Sunday, March 30, 2008


115,300 fans packed the LA Coliseum to watch last night's Dodgers/Red Sox game in the latest chapter to an already bizarre March for the Red Sox. As you can tell from the pictures, the playing field had some interesting dimensions. The official distance to the left field foul pole was 201 feet, but was generally estimated at about 190. But a 60 foot mesh screen erected above the fence, which counted as a wall, would make bleeder line drive homeruns impossible. Center and right field were considerably more than 400 feet from the plate.

The defensive alignments displayed by both teams were also nontraditional. The Dodgers employed 5 infielders, which at one point saw Andruw Jones covering 2nd when Jacoby Ellsbury stole the base. The Red Sox shifted their left-fielder into left-center, assigning short-stop Alex Cora the responsibility of chasing down balls hit out there.

But despite the weirdness, predictions of high scores (such as Jason Varitek's forecast of an 85-81 victory, or Alex Cora's prediction of a USC football kind of score) were not meant, and a relatively normal 7-4 game was played.

Wakefield looked good through 5 innings but struggled in the 6th. Youkilis hit a towering shot over the 60 foot fence in left, and Kevin Cash added a homerun 20 rows deep into the left-center bleachers. Papelbon's line suggests he struggled, but he did have to pitch around a pair of errors.

The Red Sox have one final exhibition game against the Dodgers in the more traditional confines of Dodger stadium. Then it's time for games that matter...again.


Photo Credits:
AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian
AP Photo/Richard Vogel
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Perhaps the cheesiest headline I've ever come up with. Tim Thomas recorded his 5th career shutout with 34 saves, and the Bruins got 4 goals from 4 players. PJ Axelsson had his first score in 15 games to open things up in the first. Marco Sturm added to his team leading goal total of 27 with a power play score. Shane Hnidy scored on a shorthanded opportunity at the beginning of the third, and David Krejci iced it with 0:55 to go. Since getting that OT loss in Montreal, the Bruins are 3-0-0 and have outscored opponents 14-4 in that stretch.

David Krejci has blossomed from a clumsy 4th wing fill-in into a scoring terror. He's got the physical abilities of a great scorer; but more importantly, he's got the confidence, intelligence, and smoothness of a seasoned veteran, not just a 21 year-old kid (which is what he is).

Shawn Thornton didn't figure in any of the scoring, and had an even +/- on the night, but he had one of his better games. He racked up 9 penalty minutes, and each one helped the team. After Chris Neil laid a cheap-shot on Jeremy Reich, Thornton dropped the gloves with Neil, eventually taking him down to the ice. In the 2nd, Cody Bass was the cheap-shot artist, hitting Mark Stuart into the boards from behind. Thornton didn't even wait for Bass to accept the fight, he just went right at him and started throwing punches. Bass was left bloodied, and each got a pair of matching minors for charging and roughing. Shawn Thornton made it very clear to the Senators that cheap hits were not allowed in the TD BankNorth Garden.

So the B's get two vital points. Washington also won, so the Bruins remain a mere 2 points ahead of them. But Ottawa is starting to fall to us. They're only 2 points ahead, and the Bruins have one more game to play than they do. The Bruins play in Buffalo tonight, and with a regulation win will eliminate the Sabres from the playoffs.


Friday, March 28, 2008


Ben Watson has undergone surgery on his left ankle, which nagged him throughout the 2007 season. Watson missed 6 games due to this injury, which was induced by the Cowboy's Roy Williams, then reaggrivated in the Pittsburgh game. With mini-camp coming up in early June, recovering from the surgery will probably affect Watson's participation level. Not surprisingly, Watson and the Pats aren't divulging much information about the injury, or what effect it will have on mini-camp or training camp for Watson.

With the release of Kyle Brady a few weeks ago, this surgery means that David Thomas might be seeing even more playing time, which I don't think is a bad thing.


Thursday, March 27, 2008


After essentially knocking out the Maple Leafs from the playoff picture with a 6-2 win on Tuesday, the Bruins had a chance to make it mathematically official with a regulation win at home. The Bruins also needed a win to stay one step ahead of the 9th place Washington Capitals. And that's exactly what they got.

A brisk first period (which included a 12 minute stretch of whistle free hockey) ended 1-0 thanks to Marco Sturm, who netted his 26th of the season. David Krejci got the only assist, but Glen Murray deserved a nod as well. Sturm was the trailing man of the three Bruin forwards, and Murray's drive toward the net freed up Sturm on the wing, allowing him to score.

The Leafs came back with a strong second period effort, outshooting the Bruins 18 to 11. Jiri "Spell Check" Tlusty beat Tim Thomas to tie the game at 1-1.

The Bruins kicked it up a notch in the second, creating breakaway after breakaway. Kessel got in behind the defense thanks to some length of the ice passing behind him. All alone with just the goalie to beat, Kessel tapped home the go ahead goal. A few minutes later, Glen Murray added some insurance, making it 3-1.

The Leafs made it interesting when Krejci was called for a bogus hold, and Pavel Kubina scored from the right wing on a shot Thomas could have probably saved. Toronto goalie Vesa Toskola got an assist on the play, his 5th of the season, which I think is just a cool stat for some reason.

But the Bruins responded right away. Twenty-three seconds later, Peter Shaefer's shot deflected past Toskola to make it a 4-2 game.

The Bruins now sit in 7th place, tied in points with the Flyers at 88, but holding the head-to-head tie-breaker. The Senators come to town on Saturday, and the B's fly to Buffalo to play a game on Sunday.

The Capitals kept pace with the Bruins thanks to a 4-3 win in overtime against Tampa Bay. Washington has a pretty weak schedule for their remaining 5 games. But if the Bruins get 7 more points, they'll be in the playoffs no matter what.


Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Winslow Townson

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Rich Harden and Emil Brown led the Athletics to a 5-1 victory this morning. Harden went 6 innings, allowing 1 earned run, 3 hits, and striking out an impressive 9. Brown provided the offense, hitting a 3 run homer in the 4th to put Oakland up 4-0. The Oakland bullpen (comprised mostly of former Sox relievers), did not collapse this time. Santiago Casilla, BK Foulke, and Alan Embree combined for three scoreless innings to close the game.

The only offense for the Sox came off the bat of Manny Ramirez, who hit a solo shot in the 6th. Other than that, a few hits and walks scattered here and there was all the Sox could produce.

Lester didn't look very sharp. He had difficulty with his command, with his pitch to Brown the most glaring example of his many mistakes. It was a cut fastball that didn't cut, and wasn't all that fast. Lester went 4 innings, allowed 5 hits, 4 earned runs, 3 walks, and struck out 4.

But there were some silver linings to the game. David Aardsma made his Sox debut and pitched 1.2 scoreless innings with 3 strikeouts. Javier Lopez didn't allow any inherited runners to score. Manny seems to be starting the season off in stride, as is Julio Lugo.

But there is one huge negative from this series, and that was the performance of Jason Varitek. He was 0 for 8 with 6 strikeouts, and grounded into a double play. That's pathetic.

David Ortiz also didn't do much offensively (0 for 7 in the series), but he at least was able to work two walks. He also had two at-bats shortened thanks to the abundant foul territory of the Tokyo Dome.

The Man of the Game for Wednesday morning was Rich Harden, who struck out 9 men in 6 innings. It was the best pitching performance of the young season.


Photo Credits:
REUTERS/Kiyoshi Ota
REUTERS/Issei Kato
AP Photo/Koji Sasahara
AP Photo/David Guttenfelder

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


The Bruins came into last night's game with the Maple Leafs a mere 2 points ahead of Washington for the 8th and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Maple Leafs, on the other hand, were on the brink of elimination, essentially needing 4 points in their home and home series against the Bruins. Furthermore, leading Bruins scorer Marc Savard would be out for both games after Montreal's Steve Begin delivered a cheap cross-check to Savard over the weekend.

But the Bruins came out strong. 3:57 into the game, Glen Murray scored on the power play to put the Bruins ahead 1-0, a lead which they would not forfeit. David Krejci scored 1:12 into the second period, and Marco Sturm added a nifty power play score to make it a 3-0 game.

In the 3rd, it was 3-1 until Milan Lucic took advantage of Toronto's defensemen pinching to spring a breakaway with Shawn Thornton. A nice leading pass to Thornton led to the dagger goal. Phil Kessel scored at 16:16, and Jeremy Reich added an empty netter to end the game at 6-2.

With the Washington Capitals winning, the Bruins' lead is still 2 points, but they have a game in hand over Washington. The Maple Leafs are all but mathematically eliminated, 6 points behind Boston, with three teams in between them and the Bruins.

The two teams fly to Boston for a game on Thursday night. Then it's back-to-back games on the weekend against Ottawa and Buffalo.


Photo Credit:
Dave Sandford/Getty Images


Starting the season in Japan and at 6 AM was strange enough. But this morning's Red Sox game against Oakland surpassed strangeness, and entered the surreal.

After a very unique opening ceremony (including the mispronunciation of Clay Buchholz's (Byook-holtz) and Jacoby Ellsbury's (Jakob-ee) names, Daisuke Matsuzaka took the mound and was unimpressive. In fact, by the 2nd inning, I wanted him out of there. He was already 58 pitches deep by then, and had thrown 4 walks.

A solo homerun by Mark Ellis in the bottom of the 1st started the scoring. Daisuke followed that up with two walks and a hit batsmen. A bases loaded fielder's choice scored Oakland's second run. Although, Matsuzaka himself made a great play on the ball himself, looking more like a ranging short-stop with a barehanded pickup and an off-balance throw to first.

Matsuzaka was on the verge of a quick and scoreless 2nd inning when all hell broke loose. With a run and 2 outs, Matsuzaka got ahead of Mark Ellis 0-2...then walked him. Daric Barton also found himself in an 0-2 count before walking. A somewhat generous called third strike on Jack Cust ended the inning without any damage, but Daisuke was already up to 58 pitches.

The Sox threatened in the third. Lugo hit a hard line drive single up the middle. Youkilis scorched a ball up the third base line, but Jack Hannahan was there. Youkilis legged out the infield single, but Hannahan prevented extra bases, and possibly a run scored. Ortiz hit a bullet, but right into the overshift, and the inning ended with no runs scored.

Daisuke once again got a pair of quick outs in the 3rd. Then he walked Hannahan, and my stomach fell. At that point, it seemed as though the 3rd might be his last inning of work. Kurt Suzuki hit a hard line drive, but Lugo leaped into the sky to grab it and prevent the inning from getting any worse.

Dice-K had an 8 pitch 1-2-3 4th inning, which was precisely what he and the Sox needed. He then retired the side in order in the 5th. But at 95 pitches in a late March game, he was done. He went 5, allowed 2 hits, 2 earned runs, 5 walks, 1 homer. He was lucky that it wasn't worse, but he also was able to settle down for those last 6 outs he got.

In the 6th, a Pedroia double and a Youkilis walk started a Red Sox rally. Manny knocked them in with a double to left. Then Brandon Moss - who was in for JD Drew who was scratched due to a back problem - singled to knock in Manny. Then the parade of former Sox pitchers started with Alan Embree, who struck out Varitek to end the inning and the rally.

The 3-2 lead didn't last very long. Kyle Snyder came in and was greeted with a leadoff single, and a two run homer struck by Hannahan. Snyder settled and retired the next 4 men he faced before Javier Lopez got the ball, and got two outs to end the 7th inning.

Bryan Corey made his Red Sox debut and recorded a perfect 8th inning, as did Keith Foulke, who replaced Embree. I'm surprised Hipolito Pichardo didn't come out of Oakland's bullpen.

Closer Huston Street came in to pitch the 9th. But Brandon Moss erased the lead with a 1 out solo homerun, his first in Major League Baseball. With the game tied at 4, Okajima came in to pitch the 9th. He allowed a walk, but that was about it.

Lugo led off the top of the 10th with a single. Pedroia bunted him over to 2nd, Youk struck out, Street intentionally walked Ortiz, then Manny knocked in Lugo and Papi with a double to right. Lenny DiNardo came in and got the last out of the inning, but the Sox had a 6-4 lead with Papelbon coming out of the pen to pitch the bottom of the 10th.

Coco Crisp made his first appearance of the season pinch running for Manny in the 10th. He traded places with Ellsbury and patrolled center-field in the bottom of the inning. Cora also came in as a defensive replacement for Lugo.

Papelbon allowed a very rare leadoff walk to Barton. Cust went down swinging, but Emil Brown hit an RBI double to make it a one run game. Brown got caught in the rundown and was eliminated by your standard 9-4-3-5-6-3 play.

But the A's weren't done, Bobby Crosby and Jack Hannahan each hit singles. But Paps induced a groundout from Kurt Suzuki to end an insane opening game.

The Man of the Game is Manny Ramirez. He went 2 for 5 with a pair of doubles, and 4 RBI. He also scored a run. The only Sox scoring he wasn't involved in was Moss's solo homer.

That's about $10,000, by the way.

Brandon Moss gets an honorable mention for his day; an outfield assist, and a game-tying homerun are both very nice.

It was hard to tell if Daisuke's struggles were due to nerves, or merely a continuation of his problems from last year. In 2007, he had tremendous difficulty at times, especially with putting batters away after getting ahead, and missing with his pitches. Only 51 of his 95 pitches were strikes, and many of the strikes he threw missed their intended targets. Fortunately, the A's aren't a very good hitting team and were unable to fully punish Daisuke or the Sox for his subpar outing.

Terry Francona once again wore his pullover, spurning the Terry Francona rule forbidding the use of such apparrel. I wonder if MLB will back up their threats and fine him.

I didn't understand Jason Varitek batting 7th, in between Moss and Ellsbury. I didn't mind Moss hitting ahead of Ellsbury, but to divide two quick outfielders who can hit with a slow catcher who can't hit just doesn't make much sense.

The Red Sox send Jon Lester to the mound tomorrow morning/night/whatever, to face Rich Harden.


Photo Credits:
Junko Kimura/Getty Images
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
REUTERS/Kiyoshi Ota
REUTERS/Issei Kato
REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Monday, March 24, 2008


Just to let everybody know, the Red Sox will be playing the Oakland A's on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The games will start at 6:05 AM Boston time, which is 7:05 PM Tokyo time. The games will both be on NESN inside New England, and on ESPN 2 outside of New England. In Boston, the games will be on WEEI 850 AM (as well as WROL 950 in Spanish), and will be on the WEEI/WRKO Red Sox Radio affiliates throughout New England.

The games will also be on XM Radio, with three different feeds.

Oakland Feed: XM Channel 178
Boston Feed: XM Channel 177
Japanese Feed: XM Channel 179

I am definitely going to check out the Japanese feed.



It's hard to believe that the start of the season is less than 24 hours away...and a few thousand miles away on another continent.

The Red Sox beat the Hanshin Tigers 6-5 on Friday, behind a lackluster start from Buchholz. The Sox scored 4 runs in the first, added a 5th in the 2nd, and their final run in the 6th. Buchholz was tagged for 4 runs off 6 hits and a pair of walks in 3.2 innings. But Kyle Snyder bailed him out big time. Snyder came in with the bases juiced, but stranded all three men. Javier Lopez, Manny Delcarmen, and Papelbon each threw a scoreless inning of relief.

The Sox won with the longball. Ortiz hit a solo shot in the first, and a few batters later Drew belted a 3 run blast.

Drew had a big "night" on Sunday, as well, against the Yomiuri Giants. JD hit a 6th inning Grand Slam off American minor league journeyman Adrian Burnside to put the Sox ahead 4-2. In the two game series, Drew was 2 for 7 with 7 RBI, more than half the Red Sox offensive output. Grab him in your fantasy leagues, he's available and will have a good year.

Jed Lowrie also hit a homerun. Brandon Moss was 2 for 2 with a double and 2 RBI. Youkilis was 2 for 3, and Crisp went 1 for 5 with a triple. Wakefield started and went 5.2 innings, yielding 2 runs (only 1 earned) off 5 hits, and a walk. He struck out 3. Okajima pitched a scoreless inning against his former team (don't get to say that often with Hideki). David Aardsma pitched around a jam he created, and Tavarez tossed a scoreless 9th.

The A's also swept their games with Hanshin and Yomiuri, albeit to smaller crowds.

I would have loved to see these games, maybe ESPN could have tape delayed them for us? They're already over there for the regular season games, why not broadcast an extremely rare thing like David Ortiz face Testuya Utsumi in front of 44,000 Japanese? I guess The Deuce wanted to use their precious broadcasting time to show Skip Bayliss arguing with his breakfast cereal.

The Baseball Cube

Photo Credits:
Junko Kimura/Getty Images
AP Photo/Koji Sasahara
Globe Staff Photo / Barry Chin

Friday, March 21, 2008


The Red Sox can bring 30 players to Japan, 28 of which will be eligible to play in the games against Oakland, with the normal 25 man roster in effect for those games. In other words, two players will go to Japan but CANNOT play in the games against Oakland, and three players will be healthy scratches from the day of game roster.

So here is the 30 man roster for the trip:

Starting Pitchers:
Clay Buchholz
Jon Lester
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Tim Wakefield

Relief Pitchers:
David Aardsma
Bryan Corey
Manny Delcarmen
Javier Lopez
Hideki Okajima
Jonathan Papelbon
Kyle Snyder
Julian Tavarez
Mike Timlin

Dusty Brown
Kevin Cash
Jason Varitek

Sean Casey
Alex Cora
Mike Lowell
Jed Lowrie
Julio Lugo
David Ortiz
Dustin Pedroia
Kevin Youkilis

Coco Crisp
J.D. Drew
Jacoby Ellsbury
Bobby Kielty
Brandon Moss
Manny Ramirez

Wakefield and Buchholz are slated to start the two exhibition games, which means they're the most likely candidates to be kept off the 28 man roster. Then I'd bet that Lowrie, Brown, and Moss are the ones kept off the 25 man roster.

Hartford Courant


Last year, the Red Sox bullpen was a key reason why the team won the World Series. Led by All-Stars Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima, the 2007 Red Sox bullpen had the second lowest ERA in baseball at 3.10, as well as the lowest opponents' batting average at .226.

But a major reason for this success was STARTING pitching. The starters went deep into games which kept the total innings thrown by relievers to a minimum. The Red Sox bullpen pitched 447.0 innings, the 3rd lowest total in baseball. The Sox starters threw the 4th most innings in baseball at 991.2. This translates into 6.12 innings per game. On average the Sox bullpen only threw 2.76 innings per game (the reason 6.12 and 2.76 don't add up to 9 is the discrepancy caused by extra innings games, weather shortened games, and games in which the home team doesn't bat in the 9th).

With Papelbon and Okajima each going an inning, in theory, the rest of the Sox bullpen would only have to pitch in less than an innings worth of work, on average. This was why the Sox had a bullpen ERA of 3.10.

But will that be the case in 2008? Both Schilling and Colon will be coming off injuries (assuming they eventually come off them), and neither are in tip top shape. Lester has a major difficulty keeping his pitch count low enough to go deep into games. And Tim Wakefield has shown a propensity for being figured out by opposing hitters, forcing him to leave early.

If the Sox starters can't get to a total of around 980 innings, the bullpen will become a major problem. It just isn't deep enough to handle that kind of workload.

Now for a look at the bullpen from top to bottom:

Jonathan Papelbon returned as the closer in '07, and did extremely well. He had 37 saves, with only 3 blown saves (92.5%0). He also added a pair of holds. His WHIP of 0.771 was outstanding, his ERA of 1.85 was great, and his 84 strikeouts in 58.1 IP were beautiful.

He also had a perfect post-season, going 10.2 innings, not allowing a run, allowing only 5 hits and 4 walks, striking out 7 and going 1-0 with 4 saves. He saved games 2, 3 and 4 of the World Series, which was huge because Okajima appeared to run out of gas in October.

In 2007, the Red Sox tried to keep Papelbon healthy. The collapse of the '06 team happened at about the same time as Papelbon stopped pitching, and the Sox wanted their premier closer to be healthy in September and October. So they avoided pitching him for more than an inning (only went more than 1.0 IP in three games). They avoided pitching him more than two days in a row (only had one stretch of 3 consecutive games). They gave him regular rest and regular work whenever possible. And it worked.

Papelbon isn't a guy who will go out there and get 50 saves. The Sox won't let him. He isn't a guy who will make 75 appearances, or pitch 100 innings of relief. The Sox won't let him. But he is a guy who will make about 60 appearances, around 40 saves (with very few blown saves), and give you a solid 60 innings of work. He'll be the glory end of the bullpen once more, getting 36 saves, with an ERA below 2.00 and a WHIP below 1.000.

Hideki Okajima made his debut as a Red Sox Star on April 20th, when he pitched a hitless 9th against the Yankees, earning the save in a classic 7-6 victory. After allowing a homerun in his MLB debut on April 2nd, he didn't allow another run until May 22nd. He recorded 5 saves and 27 saves for the Sox.

Before August, Okajima was one of the best relievers in baseball. He was named to the All-Star team, had an ERA of 0.87 at the end of July, and had only 1 blown save. But in August, things stated to unravel. He allowed 6 runs in 10.2 innings in August (5.06 ERA), then allowed 6 more in 6.2 September innings (8.10 ERA). It got to a point that the Red Sox had to shut him down for a bit. The rest seemed to work as he pitched well in the ALDS and CS. But in the World Series, particularly Game 4, the mediocrity returned.

I'm not doctor, but what Okajima went through at the end of the 2007 season was a lot like what Papelbon went through. The stress of pitching so often wore him out. The Japanese baseball season is about 20 games shorter than the Major League season.

In 2006, Okajima made 55 appearances for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, pitching 54.2 innings. The Japanese leagues also have a different, and shorter, playoff system. Instead of a best of 5 series (LDS), then two best of 7 series (LCS and World Series), the Japanese have a qualifying best of 3 series between the 3rd and 2nd place teams in the league, with the winner advancing to a best of 5 series with the top placed team. The winner of the best of 5 plays the opposing League champion in the Japan Series. So to summarize, an American post-season can be as long as 17 games. A Japanese post-season can only last for 13 games.

Hideki's statistical decline began right around the time he reached the 54 inning mark at the end of July. This was what he did in an entire year in Hokkaido, but the season was only 2/3 over in Boston.

It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox try to keep Okajima fresh in the same way Papelbon was kept healthy. Okajima was the go-to-guy in '07 whenever Papelbon was unavailable to close, but that stress proved costly at the end of the year. The Sox should make a considered effort to keep Okajima's innings to around 10 a month in order to keep him on his game in September and October.

Mike Timlin was solid in 2007, making 50 appearances with an ERA of 3.42. But he missed most of the month of May, and didn't pitch in very many close game situations. With Okajima, Papelbon, and a strong starting staff; he didn't need to. He tallied 8 holds, a save, and 2 wins.

But Mike turned 42 a few days ago. He's pitched 17 Major League seasons, and over 1,100 innings. Throw in 48 post-season innings, and he's over 1,200. In '03, '04, and '05, he was pitched incessantly. Since then, he's been a semi-mop-up kind of guy, or a reserve set-up man. He's gone from late relief to middle relief.

Like Papelbon, and Okajima, the Red Sox will have to keep a close eye on Timlin's innings and appearances. I doubt he'll pitch two games in a row, or go more than 1.1 innings. He'll be a means to fill the gap between the starters and the finishers. But a means that can't be used very often. Fifty appearances sounds just about right for him. Anything more and his arm might fall off. 56 appearances will put him 6th on the all-time list.

Timlin is a solid experienced pitcher, which will help out younger guys like Papelbon, Delcarmen, and even Okajima. Having 4 World Series rings tends to do that.

Javier Lopez's 2007 numbers are slightly deceiving. He had an ERA of 3.10. But ERA for a bullpen pitcher (especially one like Lopez who comes in with runners on, and rarely pitches to more than two batters) is a useless statistic. He had a WHIP of 1.328, which isn't bad, but isn't good. Opponents hit .240 off him, with an OBP of .335. Again, not bad, not good.

What bugged me about Lopez is that his role was that of a situational lefty. He was brought in to get lefties out, then removed from the game after 1 or 2 batters. But lefties hit .293 off Lopez, with a .366 OBP. Lopez inherited 49 runners in 2007, and 15 of them scored (31%).

For comparison, here are how the other Sox relievers did with inherited runners:
Manny Delcarmen - 26 inherited, 5 scored, 19.2%
Hideki Okajima - 28 inherited, 4 scored, 14.3%
Jonathan Papelbon - 19 inherited, 5 scored, 26.3%
Kyle Snyder - 19 inherited, 6 scored, 31.5%
Julian Tavarez - 7 inherited, 1 scored, 14.3%
Mike Timlin - 25 inherited, 6 scored, 24.0%

Papelbon and Snyder have high percentages, but they're utilized best when starting a fresh inning anyway. But a guy like Lopez is used in the middle of innings, WITH RUNNERS ON. But 3 times out of 10, those runners would score.

These runs had no impact on his ERA. He allowed 14 earned runs all year, but 15 more runs were allowed when he was pitching. Furthermore, inherited runners he left to other pitchers (mostly to Okajima or Delcarmen), were frequently stranded.

The fact that lefties hit well against him, and that he struggled with inherited runners (not a new thing for him, he's inherited 199 runners in his career, 52 or 26.1% have scored) adds up to one thing:


I'm not saying he's a bad pitcher, but the role he fills right now simply isn't for him. He could be a decent middle-reliever, pitching in the 6th inning, eating up innings in 4 or 5 run games in order to save strain on Timlin or Okajima. But coming in to face a tough lefty with a runner on? That's bad news.

Manny Delcarmen will be a key to any success the Red Sox have in 2008. He had a solid 2007, making 44 appearances, pitching 44 innings, with an ERA of 2.05. Opponents hit .183 off him, with a measly OBP of .270.

With Papelbon, Okajima, and Timlin all limited in terms of innings and appearances, Delcarmen will be called upon to fill in the voids. He'll be used as a set-up alternative to Okajima, and he just might have to close a game or two in a pinch.

Delcarmen is an X-factor. What he'll do in a full Major League season is unclear. But if he can give the Sox 60 or 70 solid innings, with an ERA at around 3.00, the Red Sox will become an extremely powerful team in the late innings. But if he falters, or has to go down to AAA, the Red Sox bullpen will begin to collapse.

Kyle Snyder is a decent man for the job he does on the team. He's the long-relief, the mop-up, the guy who goes in there when the starter is pulled in the 4th. He's the guy who pitches the 15th and 16th innings of a marathon game. He put up an ERA of 3.81 in '07, and for his role, that's pretty good.

Snyder wasn't needed too much last season. He only made 46 appearances for 54.1 innings. That was a good sign that the starters were going deep into games. But with the cast of characters assembled for 2008, he might be needed a bit more often.

There are some rumblings of Snyder being a starter, at least at the beginning of the year. But I don't see that happening unless there's an emergency. The Sox would use Buchholz, and Tavarez before Snyder got a crack at starting. Moreover, Snyder's history as a starter isn't a very attractive one.

Julian Tavarez is a man who may begin the season starting games, but will eventually find himself in the bullpen. He had a below average 2007, with occasional sparks of brilliance overshadowed by consistently poor performances.

When the Red Sox acquired Tavarez, he was coming off two very good years with St. Louis and a solid season with Pittsburgh. But since coming to Boston, he's struggled.

The only explanation I can come up with is that he has no consistent role with the Red Sox. He's started 29 games with the Sox, and he has never been a good starter. He's finished 13 games, and has made 50 other relief appearances. He's all over the place.

Then again, if you look at his career in its entirety, he's never been consistent. In 1997 and 1998, he pitched solidly for the Giants, making 149 relief appearances with an ERA of 3.83. Then in '99, he makes 47 appearances with an ERA of 5.93.

There's a reason why the Red Sox are Julian's 8th different team. His performance is a massive question mark every year.

I'm not gonna lie, I have no clue as to what Tavarez will do in 2008, and neither does anyone else. He might pitch great, fit in as a set-up man, or even in the rotation as the #4 or #5 starter, but he might go out there and rack up a 6.23 ERA.

David Aardsma holds the notable distinction of being the first man in an alphabetical list of every Major League Baseball player ever. He was also one of the few additions the Red Sox made over the off-season.

He's only 26, but he's already with his 4th organization. A good way of looking at this deal is to say that Aardsma is the bullpen's version of Bartolo Colon. He doesn't cost the team that much, but he has a significant amount of upside.

Aardsma has had a few decent years in several minor league systems. After being drafted out of Rice, he dominated at A+ San Jose with a 1.96 ERA and 8 saves in 18 games. In 2004, the Giants promoted him up to AAA Fresno where he had a 3.09 ERA and 11 saves in 44 games. He spent 2005 at AA in Norwich (San Francisco) and West Tennessee (Chicago Cubs), and did well, even starting a few games.

In 2006, he made 29 appearances for AAA Iowa, and 45 appearances for the Cubbies. He didn't do badly in his first consistent amount of Major League work. He was 3-0, had 5 holds, a 4.08 ERA, twice as many strikeouts as walks, and an opponent batting average of .214.

But he faltered in 2007 after being traded across town to the White Sox. He had a 4.33 ERA in AAA Charlotte, and a 6.40 ERA in 25 appearances for the White Sox.

But he's got potential. He can strike guys out and make a lot of appearances. He won't be starting this season with his 4th different AAA club (at least not yet), which I'm sure will be a major relief for him.

The word "journeyman" comes to mind when Bryan Corey's name is mentioned. The Red Sox are his 9th organization, and he's actually changed teams 10 times. He had two non-consecutive stints with both the Cubs and Tigers. He's played for 13 different minor league teams. If you're planning on touring the PCL, he's the guy to ask where the good bars are in Des Moines.

Corey's had some modest success in the Majors, but nothing amazing. He's at the bottom of the bullpen and will probably throw more pitches at McCoy Stadium than in Pawtucket.

Twenty-seven year old Connecticutter Crag Breslow will start the year in AAA, but he did decently in limited time with the Big Club in '07. He hasn't put up the kind of miles that Corey has, but his career is shaping up to be that of a journeyman's. Don't expect to see much of him unless he's filling in for someone else.

A glimpse at Craig Hansen's teams in 2005 tells the story of how much was expected from him. He made 30 relief appearances and 1 start for St. John's University. Then he made 2 appearances and pitched 3 innings for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox. Then he made 8 appearances with AA Portland. Then he made 4 appearances for the Boston Red Sox.

Then in 2006, he only made 19 minor league appearances before once again pitching in Fenway, and once again he struggled. Before last year, spent entirely in Pawtucket, Hansen had more Major League appearances and innings than minor league.

It's easy for me to say in hindsight, but bringing a kid up so quickly, especially a pitcher, is just a bad idea. You can bring hitters up right out of college. Hitters are used to slumps and occasional failure. Hell, great hitters FAIL 2 out of every 3 times at the plate. But pitchers are different. They have sporadic bad outings, but most of the time it's a cakewalk.

Just imagine this: you're a pitcher. You've DOMINATED every level you've pitched at. Little League, AAU, American Legion, high school, college. Then the World Series Champions draft you 26th overrall, and you go to Fort Myers, do well, then you go to Portland, do well. And then you make your Major League debut and throw a perfect inning of relief, striking out 2, against the D-Rays.

You're on top of the world. You're rich, you're in The Show, you go to any bar in Greater Boston and score, then you come into the 7th inning of a 2-0 game in Baltimore.

You strike out the first batter. You give up a single to the next guy, no big deal. Then Melvin Mora comes up. You make one tiny little mistake and BOOM it's a homerun, the games tied 2-2, just like that. You get a groundball off the next guy, then Jay Gibbons singles up the middle and Javy Lopez doubles to left field. You get pulled with the go ahead run on 3rd, and eventually saved by Mike Myers.

But you realize that this is some hard stuff. Guys like Gibbons and Lopez are dime a dozen in The Show, but to a guy who's used to making Villanova hitters look silly, they mind as well be Babe Ruth.

A few days later, you're put into a 5-5 game in the 8th inning with 1 out and runners on 2nd and 3rd. You give up one fly-ball, it drives the runner in. Someone else gets the earned run and the loss, but you were the one on the mound when the winning run scored.

Pitchers are supposed to be nurtured and developed through the minor leagues. Some guy might already have the mechanics down, the pitches set, and his location perfect; but there's more to pitching than the physical side. You need confidence. You need to be able to brush off a mistake. You need to stay calm and relaxed.

Craig Hansen never got a chance to learn all that. He was brought into the Majors way too fast, shoved into the position of back-end relief before he framed his degree.

Unfortunately, Hansen will probably never be what he could have been, at least not for the Sox. A change of scenery might do him good, and there are plenty of teams willing to wager on his stuff.

The Sox bullpen will look strange when they're in Japan. With only two starters necessary for the trip, an 11 man staff would include 9 relievers. This means guys like Aardsma and Corey will make the trip. But when the real season begins, the pen will probably look like this:

Closer: Jonathan Papelbon
Set-up: Hideki Okajima
Set-up: Manny Delcarmen
Set-up: Mike Timlin
Mid-relief: Kyle Snyder
Long-relief: Julian Tavarez

And maybe Javier Lopez as a situational lefty (gag).

That's not too bad. But in order for it to be succesful for the entire year, Papelbon, Okajima, and Timlin need to be protected. Their innings need to be monitored very closely. This means Delcarmen has to fill those innings with quality. And the starters have to go deep into games like they did last year.

The Japan Times
The Baseball Cube


The term "clutch" is one of the most over-used and under-defined words in sports. I've always defined clutch as coming through with MAXIMUM performance in the most difficult AND important of times within a game. No player truly is "clutch." Guys like David Ortiz are simply clutch very often. And guys like Alex Rodriguez are rarely clutch.

Last night, the Celtics were clutch. They outscored Dallas 28-20 in the 4th. Ray Allen made a monstrous 3 pointer with 0:31 left to give Boston a two point lead. Garnett defended Nowitski perfectly, within an inch of fouling him, forcing a missed lay-up with 0:21 on the clock. James Posey made two free throws to make it a 92-88 game. KG made two free throws with 0:05 left to ice the game at 94-90.

The Celtics are 7-0 this season against the Southwest Division (Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans), arguably the best division in the NBA.

I like hockey better than basketball, but watching the Celtics beat Dallas (I now hate Dallas because of their new point guard) made me feel better after witnessing the Bruins collapse 4-1 to Montreal.

The Celtics look to go 8-0 against the Southwest on Saturday when they go to New Orleans.


Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Major League Baseball will pony up the dough in order to compensate the Red Sox coaches and staff making the trip to Japan. The Red Sox started their final Grapefruit League game against Toronto about an hour late. They will board the flights for Japan as originally scheduled.



The Red Sox players voted unanimously to not go to Japan unless their coaches, training staff, and other support staff were compensated for the trip. Apparently, when this whole Japan trip was planned, the coaches were each promised a $40,000 stipend. Since then, it has been decided that they won't get anything for making the trip to Japan.

Furthermore, the Red Sox refused to play today's Grapefruit League game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Fort Myers. They simply stayed in the dugout.

As I'm in the middle of writing this, Extra Bases is reporting that the Red Sox will take the field at 1:10 and play their game against the Blue Jays. But there is no word yet on if the Japan situation has been resolved.

This is one of the few times at which I'm in support of a professional athlete's "labor" movement. The Red Sox are supporting their coaches, using the massive leverage they have as stars to help out the guys like first base coach Luis Alicea, who doesn't have much leverage in a matter like this.

Let's hope someone ponies up the couple hundred thousand for the coaches.

Extra Bases


The Patriots defensive line did what it is supposed to do in a 3-4 alignment: not get noticed that much. They absorbed blocks well (particularly Vince Wilfork in the middle), created gaps, and allowed the linebackers an opportunity to make plays.

The Patriots defense allowed the 4th fewest points in the NFL (17.1 per game), sacked the opposing QB 47 times (2nd in the NFL behind the Giants), had the 6th best pass defense in terms of yards per game (190.1), and the 10th best rush defense in terms of yards per game (98.3).

However, those defensive stats are skewed. The Patriots offense was so good and put up so many points early in games; that opposing offenses were forced to pass the ball. This allowed the Pats' defense to tee off on the quarterback, and play a pass-oriented defense.

The Patriots allowed 4.4 yards per carry on the ground, which was 26th in the NFL. That number is atrociously poor. And in close games, the opposing teams took advantage of this below average run stopping to drain the clock and get first downs on the ground.

The quality of a defense starts and stops with the defensive line. The Patriots' defensive line will look very much the same in 2008 as it did in 2007. Seymour and Warren on the ends, Wilfork in the middle, Jarvis Green coming in on the outside, and Mike wright (who recently signed a new deal with the Pats) backing up in the tackle position.

The Patriots lack a quick upfield rusher on the outside of the line. Seymour and Warren - both tackles in college - are good at holding up the offensive linemen, but neither possesses the speed to go upfield like a Dwight Freeney. Then again, very few linemen in the NFL posses that kind of speed.

I'd like to see more 4-3 played by the Patriots, especially with an ancient tedy Bruschi in the MLB spot. Jarvis Green was 2nd on the team in sacks with 6.5. Warren had 4, Wilfork had 2, and seymour only had 1.5 (although he missed considerable time with an injury). A front four of Green, Seymour, Wilfork, and Warren would be menacing. Green could rush hard off the end, and Wilfork could use his strength to plow through up the middle.

Adalius Thomas will probably see most of his time at OLB in 2008, and he too can come up and play defensive end. He tied for 2nd on the team with 6.5 sacks, and a full season on the outside should see that number increase. Mike vrabel can also play end should the need arise.

Overall, the defense performed solidly, but they didn't make the massive game-changing plays we've seen from them in years past. Seymour was mediocre in the games he played, which was a big part of this.

The likelihood of a suceptible defensive secondary is very high in 2008. But holes like that can be hidden with a powerful pass rush driven by the defensive line. The Patriots must figure out someway to get more pressure from the line in order to be succesful in 2008.



The OTHER March Madness, the one on ice, is entering its second phase this weekend. Last week saw BC sweeping Providence in 2 games, BU beating UMass-Lowell 2 out of 3, Vermont squeeze by Northeastern in 3 games, and UNH obliterate UMass-Amherst in 2 games. Now it's time for the Hockey East Finals and Semi-Finals, to be played at the TD BankNorth Garden. So if you want a little breather from basketball, check out the games on NESN. The Semi-Finals will be on Friday at 5 and 8 PM. The Final will be on tape delay Saturday night at 10:30.

Here is the bracket of the remaining teams:

Harvard is also in the semi-final of the ECAC tournament after blasting Quinnipiac by a combined score of 18-8 in three games. They play rival Cornell in Albany, with the winner advancing to the ECAC Finals against either Colgate or Princeton.

In order to make the 16 team NCAA Tournament, Harvard probably has to win the ECAC for the automatic bid, or make it to the finals and hope other games across the country produce perfect outcomes.

BC and UNH are probably already in the Tournament regardless of what happens this weekend, although the winner of the Semi-Final between them would be in much better shape. There's also the desire both teams have to play in the Northeast Region, held in Worcester.

Vermont is on the outside looking in, but not very far outside. A win against BU would go a long way to improve their standing, but they may need the automatic berth in order to make the tourney. BU is also just barely on the outside.

Late March is indeed the best part of the sports year. The college tournaments, the baseball season upon us, the NBA and NHL entering the playoffs, and the NFL draft coming up. Truly awesome time of the year.

I love it!

Hockey East
US College Hockey Online


Looking at this part of the schedule, Celtics fans may have cringed just a bit. Three games in four days against the Texas Triangle of San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas. But the Celtics have thus far shown that they are indeed the best team in the NBA.

After falling 22 points behind the Spurs Monday night, the Celtics rallied. They scored 82 in the final 3/4 of the game, triumphing 93-91. Pierce led the team with 22 points. Garnett had 21, Rajon Rondo had 20, and Sam Cassell added 17 off the bench.

But the road through Texas didn't get any easier. The C's had to take a 200 mile trip east to face the Rockets, who had won 22 straight. But a tied game at half-time was blown wide open in the 3rd as the Celtics opened up a 16 point lead. Paul Pierce once again led the team in scoring with 22 points. Garnett added 20 along with 11 boards.

The Celtics did all the things it takes to beat a tough opponent on the road. They outrebounded Houston 45 to 35. They got to the line often and went 15 for 17 from the charity stripe. And they got support off the bench. Leon Powe put up 21 points, and James Posey had 10 rebounds.

The Celtics have a well deserved day off, before travelling 240 miles north to face the Dallas Mavericks.


Photo Credit:
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


The newfound positivity in this town sickens me. Bartolo Colon can't even get out of the first inning, and the Glass Half Fulls out there are already ignoring the not so bright sides of his outing. And there was plenty on the not so bright side.

Colon's main problem was location troubles. I wouldn't say he was "wild" as indicated by his pitching line (0.2 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 0 HR). Of the 41 pitches he threw, 21 were strikes, 20 were balls. But he wasn't crazy wild, he kept missing in the same place. I don't know if that's good or bad because that place was up.

He struggled in the count, seemed to labor with the high pitch total, allowed silly walks, and left a pitch up in the zone for Matsui, who slapped it the opposite way for a ground rule double.

But the positivity in this town sucks.

Here's an excerpt from Jackie MacMullen's article about yesterday's game:

"It's undeniable that Colon had command problems yesterday, but he did catch Jason Giambi looking at strike three with a nasty off-speed pitch on the inside of the plate. That was just after he engaged in a nine-pitch battle with Bobby Abreu before walking him."

Nine pitch battles are bad things for pitchers. And getting Giambi to look at strike three isn't a major accomplishment.

I don't mind the team being overly positive. They have to be. But when fans and journalists start glorifying a 4 run first inning because the misplaced fastballs Colon threw hit 95 on an unreliable Tampa radar gun; they've crossed a line into dreamland.

Colon HAS NOT done anything to make me or any other sensible Sox fan think he will be a decent starting pitcher. I'm not saying he won't be one, just that he has yet to demonstrate that he can be one.


Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Monday, March 17, 2008


Josh Beckett is said to be "progressing" and has resumed throwing once more, but he will not make the trip to Japan later this week. Terry Francona officially announced this on Sunday.

Beckett will continue playing catch, and by Thursday could be throwing off a mound again. But with an exhibition game in Japan on Friday, and two real games next Tuesday and Wednesday; there simply isn't enough time to get him in good enough form to pitch in a meaningful game. Moreover, the 14 hour flight and general pain in the ass of going to Tokyo is unnecessary for a pitcher recovering from a back problem.

However, another Sox frontline starter may make the trip. Daisuke Matsuzaka's wife Tomoyo gave birth to a boy Saturday morning. This frees up Daisuke to make the trip to Japan.

There's no official announcement as to who will be starting the two games against Oakland in the Tokyo Dome. However, the logical choices now seem to be Lester and Matsuzaka. Wakefield is also a possibility, but he has said he'll be starting one of the exhibition games over the weekend.

Speaking of Wakefield, he threw 5 perfect innings against minor leaguers from the Cincinnati Reds' organization. Granted, it was a spring training game against AAA players, but 5 perfect innings is still impressive.

Extra Bases


This is the week in which copy machines in offices across America will be working overtime, and the Todds from Sales will be collecting money for "the pool." Every March, the randomness, excitement, and difficult to predict NCAA tournament brings out the latent gambler in all of us. Just like those grids on Super Bowl Sunday.

But why not photocopy brackets for the NIT, and the new Collegiate Basketball Invitational? Why not collect $5 for the women's bracket, or the Frozen Four? Half the people in bracket pools aren't college basketball fans anyway, so just because it's Virginia Commonwealth vs. Alabama-Birmingham and not Kansas vs. Georgetown doesn't make it a less exciting thing to bet on. The games aren't as good, but the gambling action is just as good, if not better.

Here are the New England teams playing in the post-season:

NCAA Championship Tournament:
The Huskies are the 4th seed in the Western Region. But they'll be playing their fist games in Tampa. They open up against San Diego on Friday. If they win, they'll face either Drake or Western Kentucky. UCLA is the #1 seed they're grouped with. Not surprisingly, UConn got a somewhat favorable seeding and placement. I hate UConn and hope they lose to Drake.

National Invitation Tournament:
The Minutemen went 21-10 and finished 3rd in the Atlantic 10, which earned them a #2 seed in the NIT. They'll host Stone Cold Stephen F. Austin University on Tuesday. Their grouping doesn't have a name, but if it did, it would be called "How the Mighty Have Fallen Region." It includes Maryland and Syracuse.

Rhode Island
The Rams had a promising beginning but couldn't take the big steps to get to the Big Dance. So they're stuck in the NIT as a 6 seed, facing Creighton on Tuesday night. URI began the season 14-1, with their only loss being a heartbreaker to Boston College. Losing close games would be a trend for the Rams, and they ended up 9th in the A-10 (which isn't as bad as it sounds, there are 14 teams in the A-10).

Collegiate Basketball Invitational:
The Brown Bears finished 2nd in the Ivy League and 19-9 overall. They're part of the 16 team CBI and will play Ohio University on Tuesday in Athens...Athens, OH.

Not listed is Boston College. That's not too surprising, but when you consider that 113 D-I teams made it into a post-season tournament, it really shows how much of a rebuilding season this was for the Eagles. Of the 12 teams in the ACC, 8 made it to a tournament (4 in the NCAA, 3 in the NIT, 1 in the CBI).

As a New England sports fan, I'm a little disappointed by these fields of tournaments. I'll root for URI in the NIT, but it's difficult to watch an entire NIT game and pretend to care. And UConn...well...the less said about them the better.

Remember the days when BC and/or UMass were forces in the NCAA tournament? Remember when underdog hopefuls like Vermont and Holy Cross would capture the imagination of New England for 2 hours? Now look what we're stuck with...UConn. Makes me sick.

College Basketball Invitational
National Invitation Tournament

Sunday, March 16, 2008


The Celtics have clinched their 26th divisional title, and their first since the 2004-05 season. I know I don't write about the Celtics too often on here, but that's mainly because there's not much to say after they play except "KG, Pierce, and Allen were great. Everyone on the team played well. The other team didn't stand a chance. Detroit sucks."

Just to demonstrate how well the Celtics have played this year (and how poorly they've played in years past), they could lose EVERY SINGLE GAME they have left, and finish with their best winning percentage since 1990-91.

The C's have a 4.5 game lead over Detroit for the #1 Eastern Conference seed. The Celtics have 17 regular season games left, Detroit has 16. The Celtics also hold the head-to-head tie-breaker against Detroit, so the Magic Number to clinch home court advantage throughout the playoffs is 12.



After a thrilling 3-2 overtime win over the Flyers on Saturday, and a slightly disappointing 2-1 shootout loss to Washington yesterday, the End Game for the Bruins' regular season has begun. The B's are in the middle of a maelstrom of teams jockeying for the 8th and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Six teams are in contention for the last three playoff spots, and are all within 5 points of each other. Here's how the situation looks right now:

6. New York Rangers - 83 points - 10 games remaining
7. BOSTON BRUINS - 83 points - 9 games remaining
8. Philadelphia Flyers - 80 points - 9 games remaining
9. Buffalo Sabres - 79 points - 9 games remaining
10. Washington Capitals - 78 points - 9 games remaining
11. Florida Panthers - 78 points - 8 games remaining

Here is the remaining Bruins' schedule:

3/20 vs. Montreal
3/22 @ Montreal
3/25 @ Toronto
3/27 vs. Toronto
3/29 vs. Ottawa
3/30 @ Buffalo
4/2 @ New Jersey
4/4 @ Ottawa
4/5 vs. Buffalo

So that's a pair of games against the top team in the East (New Jersey), two games against a team the Bruins haven't beaten this year (Montreal), and two MASSIVE games against a surging Buffalo team that's on the playoff bubble. If the Bruins can get ten points in these games (remember, it's two for a win, one for a loss in OT), they'll probably make the playoffs.

The Bruins haven't made the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2003-04. They haven't advanced past the first round since 1999.


Friday, March 14, 2008


In a not so surprise move, Curt Schilling was placed on the 60 day DL. The difference between the 15 and 60 day disabled lists isn't just the length of time. Being placed on the 60 day DL clears a spot on the 40 man roster. The word is that Schilling won't be back until the All-Star break. Which to me means he won't be back until August.

But the news out of Fort Myers isn't all bad. The Red Sox clinched their 6th Mayor's Cup on Wednesday with a 12-7 win over the Twins. The last two times the Sox won the Cup (2004, 2007), they went on to win the World Series.

Hartfor Courant

Thursday, March 13, 2008


In a bit of a surprise move, the Red Sox have placed Doug Mirabelli on irrevocable waivers. The 37 year old catcher has seen his solid offensive numbers collapse in the past few years. In 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 - his first seasons with the Sox - he hit .247, slugged .459, hit 33 homeruns. Those were very good numbers for a backup.

But the last three seasons have seen a considerable drop. He's hit .206 since 2005, with a slugging percentage of .363. He's still hitting the occasional homerun, with 17 in the past three years, but every other aspect of his game at the plate has fallen off. Last year, he struck out about 4 times as often as he walked, and once every 2.78 at-bats.

The Red Sox now have three candidates for the backup catcher's role. Kevin Cash did a solid job catching Wakefield last year, but he's having a mediocre Spring, and only hit .111 in limited time with Boston last year. George Kotteras is hitting .500 in Grapefruit League play, and Dusty Brown is hitting .556.

Although he wasn't that great, Doug will still be missed. Here is a video tribute to him, showing all of his homeruns from 2004 to 2007.

USA Today
CBS SportsLine


The most important position is starting pitcher. Those clowns who claim that a pitcher shouldn't be eligible to win MVP because hey don't play every day have a fundamental comprehension problem when it comes to the game of baseball. Pitching isn't everything, but on the list of the top 5 most important things in baseball, it's numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4.

The Red Sox allowed the fewest runs in baseball last year, a poultry 4.1 per game. In the playoffs, the Sox allowed 3.3 runs per game. And that's why they won it all. It wasn't Ellsbury's "excitement" or David Ortiz's "clutchness" or even Mike Lowell's stability. It was good, solid pitching.

Starting pitching is also the biggest reason why the Red Sox bullpen was statistically the best in baseball. The bullpen wasn't deep last year. Apart from Papelbon, Okajima, and Timlin; it was a crapshoot. But with good starters going deep into games, mediocre arms like Javier Lopez's were kept relatively unexposed.

This year's rotation has more question marks than Matthew Lesko's jacket.

Who will be the #5 starter? What will the Sox get from Colon? When will Schilling return and what will he give the team? How will Daisuke pitch now that he's had a year to adjust to America? How will young guys like Lester and Bucholz perform? How will Wakefield's back hold up? And the latest question: When will Beckett be ready to go?

Despite the recent back spasms, Beckett is the most reliable and undoubtedly the best pitcher in the rotation. he's an Ace, a bona fide Ace. He was the only 20 game winner in the Majors in '07, was 6th in the AL in ERA at 3.27, was 7th in strikeouts with 194, was 6th in WHIP at 1.14, and should have won the Cy Young.

His post-season numbers were even more impressive. In 4 starts, he went 4-0 with 30 innings (7.5 per start), 4 earned runs (1.20 ERA), 19 hits, 2 walks (0.70 WHIP, which is absurd), and 35 strikeouts (10.5 K per 9 IP). Just to put things in perspective, Erik Bedard led the AL in strikeout to walk ratio with 10.93 to 1. Beckett's K/BB ratio in the post-season was 17.5 to 1.

Last year he did a good job of becoming a complete pitcher instead of just a hard thrower. He kept his walks down (only 40, compared to 74 BBs in '06), and kept the ball inside the park (17 HRs in '07 compared to 36 the year before). He turns 28 in May and is in the prime of his career. Look for more of the same from Beckett in 2008.

Then things get a little messy. Who is the #2 starter? Well, with Beckett out, Schilling out, Matsuzaka expecting a baby and Colon still doing bullpen sessions; it will probably be Lester or Wakefield who gets the ball for the 2nd game of the year. But that should change.

The fact of the matter is that the Red Sox don't have a #2 starter, at least not at the moment.

The Sox hope that Daisuke Matsuzaka steps up into the role of #2 man on the rotation. Dice-K was a bit of a disappointment last year, but that was mainly due to the incessant hyping he received before the year began.

In his "rookie" season, Matsuzaka appeared on several different statistical leader boards. He was 9th in the AL in hits allowed per 9 innings with 8.40. He was 6th in strikeouts per 9 innings with 8.84. He was 9th in homeruns allowed with 25. He was 6th in walks allowed with 80. He was 6th in strikeouts with 201. He was 4th in hit batters with 13. He was 6th in earned runs allowed with 100.

When Daisuke was in Japan, he was so much better than the hitters over there, that he could simply toy with them. He could fall behind in the count, waste multiple pitches, and dance around the plate. He could then challenge hitters over there and almost always came out the victor.

But Major League hitters are on a much higher level. They take pitches, they know the strike zone. They're fearless. They crush mistakes about 95% of the time. They're exhausting to face. They work the count and understand how important the count is.

One major difference between Nippon Professional Baseball League and the Majors is that in Japan, the more pitches a hitter sees in an at-bat, the more lost he becomes. But in America, the more pitches a hitter sees in an at-bat, the more tuned in he becomes. Daisuke averaged 3.98 pitches per plate appearance last year, and 17.0 pitches per inning. There's no denying his arm strength to do this, but when you show Major League hitters that much, they will figure you out.

In order to become a good Major League pitcher, Daisuke will have to do something similar to what Beckett did. Instead of relying purely on natural talent, he will have to become a pitcher. He'll have to understand the dynamics of the count, understand the psychology of a Major League hitter. He'll have to throw first pitch strikes. He'll have to be able to throw strikes without challenging hitters. He has the ability to do all of this. But it's up to him, pitching coach John Farrell, and Jason Varitek to help him get this done.

If he doesn't become more of a pitcher, expect more mediocrity and inconsistency in 2008. But if he learns from last year and straightens himself out, he will become a force.

I think he'll improve on his performance and by the end of the season settle into the #2 spot. I see a 17 win season with an ERA in the 3.75 to 3.95 range. Good, but not great.

And things get even more messy...

Like Daisuke, Tim Wakefield was a member of the not-so-prestigious 100 earned run club in 2007. Don't let the 17 wins fool you, Wakefield had a dreadfully average year in 2007. His ERA of 4.76 was just above the league average of 4.74. He allowed 22 homeruns and walked 64 batters. His WHIP of 1.349 was, in a word, unimpressive. And now his age becomes a question. Wakefield was unable to play in the World Series last year, and he turns 42 in August.

Wakefield benefited from being in the same division as the Devil Rays. He went 4-1 against Tampa. He also loves pitching in domes. He went 3-2 against Toronto. In domed stadiums, he was 4-1 with a 1.69 ERA. Perhaps the Sox should look into building a dome over Fenway after all.

Looking at Wakefield's numbers, a trend becomes apparent. He was great for the first few innings, then was beaten up, usually around the 4th or 5th. He started 31 games in '07, and failed to go 5 innings in 4 of them. He failed to go 7 innings in 19 starts. He'd go 3 or 4 strong innings, start to falter in the 5th, then collapse in the 6th or 7th.

Here is a glimpse at opposing hitters' performance based on Wakefield's pitch count:

From pitches 1 to 45, opponents were 77 for 345, which is a .223 average. From pitches 46 to 75, hitters were 71 for 226, which is a .314 average. Wakefield only averaged 93.2 pitches per start, his lowest total since 1999, and 2nd lowest in his career. This was due to his inability to pitch well after passing 45 pitches.

The problem with Wakefield isn't just that he tires out and loses his edge after 45 pitches. The main problem is that he has one pitch. Once he goes through the lineup once, hitters will adjust to that one pitch. At first, it causes problems for them, as illustrated by their .223 average early in games. But once they see it, they figure it out, and Wakefield is doomed.

Considering his age, his numbers, and the type of pitcher he is; I think Wakefield would be perfect for the bullpen. The knuckleball would be the ultimate change of pace if Wake came in after a guy like Beckett and before a guy like Papelbon. But at the moment, he might be the Opening Day starter.

Once everyone comes back to the rotation, I think Wakefield will be moved to the pen. I don't see it as a demotion, although it is. To me, moving him out there would be an attempt to better utilize his strengths, while minimizing the effect his weaknesses.

Then there's Curt Schilling. The Red Sox gave Schilling a 1 year deal, then shortly after he was down with shoulder problems. There's no word yet on when he will return, or how effective he will be when and if he does.

Last year injuries hampered Schilling and reduced his starts as well. He went 9-8 in 24 starts, threw 151 innings, and had an ERA of 3.87. But he shined in the post-season, going 3-0 in 4 starts with an ERA of 3.00.

Despite being 41 years old, Schilling is still valuable to this team. I don't think he'll do much to contribute during the regular season, maybe make 16 starts, throw about 100 innings, and that's it. Schilling's real value is in the playoffs. He just knows how to step it up in October. His 11-2 post-season record and 2.23 ERA in 19 innings speak for itself.

But there is a definite possibility that Schilling won't pitch AT ALL in 2008. The debacle over his shoulder had doctors debating whether or not to perform surgery or just rehab it. Schilling is the biggest question mark on the Red Sox, which is saying quite a bit.

Jon Lester showed signs of improvement in 2007. The knock on him has always been how often he finds himself in jams. He's usually able to navigate through them without much trouble, but his pitch count piles up and he has to leave the game earlier than you'd like a starter to leave.

But all of his numbers made slight improvements last year. His ERA went from 4.76 in 2006 to 4.57. He struck out batters more often, and walked batters less often. His WHIP dropped from 1.65 to 1.46. Opponents went from hitting .294 off him to hitting .257. He went from averaging 5.42 innings per start to 5.55. In '06, he threw 4.11 pitches per batter, but that number dropped to 3.95 in '07. In '06, he averaged 18.6 pitches per inning compared to 17.2 last year.

That 17.2 pitches per inning is still on the high side. With that average, a pitcher reaches 100 pitches at 5.8 innings. But, if the improvement he showed last year continues into 2008, he might be able to get that number down to 16 pitches per inning (100 pitches in 6.25 innings), or 15 per inning (6.67 innings). If he can do that, and maintain a steady ERA below 4.50, he'll be a real asset at the bottom of the rotation.

I think Lester will have a solid year. I see 30 starts for him, 15 wins, and an ERA around 4.30.

Then there's Bartolo Colon. Despite good reports from his bullpen sessions, I'm still skeptical. I still think it was a good acquisition. The Sox can't lose. But the 250 lb. righty has only made 28 starts the past two years. And when he has started, he's been ineffective. Last year his ERA was 6.34 with a WHIP of 1.62. That's just not good enough, not even for a #5 starter. In my opinion, the Red Sox won't get more than 8 starts from Colon, and his ERA will be as bloated as his midsection.

Clay Buchholz went from prospect to hero with his no-hitter on September 1st last year. But concerns over his development prompted the Sox to shut him down for the post-season.

Buchholz made 4 appearances last year for Boston: 3 starts and 1 relief outing. Apart from his no-hitter, and the 3 innings of shutout relief (both against lowly Baltimore), he wasn't too impressive. He had a decent 6 inning, 3 earned run start against the Angels which he won. His last start was a 4.2 inning effort against the Blue Jays, in which he received the loss.

Buchholz wasn't stellar in AAA Pawtucket either. In 8 starts, he went 1-3 with a 3.95 ERA.

He'll most likely start the season on the 25 man roster, maybe even in the rotation. Schilling and Colon are still a long ways off from starting games, Beckett's back spasms will force him to miss a start or two, which leaves space for Buchholz. But he really belongs in AAA Pawtucket once the rotation comes to order. After all, he's only 23.

A slim possibility for a starting pitcher is Julian Tavarez. The Dominican Dandy made 23 starts for the Sox last year, and actually had a decent stretch in May and June. But by and large, he was below average. As a starter he was 6-11 with a 5.22 ERA. Opponents hit .281 off him.

One odd stat with Tavarez that really has no explanation is the amount of unearned runs he allowed. Onbiously better pitchers like Beckett will be able to pitch around defensive miscues better than Tavarez, but the Red Sox as a team allowed 39 unearned runs in 2007. 12 of those came with Tavarez on the mound. No other pitcher had more than 6. Maybe Julian needs to do a better job as defensive coordinator when he's on the field.

An even slimmer possibility at starting pitcher is Kyle Snyder. Snyder is capable of starting, but his best place is in the bullpen. He was a decent long-reliever last year, and as a starter, he pretty much sucks. Think about it, he wasn't good enough to be in Kansas City's rotation. In the last three years, Snyder has made 14 starts. In those starts, he's 3-8 with an 8.51 ERA.

Kyle will remain in the bullpen, where he is solid in relief and on drums.

The Red Sox rotation will start the season jumbled and confused. With 2 games in Japan, then more exhibition contests before a 2 game series in Oakland, the Red Sox can use the same 2 starters in the first 4 games.

It will take some time for the rotation to settle, what with all the injuries, and fat old men. But when the dust finally clears, I think it will look something like this:

1. Josh Beckett
2. Daisuke Matsuzaka
3. Curt Schilling
4. Jon Lester
5. Tim Wakefield

The Baseball Cube

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Although the offensive line seemed to fall apart in the Super Bowl, it was one of the biggest strengths the Patriots had. All season, they protected Brady, giving him enough time to make deep passes down the field. Three members of the offensive line were selected to the Pro Bowl, two of which were named starters.

The O-Line should remain mostly intact through the off-season. None of the 5 starters are free agents, and backup center/guard Russ Hochstein will also be back.

One concern I have is that Matt Light was consistently beat by aggressive upfield running ends such as Michael Strahan. He wasn't just beat on the outside, but inside as well. This isn't a big deal, as many left tackles are beat by quick defensive ends, but I wouldn't be shocked if the Patriots were on the lookout for a stud offensive lineman to beef up the position.

But with the salary cap being the way it is, and holes needing to be addressed at other positions, I think it's safe to say that Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, and Nick Kaczur will be the starting 5 offensive linemen in 2008.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Since coming to the Red Sox in 2003, David Ortiz has hit 208 homeruns, and has knocked in 642 runs. He's also hit 11 post-season homeruns, and knocked in 38 more RBI.

Despite battling a knee injury for most of the season, Ortiz still put up the kind of numbers we're used to seeing from him. He led the team (and was 3rd in the AL) in homeruns with 35. He was 2nd on the team (6th in the AL) in RBI with 117. He led the Sox (5th in the AL) in hitting with a .332 average.

In October, he somehow found a way to improve on his outstanding regular season performance. In 14 post-season games, he hit .370, with 3 HRs, 10 RBI, 6 doubles, 16 runs, 14 walks, an OBP of .517, and a slugging percentage of .696.

But he was still hurting. The experienced eye of a fan could just tell. He'd take a big cut, hit the ball hard, we'd expect it to leave the park, and it'd go off the wall, or fall on the warning track. There were just certain swings that lacked that last gasp of power to lift the ball over the wall.

In 2004, Ortiz had 91 extra-basehits. In 2005, he had 88 extra-basehits. In 2006, he had 85. In 2007, he had 88. That's a very consistent range for four seasons. But in '07, Papi set a career high in doubles. Normally that's a good thing, but when you hit X amount of extra-basehits, the more doubles you hit, the fewer homeruns you hit. This was where the knee seemed to hurt his production the most.

Ortiz had surgery in the off-season to repair it. This is the first time since coming to Boston that he's come back from a major injury/surgery. It will be very interesting to see how his body handles it. So far in Spring Training, he's doing just fine.

But you never know...

Ortiz, like everyone else on Francona's squad, will not play every day. He'll probably have 150 games in total. Sean Casey is your most likely replacement DH. He's the best bat off the bench, and I guarantee Francona will find ways to get Casey a lot of at-bats.

Manny Ramirez will also see some time at DH, giving Ortiz a night off, and being replaced in left by Kielty or maybe Crisp. Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell are both potential DH candidates if Francona wants to give them a night off from playing the field.


Photo Credit:

Monday, March 10, 2008


Now I know that not many people care about hockey, and even fewer people care about college hockey. But it's my blog, and I like college hockey; the OTHER March Madness.

Here's a bracket for the Hockey East Tournament. For the first round, it's a best of 3 series played at the home ice of the better seed. The semi-finals and final are played at TD BankNorth Garden. #1 UNH hosts #8 UMass at the Whittemore Center in Durham. #2 BU hosts #7 UMass-Lowell at Agganis Arena. #3 Vermont hosts #6 Northeastern. And #4 Boston College hosts #5 Providence College at the Conte Forum.

I'll be at the BC/PC games, working as an usher.

Hockey East


The Red Sox travelled to the Atlantic coast once again, this time to take on the Mets. Luckily for the Sox who made the trip (only 3 starting position players did), the team is willing to charter flights for the 150+ mile trip, as opposed to taking the bus.

Jon Lester got the start against Johan Santana. But both pitchers had surprisingly similar pitching lines. Lester went 4 innings, allowed 2 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk, and struck out 5. Santana also went 4, also allowed 2 hits, also allowed 0 runs, didn't walk any, and struck out 4.

Ellsbury, one of the few regulars to make the trip, went 2 for 4 with a pair of singles. Jed Lowrie continued to struggle, going 0 for 4 with a strikeout and 4 men left on base. He was also picked off of 1st base. Julio Lugo can relax a bit as his potential replacement is currently hitting .107 in grapefruit League play.

Jason Varitek went 0 for 3, but backup George Kotteras went 1 for 1 with a double. Kotteras is hitting .625 this spring, and is making a good case for himself to be the #3 catcher on the depth chart.

Hideki Okajima pitched 2 scoreless innings, allowing only 1 hit and striking 1 man out.

Brandon Moss had the only RBI for the Sox with a sac-fly in the 9th. Craig Hansen continued to struggle, allowing the only Met run to score in the 8th. The game ended a 1-1 tie after 10 innings.

The teams also set an attendance record for Tradition Stadium at 7,353. But according to Hank Steinbrenner, nobody cares about the Red Sox.


Photo Credit:
AP Photo/James A. Finley


Maybe it was the weight of the team resting on his shoulders that caused them. Perhaps it was the World Series hopes and dreams of Red Sox fans riding on the one reliable arm in the rotation that caused them.

Beckett left Saturday's spring training game against the Marlins with back spasms. The spasms occurred 6 pitches into his warm-ups, before the game had even started.

On Sunday, before the Sox played the Dodgers, Terry Francona said that Beckett "looked way better than we expected." What does that really mean? I have no clue. It could mean his back looked better, or that he looked better even though his back didn't. My theory is that Tito was giving one of his token answers to the media. It sounds like he says a lot to the press, but when you really think about it, he doesn't give them much.

The word of the day on Beckett seems to be "iffy." Both the Globe and the Herald use that adjective in their headlines on the Sox Ace.

The problem appears to be muscular in nature, which is a good thing. If it were a problem with a disk, then that would require more time to heal.

But there is a problem compounding this injury: the Red Sox leave for Japan on March 19th, only 9 days away. It's a 14 hour flight to Tokyo, which would be uncomfortable for anyone, let alone someone with back spasms. I would be surprised if Beckett made the trip to Japan. It's just too soon, too much of a hassle, and there's no way he'll have enough time to build his innings up to start a Major League game.

So that means that Matsuzaka might not go to Japan because his wife is expecting a baby soon. Beckett would stay home with back problems. Schilling is still hurt. Bartolo Colon has yet to do anything but throw bullpen sessions. So who are the two starting pitchers the Red Sox will send across the Pacific? It looks like it will be Wakefield and whoever the #5 starter will be. Yikes.

For the record, Johan Santana has thrown all of his spring training warm-up pitches without incident.

Extra Bases
Boston Herald

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Thursday, March 06, 2008


The Red Sox fell 9-6 to the Dodgers, but 7 of LA's runs came in the 9th off minor leaguers. Wakefield was strong in his start, going 3 innings, allowing 0 runs off 1 hit and 2 walks. He struck out 3 and pitched around a big Pedroia error (that was really Jed Lowrie's fault).

Ellsbury went 1 for 4 with what could have been an RBI triple if it didn't bounce over the wall for a ground rule double. Pedroia was 2 for 4 with a double and 2 RBI. Sean Casey was 2 for 3 with an RBI double and a run scored. Lowrie didn't look so good, going 0 for 3 with a sac-fly RBI and some miscues in the field. George Kotteras went 1 for 1 with an RBI, and is hitting .667 so far this spring.

Mike Timlin didn't look so hot in the 4th inning. He allowed a leadoff homerun, which was 1 of 2 hits he yielded. David Aardsma pitched 2 scoreless innings, scattering 3 hits.

Former Sox starter Derek Lowe looked awful. He was slated to pitch 3 innings, but could only get through 2+. The Sox tagged him for 6 hits and 5 runs. He also walked 2, hit Doug Mirabelli, and threw a wild pitch.

The next televised spring training game is also against the Dodgers. It's Sunday at 1:05 and will be on NESN. The game will also be on the radio in Boston.

The Red Sox and Jonathan Papelbon also agreed to terms on a one-year, $775,000 contract. This makes Papelbon the highest paid pre-arbitration closer in baseball.

Extra Bases

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Steven Senne