Monday, August 30, 2010

One Of The Best Races Ever?

Too bad I'm posting. Would have been fun to see how many days in a row DV could have made the exact same joke about me not posting. It had the potential to rival Jacoby Ellsbury's injury situation and J.D. Drew generally in terms of incredible repetition on this site in 2010. Thanks to DV for holding it down.

It's not often that two teams, each 31 games over .500 and each on pace for exactly 100 wins on August 31st are tied in the division. I don't have the numbers, but you just don't see two teams this good this close in the standings this late in the year that often. What's more, the Yanks and Rays have been locked in a first place tie for eight consecutive days. That's the most consecutive days two teams have been tied for first place this late in the season in the history of the game. Think about that for a second.

Obviously some of that is coincidence. But some of it is also that these teams are flat out in a race, and have been for pretty much the entire season. Both keep pushing each other further and both refuse to give in. When you consider that a third team has been in the conversation the entire season in Boston, it's even more incredible. When you consider that a fourth team is over .500 in the Blue Jays you start to wonder if this is one of the best divisions ever. When you think about what any of these teams might to in any other division you start to wonder how a division could be much better.

The seven games the Yankees and Rays have with each other in the middle of the month have serious potential. Those games will have the biggest impact on the division, but they will not decide the division alone. The Yankees currently have a 10 game homestand against Oakland, Toronto, and Baltimore, which they started 1-0 tonight. The Rays end the season with 6 at home against Seattle and Baltimore followed by a 4 game series at Kansas City. The Yankees have 6 left with the Red Sox, 3 home 3 away, and the Rays have 3 left with the Red Sox, all in Fenway. Boston is not out of the playoff race, and these head to heads are the easiest way for them to get one of those spots. Expect all of those games to be played as hard as all three Boston/Tampa games were played last weekend. All of these things are going to impact this division and the Wild Card, making for a very exciting September in the AL East. Maybe one of the best ever in baseball, and playoff chase scenario.

As far as the Yankees go, they need to take care of business on this homestand. It's not a cupcake homestand by any stretch. Oakland and Toronto are both pretty good teams, and the Yankees are 5-7 against Toronto this year. It's just a softer stretch than the rest of the month, which is just brutal. Tonight was a good start. The reason the Yankees need to take care of business on this homestand, besides wanting to keep pace with Tampa now, is that 13 of their next 16 games are against Texas, Tampa Bay, and Boston, with one series in Baltimore mixed in (where you can bet Buck Showalter would love to play spoiler). Then the Yankees wash that down with 3 at Toronto (who has had their number this year) and 3 in Fenway to end the season. Awesome.

But this is baseball. You either win or you don't. We'll see if the Yankees are up to the challenge, and it continues tomorrow night with Phil Hughes on the mound. I mention this only because the Yankees need to get at least two of Hughes, Vazquez, and Burnett going in the right direction to help Sabathia out. Pettitte likely won't be back in time to make anything more than 3-4 starts, if that. While every little bit helps, the Yankees will need more from the other members of the rotation to make this thing happen and win the division. Hughes has been up and down, average on the whole for a while. Vazquez, after hitting a rut, has been back to what he looked like when he dominated the middle part of the season his last two times out. Burnett has been close to as bad as you can be for the better part of 3 months. The Yankees need these guys to get going, and Hughes has a chance to start that tomorrow. I'll be at the game tomorrow, and am excited to see him as he's the only Yankees starter I have not seen live this year.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What The F***?

No, this title isn't not simulating your reaction next time you see a post written by PF on this website. This is instead the reaction a lot of us had Saturday night to the two infamous decisions that may have cemented the Red Sox' third-place finish in the AL East this year. Just in case you were in Arizona resting your ribs, secluded somewhere pondering how intense, hard, time-consuming, and demanding another year of law school is, or enjoying the outdoors on the last weekend of the summer, here they are:

1. JD Drew pretending it's Friday night and actually making an effort after a foul fly ball, resulting in an out, but a run on a sac fly.
2. Francona bringing Clay Buchholz out in the eighth inning of a one-run game, letting Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon just chill out in the bullpen instead of recording outs. Buchholz had thrown 107 pitches.

(Note: The Buchholz/Pena pickoff would have been completely irrelevant if these two things had not happened. Buchholz throws over to first all the time. Could be Prince Fielder out there. DeMarlo Hale defended it in the Globe today, saying he didn't want anyone to mount any leads. Fine.)

The first one is somewhat excusable if the newly media-friendly Drew had not spoken jibberish when asked about it. Drew said the whole time, he was thinking, "let it drop, pretty much." But he instead ran through a bullpen, dodged some pitchers, ran up and down a mound, vaulted a Mitsubishi Galant Joey Gathright style, struck the Heisman Trophy pose at a fan in the tenth row, stuck his glove out, but he wasn't trying to catch the ball. In his words, "it ended up in there."

"Just instinct, you know?"

Isn't that how Rick Pitino described his affair? Maybe Kobe Bryant or Ben Roethlisberger should give the JD Drew defense of "I wasn't trying to assault her, I was saying, 'don't assault her, don't assault her,' but it just happened." Maybe Ambiorix Burgos should say "I had the rat poison in my hand and was thinking, 'don't poison my wife, don't poison my wife,' but the poison ended up in her cereal anyway." Seriously, what the F does that even mean?

You're JD freaking Drew! You have made a $150 million Major League career out of giving 80% efforts towards baseball games, and the one time you're NOT supposed to try hard, you do? This guy is absolutely dumbfounding. His retirement 400 days from now cannot come soon enough.

I'd understand if Drew just said "I wanted to get the out. We need 27 outs and I'm not going to JD out on this fly ball, watch Joyce hit a single, and need to get basically a 28th out." Of course, he wouldn't use the verb "JD out," but you know what I mean. It would imply lack of confidence in his pitcher with the 2.95 ERA, but it is at least understandable. You get the sure out with nothing to lose. But JD instead gave that argument.

Decision number two: What the F is Francona saving Bard and Papelbon for? Look, I've written here many times that I'm concerned about Daniel Bard's workload and about Papelbon's ability to get guys out. I'm not going to deny that. But when the options are Bard/Papelbon (the choice that has won you the most games) versus a Clay Buchholz who is tired enough to make pickoff attempts into an adventure an inning before, isn't it kind of obvious? Is Francona saving Papelbon's arm (~25 pitches the night before) for next week's freaking Baltimore Orioles series instead of the series on which the season hinges?

Is he saving it for the playoffs? Because guess what: These three games and the other nine against Tampa and NY ARE the playoffs. If you don't win, you do not advance to the next round. In playoff games, your best relievers pitch every night. Leave Scott Atchison's Dan Johnson (.130)-prone meatball to the Baltimore series.

I have written about this before in 2007, when Francona pitched Gagne instead of Papelbon in the interest of saving Papelbon for later once the team lost the division. It's obvious that Francona has gotten better at some decisions over time. This one, as evidenced by Saturday night, is NOT one of them.

You read it right: 400 days until October 2, 2011.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nobody Likes You When You're 43

It's a shame because it hasn't always been like this. But we've seen the same thing happen to Tim Wakefield that we saw happen to Griffey and to Nomar before our eyes: He was young when we were all kids, and he isn't anymore. In fact, he's quite old. Hell, he's not even 43 anymore. He turned 44 this month.

He's also no longer a formidable major league baseball player. And it's been this way for over thirteen months now. I think we were all happy when the guy got his All-Star appearance last year, and especially because he deserved it. He caught lightning in a bottle, just like he had on various occasions throughout his career. At the beginning of this season, it seemed like Matsuzaka was DL'ed just so that this guy could have a position in the rotation. And he vocalized it pretty clearly: He wanted to be a starter. Who can blame him? I know Pat can't, but that's probably mostly because a starter is only called upon once every five days.

But let's not get it twisted anymore. That starter role he wanted and then kinda lost? He's played his way out of it by now. Doesn't really deserve it back. The spot starts where he's had that opportunity? Hasn't done enough to regain even consideration for the role. The way he's pitched is consistent with the role he's in now. And it's too bad, because you don't want to see a player like that be relegated to that kind of role. But right now he's about as useful as Timlin. And yes, I understand the nature of the knuckleball and how sometimes Wakefield can go on a tear like he did the first half of last year. But as he gets older, the length or probability of such a tear decreases.

Sorry, Wakefield. Maybe this April you deserved a shot, especially after last year. However, that is no longer the case.

This obviously brings up the next issue: Is it time to say goodbye? Is it time for the Red Sox to strongly urge that the player retires? In past years, with his low-cost contract, the Red Sox got at least decent production at small dollars. But now, moving forward, the team might be getting negative production at small dollars. They don't have a spot for him where he wants to pitch - only the role that he's taking right now. Hate to say it, but it's another Old Yeller situation. His string of usefulness on this team might be finished.

I want the guy to get those remaining fourteen wins to tie the Red Sox' all-time record as much as the next guy. But that might take until he's fifty. Maybe for the rest of this punt season (by the way, Pedroia maybe getting shut down?), Matsuzaka should stay "sore" and Wakefield should get his reps as a "thank you" for fifteen years of service. In 2011, however, it looks like it's time to move to the next chapter.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

No Fouls

A lot of our readers are basketball guys, but you don't need to be a basketball guy to know that there is a certain point of most basketball games when the trailing team decides to stop fouling. At this point, they aren't looking to get the ball back and they concede that it's over. Sometimes teams are criticized pretty hard by going no-foul too early in a game or in too close a game. It happened during some Celtic elimination game last spring - don't remember if it was the Magic or the Cavs, but someone did.

When the Red Sox decided to place Dustin Pedroia back on the disabled list last Friday, it was like the organization telling them to stop fouling. Sure, you can launch up a bunch of threes and make it close, but there's no bother going balls-out to try to grab one of those playoff spots. Even if Pedroia were going to play two out of three games instead of missing two straight weeks, gimpy Pedroia would have probably been better than Hall or Lowrie (although they are performing quite well).

The team obviously responded well to that on Friday night, as they got croaked by fourteen runs. They won series against the Blue Jays and the Mariners, but at some point they have to stop winning series and start sweeping. With thirty-four games left, they are still five and a half games out. They have to make up a game a week. Even if the Yankees and Rays go .500 from here on in, the Red Sox have to win two out of three. They have to AVERAGE winning a series. And if the Yankees and Rays both win more than they lose (and they're playing some pretty terrible teams), that is STILL not good enough.

The fact that Lester was pushed back to a game where he is not opposite Felix Hernandez and the Red Sox basically threw up the white flag by pitching Wakefield against him is further evidence that they are not throwing together a concerted effort to catching the teams at the top.

It is worth nothing what Tony Massarotti has been saying for a month now: This team won 2/3 of their games through most of May and June, a 68-game stretch. In that stretch, they got overwhelming overperformances from Beltre, McDonald, Pedroia (for the second half of it, at least), Martinez, Ortiz, and many of the pitchers. For the team to do the same thing, they'd have to reprise the same level of overperformance. With games added in against the two leading teams. And with a pre-constructed 5.5-game deficit.

It's not impossible. But it almost is. And the fact that the team pulled Pedroia out of the lineup for an additional two weeks speaks volumes about how much they think the team is in it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Oh Yeah!

The conclusion of the Johnny Damon story was an interesting one, specifically in terms of the general reaction to his ultimate F-you to Ace Ticket, the Red Sox' organization, and the Boston Red Sox fans who booed him. I am somewhat surprised to hear the general backlash against the Red Sox organization. Those of you familiar with How Youz Doin Baseball might not know this, but I am pretty critical of some of the moves pulled by this organization, specifically in terms of player evaluation and in terms of how they've treated players.

Johnny Damon wasn't one of them. The way they treated Bronson Arroyo, Nomar, Manny, Mike Lowell and (yes) various injured players has been botched at best, unconscionable at worst. But the case of Damon, they set a value for the player and the player disagreed with them. That's his prerogative. And that's why he chased the extra $12 million. That was not a problem with me, nor has it ever been. You know what my beef has been. But he left in a way similar to the way the Colts left Baltimore and the way my grandmother left Massachusetts for North Carolina - in the middle of the night and without much notice. The Red Sox expressed their surprise at this result, but never really traded much ill will.

The ill will has only gone one way. The Red Sox did not trash the player at all. Their hand-picked media members almost unanimously endorsed cheering the guy. The Red Sox didn't commit any "disrespect" except for the following:

4 years, $40 million.

That's not disrespect. That's a business decision just as cold and rational as Damon's to take the extra $12 million. And good for him for playing up to that contract. He exceeded all expectations, including mine, the Red Sox' (given their offer), and probably even the Yankees'.

It seems like the majority of the Red Sox fans, at least those who are calling into sports radio, are hating on the guy because he pulled the "I have more sense than that" on the Red Sox after saying he wasn't going to play for that other team. I guess it's rare to see an athlete like Pedro say that he was going to go after the money. My beef only comes from reading the words in between the quotation fingers.

But what's weird is that those who aren't hating on Damon, including much of the media, is both crushing fans for hating on him, but they are ALSO saying that the Red Sox' organization really did disrespect him, and treat him the same way they treated guys like Arroyo. Really?

Because that's revisionist history. Did they laugh at his ultimatum? Probably not. Their "disrespect" is seriously just that year and dollar figure. Nothing more, nothing less. But it's like they're drinking the "I got disrespected" Kool-Aid the player has been broadcasting for the last nearly five years. I thought Felger was better than that.

Seriously, if your boy was still talking non-stop about how much he hates his ex-girlfriend, you'd tell him to shut the f*** up. But for some reason, people are okay - and receptive - to Damon's story.

Good for him for vindicating himself by exercising his no-trade. I am serious about that. It's a spite move that even the most spiteful (such as myself) can be proud of. But he has no ground. The only ground he has is 4 years, $40 million. I think given his performance, he can view that as disrespect. But after a while, you gotta shut up about it.

I really am curious to know what you guys think about this. Obviously the team screwed up evaluating his durability past 2005. But what about the other stuff? Why do you think fans hate on the guy so much? I feel like very few hate him for the same reasons I hate him. I feel like many, and rightfully so, don't like the "I have more sense than that" move. But do people crush the guy just because of the uniform or chasing money?

And the most interesting part - are you guys drinking the Kool-Aid? Do you really think the team ran Damon out of town? Do you really think they disrespected him? I could go over all the things said to run Damon out of town and remind you that they all came out of Damon's mouth - but I don't want to skew the results. What's the story over here?

Monday, August 23, 2010

No.

So Ace Ticket, trying to liquidate otherwise-worthless inventory and not turn the Red Sox' "sellout streak" into even more of a farce than it really is, claimed Johnny F. Patrick Damon off of waivers today. Strictly as a baseball move, it's not a bad idea, especially as 46 is going to PF, I mean, JD out for the rest of the year, and as good as Ryan Kalish might be as a baseball player, Johnny F. Patrick Damon would probably be better.

But there are some lines you cannot cross. And picking this guy up is on the wrong side of the line. Look, I've said it a million times. All he's done since the last out was recorded in 2005 was talk trash. Disrespected. I'm Johnny F***ing Damon.

Once again, and what people even like my boy Felger don't understand, is not the fact that he took the extra $12 million. It's the following:
-The fact that he had more sense than that (Rick James reference) on going to New York.
-The fact that he was talking about contract 15 minutes after the season ended.
-The fact that he has done nothing but talk trash since the day he left.

Do fans and media personnel REALLY want someone who so spectacularly ran himself out of town to come back, just to get mired into another long, drawn-out contract dispute starting in November? F that. He will not be the difference between the playoffs and not the playoffs. Look, the bottom line is that the organization decided on Friday afternoon not to foul anymore once they put Dustin Pedroia on the DL (something I'll address more tomorrow). The only reason they'd bring this guy back is so Ace Ticket can stay in business. He's taken direct shots at the organization - the very same people who are trying to bring him back. I think this is actually the first time he's blasted Boston to this extent since he effectively ran Coco Crisp out of town just for being the guy after him.

"I'm not sure if I want to leave Detroit for that."
"It got ugly when it became apparent that re-signing me wasn't a priority."

He's still talking about it. That's why I'm still talking about him. I can't believe I'm saying it, but I might actually rather see 46 play another game in a Red Sox uniform or have the Red Sox sign JD to an extension past 10-2-11 than see Damon back in that outfield.

Felger brought up today that Damon exercising his no-trade would be the ultimate F-you to the Ace Ticket, I mean, Boston organization who came crawling back to him. If he actually had the balls to do that, good for him. He'd say all he would ever have to say about the decision made in 2005.

Without saying one word. Which is probably what he should have done all along.

But if he comes back in the next forty-eight hours, he's just as bad as Ace Ticket, I mean, the team is. Crawling back. And you know he's going to probably run himself out of town again in another two and a half months anyway. So here we go Damon. Show some balls. Don't come back. And shut up.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Getting Better

I have become less and less critical of Joe Girardi over the course of his now nearly three years as Yankees manager. This is because he has gotten better and better as a manager. Outside of his guiding the Yankees to the 2009 World Series, what I have been perhaps most complimentary of when it comes to Girardi is his ability and willingness to recognize where he is not doing a good enough job and improving. Hence the title getting better.

In 2008 he recognized he needed to get better with the media, and did. The same year he realized he had to better connect to his players on a light-hearted level, and he did. I won't list everything, because it goes on and on. He really is able to improve himself quickly as a manager, and that is part of what has made him elite as a manager. And he absolutely is elite.

Obviously, this attribute of getting better isn't about how he compares to other managers around the game, it's about how it impacts the team as far as he can control it. Just as obvious, the impact is big. Another example was seen this week against Detroit. Three weeks ago, Girardi had most of the Tri-State Area that are Yankees' fans scratching their heads when he played the B lineup and was not very urgent in his bullpen managment in a rubber game against Tampa Bay. I was having conversations with Yankees fans about this event over a week later, that's how befuddled many were.

After losing the opener of a four game set against Detroit, Joe Girardi managed these last three games more like playoff games than anything else. Which was a beautiful thing. Whether this is him learning from playing the B lineup too frequently, or reacting to being tied in the division a few weeks later in the season, I don't know. But the bottom line is he is adjusting to the circumstances and the results are noticeable. He's playing his best players and being aggressive with his bullpen. Twice this week he used Rivera in non-save situations, something I thought was outstanding. They were four run games, and he clearly had no interest in them becoming eventful. That sends a message that goes something like "we haven't won a series since late July, and it's time to start winning them in the middle of a pennant race." This echoes what Girardi directly said after the Kansas City series, which was something along the lines of losing and splitting series just isn't good enough, we need to win series. That sentiment seems obvious, but it is good to see his managing matching up with his statements. I love it.

Speaking of getting better, the Yankees need Andy Pettitte to get better. He got injured on July 18, his first start after the All-Star Break. At the time it seemed like a mid-August, early-September return at the latest. It's now August 22 and he's still not throwing consistently off a mound. It's been one step forward one step back for a week or two now. Not good. Early September would probably be absolute best case scenario now, and by that I mean first week or two, not the first few days. Mid-September is probably more realistic, and that's without any further setbacks. It's not just about getting him back in time to get him ready for the playoffs, if the Yankees make it. It's that the Yankees need him as they try to win this division and make the playoffs in the first place. As the days go by the impact he is potentially able to make becomes less. The Yankees are doing a good job competing without him, but seeing as he is the Yankees' starter with the lowest ERA, they could really use him in this race for the AL East title.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Madman, Your Honor!

Take a close look at this video clip. Does that baserunner look like someone who is NOT trying to get hurt? Could that collision have been avoided or at least partially mitigated by straight up pushing the pitcher instead of twirling around and bodyslamming the ground with the area of your body that just happens to be the one that you've had trouble getting better?

Or does that baserunner look like a player trying to re-aggravate an injury so he could prove his point of "hey, I really WAS injured! You'll see how soft I am!"

Look, I've seen Fletcher Reede kick his own ass (see image above) more times than most people have seen Brett Favre throw an interception. Fletcher, of course, harmed himself intentionally by punching himself, rubbing hand soap in his eyes, dumping trash on himself, ripping his suit, smashing his head with a toilet seat, and running into a wall repeatedly so that he didn't have to return to the courtroom. He had a reason to harm himself intentionally.

Just as a stubborn 5-year-old will go hungry instead of eating vegetables to protest and to prove a point, people like the fictional Fletcher Reede are willing to harm themselves to prove a point. I don't want to add a new indictment explicity, but...

...look at the video.

Josh Beckett is an ace, and Manny Delcarmen has a lot of upside.

FINALLY, to round out the week, it's time to speculate where PF has been. He has not told me, or presumably anyone, where he's been. He's made a couple of cameos, and I believe as I write this he is penning a post to put up next week, when he will again have little to no computer access. I hope he doesn't tell us what he's actually doing until September comes and we again hear how demanding, tiring, and busy law school is.

Because it's more fun to speculate than to actually know the real answer. Here are some possibilities:

1. Ireland. It's been nearly fourteen months since Pat took his most recent JDcation to the Emerald Isle, and I am currently staring at an inviting, poignant (not sarcastic) flyer from the country's tourism bureau. It invites you to come back home. And I feel like after 14 months, Pat is homesick.
2. San Jose, Costa Rica. Costa Rica is an increasingly-popular destination of NESCAC students/graduates who want to JD out and/or say they're making a social difference. As Pat is a staunch conservative, I'd say it would just be JDing out. In the past week, HYD Baseball has received an extended-duration hit from San Jose, which is not normal.
3. Dusseldorf, Germany. Don't know much about this place, except that it's a place where you can drive fast and that someone from Dusseldorf has also recently visited HYD Baseball for an extended period of time.
4. Arizona. Made popular by 46, Arizona is apparently now the place to go if you want to take an extended hiatus from any responsibilities. I heard Pat also paid a visit to Dr. Lewis Yocum recently after feeling dull soreness in his ribs.
5. The Jersey Shore. Back when Pat had a user profile (this was pre-image cleansing), he listed one of his interests as the Jersey Shore. This was well before the dawn of the best show in television history. But given his affinity for the area, his tendency to JD out on the beach all summer, and his tendency to rag on people with Italian-American heritages, this is a good choice.
6. Florida. It's been a whole five months since Pat has taken any kind of extended JDcation, and Florida was his most recent destination.
7. Aruba. It's a long shot, as Pat has hung out in Yankee favorite Sidney Ponson's homeland as recently as January. I don't see much reason to go to Aruba in the middle of the summer, and the same goes for Florida. But anywhere in the world could be a possibility.

Y'all have a good weekend.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What A Mess

Maybe it's a small sample size against a team that (despite the 2009 ALCS) might be in their heads. But the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim look like a complete disaster. Somebody over there has to lose their job after this season. Not sure if it's going to be Scioscia or Tony Reagins (whose contract is up at the end of this year), but something has to happen out there. As of tonight, the Angels are under .500 despite their $121 million payroll. Blame Theo all you want - and I will. But the Angels might lead the league in low ROI.

Tonight's game was not a Red Sox comeback as much as it was an Angels implosion. Lackey pitched another "bulldog" performance, surrendering five runs over seven. But somehow, the guy pulled out another win against his former team. The "somehow" means that Kazmir was short of okay and that Kevin Jepsen had more problems finding the strike zone than he had finding a) the ground and b) the body of a player straight out of Pawtucket. JD Drew "earned" an RBI the only way JD Drew earns RBIs when he's robbed of a day-off opportunity. We can complain about Manny Delcarmen, but at least we don't see stuff like that.

Remember when the Angels traded for Scott Kazmir when his trade value was at its all-time lowest? Yuck. Brian Fuentes walks a guy every other inning. Scot Shields, who used to be good, has shown the typical middle-reliever career path with his ERA over five. Fernando Rodney? Better at Guitar Hero than pitching. They lost Mark Teixeira, Vlad Guerrero, Chone Figgins, and John Lackey to free agency in the last two offseasons without even trying. This leads you to wonder: Who are they paying all this freaking money?

Oh, right, Torii Hunter. Good.

The bottom line is that this team has the chance to challenge Texas for the division title, but that chance probably got stretchered off the field with Kendry Morales the day he hit that walkoff. Seriously, do the Red Sox have five wins after the All-Star Break, all against the Angels? What a freaking mess.

One more thing about Kazmir, who is cooked, toast, the next Jaret Wright, washed-up, and over-the-hill: He's over four months younger than top prospect 46, who has sore ribs but a lot of upside and has the potential to grow into his body and become a 20-HR hitter.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Getting Tough

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Yankees responding to losing a hard fought series against Tampa Bay. They have not, going 6-8 since losing the rubber game of that series, making them 6-9 in August. DV talked about in the comments section last week that it seemed like the Yankees were going to go on one of those stretches where you could not gain ground on them. Not true. While the comeback win that directly fueled that comment was typical of one of those Yankees stretches, they have left the door wide open for both the division and the Wild Card. The only reason Tampa Bay and Boston aren't gaining much ground, if any, is because they are playing similarly poorly.

The biggest concern for the Yankees right now, and the biggest cause of this mediocre play, is the lack of consistently tough offensive performances. Now, they lead the majors in runs, so obviously they don't have a problem compared to the average team. But we have reached a point in the season where comparisons to the average team are borderline irrelevant. The standard the Yankees should be compared to is that of a World Series winning caliber team.

Right now, there offense is not able to get there every night. DV talked about the Yankees execution of a gameplan last week. And that is right on point. They are able to do so often, and that is why they lead the majors in runs. But then they take games, bunches of games, completely off. Not just in terms of performance, which is going to happen. But in terms of focus, in terms of grinding, in terms of toughness. It's one thing to hit one night and not the next. It's an entirely different thing to be able to execute a particular approach one night and not the next. A little over a week ago they made John Lackey and Josh Beckett look like minor leaguers on back to back nights, and a few nights later worked Cliff Lee, got into the Texas bullpen, and staged a major comeback win. Then they scored 4 runs, 3 runs, 0 runs, and 1 run in four of their next five games against Kansas City and Detroit, looking mostly lethargic.

There are acute examples of a lack of execution of a gameplan and approach within these games, like Jorge Posada swinging at the first two pitches - and grounding out - when Jose Valverde had just walked Robinson Cano on 4 pitches to leadoff the 9th inning, with the Yankees down 3 runs. If it's a tie, one run, or two run game I like the first pitch swinging there. Chances are pretty good a pitcher will try to get a fastball over to start a count after walking the prior batter on three pitches. Good time to look for a cookie and try to tie or win the game with one swing. But down three with one on? Take a strike. This type of stuff is confusing standing on its own, but compared to how machine-like this offense can look when it is focused and is executing a gameplan, it's even more confusing. Again, variations in performance are expected. Execution in terms of approach and gameplan should be more consistent for a team with the talent and aspirations of this one.

What execution of approach and gameplan come down to at the end of the day are toughness. Nine individuals committing to a gameplan and trusting each other to stick to it and believe in it equally. Not taking at bats off. Not taking entire games off. Not taking entire stretches of games off. Grinding every single at bat no matter what the score. Playing with a little lack of offensive focus is somewhat more understandable when you've clinched the division or a playoff spot in September. Not when you're tied for the division lead in mid-August. That's how the Yankees offense has looked lately. The performance doesn't have to be there, because that will come from a lineup this talented if the approach is there. What this team needs to do right now is improve the consistency with which they bring a good approach up and down the lineup. That's what wins in big spots in September, October, and November.

Happy Birthday!

A quick post with enough sarcasm to last the rest of the night:

Welcome back to Dustin Pedroia and happy birthday to the guy who won the American League MVP at age 25. It's safe to say that this former college player is probably at the height of his career.

Pedroia is exactly twenty-five days older than former college player 46, who is not even close to the height of his career. He is really young and has a load of potential if only he can his ribs healthy. He probably needs to drink more milk, as he has brittle bones, probably because he just hit puberty and has a lot more growing to do.

Red Sox fans are incapable of thinking.

By the way, Ryan Kalish is not even 22 1/2 years old. Between his play in A, AA, AAA, and MLB this year, he has to be the organizational player of the year, even if Adrian Beltre runs into him and ends his season tonight.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Losing in Every Possible Way

There are a lot of ways to lose baseball games. And after the Red Sox had Daisuke Matsuzaka throw a pretty decent game on Sunday and lost with a Manny Delcarmen meltdown, I realized that they have really lost spectacularly in every possible way this year. Usually such a criticism is reserved to a team that is especially awful. But this is a Red Sox team that the optimists are still considering a playoff contender. It's been reasonably impressive to take a step backwards not only on the Texas series, but on the whole season and take a look at all the ways the team has found a way to lose.


-Bullpen turning a close game into a blowout (Sunday).
-Starters blowing a big lead (Friday).
-Bullpen blowing a big lead (Ramram!).
-Offense not showing up (much of the injury era, Tampa games).
-Fielders imploding systematically (much of April and May - passed balls?).
-Walkoffs (Friday again).
-Battling back from a large deficit and falling short (one Detroit game).
-Battling back from a deficit to tie the game and then lose subsequently (at least one Yankee game).
-Battling back from a large decicit, taking the lead, and blowing said lead (pretty sure this happened).
-Baserunning blunders leading to losses (another April/May malady).
-Middle reliver failure in a tie game (no specific examples).
-Closer failure in a save situation. (Most notably Thursday and at least one NY game).
-Setup man failure in a save situation (several occasions).
-Starters getting shellacked from the get-go (Wakefield - we'll get to you later in Pat's sore rib rehab).
-Starters walking their ways to losses (Wakefield, Matsuzaka).
-Starters pitching five innings and imploding in the sixth (Matsuzaka vs. Garza).

I'm pretty serious. This Red Sox team has lost fifty-two games, and it seems like, while some of their wins have been uneventful, each of their losses is spectacular in one way or another. I'm running the risk of sounding like Tim Kurkjian right here, but each Red Sox loss has been like a snowflake: Each is different. It's been interesting this year to see not whether they're going to lose, but HOW they're going to lose.

And once again, what's the most interesting part about it is the fact that this is not a god-awful baseball team. It's a reasonably-skilled team, and a reasonably-enjoyable team that has, to their credit, overcome quite a bit. I guess if they just lie down like the 2006 team, their losses would not have been so spectacular.

They have not yet gotten no-hit. However, there are forty-three games left. A lot of people are saying that the 2010 Red Sox are a "boring" team. I disagree. Both with their fight despite all the injuries and by the diversity of ways they have found to lose (and win) baseball games, it has NOT been a boring team. People just say "boring" because they don't want to say "So You Think You Can Dance is on instead.

106 More Indictments of the Red Sox Doctors

Sometimes, apparently, seven years of medical school are not enough. Because this weekend, I had further proof that the Red Sox' medical staff has done a crummy job handling the team's injuries.

I'm not even talking about 46 and the relapse of his sore ribs Friday night that might indefinitely postpone Game 19 of his 2010 season. I wrote back in July that while the first and foremost antagonist on the 46 saga is 46 himself, the fact that the team wouldn't pony up the dough to MRI its future multi-million-dollar investment (front and back, of course) is troubling.

Past issues with players, including the Curt Schilling surgery debate, JD Drew not playing for a month but never going on the DL, nobody figuring out what's wrong with Jed Lowrie, and others along the line, have to further make you think that it might be time for the team to make a change from the Thomas Gill et. al. group. The team used Dr. Arthur Pappas for a long time, and then he eventually fell out of favor. The Gill group is starting to do the same thing, and I'm starting to think that a team's group of doctors have a certain shelf life before they lose the confidence of the players, organization, and even fans.

Let's just say that in hindsight, I'm glad the phone just rang off the hook when, at my orthopedist's request, I called Dr. Gill's office for a second opinion on my own 2010 injury.

This post is entitled "106 More Indictments..." because I ran 106 miles this week, about 90% of my usual capacity. This is a mark I have not come close to since the first week of January. I accomplished this task within five weeks of the same sports hernia surgery Mike Cameron is planning on having after the season. Not to say I am never in pain: I still occasionally have to ice the area and I still have not touched a weight or done an abdominal exercise since the July 8th surgery.

Cameron was diagnosed with this condition the same day I was diagnosed with it: April 20, 2010. If he went in for surgery, like a professional athlete should be, on April 21st, and his recovery were the same as mine, he would have been back in the lineup by June 1st. We may have never heard names like Daniel Nava or Eric Patterson, ones that, while they may have been momentarily heroic, shouldn't be ones associated with a playoff-contending major league baseball team.

So here I am with healthy legs and on the comeback trail to relevance in the running world, and I am asking the following: Why is the team's $15.5 million investment Mike Cameron still sitting and waiting for surgery? It's another embarrassment on the track record on this medical staff.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Setting the Bar

Rough 24 hours. As I wrote in the comments section Thursday morning, I went to bed at a reasonable hour last night (tonight, as you can tell by the time stamp, not so much). Life was looking good. The Red Sox scored ten runs, JD Drew is starting to look like he wants to play baseball a couple times before hunting season, and Buchholz bailed out the bullpen. Also, the Yankees were getting blown out.

Then I woke up this morning and saw the guaranteed four-game deficit was now a five-game deficit due to a Marcus Thames-induced comeback. What the F.

The day game progressing well and John Lackey pitching as well as he thinks he always pitches was a nice experience on MLB.com's Gameday, and was starting to counteract the fact that Marcus Thames wrecked my morning. Then Jonathan Papelbon wrecked my afternoon.

It doesn't matter which way you massage the stats: Papelbon has been bad this year. Lou Merloni has said both on TV and on the radio since the blown save this afternoon that in seventeen outings, he's only let up one run before today (the Detroit game). That's like saying Papelbon only had an ERA of 1.85 last year, same figure as his good 2007 season. Misleading and disrepectful to anyone who's actually been watching instead of looking at Excel spreadsheets. The guy is a heart attack almost every time out there, and it's been that way since 09 or perhaps even before.

The days of saying he should be setting the bar for future closers getting paid...or by saying he should be closing the All-Star Game at the Old Yankee Stadium...might not be over. But they will probably just emphasize his membership to the Patrick Club.

Three issues to discuss here, and my take because this is my blog. You have your chances in the comments section:

1. Who's taking the blame for this one? For me, it's Papelbon and Papelbon alone. For many others, it's Francona. Should Francona kept in Lackey after the Bautista home run instead of running toward his security blanket? Lackey had only thrown 98 pitches, but what if pitches 99-105 were close to as bad as pitch #98? Completely conceivable. Francona would have been crushed for NOT putting Papelbon in. So I feel like the manager was in a no-win situation. I'm a fan of keeping your starter in until he gets in trouble. Giving up a bomb qualifies as trouble.

What about putting Bard in earlier? This is a more legitimate beef. Papelbon was fooling nobody, and even the ground balls hit off of him were hit hard. And Bard would have been rested after not having to pitch for a couple of nights.

2. How does this affect team chemistry? The first two wins were huge, and seeing Lackey bounce back from probably his most-disappointing overall performance (given the spot) of the year was similarly uplifting. All Papelbon had to do was hold a two-run lead with nobody on. That should not be hard. And I think Lackey knows that. We know that Lackey holds teammates accountable for sucking, and we also know that Lackey doesn't like getting lifted from games. Did Lackey go K-Rod on Papelbon after the game? I'm sure this doesn't help things.

3. Who should be the closer? This could further put chemistry in jeopardy. I'd say stick with Papelbon, because promoting Bard (unless Papelbon literally goes Keith Foulke, Johnny from Burger King and everything) would result in Papelbon saying F it and JDing the rest of the season. The first time Bard blows a save or has a shaky save, there would be calls to put Papelbon back in. The way I see it, changing would create even more havoc than there already is in that bullpen. If they're going down, they should be going down with the best setup man in the game and the twelfth-best closer. This is better than the fourth-best closer and a setup man with demons inside his head.

Enjoy yo weekend. Next week we'll play Where In The World Is Pat? And send your congratulations to Jason, who Saturday will prove that you can be a regular blog commenter and still get married someday.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Era Starts Tonight

Pat was going to write tonight from the undisclosed location, but knowing that I'm already way ahead on posts and topics, he decided to write 5/9 of it and take the rest of the night off. He was satisfied with his comment the other day so he decided he deserved some time off. Yes, that is a reference to JD Drew's game tonight.

Tonight's an exciting night, and it's something we didn't get much of a chance to talk about because the trade deadline was over the weekend this year. But everyone was talking about how the Red Sox did virtually nothing at the trade deadline. I disagree. They picked up Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is one player Theo Epstein and I have shared wood for over the course of the last three or so years.

The guy is not exactly young anymore - he's four days younger than me - but he's still almost 18 months younger than infantile prospect with tremendous upside #46. He's had many difficulties since being traded to Texas in 2007, such as platooning with Gerald Laird, not playing more than a third of a season, and most notably having a spectacular case of the yips where he couldn't throw the ball back to the pitcher. But someone get the guy a good hypnotist, and it very well might be the same old G. Still can hit, still has power, still has a strong arm.

Saltalamacchia, as you hopefully recall, was traded with Ron Mahay for Mark Teixeira in 2007. He is a former first-round draft pick. He was mentioned in the same breath as Weiters and Mauer for a period of time, and he was the guy who created quite a clamor on How Youz Doin Baseball when the options were to trade Buchholz for this guy or suffer through another two years of Varitek. I didn't want Laird. I didn't want Teagarden. I didn't want Max Ramirez. I wanted this guy.

And here we are, his value is the lowest it's ever been, and the Red Sox got him. At best, this guy could give the team leverage when negotiating for Victor Martinez and/or hopefully getting rid of the guy who doesn't realize it's not hockey because he's back on track to stardom. At worst, he's Jeremy Hermida, a guy failing to resurrect his career in Boston. But this guy for a pair of minor leaguers and cash? What a steal.

The comeback and the beginning of the Jarrod Salalamacchia era in Boston started unofficially tonight, as he was activated and came in at the end of the blowout. But he's starting tomorrow. The era officially starts Thursday night.

Between the beginning of the Saltalamacchia debut and the third episode of Jersey Shore, there is absolutely no reason to watch the worst programming on television, otherwise known as preseason football Thursday night.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Decrease the Surplus Population

You never know what kind of references are coming from my posts. Last night it was Jay-Z, tonight it's Charles Dickens. But before banging on my main point of the night, tonight was a good win. This win is not entirely uncharacteristic of this team. Losing a game like this, however, also wouldn't be uncharacteristic. The offense hands Matsuzaka a lead. He blows a lead. Drew gets his weekly hit to give a lead. The bullpen (Doubront tonight) records blown save #17. Then they win. Mike Lowell, not surprisingly, is minimizing the damage from the Youkilis injury.

Okay, on to my point. This is something that was mentioned at least in passing in the last two comments sections. Due to the fact that both instances were later on in the day, they may have gotten less exposure. But it's a series of excellent comments and excellent ideas. But here it is, four months into John Lackey's and Josh Beckett's new long-term (2014!) contracts, and people are starting to say, oh F.

Reasonably so. Unless you ask John Lackey about it, both of them have more or less been disastrous on the aggregate this year. Beckett especially, with the 4.20 ERA in his five AL years(Felger's new favorite stat), is a questionable signing. But unlike the Yankees, as Pat has harped upon quite a bit, the Red Sox are digging themselves into a hole with their lack of "roster flexibility." Beckett, Lackey, and Lester aren't going to be the long guy in the bullpen, no matter what. They have the rotation on lock until literally 2014. Matsuzaka, same thing, until 2012. And Buchholz, the one who has shown the second-most potential, is under the team's control until 2012 as well (and may potentially get a mid-term deal at the end of this season).

What does this mean?

Well, maybe it's an indication that the team might not have too much faith in its current crop of pitching prospects. Doubront is not going to ever get a spot on this team's major league rotation. Wakefield's not going to get his remaining wins. Michael Bowden, Kris Johnson? Forget about it. Even Casey Kelly might be working his way toward being a trading chip down the road. An interesting business practice, and not one that I particularly like.

Because let's say either Lackey or Beckett are worse next year than they are this year? Not inconceivable. What if this happens and Kelly has a season like Buchholz did last year, 12-1, ERA of 1.80? Kelly's staying in AAA and the Bridge to Nowhere continues for another year in 2011. Good. Either that or a phantom DL stint somewhere. But even that is a temporary fix.

What actually would happen is the Red Sox would start shopping these guys for $0.50 on the dollar, or perhaps shopping Matsuzaka on $0.60 on the dollar. They'd end up eating more contract dollars, continuing a disturbing trend that is currently resulting in this "bridge" team having an embarrassing $170 million payroll. I bet Theo Epstein, like Scrooge, would wish one of his crappy starters died to "decrease the surplus population." That'd be the easiest solution.

And this is the case until 2014. This is another example of shoddy planning and short-term prioritization of shiny things instead of taking a long-term look.

And yes, this is a habitual thing. They did this with the shortstop position. Hanley Ramirez was traded away in a controversial move because their general manager got excited about the availability of Edgar Renteria. They did this with the center field position. Signing Coco Crisp to an extension before his first game in a Red Sox uniform, as I said this afternoon, was one of the most insanely idiotic things Theo Epstein has ever done. They had a first-round draft pick tearing up the minors and showing potential of hitting .353 for a September, stealing a base and winning a taco, stealing 70 bases in a year, and exaggerating a dubious injury. But they didn't trade Crisp as a stopgap. They extended him. Nice. The 2007 and 2008 seasons were sufficiently awkward and unnecessary, with a formidable major leaguer sitting on the friggin bench. Good job Theo. This, by the way, is why previous incarnations of my writing were always talking about the sky falling.

Just imagine if either Brandon Moss or David Murphy, both A-minus-level prospects at the RF position, were lighting things up after being traded to Texas and Pittsburgh, while JD continues to hit an unimpressive .260 every year until 2011. I'd have freaking snapped by now.

But the options are to trade the prospects or trade the underperforming, overpaid starters and eat more contracts. You'd think they'd learn about not doing that after paying the salaries of Crisp and Renteria. And especially if the team, beyond just Efficiency Police theory, is hesitant to get up above the luxury tax. But no. They decided to play softball on the Beckett extension instead of seeing what happened this year. Not a terrible move, but not a good one. But this is what we're going to be faced with for the next four years. Some Matsuzaka. Beckett. Lackey. Lester. And Buchholz. Nobody else.

Sure hope it works out.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Blueprint

David Ortiz would call this title his original thought.

Say what you want about Joe Girardi. You cannot deny that when he decides to put an A-team in the lineup, he gives good game plans. Not that I think a manager puts together game plans very often with 162 games to play every year, but I do think Girardi does that for his offenses more often than not.

And the guy knows how to beat the Red Sox' pitchers. There are blueprints to beat every single Red Sox starting pitcher but one. Luckily that was the one who pitched today. But let's go one-by-one here:

Wakefield: If it's high, let it fly. If it's low, let it go. This is also not an original thought.

Beckett: Take a look at the calendar and remind yourself it's not October 2003. Work the count. He's bound to do the following: 1) miss a corner, lose his s***, start jawing at the umpire, and walk a bunch of guys. 2) Fall behind in the count, float an unimpressive fastball, and leave himself prone to giving up bombs. 3) A combination of the two. The Yankees have employed this strategy to an exact science. For this, Girardi might deserve a Manager of the Year vote.

Buchholz: Similar to Beckett. Wait for a bad inning where he walks one or misses a call. If the inning doesn't happen, you're out of luck. But the inning usually happens. Work the count, walk, or wait for a hanging curveball. Once you pop, the fun don't stop.

Lackey: Nickel and dime him. Please refer to yesterday's post. He's not going to strike you out.

Matsuzaka: Unless you are hitting under .255 as a team, channel your inner JD Drew. Don't pick the bat off of your shoulder. You cannot live on the corners. Wait for him to walk the bases loaded, and then have fun with Scott Atchison time. Seriously though, if nine JDs were to put on pinstripes, what would Matsuzaka's line be? Would he walk as many as Beckett did in August 2006? Would he walk twelve? These are serious questions.

But seriously, what's the blueprint for Jon Lester? If he doesn't have it, sure, he can get whacked around. But if he has it, what do you do? It's not 2006 anymore where he's getting behind in the count all the time. I'd say the best way to combat Jon Lester at this juncture of the season is to do exactly what the Yankees did today. Try to knock him out of the game as soon as possible, maximizing innings from Delcarmen and Papelbon, whose number the Yankees still have.

The Yankees tried to do this today, and narrowly failed. Therefore, the Red Sox won. The Yankees are a better team who executes better and, frankly, manages better. The B-team stuff is perplexing. The bullpen management is also at time perplexing. But the rest of the American League have not figured out this blueprint. The Yankees have.

Also, 46 is a one-tool player.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

John Patrick Lackey

"Made a lot of good pitches. They kind of nickel-and-dimed me to death on that one...I made some good pitches, and had several balls kind of just out of reach. You can do what you can do. I executed pitches in that fifth inning. Just didn't have a lot to show for it."

Congratulations, John Lackey. You joined the Patrick club, an exclusive club honoring Ian Patrick Kennedy and other players who are in denial that they suck.

The guy imploded in the fifth inning Saturday afternoon. Very much like many other games all season. Look, I understand that balls in play are going to sometimes sneak through. But if they're good pitches, they are more difficult to a) put in play or b) hit hard through the infield. The Yankees obviously watched some John Lackey tape and realized that you don't have to "go big" against him. All you gotta do is wait for a pitch and hit it where nobody can get it. He's not an overwhelming power/strikeout pitcher anymore, and he hasn't been for a long time. The way to beat John Lackey is to put together a game plan to "nickel and dime" him.

John Farrell and Lackey have the responsibility to find some way to start missing bats again. Because he's not doing it. Yes, for the past several years, the guy has given up a lot of hits. But against lineups that don't suck, as we've already said, you have to start missing bats.

You also have to stop walking people. Surrendering three walks over the course of six at-bats is not acceptable behavior. Maybe you can get away with it against the Seattle Mariners, but not the Yankees. Not any team that can hit and not squander opportunities with great frequency. If you walk people in the AL East, you are going to have an ERA of four and a half and pretty much be the equivalent of setting $12,000,000 in cash on fire.

The media is crushing Lackey all over the place after Saturday, and they have brought the aggregate of his season into the picture. Completely fair and a completely appropriate time to do it, ESPECIALLY because the way he lost Saturday is the same way he's been getting lit up all season. Only difference is, he didn't get the typical 8-runs of support like he's happened to get all season. I identified Lackey as a player who had to step up the second half of the season. He's been better...kind of. ERA and WHIP are lower. These probably have a lot to do with the one start when he took the non-shutout no-hitter into the late innings. Lackey's still walking quite a few, and he's been wildly inconsistent in his two August starts, a loss to a team that can hit and a loss to a team that can't hit. Bottom line: He's been the same guy we've seen all year. This is not the guy from Anaheim. This is not $12 million worth of production.

The fact that he thinks he's pitching well is a huge concern.

I have a lot more to say about this series, especially as Beckett got shelled today and as I looked at some especially-interesting numbers tonight. Not to worry--I'll be writing all week for the next two weeks. Pat's taking an extended JDcation. Not sure where he's going - might be Arizona to rehab his ribs.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I Am Legend

I was at Fenway Park with my brother tonight (and saw Tim C on the Orange Line). The ballpark was at 75% capacity. Completely serious. It ended up being a pretty good game. Actually, I'm going to have to devote the next paragraph to the game, the actual game, when it matters.

Matsuzaka has the ability to be a good pitcher. It's clear just looking at the way he pitches against bad teams. He started pretty poorly today but then was unhittable. He was attacking the strike zone. He was executing a better Jason Donald game plan (i.e. "strike him out") than Armando Galarraga. He was inspiring awkward ground outs to Bill Hall and poorly-judged fly outs to Ryan Kalish. He was awesome. I am very curious how Matsuzaka would pitch if he didn't have a single game plan or a single scouting report and just pitched to everyone like he pitched to the A's and the Indians this year. And the Adrian Beltre home run was completely predictable. Big spot, Youkilis on the DL, Beltre's obviously going to crush one 450. Look, it kinda sucks that the team is pretty much out of playoff contention, but it is still fun to watch Beltre and make fun of the fact that 46 can only get on base by catcher's interference.

Okay, back to the 2010 fan experience. This is my first time at Fenway since the Coco Crisp series, when the team was climbing back into contention. The team had not essentially fallen out of contention earlier than they had any year this millenium. It didn't rain like a mofo in the afternoon. But it was the same as it has been since 2003: A lot of people there just to be seen and sing creepy songs about 11-year-old girls. Lots of packed seats because they economy was bad.

Tonight, I really thought my brother and I were in the movie I Am Legend. There was nobody there. The green line train, despite humid weather, was never unbearably crowded with sweaty people with B.O. It was no different from a Friday night going to the Dude The Bars Dude district. There was no evacuation-style clamoring out of the Kenmore station. There were few people to dodge on Brookline Avenue. The line to the turnstiles was literally five people long, and the line for food was even shorter than that.

My brother and I got to the ballpark at 6:30, forty minutes before the game. Pretty much peak hours to get to any baseball game. Yankee Stadium was freaking packed when I showed up there forty minutes before. The subway was also jammed with people, most notably airheaded female Yankee fans.

Oh, and one more thing. The guy passing out the Jesus literature wasn't even there. We had never seen anything like this before.

From our seats, we saw that one of the bleacher sections was 25% empty. Section 29 in the LF grandstands was half empty. After working in minor league ticket ops, I know that when the place is jammed, there are still quite a few empty seats. But it was notably empty even to an untamped eye.

When the stupid Neil Diamond song about the 11-year-old girl came on, less than half of the remaining attendees were fist pumping with the song. So not only are people no longer showing up to Red Sox games, but the ones who are showing up aren't the pink hatted yahoos. It was unbelievable.

Bottom line is the following two points:
-The Red Sox' sellout streak, as this Bloomberg Business article explains, is completely artificial because the team sells its remaining tickets to a third party. These tickets are counted as sold. And the third party very well may go out of business (originally my dad's idea) because I feel nobody is buying Red Sox tickets. This team is not selling tickets anymore, but they have still made money off of it and they are still maintaining a gimmick as artificial as baseball players. Both are good for business, of course. Judging by the T rides to the game, home from the game, and the crowds (there was nobody in the hot dog line in the third inning - literally zero people), I doubt more than 20,000 people (which is usually "announced" as 25,000 or more) were there to watch Game 11.
-The people who got excited after Game 2 of the 2003 ALCS are going back to watching Minute to Win It, America's Next Top Model, and Jersey Shore. The Pink Hat era of Red Sox baseball is possibly over. Even with its centerpiece 46 back in the lineup, they've completely lost interest because the team sucks again. It's kind of a shame, because there are compelling parts of this team. Watching the minor leaguers and Adrian Beltre keep this team close for so long is compelling. Much more likable than the 2009 team, I tell you that. But Red Sox fans, whom I have long told to go back to their shanties, have done exactly that. Sure, there are more than your fair share of obnoxious people all over the ballpark, but it will not be long until Sully from Medford and Murph from Lynn are able to get tickets again.

It was like I'm back in the nineties again. And while it might not be good for revenue (I'll use the typical sports fan excuse of "it's not my money"), tonight's Fenway Park excursion was the least inconvenience excursion to that place in over a decade. I'd stop short of saying I love it, because it means the team is playing poorly. But it is actually kind of a relief.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Responding

A period like the Yankees experienced from Friday of last week to Tuesday of this week was very likely to happen. The division is too good, and the schedule is therefore too tough, to just cruise to a division title. Cruising the Yankees are not, 12-11 in their last 23 games, mostly due to the 1-4 they were in their last five prior to Wednesday's win. 1-4 as a result of left hooks from Tampa Bay and Toronto. Again, that is going to happen. The Yankees did not play good baseball and the Rays and Jays did. It happened, and all the Yankees can do now is respond, and make sure this period ends right here.

The Yankees took a good first step in doing that today, getting starting pitching, relief pitching, and hitting to win the game cleanly. In a lot of ways I felt like this was the first test of the season for the Yankees. You could say the series at home against Tampa Bay coming out of the break, which they won 2-1. You could have said the series in Tampa last weekend, which they lost 1-2. But those were only really tests because they were playing another really good team. Wednesday against the Blue Jays was a test because of the circumstances. They were getting backed into a corner for the first time all season, with Tampa surging and the Jays just knocking them around. I heard someone say the other day something along the lines of that anytime the 2009 Yankees got backed into a corner, they came out swinging and restored order. Would the 2010 Yankees do the same thing? Test #1 passed. You don't get swept at home in August of a Pennant race if you want to be a serious baseball team. No surprise that Derek Jeter, having a subpar season, had his first 4-hit game of the year when the Yankees needed a win for the first time in a long time. That's what championship players, and championship teams, do.

The Yankees will another chance to show us whether or not they might be a championship caliber team this weekend, as Test #2 arrives in the form of the Boston Red Sox for a four game set this weekend. I suggested circling your calendars for this one a few weeks ago, and here we are. The Yankees have largely owned the Red Sox in August series between the two teams since 2006. For the Yankees, it's a chance to build on Wednesday's win, get out of this recent malaise, show that they can win tough baseball games, try to get back out in front of Tampa Bay, and try to put Boston in the rear view mirror at the same time. For Boston, this is an incredible opportunity to get back in the thick of these races, both for the division and the Wild Card.

For the Yankees, it's a chance to respond to the first punch they've taken in a while. I said before today's game that we would find out something about this team's stomach over the next five games. Today was a good start. We'll see what they do this weekend. We'll see how tough they are going to be. Tough is what this division and wild card races to the playoffs requires.

Quick thoughts on the Yankees trade deadline moves. Solid all around. The general sentiment has been that the Yankees didn't do anything of major impact, and that's because they didn't have to. They needed to tweak here and there, and that's what they did. I would agree with that assessment. They didn't give up anything major in terms of prospects, although that could change since there is a lot in Mark Melancon's record that says he could be very solid and Jimmy Paredes is young and has upside. But you give up a reliever that could be very solid and a young infielder with upside for Lance Berkman every time, especially when you are in a pennant race, trying to defend a World Championship, and have a legitimate need at DH. Berkman is a great fit with his high on-base ability, and I'd say he's a definite candidate to get the "Whoa, I'm on a winning team again" look that we all know so well and start hitting. Regular time at DH might serve him well due to his recent injuries as well. They got Austin Kearns and Kerry Wood for players to be named later, so there is even less downside there than there is with Berkman. Of the three, clearly Berkman has the best chance to make an impact. But Kearns provides nice depth, and Wood is a move that has upside with no downside, so it's worth the chance. Good job by the Yankees, these players could contribute and they didn't give up a ton to get them. However, the key for the Yankees is still to get Pettitte back, stay healthy, and have their core players produce.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Breaking News: Game Ten!

Part of the best thing about baseball is that, in the words of Billy Chapel in the movie For Love of the Game, "we count everything." That's partially why a lot of people got worked up over steroids - it affected the numbers. But when you reach big numbers - you know, like 600 home runs, 3,000 hits, 56 games in a row, 300 wins, it's a big deal. It's worth ESPN covering each of your at-bats so that nobody watching sports will miss the player reaching the milestone.

Well, tomorrow, there will be a major milestone happening in baseball. Maybe two, with Arod's 600th home run. Maybe not. But Red Sox outfielder 46 will be playing his tenth game of the 2010 season! That's right, double digits! The ironman with sore ribs will become the 34th player on the 2010 Red Sox to play ten games.

It has been a long journey so far, and it's involved 46 making great efforts to get back in the lineup, like a 10-minute impromptu press conference with note cards and a 2-month vacation in Arizona and away from his teammates. But here he is. August 4th will no longer be known as Roger Clemens's birthday. It will now be the point where 46 officially clinches playing baseball for 6.25% of a baseball season in 2010.

Historic.

So at least temporarily, 46's retaliation against the Boston Red Sox for moving him to left field, thinking he's a pussy, and not putting an MRI on the front...and back. As he said, "it's important to remember that. Front...and back." Okay, so they misdiagnosed your injury that would have been treated the same way. I understand the issue there. I actually ripped the team for it a few weeks back when I was couch-ridden.

But as you see Victor Martinez come back without a rehab at all, when you see Dustin Pedroia take grounders from his knees, and when you see Mike Cameron play 48 games without the use of his lower abs or basically his legs, you don't see anything wrong about what is basically a holdout and a temper tantrum? What about when the team is trucking out Ryan Kalish, Bill Hall, and Darnell McDonald in the freaking outfield? Obviously 46 is treating this situation with maturity and professionalism matched perhaps only by Colgate overachiever/$75K holdout/new HYD Baseball punchline Scott Nicholson.

The fact that he absolutely lit up the minor leagues for his prolonged rehab stint in the Gulf Coast League and Pawtucket are yet more telling that the guy, while he's not 100%, is hovering right about 99%. The guy can make Shelley Duncan-style acrobatic leaps to try to rob home runs in Pawtucket, but he apparently can't help the team win in Boston. Clearly this is the player's decision, the player's decision on whether he can play major league baseball or not, and the player does not want to play major league baseball. The comments, including his latest reiteration that he's "going to feel it all season," the same diagnosis that Doctor 46 made back in April, indicate an message of "I'm smarter than you, so F you and F the team whose doctors aren't as good as me and my Oregon State education."

The fact that he has played three games in the last sixteen weeks may have once been a way to make sure he's not wrecking his stats. But then it very clearly became retaliation against the team that's signing his paychecks.

"You don't want to shell out an extra $1,100 to MRI me front...and back? You don't want to play me in center? This is how important I am. I'm going to sit out while your team fades in the pennant race with 40% of Mike Cameron playing center field. We'll see how much of a pussy I am now."

I'm going to the game Thursday night and I am going to make negative comments mercilessly unless 46 is instantly traded for a player at least with the talent of Jonathan Van Every. Shaughnessy wrote this morning that 46's pouting in the dugout was like Nomar pouting in 2004. Fair, but there's a better similarity:

Back in 2008, there was a player pissed off that he got fined. During a pinch-hitting appearance, possibly to spite the team that did him wrong, he took three straight right down the middle against Mariano Rivera, losing the team the game. 46 is the exact same way by sitting out when he very clearly has been healthy.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Not Getting Fleeced

Many people and media types, including the guy I listen to on the way home from work(Massarotti), are disappointed about the fact that the Red Sox didn't do anything in the trade market this weekend. I understand their points. I understand the fact that the Red Sox' front office is basically sending a thinly-veiled message of "it's over," especially as they've been as aggressive as they were in many of the "hey, we're gonna contend" years. But I'm actually proud of Theo Epstein and folks. They proved again in 2010, just like they did in 2004 (in a move that I didn't agree with), that they're not going to pander to public opinion at the trade deadline.

I do think they will panic sometimes in the offseason, but that's a completely different story.

I am a fan of not getting fleeced, one way or another. And that's what typically happens at the trade deadline. I know here I am in grave danger of further Efficiency Police criticism, but I'm over it. At the trade deadline, one team is more desperate than the other, so the less-desperate team raises the price because there is such high demand for, say, Adam Dunn. If Dunn were to be traded, the Nationals would have gotten a king's ransom. All for what? Perhaps two or three games that might not have been won otherwise?

The best traditional (proven player to a contender for prospects) July trade I've seen since following the Red Sox was when the team got Rick Aguilera in 1995 in exchange for Frankie Rodriguez. Even if Rodriguez ended up panning out to be a good player instead of being out of baseball by the time he was 29, still a good trade. It was made on July 6th and Aguilera, perhaps the best closer in the game in that period, stabilized a bullpen that was previously anchored by Ken Ryan and Stan Belinda.

But even if the Red Sox had made a move with similar impact to the Aguilera deal, what happens? Do they acquire Dunn, score another half run a game, eliminating one blown save/loss by their bullpen? Do they acquire Scott Downs and eliminate Delcarmen innings or provide insurance just in case Daniel Bard doesn't last another two months, thereby eliminating one or two more blown saves/losses? Perhaps. But perhaps not. And even if they do, are they REALLY going to catch the Yankees or the Rays, or are they going to just look like they're trying? We are probably going to find out the answer is no within the next six days.

If this team really were close to contention - if they really were as close to as good as the Yankees or Rays are, which they aren't - yes, I'd be okay with giving up a high-level prospect or two like my boys Josh Reddick and Lars Anderson. Lance Berkman for Mark Maricon was, therefore, a good move, especially as it filled a need for that team. Sox already have too many corner infielders. I wouldn't give a lot of prospects up for a reliever, as we've discussed. By the way, am I supposed to be afraid because the Yankees upgraded from Chan Ho Park to Kerry Wood? Am I supposed to be afraid of Matt Capps and his ERA north of 6 on the Rays? That's making a move just to make a move. And asking for Casey Kelly or Jose Iglesias for a reliever in Scott Downs who has thrown months with ERAs over five twice in the last two seasons? No. That's trying to fleece the Red Sox for a slight upgrade.

And that's not okay.

Similarly, if the Red Sox are on the other side and they're sellers (which some people would prefer over doing nothing), are they going to take a bucket of balls for Adrian Beltre? No. The other team is more desperate. They should be willing to give something up for a rental of a guy who will probably hit 3 home runs off of one knee between now and September and might be the difference in a game or two.

Another thought, not that I actually believe in it, how much of a Jack Edwards story would it be if the Red Sox, battered by injury and shunned by their own front office, found a way to sweep the Yankees this weekend and move themselves back into contention? If it was meant to be, it probably would be with Dunn, but it also probably would be with McDonald and Patterson.

P.S. Mike Cameron should have surgery on his sports hernia this week. No more wasting time. He could be back by the end of the season. My surgery was 25 days ago, and I have run 83 miles in the past week.

P.P.S. Electric.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Who Cares About The Division Anyway?

I mean, it's not like it guarantees a playoff spot. Doesn't guarantee home-field in the first-round, or playing the weaker of the other two division winners (assuming two teams come out of the East and the team that wins it has the best record in the AL). Doesn't guarantee home-field in the ALCS either (again if 2010 keeps going this way). None of these things are important, so therefore it isn't that important to win games that count twice against what is currently your stiffest competition. Having a three game lead, putting pressure on the Rays to make up those games with no head-to-heads with the Yankees until mid-September, isn't really any different than having a one game lead, essentially making the division a toss up at the beginning of August. And that's before you even consider how very much within striking distance the Red Sox are.

This is how Joe Girardi "managed" Sunday's rubber game against Tampa Bay, which was probably the biggest game of the season to date. Sure, there will be more important games. But that doesn't change this being the most important game to date. Again, the difference between a three game lead and a one game lead is not inconsequential. Let's take a look at how Girardi approached this game:

- Alex Rodriguez, one of the most prolific run producers in the game in 2010 and the Yankees clean-up hitter, gets the day off. This after playing EVERY GAME against Kansas City and Cleveland the eight days prior to this big series.

- As a result, Ramiro Pena and his .210 batting average is in the lineup.

- Mark Teixeira, easily one of the best defensive first baseman in the game, gets a DH day.

- As a result, Lance Berkman, in his second day with the Yankees, gets a start at first base.

- Brett Gardner, who has the 5th highest OBP in the AL, gets the day off.

- As a result, Austin Kearns, in his first action for the Yankees, gets the start in left field.

- Kerry Wood, in his first game with the Yankees, comes in to get Longoria with nobody on and 2 out. This was fine. Instead of letting him finish on that high note in his first action with the Yankees, he comes back out for another inning to try to keep the deficit where it was in the 8th inning of a huge game. He loads the bases with 2 outs. Who does Girardi bring in? Long-reliever Chad Gaudin. Nothing against Gaudin, he does his job in his role. That's just not his role. Good job by him doing the job, but a good result doesn't make a wrong decision right. Just like a bad result doesn't make a good decision wrong. There isn't anything more to add, but even if there was, it wouldn't be necessary. Bringing in a long reliever with the bases loaded to keep a 3-0 deficit at 3-0, and get a crack at the Rays closer who has already worked both games in the series and took the loss the night before, pretty much sums up where Girardi was at with this one.

Listen, as DV and I always talk about, it's not that these things are bad individually. Players need rest, and managers do need to have the big picture in mind. These things are bad when too many of them happen at once. Really, there is very little reason for this at any point in the season, let alone in a game with the kind of implications this one had today.

For example, Girardi said Rodriguez got the day off because he had played 12 days in a row and didn't want him to play a third straight game on turf because last time he did that his hip started barking. Um, okay, you're the manager, do you look ahead on the schedule? If you know a huge series at Tampa is coming up, why not give Rodriguez a day of rest against Kansas City, Cleveland, or both? That solves the 12 days in a row issue. Then, you can give him a DH day against Tampa Bay so that he doesn't play three days in a row on turf. That solves the three days in a row on turf issue. This isn't rocket science. And this type of stuff goes for every starter on the team. Really, outside of Posada not catching all three games and Rodriguez getting a DH day, there is no reason for every starter to not being playing every game in a series this big.

Clearly, Joe Girardi didn't think this game was that big. Michael Kay said during the broadcast that you can't think a game is that big if Alex Rodriguez isn't playing, because he'd be playing in any big game no matter what. And he's right. True, it's not like this is the World Series, and everyone is going to playing no matter what. There is certainly some room for flexibility. The frustrating part is that what Girardi wanted to accomplish today could have been accomplished at another time and Rodriguez could have also played today. Not remotely mutually exclusive, and the way it was handled was totally unnecessary. He easily could have gotten his rest at a different time, and been involved in these games, since no matter how big you want to say they are or aren't, at the very least they are bigger than your average regular season game. So give a player this important rest during an average regular season game, and play him in a bigger game like this.

Regarding the newly acquired players, the same thing applies. It's not that playing them is bad by itself. That's why you got them. But giving Berkman his first start at first and Kearns his first start period in a rubber game against Tampa Bay just isn't necessary. That's not what's best for them as they try to get comfortable and it's not what's best for the team from a production standpoint. Especially when you have better options in Teixeira and Gardner. There are just better times to sit the normal starters and break the new guys in. Same goes for Wood.

The Yankees might have lost today anyway. But the fact that they lost with so many voluntary lineup irregularities in the same game is infuriating. Instead of gaining a game in the standings and having a decent cushion, it's basically an even race. At the end of the season, if it's close between the Yankees and Tampa Bay, it will be difficult not to look back at this game and wonder if the Yankees could have picked up two games instead of losing two had their manager not all but punted the game. Also makes no sense to do this with Sabathia, your best pitcher, on the hill. He's your best chance to win every five days. Looking at this series before it started, you thought if the Yankees split the first two, they'd have a chance to really drop the hammer Sunday. They were in that position, and Girardi did not take full advantage of the opportunity. Certainly, C.C. pitched well enough to win, and would likely have let even less runs in with Teixeira at first base (Berkman cost the Yankees one and maybe two runs).

I don't pretend to know everything, and nor should I. Maybe Rodriguez was barking. Maybe there was a reason for one of the other decisions besides just basic lineup making. But I find it difficult to believe there was a bigtime reason to sit Rodriguez, DH Teixeira, sit Gardner, start Pena, and give a newcomer his first action in the field and two others their first action period in a rubber game with Tampa when a 3 vs. 1 game lead in the division is on the line. It's possible that I'm wrong about this, and there are bigtime reasons for all of those things, but I doubt it.

Now it's up to the team to realize they are still up a game in the division, to keep playing good baseball, and grow the lead on Tampa Bay and Boston (the 4 game set with Boston, as I discussed recently, is going to be massive). It's also now up to Girardi to manage more appropriately to the situations that present themselves.