Monday, April 06, 2009


The Bruins beat the Rangers 1-0 Saturday night, securing the top seeding in the Eastern Conference (I hate people saying "Eastern Conference Champions. The B's have 3 playoff series to win before they can wear that crown).

Quick thoughts on the game:

Sean Avery is a twat. That's the best word to describe him. And the NHL is stupid. He gets suspended 6 games for a lewd joke, but only gets 2 minutes for hitting Tim Thomas with the blade of his stick after the whistle? That was bullshit. Thomas retaliated and got a matching minor. That was bullshittier.

Look how much Avery turtles as he waits for his teammates to defend him. He's a tough guy cheap-shotter that turns into a helpless old woman when threatened.

I honestly don't care what Avery does or says off the ice. His on-ice provoke-then-hide behavior is what the NHL needs to legislate. The following penalties could have/should have been called on Avery:

Hitting after the whistle
Unsportsmanlike conduct
High sticking

An 2 minute instigator along with his roughing call would have been appropriate, along with Thomas given 2 minutes for retaliation.

Then again, the refs may not have seen it. But the NHL's offices certainly have, and Avery should get some sort of punishment for pulling this kind of crap. Again, 6 games for a joke, what's the penalty for actually doing something wrong on the ice?

Anyway, the Bruins are the #1 seed, and why is that so awesome?

#1: You get to play the worst seeded team in every round. 8th seed in the opening round, and if you move on, and let's say the 7th seed upsets their opponent, you get #7 in the second round.

#2: Home ice advantage. The Bruins are 28-6-6 at The Garden. The other top teams in the East also have outstanding home records (Washington is 29-9-3, New Jersey is 27-11-1), so it's even nicer to get home ice advantage against them.

#3: You don't have to face BOTH the 2nd and 3rd seeds. The 2 and 3 teams in the East (Washington and New Jersey) are the teams to fear in the Conference. But being the top seed, the Bruins won't have to go through both of them. They'll probably have to go through one of them, but not both. The B's can't face either until the Eastern Conference finals, and by then, at least one of them will have to have been knocked out. This is the best part of being #1.

The Bruins have 4 games to stay fresh but rested, get Manny Fernandez some playing time, and get into playoff shape. Right now, the Panthers and Rangers are in a dead heat for the 8th playoff spot. I'd rather play Florida, but both teams are good, and whoever finishes 8th, by definition, will be a hot team.

Bruins' remaining schedule:
Tue 4/7 @ Ottawa
Thu 4/9 vs. Montreal
Sat 4/11 @ Buffalo
Sun 4/12 @ NY Islanders

Photo Credit:
AP Photo


The most important part of the team, and the part of the team that will either make or break the Red Sox' playoff and World Series aspirations.

Last year, Josh Beckett was hampered by injuries, and only went 12-10 with a 4.03 ERA. In the postseason, he registered an 8.79 ERA in 3 starts, which was one of the biggest reasons the Sox lost to the Rays in the ALCS.

This year, the word is that he'll be healthier out of the gate. He does have a tendency to accumulate blisters, and like every pitcher, his health is always going to be a question mark for the future.

The question is, was 2007 a fluke? His career is full of ups and downs. He was good in '03, then mediocre in '04, then great in '05, horrible in '06, excellent in '07, below average in '08. Is this a trend with him, or is it due to other factors?

I think Beckett will be good this year, as good as he was two years ago. He'll win 18 to 20 games, with an ERA between 3.15 and 3.50, and if the Sox get into the playoffs, he'll be the most feared by the opponents.

Jon Lester emerged as a quality pitcher last season. He was the Ace of the staff, and one of the few bright spots of a somewhat ugly season. 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA. He also cut down on the number of pitches it took him to get outs, which helped him go deep into games. But he needs to continue to progress along these lines. Then again, the bullpen is more improved this year, and can maintain a slim lead for 3 innings if need be.

Lester struggled a bit in the series with Tampa Bay, but pitched 14 scoreless innings against the Angels. He was also 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA against the Rays, so go figure.

Lester's finally gotten his strength back, and even though I think his ERA will come down to earth a little bit, as far as #2 pitchers go, he's one of the best in baseball. 17 wins, 3.60 ERA.

Daisuke Matsuzaka's success doesn't make sense. At least not according to conventional wisdom. He walks batters, gives up hits, throw 17.3 pitches per inning, and finished 4th in Cy Young voting, deservedly so. He won 18 games with a 2.90 ERA by NOT challenging hitters. It doesn't make sense.

He does have a significant weakness. He doesn't last long. By some miracle, he was 5-1 in games he only went 5 innings. In 29 starts, he had 0 complete games, two 8 inning starts, nine starts of 7+ innings, and 16 starts of 6+ innings. 13 of his starts were shorter than 6 innings.

And I don't want that to change. When he's economical with pitches, he gets hit, and hit hard. When he throws lots of pitches, he's very good. He bends but doesn't break. The 18 wins last year were an anomoly, especially as mediocre as the Sox bullpen was. However, he should be around 15 or 16 wins, with a low ERA, and no more than 170 innings pitched. Not bad for a #3.

Tim Wakefield... ugh.

I'm sorry to everyone who loves Tim Wakefield, but he's done. At least as a starter. He was 10-11 with a 4.13 ERA last year. Against New York and Tampa Bay, he was 1-3 with a 5.35 ERA, and that's not counting his 2.2 inning, 5 earned run start against the Rays in the LCS (it's a 6.13 ERA counting that start).

He turns 43 in August, and yes, there is wear and tear on a knuckleballer's arm. I don't see him in the rotation once Smoltz is ready.

Now we get to the part of the rotation loaded with question marks, but also loaded with potential answers.

Right now, Brad Penny is the #5 starter. He was the Opening Day starter for the Dodgers last year, but he's coming off shoulder trouble. He's throwing 96 now, though, and if he can perform for 5 solid innings every 5th day, then his acquisition can be considered a success.

He has nothing but upside. He was 16-4 with a 3.03 ERA in 2007. He's only 30, and if he can find that form again, the Red Sox become the most terrifying team to face in October.

John Smoltz will hopefully replace Wakefield in the rotation by June. He's still in the bullpen session stage, and he'll be 42 by the time he returns (if he returns), so I wouldn't count on him too much. From 2005 to 2007, he was very good with the Braves. BUT, pitchers don't recover quikly from injury once they hit the Big 4-0. I'm not optimistic about Smoltz at all, and will be shocked if he makes more than 10 starts.

Last year Clay Buchholz was a disappointment. But when everyone in town expects no-hitters night after night, it's hard not to be a disappointment. He had an outstanding spring, but after last season's struggles (2-9, 6.75 ERA), he'll still start the season in AAA Pawtucket.

Expect Buchholz to be up in Boston before the All-Star Game. I'm trying not to expect much from him. He has talent, but more important than that for a pitcher is confidence. His body language changes from pitch-to-pitch. He looks like prey on the mound, not a predator.

Michael Bowden is another name you'll probably see with Boston in the summer, especially once Wakefield gets shipped to the pen. He made one spot start last year and was solid. 5 innings, 2 runs, 7 hits. The 22 year old righty is 6' 3" and 215 pounds, and had a 2.62 combined ERA in Pawtucket and AA Portland last year. For me, he's passed Buchholz on the Sox' depth chart.

Justin Masterson found himself a nice niche last year, out in the bullpen. He quickly became the Sox' most reliable set-up man. But with new faces out in the pen, the Sox extended the 24 year old to be a starter.

As a starter, Masterson was 4-3 in 9 starts, with a 3.67 ERA and a 1.241 WHIP. Those are promising numbers for a 24 year old. However, he walks too many batters (27 walks in his starts, in 54 innings, or one every other inning), and struggled the 2nd time through a lineup. He rarely made it through for a 3rd time. He can be used as a starter, but I think in 2009, his best use will be as a reliever, just in case Okajima struggles, or there are injuries. At the same time, he has good Major League experience, and could wind up starting if Penny disappoints, Smoltz's recovery stalls, Wakefield stinks, a starter gets hurt, Buchholz remains inconsistent, et cetera.

The rotation will determine the fate of this team. The offense isn't good enough to carry the Sox into the playoffs. And a good bullpen is worthless if the starters that precede it aren't quality. The Sox might be holding three Aces with Beckett, Lester, and Daisuke. Then again, all three of those have the potential to be busts. Then there are the wildcards, an assortment of old "scrap-heapers" and young prospects.

I think this rotation will be among the best in baseball, and will propel the Sox to a 100 win season.