Monday, June 30, 2008

Astros Shoot Red Sox Out Of First Place

In a surprise turn of events, the Houston Astros stole a close game from the Red Sox, winning by the score of 3-2 on a night when the Sox had their ace, Josh Beckett, on the mound. Beckett pitched a decent game, going 7 innings and only allowing 2 runs, but was unfortunate to be pitching on a night when the Sox offense was unable to get anything going.

Josh BeckettThe only runs the Sox were able to generate were on 2 solo home runs, one by Dustin Pedroia, and one by Manny Ramirez. Manny has been in a bit of a slump the past few weeks, so it was good to see him go deep. But, the National League format with no DH seemed to hinder the production last night. In particular, in the 6th inning the Sox were able to put runners on 1st and 3rd with only one out. However, the next batter was the pitcher, Josh Beckett. Terry Francona had two choices. He could pull Beckett and send a pinch hitter up to hopefully bring in the man from 3rd. But, this would force them to go to the bullpen 2 innings sooner than planned. the other choice was to allow Beckett to hit, and hope for a little luck - perhaps a walk or a fortunate hit. But, Houston starter, Brian Moehler, was pitching a nice game and was not about to let an AL pitcher ruin his night. Beckett tried to at least bunt the runner over to second base, but Moehler threw nasty tailing sliders to keep that from happening. With two strikes on him, Beckett had little choice other than to swing at the next good pitch, which he did, and struck out.

Dustin Pedroia's Home RunEven though the Sox could not generate a real rally, they were tied 2-2 going into the bottom of the 8th. David Aardsma went in to replace Beckett. Aardsma got Carlos Lee to fly out, but then gave up a single to Miguel Tejada. For some reason, Francona opted to pull Aardsma at this point and send in Hideki Okajima. I He may have been trying to keep Aardsma's pitch count down, but other than that, I'm not sure what the logic was. The next batter, Jeff Blum, is a switch hitter, so no lefty match up there. The batter after that was the pitcher, so you could be sure there would be a pinch hitter. But, Francona went with Okajima, who continues to prove he cannot keep inherited base runners from scoring this season. I am wondering if he is somehow tipping his pitches? Just seems like a big change from last year for him.

Mark LorettaOkajima threw a curve ball in the dirt that got past Jason Varitek sending Tejada to second base. He then got Blum to ground out for the second out of the inning, only to bring up pinch hitter, Mark Loretta. Loretta has been a thorn in the side for the Sox in this series, and continued to pester last night, sending a single to center on a very ineffective change up to score Tejada for the winning run.

Losing last night dropped the Sox out of first place, a half game behind tonight's opponent, Tampa Bay. The Rays are still looking strong, and in the fight longer than most people thought they would be already. The Red Sox have beaten Tampa Bay 6 games straight in Fenway Park, but lost three straight to the Rays on the road. This will be an exciting series. The Rays need to win to prove they are real, and solidify their hold on first place. The Sox need to step it up, and show who the true World Champs are. Having been watching the Rays over the past few seasons, I do not think they are wise enough to put the past confrontations with the Sox behind them. I don't expect them to come out fighting, but I do expect them to over-react to any little incursion, like a hit by pitch or collision on the base paths. Tune in to this series, should be exciting.

Lastly, if you have not heard, Manny has been causing more trouble in the clubhouse this week. On Saturday, he asked traveling secretary, Jack McCormick, for 16 tickets for Saturday's game. Who knew Manny had so many friends in Houston, but since Manny was asking for so many tickets on the day of the game, Jack told him he might not be able to fulfill his request. Manny did not want to hear that and shouted at Jack to "just do your job". That started an argument, Manny pushed Jack, Jack fell, nearby players jumped in to break things up.

So, what do we make of this? Hard to say. Manny is generally very laid back. Has there been bad blood between these two before? Was Manny in a bad mood for other reasons and took it out on Jack? For whatever reason, Manny snapped, which is unusual for him. He has since apologized, Jack has accepted the apology, and the team has moved on. Sounds like a good idea. But, Red Sox management need to have a chat with Manny to understand what's going on there. He may be having personal issues which have him stressed. In any respect, flare ups within the team like this do not help pull everyone together for a playoff run. Terry Francona would be well advised to understand what's going on, and try to help, if possible, to keep the close camaraderie in the clubhouse going. No need to suspend anyone over a brief spat, just get to the bottom of the real issue, ease the problem as much as possible, and play ball.

(Photos Courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Red Sox Bullpen Falters as Red Sox Lose to Houston

That game was not what we expected. Jon Lester has been pitching very well lately, and so has the bullpen. But, neither one could keep the Astros from scoring yesterday, even when the Red Sox offense was willing and able to put lots of runs on the board. Lester actually did a bit better than the score would indicate. He had good innings in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and only gave up a solo home run in the 5th on a curveball that stayed up to Carlos Lee. But, the 3rd inning was his downfall.

Jon LesterThe inning started off with a hit by pitch and an infield single to put two men on, but Lester came right back to induce a ground out and a strike out. But, to get out of the inning, he'd have to retire Carlos Lee, who was having a hot day. Alas, Lee got a hold of a fastball for a single to drive in two runs. The next batter, Miguel Tejada, hit a ball off of Lester's ankle for a single. Lester was a bit hobbled but stayed in the game. I have to think the ankle was still throbbing when he threw his next pitch to Mark Loretta (remember him?). Loretta is not a power hitter, but Lester threw him an 88 mph meatball that Mark launched for only his third home run of the year. If not for the ball off the ankle, Lester's night may have gone much differently.

The five runs by the Astros in the 3rd were an answer to the Red Sox, who had just scored 4 runs in the top of the inning, all with two outs, thanks to back to back RBI doubles by Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell and an RBI single by Kevin Youkilis. The Red Sox also had a big rally in the 6th inning, scoring 5 runs to take a 9-6 lead.

Mike Lowell HomersNow, a 9-6 lead against the Astros heading into the bottom of the 7th inning would seem like an automatic win for Boston, whose bullpen has been terrific lately. But, every once in a while, a pitcher just can't get it done. We've seen it happen to everyone, including Hideki Okajima, and even Jonathan Papelbon. Last night, it was Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen who were the culprits. David Aardsma had pitched a nifty 1-2-3 6th inning, but started the 7th off with a walk and a single. Terry Francona tried to be careful by bringing in Hansen, but Hansen allowed two runs to score in his first two batters. The first came off a single to Lance Berkman, and then a passed ball with Carlos Lee batting. The passed ball was charged to Jason Varitek, but it was a poor pitch that was no where near where Varitek had set up. That brought the Astros to within 1, with the score now 9-8.

Manny DelcarmenWe'd normally love to see Okajima and Papelbon wrap up the last two innings, but Francona went with Manny Delcarmen this time. He waged a tough battle against the first batter, Ty Wigginton, but Ty won the battle in a big way with a solo home run to tie the game. Manny kept battling and had runners at first and second (a single and a walk) and two outs. But, the pesky Lance Berkman came up again and went the opposite way to double in two runs. The pitch that Manny threw was a good one, it was low and away, tailing away from Lance. But, Lance went with the pitch and did a nice job of hitting. In my opinion, the batter won that batter (as opposed to the pitcher losing the battle).

But, the damage was done, and Mike Lowell's solo home run in the 9th was just a teaser as the Astros held on to win 11-10.

Luckily for the Sox, the Rays lost yesterday in extra innings to the Pirates, allowing Boston to hold on to a 1/2 game lead for first place. The Sox have one more game today against the Astros, with Josh Beckett on the mound, before heading to Tampa Bay tomorrow. Josh not only has a chance to win the game, but also has a chance to become the first Sox pitcher of 2008 to get a hit! Today is the last inter league game for the Red Sox, so until we get to the World Series, this is it for pitchers to hit.

(Photos Courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Matsuzaka is Back!

Daisuke Matsuzaka had the worst start of his career in his last outing, which was his first start after coming off the 15 day DL. Fans were clearly worried after that outing, but Dice-K assuaged any concerns with a nifty 5 inning shutout of the Astros in Houston last night. Terry Francona pulled Dice-K after 5 innings, and only 87 pitches, most likely just to ease him back into things. But Dice-K looked good, striking out 4 and only allowing 2 hits. He did allow 3 walks, but that is what he does when he tries to force batters to swing. In the 4th inning, Dice-K almost provided some offense as well. On an 0-1 count, he squared around to bunt, then as the pitcher went into his motion, Dice-K pulled the back back and took a hack at the pitch launching deep down the left field line. For a minute it looked like the ball might carry for a home run, but it tailed foul, short of the fence. That would have been fun!

Terry Francona had given JD Drew a day off on Wednesday, knowing that Thursday's day off would give him two days of rest. I had thought the idea was great and could give JD a lift and keep him hot. Well, you have to tip your cap to Francona for that one, as JD clobbered a 3 run home run in the 3rd inning to give the Sox all the runs they would need to win yesterday. Dustin Pedroia drove in a run in the 7th, and Mike Lowell singled in the 9th with the bases loaded to drive in the final two giving the Sox a 6-1 victory. Houston's only run was a solo homer off of Hideki Okajima in the 8th inning with two outs. Oki followed the homer by allowing a single to Miguel Tejada, and Francona got nervous. Okajima has had a tendency to collapse quickly at times this season, and before that could happen, Terry sent Jonathan Papelbon in to get the final four outs.

Coco Crisp had his suspension reduced from 7 to 5 days after his appeal was heard. That is good news, and he will be serving his suspension when the Sox visit Tampa Bay this week. So, that may calm things down between the two teams, but I'm sure there will still be tension between them, especially if anyone is plunked accidentally. With Coco out, that will leave the Sox one player short in the outfield, which will be fine if Manny's hamstring is well mended, which it may not be. The Sox are not allowed to call up a player to replace Coco while he's on suspension, so think good thoughts for that hammy. You've got to wonder if something is wrong with Manny Ramirez though as he has turned as cold as JD Drew has been hot. For the second game in a row, he has gone 0-4 and is only 6-34 since June 13th. Let's hope he snaps out if it soon.

Tonight, stay tuned as Jon Lester continues his emergence as one of the AL's finest young pitchers with a commanding performance slicing through the Astros lineup like melted butter.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Red Sox Take 2 of 3 From Arizona

The Red Sox are still holding their own against the NL in inter league play. In May they swept the Brewers in a 3 game series, and in June they have won 2 out of 3 games from Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and now Arizona. In all three of those series they lost the first game, but managed to win the next two. Only the St. Louis Cardinals were able to win a 3 game series against the Red Sox, taking two out of their three games in Fenway Park. The Sox will wrap up inter league play for 2008 with a 3 game set in Houston against the Astros. With their inter league record at 10-5, they are ensured a winning record against NL teams for the regular season, which is not bad considering the caliber of teams they had to face.
Tim Wakefield
Last night was a throw back look to the old days as the pitching match up featured old time foe, Randy Johnson, facing off against Tim Wakefield. Both pitchers are getting on in years, but both are still effective. Johnson has always been notoriously difficult on left handed batters, and managers will try and stack up as many right handed batters in the lineup as possible when facing Johnson. The problem for Terry Francona is that his current outfield depth chart features 3 left handed batters (JD Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brandon Moss). Manny Ramirez bats right handed, but Manny was on DH duty in Big Papi's absence. The final outfielder is Coco Crisp, who is a switch hitter. So, no matter what, two out of the Red Sox' three outfielders would be lefties. Francona opted to give JD Drew a night off, which is a good idea. Drew had been completely on fire for most of June, but has started to cool off, and a couple of days off (with the off-day today), might be just the thing to reignite that fire.

Randy JohnsonRandy Johnson pitched a fine game, but ironically, the only two runs he allowed were both driven in by the left handed Brandon Moss. In the 2nd inning, with one out and runners on 2nd and 3rd base, Moss hit a weak ground ball to second base for a force out, but Mike Lowell was able to score from third on the play. Then, in the 6th inning, with the bases loaded and one out, Moss got a good piece of the bat on the ball and sent a fly deep enough to right center field for a sacrifice fly to put Boston up 2-0. That was all Wakefield really needed as he completely baffled the Diamondbacks the entire game. Through 7 innings Wake only allowed 3 base runners, a single in the 3rd, a walk in the 5th, and a double in the 7th. The Diamondbacks just did not know what to do with the crafty knuckleballer.

Kevin Cash homersKevin Cash connected for a 3 run home run, his first of the season, off of reliever, Juan Cruz, in the 8th inning to buy the Sox some insurance. They almost had to "cash" in on that insurance in the ninth inning when Craig Hansen got himself into a two out, bases loaded jam, thanks to a single and two walks. Francona was too uncomfortable with the situation and called on Jonathan Papelbon to nail the game down, which he did by throwing nothing but fastballs to Chad Tracy, striking him out swinging at the 5th one.

So, the Sox are now headed south to Houston, hanging on to a one game lead over the tenacious Tampa Bay Rays. The Sox need to dispatch the Astros quickly, and decisively, because they then head to Tampa for three games that will be another battle with the Rays for rights to first place. It may also be a chance for bad feelings to be re-ignited. Do not be surprised if Coco Crisp begins serving his suspension for his part in the brawl with Tampa Bay in time to miss out on this series. While Coco is a valuable player, Francona would be just as happy to reduce the chances to stir up any further violence between the two clubs.

P.S. The headline on Yahoo Sports, "Wakefield Beats Johnson" is just not right!

(Photos Courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Beckett Outpitched by Haren, Sox Lose 2-1

It was a hell of a pitching match, but Diamondbacks' starter, Dan Haren, was better. Haren shut the Red Sox out through 7 innings, but Josh Beckett allowed 2 runs to score. That pretty much sums up the game.

The Sox had their big chance in the 8th inning when Haren finally left. Just the situation we were looking for. Get the ace off the mound and attack the bullpen. Tony Pena replaced Haren, and sure enough, the Sox put him in a jam, loading the bases with one out, and the number 3 and 4 hitters coming up. JD Drew did not come through with a recently typical home run to take over the game, but he did manage a sacrifice fly to get the Sox on the scoreboard 2-1. However, Manny Ramirez, who has cooled off this past week, could not get a screaming line drive past third baseman, Mark Reynolds, who made a terrific diving catch to end the inning, and the Sox' hopes.

Odd situation of the night was between innings when Kevin Youkilis caught a bounced throw from Mike Lowell off of his right eye, which swelled up like a boxer's. For precautionary reasons, and before it swelled completely shut, Youkilis can out of the game. Hopefully nothing was damaged and he is able to return tonight. The timing is not good, since Sean Casey, our backup first baseman, began serving his suspension for this part in the Tampa Bay brawl. Terry Francona went with Brandon Moss at first base, which should only be a last resort.

Justin Masterson will try and match Beckett's amazing performance. Beckett went 8 innings allowing only 5 hits, 2 runs, and 8 strikeouts. Big shoes to fill for Masterson, but more importantly, can the Red Sox offense get something going and score a few runs?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Just a Hellacious Game

The title is a direct quote from St. Louis Cardinals' manager, Tony La Russa. He may have a point there. Both teams had opportunities to win yesterday's game, but time and time again failed to get it done. Jon Lester had yet another superb outing, lasting into the 8th inning, and only allowing 2 runs in the 6th inning. The 6th inning was the only inning Lester really got into any trouble at all, facing no more than 4 batters in any other inning.

Unfortunately for Lester, the Red Sox offense just could not get it done yesterday, and when he exited the game, the Sox were down 2-1, their only run coming off of a solo home run from Kevin Youkilis, the game's eventual hero. The Sox did threaten to blow the game open in the 8th inning. Coco Crisp lead of the inning with a triple and Julio Lugo brought him home with a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 2. Then, with 2 outs, Dustin Pedroia singled and stole second base. Cardinals' reliever, Chris Perez, then had a meltdown walking the next 3 batters in a row to allow the go ahead run to score, and earning himself a blown save. At this point, Manny Ramirez was at second base, and Terry Francona made a very logical move. Manny's hamstring has been bothering him, and Terry envisioned a single and Manny trying to score from second and aggravating the nagging hammy. So, with the Sox holding a 3-2 lead, and knowing Jonathan Papelbon would be pitching the 9th, Terry sent Brandon Moss in to pinch run for Manny. Nothing would come of that move, as the next batter, Kevin Youkilis, would strike out to end the inning. But, once the game went into extra innings, I bet Terry regretted not having his star slugger in the lineup.

Jonathan Papelbon blows the saveYes, the game went into extra innings on a somewhat rare blown save by Jonathan Papelbon. Paps looked great to start the 9th, striking out the first two batters he faced. However, he walked the third batter of the inning, which so often results in bad news. It did yesterday when Papelbon took a little something off of his fastball with the count 0-2, and Adam Kennedy rifled the 92 mph offering into center field for a long double that scored Chris Duncan from first base, tying the game at 3.

Extra innings were quite eventful. The Cardinals had runners at first and second base in the 10th, but Hideki Okajima struck out Rick Ankiel to end the threat. In the 11th inning, Okajima got into a jam with 2 outs and bases loaded. Francona called on Craig Hansen for help, and he delivered a strikeout to end tinning, and kept up the good work with a 1-2-3 12th inning. The Red Sox also had opportunities. In the 10th inning, Jacoby Ellsbury lead off with a double, and Dustin Pedroia bunted him to third base. But, JD Drew, cooled off for one day, struck out and Sean Casey flied out to strand Ellsbury 90 feet from a win. In the 11th inning, the Sox had runners at 1st and 2nd with one out, but Jason Isringhausen got both Alex Cora and Ellsbury to strike out swinging. Pedroia lead off the 12th inning with a double, but Drew's grounder to the pitcher allowed the Cardinals to trap Pedroia off second for the first out, and Sean Casey hit into a double play.

Jason Varitek saves a runTough game so far, but if you stuck with it through all the frustration, you were rewarded with a thrilling 13th inning. With one out in the top of the 13th, Javier Lopez allowed a double to Chris Duncan. The next batter, Adam Kennedy, hit a sharp ground ball to right field directly to JD Drew. The Cardinals were clearly desperate to score, and sent Duncan around third to home. JD Drew was not able to contribute with his bat yesterday, but he sure helped with the perfect throw he fired in to Jason Varitek. The throw took a friendly hop into Tek's glove, then Tek turned to see Duncan still three strides away, but lowering his shoulder knowing his only chance would be to plow Varitek over and hope the ball jars loose. Varitek braced himself for the collision, and then, at the last second he dropped low and Duncan's lunge passed too high rolling harmlessly over Tek as he applied the tag to prevent the run. Terrific play by the Captain to not only ensure the out but to also avoid possible injury.

So, Manny Ramirez is out of the game, and time is running out as well. The Cardinals had used every position player on their bench, and the Red Sox only had Kevin Cash left. Bullpens were down to their last pitcher or two. It was time to end this, but who could get it done? Kevin Youkilis, that's who. Mike Lowell lead off the inning with a single, and Youk launched a 3-1 fastball over the Green Monster to end the game with a 5-3 victory and end a two game losing streak.
Kevin Youkilis walk off home run
Things won't get any easier for the Sox today as the first place Arizona Diamondbacks come to town. Josh Beckett gets the start on an extra day of rest. With the Sox bullpen being emptied out yesterday, this would be perfect timing for Beckett to pitch deep into the game! The Cardinals came to Boston just having suffered a 3 game sweep at the hands of the Royals only to take 2 of 3 from Boston. The Diamondback are coming to Boston just having suffered a 3 game sweep from the Minnesota Twins. Sound familiar? Let's hope the results are different this time!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cardinals Looking for Payback Sweep from Red Sox

With yesterday's 9-3 victory over Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Cardinals have a chance to sweep the Red Sox today and earn a little payback for the sweep the Red Sox put on them in the 2004 World Series. Yes, the victory was over Dice-K. Take the Dice-man out of the equation, and the Sox may have won that game. It was Matsuzaka's first outing coming back from the disabled list, and he simply had nothing to offer. How's this for a first inning? A walk, 3 singles, a double, and a home run resulting in a 4-0 lead for St. Louis right off the bat. In the inning, all nine Cardinals batter got to bat.

Dice-K MatsuzakaNot wanting to dip into the bullpen too early, Terry Francona sent Dice-K back out for the second inning, hoping he might settle down and keep them in the game. The first inning started with a walk to lead-off batter, Skip Schumaker, and the second started identically with another walk to Schumaker, followed by a single and another walk to load the bases with no out. Well, Francona finally threw in the towel, realizing that his starter had nothing to offer.

Earlier in the season the Red Sox had two pitchers in the bullpen who could handle long relief situations, Kyle Snyder and Julian Tavares, but both of them were cut loose. So, yesterday, Francona gave a rookie, Chris Smith, a chance to throw his very first pitch in the major leagues. Chris had been brought up from Pawtucket to add some depth to the bullpen when Dice-K was on the DL, and was allowed to stay after Dice-K's return by sending Mike Timlin to the DL with "knee tendinitis". For you non-medical professionals, I think you can translate "knee tendinitis" to mean "has been pitching like crap lately and we need an excuse to get him out of the bullpen".

Dice-K DepartsSo, Chris Smith has a chat with Jason Varitek on the mound, takes a deep breath, and gets ready to throw the most memorable pitch of his life to this point. That pitch was beautiful, an excellent slider that Rick Ankiel swung at and missed. It worked so well, that Varitek said, "throw another one just like that". Smith did just that, hitting nearly the exact same spot with the exact same result. Well, if it is working, it is working. Third pitch, another slider, exact same location, Ankiel swung and missed, and Chris Smith's career is forever in the books as starting off with a three pitch strikeout.

Troy Glaus HomersVaritek must have thought to himself, "the kid has a nice slider, let's see what else he has". So, bases still loaded with one out, Varitek called for a fastball. Way outside to the dangerous Troy Glaus. Okay, that did not work. How about a curve ball? Chris Smith threw the curve, it hung there like a pinata at a birthday party, and Troy Glaus clobbered it into the Green Monster seats for a grand slam. Welcome to the big leagues, Chris. Smith went on to turn in a very nice outing after that. Unlike Dice-K, he did settle down and showed us why he deserved a chance to pitch in Fenway Park as he retired the next nine batters in a row. He lasted 4 innings, which is incredible for a debut appearance by a rookie reliever, keeping St. Louis from scoring again off of him.

The Sox had one inning where they rallied for 2 runs, and even JD Drew, who smashed yet another home run, a solo shot in the 6th inning, could not help catch up to the enormous lead Dice-K had given the Cardinals.

The loss is the second in a row to the Cardinals in this series. This afternoon, the Cardinals have a chance to sweep the Red Sox and exact a little revenge for the 2004 World Series sweep the Red Sox handed them. However, to do so they'll have to get past Jon Lester. Lester has been pitching better and better this season, having won his last three starts, and you'll see the determination in his eyes as he bears down on the Cardinals lineup as he tries to make it four in a row. The win would give Lester a 7-3 record, tying him with Josh Beckett for the second most wins on the team, one shy of Dice-K's 8.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Around Major League Baseball and Farewell to Curt Schilling

With the Red Sox having a much needed off day to rest and heal up, let's widen our focus for a minute and take a look at what is going on throughout MLB.

The AL East:

Scott Kazmir Tampa Bay RaysThe big surprise in the AL East standings is the sight of the Tampa Bay (former Devil) Rays still in second place. We are roughly 45% of the way through the season, and they are only 1 1/2 games behind the Red Sox with a 43-29 record. The Rays are breaking all kinds of team records for wins this year, and are trying to prove they are for real. No one doubts that they have taken a huge step forward, but we all know that MLB is a VERY long season. Doubters still claim the Rays will not last through the summer heat. Personally, I hope they stay in the hunt, it will be good for baseball to have new faces competing in September for a spot in the playoffs. The Red Sox will be travelling to Tampa Bay for a 3 game series that begins June 30. That series will be very interesting as the series could very well be a battle for rights to first place. Following that series, the Sox will not see the Rays again until September when they play 3 games against them in Boston, and 3 in Florida. The question is, will those games also be a battle for first place, or will the Rays have faded into the sunset by then?

Joba ChamberlainThe New York Yankees have had a terrible start to their season, spending far more days in last place than the Steinbrenners would care to see. They've also spent too much energy digging up silly t-shirts out of concrete, and not enough time bolstering a ragged starting rotation. However, the players have not given up the fight yet, as evidenced by their current 7 game winning streak. The streak has allowed them to quietly move forward in the AL East standings, where they now sit in third place, 5 games behind Boston with a 40-33 record. they are within striking distance, and still have some offensive firepower. A-Rod has been lighting it up lately, as has Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi. Hideki Matsui is quietly putting together a solid offensive season and has been anchoring the lineup at a steady pace. Their big weakness is pitching, which we all know is what wins championships, so this has got to be a serious concern for them. They have moved star reliever, Joba Chamberlain, from the bullpen to the starting rotation in a seemingly desperate move to strengthen the rotation. The jury is still out on how successful the move will be, but so far so good. Joba has made 4 starts and has increased his pitch count to 100. The Yankees have won 3 out of the 4, but Joba has yet to be credited with a win as all three were the result of late inning rallies with Joba already out of the game. But, Joba's success is countered by the loss of their ace, Chien Ming Wang, who is out until at least September 1st with a foot injury. Lastly, the Yankees, apparently jealous of the red Sox resurrecting the career of Bartolo Colon, have signed Sidney Ponson to a minor league deal. Ponson was cut from the Rangers due to serious off-field problems all tied to Ponson's well documented drinking problems. The Yankees think they can squeeze out of few good innings from the boozy Aruban. We'll see.

AJ Burnett Toronto Blue JaysThat brings us to the disappointing parts of the AL East. The Baltimore Orioles still cannot quite piece together a team that can compete. They always seem to make improvements in the off season, only to flounder once games get underway. The Orioles will not be a threat this year overall. But, the Toronto Blue Jays had been picked by many baseball experts to take first place this year. At the moment, the Jays are sweeping the basement with a 35-39 record, 10 1/2 games out of first place and currently suffering through a 5 game losing streak. They do have plenty of talent, so I would not write them off yet, but so far they, like the Orioles, don't seem like their talent has a chance to gel into a "team".

Around the AL:

The Angels and White Sox are the other first place teams, and look like they will stick around. The Tigers had been predicted to be a powerhouse, but have turned into kittens so far. But, their inspirational manager, Jim Leyland, may very well have one more kernel of magic corn in his pocket and may be able to rally the troops in time for a late season run at it. Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners, holders of the worst record in baseball at 25-47, have just fired their manager, John McLaren. What looked to be a promising season for Seattle is all but gone.

Around the NL:

Chipper JonesIf you hadn't noticed, Atlanta Braves' Chipper Jones, has been flirting with baseball history over the first half of the season by chasing the incredibly elusive .400 batting average. On April 13 he went 3 for 5 and pushed his average over the line to .408. Amazingly, he managed to remain above .400 from that game right up until June 19, when he went 0 for 4, lowering his average to a mere .394. An exciting run, and a talented batter, but I would be amazed if he could stay at that lofty level far enough to make a real run for it. However, if he can, it would be more intense and exciting to me than the recent steroid induced home run record breaking seasons we've seen.

Overall, the NL seems to be right where it was last year, wishing it could stand up to the ever-powerful AL. In inter league play, the AL is again dominating the AL, as Red Sox fans have seen close up. The Phillies are considered the NL's best team so far, and the Sox won 2 out of 3 this past week from them, on the road, with a severely weakened lineup due to injuries. A fully healthy Red Sox lineup playing the Phillies in Fenway Park would just march over them. To further test the waters against the NL, the Red Sox will face off against two other NL playoff contenders starting tonight in Boston with 3 games against the St. Louis Cardinals, followed by 3 against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cardinals currently boast a 42-32 record, but are coming off of a 3 game sweep at the hands of the last place Kansas City Royals. Not the sign of a playoff contender. The Diamondbacks hold sole possession of first place in the NL West with a 39-34 record. At the conclusion of these two series, the Sox will have played every top team in the NL, with the exception of the Chicago Cubs. At that point, we should have a good idea of what kind of threat the NL can possibly pose to whatever AL team they'll face in the World Series. MLB hopes the NL representative this year can win at least one game!

Final Note - Fond Farewell to Curt Schilling:

Curt Schilling FarewellIt is true. Curt Schilling has recently experienced a setback in his rehabilitation program, and was re-examined by his team of doctors. The decision was to move forward with season ending shoulder surgery. This decision brings us full circle in the shoulder treatment controversy for Schill. Over the winter, when Schilling developed his current shoulder woes, the Red Sox, under the advise of Dr. Thomas Gill, recommended a rehab program and not surgery to treat the Red Sox ace pitcher. Schilling sought a second opinion from the doctor who had performed prior surgery on his shoulder, Dr. Craig Morgan. Dr. Morgan was firmly convinced that surgery was Schilling's only hope, and that a rehab program would only postpone the inevitable, and ensure he would not be able to pitch this season. his opinion was that, if Schilling had surgery in February, he may be able to recover in time to pitch in September, but a rehab program would guarantee missing the season entirely. Schilling's contract clearly states that Schilling must follow the Red Sox medical staff's recommendations when dealing with injury, and they opted for rehab. Schilling went along, albeit with some doubts. As his rehab went along, there were many encouraging signs, and Curt did make enough progress to recently begin throwing off of a mound. But, ratcheting up that extra notch turned out to be simply too much for the worn out shoulder, and it gave in. Score that one 1-0 in favor of Dr. Morgan.

Schilling will not be able to recover from surgery in time to pitch this season, and Curt's contract with the Sox will expire this fall. Curt has publicly admitted this may be the end of the road for his career, but he ha also stated he does not want it to end this way. If he bounces back and feels strong following the surgery, he may try to squeeze in one final year, if his shoulder lets him. However, don't expect that year to be with the Red Sox. The Sox were hesitant to sign him to a one year deal this past off season anyway. Next season Schilling will be 42 years old and rehabbing from shoulder surgery. The Sox have a pool of terrific young pitching talent. It just does not add up that there would be interest in taking a risk on Schilling next year for the Sox.

Curt Schilling as SisyphusSchilling has become a true Red Sox hero. He was signed by the Red Sox prior to the 2004 season, and vowed to break am 86 year old curse. He lived up to that vow as a key component in the 2004 World Series run, and can claim to wearing the truest Red Sock in Red Sox history when he risked an experimental surgical procedure on an injured ankle tendon to allow him to pitch against the Yankees and again in the World Series, blood oozing into his sock in each outing. One of the most dominating post-season pitchers contributed to a second World Series title last year as well. We thank you Curt Chilling for pushing the Red Sox up that last part of the mountain, the part where the rock kept getting the best of us in the past. You are a part of us forever now.

(Baseball Photos Courtesy of ESPN)
(Curt Schilling Photo Courtest of CNN)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

JD Drew Leads Red Sox Past Phillies 7-4

I am not sure Phillies' starter, Kyle Kendrick, was fully warmed up when this game started. Kyle started the game by giving up singles to Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, and then gave up a 3 run home run to JD Drew followed by a solo shot to Mike Lowell. Before the Phillies could score a single out, the Sox were up 4-0. It was nice to see the Red Sox hitting for power with both Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis getting the night off to nurse minor injuries. Dustin Pedroia's single may have been aided by Jacoby's presence on first base. During Pedroia's at-bat, Kendrick threw 4 pick off attempts to first base, and tried a pitch out once. All to keep Ellsbury close to first. That level of effort focused on the base runner can only help the hitter.

JD DrewAfter Mike Lowell's home run the Phillie's pitching coach visited the mound. I don't know what he told Kendrick, but it worked, as Kendrick immediately set the next three batters down 1-2-3. The Sox would get to Kendrick again in the 3rd inning. JD Drew hit a double (one of 4 hits in the game for Drew!), Mike Lowell was hit by a pitch, and Jason Varitek walked to load the bases with 2 outs. Another injury hit the Red Sox when Coco Crisp strained his hand on a swing in his first at bat. Brandon Moss replaced Crisp and took advantage of the situation by lining a single to center scoring two runs. JD Drew would drive in the 7th run with a single in the 4th inning scoring Pedroia from second base. While the Sox are without their usual big hitters, particularly Big Papi, JD Drew continues to fill the gap admirably, continuing the biggest tear he's been on in a Sox uniform.

Justin MastersonAll those runs contributed to Justin Masterson earning his 4th win of the season. Masterson pitched well, but ran his pitch count up too soon, departing after 5 innings. In this game, it would be Craig Hansen who came out of the bullpen and forgot how to pitch. The other day it was Mike Timlin, and prior to that Hideki Okajima was the culprit. But, in this game, Hansen got to show that he will not be brilliant every night. Here is what Hansen did in the 7th. He gave up a lead off single, followed by a walk, a wild pitch, and a single that scored two runs. That was enough for Terry Francona, and Hansen got a quick hook. Luckily, Manny Delcarmen did remember how to pitch and salvaged the 7th inning and pitched a scoreless 8th inning. Jonathan Papelbon wrapped up the ninth for his 21st save of the season.

The Red Sox get today off, and hopefully everyone will take a nice big rest and heal those nagging injuries. Kevin Youkilis ought to be back in the lineup on Friday, recovered from back spasms. Manny Ramirez may also at least return to the DH spot on Friday in Fenway Park. Coco Crisp is a day to day decision. We won't really know more until he sees how it the hand feels the day after. With the St. Louis Cardinals coming to the Fens, we get to see a rematch of the 2004 World Series. Unfortunately, too much time has passed for this to still hold the intrigue it would have 3 years ago, but it will still be fun to beat up on them one more time.

Tim Wakefield will start the series off, followed by the return of 8-0 Dice-K Matsuzaka from the DL on Saturday, and Jon Lester on Sunday. The Sox should fare better against NL teams at home where they can rely on the DH being in place. Just keep winning at this pace, and no one will be catching them!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lester Shuts Down Phillies' Potent Offense

Apparently Jon Lester stopped by this site yesterday and got the info he needed to pitch to Ryan Howard. Howard had almost single handedly destroyed Red Sox pitching the night before, and we did not want to see a repeat of that performance. But, Howard seemed vulnerable to left handed pitchers throwing curve balls, so we devised a strategy that Lester worked to perfection en route to a Red Sox 3-0 victory.

Jon LesterRyan Howard stepped to the plate to face Lester in the first inning with a man on second and two outs. Following the game plan I outlined, Lester started him off with a curve ball to get him thinking, and followed that up with a fastball and a change up to show him some different speeds and keep him off balance. Then, two curve balls in a row, both of them in the dirt, brought the count to 3-2. Howard was thinking fastball, Lester threw change up, Howard struck out swinging. In the 4th inning, Lester fed Howard 3 curve balls and a change up to bring the count to 2-2. With a pitch to waste, Howard was surely thinking curve ball (or change up), but instead got a fastball that we swung at and missed for his second strikeout.

Ryan Howard Strikes OutHoward had one more chance to get to Lester in the 7th inning, but two straight change ups, followed by two straight curve balls resulted in another swinging strikeout. Looks like we have solved the mystery of how to pitch to Ryan for a left handed pitcher. But, what can you do if you are a right handed pitcher? Well, if you are Jonathan Papelbon, you challenge him with power versus power. Papelbon did not try any fancy tricks in the 9th to strike out Howard for a fourth time in the game, but he did need 8 pitches to get there, finally blowing a fastball past his swinging bat.

Lester was brilliant, shutting down the Phillies through 7 innings, with Hideki Okajima turning in another strong inning in the 8th, and Papelbon wrapping up the 9th for his 20th save of the year. Much different results from the night before.

Coco CrispThe offense came, once again, from Coco Crisp who belted a 2 run home run off of the crafty Jamie Moyer in the 2nd inning. Coco has been turning on the power recently with home runs in 3 games in a row! Julio Lugo drove in the 3rd Sox run in the 6th inning. Crisp had singled and stolen second base. With two outs, Lugo doubled to give the Sox an insurance run, one they would not need.

So, the series between these two powerhouses is even at one game a piece. Justin Masterson will try to win the series this afternoon for the Red Sox before a timely day off tomorrow. The Red Sox will take advantage of the day off to heal some wounds and get some rest. Kevin Youkilis is mending well from a back spasm, but will probably get today off as a precaution, and the day off tomorrow will ensure he'll be ready to return to the lineup.

Speaking of back issues, the Red Sox opted to err on the side of caution with Bartolo Colon, who strained his back swinging at a pitch on Monday. No major damage was done, but the Sox are afraid that Colon may alter his delivery to compensate for a stiff back and possibly put his recently healed shoulder at risk. So, they had opted to put Colon on the DL. This is good news for Justin Masterson, who will surely get to extend his stay with the big club while Colon rests up. To fill Colon's spot on the roster, the Red Sox called up right handed reliever, Chris Smith, from Pawtucket. Smith will add some insurance to the bullpen, but will only stick around until Daisuke Matsuzaka returns from the DL on Saturday.

But, Josh Beckett is scheduled to pitch Saturday! Well, the Sox are trying to build in a breather for Beckett. With the day off tomorrow, and Dice-K's return, the Sox are doing some juggling to get Beckett a little preemptive rest. Dice-K will take Beckett's start on Saturday, Lester will pitch Sunday on regular rest, and Beckett will get the ball on Monday against the Diamondbacks.

Got all that? The way things are going, I think we can expect more nagging injuries, more call-ups, and more role players getting a chance to contribute all through the season. The good news is that the Red Sox have a deep enough roster to make that work. So, now that the Celtics have joined the Red Sox as world champions, just sit back and enjoy some great baseball!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Phillies Draw First Blood - Pound Red Sox Pitching

Yesterday, I said that Red Sox pitchers will have to prove they can stop a truly potent offense when they face the Philadelphia Phillies, and they would have to do it with a depleted offense. Last night, the Phillies proved they do indeed have a potent offense, and theirs is not depleted. Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins lead the way last night. Rollins started the fireworks with a lead off home run, followed 3 batters later by a 2 run shot from Howard. Howard was only just getting warmed up as he homered again in the 3rd inning, feasting on Bartolo Colon's change up both times. Later, in the 6th inning, Howard came up facing Mike Timlin with two outs and a runner on first. Guess what pitch Timlin and Jason Varitek decided to go with? A change up. Guess what Ryan Howard did with that change up? He hit it 395 feet to center field and even a diving Jacoby Ellsbury could not catch up to it. Howard ended up on third base with a triple, and his fourth RBI of the night.

Ryan Howard HomersHow do you stop a guy like that? Well, for one thing, maybe be careful with the change up. Another way is to send a left handed pitcher in to face the left handed hitting Howard. Javier Lopez treated Howard to a steady diet of curve balls in the fifth inning, and struck him out. Hideki Okajima also struck out Howard in the 8th inning. With two strikes, Okajima threw Howard a curve ball, which Howard watch go by for a ball. But, now Okajima had him thinking curve, and the fastball he threw next was swung at and missed. Today's starter for the Red Sox is none other than Jon Lester, a left handed pitcher, who has a decent curve ball. Don't worry fans, Lester is a regular reader of this site (I think), and he now holds the keys to taming Ryan Howard.

JD Drew HomersThe Sox did get Manny Ramirez back in the lineup last night, but they lost Kevin Youkilis to back spasms. One step forward, one step back. Manny was ineffective going 0 for 4, and the only runs the Sox could put on the board were from back to back solo home runs in the 5th inning from Dustin Pedroia and the surging JD Drew. The National League format also hurt the Sox offense last night. In the second inning, the Sox had runners at first and second with two outs, but Bartolo Colon was the next batter. Colon did his best, but struck out swinging to end the threat. Then again, in the 4th inning the Sox were threatening with runners at second and third with two outs, and again Colon stepped up to the plate, and again Colon struck out swinging. Only this time, he not only ended the inning, he also ended his night. He took a huge cut on his final swing, and pulled a muscle in his back. The injury took him out of the game behind 4-0 after only throwing 70 pitches. The prognosis is good though. With physical therapy during the week, the expectation is that Colon will make his next start.

Bartolo Colon StunkThe bullpen had mixed results in total. Javier Lopez and David Aardsma both had strong scoreless outings. Hideki Okajima, coming off of two sub-par performances, pitched an easy 1-2-3 8th inning. But, Mike Timlin, coming off of two strong outings turned in a sub-par inning in the 6th inning, giving up 4 runs on 4 hits and two walks. Timlin and Okajima have both been on a roller coaster, trading good outings with bad ones. Okajima has been on top more often than Timlin, who is struggling to get in a consistent groove. I don't expect either will be used tonight to support Lester. Tonight's bullpen lineup should feature Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen, and finally Jonathan Papelbon if a save is needed.

Tonight will be another struggle for the offense with Jamie Moyer on the mound for the Phillies. As a lefty starter, Moyer has confounded the Sox in the past, and even though he's old enough to be Timlin's big brother, he is having a solid year. Hopefully our own lefty starter can keep us in the game, and maybe our offense can break out a bit more than last night.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Red Sox Take 2 Out of 3 from Reds

Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were missing from the lineup, but the Red Sox offense did not seem to notice, rolling to a 9-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds yesterday. With Josh Beckett on the mound, 9 runs is far more than they ever would have needed. The offense got started with speed, when Jacoby Ellsbury lead off the game with a single and promptly stole 2nd base, and then 3rd base. Exactly what the Sox need to do with less firepower in the lineup. Dustin Pedroia did his part by hitting a sacrifice fly ball to score Ellsbury for the winning run. That's right, the second batter of the game drove in the first batter of the game for the winning run!

Jacoby Ellsbury StealsEllsbury's 2 steals set a new record for steals for a Red Sox rookie with 33. The previous record was set 100 years ago in 1908 by Amby McConnell, remember him? With the season not even at the half way mark, Jacoby should be a shoo-in to break the all time Red Sox stolen base record of 54, set by Tommy Harper in 1973! As long as Ellsbury stays healthy, this one is well within reach.

After getting things started with speed, the Sox fell back on their true love, power! Cincinnati is known as a home run friendly park, and the Red Sox sure would agree with four players hitting home runs yesterday. Jacoby Ellsbury hit one to prove he is not only about speed, and Coco Crisp, JD Drew, and Dustin Pedroia all joined in with home runs of their own. Crisp had a nice day, accounting for 4 RBI's, and JD Drew refused to cool off, belting his 11th home run of the year.
Coco Crisp Home Run
All of this offense just made it too easy for Beckett. Josh went 7 innings, allowing no runs on 6 hits and 6 strike outs for his 7th win of the season. His best outing in a few starts. With Dice-K Matsuzaka still on the DL, it is good to see the Red Sox Ace step up and take charge! Speaking of Dice-K, he is scheduled to make a rehab start with the Pawtucket Red Sox on Monday. If all goes well, Dice-K is penciled in to come of the DL and make a start with the Sox on Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals. That gives Justin Masterson time to squeeze in one more start this Wednesday in Philadelphia before swapping places with Matsuzaka. I expect Masterson will make the most of it.

Josh BeckettThe Red Sox will kick off a 3 game series against the Phillies beginning tonight, when Bartolo Colon will continue his terrific comeback. Now, before you go and start putting this one in the win column consider two things. The first is that the Phillies are having a great season. They are in first place in the NL East with a 41-30 record (compared to to the Red Sox record of 44-28). They are a slugging team this year, leading the NL in most offensive stats. If the Sox are going to win in Philly, they will have to prove their pitchers can stop a truly potent offense. Are you listening Colon, Lester, and Masterson? That goes for the bullpen too! And with Ortiz still on the DL, and Manny possibly sidelined with a strained hamstring, the Sox will not be bringing the same punch to the table. The Sox will be facing good pitching as well, including an old nemesis, Janie Moyer. I know, you thought he had retired and become a cross walk guard a long time ago. But, no, the crafty 45 year old lefty is actually still pitching, and pitching well, as his 7-3 record this year shows.

While the Red Sox often play in friendly ballparks when they are on the road (Baltimore and Tampa Bay spring to mind), Philadelphia will not be so welcoming. In fact, they've pretty much had it with our Red Sox Nation, and seem to be very tired of the Red Sox winning. They liked us when we lost as often and as painfully as they do. But, now that we have built a solid team capable of winning championships, they feel left out. In fact, Bob Ford, an Inquirer Sports Columnist, seems to feel that Red Sox Nation is a scourge on the country. Sheesh, talk about jealous whining! Especially from a team in first place. Maybe they just want more attention?

Well, if I were you, I would not miss this series - a battle of first place superpowers, the winner securing bragging rights!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Red Sox Top Reds in Extra Innings, 6-4

The Red Sox headed into yesterday's game with a big offensive handicap, missing both Manny Ramirez and Big Papi, their number 3 and number 4 hitters, from the lineup. In addition, playing in a National League Park, there would be no designated hitter so the pitcher would be taking the 9th spot in the order (and the Sox got 5 strike outs out of the 9th place in the order, as it turned out). The weakened lineup would then have to face one of the brightest young pitchers of 2008, Edinson Volquez. The edge the Sox needed to take advantage of was speed, with Jacoby Ellsbury and Coco Crisp both in the outfield.

Jacoby EllsburyEllsbury got things running right away. He lead off the game with a single and advanced to second base on a wild throw, possibly due to Volquez worrying about a steal. The steal was coming - just one batter later, with JD Drew at the plate, Ellsbury stole third base and the throw got away, allowing him to score the first run of the day. JD Drew scored the Red Sox' second run in the fourth inning when he roped a triple to deep left field, and two batters later, snuck home on a wild pitch. Leading 2-1 in the 8th inning, JD Drew got things going again in the 8th with a lead off double, and scored on a Mike Lowell single to center field. Unfortunately, third base coach, DeMarlo Hale, thought Lowell was one of the team's speedsters and sent him home from first on a double by Kevin Youkilis. Predictably, Lowell was easily thrown out.

Tim WakefieldBut, with a 4-2 lead, the Sox looked to be in good shape. Tim Wakefield had a very good game, only allowing two solo home runs in 7 innings to go with 6 strike outs. But, the bullpen was not able to keep the lead for Wake. The one time sure thing, Hideki Okajima, replaced Wakefield in the 8th inning. He faced three batters allowing a single, a strike out, and a walk. But, Terry Francona, wisely keeping Okajima on a short leash for a while, decided to change direction and brought in Manny Delcarmen. Manny immediately gave up a single to Javier Valentin, scoring a run from second base. But, before things got out of control, he thankfully induced Ken Griffey, Jr., to ground into a double play.

So, ninth inning, 4-3 lead, no problem, right? Well, almost. Jonathan Papelbon got the first two batters of the ninth out on consecutive ground balls. Then, Edwin Encarnation stepped in and waged a fierce battle with the Sox closer, fouling off some very good pitches. Papelbon, hoping to catch Edwin looking for a 98 mph fastball, opted for an 89 mph slider. Unfortunately, the slider did not have enough bite on it, and Encarnation sent it into the left field seats for a game tying home run. Papelbon finished off the 9th, but earned his 3rd blown game of the season.

Kevin YoukilisThe Sox needed runs, and the got them in the 10th on back to back solo home runs from Youkilis and Coco Crisp. For the Sox to get a rare road win, they needed someone to take care of the Reds in the 10th. Enter, Craig Hansen, and begin some National League roster moves. With the pitcher due to lead off, Corey Patterson was sent in to pinch hit, and Hansen got him to ground out, and then struck out Jay Bruce for two quick outs. But, to keep things exciting, Jolbert Cabrera singled to center field, and was then allowed to steal 2nd base, and then 3rd base with no throw from Kevin Cash. With a two run lead, the batter was all that really mattered. The batter was Ken Griffey. Hansen wisely was careful with Griffey, but maybe a bit too careful, walking him on 5 pitches. To speed things up on the bases, Bronson Arroyo, our old pal, was sent in to pinch run for Griffey. But, all the interesting strategies went for naught when Brandon Phillips flied out to JD Drew to end the game, which earned Hansen his very first save as a major league pitcher! Congratulations to Craig Hansen!

This afternoon, the Sox will attempt to take 2 of three on the road, a rarity these days. But, there are a lot of fathers out there looking for joy on Father's Day. With Josh Beckett starting for the Sox, you would think this was a sure thing, but Beckett has not been dominating lately. But, he has pitched well enough to keep them in the game. The Sox will again be dealing with a weakened lineup, so look for more of the same today - aggressive base running, low scoring game, and attack the bullpen.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Reds Beat Red Sox in Opener

The Cincinnati Reds took the first game of the three game series by the score of 3-1 yesterday. The game featured a good pitching match-up with Justin Masterson starting for the Red Sox against Aaron Harang for the Reds. Masterson has been terrific in his 5 starts for the Red Sox, and continued that excellence yesterday. He lasted 6 2/3 innings only allowing 3 runs, which is normally good for a win when you are a starter on the Red Sox. Unfortunately, Harang was just a bit better as he went 7 innings allowing only one run, an RBI single by Manny Ramirez to score Jacoby Ellsbury who had doubled in the fourth inning.
Justin Masterson
Reds' fans must feel encouraged today. Harang entered the season as the ace of their pitching staff, but has had a rather disappointing season thus far. Going into last night, Aaron had a record of 2-9, and had not had a win since May 12. Since then he has been struggling right up until his last start against the Marlins on June 8, when he gave up 7 earned runs in a 9-2 loss. But, last night, Harang pitched like the pitcher the Reds had expected him to be. Harang held the Red Sox to 4 hits, struck out 7, and did not walk anybody. The Red Sox do have a history of faring poorly against pitchers they have never faced, and that may very well have played in Harang's favor. Whatever the reason, he simply kept the Red Sox from getting any momentum, and spoiled a fine outing by Masterson.
Aaron Harang
Manny Ramirez had proclaimed that his leg felt good enough to play left field, and it was a good thing as he drove in the Sox' only run. But, late in the game he tweaked the hammy again and was replaced by Coco Crisp. Manny will sit out today's game, and the timing is not great with the Red Sox going up against Edinson Volquez (try saying that 5 times fast). Volquez is having a super season boasting a 9-2 record with a minuscule 1.56 ERA. That is not the type of pitcher you want to face with both Manny and David Ortiz out of the lineup. Not only are both of the Sox marquis sluggers sidelined, but there is no DH while playing in a National League park, so Tim Wakefield will be batting ninth. The Sox lineup will be significantly weakened.

The key to the Red Sox scoring runs today may be to leverage the speed this lineup can offer with both Ellsbury and Crisp in the outfield, and Julio Lugo at short. Those three can all create trouble on the bases. If they can get on, steal bases, get in scoring position, the Sox may be able to squeeze in a run here and there - particularly if JD Drew, Mike Lowell, and Kevin Youkilis decide to wage another game of who can hit the most home runs this year. All three are currently tied with 10 a piece. If the speedsters can get on base, the sluggers may be able to do some damage.

The last piece of the puzzle will be shutting down the Reds' offense. The Sox will have an excellent defensive alignment today, so it will come down to how effective Tim Wakefield's knuckle ball is. The Reds probably don't see very many knuckle balls, so if Wakefield can make it dance, he ought to have a solid outing.

Now get out there, get the lawn mowed, get your chores done, and head back in at 3:55 to watch the battle begin!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Red Sox Home Run Attack Too Much For Orioles

Message to Baltimore - be careful with the walks, they can be costly. In the fifth inning last night, JD Drew continued his hot hitting with a double that moved Jacoby Ellsbury to 3rd base with one out. Manny Ramirez was on deck. Baltimore made the logical move and intentionally walked Manny to set up a possible double play, only to have Mike Lowell step up and launch his second grand slam of the season. His other grand slam was also the result of Manny being intentionally walked in front of him to load the bases. Somehow, intentionally walking Manny always seems like a good idea, but rarely seems to work.
Mike Lowell
Coming in to the game, Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis, and JD Drew were all tied with 9 home runs this season. The grand slam put Lowell in the lead with 10. But, not for long. In the 7th inning, Manny Ramirez walked (not intentionally), Lowell struck out, and Kevin Youkilis blasted a two run home run - tying Lowell at 10 home runs. Well, JD Drew was only waiting for someone to walk in front of him before joining in the fun. He only had to wait one inning. With two outs in the 8th, Dustin Pedroia walked, and JD Drew said, "finally, now it is my turn". JD turned on a pitch and sent it into the right field box seats to pull even with Lowell and Youk. See the pattern? Walk - Home Run, Walk - Home Run, etc.
Kevin Youkilis
All the home run fun allowed Red Sox starter, Jon Lester, to settle in to a solid game, knowing he had runs to work with. No shutout would be required, but Lester chased a shutout into the 6th inning anyway, just to be safe. In the 6th, the Orioles marched double time. Brian Roberts lead off with a double, but Lester got the next two batters out. With two outs, it looked like Roberts would get stranded, until Oscar Salazar roped a double to deep center field, just out of the reach of Coco Crisp, to put the Orioles on the scoreboard. Then, Aubrey Huff, always trouble for the Sox, pulled a shot down the right field line that bounced one and was struck by a fan for a ground rule double. Ramon Hernandez followed with a single, and it looked like Lester might not get out of the inning after all. But, thankfully, he managed to induce Adam Jones to pop out to end the only inning the Orioles would score in.
JD Drew
Terry Francona showed confidence in Lester by sending him back out for the 7th inning. Fans were wondering if the 7th would end up looking like the 6th. But, that was not to be the case, as Lester set the Orioles down 1-2-3. Manny Delcarmen was recruited to handle the 8th inning, and continued his improved pitching with a scoreless inning. With a 9-2 lead at this point, there was no need to tap Jonathan Papelbon, so Francona gave Mike Timlin a shot to show he still has a few good innings left in him. Timlin did not disappoint, only needing 7 pitches to end the game.
Jon Lester
The Sox have had a great home stand, winning 7 out of 9 games, and reclaiming their hold on first place. Tonight, the Sox begin a stretch of Inter-League games, kicking off the first of three games in Cincinnati. There will be no DH in Ohio, so Red Sox fans are praying that Manny Ramirez has recovered from his strained hamstring to head back out to left field, and keep that big bat in the lineup. Inter-league play is certainly different. The Red Sox have not been to Cincinnati sine the 1975 world series! Sox fans will get to see future hall of famer, Ken Griffey, Jr., possibly for the last time. We'll also get to see old friend, Bronson Arroyo. Bronson just pitched for the Reds last night, so unfortunately, we won't get to see him play in these next 3 games.

Justin Masterson will be the Sox starter tonight. With Daisuke Matsuzaka getting close to a return from the DL, this could be Justin's last start for the Sox before heading back to Pawtucket until needed again. Justin will be shooting for an impressive 4th win in 5 spot starts, and will be doing it in front of a few acquaintances! Justin went to high school in Beavercreek, OH, not too far from Cincinnati, and will surely have a few ticket requests sent his way. While Masterson went to high school in Ohio, do you know where he was born? I'll give you a hint, Kingston is the name of the town. No, not Kingston, MA, but that was a good guess. He was actually born in Kingston, Jamaica! Kevin Youkilis also has ties to Ohio. Youk was a star player at the University of Cincinnati. So, see, while the inter-league games seem foreign, they can be more familiar than you thought.

Finally, a huge cheer goes out to the Boston Celtics who kept me up late, just hoping they'd turn a blow out into a close game. They did more than that, executing an historic comeback in defeating the Lakers 97-91 after having been down by 18 points at half time. The Celtics now hold a 3-1 game lead in the best of 7 series. Let's not jinx it with a prediction, but the team from the west coast is just about out of time! Game 5 is on Father's Day (although rather late for some crazy reason). Get ready, get green!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Colon Strong as Red Sox Beat Orioles 6-3

Bartolo Colon bounced back from a mediocre outing in his last start with a very nice outing last night. He needed 93 pitches to get through 6 innings, allowing only one run on a solo home run to Luke Scott to lead off the 5th inning. Otherwise, he held the Orioles in check all night, striking out 7 batters while only giving up 5 hits and 1 walk. Colon is now 4-1 for the Red Sox and it is becoming more and more apparent that Theo Epstein scored the steal of the off-season by having confidence that Colon would be able to bounce back from prior injuries and regain his Cy Young Award form. When we look back on the 2008 season, this may very well stand out as a key strategic move that put the Sox over the top.
Bartolo Colon
The Orioles had Garrett Olsen pitching last night, and Garrett is a tough starter. The Sox were fortunate that Olsen seemed to need an inning to get settled in. They took advantage of that, and quickly jumped on Olson, scoring 5 runs in the bottom of the first inning, before Olson settled down and held serve the rest of the way. In the 1st, Jacoby Ellsbury singled, stole second, and advanced to third on an errant throw. The red hot JD Drew wasted no time, and drilled a double to bring in Ellsbury. Manny Ramirez grounded out, moving Drew up to third base. Drew would score on a wild pitch for the second run of the inning. Olsen remained shaky, walking both Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis to set the stage for Jason Varitek, who hit a monster shot high over the Green Monster, giving the Sox an early 5-0 lead. Mike Lowell contributed the 6th run from a solo homer of his own in the 6th inning.
Jason Varitek
The win last night was well timed, as every other team in the AL East lost last night. So, when the leader told all the teams to take one step forward, only the Red Sox remembered to say, "Mother, may I?", and now hold a 2 game lead over the Tampa Bay Dirty Rays, and a 7 game lead over the rest of the division. Tonight, the Sox and Orioles wrap up their three game series with Jon Lester shooting for his 5th win of the season. I'll tell you right now, put this one in the win column.

Then, get ready for the National League. Tomorrow the Sox hit the road for 3 games in Cincinnati, where recent 500 home run hitter, Manny Ramirez, can mingle with recent 600 home run hitter, Ken Griffey, Jr. Then the Sox head to Philadelphia for 3 games. The timing of these NL road games is pretty good for the Sox. Interleague rules dictate that the rules of the home team are used. Therefore, there will be no designated hitter for the next 6 games. Well, wouldn't you know, our designated hitter is currently on the disabled list? So, we don't have to stress about whether to bench David Ortiz for a few games, or play him at first base. The only hope is that Manny Ramirez resolves his hamstring issues by then so that he can head back out to left field.

Meanwhile, Daisuke Matsuzaka is making good headway in his recovery from a shoulder strain. He's throwing aggressive side sessions, and the Sox will decide tomorrow on his next step, which could be a start in Pawtucket, or they could have him jump right back into the rotation, which I'd prefer them to do. He hasn't been out very long, and can probably contribute right away, providing the shoulder feels good. In this case, it might be prudent not to waste good innings in Pawtucket.

David Ortiz Becomes a U.S. CitizenOne final note. Please congratulate David Ortiz, who took the oath to become an American citizen yesterday at the JFK Library along with 226 other immigrants. Welcome to America Papi! Now, Papi has a few additional things to worry about, like who to vote for in November!

(Big Papi photo Courtesy of Boston.Com)
(Game Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Red Sox Bullpen Stumbles in Loss to Orioles

The Red Sox bullpen had recently been on a good run of solid, consistent pitching. Until last night. Josh Beckett had an okay outing, but was far from stellar. He lasted 6 innings allowing 4 earned runs, and left the game holding on to a 6-4 lead. Hideki Okajima came in and looked terrible. He simply did not have his command last night. After striking out the lead-off batter, he issued a walk, gave up a double, and another walk to load the bases. Terry Francona left him in, hoping he could work out of the jam. He could not. Instead, he gave up a well hit single to Aubrey Huff that drove in 2 runs, tying the game at 6 runs a piece. Okajima has been a mystery this year. He'll go an outing or two looking just fine, and then blow up like last night. What seems to be coming clear, is that, when he is off his game, he is off. Therefore, Francona should have him on a shorter leash, at least for a while. If he gets in a serious jam, get him out, he does not have his stuff.

Manny Delcarmen did a very nice job of getting the Sox out of the 7th inning, and pitched a scoreless 8th inning. Then, Craig Hansen followed Okajima's lead and had a sloppy ninth inning, also giving up 3 runs (only two were earned) and putting the game out of reach. So, not a proud day for the bullpen.
JD Drew Homers
The offense fared well, particularly JD Drew and Manny Ramirez who hit back to back home runs in the 5th inning. JD Drew has been doing a fabulous impersonation of David Ortiz ever since Ortiz went on the DL. Drew has been so dangerous, that Orioles' manager, Dave Trembley, had to make moves to the bullpen in the 7th inning to try and contain JD, sending in the left handed pitcher, Jamie Walker, who was able to strike Drew out. Manny has also been on a tear ever since hitting his 500th home run in Baltimore. Yesterday, the Red Sox honored Manny's historic home run in a pre-game ceremony, and Manny later sent home run number 505 over the Monster.

Manny Ramirez HonoredJacoby Ellsbury was back in the lineup, playing left field, for the first time since spraining his wrist last week. The wrist was still tender, and you could see him wince when we would swing and miss at the plate. I would not be surprised if he gets tonight off to ensure he does not suffer a setback. In the past, my only criticism of Ellsbury has been that he has not yet gotten comfortable playing fly balls right up against the wall. Based on last night, that is still the case as he jumped up in front of the Green Monster to try and snare a fly ball. The catch would have ended the inning, but, while it was catchable, Ellsbury missed it by a foot and two runs scored. It was certainly a tough play, but one he has yet to get comfortable making. Coco Crisp, on the other hand, is quite adept at snaring balls up on the outfield fence, and did so in center field last night to end the 4th inning in dramatic style. Maybe he can work with Ellsbury to help fill that last gap in the kid's development.

Tonight, the Sox will have their work cut out for them as they face the left handed Garrett Olson tonight. Olson has been the Orioles' toughest pitcher this year. He faced the Red Sox once this year on May 31 out in Baltimore. He gave up back to back solo home runs to Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, but allowed only one other hit in the 5 innings he pitched. If he is able to keep the Sox run production down, Bartolo Colon will have to pick up his game and keep pace. A native of the Dominican Republic, I imagine Colon is comfortable in hot weather. Tonight, he'll certainly have hot weather on his side. We can certainly use a solid outing from the big guy.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Red Sox Depth Puts Them in First Place

So, the Red Sox got a well earned day of rest yesterday. The timing was great given the sweltering heat passing through Boston, and the nagging ailments that need time to heal. Jacoby Ellsbury needs the day to strengthen the wrist he sprained diving for a catch, Manny Ramirez needs the day to rest up his tender right hamstring, and Coco Crisp can heal up those scratches on his face, the only damage the Tampa Bay Dirty Rays were able to inflict to a man pinned to the ground by three people.

David OrtizInjuries have not been an occasional problem for the Red Sox in 2008, they have been a way of life. The ability this team has shown to be able to continue to, not only stay afloat, but to excel though the many injuries, illnesses and bruises has been just remarkable. It started with Curt Schilling's shoulder injury this winter. Before a game had been played, they knew they would be without their veteran ace possibly for the entire season. Then, Josh Beckett, the newly adorned ace of the staff, misses his first two starts of the season to back ailments. Is that all? No far from it. Mike Lowell spent time on the DL, David Ortiz is currently on the DL, as is Daisuke Matsuzaka. Clay Buchholz went on the DL, then took a trip to Pawtucket. JD Drew lost time to a sprained wrist, similar to the one Ellsbury is nursing right now. Nagging injuries, like Manny's hamstring, and illnesses, like the flu that swept through the bullpen, have forced players to miss time, included Captain Jason Varitek. The Red Sox even lost back up players, as when Brandon Moss underwent emergency appendectomy surgery.

This list is not even complete! If you read that list of injuries, but had heard nothing else about the season, you'd have to assume the Sox would be struggling to stay afloat, struggling to find an identity, struggling to piece it all together. Well, wouldn't you be surprised to find out that the Red Sox have yet to truly struggle this season. They currently sit atop the American League East, one game ahead of the cheap shot Devil Rays, with a record of 40-26 that is best in the American League.

Theo Epstein and Terry Francona deserve lots of acclaim for this season. Theo for building an impressive player development system, filling it with talented draft picks, and strategic additions through trades and free agent signings. Terry deserves credit for working the backup players into the mix perfectly. He's gotten them engaged quickly, put in spots where they can succeed, and made them an immediate part of the team. Curt Schilling is out? That's okay, we'll open the season with Clay Buchholz in the rotation. Another starter needs a day off? No problem, Justin Masterson is ready. Need to add experience to the rotation? How about inserting Bartolo Colon? Bullpen looking shaky? Let's bring up Craig Hansen. Infield help? How about Sean Casey or Jed Lowrie? Need a hard hitting DH? Just call on Chris Carter.

Player after player steps in and contributes right away. This is not only a tribute to management, but also the whole clubhouse. There seems to be a lot of camaraderie on this team. Fans see one too many outfielders and proclaim, "you have to trade Crisp - he'll be a cancer in the clubhouse if he doesn't play". Same thing when Colon returned from his rehab. Who gets traded? No one. This team seems to get it. They seem to understand it is a long, long season, and every available player is needed to step up and contribute when the time is needed. Egos are not getting in the way. Nothing is.

Josh BeckettAnd nothing includes the poor Baltimore Orioles. They are not coming to Boston at an opportune time to win a few games. But, before we take the Orioles too lightly, they are featuring two good pitchers in the first two games. Daniel Cabrera (5-2, 3.98 era) faces Josh Beckett tonight. That will be a good match up, but if Beckett has a good night, I would not wager any money on the Orioles. Even if Cabrera holds his own, the Sox will simply bide their time until they get to the bullpen, and then all hell will break loose. Meanwhile, the Sox bullpen had been getting stingier than Scrooge on Christmas Eve. One tip to Baltimore - don't let Ellsbury get on base tonight (rumor is he may play). If you do you'll regret it. The second game features Garrett Olsen for Baltimore. Garrett is 5-1 so far this season, with a 3.86 era. As a lefty pitcher, he'll present problems for the Red Sox, who counter with Bartolo Colon. Colon did not look as dominating in his last start. Could be just an off game, or it could be a bit of fatigue as he continues to build his conditioning up. If he has a game similar to his last, this would be the game that the orioles could steal. But game three will surely belong to Jon Lester. The kid is just beginning to truly show what he is, and Baltimore will be nothing more than a speed bump for Lester and the Sox bats come alive and pound Jeremy Guthrie, giving Lester a big cushion that he rides to a fifth win.

Are you excited yet? Are you as excited as Roger Clemens on Viagra? Yes, it's true, but is it hard to believe? While Roger still denies ever taking performance enhancing drugs, he has yet to deny that he took Viagra before games to give him something extra. My memory is now full of nothing but jokes as I recall broadcasts of games nearly forgotten. "Clemens gave him the high hard one that time!". "Clemens looks a little stiff on the mound today". "There's a drive that hits off the pole". Of course, I can't imagine Giambi shared any of his thongs with Clemens, not with him on Viagra! And you definitely want to shower separately!

Game on tonight at 6:05 - one hour early due to the Celtics playing tonight at 9:00. While the NBA does not seem to be too concerned with their fans' ability to watch the Championship Games, the Red Sox are. They want to make sure you can watch the Red Sox, and not miss the Celtics. Thank you Larry!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)