Masterson and Paps to close out games.

The move to Masterson in the 8th instead of Okie said a lot about how Tito is going to manage the bullpen. With Mark Texieria coming up Tito going to Masterson shows you that he thinks Masterson is for real and we can get used to him coming in to set up Papelbon. It will be interesting to see how Tito manages Okie. Masterson has clearly shown that he’s can be the set up guy for this team for a long time. Okie put up very similar numbers this year as he did last year. In fact they were nearly identical. With the exception of one of his three WS appearances Okie was pretty lock down in last season playoffs.

With Masterson establishing himself as a very strong setup man that allows Tito more flexibility with the rest of the bullpen. If you get six innings out of your starters then you have to be confident with the back end of your bullpen in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

*all stats are courtesty of

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Why I'm glad the Red Sox retired Johnny Pesky's number

Settle down. The Red Sox aren’t cheapening the meaning of retired numbers by putting number 6 on the right field façade. I couldn’t be happier that they are looking the other way with their rules for retired numbers on this one.

Was Pesky a great player. No, not really. He was a pretty good player. He made one all-star team, was in the top five in MVP voting a couple of times, led the league in hits a bunch of times and rarely ever struck out. Actually he’d fit the profile of what the Sox look for now pretty well.

He wasn’t a great player and he won’t be in the Hall of Fame but sometimes it’s about more than just stats when it comes to things like this. Pesky deserves to have his number retired because he’s more than just a former player/coach/broadcaster and current mascot. His 57 years of service have made him a part of Red Sox lore.

Johnny Pesky is just as much a part of the Red Sox and Fenway Park as his right field foul pole or any of the other players represented by the five (six counting Jackie Robinson) numbers lofting over the grandstand. That’s what this is about.

The current ownership has done an incredible job of getting things right since they took over in 2002. Of course it helps that the team has won a pair of World Series championships too, but making the decisions that they’ve made has been a key to the success of the franchise.

In 1999 Dan Duquette called Fenway Park economically obsolete and at that time seemingly everyone was pushing for a new stadium. When the current ownership took over they decided to go with upgrades to Fenway instead, I’d say it worked out pretty well. Fenway is literally an American cathedral and I for one can’t wait for the 100th birthday celebration in 2012.

Back to the point I was trying to make. Pesky is as much a part of the history of the franchise as anything else. Have you ever taken anyone to their first game at Fenway? What do you point out to them? The monster, CITGO sign, Pesky’s pole, the Yawkey morse code on the monster, the stories behind the other retired numbers and a host of other anecdotes about America’s favorite ballpark.

The team isn’t just honoring longevity, I agree it wouldn’t be worth it just to honor someone for being with the club for the better part of six decades, but Pesky is more than a guy that’s been around forever. He’s a symbol. And if you were one of the thousands of people to take in the Dark Knight at the Jordan’s IMAX you know that symbols invoke something in people.

Pesky is a symbol to the fans. A symbol of the storied teams of yesteryear, he’s a park of the folklore of the Red Sox. Maybe he was just the right guy in the right place at the right time but he tells a story and now the ‘6’ on the right field façade will continue to tell that story to fans for another six decades.

I get the disagreements. I understand people thinking its hokey to retire his number but like I said its about more than numbers in some cases. I don’t really get how anyone could be anything more than thrilled for the guy. I mean he’s almost 90 years old, he’s given his entire life to the Red Sox, and he’s Mr. Red Sox.

There are certainly some other players that are more deserving than Pesky in the traditional sense, Jim Rice, Tony C, Dom DiMaggio to name a few, but his story is unique.

This ownership has done well catering to the fans with the upgrades they’ve made to the park, they’ve made people say ‘to hell with a new stadium, we’ve got Fenway and that’s the way I like it’. Find a Yankees fan next year and ask them which stadium they like better old Yankee stadium or new. Sure the new one might be nicer, cleaner, have more luxury suites and better seats but deep down they’ll wish they never built the thing.

Johnny Pesky is a fixture of Fenway Park, so is his pole (snicker…) and now, rightfully so, is his number 6. Sitting next to his friends Bobby Doerr and Teddy Ballgame and the other Red Sox legends he reminds us of.