MLB

Dark Days Ahead For The Red Sox

Amazing dark Fenway silkscreen by Daniel Danger. Used without permission. 

Oh no. I'm not going to write a long, overdue post about the coming Red Sox 2012 season. Not gonna do it. I will keep it as brief as I can, since I'm not a paid pundit.

But I will say that I have reached a low point in my fandom. Always sketical of the owners, the Fenway Group, I have become conviced that they are simply disgusting human beings. I should know this about all owners of sports franchises. But John Henry now offically disgusts me. My only action is to ingore him. Yes, he loves yachts and Liverpool. Those are reasons enough not to like him. But his actions during and after the Red Sox collapse of 2011 sealed the deal. He's not a Steinbrenner. He's not a criminal. But he's living proof that wealthy Democrats can still be disgusting people. Party lines never matter in these cases. It's all about actions and words. He can split his time between Newport and Liverpool.

I have the little theory that people simply become wierd after their net worth passes a few million or so. We see it all over. They develop odd hobbies. They start demanding that certain no brainer foods be prepared a specific way (the stories about John Kerry's morning toast checklist during the 2004 presidential campaign comes to mind). They become OK with having servants enter their bedrooms and their children's bedrooms and open the curtains every morning (Dick Fuld). They buy big houses in the middle of Wyoming (Dick Chaney and Dick Fuld, again....never new urban Jews could love ranches). And they hire third party uteruses to give birth to late-life children (Bobby De Niro,  is a very recent example). 

Rich people. They're wierd. Moving on.

I probably have a bigger issue with the Red Sox fans. Just ten years ago, they were among the most rational and knowledgeable fans in American pro sports (up there with the fans of several NHL teams, I would argue). I'll do my best to ignore the younger Red Sox fans up north who don't seem to know their history. The males indocricane their girlfriends to become fans, don pink caps (and other feminine items), and get logo tattoos on their ankles. These poor kids. They don't know pain. They don't know frustration. Oh, but they will. 

It won't be quite as bad as the 1984-1993 Yankees. But the Red Sox are heading into a quiet era, which could become worse if revenues unexpectantly drop.

So, here's my wicked short prediction for the Boston Red Sox. With no real shortstop ar catcher, they are at a defensive disadvantage. They have two outstanding pitchers, but the bottom two in their rotation could be breakouts or busts. They will get plenty of hits in their 100 year old ballpark. But they will have a depressing road record. They will be thankful to have an easy interleague schedule. But that's about all. By late July, they could be completely demoralized if they are swept in sweltering Arlington. I predict they will finish third in the AL East, behind the Yankees and Tampa Bay (although I'm not sure about the Yankees chances of clinching the wild card either). 

I like Bobby Valentine. He should have stayed in Japan. But in Boston, he's already not handling the media or his players very well. Meanwhile, management is already working on lowering expecations.

So follow their lead, Red Sox Nation. Don't get too excited. The decompression period has begun. So relax. Savor that $10 beer at the ballpark. Go to the beach for a change. Finish that summer reading book list. This period could last a few seasons.

We seldom get comments here at MLH. So, precious readers, what do you think? Comment away.

It's Only Sports

In just a month, you can certainly put things in perspective. Actually, you can adjust your perspective in one day, but I think you know what I mean.

March 2009 was a really bad month for the US. The stock markets were bottoming out. The Tea Party was ‘founded,’ just weeks prior. And President Obama failed to learn that he had to be a much bolder, offensive leader in order to be successful.

He was going to get fair criticism from most beltway pundits, but he was never going to be fairly treated by the Right-wing media. Every business trip has been labeled a vacation. Every speech has been called either an exercise in ego, an abuse of power, or both. And even taking time during a weekday lunch break to fill out NCAA tournament brackets has been criticized as an abuse of government time.

Obama had to be educated enough to know that when you are a Democratic president, and therefore portrayed by the right wing media as illegitimate, you are not going to be granted the same leniency given to a Republican predecessor. George W. Bush took 977 leisure days (I won’t call them vacation days) while in office, while Barack Obama is being flamed for playing 60 rounds of golf in 26 months. A high number, yes. But keep in mind that Bush went to Camp David every weekend during the chaotic autumn of 2001, partly so he could watch college football games and chomp on pretzels with NSA Secretary Condoleezza Rice. No one accused national security being “off duty” on weekends.

But I meant this post to be about sports. The state of the world can go up as a separate post. And, well, this brings me back to where I started. March.

Yes, March 2009 was really bad. Our economy was on the edge of an abyss (and isn’t far from the edge still today). But here we are, two years later, and this March has been so eventful, I really am hard pressed to find another month so significant in world history since August 1991 – nearly 20 years. Or if not significant, then at least a period more eventful since that amazing summer of 1991.

More on that in the next post.

I was trying to get this post up in March. Working seven days a week, it was more difficult than I assumed. So while it is late, here is my random, eccentric summary of some of the sports happenings I witnessed in March.

New York Mets: Season of Doom

Need I say more? It’s going to be awful. I see a team with a weak offense, an almost non-existent bullpen, and in dire need of a complete financial takeover. New ownership and a new GM are sorely needed. And yet, I am scheduled to go to three games and counting this season.

The Mets are my local MLB team. I like them and their windy, trashy, pinball machine of a ballpark called Citi Field. They are a big market team. They will eventually mount another playoff run…if Atlanta and Philadelphia ever relinquish their dominance over the NL East. Oh, and that new ballpark in Miami is just 12 months away from opening. And the Marlins already have as many MLB championships as the Mets. Sigh.

Boston Red Sox: Impossible expectations

Tired of the Red Sox being called the best team in baseball? I am. They have incredible depth. They have so much depth, they had to send young players who are almost ready for the majors back to Pawtucket. They don’t just have a veteran situational lefty reliever, they have a new lefty, Andrew Miller, who could be an all star in waiting.

But Red Sox Nation needs to get back to its logical roots. Andrew Miller is not yet available, as much as he might be needed later this season. David Ortiz is having a great start, but he needs everyone else in the order to catch up. And the starting pitching, so far, has been far short of expectations. It has been 15 years since the Red Sox started the season 0-4, but that is what has happened as this long delayed blog post went up.

Newcastle United: Stuck in neutral

Discipline problems. Only one point in ten games. A predictable, yet worse than expected loss to Stoke City. The only thing holding Newcastle United together in March was positive team chemistry, consistent fan support, and faith that the team would notch the 1 or 2 wins needed to secure safety in the Prem. More on that in a future post.

ICC Cricket World Cup: Snapshot of the One Day International game

The ICC Cricket World Cup was a cracker this time around. News of the death of the 50 over game are premature, if not exaggerated. I love 50 overs per side. Cricket is a pastime. The ideal one day match should be eight hours, like a work shift, except it isn't work.

We saw England beat the West Indies by a narrow margin, with the hope of going all the way, only to be beaten down by semi finalists Sri Lanka. And in that West Indies match, the Windies had to use a batsman out of order because another batsman was in the “washroom” when his turn to bat came up. It’s a silly sport. I love it.

Dallas Mavericks: One player short of a championship?

Or two. It's a shame that the team with the best coach and defense in the NBA seems to be too broken to advance in the upcoming playoffs. I hope I am incorrect.

March Madness: What’s that?

Seriously, who manufactured this spectacle? Oh right, the NCAA and CBS, with CBS paying the NCAA billions of dollars to televise the tournament for decades, and fans paying billions of dollars into an underground betting economy. Somehow you are not a real man unless you have something called a bracket. Meanwhile, the NCAA, which apparently is a non profit organization, issues death penalties to teams (see U Mass, 1996) if one player accepts gifts from any source. No disputing the punishment. But what exactly does the NCAA do with the partially-disclosed billions it receives, besides not paying the athletes who draw television audiences? Is it silly to ask?

Of course, Europe has its own equivalent of the NCAA tournament. It is called the Football Association and the English Premier League. But since I am able to separate gambling in the UK from the beautiful game, I can appreciate the sport. What I can’t appreciate is a street game, played by college students, elevated to something it never deserved. The only people who truly care about college teams are college students. I can attest. That 1991 U Mass squad that made it to the NIT Final Four was brilliant. But would anyone seriously outside U Mass in the early 1990s remember that? Would Boston, a pro sports town, really care about college sports, aside from the occasional BC football game or the Beanpot? No.

While I am not one to put any faith into professional sports as a wholesome, socially necessary institution, I am never going to care about the cash flush NCAA, or it’s hypocrisy on gambling and gifts, while it receives billions in cash from the media, big universities, and who knows who else.

Weak 2009 Red Sox Look Forward To 2010

 

The 2009 Red Sox were more than good enough to make it to the playoffs over the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, and the resurgent Seattle Mariners.  But they clearly were not pennant material.  And as I mentioned in an earlier post, this year's version of the Red Sox lacked the fire and passion of other Red Sox teams this decade. They were professional and kept their cool, but they never turned-up the temperature when it was needed.

So what do the Red Sox need to do this offseason?  They need to do the following, in my humble, amateur opinion:

1.  Do not renew Jason Varitek's contract

2.  Renew Jason Bay's contract

3.  Renew Tim Wakefield's contract

4.  Do not renew Mike Lowell's contract, unless he is willing to be the DH

5.  Move Kevin Youkilis to Third base

6.  Find a new starting First baseman (Lars Anderson?)

7.  Find a new middle / long reliever (you know, to replace Justin Masterson)

8.  Sign another outfielder (Nick Markakis, Carlos Quentin, etc.) to help out Rocco Baldelli / J.D. Drew or to replace J.D. Drew.

 

Just my opinions.  More as the off-season progresses in November and December.

 

So The Red Sox Are Playoff-Caliber?

The Red Sox might have turned their season around, and at the right time. In the last 10 days, they have swept the Orioles in a two game series, then swept the Devil Rays, nearly swept the Angels, and then swept the Orioles. That's 10 wins and 1 defeat. With today's win, they have improved their road record to .500, and they have virtually assured their appearance in the playoffs as the AL East Wild Card.

If they are truly a playoff team, they will will win their next two series - four games at The K, and then a weekend series against the Yankees at the 161st Street Crackhouse.

Hitter Of The Decade: Ichiro Suzuki


No mean to disrespect the heavy hitters and 500+ HR hitters active in the Big Leagues, but power alone does not get you in to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Hitting and running is another way to get in. And no one this decade has been a better lead-off hitter than Ichiro Suzuki. The man who brought Japanese-style hitting to the US is just 1 hit shy of MLB career hit number 2,000. 2,000 hits usually puts a player in Hall of Fame contention. But when we add Ichiro's other two major feats - being the first MLB player to ever get 200 hits in 9 consecutive seasons (pending 6 more hits), and 339 steals in 417 attempts - we can argue that he already qualifies for Cooperstown.He has an interesting pose/stance, in which he holds the bat upright with his right hand, while staring between 2nd and 1st base. Usually he will hit a liner between those bases or hit a blooper to the outfield. Not exactly the hits of legend. But he does it game after game, year after year. Also, I don't want to project, but he is the only contemporary hitter who reminds me of the no-nonsense at-bats of Ted Williams. Ichiro will do the pose when he enters the batters box, but he typically wastes no time getting back in the box between pitches (Williams was even better - he would step out, take a breath, and step right back in). With his 28" waist (the same as Williams'), he even resembles Teddy Ballgame as he uses all his muscle groups, from his quads, to his knees, obliques, shoulders, and his wrists, to make 100% contact with the ball. He springs and twists when he hits the ball, very much like Ted (again, Ted was the master of 'rotational hitting'). Perhaps fans unimpressed with the distance of his hits should study his form, because it is both classic and beautiful. He in unintentionally a living example of how American-born players hit the ball generations ago. And I think that's one of the many reasons why he is the big league hitter of the decade.

...But Boston Offense Needs To Wake Up


And the starting pitching needs to stabilize....and the bullpen needs to be re-shuffled....and....

When the White Sox scored three runs aginst Tim Wakefield early in Saturday's game, the damage had been done. The weather was near-optimal for knuckleballs (70 degrees, high humidity). But Wakefield's back was giving him a lot of pain.

The Rod Sox bats should've had a god day against the White Sox, but for the second straight game, they didn't.

Now, the Red Sox really need to win the third game of the series, stop the White Sox winning streak, and put the windy city behind them. Southpaw Jon Lester gets the ball this afternoon.

The Most Frustrating Season Since...?


2000 maybe? 1998? It's been a while since a Red Sox team put-up such impressive numbers and yet is in danger of not making the playoffs.

After being swept by the Texas Rangers in Arlington, in a series reminiscent of the season-crushing defeats in Arlington in 2001, I thought the season was over. I wanted to declare the 2009 Red Sox dead. But I am hesitant. Why?

The Red Sox have two injured starting pitchers - Wakefield and Matsuzaka. That has to be taken into account.

Furthermore, the apparent lack of passion and anger from these Red Sox is not a sign that the team lacks heart. I still see Ortiz dishing out customized high-fives and smiling. I still see Jason Bay focus at each at bat. And while the Red Sox haven't had an epic brawl, comeback, or dramatic walk-off this season (at least I don't recall a walk-off home run this season), they have remained cool and professional, much like their arch rivals in New York. There have been no off-field distractions. Even the news that David Ortiz was on the juice didn't rock the clubhouse. There hasn't been anything similar to Jurassic Carl circa 2001. Besides being swept in two recent series, there haven't been any other major bad news.

So the Red Sox still have a good chance to secure the Wild Card. And they can do it by being as close to perfect at home as possible. And that task re-boots tonight as the penultimate series against the Yankees begins.

It's on. Their fate is still in their hands.

Youkilis' Charge: Spark Or Stupidity?




Kevin Youkilis sent a strong message last night. He's had enough of being hit, intentionally or not. Last night was the 8th time Youk's been hit by a pitch.

In an unusual charging of the mound, Youkilis threw his helmet and attempted to tackle 20 year-old rookie pitcher Rick Porcello. Porcello's teammates were taken by surprise by Porcello's errant throw and were late in defending their pitcher from Yuokilis' charge. A heavy suspension is likely for Kevin Youkilis, who has proven himself to be the best third baseman for the Red Sox for the remainder of this season and into the future.Was it necessary or pointless? Helpful or harmful? Unavoidable or not? Let the debate simmer this week.

Red Sox July Report: The Wheels Come Off

Yes, they won last night, but the Red Sox season is over. This team had a lot going for it - a strong bullpen, a good (not stellar) offense, and the second best record in baseball. And that's how it was April through the All Star Break.

Then the wheels came off. The Sox tied their second worst losing streak in a century. The other season that featured a crushing six-game losing streak was 2006, when that losing streak knocked them out of playoff contention). But what alarmed me more than the consecutive losses was that the team was exposed as having no drive, no heart, perhaps even no soul.

No casual fan knows what goes on in the clubhouse, on the flights, or in the hotels. But the impression I got last week was that the 2009 Red Sox didn't seem to have as much fun as they used to in previous years. What was missing? The pranks? The nicknames? The off-duty bloopers and antics? Are we fans just not seeing how easy and loose this team is off the field? Could they really be souless corporate types like the Yankees? We can only guess.

But we do know that the losing streak occurred just a couple of weeks after the Red Sox made a risky deadline trade. The Sox traded long reliever / swing man Justin Masterson for the Indians' Victor Martinez. A risky move. While Martinez has given the Red Sox much needed offensive help, losing Masterson could be a contributing factor behind Boston's disastrous six-game losing streak at the hands of division rivals. Boston knew that a late season trade would involve them giving-up Josh Bard, Clay Buchholz, or Jusin Masterson, and they went with their proven long reliever.

Abruno over at Sox & Dawgs warned against trading Masterson.

While falling out of the AL East race is painful and embarrassing, it is still not yet mid August. One long win streak (or a string of streaks) can get the Red Sox back into the AL East hunt. Also remember the Yankees could also drop if one of their starting pitchers (especially AJ Burnett or Joba Chamberlain) is injured.

And then there are the intangibles that could happen to revive the Sox. We know that Kevin Youkilis and Jason Varitek are leaders on that team. They are not going to suffer any meltdowns. If there is a flashpoint, or some emotional event that the Sox and their team leaders can use to start a rally, they will most likely take advantage of it. I don't see fire in them yet, but they have over a week to clear their heads, win a few games, and earn a chance to reel-in the Yankees when they visit Fenway on August 21st.

Tainted titles? Let they who are free of sin cast the first stone!

OK. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez are "cheaters". Or to whatever degree that naiveté carries you in todays professional sports lets just set the record straight. Anyone who thought the Red Sox or any other team for that matter were free from this dirty little mess be it called, Andro, HGH, the Cream, the Clear, be it injected in the buttocks by a trusted "friend", taken with your protein shakes, or whether we're all "not here to discuss the past..." that we are really "here to be positive". We all knew. We have always known. So please lets box up the "i told ya so's" and the big bad BIG MARKET team BS.

Tainted Titles? Look I loved the 2004 Boston Red Sox story. Who didn't? And then the White Sox the following year. But this revelation that somehow because of yesterdays report of Ortiz (a "surprise") and Ramirez (NOT suprising) being on the so-called LIST thus making that year "tainted" is ridciulous. Folks, there are 103 players on that LIST. And guess what, they weren't all Red Sox players.

OK. Here are the names we know Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Miguel Tejada were "confirmed" last year. And now we have Manny Ramirez, David Segui, and David Ortiz. Other names NOT confirmed but rumored are Roberto Alomar, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Francisco Rodriguez, and Gary Sheffield. Here is the list as published by ROTOworld as the "suspected test failures" and the teams they were on at the time of the test by division (** indicate PITCHERS)(BOLD indicates team was Division Winner/Wildcard winner):

American League East
1.Nomar Garciaparra (Boston Red Sox)
2.Manny Ramirez (Boston Red Sox)
3.Johnny Damon (Boston Red Sox)
4.Trot Nixon (Boston Red Sox)
5.David Ortiz (Boston Red Sox)
6.Shea Hillenbrand (Boston Red Sox)
7.Derek Lowe (Boston Red Sox)**
8.Pedro Martinez (Boston Red Sox)**

9.Brian Roberts (Baltimore Orioles)
10.Jay Gibbons (Baltimore Orioles)
11.Melvin Mora (Baltimore Orioles)
12.Jerry Hairston (Baltimore Orioles)
13.Jason Giambi (New York Yankees)
14.Alfonso Soriano (New York Yankees)
15.Raul Mondesi (New York Yankees)
16. Aaron Boone (New York Yankees)
17.Andy Pettitte (New York Yankees)**
18.Jose Contreras(New York Yankees)
19.Roger Clemens (New York Yankees)**

20.Carlos Delgado (Toronto Blue Jays)
21.Vernon Wells (Toronto Blue Jays)
22.Frank Catalanotto (Toronto Blue Jays)

American League Central
23.Kenny Rogers (Minnesota Twins)**
24.Magglio Ordonez (Chicago White Sox)
25.Sandy Alomar (Chicago White Sox)
26.Bartolo Colon (Cleveland Indians)**
27.Brent Abernathy (Tampa Bay Devil Rays/Kansas City Royals)
28.Jose Lima (Kansas City Royals)**
29.Milton Bradley (Cleveland Indians)
30.Casey Blake (Cleveland Indians)
31.Danys Baez (Cleveland Indians)
32.Craig Monroe (Detroit Tigers)
33.Dmitri Young (Detroit Tigers)
34.Alex Sanchez (Detroit Tigers)

American League West
35.Eric Chavez (Oakland A's)
36.Miguel Tejada (Oakland A's)
37.Eric Byrnes (Oakland A's)
38.Jose Guillen (Oakland A's)
39.Keith Foulke (Oakland A's)**
40.Ricardo Rincon (Oakland A's)**

41.Bret Boone (Seattle Mariners)
42.Mike Cameron (Seattle Mariners)
43.Randy Winn (Seattle Mariners)
44.Ryan Franklin (Seattle Mariners)
45.Freddy Garcia (Seattle Mariners)
46.Rafael Soriano (Seattle Mariners)
47.Scott Spiezio (Anaheim Angels)
48.Troy Glaus (Anaheim Angels)
49.Francisco Rodriguez (Anaheim Angels)**
50.Ben Weber (Anaheim Angels)

51.Alex Rodriguez (Texas Rangers)
52.Juan Gonzalez (Texas Rangers)
53.Rafael Palmeiro (Texas Rangers)
54.Carl Everett (Texas Rangers)
55.Javy Lopez (Texas Rangers)**

National League East
56.Gary Sheffield (Atlanta Braves)
57.Mike Hampton (Atlanta Braves)**
58.Ivan Rodriguez (Florida Marlins)
59.Derrek Lee (Florida Marlins)

60.Bobby Abreu (Philadelphia Phillies)
61.Terry Adams (Philadelphia Phillies)**
62.Fernando Tatis (Montreal Expos)
63.Livan Hernandez (Montreal Expos)**
64.Hector Almonte (Montreal Expos)**
65.Tony Armas (Montreal Expos)**
66.Dan Smith (Montreal Expos)**
67.Roberto Alomar (New York Mets/Chicago White Sox)
68.Cliff Floyd (New York Mets)
69.Roger Cedeno (New York Mets)
70.Jeromy Burnitz (New York Mets)

National League Central
71.Moises Alou (Chicago Cubs)
72.Sammy Sosa (Chicago Cubs)
73.Corey Patterson (Chicago Cubs)
74.Carlos Zambrano (Chicago Cubs)**
75.Mark Prior (Chicago Cubs)**
76.Kerry Wood (Chicago Cubs)**
77.Matt Clement (Chicago Cubs)**
78.Antonio Alfonseca (Chicago Cubs)**
79.Juan Cruz (Chicago Cubs)
80.Aramis Ramirez (Chicago Cubs)

81.Craig Wilson (Pittsburgh Pirates)
82.Kris Benson (Pittsburgh Pirates)**
83.Richie Sexson (Milwaukee Brewers)
84.Geoff Jenkins (Milwaukee Brewers)
85.Valerio de los Santos (Milwaukee Brewers)**

National League West
86.Benito Santiago (San Francisco Giants)
87.Rich Aurilia (San Francisco Giants)
88.Barry Bonds (San Francisco Giants)
89.Andres Galarraga (San Francisco Giants)
90.Jason Schmidt (San Francisco Giants)
91.Felix Rodriguez (San Francisco Giants)
92.Jason Christiansen (San Francisco Giants)
93.Matt Herges (San Francisco Giants)**

94.Paul Lo Duca (Los Angeles Dodgers)
95.Shawn Green (Los Angeles Dodgers)
96.Oliver Perez (Los Angeles Dodgers)
97.Adrian Beltre (Los Angeles Dodgers)
98.Eric Gagne (Los Angeles Dodgers)
99.Guillermo Mota (Los Angeles Dodgers)
100.Luis Gonzalez (Arizona Diamondbacks)
101.Todd Helton (Colorado Rockies)
102.Ryan Klesko (San Diego Padres)
103.Gary Matthews (San Diego Padres)

So what does this LIST tell us? Well first, it actually says alot. Though here is what it doesn't say first: The truth of the names, the drugs involved, the dosages found (level), and the dates of the test itself. These are ALL UNKNOWN/UNCONFIRMED. But lets take it as a barometer of the depth of the "problem".

1. Every team but two had at least one player and most had more than one (The Chicago Cubs led with 10, including most of the starting pitching staff). The two having none? The St. Louis Cardinals and the Houston Astros. OK, before you anoint them with congratulations lets remember a couple of things. First, each them held top-dawg status of the steriod era in the wake of two of the poster children of the Steroid Era being key members of those teams: Mark McGwire and Ken Caminiti (though his best days were in San Diego). Secondly, each has subsequently gone out and signed suspected "tainted" players that have served as key cogs to further successes, most notably the Astros with Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. The Cardinals had Fernando Vina in '03 who was linked to PED's in the Mitchell Report and also, though languishing in the minors for his notable mental "hiccups", Rick Ankiel.

2. the LIST is just ONE list of many. The depth of this list is DEEP but it is really something to see in this great MATRIX OF LISTS for an eye-opening look into how far this really goes.

3. Big market, small market. Hitters, pitchers, Good teams, bad teams. They ALL had these guys. And they cover every cultural enclave. Though it would appear the ever surging list of minor leaguers in Latin American Leagues getting suspened or linked to trainers like Angel Presinal (nice hat in the photo BTW) are indicators there are some tremendously shady folks lurking outside the borders of the MLB that are taking advantage of young Latinos starry-eyed at the prospect of prosperity.

So please, spare me the "GIVE BACK YOUR TROPHY" march on Washington garb. There are no innocents here. There are no "clean" teams ready to take the tainted trophies off the glass-cased shelves.

And folks....if you watch, root, or just follow sports.....its the bed we've all made together. We watched salaries increase exponentially over the years and paid the ridiculous "entertainment" prices to watch them. We are guilty too. We hold athletes up to hero status as though what they do is really meaningful beyond these moderate metaphors of life. We demand greatness on a level that puts athletes in a position of having to inject themselves to "survive".

So buckle up. There will be plenty of "bad news" to come. Whether its overcoming 86 years of "suffering" as Red Sox fans or Lance Armstrong's 7 titles in cycling's premiere event or those heady days of the Steel Curtain of the 1970s to the Patriots of the 2000's, Olympic (False) Glories fading to shame. We asked for this. And they have given us what we asked for.

Bon Appetite.

How To Overcome Two Painful Losses - Start A New Winning Streak

I had planned to blog last Thursday's game between the Marlins and Red Sox. It turned out to be the most annoying game of the season so far, with Boston getting only 1 hit in a rain-shortened game.
The next day was no better, with the Red Sox scoring only 2 hits in a 8-2 thumping at the hands of the Braves. Daisuke Matsuzaka was overwhelmed and later placed on the 15-day Disabled List with a 'weak shoulder'.



With two losses like that, and the Yankees creeping closer in the AL East race, the Sox were put to a bit of a mental test.

And did they pass.

The next game on Saturday (June 20) was special. It marked the return to Fenway of Derek Lowe, who started for the Braves, against Boston ace Josh Beckett. In a classic pitcher's duel, Beckett came out on top, throwing his third career shutout, while the Sox offense was led by RBI hits by Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Nick Green.

Then came Sunday, and it was a thrilling shootout in the same cold, wet conditions that hung over Boston all last week. And the winning run was a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth by Nick Green.


It capped a dramatic turn-around in spirits and set the stage for a possible sweep in D.C. as the Red Sox will be facing the worst team in the Majors, while also trying to keep-up with the Dodgers, who currently have the best record in the Majors (46-24 as of Tuesday morning). The Nationals are 20-47 so far this season. The Red Sox are 42-27, and are looking to crack 50 wins well before the All Star break.

Red Sox Offense Gradually Getting Hot

For a team that was described as being in an offensive slump just 3 weeks ago, the Red Sox have to be feeling better about their hitting now. After last night's win against the Marlins, the Red Sox improved to 4th most productive offense in the Majors, with 353 runs scored. That's more than any National League team at the moment (the Phillies are right behind them with 341 runs scored - 5th best in the Majors).

David Ortiz is out of his slump. Dustin Pedroia, who was always a tough out before and during his recent slump, is getting clutch hits again. And my favorite new member of the team, Rocco Baldelli, has been earning more playing time, getting more hits, and seems to have become a buddy of David Ortiz.The positive energy and chemistry in the clubhouse works both ways. It kept the Sox positive during a time when they were not living-up to expectations. And now it is boosting everyone's mood and motivation as the team is closer to reaching its full potential. And we know because the Red Sox are a deep team, there is still room for further optimization as they approach the halfway point of the season.

The Sox will switch to a six-man starting rotation next week with the addition of John Smoltz. Nick Green appears to have secured his spot on the 25-man roster as one of their two shortstops (the other being Julio Lugo). I would hope that the Red Sox keep the six man rotation through the All Star break, and then re-assess which one of them would better serve the team from the bullpen. The other advantage is that if one of them is injured or traded, the Sox will still have one of the best rotations in the Majors.

Speaking of the bullpen, it was upgraded in May. The Sox sent situational lefty Javier Lopez to Pawtucket to make room for big right-handed rookie Daniel Bard. I like Javier for doing a fine job between 2006-2008. But it seems this is the beginning of the end of his stint with the Sox. His 13 earned runs in 11.2 innings simply could not fit in a bullpen that good. And Daniel Bard has already made an impact. He has allowed 5 runs in 13.2 innings with 15 strikeouts. That translates to a very respectable 3.29 ERA (compared to Lopez' 9.26 ERA). Could this mean that the Sox might shop for a situational lefty? Probably not. That's because Hideki Okajima, who had all sorts of problems last season, is back to his reliable self this season.

The Sox are poised for a win streak to carry them through the end of June, and win streaks earn playoff berths.

Red Sox Bullpen Passes Test . Yanks Can't Trust Theirs.

If we learned anything in this week's thrilling Yankees-Red Sox series at wet, chilly Fenway Park, it is that the Yankees cannot trust their bullpen. They have weapons and loads of talent, to be sure. Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano continue to be the young heroes. Johnny Damon is having a far better season than he did in 2008. Derek Jeter is doing his thing, day in, day out. And A-Rod is always dangerous, on-track to hit career home run # 600 sometime in 2010 or 2011. But manager Joe Girardi knows their weakness. It is the bullpen.

Joe Girardi has shown in his 1 & 1/3 seasons that he is a by-the-book manager - very predicable. But he couldn't follow his own rules last night in the 8th inning, when he knew he had to remove CC Sabathia from the mound, but didn't. It was an interesting and revealing moment, demonstrating that Girardi and his staff can't trust their bullpen to hold the line late in a game. I'm sure he was also hoping to rest his bullpen in preparation for the subway series in the Bronx this weekend. But the immediate thought on his mind had to be that he didn't have a reliable set-up man available to work the 8th inning.

We're Not Dead...And Neither Are The Mets!

The month of May is a make-or-break stretch for the New York Metropolitans. It began with a home series against Philadelphia, will continue with a west coast trip, and it will end with a home series against the once hot, now struggling Florida Marlins. Oh, and they also host the Braves and travel to Boston for Memorial Day Weekend. It's a key month. But they have begun it with a beautiful sweep of the Phillies, and a fourth straight win overall. We'll see in 4 weeks if there is still a race for the NL East with the Mets in the mix. I do think the Red Sox will sweep the Mets at Fenway. The Red Sox offense is getting better as the season goes on. See what the Sox did last night?

That Was Really Stoopid, Part 4

Manny Ramirez has rejected the fourth offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers. The first offer from November remains the best one Manny received.

Maybe Scott Boras is a mad genius. Maybe he knows that the Giants or Mets will eventually give-in and offer Manny a 3-year deal worth $60 Million. The problem with the giants, however, is that Manny won't have another power hitter to help prevent him from being walked. Perhaps he would fare better with the Mets, with Carlos Delgado and David Wright sandwiching Manny in the lineup.

But really, if I was Ned Colletti, I would suspend negotiations with Scott Boras and Manny Ramirez at this point. Manny Ramirez simply is not worth $20 Million per year. And in this buyers market, with a handful of free agents still in it, he should not be compensated $20 Million for one season's work.

Red Sox Analysis - More Arms And More Questions

Red Sox Gain Pitching Depth And New Potential All-Star Talent.

Well, I say potential, since while I really like the additions to the roster, nearly all of them are injury-prone or recovering from injury. Still, I love the transactions the Red Sox have made in this off season.

They made the most controversial transaction first, back in November, when they traded CF Coco Crisp to the Royals for set-up-man Ramon Ramirez. Giving-up a leadoff hitter with base-stealing speed is not a casual decision to make. But the Red Sox seem to think that they have other guys who can steal bases. More on that below.

Set-Up Men

Then the Red Sox worked on securing the best of their bullpen. They re-signed left-handed reliever, Javier Lopez. Knowing that Lopez is a solid sidearm reliever who can go one full inning, I see him as either a situational lefty, or a potential set-up man to compliment Hideki Okajima, Justin Masterson, and Ramon Ramirez. There is no debate who gets the ball in the 9th inning. But I think the Red Sox will experiment with these four guys to see who can work the 8th. Maybe the 8th inning will be a shared role between Okajima and Masterson, with Lopez and Ramirez as backup. Of those four, Masterson has the most stamina, and can go more than one inning, making him a potential long reliever. So the Red Sox have options in late-inning relief.

Middle Relievers

In January, the Sox traded young reliever David Aardsma to the Seattle Mariners for long-shot lefty prospect, Fabian Williamson. The Red Sox also acquired 28 year-old right-hander Fernando Cabrera, who will begin 2009 in Pawtucket. And the Red Sox acquired veteran reliever Takashi Saito from the Dodgers. Having spent the latter half of last season on the DL, Saito considered elbow surgery, but has decided to try to work his way back to full strength. He might start the season in Pawtucket as well. Saito is noted for giving-up 15 home runs to Hideki Matsui when they were rivals in the NPB.

Manny Delcarmen, Clay Buchholz, and Devern Hansack also return to the bullpen, along with young minor leagers such as Hunter Jones, Wes Littleton, and a possible future starter, Michael Bowden. The Boston bullpen is going to be a very interesting place in 2009. Given the team's decision to continue to look inward and support their growing farm system (7 minor league teams if you count the Wilmington Blue Rocks), I think there are a ton of storylines for a Red Sox fan to follow this season.

Starting Rotation

Next, the Sox rebuilt their starting rotation for 2009. Veteran swing man Julian Tavarez is gone. The Red Sox would love to lock young pitchers to be the backbone of their starting rotation for years. But that's the one part of the player's market that is locked-up and in short supply. Young aces are all locked-down, including those with the Red Sox. Sure, I dream of a starting five of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Scott Kazmir, Ubaldo Jimenez, and another young righty. But you sometimes have to buy veteran talent to take advantage of their experience and minimize risk by signing them to 1-year deals. And that's what the Sox did. At relatively low prices, they acquired veteran right-handers Brad Penny and John Smoltz, aged 30 and 41, respectively.

Brad Penny proved himself in the 2003 World Series, when he earned a victory against the Yankees alongside teammate Josh Beckett (who got 2 victories). He was a solid Cy Young candidate for a few seasons, but his time with the Dodgers had mixed results, marked by injuries. While he earned 16 victories in both 2006 and 2007, he had a losing, injury-shortened season with the Dodgers in 2008. When the Dodgers declined to give him a 6th year, the Red Sox acquired him for the base salary of $5 Million, well under his 2008 salary of $9M. John Smoltz, of course, had been with the Atlanta Braves since 1988. I wish I followed the National League in the 90s as closely as I follow it today. If I had, I would appreciate Smoltz and his accomplishments even more. In contemporary baseball, he has one of the longest tenures as a starting pitcher ever recorded (along with Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and fellow Braves teammate, Greg Maddux). He's been starting games for over half the lifetimes of most active players.

Depending on how flexible Smoltz agrees to be, he could start games in the second half of the season, or provide long relief in the bullpen. But it appears that he won't be starting games in April.

I would think that at this point in his career, Tim Wakefield would be open to moving back to the bullpen. But he is still in pursuit of the all-time wins record for the franchise (the record is 192, Wakefield has 164...years to go, I'm afraid). However, the Red Sox could give both Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka extra rest by switching to a 6-man rotation. The 6-man rotation would be:

1. Beckett
2. Lester
3. Matsuzaka
4. Wakefield
5. Penny
6. Buchholz

It's a long-shot, given Buchholz's need to develop further, and the chance of injury to any of those guys. Also, some believe that Buchholz may be traded in July. If Smoltz is ready to start in the second half of the season, then perhaps the Sox can go with a 6-man rotation when he's ready. I like unorthodox managing sometimes, and a less-exhausting workload during August and September can be a viable strategy if the team is leading the division, if no one is injured, and if the star pitchers are OK with fewer win opportunities. That's a few if's.

This is speculation, but assuming the Sox can go with a 5-man rotation (the list above, minus Buchholz), then perhaps a swing man can back-up Wakefield. If Wakefield can go 5 innings, and either Buchholz or Smoltz can go 3 innings, then the Sox would effectively have a tandem in the # 4 spot in the rotation. And while 5 innings of work only leads to a win with adequate run support and a solid bullpen, Wakefield has no chance of matching the franchise win record if he's a reliever. Wakefield is the last active player who was added to the roster by Lou Gorman (Wakefield joined the Sox in 1993). We're pulling for him. And it seems he is guaranteed at least one more milestone: he is just 4 strikeouts away from passing Pedro Martinez for the second-highest strikeout total in franchise history.

Infield

Boston has six infielders on the 40-man roster, with possible movement this season. It all depends on how Mike Lowell feels and plays. The Red Sox want Lowell to have one last productive year with the team. But if he gets injured again, or simply can't play every day, then the Third Base job might go to Kevin Youkilis a little earlier than planned. I totally see Youkilis at Third beginning in 2010, with one of several players competing for the spot at First.

The Red Sox have wisely prepared for the eventual departure of Mike Lowell. Succession Planning is something that usually doesn't happen smoothly in the corporate or sports world, but the Sox are trying to do it for the 1B, 3B and C positions. They have an exciting, power-hitting prospect at First by the name of Lars Anderson. And with Sean Casey retired, they acquired utility man Brad Wilkerson to share First Base duties with Youkilis.

At Shortstop, there are two players competing for the role - Julio Lugo and Jed Lowrie. The Red Sox have had a revolving door at SS since Nomar Garciaparra left the team in 2004. And that trend will continue, it seems. Just a couple of weeks ago, Lugo seemed to be the favorite to earn the role of primary Shortstop. But since Spring Training began, the pundits have been giving Lowerie another look. He put-up very respectable numbers in his rookie season. In baseball fantasy land, my wish is for the Sox to find a 25 year-old infield magician, like Garciaparra was, and the National League's Kahlil Greene could still become (Greene still looks like a young Sean Penn - it's freaky!). Jed Lowrie is 25 years old. Depending on how this season goes, he could develop into a full-time Shortstop, or become very marketable to smaller teams.

The job at Second is taken, and hopefully taken for years to come. Dustin Pedroia is becoming one of the best in the game at 2B. When I think about my current favorite infielders, I think of names like Ian Kinsler, Hank Blalock, Chase Utley, and Ronny Cedeno (yes, I still believe in Ronny). Dustin could be at the top of that list by the end of this season. He's that good.

Outfield

Another favorite player of mine is Rocco Baldelli. I like him for being an impact player, a hard worker, and for his very good OBP. Unfortunately, he has been limited by injuries and health issues in his 6 years in the majors. Despite making some big plays in the 2008 postseason, the Devil Rays released him. Just two seasons ago, he was their leadoff hitter. I hope Baldelli can earn the role of Right Fielder for the Sox. He's a local kid, from Woonsocket, Rhode Island. With Jason Bay in left, Jacoby Ellsbury in center, and Rocco Baldelli in Right, the Red Sox would have a solid outfield with plenty of hitting potential. Add J.D. Drew, and you have the ability to give Ellsbury and Baldelli breaks if they are sore or go on a hitless streak (especially true for Ellsbury, who needs to further develop his concentration and swing).

Just for the record, my current dream outfield is Jason Bay, Shane Victorino, and Carlos Quentin. But I think Bay-Ellsbury-Baldelli is pretty damn good.

Leadoff Hitting / Baserunning

So who will be the leadoff hitter for the Red Sox? In my opinion, there are three candidates - Pedrioia, Baldelli, and Ellsbury. But the odds are that Ellsbury will be that guy, and he will be fighting for that top spot. I should point out that all three players mentioned have base-stealing speed, as the ideal leadoff man should. Last season, Pedroia stole 20 bases for the first time in his career (and he did it in 21 attempts!). Rocco Baldelli stole 27 bases in his rookie year (2003). And Ellsbury was the first Boston player to steal 50 bases in 35 years. He is the best hope in generations to break Tommy Harper's 1973 record of 54 steals.

Under the National League management style of Terry Francona, the Red Sox steal bases more than ever before. Ellsbury and Pedroia can be the fast runners at the top of the order, and Baldelli and Lugo can be the fast guys towards the bottom. I still see some Red Sox fans hoping for an all-star year from Julio Lugo. I never thought too highly of him, except that I liked him a lot better than Alex Cora. Maybe we can all agree that the 2009 Red Sox have the potential of being the fastest ever, despite losing the speedy Coco Crisp.

And that's my brief analysis of the current Red Sox 40-man roster. There are just under 7 weeks until Opening Day.