Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sox Sweep Jays

It took some doing, but the Sox took three of three from Toronto in their building. Last night was the crowning achievement as struggling starter Jon Lester had a masterful performance striking out 11 on his way to seven shutout innings and a 2-0 win. Clay Buchholtz wasn't too shabby himself on Wednesday also going seven and allowing just one run.

Mike Lowell again played the hero two nights ago with the winning RBI on a bases loaded walk. He was pinch hitting for David Ortiz, which would have been a surprise move three years ago, but no more. Francona clearly has more confidence in Lowell right now and for good reason. Lowell seems very comfortable at the plate and content to contribute anyway he can whether it be as a pinch hitter or DH.

These wins were more like what the Red Sox Brass envisioned in spring training. The starter goes seven and renders the opponent's bats useless. The bullpen comes in and holds the lead (uneventfully). And the offense does just enough to win.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Yanks Fall to Hapless O's

I always worry when the Yankees have to play a team like the Orioles. Not because I think the Yankees will drop their guard and play down to the level of their competition, but because the Orioles are so bad, that mathematically they have to win sometime and when they come in 3-14, well, it seems like they are due when the Yankees come to town.

The bats let the Yankees down last night. Especially in the third when the Yankees loaded the bases with one out and failed to drive in a run. They were already gifted with the tying run on an error by Miguel Tejada, but both A-Rod and Cano just missed on mistakes by Millwood. That allowed the veteran to settle down and in the surprise of the season so far, the Baltimore bullpen out pitched the New York bullpen.

While last night was difficult to watch when the Yankees hit, I still enjoyed Phil Hughes rough start. Of course it was hard to watch him walk Macier Izturis on four pitches with the bases loaded, I was surprised and happy to watch him gut out the start and make it into the sixth. In prior seasons he might have just folded, but he made it out of the inning relatively unscathed, and came back to pitch 3.2 solid innings after that.

With the rotation turning over, the Yankees need to take these next two games. Sabathia and Burnett need to right the Yankees before they head home. The Rays and the Red Sox are not going to lose series to the Orioles and New York cannot afford to. they aren't must-win games, but games given away in April always come back to bite you in September.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Weekend Miscellany

As I watch Josh Beckett get pounded by the Blue Jays and give away a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the third, a few thoughts are running through my head.
  • The Red Sox finish their home stand by going 4-2 in the final six games after folding like a cheap suite in a four game sweep by the Rays. Sounds like a nice recovery, but Boston had to work their asses off to get those four wins against two pretty decrepit teams, teams that are supposedly vastly inferior.
  • Boston desperately needs to take care of business against Toronto and Baltimore on this road trip. They will have the Angels and Yankees waiting for them when they return to Fenway.
  • Off the topic of the Red Sox, what does everyone make of Mark Teixeira crushing Bobby Wilson over the weekend? Clearly it's a legal play. But everyone is debating as to whether it is "necessary." Baseball is weird. In no other sport would anyone care about the necessity of the act. There doesn't exist the same unwritten rules or protocol. Also, baseball is 99% of the time a non-contact sport (unless you count contact with a baseball). I think when contact happens, however legal, no one is really sure what to do or how to react. Players are unaccustomed to contact and often get hurt as a result.
The Sox just tied the game on a wild pitch with bases loaded. It's the top of the fourth. This is gonna be a long one...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Boston Bounces Back

The Rangers and Sox both entered this series riding losing streaks, so something had to give. Fortunately for Boston it was Texas who buckled under the pressure of two close games that ended in walk off wins for the Sox. Last night saw Kevin Youkilis bust out of his slump. He is 4-10 in the series including a double for the game winning RBI last night.

I think there is a trend happening with the Red Sox that has revealed itself in this series. With little offense coming from the some positions, Francona is going to have pinch hitters late in games based on match ups. Hall, Hermida, McDonald, Reddick, and Cameron will all see action. This is something Sox fans are unaccustomed to. There were more substitutions in game one of this series than in all of 2009 it seems.

I like the fact that Mike Lowell is getting some at bats now. At this point he is making a much more effective DH than David Ortiz. He may not be able to move, but he can still hit a little. Hey, Ortiz can't move either so what's the difference. Lowell has been making the most of his opportunities and making it very difficult to take him out of the line up (or put Ortiz in). It's a small sample size, but Lowell's line looks pretty good: .375/.474/.563. Ortiz has a larger sample of at bats and the disparity is staggering: .146/.222/.268 plus 17 strikeouts in 41 AB's. Boston is lucky that trade to Texas didn't go through.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sox Sucking Wind

I'm not sure if the field was more wet from the rain or Matt Garza's nonstop spitting, but at the end of it all the Red Sox had lost three in a row at home to the Rays. They lost in every conceivable way, the weird suspended game completed in two days, then the come back that fell short, and finally today, the good old fashioned butt whippin'.

The first game is the one that really hurt. In the bottom of the 11th, Boston had the bases loaded with no outs and couldn't push the winning run across. Clearly this disappointment carried over to game two. Boston came out flat and quickly fell behind.

Today Matt Garza just flat out schooled the Red Sox. He may be fidgety, nervous, with scraggly goatee and have an overabundance of saliva, but the kid can pitch. He owned the corners and changed speeds very effectively. It was the 6th before the Sox got a hit (which resulted in bupkis as Beltre got thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double. These new guys have to learn which wall balls are sure doubles and which aren't.) It's plain to see. Garza owns the Sox at this point.

Side Note: So much for run prevention. The normally reliable Marco Scutaro has 4 errors. Adrian Beltre has had a couple of flubs at third. Mike Cameron dropped a relatively easy liner the other day. And today the Sox missed out on three potential double plays. They have one more shot at the Rays tomorrow night.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Yanks Take Rain Shortened Opener From Texas

The Texas Rangers rolled into Yankee Stadium for a three game set and they ran into a brick wall in CC Sabathia. Coming off of his almost no-hit start in Tampa Bay, it looked like Sabathia was even better tonight. He had a rough first inning, but he quickly settled down and began the strikeout parade.

The big lefty struck out nine in six innings and even had an impressive six in a row. It was good to see Sabathia get some strike outs. Something that seemed missing from his debut season with the Yanks was the strikeouts. While his 7.7 K/9 was more than adequate during 2009, it was down a tick from his rate over the last three seasons before he joined the Yankees.

The bats did their thing against C.J. Wilson. Wilson is no match for a team like the Yankees. He just doesn't have the control to go up against a patient lineup like New York's. It is curious that Texas thinks he can be an effective starter again simply because he seemed to do well enough as a closer unless he was hurt.

The Ranger defense didn't help Wilson either as Chris Davis made a two-run error to give the Yankees the lead and there were a few other plays that could have been made to lighten the load on Wilson that weren't made. Of course there was one where Wilson hurt himself too.

But back to the big man. Last Year it took Sabathia until the second half, more specifically August and September, to go off and put together a dominant run that saw him win nine of his last 12 starts. Sabathia could easily eclipse his 19 wins from last year if he puts everything together sooner rather than later.

Speaking of big win totals, I don't know about anyone else, but I am very closely watching Roy Halladay in Philadelphia to see how much he embarrasses the National League. He has won his first three starts with vicious efficiency and I wouldn't bet against him to be the first pitcher since Bob Welch in 1990 to win 25 games or more.

Those Devilish Rays

Starting tonight Boston has a four game (sheesh!) home stand with Tampa Bay. I tell you what, I'm starting to hate them more than the Yankees. At least I can respect the Yankees while hating them. Rivera and Jeter are class acts and clear Hall of Famers. I am unabashedly jealous that they managed to get Mark Teixeira when the Red Sox had first crack at him.

But the Rays, what's to respect about them? They finally managed to put together a couple of winning seasons after getting years and years of high draft picks due to their ineptitude. They have some awesome young talent that is well documented, but let's face it. They have no fan base to hang their hats on, and they're a bunch of skinflints. The team will slowly be dismantled as they gradually let free agents get away and trade players that they're too cheap to try to re-sign. Scott Kazmir was traded last year. Now they have Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford to deal with this season. There is no way they will keep either. Crawford is going to want $100 million I'm sure.

This is why get so aggravated when they keep beating the Sox. There is no commitment, no tradition, and no fan base. In five years they will be back to losing 90 games a year.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Feeling Minnesota

Just like last week, the only Boston pitcher who seems to be able to get anyone out or get past the fifth inning against the Twins was John Lackey. Jon Lester had a sub par performance in game one getting out pitched by Carl freaking Pavano, and Tim Wakefield was bludgeoned this afternoon for 10 hits and 6 runs over 5 1/3. On the other side, Francisco Liriano looked like the 2006 version today when it appeared the Twins would have a nasty combination of Liriano and Johan Santana. The Sox ended up getting shut out for the first time this season.

Though I am prone to bursts of outrage, it is far too early to get worried. Lester is a notoriously slow starter. And Wakefield is... well, Wakefield. He's going to get spanked on occasion. The bats still need to wake up though. Other than bombarding the Royals with 8 runs in the last two games of that series, the Boston offense has been ho hum. It might take them a little while to get into a rhythm offensively and for all of the new faces to get accustomed to the their roles. The trick is getting that all started while not digging too big of a hole in either the division or wild card race.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Yankees Ready for Rings

The Yankees will be opening up Yankee Stadium for the 2010 season and along with their first home game, the players will also be getting their 2009 World Series rings. Now I don't know about you, but for me looking back at previous champions World Series rings is pretty cool.

I would have to say that the 1996 ring would be the best of the Yankee rings (so far). 1998 is a close second because well, it's hard to turn down a ring that says BEST EVER on it.

It's fitting that Pettitte will start the game. Not only because it's ring number five for him, but winning every clincher last year sort of earned him the right to be the guy toeing the rubber when he gets that colossal ring.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Yankees Take Two From Rays

You couldn't really ask for a better start to the year for the Yankees. Any team in baseball would love to start the year by taking four of six from their top two division rivals. New York did that by smacking around the Rays for the second consecutive game and taking the rubber match 7-3.

A.J. Burnett showed improvement over his first start of the year against the Red Sox by being very efficient with his pitches, getting nine ground ball outs and pitching seven strong innings. Burnett didn't have his best stuff considering he only managed one strike out, but it was more than enough for the bats as they forced James Shield from the game in the sixth.

Of course the biggest pitching performance came from CC Sabathia who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning before giving up a single to Kelly Shoppach. Now, my initial reaction to the hit was, "seriously Kelly Shoppach just broke this up?" My second reaction was, "thank God Kelly Shoppach just broke this up". Sabathia was dominant from the start, but the big lefty worked his pitch count up pretty high and by the time the eighth inning rolled around Sabathia was already north of 100 pitches and if he was going to finish off his gem he probably would have needed almost 130 pitches.

That is not where you want your ace to be in his second start of the year. Joe Girardi claimed that Shoppach would have been the end of the line for Sabathia no matter the outcome of that at bat. Obviously it is easy for Girardi to say that now, but in reality it would have been exactly the right move. If this was June then maybe you let Sabathia go, but not in April.

Aside from the stellar pitching the Yankees also got some big performances from the bats. The most important line from the weekend set was Mark Teixeira's 3 for 4 on Saturday. It wasn't an amazing line, but it will be a lot easier to look at Teixeira's triple slash now that the first number is no longer .000.

And while Jorge Posada had the biggest hit of Sunday's affair with his two-run jack off of Randy Choate to give the Yankees the lead in the sixth, Curtis Granderson is the one who has been the most impressive with the bat. His .348/.423/.652 line is pretty darn good and it is nice to see him get off to a hot start and avoid any tabloid headlines. Granderson has made some solid defensive plays and his three stolen bases are something that I think people might forget about. Somehow Granderson has never stolen 30 bases in a season, but it could happen this year with the way Girardi likes to run the bases. Hell 30/30 might be a reality too.

Those are just some summer dreams though. For now we are still stuck in April with another off day. Today will be even more difficult to get through knowing that those shiny rings are just aching to come out and get some sun tomorrow afternoon.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sox Finish Off Royals

So I guess I was a bit of a drama queen in my last post. The Sox bats came alive and scored eight runs in each of the last two games to take two of three from the Royals. They even got to Zack Greinke yesterday. Of course the bullpen nearly blew it again today, but Ramon Ramirez got yanked before he could give up the lead entirely. Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon made up for previous transgressions by making the remainder of the eighth and ninth uneventful.

It was very good to see the new bats make their presences known. Jeremy Hermida and Adrian Beltre had multiple RBI in the series. It was also very good to see that Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell aren't ready for their AARP cards yet. (Although that might not be to far off for Lowell. More later.) 'Tek had two home runs in his first action of the year yesterday. Who knows, he may not hit another one the rest of the year, but it's good for him to get something positive at the plate early. Lowell had a single in four a bats and a couple of nifty defensive plays in Saturday's contest as well.

Though neither may be happy or accustomed to coming off the bench, the extra rest will likely help Varitek or Lowell be all the more productive when they are in the lineup. As I said before, it has been reported that Mike Lowell will probably retire at the end of the year. Can't say that I blame him. He's survived cancer, earned two rings and a World Series MVP. His body is falling apart, and he has young kids at home. At 36, it sounds like pretty good timing to me.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Royals Come Back on Boston

The Sox were finally gonna gain some momentum. In the fourth, Youk singled, Papi doubled and newcomer Adrian Beltre grounded out for one RBI. Then J.D. Drew homered and bam! The Sox were up 3-0. Clearly this was the beginning of a rout against perennial doormats, the Royals. But no. The Sox bullpen blew it again. This time the goats were Hideki Okajima and Daniel Bard as they gave up one run a piece, and the Royals took the lead 4-3.

Going into this series I figured the Sox would win two of three. The lone loss would possibly be today against Zack Greinke. Now Josh Beckett definitely has to man-up and best Greinke tonight. I know it's early, but if the Sox fall to 1-4 there has to be at least some cause for concern. Boston needs something to feel good about during the first week of the season. I'll tell you one thing; Boston cannot afford to be as dismal on the road as they were last year. I don't see how you can be that bad year-in and year-out on the road and still end up in the post season.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Yankees Edge Out Sox and Take Rubber Match

Last night the Yankees took the rubber match of the three-game set as Curtis Granderson made a name for himself in Yankee land with his excellent play during the opening series of the season.

The game was slow at first with neither team really getting to the starters. Andy Pettitte did give up a run on a David Ortiz RBI-single (I wonder if that will get the media off his back) in the third, but aside from that he was solid and so far he has had the best performance of the top three. His six innings didn't come easy. Still he made pitches when he needed to and got the ball to the bullpen.

As it turns out, the Yankee bullpen last night consisted entirely of Chan Ho Park. Two days ago that would have seemed to be a nightmare in the making, but Park delivered with authority. He pitched three dominant innings until Granderson finally broke the deadlock against Jonathan Papelbon. It turns out that Park was under the weather with the flu for the first two days of the season and that probably effected his play on Sunday night. His three innings last night most likely assuaged a lot of fears in Yankeeland after his blow up in game one.

Lackey was solid for the Red Sox and would have gotten the win if not for poor pitch selection by Daniel Bard and Victor Martinez. Sports Illustrated had an interesting fact in it's preview issue regarding Martinez and his handling of the staff compared to backup Jason Varitek.

Last season the Sox staff had an ERA of 5.22 when Martinez caught them and 3.87 when Varitek did. Now I don't think it is possible for the Sox to have ERA over five for an entire season, but I also think it a bit odd that Theo Epstein would make such an effort to improve the Red Sox defense at third, short and center but then ignore the hole behind the plate.

The bullpens were the difference in the series. While the Sox only gave up two more runs than the Yankee relievers, but they also walked eight compared to only two for New York.

If I were to have one problem with the way the Yankees attacked this series, it would have to be Girardi's managing of the running game. Perhaps he didn't want to push the legs of his team this early in the season, but Martinez couldn't throw out my grandmother. The Boston catcher threw out just 14 percent of base runners last year. Perhaps when the teams meet in May the Yankees will exploit that weakness a little more.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Game 2 Recap

Sure its obnoxious, but hey so are Yankee fans and we love it.

Last night the shaky Yankee bullpen managed to get the ball to the only reliable arm the Yankees have for the end of a game; Mariano Rivera. A two run lead tends to be a sure thing for Rivera and despite allowing a double to his nemesis Marco Scutaro, the Sandman locked down the first victory of the year for New York. Its good to get the first win and the first victory of the season series out of the way so we can avoid the panic of sweep like last season.

A.J. Burnett and Jon Lester started the game and each was less than what they will be during the season. Burnett consistently missed his target, but managed to fight his way through five innings. Lester was much the same as he walked three through five. However, the Yankee bullpen was called on to keep the game tied and this time it held. Alfredo Aceves picked up where he left off with two solid innings of relief, and Dave Robertson, Damaso Marte and Joba Chamberlain were able to piece together one more scoreless inning to get the ball to Mo.

For the past three or four seasons analysts have tried to prophesies the demise of Rivera. "He can't do it forever," they say. Seriously though Rivera is 40 and when you look at Trevor Hoffman who has continued to dominate into his 40s, what would stop Rivera? Mo was sitting at 92 mph last night and that has been the story for about the past two or three years. He doesn't need the velocity though as his true dominance comes more from his impeccable command, a skill that ages well.

Back to the game though. The Sox defense let them down again during the eighth inning. The normally reliable Marco Scutaro threw low to Kevin Youkilis on a routine grounder allowing the inning to continue. Then Nick Johnson did what he does best and drew a walk on a 3-1 pitch to force in the lead run. Cano would add his first homer of the season in the ninth off of Scott Atchison to provide an insurance run for Mo who sealed the deal.

Tomorrow the two team meet for the last time until May 7. Somehow those games are also in Boston, which seems incredibly dumb. The rivalry will not return to the Bronx until a two-game a week and a half later. Anyway the starters for tomorrow are Andy Pettitte vs. new Red Sox John Lackey. I wonder how upset Lackey is about how his last start against the Yankees ended? I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Fun Resumes

After a completely needless day off, the Sox and Yanks are back at it again with Jon Lester and A.J. Burnett respectively toeing the rubber for each team. In the early going, both pitchers have been a bit shaky, allowing some base runners. But both have limited the damage to one run a piece in the first two innings. I'm just happy to be sitting here on a Tuesday evening watching the game with a cold one.

Jacoby Ellsbury has just led off the third with a double, and after a Dustin Pedroia line out, Victor Martinez launched a fastball into center field to give the Sox a 3-1 lead.

I certainly wouldn't be surprised if tonight's game goes the same way as Sunday's with 15 or 16 total runs. Hell, the Yankees will probably be the ones to come back this time. Any way, it will be nice to get this first Yanks/Sawks series out of the way and let the season get into full swing.

Finally, a big Happy Birthday to my bro, Pete. Though I am eight years his elder, he has forgotten more baseball than I'll ever know. Have a good one.

Opening Day Thoughts

Today was a good day. With Major League Baseball getting into full-swing, it was a day I could enjoy being unemployed and home for the day. From 1 p.m. to past midnight games were all over ESPN and we were treated to some pretty intense performances. It was a rare thing to be treated to when you don't have MLB Network.

Here is a list of 5 things that stood out to me on Opening Day:

Albert Pujols is still amazing. He jacks up Aaron Harang in his first at bat and then he hit a bullet over the right field wall in the seventh off of Mike Lincoln. He slipped in a couple of singles around his homers to compile a 4 for 5 day. It's scary how good he is and how consistent he is. I'll have to lower my standards and by a Mets ticket to see him this year, but it will be worth every penny.

Mark Buehrle is a funny pitcher to watch. Really he just seems like a young version of Jamie Moyer. Yet it seems like every time I look to see what he is up to he does something amazing. First the no-hitter in 2007, then the perfect game in 2009 and now this crazy defensive play to help him pitch seven innings of three-hit baseball to earn a 6-0 win over the Indians. Early on in the day I thought Colby Rasmus robbing Scott Rolen at the wall would be the play of the day and then Buerhle whipped the circus act. Sure the play had an element of luck to it, but I still think it is a very early contender for Play of the Year.

Carlos Zambrano is done. He was smoked by the Braves and after he was spotted a 3-0 lead in the top of the first he was barely able to escape the first inning. I was never that high on Zambrano. There was a time when he had good stuff and got good results. Still, I always thought his lack of command, both in terms of pitching and his emotions, would end him. It appears his lack of pitching command is the first thing to go. Also, Alfonso Soriano looked terrible too. Soriano has been downhill for a while now, but every at bat looks the same now. The pitcher just throws junk low and away and Soriano always hacks at it. If he hits the ball hard its only because the pitcher made a mistake.

That leads me to Jason Heyward. I managed to see him a couple of times during spring training and was impressed by his approach. It was a really nice moment to see him jack a three-run home run off of Zambrano in his first major league at bat with his parents in the stands. The kid can hit and I'm sure we'll see a lot more of him. His day was slightly overshadowed by Yunel Escobar's five-RBI day. This could be the breakout season for Escobar as the young Cuban has made positive strides each year of his career.

Tim Lincecum really is a freak and I love it. Watching him tool the Astros (I know it isn't that hard to tool the Astros especially without Berkman) was a thing of beauty. Unlike last year when he struggled through his first two starts, Lincecum was on point from the first pitch. I would like to see him keep it up because it would be fun to see him make a run at 300 strikeouts, something a righthander hasn't done since Curt Schilling in 2002.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Game 1 in the Books

And I am sure the Yankees would like to forget a lot of game one. Well at least everything on the defensive side of the ball. While Sabathia was strong early on, he never really had great command and as he tired in the middle of the game he clearly lost his stuff.

Poor defensive plays by both Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner cost the Yankees and after Sabathia, no Yankee pitcher could throw the ball where he wanted to.

The one thing the Yankees will be able to take away from the game is their solid offensive output. Little consolation I know as their bats did what they were expected to do. The hitters will cover up a lot of pitching mistakes this year and they will win games by outslugging teams. That is pretty much a standard feature every season for New York. It was nice to see the bottom half of the lineup do a lot of damage. Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson all came through with big hits early on. It was also nice to see Joe Girardi be aggressive on the basepaths with Gardner's steal of home.

But back to the pitching for a moment. I am not worried about Sabathia and I will say I wouldn't be worried about Beckett either if I was a Sox fan. Sometimes a starter needs a couple of turns throwing the ball when it really matters to get his groove and both Beckett and Sabathia will be fine.

On the other hand you have just about everybody else who came out of the Yankee bullpen. Dave Robertson needed just one pitch to allow his inherited runner to score, Chan Ho Park was clearly in over his head from the first batter, Damaso Marte pitched around the one batter he was in to face and Joba Chamberlain pitched a lot like Joba during his last few starts of 2009.

Park was probably the most disappointing of the four relievers. You could see by his body language that he was not at all comfortable on the mound from the start. His pitches were not close and he had no business trying to sneak a fastball by Dustin Pedroia on the inside half of the plate. It was a stark contrast to his spring training performance.

The Red Sox lineup may not have big bats like in year's past, but one thing they still do extremely well is take pitches. They rarely get themselves out and Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis punished the Yankee bullpen for their inability to put them away.

In the end it is still only one game, though I am sure that New York and Boston media will thoroughly over-analyze the game and amazingly forget how little games in April and May meant in August and September. The airwaves will by overwhelmed with panic tomorrow and I'll just have to change the channel.

I do have one interesting question though: What's the over/under on Park being DFA'd or traded by July 1? I get the feeling the under is the safe bet. He has a real Latroy Hawkins feel to him.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Beckett and Sox Working on Extension

In spite of predictions to the contrary, the Red Sox and Josh Beckett are in talks for a possible extension of his present deal. The extension could keep Beckett in Boston through 2014. I like Beckett and keeping him in town through the remainder of his productive years wouldn't be a bad idea.

My only concern is Josh's injury history. While there have been no major problems, it seems like a hangnail can cause a missed start. As I've said before, he needs all the planets in alignment to be at his best. Some guys can gut it out through injuries and still pitch well. Josh isn't afraid to take the ball, but when he tries to pitch through pain, he gets knocked around.