Hey baseball blog. Um, sorry to have neglected you so long. I still think about you. And I visit you a few times to click some of the links in your sidebar. But I always feel a bit ashamed at how empty you feel. So here goes a quick post.
This is an odd season to be a Red Sox fan. I am happy that we are in third place?
No, because I thought we would be in second place, watching an injury plagued Yankees pitching staff fall to pieces. As of today, the Sox are 6.5 back of a powerhouse Yankee team.
Yes, because there’s not many teams that could lose their starting left fielder, starting center fielder, starting right fielder, 4th outfielder, starting second baseman, starting catcher, back-up catcher, #1 starter, #4 starter, and #5 starter in a season and still post a 58-44 record while being second in the league in runs scored.
The Sox are getting healthy now–Beckett had another great performance today against an Angels team that usually gives him fits; Martinez has looked pretty good in his return; Buchholz is getting back into rhythm; Ellsbury is playing well in his rehab stint and could rejoin the team in another week or two.
The Rays have been solid this year, but their offense strikes out way too much to be considered elite. Their pitching staff has a number of young arms on the back end of the rotation; I think Sox fans can hope that those guys break down or wear out as the 162 game grind extends into the later months. In other words, I think a healthy Sox team can catch the Rays.
Of course, my dream scenario is that the Sox and the Rays push the Yanks out of the playoffs. That looks like a long shot at this point–but there’s still a chance that Sabbathia’s arm finally falls off.
I’m pretty sure the title to this post says everything I have to say on the matter. Both players are beloved in their respective markets. Both players signed lucrative extensions after their 30th birthday. If there is a difference: Ortiz’s contract (12.5 million per year) is half of Howard’s contract (25 million per year)–and Ortiz was considered something of a bargain when he signed that deal. Compared to A-Rod’s monstrous contract for similar production, it seemed as if the Red Sox were locking up one of the game’s most dominant hitters for a nice price. Now Howard will essentially make the same money as Rodriguez. Questions regarding the wisdom of Howard’s deal are flying around before the ink even has a chance to dry.
If the 1/2 hour of ESPN I listened to on the ride to work is indicative of how today’s response to Howard’s deal has gone, then its probably cliche to remark that big, long swinging sluggers usually don’t age well. So, Phillie fans, I’ll say it again:
Here’s to hoping Ryan Howard ages better than David Ortiz.
In my last post, I speculated that the Sox might call up Spring Training star Josh Reddick. Instead, they called up a minor leaguer that I had never heard of (and, considering I pay attention to the minor league system, that’s saying something). But, thank goodness. After a four game whooping, including a 0-32 with RISP slump, Sox nation needed a lift.
2-2 with a HR and 4 RBI make for a pretty darn nice lift. Welcome to Boston Darnell McDonald.
Given his heroics, I spent a few minutes today to familiarize myself with Mr. McDonald. He’s a career minor leaguer who’s been in professional baseball since the age of 19. He’s got speed (225 career minor league SB to 81 CS), but I would speculate that contact issues (career .272 BA, .333 OBP, 1076 K’s in 5136 PA). Like Crash Davis, he’s had a few runs in the show (Baltimore in 2004, Minnesota in 2007, and 47 games with Cincy last year). At 31 years old, he’s probably not going to be a ROY candidate. But, even if this is only his 15 minutes of fame, Mr. McDonald is shining bright with a lot of Red Sox fans this Wednesday.
And, yes, Rob, I am repressing any further mention of the terrible tragedy that took place this past weekend.
A friend sent me a link to Bug & Cranks offering an Orioles-ian perspective on Darnell McDonald. Hint: their not too thankful.
Lunch break on a Friday, so I’ll throw up a few responses to the early Sox season. Its too soon for any real reflection, so these come more in the form of questions.
Are You Nervous About Big Papi?
I am, and not necessarily because of his low starting numbers. I am more concerned about his lashing out at the media following questions on his low starting numbers. That lash out speaks to me–it tells me that the normally easy-going, gregarious, and confident Papi is sensitive. Last year, of course, Papi was one of the best hitters in the league after June first. He was also one of the worst before then. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait until June 1st this year.
Is That Josh Reddick I See?
So Cameron looks to be out for at least a week, if not three, and Ellsbury is still a bit dinged up. Bill Hall showed yesterday that center field is really not an option. It looks like the Sox will have to make a roster move with a call-up. Right now, Reddick, who was real hot in Spring Training, is struggling early–hitting only .137 (4 for 29). In my 2010 Sox Season Storylines, I mentioned that Reddick is likely to compete for Drew’s job after 2011, and I’m hoping, despite his slow AAA start, that he gets a chance to swing with the big club for a week or two.
Can Victor Martinez Catch?
I keep reminding myself that its very early. But I also questioned whether Martinez would be able to replace Varitek as the catcher for this staff. The early response seems to be “no”–but, of course, its way too early. Its early. Just keep telling myself that its early. Its early. Don’t compare their CERA from 2009 (which, by the way, is 5.22 vs 3.87)….
One more thing on Martinez–has anyone else noticed that, unlike Tek, he just can’t seem to keep his glove still? I want to start watching other big league catchers more closely to see if, like Martinez, they have difficulty offering an immobile target for pitchers.
It will be very interesting to see what happens with the rotation next week. Dice-K’s rehab starts in Pawtucket went very well (in 11 innings he hasn’t given up a run, walked only one, and struck out 5). I’d love to see the pitch count numbers on those games, given Dice-K’s efficiency problems. While I am a bit concerned to see he’s only struck out 5 in 11 innings against AAA competition, you have to wonder if he won’t get a shot in the rotation and send either Wakefield or Buchholz to the pen.
Well, so much for the lunch break. Enjoy the weekend.
Ok, so I opened last post saying how I prefer stories to predictions. And I offered some stories. But that doesn’t mean I am immune to the case of prediction-itis so contagious this time of year. I’ll keep it short, at least.
NL East: Phillies
Great pitching and a deep line-up. I don’t think their potential bullpen struggles will keep them from winning an improved division. 95 wins (+2 over last year).
NL Central: Cards
Albert Pujols might produce more runs than the Pirates. A strong rotation and capable bullpen should translate into 90 wins (-1 from last season) in a rather weak-pitching division.
NL West: Giants
Most of the experts are picking the Rockies–and I do like Jiminez and that rotation. But, if Aubrey Huff and Edgar Renteria can be better than terrible (and I think they can/will), then I believe the Giants offense will be improved enough to win 95 games. They can pitch. Well. 91 Wins (+3 over last season).
NL Wildcard: Braves
So I’m leaving the Rockies out of the playoffs. The Braves had a lot of issues last season, and still managed to win 86 games. This off-season, they added some nice pieces to give Bobby Cox one last run at a second ring. If everyone stays healthy, I like their chances [note: I acknowledge that as a super-tremendous “if”] to win 91 games (+5) and win the wild card.
AL East: Rays
Yes. You read that properly. I think the Rays will be motivated this season (i.e., many contract years) and that their young pitchers will produce (well, I’m not sure about Wade Davis, but the other four should be good). A deep starting pitching staff and dynamic offense will put up somewhere around 95 wins (+12 over last season).
AL Central: White Sox
Hey did anyone else notice that this team got Jake Peavy? As in, the Jake Peavy? The really dominant guy who pitched in the middle of nowhere for half a decade? Yeah, they got that guy. 90 wins (+11 over last season).
AL West: Um… Angels or Mariners? Maybe the Rangers? Oakl… nevermind, the A’s Stink
Ok, I know I have to pick one. But this is an ugly division. Even the Rangers could win–although I don’t think they can survive the heat (literally, it just wears them down). I really like the Mariners, but Cliff Lee’s early injury has me concerned. Ultimately, I think the Mariners make for a good story, but the Angles have the better, more experienced, and more consistent roster. Even without Lackey, they find a way to win 89 games (-8 games).
AL Wild Card: Red Sox
I think the new rotation will hold up, and that the bullpen will be stronger than many realize. The offense is not as light as people think. The real issue here, of course, is that I am leaving the Yankees out of the playoffs. I’ll make a case that this is not merely wishful thinking. The Yankees keep getting older. Last year no one thought the Yankees’ pitching staff could survive 162 games. I know they added Vasquez, but he comes with AL question marks (and comes from one of the lightest hitting divisions in baseball last season). Just because Pettitte and Burnett made it through a complete season last year doesn’t make it more likely that they will this year. Very few people in the professional media are willing to bet against the Yanks. I am. Injuries hurt their rotation. Red Sox 93 wins (-2). Yankees 92 (-11) wins. The AL Beast should provide one hell of a show.
So I suppose I should write a quick something about who will beat who in that other season after the real season. Hmm. AL: Red Sox beat White Sox. Rays beat Angels. Red Sox beat Rays (Rays have more quality starters for the regular season, Red Sox have more horses built for the playoffs). NL: Giants beat the Braves. Phillies beat the Cards. Giants beat the Phillies [blue plate upset special].
World Series: Red Sox Beat the Giants
Now that would be a nice story.
Lunch break is over–off to grade some papers (while I listen to some baseball). Apologies to Cubs fans.
I’m not necessarily a big fan of arm chair prognostication. I’m a much bigger fan of narration–and think that the most compelling sports analysis involves narrative arc. So, rather than offer a prediction, I’ll call attention to what I think are the most intriguing Red Sox story lines heading into the season.
1. John Lackey’s health
Of course, every team needs players to stay healthy. But the Red Sox are counting on their version of Maddux / Glavine / Smoltz this season–a three-headed pitching hydra poised to eat up innings and rack up wins. Lackey has missed 23% of his starts over the past two seasons. Put simply: missing 7 starts would be bad in a division that will likely come down to two or three games.
2. Can Defense Really Win?
This is a question posed by about every major media commentator [wsj.com]: the Red Sox’s turn toward defensive minded players. To separate myself a bit, I will point to the increased interest in defense in many of baseball’s “think tanks.” Seattle focused on defense as well this off-season–if the Sox and the Mariners do win their divisions, be prepared to become familiar with obscure terms such as RF and DE. I’ve been interested in these new defensive stats for quite awhile simply because they are so hard to quantify (and so few people will believe in the impact of something that cannot be measured). Rest assured, if the Sox win 100 games, you’ll see some theoretical-mathematical approaches to defense popping up on ESPN.
3. Does This Team Really Have a 4th Starter?
Those first three pitchers are incredible, and the team should benefit from increased defense. But can either Wakefield, Dice-K, or Buchholz maintain the Sox’s pitching advantage by consistently giving a 6 inning, 3 ER effort? The easy answer is “yes”–but last year’s struggles suggest that the Red Sox might actually have three number one pitchers and three number fives. I’m hoping Buchholz looks more like the pitcher of last September–a pitcher with top-of-the-rotation potential, than what he looked like at the beginning of last season or for most of this Spring.
4. Can This Team Score Runs?
This is an obvious question that has been covered elsewhere. Very simply:
- Which David Ortiz shows up? One who can hit .250 with 30 home runs or one who can hit .200 with 15 home runs? Or one that hits like Pat Burrell (ewww….)?
- Is Scutaro a one year wonder?
- Will Cameron have more hits or strikeouts? (Hint: the last time he had more hits than k’s was 2000).
- Can Drew repeat his stellar 2009?
- Will Ellsbury continue to grow or has he plateau-ed?
Ok, so I’m not optimistic about the answer to most of these questions…which leads to my next two storylines:
5. Will Josh Reddick Break Through this Season?
Only the die-hard Sox fans likely know who Reddick is. Last year, in Spring Training, Reddick hit .423 / .433 / .577. This season he followed it up with an even more amazing .404 / .426 / .702. That’s a 1.128 OPS from a 23 year old who can play all three positions. He had a rough trip up to the majors last September, going only 10 for 59 with 2 walks and 17 strikeouts. But, on the bright side, 6 of his 10 hits were for extra-bases. His major league service clock has been activated, so there’s really no reason to keep him in the minors any longer. He’s got a career .512 slugging in the minor leagues, and though he tends to swing (think Nomar), he could be the next big Red Sox wonder-kid. Here’s one prediction–if Ortiz struggles, then I think Lowell and Drew will platoon at DH while Reddick will come up from the Paw Sox to get a shot at RF everyday. We all know Drew is leaving after this season–Reddick is the best candidate to get his job. And getting Drew’s 15 million dollars off the book will give the Sox the option of…
6. Adrian Gonzalez (?)
Perhaps the Mauer contract will fool the Padres into thinking they can resign their local star. I doubt it. If anything, Mauer’s price tag probably emphasizes how little chance they have. The Red Sox gave Beltre a one-year deal in the likelihood that Gonzalez will be a free agent next year. Gonzalez at first, Youkilis at third… that would be quite nice. I have no idea if this will happen–but rest assured, if the offense problems in question 4 do materialize, then the Gonzalez to Boston rumors will continue to intensify.
7. Will Josh Bard Develop Into the Next Papelbon (Literally) ?
Ok here’s one from left field, so to speak. But Sox fans have to see the writing on the wall. All of the Sox home-grown wonder kids have extensions–Ellsbury, Pedroia, Lester, and Youkilis. Papelbon does not. And, if what I read is true, then its quite likely that he won’t. Papelbon wants to be the highest paid closer in baseball history, and the Yankees need a closer soon. Perfect match. The Red Sox will feel a lot more comfortable with the prospect of letting Papelbon go to free agency (Yankees, Yankees, Yankees) if and only if Bard realizes his 100 mph potential.
So there’s my 7 story lines for the season. I’ll add two minor league threads to pay attention to as well: the development of Lars Anderson (who, if he plays well, would be a nice chip in a possible Gonzalez trade) and shortstop Jose Iglesias.
Let the baseball begin.
Ah, blog. I haven’t been here in awhile. But, now that the season ended mercifully (i.e., without a loss to the Yankees), I thought I would throw up a quick post. I actually put this on my regular blog, and then decided to copy it here.
As a Boston/New England sports fan, the first decade of the new century went rather well. Perhaps too well. Our cultural ethos is constructed around losing and misfortune. Might it be that things are returning to normal?
This was an odd year for the Red Sox. While the offense struggled mightily, and while the pitching staff failed to live up to the lofty expectations, the Sox still made the playoffs. To lose in a sweep is a bit unexpected; to see Papelbon blow the save seems fitting for a season in which he, and other beloved veterans, struggled.
The Red Sox still have a very good collection of young players. The bloated contract of J.D. Drew will haunt them for at least one more year (two if Drew stays healthy). It will be interesting to see what happens with Jason Varitek and Jason Bay in the off-season. ESPN doesn’t have the CERA (catcher’s ERA) numbers for Martinez behind the plate, but I am going to guess its not as good as Varitek’s 3.87 (since the team ERA on the season is 4.35). It should not be overlooked that Martinez, and not Varitek, was catching yesterday as the Red Sox stellar, hard-throwing bullpen imploded. I was previously concerned about this.
Bay had a roller-coaster season. I imagine he is seeing dollar signs this off-season. The Yankees have a considerable amount of money rolling off the books this year. I still fully expect Carl Crawford to execute the one million dollar buyout on his contract to become a free agent. That will put Crawford, Bay, and Matt Holliday (ouch, that error hurt–I still think his numbers with St. Louis were an aberration–buyer beware with this guy) at the top of a talented group of free agent outfielders, that additionally includes Manny, a resurgent Abreu, Magglio Ordonez (injuries a factor here), and others. Most of the major markets–Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers (bye bye Manny?) will be potential buyers.
I have a feeling that the team will see a major shake-up this off-season: only time will tell if Varitek, Bay, Papelbon, or Mike Lowell returns next season. Papelbon in particular will be interesting to watch. The Red Sox still control him, but they have had difficulty coming to terms the past few seasons–and just barely avoided arbitration last year. I think part of the hesitation here is giving Papelbon, who has a chronic shoulder issue, a high-end long term deal. To avoid arbitration, and make the deal worthwhile for all sides, the contract would likely work out something like 32 million for 4 years (K-Rod got 37 million for 3 as an outright free agent). I had a feeling, when the Sox wouldn’t pull the trigger on the Halladay deal, that Bard was being groomed as a future closer. So, as much as I love the glare, I wonder how much longer Papelbon will be in Boston. Please note that my wondering has absolutely nothing to do with his performance yesterday. He lived dangerously at times this season, but is still a top closer. I just think, medically and economically, the Red Sox front office has showed hesitation to lock up Paps as they have locked up Pedroia, Youkilis, and Lester.
As to the Patriots, it is very hard for me to watch Tom Brady right now, if only because he set the bar so high. But his deep ball looks as accurate as JaMarcus Russell’s right now. I remember when Joe Montana returned from his elbow injury- though still great, he wasn’t Joe Montana. That’s how I feel watching Brady right now. Again, time will tell whether, like Donovan McNabb, he is able to recover from this injury or if, like Carson Palmer, Brady never quite returns to the level he was pre-injury.