Sunday, August 31, 2008

Red Sox Show Off Depth in Second Route of White Sox

When David Ortiz was shown the lineup for yesterday's game, he shook his head in mock disgust, and claimed that it was time for him to retire. No, Big Papi was not demoted in the lineup, he was penciled in to bat 3rd, as usual. His surprise was seeing that, batting right behind him in Manny Ramirez' number 4 spot, was Boston's own Mighty Mouse, Dustin Pedroia. Before you start flooding the Red Sox front office with calls for Terry Francona's head on a platter, you need to know two things. First, Kevin Youkilis was forced to miss yesterday's game with a flu-like ailment. With JD Drew and Mike Lowell still on the DL, Tito needed to mix things up a bit. Yes, there are other interesting players to consider for the cleanup spot though. Jason Bay perhaps, or Mark Kotsay maybe? What about Jeff Bailey, one of the best hitters in Pawtucket, called up to help fill in for all the injuries?

Well, that leads us to the second thing you need to know. That is that Dustin Pedroia, in a recent announcement by his agent, completed his contract agreement with the devil himself. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed. A photo of the historic deal is provided here.
Dustin Pedroia's Contract with the Devil
Okay, maybe he did not actually sign a contract with the devil (especially a record contract, like the one in the photo), but you can't prove he didn't, can you? How else can you explain Pedroia, all 5' 9" of him, suddenly raking the ball with impunity? The day before, Dustin went 4 for 4 with a double and a walk, and he simply went out yesterday and repeated the exact same feat! He has reached base safely in his last ten plate appearances! Not only is he beyond hot, but he somehow swayed the manager to bat his diminutive frame in the cleanup spot, a lifelong dream, no doubt, and something only the devil would be able to accomplish. You can picture the devil (imagine the part being played by Scott Boras and it is pretty easy) waltzing into Francona's office like a mafia boss. "Tito, my friend, you remember how we helped you beat the Yankees in 2004 when the outcome appeared hopeless? We said one day we would ask you for a favor. Well, my friend, today is that day." See, that explains it all!

Michael BowdenBut, let's not let all this devil talk overshadow the fantastic major league debut of yet ANOTHER minor league prospect who took advantage of his opportunity to shine. Michael Bowden took the mound yesterday, filling in for Josh Beckett, and completed a day to remember. He must have had a good dose of butterflies in his stomach, but it did not show. He walked Orlando Cabrera to start the game, and probably thought, "uh oh". But, when the next batter grounded into a double play, he surely breathed a sigh of relief and knew this would turn out to be a good day.

Remember, this is a 21 year old kid, facing some historic MLB hitters; Ken Griffey, Jr., Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Quentin. He kept his composure, pitched like a big league pitcher, and gave the Red Sox what they needed, 5 solid innings. After 5 innings, Bowden had given up 2 runs on 7 hits and a walk, struck out 3, and left with a 5-2 lead. In the bottom of the 5th, the Red Sox scored two more runs to help out his mind at ease that the lead would last. Bowden had only thrown 89 pitches, but I think Tito did not want to push it too far. I think Terry felt, if Bowden leaves now, he is uplifted and excited with his first major league game and should surely get a win. But, if he goes back out there, we run the risk of having him get knocked around and put a chink in his confidence. So, that was it for Bowden, who is currently on the Buccholz track - get a few spot starts in September to get your feet wet, them come back to Spring Training and complete for a regular starting job.

The Rays won, yet again, so the AL East battle remains at status quo, the Rays holding their 4 1/2 game lead. The Yankees, however, let one slip through their fingers in a 7-6 loss to Toronto. The loss puts the pinstripers 7 games back in the Wild Card race. Not looking good for them. The Twins also lost yesterday, increasing the Red Sox' lead in the Wild Card to 3 1/2 games over the Twins. But, another win over Chicago today could create another flip flop in the Central Division. The White Sox are only 1/2 game ahead of the Twins. The playoff picture out west is not very interesting. The Angels are going to be the Division Champions, and that's it.

This afternoon, we'll see how Tim Wakefield does in his second start after coming off the DL. His last one was a successful outing against the Yankees, and today he faces a good pitcher in Gavin Floyd, who is 14-6 with a 3.70 ERA. Floyd has never pitched at Fenway Park. He is 1-0 against the Red Sox, but he did give up 5 runs in the process, squeezing out a 6-5 victory. Beautiful day for a ballgame, so let's get out there and warm up those brooms!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Matsuzaka Owns Chicago

Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched his best game of the season against the Chicago White Sox earlier this month on August 9th, in Chicago. In that game, Dice-K went 8 innings, allowed 4 hits, 3 walks and one earned run, while striking out 4 batters. Boston won that game 6-2. Yesterday, Dice-K topped that game with an even more impressive game against the White Sox, this time in Fenway Park.

Dice-K MatsuzakaDice-K, again, went 8 full innings yesterday, this time allowing no runs while giving up only 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out 7. In 8 innings, the minimum number of batters a pitcher can face in 8 innings is 24. Thanks to a double play, the Dice-Man only faced 27 batters yesterday. Just a brilliant day for the Red Sox' leading Cy Young candidate for 2008.

Dustin PedroiaWhile Dice-K was mowing them down, Dustin Pedroia was lighting it up. Yes, our own Mighty Mouse had a field day, going 4 for 4 with a double, a walk, and 2 stolen bases. When Pedroia got on base, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, and Jason Bay each took turns driving him in. Youk and Bay were the big run producers, driving in 3 runs a piece. Our newest acquisition, Mark Kotsay, has played in two games, and hit two doubles. He's on pace to hit 30 doubles in his short time with the Sox (don't you hate those silly "projected to..." things that writers come up with, as if today's pace will continue uninterrupted).

Mark KotsayThe Red Sox' win only allowed them to remain in a holding pattern, as the Rays, Twins, and Yankees all turned in wins as well. The Rational Sox Fan playoff calculation indicates that the Sox must go 16-12 to finish the season and guarantee a playoff berth. With 19 games remaining at home, that sounds very doable!

Quite a bit of roster juggling took place yesterday as well. The Sox recently acquired David Ross, a catcher with 8 years of big league experience, primarily as a backup catcher. In order for Ross to be available for the playoff, he needed to be added to the 40 man roster prior to August 31. So, yesterday, the Sox did just that. Sean Casey was moved to the 15 day DL, joining JD Drew and Josh Beckett. That, plus a move that send Julio Lugo from the 15 day DL to the 60 day DL, created room for Ross, and allowed the Sox to keep recently called up David Pauley in the bullpen, and open up an opportunity to call up Michael Bowden from Pawtucket.

Bowden will be making his major league debut tonight as the starting pitcher against Mark Buehrle. Bowden is a very promising young right handed pitcher, and with Beckett out, and Colon not yet ready, this gives the Sox a chance to give Bowden a taste of the big leagues, just like they did with Clay Buchholz last year. Buchholz made the best of his 2007 call-up, let's hope Bowden follows suit!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Yankees Save Face

I think Alex Rodriguez should take a page from Jason Giambi's book and grow a 1970's porn star moustache, buy himself some leopard print g-string underwear, and maybe start contributing when it counts. While A-rod went a quiet 0-4 that hardly got noticed by the friendly Yankee fans (hee hee), Jason Giambi spent the game on the bench, combing the moustache and adjusting the g-string (those things do tend to bunch up when you sit for too long). Then, with the Yankees losing 2-0 in the bottom of the 7th inning, two outs, and a runner at second base, Terry Francona made the call to the bullpen to have Hideki Okajima face the number 9 batter, Jose Molina.

Jason Giambi homersIn perhaps his first smart managerial move of the series, Joe Girardi sent in Jason Giambi to pinch hit. Giambi hiked up the g-string, put his game face on, and went in to show A-Rod how it is done. Two pitches later, A-Rod watched Giambi's shot clear the center field fence for a game tying two run home run, and said to himself, "why can't I do that?". Giambi was not done. In the bottom of the 9th, with the game still tied at 2 a piece, Gaimbi came up to face Jonathan Papelbon with one out and bases loaded. Giambi came through again, sending a looping line drive to center field to score the winning run from third. So, A-Rod, that's how you do it.

In a fittingly close, well fought game, the Red Sox bowed to the Yankees in the third game of this final series to be played by these two teams in the House That Ruth Built (and Steinbrenner tore down). It is amazing the roller coaster fans have put themselves on. When the Sox won the first two games, life was simply perfect, and fans began wondering which team the Sox would be facing in the World Series. Then, they lose game three, 3-2, and suddenly everything is ruined. All the joy from the prior two days now crushed, doubts flooding back in. Get a grip people, otherwise emergency room will be filling up with heart attacks and nervous breakdowns.

Jon LesterYesterday's game was much more of a classic battle that we have come to expect from these two teams. Jon Lester pitched a very nice game, rebounding well from his last poor outing against the Blue Jays. But, as we are so used to seeing, the Yankees methodically drove Lester's pitch count up, so that, by the time he left with 2 outs in the 6th inning, he had thrown 119 pitches. Had he been able to keep that pitch count down, he would not have gotten lifted when he did, and we may have seen a different outcome. Hideki Okajima missed on a pitch to Giambi that changed the outcome of the game. But, wouldn't it have been nice if the Sox had scored more than two runs? Simply a tough game, and fitting that the Yankees should win the final regular season game - makes better history.

Remember when Josh Beckett got crushed by the Blue Jays, and I wrote that I was concerned this was due to an injury that we have not been told about yet? Well, it turns out I had reason to worry. Beckett has been scratched from his start tonight, and will instead, be going to visit the good Doctor Andrews. Nerve damage in the elbow can be a big problem. We don't know if Beckett's issue is big or not, but let's keep our fingers crossed on this one.

I will tell you this. If worse comes to worse, and the Sox lose Beckett for the rest of the season (God forbid), it is NOT all over. I expect they will continue to play well, certainly well enough to get into the playoffs, and then go to battle. Yes, having a healthy Beckett would be much, much better. But, when you look at last year's playoff run, when Beckett was clearly the overall MVP, you can look at it this way. Last year Beckett saved them. That is good and bad. It is good because it earned them a Championship. It is bad because they actually needed saving.

Yes, better pitching from their other starters, and better timely hitting, would have allowed Beckett to simply have a good playoff run and still win a Championship. He stepped up and became a hero, but, in a way, it is too bad we needed a hero to begin with. So, if this year, everyone picks up their game in the playoffs, and everything clicks, we may not need a single hero.

All that said, let's just hope Beckett gets back, healthy and strong.

Tonight the Sox face off against the Sox for an important three game series. The Sox are battling for first place with the Rays while the Sox are trying to hold on to first place over the Twins. if the Sox beat the Sox, then the Sox could find themselves behind the Twins and vying for the Wild Card. But, if the Sox beat the Sox, the Sox could lose control of their lead for Wild Card spot. So, either way, the Sox need to fare well against the Sox, and vice-versa. I am optimistic, since the Sox have fared well against the Sox this season, with tonight's starter, Daisuke Matsuzaka, having had his best outing of the year against the Sox earlier this month. (I hope all of this is clear).

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Round Two - Yankees Given A Standing 8 Count

When we looked at this game yesterday, we saw two pitchers that had a good chance to get hit, and would probably not go deep into the game. We expected runs to be scored, but probably remain close. The game would come down to the bullpens, we thought.

Paul ByrdWe were right! Paul Byrd pitched reasonably well, lasting 6 innings and giving up 2 runs. Both runs involved Alex Rodriguez (he drove in the first and scored the second), who did his best to bounce back from a dismal game the night before. Sidney Ponson did not fare quite as well, lasting only 4 2/3 innings, and surrendering 4 earned runs.

But, a 4-2 score heading into the 7th inning is still close. So, bring on the bullpens. The Sox, thankfully, got a scoreless inning out of Manny Delcarmen in the 7th, and Mike Timlin pitched the final two innings, only allowing one run on a solo homer to Jason Giambi in the 9th. Kudos to the Sox bullpen. The Yankees bullpen? Not so good. It started off well with Edwar Ramirez and Damaso Marte combining to pitch 2 1/3 scoreless innings to hold the Sox at bay going into the 8th inning. But, in the 8th inning it all fell apart when Jose Veras took the mound. Jose could do nothing right. He gave up a single, triple, back to back walks to load the bases, a sacrifice fly, and an RBI single. His replacement, David Robertson, did not fare much better. Robertson gave up a single, a fatal grand slam to Dustin Pedroia, and a single to Big Papi before finally getting the last two outs. The battle of the bullpens was over.
David Robertson
Last night, I wonder if the Yankees top brass were regretting the trade of Kyle Farnsworth for Ivan Rodriguez. Certainly they needed a catcher to help fill in for Jorge Posada, who was lost to season ending shoulder surgery. But, last night Farnsworth would most likely have been sent in to take the 8th inning, and I'm certain he would have fared better. Meanwhile, I-Rod goes 0-4, and ended rallies in both the 4th and 9th innings. Hmm, tough call to sacrifice good pitching for a 36 year old catcher.

The Red Sox made another move, picking up Mark Kotsay from the Atlanta Braves. Kotsay will provide some depth and insurance with JD Drew and Sean Casey both hurting right now. Kotsay is primarily an outfielder, but he can also help out at first base too. While I think it is a smart move, especially since they traded next to nothing to acquire Kotsay (the Sox sent single A outfielder, Luis Sumoza, to the Braves), I do find it awkward to suddenly be cheering for players you are so used to rooting against.

Mark Kotsay is most know by Red Sox fans for his years with the Oakland A's. We spent many games rooting for Kotsay to strike out, hit into double plays, etc. Paul Byrd, also recently acquired by the Red Sox, was heartily cheered against just last season by Red Sox fans as he battled the Sox in the playoffs while pitching for the Cleveland Indians. To suddenly be cheering them on just feels odd. But, give it some time.

Meanwhile, while the Yankees may be doubting their Farnsworth trade, the Red Sox seem to have made out well in their trade to acquire Jason Bay. Bay has been playing quite well for the Sox, and his stats line up very well with Manny Ramirez' stats since joining their new teams. Craig Hanson was included in that trade, and Hanson has simply fallen on his face. Yesterday, the Pirates announced that Hansen was being demoted to their minor league system. Hansen has talent in that arm, he just has been able to harness it yet. Brandon Moss, who also went to the Pirates in the deal, is having a good time. He has started nearly every game for the Pirates in August, but is only batting .235 for them. But, the extra playing time should help him mature in to a solid every day player.

So, yet another interesting pitching match up unfolds this afternoon. Jon Lester will face off against Mike Mussina. Mussina has easy been New York's most reliable starter this year, while Lester has become Boston's most reliable. Both team have seen these pitchers more than once, so there will be plenty of familiarity. The Yankees should be desperate to avoid a sweep, so this one should be a tough battle.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Yankees Lose Round One, 7-3

Red Sox fans let out a sigh of relief. Nagging concerns about a possible sweep by the Yankees in this series vanished last night, along with any MVP hopes Alex Rodriguez may have had. For the Yankees, this series has been looked at as pivotal to getting back into the playoff hunt, and the first game was considered a true "big game". The pitching match ups seemed to favor the Yankees. Andy Pettitte is a true "big game" pitcher, and he was facing Tim Wakefield, fresh off of the DL, who has not fared well in recent outings against the Yankees.
Tim Wakefield
What New York needed was for their big players to step up. And the Yankees have no bigger player than A-Rod, arguably the most talented player in our lifetime. Unfortunately, A-Rod folded like an empty beach chair on a windy day. If you missed the game, here are the A-Rod highlights:

First inning: With the Yankees leading 1-0 on a Johnny Damon home run, A-Rod struck out looking to end the inning.

Second inning: With two outs and the Sox' 8th and 9th batters coming up. Both Jeff Bailey and Kevin Cash hit soft grounders right to A-Rod, who was playing deep. A-Rod could not handle either ball cleanly in time to make a play. The next batter, Jacoby Ellsbury, singled to drive in the Sox' first run.

Third inning: With one out and Bobby Abreu on first base, A-Rod hits n easy ground ball to short for an inning ending double play.

Fourth inning: With two outs and a runner on first, Dustin Pedroia hits a soft ground ball to third. A-Rod fields it cleanly then throws a side arm lob to first that pulls Jason Giambi well off the bag towards home plate. Giambi catches the ball and manages to quickly swipe Pedroia with his glove in time for the out - saving A-Rod from being charged with an error.

Fifth inning: With two outs, one run already in, the Sox leading 4-2, and runners at 2nd and 3rd, Jeff Bailey hits a ground ball down the line to third. The ball hops off the bag, A-Rod grabs it, fumbles for a fatal second taking it out of his glove, fires a futile throw to first which bounces once and arrives too late. The throw allows Coco Crisp, who had just reached third as A-Rod threw to first, to race home. Bailey was safe at first and Giambi held the ball and watched Coco score unchallenged. Had A-Rod held the ball, he would have at least held Coco on third, or possibly trapped him in a run-down. Had he made a quicker throw, he could have ended the inning. Giambi also had a shot at Coco at the plate, but held the ball.

Fifth inning: With one out, Derek Jeter on second and Bobby Abreu on first, and the score now 6-3, A-Rod flied out to center field, missing an opportunity to tie the game with a big swing.

Seventh inning: With one out, and bases loaded, thanks to a single and two walks from Manny Delcarmen, A-Rod came up to face Justin Masterson. A-Rod proceeded to hit a grounder to short for another inning ending double play.

Eighth inning: With one out, Dustin Pedroia hits a ground ball to third, and A-Rod throws hit out at first (wow). Later, with runners on first and second and two outs, Jason Bay hits a ground ball to third, A-Rod bobbles it, recovers, makes a bad throw to first, and the runners are safe. A-Rod is charged with an error. No runs score as Jed Lowrie lines out to second.

Ninth inning: Dustin Pedroia hits another ball to A-Rod, this time lining out to him cleanly to end the inning (wow).

Ninth inning: With a runner on first and two outs, the Yankees are down to their final chance. A-Rod steps up to the plate, and Jonathan Papelbon feeds him a steady diet of 95 mph fastballs. With the count 2-2, A-Rod swings and misses at the 5th pitch to end the game.

Alex RodriguezDon't get me wrong, a love A-Rod, I really do (insert sounds of suppressed laughter). He is truly a great player (insert sounds of chuckling), but when the game is on the line, he just never seems to come through. His post season stats are weak, and in important games, he disappears. Yankee fans seemed to notice as they showered him with boos all night. Personally, I think that is very classless. To boo your own players during an important battle is incredibly counter-productive.

But, you can certainly see their point. He made the last out in three innings, went 0-5, hit into 2 double plays, left 7 men on base, committed an error, and failed to make critical defensive plays when they were needed most.

Perfect day for the Sox to win. With the Rays and Twins both losing last night, the Sox gained ground on everyone. They now stand 3 1/2 behind the Rays for the Division lead, and extended their Wild Card lead to 2 1/2 games over the Twins, and 6 games over the Yankees.

Interesting match up tonight in the Bronx. Paul Byrd is no serious threat to the Yankees. They have had their way with Byrd in the past, but Byrd has been known to step up in big games, which would be nice to see tonight. Meanwhile, the Yankees counter with Sidney Ponson, who got roughed up in his last outing against the Blue Jays, and also got roughed up the last time he faced the Red Sox. This one, on paper, does not look like a classic pitcher's duel. Don't be surprised if this one comes down to the bullpens.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Revisiting the Yankees

Back in April, I posted an analysis of the 2008 New York Yankees. It is now late August, the playoff race is building up, and the Red Sox kick off a pivotal 3 game series, their last regular season visit to Yankee Stadium, tonight against the Bronx Bombers. This is a good time to pull out that old analysis, and see how it compares.

Overall, I'd say it looks pretty good, but with a couple of surprises. As an overall assessment, I claimed the Yankees would not be as good as they have been in the past few years. They had critical issues in their starting pitching, had an aging, declining lineup, and would not be the feared team we had all come to know. I said they had a chance to sneak into a playoff spot, but if they did, they would not go too far. Well, their record of 70-60 is actually not too bad. At this point last year, the Yankees were 72-58, seven games behind the Red Sox who were 79-51. This year, the Yankees are 5 games behind the Red Sox, but a significant difference is that the Red Sox are in first place for the Wild Card, not for the Division lead. The Rays have changed the mix in the AL East, and with the Sox chasing them while holding on to the lead in the Wild Card race, the Yankees have become somewhat forgotten. Which is pretty much what I had assessed. This series against the Sox could, however, make a big difference. The Sox need to avoid a sweep to keep the Yankees off their heels. Otherwise, that sneaking into a playoff spot could begin tonight.

On offense, I was reasonably on track as well. I said that Johnny Damon was beginning a physical decline, and would cause problems for Joe Girardi. Damon is no longer a shoe-in as a starting outfielder, but do you want him tying up a DH spot in favor of more typical DH sluggers? Johnny has played 88 games in the outfield and 25 games at DH. Damon did go on the DL for the first time in his career this year after a collision with the outfield wall, but has managed to put up good numbers offensively. He is batting .312 with 9 HR, 55 RBI, and 23 stolen bases. So, he is still a productive force on offense, but declining in his value as an outfielder, although certainly able to hold down the position.

Derek Jeter, batting #2, has also lived up to my expectations. A smart player, and solid #2 batter, he is batting .293 with 8 HR's, 60 RBI, and a .352 OBP. Overall, his offensive production is down from his best years, and he is no longer a perennial contender for the batting title, but he gives you what you need from the #2 spot in the order. He is solid on defense, but beginning to lose a half step in quickness and in range. He's not a Gold Glove candidate anymore, but still is one of the top 5 or 6 shortstops in the AL.

Bobby Abreu bats third, and has also lived up to my expectation. Decent average (.297), solid batter, but beginning to drop off in power (15 HR's, .467 slugging percentage). He's anchored right field well and has been a steady contributor.

A-Rod is having another fine year. His power numbers are better than most players, but down from his best years. That could be attributed to possibly weaning off of certain enhancement substances that he has been accused of taking, but since none of that is proven, we'll just assume he's simply not swinging as hard this year. But, who would not be happy with his .312 average, 28 home runs, and 75 RBI (.590 slugging percentage) ? He is basically playing a great year, as usual.

Jason Giambi has exceeded my expectations in offensive power, but that's about it. He is an average to below average first baseman, playing 86 games at first compared to 28 games as the DH. I had expected that he would be good on offense, but not like his steroid days. That is certainly true. His drop off since quitting steroids is a clear line in his career stats. I figured he would be a good batter, but his .250 average is marginal, and well below his potential. He does have 25 home runs, 77 RBI, and a .503 slugging percentage, so when he hits the ball, he hits it hard.

Robinson Cano has had a bit of a drop in his offense from the last couple of years, but he's a good second baseman, and a good bat for lower in the order. Beyond Cano, the bottom of the order raised the most surprises. Jorge Posada's production was down quite a bit from last year, more so than I had predicted. However, his ailing shoulder may have had plenty to do with that. The surprise was that the very durable catcher only lasted 51 games into the season before suffering from shoulder problems that have ended his season. Hideki Matsui also lost significant playing time with knee issues, but Matsui has worked his way back to New York, and seems to be ready to contribute, however, only as a DH. Lastly, Melky Cabrera, while fine on defense, had his offense drop through the floor in August, and is now serving time in the minor leagues trying to work things out.

What about pitching. That is where is was most surprised (as a baseball player, I was not a pitcher, so analysing pitchers simply may not be my strength). I thought Chien-Ming Wang would have another good solid year with 18 wins. He may very well have done that, had he not come down with serious problems in his foot which sent him to the DL after only 15 games.

I had predicted that Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte would be showing big drop offs. I was wrong about that. While it is true that Mussina has lost a few mph's off of his fastball, he has not let that keep him from being effective. His record of 16-7 with a 3.45 ERA with 109 strikeouts in 27 games is quite impressive. He has been durable, and an anchor in the rotation. Pettitte has also been quite durable, neither of them missing a start as far as I can tell. Pettitte has dropped off from his prime years, but his record of 13-9 with a 4.17 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 27 games is quite good!

The young guys, Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, did not last long. Not much to say there. Both have 0-4 records, and were both very disappointing. The Yankees made two significant moves relating to starting pitching. They acquired Sindey Ponson, which has worked out pretty well for them, and moved Joba Chamberlain from the bullpen to the rotation. Joba was faring well as a starter, slowly building up his innings, and learning to get through the order multiple times. His strikeout count was quite high, but in 12 starts he only amassed a 3-1 record. Then, he went on the DL with rotator cuff tendinitis. Was that brought on by the switch to a starting role? Very possibly. He throws incredibly hard, and when you do that over 100 times in a single game, that creates a different type of wear and fatigue on the shoulder. His should may not have been quite ready for that incessant strain yet. But, he is hopeful to be back soon, with a debate as to whether he should return to solidify the bullpen or return as a starter. Kyle Farnsworth, who was having the solid season I predicted, was traded to acquire Ivan Rodriguez. The loss of Kyle in the bullpen will be felt, but is that the best thing to do with Joba now? They need to be careful with this young talent and not ruin the potential they have there.

In the back of the bullpen we have Mariano Rivera. I felt, back in April, that Rivera would have a good season, that he was still effective, but that he was no longer the "lights out" guy he has been in the past. While that statement is very true, Rivera has gone and assembled a terrific season. Not the "lights out" guy of his prime years, but pretty darn close. He has 31 saves and a 1.53 ERA. He opened the season with a flurry, going into the 15 game before allowing an earned run. But, his 4-5 record and 1 blown save show he is, in fact, human. But, if you are a Yankee fan, you have to love having Rivera as your closer. He clearly still has gas left in the tank at 38 years old!

So, overall, the Yankees pitching was actually better than I expected (believe it or not). I thought that they were terribly wrong in not going after Johan Santana with more urgency than they did, and that, in the end, their starting pitching would not hold up. That was all true, but I thought the rookies would play a bigger role, and the old guys would show more of a decline.

In general, they are living up to expectations. A team with talent, but aging talent. A team that needed an infusion of talented youth, but did not get it. A team that can still compete, but has more flaws and weaknesses than we are accustomed to. The end result is a team that is on track to miss the playoffs for the first time this century. But, as a memorable Yankee once pointed out, "it ain't over 'til it's over"!

The if the Yankees can take three games against the Sox, they'll be breathing right down their necks again. But, if the Sox win just one game, that will hold them in check for now. I don't have high hopes for tonight. Tim Wakefield is pitching in his first game since going on the DL with shoulder tightness. He does not generally fare well in those situations. Andy Pettitte often fares well against the Sox, and as a lefty starter, he helps offset some of the Red Sox' punch from the left side. Should be a good series all around. Don't sit back and expect this to be easy. The Yankees have a habit of handing the Sox a poorly timed sweep late in the season. Get complacent, and that will happen again.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Red Sox Win 6-5 Over Toronto in Extra Innings

Now, that was quite a game. As expected, Daisuke Matsuzaka and AJ Burnett went toe to toe and came away pretty even. Dice-K went 6 innings, allowed 8 hits and 5 earned runs while striking out 8 and walking only 1. AJ went 7 innings, allowed 7 hits and 5 earned runs while striking out 7 and walking 3. Both pitchers gave up 2 home runs. So, that left the game in the hands of the bullpens.
AJ Burnett

The Red Sox bullpen has not been overly reliable lately, but yesterday they got the job done. Justin Masterson was sharp as he went 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Hideki Okajima nailed down the final two outs of the 8th inning before turning it over to Jonathan Papelbon, who got 6 straight outs to bring the game to the 11th inning. In the top of the 11th, Jed Lowrie drove a ball deep into center field for a home run to put the Sox up 6-5. With Papelbon already having gone 2 innings, Terry Francona sent Manny Delcarmen in to nail down the save. While Manny has been shaky at times, last night he got the job done.

Jacoby EllsburyThe Sox survived a scare when Jacoby Ellsbury crashed into the chain link fence in center field while making a catch a step away from the wall. Ellsbury suffered cuts around his eye and was shaken up, but he knew the Sox' injury situation with JD Drew dealing with a herniated disc. So, even shaken up, Ellsbury stayed in the game.

The Red Sox injury situation is still a concern. They gained a game on the Rays, who lost last night, and stand 4 1/2 back in the division, and hold a 1 game lead in the Wild Card standings over the Twins, while the Yankees sit 5 games behind the Sox. That 5 game lead feels good, but the Red Sox and Yankees will square off for 3 games in Yankee Stadium starting tomorrow night. A sweep by the Yankees would throw them right back into the race. The Sox have pushed off Josh Beckett's next start, forcing him to miss this series, but Tim Wakefield has declared himself ready to return to the rotation, just in time to prevent the Sox from having to make a move. The only thing that worries me about that, is that Wakefield has not generally fared too well in his first game back.

So, what do the Sox need to do to make the playoffs? In my analysis, since the start of the Wild Card format in 1995, no AL team that has won at least 94 games has ever missed the playoffs. The Red Sox record is currently 75-55. They would need to win 19 out of their final 32 games to get to 94 wins. So, can the Sox go 19-13 to wrap up the season? I think that looks pretty doable.

They also have 6 games remaining against the Rays. That presents a nice opportunity to pull the Rays back a bit. So, they need to get it all started tomorrow night by jumping all over Mike Mussina and starting the series off with a win.

Tune in tomorrow when we'll take a look at how my analysis of the 2008 Yankees has turned out!

(Photos Courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Blue Jays Exact Revenge, Win 11-0

Well, not much to say about that one. Jon Lester, who has become Mr. Reliable in 2008, hit a speed bump on his way to proving he is worthy of Cy Young consideration this season. Lester just couldn't get out of his own way yesterday, and the Jays took advantage. Chris Smith (whose name, when said quickly, makes one think of happy times exchanging gifts in front of a crackling fire, eating candy canes, and listening to seasonal songs) took over for Lester in the 3rd inning, and pitched barely well enough stay in the game himself. Between the two, they allowed 11 runs in the first 6 innings.

Jon Lester stunk yesterdayMike Timlin, Javier Lopez and Manny Delcarmen got in an inning of work each, but their three innings of scoreless work, which would have been praised to the highest mountains in a close scoring game, will vanish in history as if they never happened.

Why? Because the number one rated pitching staff in the AL (yes, the Blue Jay's staff), shut down the Red Sox lineup (who must have missed having Mike Lowell and JD Drew in there yesterday). The Red Sox managed only four hits on the day, and only threatened once or twice to score even a single run.

That's what you get when you play a team that has your number, on the road, with less than a full lineup. Meanwhile, the Rays won (yet again) to extend their lead in the AL East to 5 1/2 games and the Yankees (surprisingly) won to creep a game closer. The Yankees are still 10 1/2 games behind the Rays, but now only 5 games behind the Sox for the Wild Card. With 3 games coming up against the Yankees, they certainly have a chance to catch up quickly with a sweep. Luckily, the White Sox lost yesterday, so they remain 1/2 game behind in the Wild Card race.

Tough pitching match up today with Daisuke Matsuzaka facing off against AJ Burnett. A win is not imperative, but sure would be well timed.

Meanwhile, the Sox have Monday off before facing off against the Yankees on Tuesday. So, tune in Tuesday when I'll re-examine my analysis of the Yankees that I published earlier in the season. Let's see how well the analysis stood up through this point in the season.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Red Sox Give Blue Jays the Byrd

Actually, wasn't it the Indians who gave the "Byrd" to the Red Sox? Well, so far so good. Paul Byrd has pitched reasonably well in his two outings with the Sox, coming away with his first victory last night in Toronto. Byrd was not overpowering, but he was steady and kept the Sox in the game going 6 complete innings and allowing 4 runs. The runs came on two separate two run homers, and other than those two damaging swings, Byrd pretty much kept the Jays in control.

Paul ByrdSo, Byrd only lasted 6 innings. Weren't you scared about turning this one over to the bullpen with the score just a little too close, the Sox leading 6-4? Three long, arduous innings. Not only did we have to worry about the 8th inning, but we had to get through the 7th to even get there.

First up was, thankfully, Justin Masterson, rather than David Aardsma or Manny Delcarmen or Mike Timlin. I love those guys, but lately they have been just too scary. Masterson pitched a scoreless inning, but did surrender back to back walks with two outs. He seemed to be going for the strike out by painting the outside corner to bother batters but just could not find it.

Then, for what feels like the first time since last season, the Sox wrapped up the game in classic form. Hideki Okajima pitched a 1-2-3 8th inning and, even though it was not a save situation, Jonathan Papelbon wrapped up the 9th to preserve the much needed victory.

The win simply allowed the Red Sox to keep pace with the Tampa Bay Rays, who actually helped the Red Sox out in the Wild Card chase by beating the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox and Twins have been playing quite a game of leap frog lately, and today the Twins hold possession of first place, while the White Sox sit a mere 1/2 game behind the Red Sox for the Wild Card. The Yankees also won, but have a ways to go before they are a team to worry about.

Speaking of worry, it appears that JD Drew has a herniated disc in his back. That can be a very delicate situation. He's working through it, but it sure is a rough time of year for all these injury issues.

Mike Lowell - oblique strain
Julio Lugo - quad pull
JD Drew - herniated disc
Tim Wakefield - shoulder stiffness
Josh Beckett - finger numbness

Supposedly, Wake and Beckett may both be back for the upcoming Yankee series, which would be a huge relief. Lugo may not be back at all, which might also be a huge relief. But, these are the issues a team has to fight through, and the Sox have been doing it all season, getting terrific support from their minor league system along the way.

This afternoon, Jon Lester takes the hill against Jesse Litsch. According to what you will read in the pitching match-ups, Litsch showed off his "newly added four seam fastball" in his last outing. What? That can't be right, can it? Doesn't every pitcher throw a four seam fastball? I guess, if you throw it too flat, and with not enough pop (sub-90's), you would have one that you would rarely use. But, that seems like a weird pitch to have "newly added". Most pitchers add a splitter, a forkball or something like that. What Jon Lester is going to add, is another win on his way to a superb 2008 season!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

That's All for Buchholz

At the end of the 2007 season, Clay Buchholz looked like the next young stud in line to become the ace of the Red Sox pitching staff. He looked sharp, confident, and dazzled the baseball world with a no-hitter. Red Sox fans were irritated that the Red Sox front office left him off of the playoff roster, but we were sure he'd be an important part of the 2008 playoff run.

That was then, this is now. Clay just has not been able to get it together this season, and I think a portion of that blame may lie with the Red Sox, but it is hard to say for sure. When Buchholz began to struggle a bit in June, they "invented" a fingernail issue that apparently required a trip to Pawtucket (coincidentally timed perfectly to open a roster spot for Bartolo Colon). While in Pawtucket, rather than just get some solid work in, they decided that Clay needed some tinkering. So, they went to work trying to alter his arm slot and perfect the mechanics of his fastball. Sometimes when you tinker with something too much, you simply make it worse. Remember when you'd get a pimple and you just couldn't help but pick at it, or when you'd get a mosquito bite and you just had to scratch it? These things feel right at first, but in the end, only make the problem worse.

Since Clay returned from his tuneup, he has been nothing more than a tremendous disappointment. Last night, the Red Sox staked Clay to a 4-0 lead heading into the bottom of the 2nd inning. A 4 run lead would normally cause a pitcher to relax, gain confidence, and go after batters with more determination and less caution. That was not the case for Clay who preceded to give back 3 runs in the bottom of the second inning. That, apparently, was enough to get Terry Francona nervous. In the 3rd inning, he hit the first batter, Melvin Mora, with a pitch, got Aubrey Huff to fly out, and then walked Luke Scott. So, runners on first and second, one out, and Clay had thrown 60 pitches. Interestingly enough, that was all Tito wanted to see. His vision of the future did not include Clay inducing an inning ending double play, or even any Dice-K-like magic to end the threat unscathed. Tito could only see further woes ahead, so he pulled the trigger early in the game and sent Clay to an early shower, a brief stop on his way to AA Portland.

Clay BuchholzMeanwhile, when Tito called in David Aardsma, he probably did not expect what he got either, as Aardsma finished up the mess Buchholz had started by allowing the first batter he faced, Ramon Hernandez, to hit a fatal 3 run home run. The score was now 7-4 in favor of the Orioles. The Red Sox managed to only score 6 runs by the end of the game, so this hit was truly the dagger that ended the game in the 3rd inning. Javier Lopez relieved Aardsma an inning later, and fared no better. The first three batters he faced went like this; single, walk, three run home run. At 10-4, this game was truly out of reach (This was not the Texas Rangers you know. Against Texas, this game would have been far from over).

Hideki OkajimaThe good news is that Hideki Okajima pitched two good innings, the 7th and 8th, only allowing one base runner on a walk. The bullpen simply does not look like they are ready for the playoffs yet. But, if Okajima can regain last year's form, having the Okajima-Papelbon one two punch at the end of games may be just enough to get them by.

Meanwhile, Josh Beckett is still day to day, the result of numbness in two fingers on his pitching hand. It appears the numbness stems from his elbow, which is mildly sore, supposedly due to sleeping on it funny. Yes, this worries me for now. A pinched nerve in an elbow could clear up over night, or could become a nagging problem. Tim Wakefield is recovering from shoulder soreness quite well. He claims he is now pain free and throwing well. He could be back for the upcoming Yankee series, which would help the Sox buy some time before determining what move they will make to back fill for Buchholz. I am guessing they are hoping that Bartolo Colon is declared ready just in time.

Also on the injury front, Jed Lowrie fans can revel in the news that Julio Lugo has run into a setback in his recovery, quite literally. While doing some running, he felt a pull in his healing quad muscle, and is back to square one. Lowrie can breathe a sigh of relief and continue showing the Sox that he is the shortstop of the future.

As the playoff race continues, the Sox lost an opportunity to inch closer to the Rays, who finally lost a game last night. The Yankees and Twins, however, both won their games. While we are not too worried about the Yankees (yet), the win by the Twins pulls them to within 1/2 a game of the Red Sox in the Wild Card race.

The Sox have the night off tonight, travelling up to Toronto. Does is make you nervous having the Sox face the Blue Jays (a team they have trouble beating this year) on the road (where they have been struggling for success all season)? Paul Byrd starts things off, and he did pitch reasonably well in his Sox debut. After Byrd, the reliable Jon Lester follows, with the mystical Dice-K to end the series. I'm certainly not expecting a sweep in Toronto (for either team) but I am hoping they can steal two wins in the series. Anything less will likely force a slip in the standings at a bad time of year to be slipping.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dice-K Does It Again

With a reckless abandon in regards to pitch count or efficiency, Daisuke Matsuzaka went on the attack against the Baltimore Orioles last night. He threw brilliantly located pitches mixed in with wild, who knows where that one is going, pitches. In the end, batters were never sure what was coming at them, and the result was that Dice-K, again, kept his team in contention for a win.

Dice-K MatsuzakaThe highlight of the evening for Dice-K was the 4th inning when he found himself in a tough situation with the bases loaded and only one out. The score was 3-2, and if the game was to be a success, these base runners needed to be left stranded. So, Dice-K went to work, striking out Melvin Mora for out number two, and getting the ever dangerous Aubrey Huff to harmlessly pop out to Kevin Youkilis at third base.

The downside of his evening was that, by the end of the 5th inning, Dice-K had thrown over 100 pitches, and the coaching staff, with a playoff run just around the corner, felt it was time to sit him down. That meant turning four innings over to Boston's less than predictable bullpen. Thankfully, the bullpen held up their end of the game last night. Javier Lopez mopped up the 6th inning, Justin Masterson performed as advertised, taking control of the 7th and 8th innings, getting the Sox into the 9th.

Kevin YoukilisWith the score a comfortable 7-2, Terry Francona saw this as a perfect opportunity to give Jonathan Papelbon a rest, and turned the game over to Manny Delcarmen. Again, Manny looked good, but not great. He got out of the inning, and ended the game without allowing a run to score, but did get himself into a little jam letting two base runners reach. Thankfully, no damage was done.

The Red Sox, yet again, only managed to keep pace with the Tampa Bay Rays, who beat the Angels again last night. The Rays are not letting down at all, and right now, you'd have to say the Rays and the Angels are emerging as the top two teams in the AL. That's not to say things can't change over the next month, but right now those two teams are all alone on top.

And what of Josh Beckett? As I feared, his terrible outing on Sunday was related to a physical problem and was not just a bad day. Beckett has informed us that prior to the game, he was experiencing numbness in his pinkie and ring fingers of his pitching hand. That is certainly enough to throw off the precision needed by an elite major league pitcher. He felt the numbness must be related to sleeping awkwardly on his arm, or something like that. Unfortunately, 3 days later, the numbness has not yet gone away. Sounds to me like a pinched nerve somewhere.

So, Beckett will be skipping his next start to give him a couple of days to work through the issue. Let's hope it remains a minor issue, which is what it is being advertised right now. Tonight, we hand the car keys to Clay Buchholz to try for his first win since back in May. We are all behind you Clay. Let's see that form that earned you the amazing no hitter last year!

A final note. All our thoughts and prayers are with Red Sox legend, Carl Yastrzemski, as he recovers from successful triple bypass surgery performed just yesterday.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Orioles Cannot Keep Red Sox at Bay

Yes, I'm talking about Jason Bay, last night's offensive hero. Bay got the scoring going in the second inning with a solo home run. Two outs later, another Jason, this one named Varitek, hit his own solo home run to give the Sox a 2-0 lead. Good to see the Captain contributing at the plate. This is a good time of year to get hot. Which is what Bay was last night, as shown clearly when he launched his second homer of the game, this one a two run shot in the 8th inning that gave the Sox the insurance runs they would need en route to a final score of 6-3.
Jason Bay
I expected the pitching duel between Jon Lester and Jeremie Guthrie to be a good one, and it was. Both pitchers battled well and they each lasted 7 innings. Lester allowed 4 hits, struck out 5 batters, and the only run he gave up was a solo home run to Aubrey Huff. Guthrie was nearly as good, allowing 5 hits and striking out 4 batters, and the only runs he allowed were the solo home runs to the two Jason's in the second inning.

The rest of the scoring all came off the bullpens. For the Sox, Manny Delcarmen came in to start the 8th inning. Things looked good when he got the first two batters out, but when he proceeded to walk the next two batters, Terry Francona opted to bring in Jonathan Papelbon to keep the game from quickly getting out of hand. At that point, the score was 4-1, and Aubrey Huff was the next batter. A home run from Huff would tie the game. Papelbon prevented Huff from hitting a home run, but not from doing some damage. Huff got some good wood on an outside pitch and drove it to the left field gap for a double, scoring two runs (both charged to Manny - sorry Manny!).
Jon Lester
In the 9th inning, the Sox scored two more to get some breathing room, and Papelbon shut the door on the Orioles for his 33rd save of the season. The Rays won, yet again, so the Sox gained no ground on the AL East leaders, but they did gain a game in the Wild Card standings when Minnesota lost to the A's 3-2.

Next up, Daisuke Matsuzaka takes the mound against Daniel Cabrera tonight in Baltimore. Should be another interesting pitching match up. If Dice-K wins, it will be his 15th win this year, further adding to his case as a valid Cy Young candidate (I'm thinking Lon Lester is pitching his way into Cy Young contention as well!). Let's hope he is crafty as ever and can please the Boston crowd in Fenway II, otherwise known as Camden Yards.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Is Toronto the Red Sox' Achilles Heel?

It often seems that, no matter how good your team may be, there is a team out there that you just can't beat. That team may not even be having a very good season. For Boston a few years back, that team was the Baltimore Orioles. For the Yankees, they have had struggles with the Angels and even the Devil Rays over the past few years. This year, it seems to be the Blue Jays who own the Red Sox. That is not good news. Why? Because the Sox, who have a 2-6 record against them so far, face the Blue Jays 10 more times right in the middle of this year's playoff run, starting with 3 games in Toronto later this week.

To make things worse, the Red Sox were the only team in the AL East to lose yesterday. While the Blue Jays pounded the Sox 15-4, the Yankees were busy roughing up the Royals 15-6 and the Orioles battered the Tigers 16-8. The Rays won over the Rangers, even though they could only muster a paltry 7 runs. So, yes, the Sox dropped a game to everyone yesterday. Before you relax, I haven't gotten to the wild card race yet. Yes, BOTH the White Sox and the Twins won their games yesterday. So, every team that mattered won on a day the Sox got clobbered!

Josh BeckettNow, how could this happen with Josh Beckett on the mound? Good question. Beckett only lasted 2 1/3 innings, giving up 8 earned runs on 8 hits. Yes, the relief pitchers who came in after Beckett also had forgettable afternoons. Of the 6 pitchers used, only the last one (Jonathan Papelbon) escaped without surrendering a run. But, that dis not really matter, the 8 runs Beckett gave up were more than enough to ensure the victory for Toronto. The rest of the runs were just stat padding.

What worries me when a true ace pitcher, like Beckett, has such a terrible day, is the possibility of injury. When Roger Clemens was a regular on the Fenway mound, I remember more than a couple of times when he'd have a seemingly inexplicably bad game, only to hear a day or two later he was hurt and skipping a start, or going on the DL. Generally, an ace like Beckett does not get quite as roughed up unless there is a problem. However, I do have my fingers crossed (fingers with no blister issues), that it was simply a bad day for Josh. Perhaps he did not get enough sleep, was fighting a cold, or just had a little stiff back. This is certainly not the time of year we want to see Beckett need to get any time off.

So, the Sox will head down to Baltimore for three games, and look to their 2008 saviour, Jon Lester, to right the ship. That won't be easy, as the Orioles will send Jeremy Guthrie to the mound to face Lester. Guthrie is in the middle of an incredible run for a pitcher. He is 10-8 with a 3.18 ERA, but he has won 7 of his last 8 decisions, and leads the AL with 18 quality starts. If everything goes as expected for these two pitchers, we should see a low scoring pitchers battle with both starters lasting deep into the ball game. Don't be surprised if this one comes down to a 9th inning score to settle things.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Jays Win the Battle of the Birds

In this case, the Red Sox' bird is spelled with a 'y', as in Paul Byrd. Byrd made his debut for the Red Sox, and certainly did better than Clay Buchholz has been doing lately. While Byrd was no Jon Lester, he looked like a reliable 4th or 5th man in the rotation. His pitching repertoire is not overpowering, rarely touching 90 mph. He does not strike out a lot of batters, instead, he gets them out with ground outs and pop outs, keeping the batter off balance enough to keep balls from being hit too hard. That approach allows him, on good nights, to conserve pitches and go deeper into games.

Paul ByrdLast night, Byrd pitched into the 8th inning holding the Blue Jays to 4 runs. Not a bad outing, but Roy Halladay, pitching for Toronto, was in the midst of pitching a shutout. Halladay was on his game, and he is a workhorse. If he is pitching well, you have little hope of getting him out of the game and attacking the opposing team's bullpen. Halladay held on to the 4-0 shutout until the first batter of the 9th inning, Dustin Pedroia, sent the first pitch of the inning up into the Green Monster seats. Halladay managed to get the next three batters out to end the game for a final score of 4-1.

After the offensive barrage the Red Sox put on the Texas Rangers, it was no surprise that they would have an offensive letdown, especially against a "real" pitcher, like Roy Halladay. The loss did not harm the Red Sox in the AL East chase as the Rays also lost last night. The Yankees won, but there are more worrisome teams than the Yankees right now, particularly the White Sox and Twins, both team winning last night, and both of them now 1.5 games behind the Sox in the Wild Card standings.
Roy Halladay
But, with Josh Beckett taking the mound this afternoon on an extra day of rest, thanks to Friday's rain out, I like their chances to win this one!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Red Sox Will Miss Texas

The Texas Rangers came in to town on a bit of a roll and looking like they could become a legitimate wild card contender. After 3 games in Fenway, they left town battered, bruised, and a little embarrassed (I imagine). After waging a fierce battle in game 1, only to lose 19-17, it seems they had very little left in the offensive tank. In game 2, they managed to put 4 runs on the board as part of a late inning comeback attempt, but succumbed 8-4.

Ron Washington and JJ WalkerThen, last night turned into more of the same. In the second inning, the Sox scored a whopping 9 runs, and the Rangers just did not have it in them to fight back this time. Even Texas manager Jimmy (JJ) Walker (or was that Ron Washington?) had no answer to get the Rangers back in this one.

Dice-K MatsuzakaDaisuke Matsuzaka pitched 7 scoreless innings. He was not perfect, but in his usual style, he allowed base runners, but refused to let that get in the way of trying to deny hits to batters. Thus, the 5 walks he allowed to go with 5 hits, but 2 double plays and 2 base runners caught stealing helped squash any attempts at getting any momentum going.

Big Papi seems to be feeling fine, apparently not hindered by the nagging wrist as he launched another 3 run home run as part of the second inning rally. Dustin Pedrioa, Kevin Youkilis, and Jed Lowrie continued feasting on Texas pitching. The only batter stymied by the Rangers has been JD Drew, going 0 for 9 in the last two games, but no one really noticed or cares right now.
David Ortiz Homers
Even the bullpen got a shot at redemption last night. In particular, Manny Delcarmen and Mike Timlin both got another shot at Texas. Manny was roughed up and charged with a blown save in the first game of the series, and Timlin gave up a 3 run home run in the second game. But last night they turned that around with Manny pitching a 1-2-3 8th inning, and Timlin pitching a 1-2-3 9th inning.

Unfortunately, Tampa Bay has been keeping pace with the Sox and refusing to let them creep forward. The Sox remain 3 games behind the mighty Rays, but gained a half game over the idle Yankees. Tonight, Sox fans get their first look at the newly acquired Paul Byrd as he tries to prove his value against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays, predicted by many in the off-season to be the team to beat, have been far from it. But, even though they appear out of playoff contention for this season, that doesn't mean they are incapable of doing a little bit of damage here and there.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lester Too Much for Texas

A day after the incredible scoring put in by both the Sox and the Rangers, the Sox bats stayed hot, but the Rangers ran into a more formidable pitcher in Jon Lester. It has been truly fun to watch Lester grow and develop into a real top notch starter this year. He has incredible confidence combined with talent and an ever-growing understanding of how to get professional batters out.

Jon LesterLester carried a shutout into the 8th inning, when he finally began to falter. In the 8th, he got the lead off batter out, but followed that with a solo home run given up to Ian Kinsler and back to back singles. Lester's night was done, but what a nicely pitched game. Mike Timlin replaced Lester and did not exactly shine. With 2 men on, Timlin threw Milton Bradley a 93 mph fastball right in the hitting zone, but Bradley just missed getting a hold of it and fouled it off. We all know, if you want to get a good hitter out, don't throw the exact same hittable pitch twice in a row. The first time you can get lucky, but not the second. Sure enough, Timlin's second pitch was 91 mph, with not a lot of movement, and in the exact same spot. Bradley was all over that one and launched it for a 3 run home run, pulling the Rangers back into the game, the score now sitting at 8-4.

Fortunately, Timlin, with a little help from Javier Lopez, escaped the 8th without further damage. Justin Masterson was given the 9th inning to end the game, but got himself into trouble right away, surrendering a double and a walk to the first two batters he faced. Facing Ian Kinsler, Masterson managed to get him to ground into a double play, setting up the final out - a pop-up by Michael Young to end the game.

Kevin YoukilisThe offensive damage from the Sox came from the middle of the order, and all off of Ranger's starter, Luis Mendoza. Mendoza gave up all 8 runs along with 9 hits. Of those 9 hits, 6 of them were doubles, three for Kevin Youkilis, and one each for Dustin Pedroia, Jason Bay, and Jed Lowrie. Youkilis remains on a tear, and seems to enjoy batting 4th in the lineup. Meanwhile Jed Lowrie is doing everything he can to make us forget Julio Lugo. The big difference for Lowrie lately is that when there are runners in scoring position, he has been coming through and racking up the RBI's. That's what we love to see!

Winning is certainly fun, but is everything rosy in Red Sox Nation these days? Not exactly. My big concerns are injuries. Tim Wakefield's injury is the same one that he suffered at the end of last season and which kept him out of the playoffs. It took Wake a while to come back from that, and as a pitcher in his 40's, you have to worry how well he can bounce back with only 41 games remaining in the season. Clay Buchholz has failed to follow in Lester's footsteps so far, and is doing his work back in Pawtucket now. That leaves the Sox with 3 (excellent) starters, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester.

Paul ByrdTo help address this issue, the Sox made a move and picked up 37 year old Paul Byrd. Byrd was having a sub-par season until the All Star Break and has looked good since then. At 37, Byrd is no long term solution, but the Sox hope he can give them some quality starts for the next two months. Byrd seems very motivated to get to the World Series, and has done well in pressure situations in the past, so hopefully he will be effective. The fifth spot is still up in the air, but I imagine the Sox are hoping Bartolo Colon can (once again) bounce back from injury and fill a key spot down the stretch. He is pitching well in Pawtucket, but may need another week or so to get back up to Boston.

Then, Mike Lowell goes and injures his oblique. That can be a tough muscle to heal quickly. Bad oblique pulls have been known to sideline players for weeks. With Lowell out, the Sox will mostly move Kevin Youkilis over to third, but they'll hate losing his glove at first. Sean Casey will get more playing time at first, and he should fill in nicely. Also, depending on the pitching match ups, the Sox can play Lowrie at third base with Alex Cora stepping in to shortstop and letting Youkilis head back to first base.

Factor into all of that the fact that Manny Ramirez is gone from the lineup. In his 11 games with the Dodgers, Manny is batting .476, has driven in 14 runs hitting safely in 10 of the 11 games. That kind of production will be missed, and the Sox lineup, while producing well against Texas, has been a bit of a jumble since Manny left. With Lowell out, that jumble will not go away.

So, there are some concerns, but if Byrd pitches well, Casey fills in well for Lowell, and Colon can solidify a spot in the rotation, then the Sox should get through August in good shape. That should make for a fun September. A chance to catch up to the Rays (they play each other 6 times in August), and a chance to try and squash the Yankees hopes of hobbling into the playoffs. Looking forward to an exciting playoff run!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Who Needs Pitching?

The Red Sox and Rangers adopted a new strategy last night. They abandoned the silly notion that you need good pitching to win games. Instead, both teams opted to forget about pitching and focus on a little hitting! By the time the dust had settled, the Red Sox had managed to cling to a 19-17 victory, inching a game closer to the "what are you doing in first place this late in the season" Rays.

Charlie ZinkI attended the game last night, and was thrilled that I got to my seat in time for the first pitch. Charlie Zink looked nervous, but settled in nicely after retiring the first three Rangers he faced. He threw a pretty nice knuckleball, although not with quite as much movement as Wakefield's. He does mix in a fastball that was clocked around 84 mph, as well as a reasonable curve. His key to success is to keep hitters off balance and guessing.

David Ortiz homersThen, the Sox came to bat with a vengeance. JD Drew lead off with a walk, followed by a single by Dustin Pedrioa, his first of 5 hits last last. Then, Big Papi stepped up with his waskally wist all wested from a night off, and planted a home run deep in right field that landed about 40 feet to our left as we were sitting. The guys in the seats next to me missed the home run waiting in line for food. When I filled them in on what they missed, they calmly replied, "well, he'll just have to do it again for us now that we're here". Who knew prophets still walk the modern day earth?

Papi sat on the bench watching 8 teammates take their turns at bat, and when his name came up again, he saw a familiar situation. JD Drew was standing on second base, and Dustin Pedroia was on first. Just like back in the first inning. Oh, wait, this is STILL the first inning. In fulfillment of my neighbors' prophesy, Papi crushed a long shot into the seats in center field for his second 3 run home run of the inning. The only two Red Sox batters who failed to reach base in the first inning were Coco Crisp, who flied out, and Kevin Youkilis, who struck out twice, amazingly enough.

So, the Sox were winning ten to nothing after one inning. My friend realizes this game is over and decides to make an early exit to beat the traffic (just kidding - but he did leave after the 7th inning with the Sox losing 16-15, a sure sign that a dramatic win was coming up shortly thereafter). Zink, with a more than comfortable lead, settled in and pitched quite well through the 4th inning. The Rangers put two runs on the board in the second inning, but the Sox erased those with 2 of their own in the 3rd inning. The 12-2 score held up until the 5th inning, and then the wheels came off the wagon, and no one knew how to put them back on.

Zink, who was pitching on only 3 days rest, clearly began to tire out and started leaving pitches out over the plate. The Rangers are not a team to refuse gifts like that and went to work on the unfortunate rookie. Soon enough, the Rangers had scored one run and had runners at first and second with only one out. Time for a nice double play ball? Not exactly. When Zink chatted with pitching coach, John Farrell, at the mound, I think Farrell asked for a double play, but Zink only heard the word "double". Which might explain why he proceeded to give up back to back to back doubles, allowing 3 more runs to score. With the score now 12-6, we began joking about the possibility of losing the lead as we watched Javier Lopez take over for Zink. How silly was that? After all, the Rangers were starting to score, but those runs were all against a poor rookie in his first outing on only 3 days rest. Surely the well seasoned bullpen will shut things down and ensure the victory, right?

Ian Kinsler homersNot exactly. Lopez gave up a single to score another run, before striking out Ramon Vazquez for the second out. That was all Tito wanted from Lopez, and he called for David Aardsma to take a shot at the Rangers. This was only Aardsma's second outing since coming off the DL, and I'm not sure coming off the DL was a good idea, based on what we saw. Aardsma gave up a two run home run to the first batter he faced, before striking out Michael Young to end the inning. The Sox were now clinging to a 12-10 lead.

The action was far from over. Big Papi lead off the bottom of the 5th with a towering drive to center field for, what looked like, his third home run of the night. A fan caught the ball, but from our vantage point it seemed like the ball had cleared the wall before being caught. The umpires apparently did not have the same angle we had, and ruled the ball a ground rule double due to fan interference. That cost Papi a home run, and the poor guy who caught it got thrown out for his troubles. But, Youk, tired of missing out on all the fun, quickly made up for it, sending a long drive into the Monster Seats in dead center field. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Surely this 14-10 lead would now hold, right?

Not exactly. Aardsma started off the 6th inning giving up a walk, followed by back to back singles, allowing one run to score. Francona realized that Aardsma was just throwing batting practice up there, and sent in Manny Delcarmen to move the game along. Well, Manny moved it along all right, but not in the direction we were hoping for. Six batters later, the inning thankfully ended. Manny had given up a double, a single, two sacrifice flies, and watched Youk make a rare error on a hard hit grounder, before it was over. The Rangers had just scored 5 more runs to take an incredible 15-14 lead!

Okay, joking about losing the lead was no longer funny. This was now serious. The Sox failed to score in the 6th inning, ending the inning with Coco Crisp getting thrown out at second while trying to steal himself into scoring position. But, the Rangers were on to him as they executed a perfect pitch out to cut him down. Then, to our surprise, Francona sent Delcarmen back out to start the 7th inning. Manny started the inning off by giving up a double, struck Milton Bradley out, then gave up an RBI single to allow the Rangers to put an insurance run on the board.

Now, Tito, in frustration, yanked Manny off the mound by the ear and dragged him into the clubhouse for a sound beating (we hope). Tito finally stopped fooling around and went for the big guns, starting with Hideki Okajima. Oki got the first batter he faced to fly to right for out number two. Then, he decided to have a little fun with the crowd by loading the bases with a walk and a hit batter. He looked around playfully at all the worried faces, gave a quick chuckle, and proceeded to get Vazquez to fly to center to end the inning. So funny, Hideki, so funny!

The Sox still had some making up to do, and managed to send 6 batters to the plate in the 7th, but only scored one run off of an error. Okajima saw his joke did not go over so well, so rather than repeat it, he dispatched the Rangers 1-2-3 for a quick 8th inning. Time was running out, and the Sox were still losing 16-15. The bottom of the 8th did not start out promising. Crisp and Drew both flied out, while Jacoby Ellsbury, pinch hitting for Kevin Cash, managed to get on with a walk. So, two outs, a man on first, and a one run lead for Texas. Dustin Pedroia, who had already recorded 4 singles on the night, upped his average with a 5th hit, this one a double that scored Ellsbury all the way from first base to thankfully tie the game. Now, Big Papi stepped to the plate. Well, the Rangers were not going to fall for that again. After watching Papi light up the night sky over Boston, they decided not to pitch to him with the game on the line, and walked him to face Youkilis instead. But, wait. didn't Youkilis homer tonight too? I guess the odds "seemed" better, but odds can be rather odd sometimes.

Kevin Youkilis homersThis time the odds were on the Red Sox' favor. Kevin Youkilis joined Papi in a two home run night, this one a clobbered shot to left field off the Sports Authority sign. The Sox were now back in the lead by a comfortable score of 19-16. All we need is for Papelbon to wrap things up. Papelbon starts off striking out Milton Bradley, and the crowd was on their feet. Then, the odds came back to bite Youkilis. Youk had moved over to third base to take over for Mike Lowell, who had left the game with a strained oblique (I don't like the sound of that). Marlon Byrd laced a grounder to Youk at third, and the ball just ate him up. Two errors in one night for Youk? Would this game ever end? Brandon Boggs then put a scare into the Fenway Faithful as he laced a double to score Byrd who had stolen second base. The Rangers were coming back again!

Thankfully, this tale has a happy ending. Paps got the next two batters to line out, and a sigh of relief went out from the entire crowd, one moment before "Dirty Water" began to blare out of the speakers.

Well, that was exhausting, but incredible to witness. The last game I attended was a near no-hitter. This one was pretty much the opposite. Not sure what to call that. Maybe a "no-pitcher"?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Red Sox J's Combine To Defeat Chicago

The Red Sox J's? That's right! The Red Sox J's did it with pitching (Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon) and by driving in runs (JD Drew, Jed Lowrie, Jacoby Ellsbury). The only J who did no damage was Jason Varitek as Jason Bay did manage a single and scored a run. So, where'd Theo get this obsession with players whose name starts with a 'J'?

With Manny gone, you can see how different the lineup is turning out to be. Jason Bay is a nice player, but not a 1 for 1 replacement for Manny's bat. Thus, we are seeing Tito experiment a bit with how to generate the most power in the middle of the lineup. Who would have thought Kevin Youkilis would end up as a leading candidate to bat fourth in the Red Sox lineup? But, last night, with Big Papi giving his wrist a rest (imagine Michael Palin as Pontius Pilate reading that line), we got to see a new lineup. Not sure exactly why Coco Crisp took the leadoff spot, but this lineup will not put fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers. However, it is a pretty solid lineup, top to bottom, that can get in a groove and chip away, like last night.

JD DrewWhite Sox starter, John Danks, looked brilliant last night carrying a no hitter into the 7th inning. However, Kevin Youkilis managed to break up the no-no with a broken bat flare to center. Later that inning, the first J struck when JD drew laced a beautiful double to deep left-center, scoring Youk from second and Lowell from first. That put the Sox up 2-1, and would be all the runs they would need to win. But, just to be safe, the Sox scored some insurance runs in the 9th inning when Jed Lowrie doubled in two more runs, and Jacoby Ellsbury singled home Lowrie.

Josh BeckettThe J's did a good job pitching too. In particular, Josh Beckett did exactly what the Sox needed. He pitched sharp, conserved his pitches, and went deep into the game. Josh did not walk a single batter, and the 7 hits he allowed were spread out across the game. Danks came out sprinting, but did not have enough in the tank to finish. Beckett took a more steady pace and outlasted his opponent. Unfortunately for Papelbon, there was no save opportunity by the time his turn came around, but I'm sure he did not mind simply securing the win with a 1-2-3 ninth inning of work. Nothing like a match up of two terrific players to end the game when Ken Griffey stepped up to face Papelbon. Perhaps if this was a 25 year old Griffey, the results may have been different. But, this is Papelbon's time, and Papelbon got Griffey to easily fly out to Ellsbury in right field to earn a 2-2 split with the White Sox in the 4 game series.

Many questions remain on how this season will turn out. Can the Yankees turn things around in time to avoid missing the playoffs altogether? The Rays are proving everyone wrong by lasting on top deep into August. But, can they survive the loss of both Evan Longoria AND Carl Crawford to injuries? While it seemed the Red Sox had more starting pitching than anyone would know what to do with, suddenly they are looking a little short. With Tim Wakefield on the DL and Clay Buchholz pitching like a New York Yankee prospect these days, can Bartolo Colon return in time to save the rotation? Will Justin Masterson get flipped back to a starting role?

And what about tonight's starter, Charlie Zink? Will his knuckleball be as effective as Tim Wakefield's, or will he have to rely on a Zinkerball? (you heard it here first). Zink should be interesting. He does feature a knuckleball, but his fastball is a reasonable 88 miles an hour (as opposed to Wakefield's 80 mph offering). He has the potential to keep hitters off balance and turn in a solid outing. However, being his first major league start, can he calm those stomach butterflies enough to let his talent shine? I'll be in the crowd tonight (hopefully not hiding under a poncho in a downpour), so I'll let you know how he looked tomorrow.

It's good to be back - now the push for the finish!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Vacation - Rest Time

The PMC was fantastic. The first day, 110 miles from Sturbridge to Bourne, MA was great. I rode strong and felt great right to the end. I loved meeting Kayleigh, our Pedal Partner. She was just beautiful, and incredibly inspiring. The second day, 79 miles from Bourne to Provincetown, also went extremely well. The only holdup was when I got a flat about 40 miles into the ride, but I quickly repaired it and we were on our way again.

So, now I'm off on a much needed vacation to Vermont. I'll be back Saturday, and I expect the Sox to have won every game from now until then.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Pan Mass Challenge Break

With all the excitement going on in baseball, I have been too busy getting ready to ride in the Pan Mass Challenge this weekend to write about it.

The Pan Mass Challenge is a 192 mile bike ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown, Massachusetts. This will be my fourth year riding on Team LEGS. This year we are riding for a 5 year old girl whose name is Kayleigh. Kayleigh was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a cancer of the liver. She has undergone a liver transplant, and a few rounds of chemotherapy, all at the age of 5. But, because of the money raised by the PMC, great strides have been made towards a cure, and today she has hope that she will survive.

If you have a kind heart, and are feeling like you need another tax deduction, please consider contributing to my ride!


Brief thoughts on Manny Ramirez...

When I heard about the trade, I wondered how many players they got in return for a certain hall of famer like Manny. I was shocked to find they had to throw in Craig Hansen, Brandon Moss, and $7 million just to get Jason Bay! Wow! Jason is a good player, but, as of yet, he is not the RBI machine that Manny is. I am hoping that Jason knows he is good, and has been wallowing in last place with the Pirates dreaming about playing for a top team. If so, this is is chance to shine.

Meanwhile, Manny joins forces with Joe Torre and the other unhappy Sox player of note, Nomar Garciaparra. Interesting. Now, Manny's options for next year are gone, and with Scott Boras running things for Manny, he may not even be with the Dodgers next year. Probably one of the reasons the Sox had to up the offer. The Pirates made out well - 4 new young players!

Lastly, it is really a shame, just like with Nomar. We have a superstar who is loved in town, but somehow he just can't do the Jason Varitek and Big Papi thing and enjoy it. Instead he has to go and rock the boat, whine and moan, and get run out of time. Now the Sox have clearly degraded to rid themselves of a growing problem in Manny. Yes, they are worse for the trade having lost a premier slugger, a good young relief pitcher, and a solid young outfielder. Jason Bay has big shoes to fill. Will be freeze up like a deer in the headlights, or cut loose to show the world his stuff?