Monday, July 30, 2012

What Should the Red Sox Do at the Deadline?

Should the Red Sox be buyers or sellers? The correct answer is "no." The Sox should neither buy or sell, unless presented with extremely juicy deals.

If the Red Sox were a blackjack hand, they'd be a hard 16. The trickiest hand to play. Do you hit and likely bust? Do you stay and likely get beaten by the dealer? No matter what you do, it probably won't work out. Your best hope is the dealer busts.

The Sox are only 4 games out of a Wild Card spot, but they have 4 teams to leapfrog over. They're 10th out of 14 teams in the American League. They're not quite out of it, and not quite into it.

It's conceivable that if Beckett and Lester pitch up to their capabilities, the Red Sox could go on a serious run. They could claim a Wild Card spot, win the play-in, and even win a playoff series.

But there is no move (apart from acquiring Felix Hernandez), that could spark this run. Trade deadline moves typically add missing or complimentary parts to help an already well-run machine function at peak efficiency.

The Sox are more than just a tune-up or a spare part away from playing well. They already have an abundance of bit players. What's kept them from winning has been their best two pitchers playing like their two worst pitchers.

And if the Sox do go on a run, it will be because those pitchers perform at their top level. Not because they acquire some right-handed bat at the deadline, or a lefty set-up guy.

The Sox shouldn't sell because they're not out of it. They have a chance.

They shouldn't buy either. They theoretically possess the talent to. If they do win, it will be because of the players already on the roster.

Red Sox Back to .500

The Red Sox are 51-51, thanks to beating the Yankees 2 times out of 3 this weekend. But as much fun as it is to win a series in Yankee Stadium, we all need to take a step back and look at the larger picture.

The Sox have played 102 games and are a .500 team. Why should we expect them to be anything better in the 60 games they have yet to play?

In the first game of the series, Aaron Cook and Mark Melancon were battered around. Melancon has proven to be utterly useless.

In the second game, Jon Lester outpitched CC Sabathia. And typically that would be impressive. But Sabathia sucked, and Lester was mediocre. So while he was better than Sabathia, he was not great.

It was important for Lester to not have a bad start. It was important for him to not get a loss, and for the Sox to win a game he started. It wasn't a very good start though. He gave up 2 homers and 4 runs in 6 innings. He still needs to improve.

Last night Prince Felix Doubront did a very good job, and the Sox squeezed a win out. Alfredo Aceves blew a save but recovered nicely.

If you've allowed yourself to ride the Red Sox emotional roller coaster this season, then right now you might be feeling positive. However, as a whole, they're a strictly .500 team. We're still waiting to see Beckett pitch consistently, and we're waiting for Lester to return to the stable rock he once was.

The Tigers are in town starting tonight. Clay Buchholz faces Max Scherzer. Scherzer is 10-5. He started the season poorly but has pitched well the last two months.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pennalized State

I think the NCAA got their punishment of Penn State almost perfectly right. They didn't destroy the program, they crippled it and forced it to rebuild itself.

The punishment included a $60 million fine, a 4 year post-season ban, and a reduction of football scholarships. The result of these measures will be the subjugation of the Nittany Lions to a second-tier team. The NCAA will also erase all of Penn State's wins from 1998 onward.

The fine confused me at first. How can you put a price-tag on rape? Then I learned that the $60 million will be going to an endowment for sexual abuse charities. And suddenly it seems like an appropriate amount. It's large, but the University will survive paying it. The NCAA says the amount is equivalent to a year's revenue for the football team.

The post-season ban is very significant. And the Big Ten declared that Penn State won't be eligible for the Big Ten Championship game either. Bowl games are showcases for football programs. And they're cash cows for the conferences. The Big Ten has announced that it will not share its bowl revenues with Penn State, and will instead give that money to charities. That was a very wise decision by the Big Ten.

For 4 years, Penn State will have no hope of a national title, a conference title, or even a bowl game title. That will hurt their wallets and also their recruiting.

The scholarship reduction is the most damaging punishment. Penn State will be allowed 65 full football scholarships, instead of the normal 85. And they will only be allowed to issue 15 new football scholarships per season, instead of 25.

That's a significant blow to recruiting. It means that Penn State will have 20 fewer scholarship athletes than its opponents. And that its recruiting classes will be 40% smaller than their competitors'.

Then there's the indirect punishment of players leaving the team, hoping to play for a program that can make a bowl game, and has more scholarship players and therefore a better chance of winning. Two recruits have already de-committed after these punishments were handed down.

In its punishment, the NCAA allows any football player to transfer without having to sit out a season.

The scholarship reductions will last 4 years.

The length of the punishments ensures that Penn State will struggle for a considerable amount of time. Any freshman player today will know that they'll spend their entire college career on an inferior team that has no hope of post-season play.

These penalties cripple the program and force it to limp along for 4 years, then possibly be rebuilt.

And that's exactly what this football program deserves to do. It deserves to struggle. If new people can rebuild it after struggling, then so be it. To me, Joe Paterno and all the other PSU scumbags who let Sandusky prey on innocent flesh are responsible for crippling the program they held so high. That's justice. They did what they did for the sake of the program. And now their actions and inactions have seriously damaged that beloved program.

I don't agree with the wins being vacated. The NCAA wiped out all Penn State victories from 1998 onward, when the cover-up began. Would they have erased the wins if Paterno didn't have the record for victories?

To me, Paterno's legacy is already a tarnished and tattered ruin. Even if he still had the record for wins, he wouldn't be remembered for that.

And you can't change the past. Penn State won those games and everyone still knows it. Even though Pete Rose can't be inducted into the Hall of Fame, he still has the record for hits.

The NCAA doesn't want Paterno to have the wins record, but he does. If you erase that from the record books, then the record books don't hold the actual records anymore, do they?

Some have argued that the NCAA shouldn't punish Penn State for their off-field sins. I disagree. The program and the school allowed this all to happen. The cover-up was part of the Penn State football program. So therefore the program is eligible to be punished for the cover-up.

The program became more powerful than the school. And as an institution, the program was corrupt. The program should be held accountable for its corruption.

Some have argued that the punishments don't go far enough. Unfortunately, there is no punishment, no matter how severe, that will unrape young boys. And I think that the Penn State football program, under new leadership and administration of course, has the right to rebuild itself and to be something different.

Would eliminating the program entirely accomplish anything positive?

The people who want to eliminate football at Penn State are seeking quick and decisive vengeance. And that's not what punishments are for.

The program has the right to rebuild itself as a clean, less corrupt, less powerful institution. The South had the right to rebuild after the Civil War. Germany had the right to rebuild after World War II. Similarly, PSU has the right to rebuild its football program, but it must keep that program under control.

It was the schools' lack of control that allowed Joe Paterno to become a campus dictator.

Star Wars Call Me Maybe

Whoever did this should win the Academy Award for Best Film Editing. How long did it take to edit this together? I'd say there are over 400 cuts, and each one is precisely perfect. The maker of this had to find all these clips from 6 very long films. And that includes enduring 2 movies with Hayden Christensen in them.

Well done.

Terror in a Texas Ballpark

When Larry Luchhino or Ben Cherington need to make a major decision, they have to call Mike Napoli and get approval. Because he owns the Red Sox. He has a higher career slugging percentage against the Red Sox than any other player. Ever. He slugs .725 against the Sox. Nelson Cruz slugged .710, Babe Ruth slugged .683, Frank Robinson .652, and Lou Gehrig .644.

Last night he hit a 2 run homerun, part of a 9 run Ranger onslaught. And the Red Sox fell below .500 for the first time since June 16th.

Giving up 9 runs to the Rangers is bad, but it's not as depressing as the Red Sox offense was. They were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. Crawford didn't get on base, striking out twice. Pedroia got 3 hits, but Adrian Gonzalez got 0 hitting behind him. Ryan Sweeney, the 8th hitter in the lineup, had the best offensive chances. That's not how it's supposed to work.

I don't like Carl Crawford hitting 2nd. I know he's fast. And that's great. But how often will you try stealing bases when your best hitters are coming up? And if those hitters are power hitters, why risk stealing 2nd when you're still able to score from 1st on a double? And anyway, the #2 hitter's main purpose is to get on base. Which Crawford hasn't been great at in his career. His .333 career OBP doesn't justify his hitting in either of the top 2 spots of the lineup.

I'd prefer to see Crawford at the bottom of the order, hitting 7th, 8th, or 9th. Then he can use his speed to help the bottom of the order generate a few extra runs.

Hitting Crawford 2nd pushes everyone back a spot, which also reduces their at-bats. He also strikes out far too often for a top of the lineup kind of guy who doesn't hit for much power.

Dustin Pedroia was designed to be a #2 hitter. He's not an easy out, he's not going to clog the bases, he's a smart hitter, a smart baserunner, his career OBP is .368.

Right now my base lineup would be: Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Ross, Saltalamacchia, Middlebrooks, Crawford, Aviles, Nava/Sweeney.

Then when Ortiz returns: Ellsbury, Pedroia, Ortiz, Gonzalez, Ross, Saltalamacchia, Middlebrooks, Crawford, Aviles. Now that's a lineup. Ellsbury and Pedroia get on base. You have multiple power guys in the middle who can knock runs in. Then some decent power after that to mop up, and a solid back of the lineup that can generate runs and give Ellsbury and Pedroia some RBI opportunities.

Having Crawford bat 2nd means the lineup relies too heavily on a player who never was great at getting on base. And this is also a guy who hasn't yet proven he is nearly as good as he was back in 2010.

This doesn't solve the Red Sox' pitching problems. Guys like Felix Doubront have carried the team while Beckett and Lester have been lying down on the job. And now Doubront is looking more like Felix Doubront.

Fixing this team's pitching is a simple plan, but it's not easy to execute. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester need to pitch better. Easy to say, but will it actually happen? Beckett might go on one of his runs of excellence. He might not. Flip a coin.

But Jon Lester is staring into the abyss right now. His next start could be a turning point in his career, one way or the other.

Beckett and Lester need to do their jobs. Felix Doubront is simply not capable of carrying the load that these guys are supposed to assume responsibility for. Doubront has done well, but he's no Josh Beckett or Jon Lester.

Thankfully, Clay Buchholz is on the mound tonight. The Sox could use another great start from him. He faces 21 year old Martin Perez. Perez has made two Major League starts this year, one was decent, one was horrible. However, he's also a lefty, and the Sox have no experience against him. So Buchholz might need to be brilliant in order for this losing streak to be stopped.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Monday, July 23, 2012

Red Sox Suck Against Blue Jays

Should we be surprised by this team's disappointments anymore? After taking 3 of 4 from a division leader, they get swept by a team which had been in last place. The Red Sox are 15-15 in their last 30 games. A remarkably uniform achievement of inconsistency.

I'm seriously considering the idea that the Red Sox should simply trade Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. The Red Sox are 1-6 the last 7 times Beckett took the mound. They haven't won with Lester starting since June.

With these guys on the mound, the Sox are 13-23 (.361). The Sox are 35-25 (.583) when someone else starts. These are supposedly the best two pitchers on the team, but the team is .222 winning percentage points better when Beckett and Lester are spectators.

Beckett has always been inconsistent and unreliable. This season's struggles aren't much different from his poor 2010 performance, his inconsistency in 2008, or his shitty September last year.

Lester's struggling is more of a mystery. This is a guy whose career has been consistent as a clock. For 4 years he won between 15-19 games, had an ERA between 3.20 and 3.50, and a WHIP between 1.23 and 1.27.

Now his ERA is 2 runs higher than normal, his WHIP is slightly higher, and he's giving up much more extra-base hits.

One theory I have is psychological. I think he wanted to be more than the steady #2 pitcher he'd been for 4 straight seasons. I think he wanted to be an Ace. He made pre-season remarks complaining that he wasn't perceived as elite. I think he's trying too hard and not just letting himself be Jon Lester on the mound.

Or maybe the explanation is simple and he just sucks.

I doubt the Red Sox will trade either of these guys. Let alone both of them. I do know that the .583 winning percentage they have when others are starting would be good enough to lead the Wild Card race. And if the Sox were merely .500 in Beckett and Lester's starts, they'd be 53-43, would be leading the Wild Card, and  be only 4.5 games behind the Yankees.

As it is, the Sox are in last place in the division, and 4 teams stand between them and the Wild Card spots.

The Sox start a 6 game road trip against the two best teams in baseball. Tonight Felix Doubront opposes Scott Feldman of the Rangers. Feldman is a converted reliever with a 5.89 ERA. The Sox should be able to do something against him.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dark Knight Rises Massacre

This isn't sports related, but it's a major story and it's difficult to think about sports when you hear about a story like this.

At a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, 12 people were killed and dozens more wounded. About 20 minutes into the movie, a man in his young 20s stood at the front of the packed theater, tossed a tear gas grenade into the crowd, then opened fire. He walked up the aisles of the theater, shooting people at random as they fled. He was armed with an AK-type assault rifle, a shotgun, and handguns.

A man was detained by police in the parking lot and is believed to be the shooter. His name is James Holmes. He's 24 and lives in Aurora.

The one thing about this that doesn't piss me off is that the shooter surrendered. Typically in these mass shootings, the guy kills himself. Then for the next 9 days the media, psychologists, pundits, and everyone else tries to speculate why the person did it. They blame hard rock music, or violent video games, or movies, or drugs, or politics, or gun control laws (or lack thereof). Marilyn Manson gets blamed for more murders than Charles Manson.

With this jagoff alive, we can all learn why he really did it. I already have a guess. He's a selfish, spoiled brat. In his own mind, the world revolves around him. And instead of adapting to the reality that it doesn't, he's decided to make sure that it does. Instead of adjusting to the lack of omnipotent control he has over his own life, he decided to take control of other people's lives.

This isn't the result of a youth desensitized by the violence in movies like The Dark Knight Rises. This isn't the result of any societal problem. If it were, this would be more common. It does happen too often, but it's still not normal, not expected, and not a societal inevitability.

And if society does have a problem that's contributing to massacres like this one, it's that we always look for a problem to blame. We never blame ourselves for our shortcomings and therefore never come to terms with them and adjust to them. And at the same time, we glorify ourselves as being the center of the world. It's a psychological conflict that can result in disorder, disaster, but in most cases just turns people into jerks.

It just seems like in the last 10 years, we've become more and more selfish. And also taken less responsibility for our own actions. We don't try to improve our faults, we don't even accept them. We blame other people for them. And in a lot of ways, we dehumanize other people.

What this jerk did was the ultimate dehumanization of other people. He did not care about the people he was killing. He didn't even hate them. At least hate is a humanizing emotion. This bastard was indifferent, because in his own mind he's all that matters.

Ross Knocks Sox Off with Walk Off

Cody Ross continues to belt out 3 run homeruns. And Clay Buchholz is once again pitching as well as he did before his esophagitis. This allowed the Red Sox to beat the White Sox 3-1. The Red Sox won 3 out of 4 in their series against the AL Central leaders.

Ross now has 50 RBI on the season. He's 3rd on the team in RBI (despite having much fewer at-bats than David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez, who are ahead of him). He's 3rd on the team in homeruns behind Ortiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

I'm going to entertain a moment of optimism here, so bear with me. The Red Sox could have an outfield with a power-hitting Cody Ross, a five-tool player like Ellsbury, and a speedy line-drive hitter like Carl Crawford. If all three of these guys are performing at their best, that's a very productive trio.

One tough but enjoyable question to ask is: where do you bat all these guys in the lineup?

Clay Buchholz's ERA might still be a too high 5.19, but since May 27th (his last 7 starts) it's 2.63. He has a track record of starting seasons slow and eventually settling down, and 2012 doesn't appear to be different. He went 8 innings last night, scattering 6 hits, allowing just 1 run, and striking out 6.

Buchholz is the key man in the rotation. Lester, perhaps in a quest to be seen as an Ace, seems to be having some psychological difficulties. Beckett will inevitably be inconsistent and unreliable. Doubront and Cook have been solid, but they're not front-of-the-rotation types of pitchers.

Buchholz can go on a run of seriously good starts. He can spearhead the rotation. He isn't an Ace but he's capable of pitching like one for extended periods.

At the same time, if he gets hurt (as he tends to do) or has a bad stretch (as he can sometimes have), then he can sink the rotation. He's either an engine to drive the pitching staff forward, or an anchor to drag them down.

The Red Sox host the floundering Toronto Blue Jays this weekend. Tonight Josh Beckett faces Aaron Laffey. The converted reliever has been Doubrontlike in most of his starts. He faced the Red Sox in late June and pitched 6 scoreless innings.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Forbes Magazine Ranks Most Valuable Sports Teams: Patriots Ranked 6th, Red Sox 23rd

Every year Forbes ranks the top 50 sports teams around the world based on their value as a business. And although the top two teams are European soccer clubs (Manchester United of England and Real Madrid of Spain), the list is dominated by the NFL. All 32 teams are in the top 50, due mostly to the League's colossal TV contracts.

Here's the full article on Forbes' site. The list is very interesting, although it noticeably and inexplicably omitted Ted DiBiase's Money Inc.

Top teams Man United (valued at $2.23 billion), and Real Madrid ($1.88 billion) have global followings and companies pay top dollar/pound/Euro to sponsor them.

The New York Yankees ($1.85 billion) were ranked 3rd. The Yankees have a lucrative regional sports network (YES) and massive revenue from tickets and luxury boxes. The Yankees generate $330 million in ticket revenue, far and away the most in the Majors. The Red Sox are second with $190 million.

The Dallas Cowboys tied with the Yankees for 3rd. Their new stadium apparently includes a money-printing machine.

The Washington Redskins were 5th, valued at $1.56 billion.

The Patriots were 6th, worth $1.4 billion. That's thanks in part to owning their own stadium, selling out every game, and having some of the highest ticket prices in the NFL.

The LA Dodgers tied with the Patriots at 6th. Spanish soccer team Barcelona was 7th worth $1.31 billion. The New York Giants were 9th at $1.3 billion. London-based soccer club Arsenal FC were 10th at $1.29 billion. Here's the rest of the list:

11. Bayern Munich (German soccer team) - $1.23 billion
11. New York Jets - $1.23 billion
13. Houston Texans - $1.2 billion
14. Philadelphia Eagles - $1.16 billion
15. Ferrari (Formula 1 racing team) - $1.1 billion

Maybe Fenway Sports Group invested in the wrong kind of racing. Formula 1's global appeal attracts massive sponsorship money.

16. Chicago Bears - $1.09 billion
16. Green Bay Packers - $1.09 billion
16. Baltimore Ravens - $1.09 billion
19. Indianapolis Colts - $1.06 billion
20. Denver Broncos - $1.05 billion
21. Pittsburgh Steelers - $1.02 billion
22. Miami Dolphins - $1.01 billion
23. Carolina Panthers - $1 billion
23. Boston Red Sox - $1 billion

The Red Sox are the 3rd ranked baseball team on the list, which is nothing to be ashamed of. The two ahead of them (Yankees and Dodgers) play in the two largest media markets in the country. The Red Sox are in the #6 market in the US, have a small ballpark, and are still worth $1 billion. They're worth more than half the teams in the NFL, which is saying something.

The Sox make their money from high ticket prices, technically selling out every game, and from their 80% stake in NESN. Even when Fenway Park isn't filled to capacity, people still leave a lot of cash there.

25. Seattle Seahawks - $997 million
26. San Francisco 49ers - $990 million
27. AC Milan (Italian soccer team) - $989 million

AC Milan will be playing an exhibition game at Gillette Stadium on August 4th. So the 27th most valuable sports team in the world will be guests of the 6th most valuable team.

28. Kansas City Chiefs - $986 million
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - $981 million
30. Cleveland Browns - $977 million
31. New Orleans Saints - $965 million
32. Tennessee Titans - $964 million
33. San Diego Chargers - $920 million
34. Arizona Cardinals - $901 million
35. LA Lakers - $900 million
36. Chicago Cubs - $879 million

Proof that winning doesn't necessarily mean profits. Perhaps the Red Sox are learning too much from the Wrigley-model. The Cubs are far and away the most popular team in Chicago, even though the White Sox are much more successful on the field.

37. Cincinnati Bengals - $875 million
38. Detroit Lions - $844 million
39. Atlanta Falcons - $814 million
40. McLaren (Formula 1 racing team) - $800 million
41. Minnesota Vikings - $796 million
42. Buffalo Bills - $792 million
43. New York Knicks - $780 million
44. St. Louis Rams - $775 million
45. Oakland Raiders - $761 million
45. Chelsea FC (English soccer team) - $761 million
47. Jacksonville Jaguars - $725 million

The least valuable team in the NFL is worth more than 26 MLB teams, 28 NBA teams, and all 30 NHL teams.

48. Philadelphia Phillies - $723 million
49. New York Mets - $719 million
50. Texas Rangers - $674 million

It's amazing how valuable NFL franchises are. Even in very small markets like Jacksonville and Buffalo, teams are worth more than MLB teams in Philadelphia, New York, and Dallas-Fort Worth.

At the same time, the Cowboys are worth more than twice as much as 10 other NFL teams.

Market-size seems to dictate value in the 3 non-NFL leagues. But even in the NFL, market-size, history, and success separate the ultra-wealthy teams like Dallas, Washington, New England the Giants; from the just-rich teams like Buffalo, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, and Minnesota.

David Ortiz to DL

The Red Sox have placed David Ortiz on the 15-Day Disabled List. He was diagnosed by Red Sox doctors with a strained right Achilles. After receiving a second opinion, that diagnosis was confirmed. Or as Dr. Bobby Valentine put it: "He has a right strained heel, Achilles’ attachment type thing."

Valentine also said that Ortiz would do nothing baseball related for a week to 10 days while the heel heals. Then again, Valentine's projections on injuries this year have always been on optimistic side.

Ortiz suffered the injury by stepping awkwardly on a base after Adrian Gonzalez hit a homerun. It was a CBI, a Classic Baseball Injury. When you consider that Ortiz spends most of the game on the bench, then has to run at full speed on the bases, it makes sense. That starting and stopping can be very hard on a muscle or a tendon.

Without Ortiz, the Sox will need Adrian Gonzalez to play up to expectations. Contributions from Ellsbury and Crawford are also needed more now.

Mauro Gomez was called up and started last night as the DH. I wouldn't mind seeing Crawford play some games as the DH, considering his elbow issues.

Perhaps Ortiz will realize that this is the reason the Sox don't extend his contract. You never know what will happen to a player during the season.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Ross and Gonzalez Power Red Sox

Cody Ross and Adrian Gonzalez knocked in all 10 Red Sox runs last night. Prince Felix Doubront made another very solid start and the Red Sox cruised to a 10-1 victory.

Ross hit a pair of 3 run homers, one in the 3rd, the next in the 4th. He now has 15 on the season, along with 47 RBI. Ross has the second best slugging percentage (.557) on the team, behind David Ortiz. So with Ortiz on the DL, the Sox need him to continue to hit for power.

Adrian Gonzalez also needs to help fill the void left by Ortiz. And he's starting to do that. He was 3 for 4 last night with a solo homerun and a pair of RBI singles. He knocked in 4 runs.

In his last 20 games, Gonzalez is hitting .427, slugging .598, has hit 3 homeruns and knocked in 19 runs.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford did their job and got on base. Ellsbury was 3 for 4 with a double. Crawford was 1 for 3. Ellsbury scored 3 times, Crawford twice.

The offensive output from the top of the order slightly overshadowed yet another good outing by Felix Doubront. He already has 10 Quality Starts this season. Most of them are the 6 inning, 3 earned run variety, but that's good enough. He's only failed to go 5 innings in 3 starts. He's gone 6+ innings 12 times.

This was a great combination win. The big name talent like Gonzalez, Ellsbury, and Crawford did their job. The second-tier guys like Ross and Doubront continued to go above and beyond.

The Sox have a good chance to win this series tonight. Clay Buchholz faces 4-1 Jose Quintana. Quintana is a leftahander who's had consistency problems. For instance, he had an 8 inning 1 run start against the Rangers. Then followed that by getting knocked around by the Royals for 5 runs in 5 innings.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Kevin, You Kill Us

I know that the words "ego" and "Bobby Valentine" have likely never been used in the same sentence before. Valentine is, after all, one of the least macho, least egotistical, least arrogant managers in the game. So I'm sure his decision for Lester to pitch to Kevin Youkilis with first base open in the 4th was based entirely on logic, and not on a desire to prove himself superior to the player he called out in April.

Whatever the baseball logic or Freudian psychoanalytical reasons behind allowing Lester to pitch to Youkilis, the simple fact is Lester pitched, Youkilis swung, hit the ball, and it went a long way. Youkilis executed, Lester didn't.

And Jon Lester hasn't executed much at all this season. He fully deserves his 5-7 record. He's failed to go 5 innings 4 times this year. He only failed to do so 3 times last year.

Strangely enough, all 3 of those sub-5 inning outings came in the second half of last season. He had 19 Quality Starts in 2011. But 12 of them were in April, May, and June. Only 7 for the rest of the year. Since July of 2011, Lester is 10-12. And since September of 2011, he's 6-10 with a 4.93 ERA. He's been failing to meet expectations for a full calendar year now.

Monday night Aaron Cook gave the Red Sox a great start. And Adrian Gonzalez finally came through in the clutch. And I had a glimmer of hope that if the second-tier guys like Cook continue to perform, and the big-name talent like Gonzalez can contribute, the Sox have a good chance. Well Lester is one of those big-name talents. He isn't contributing much, though.

The Red Sox are 7-12 when Lester starts. If they were just 10-9 in those games, they'd be leading the Wild Card race.

Why can't we have more Aaron Cooks and fewer Jon Lesters?

The Sox had a chance to secure at least a 2-2 split in this series. Instead, it was just another wasted opportunity for the Red Sox.

Felix Doubront takes the mound tonight. He faces Pedro Hernandez, who is making his Major League debut. Hernandez is a lefty and the Red Sox have no experience facing him. That usually doesn't bode well.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bill James is an Idiot

Baseball numerologist and Red Sox adviser Bill James was being interviewed on ESPN Radio the other day, and very passionately defended Joe Paterno:

"It's very hard, in fact it's impossible, to explain why Paterno should have been the person to go to the police. Paterno didn't see anything. Paterno was not the reporting authority. Sandusky did not work for Paterno. Paterno had no supervisory authority over Sandusky. It's extremely difficult to explain why it was Paterno's responsibility to go to the police. He knew less about it than anyone else there...

"You're saying everything revolves around him. (Paterno) had very few allies. He was isolated and he was not nearly as powerful as people imagine him to have been...

"They kept it quiet because they had no idea what was happening... they just thought they were dealing with a little misunderstanding."

Bill James has never been afraid to go against the trending sentiment, but this is beyond reasonable. Paterno not only failed to notify authorities, he actively ended any investigation into what Sandusky was doing. He didn't turn a blind eye, he turned a seeing eye.

Anyway, James' defense of Paterno is outdated. And late.

He's entitled to his opinion, but he's also a prominent member of the Red Sox organization. So yesterday, the Sox told him to shut up. Then issued a statement publicizing their request that he keep silent about Paterno:

"This afternoon, Red Sox Principal Owner John Henry and Executive Vice President/General Manager Ben Cherington spoke to Bill James regarding him making public his personal opinions on Joe Paterno. In that call, Mr. James was informed that his comments in no way reflect the opinions or positions of the Red Sox; and, because he is perceived as a representative of the Red Sox, he was asked to refrain from any further public comments on this matter."

Smart move by the Red Sox. While James is entitled to his completely wrong and illogical opinions, he is perceived as a representative of the Red Sox. Him being a jackass makes the Red Sox look bad.

James should have at least known his opinion was controversial and not widely held. But judging from the opinion itself, it's hard to imagine him being rational about it in any way.

Yes, I am calling him an irrational numbers man.

Red Sox Win Thanks to Home Cooking

There are two types of players on the Red Sox: those who have exceeded expectations and kept the team afloat, and those who have disappointed and been a drag. Last night the Red Sox won because a starting pitcher exceeded expectations, and also because one of those previously disappointing draggers stepped up and contributed.

Aaron Cook went 7 innings, allowing only 1 run that was due entirely to defensive miscues. While the infield was shifted, Will Middlebrooks made a mistake in covering the wrong base. Adrian Gonzalez compounded the mistake by throwing to the uncovered 3rd base. Either that or Middlebrooks went to the Chad Ochocinco school of route running and wasn't on the same page as Gonzalez.

Fittingly, that run-scoring play was on a groundball out. Because Cook induced 15 of those, and only allowed 6 fly-outs. So even though he didn't strike anyone out, he kept the ball low, and the White Sox couldn't lift it off the ground.

Cook, then Vicente Padilla, kept the White Sox from scoring long enough for Adrian Gonzalez to get his clutchest hit of the season. He blasted a deep homerun to left-center and blew the game open in the 8th.

It was Gonzalez's first homerun since June 24th, the day Youkilis was traded.

This was the type of win I like to see from the Sox. They've gotten some good outings from Aaron Cook, and finally highly paid stars like Gonzalez are taking advantage of the opportunities given to them by the hungry role players.

David Ortiz extended his hit streak to 11 games, and his walk streak to 10 games. Then he injured himself rounding 2nd base on Gonzalez's homerun. I think he's listed as day-to-day with a Classic Baseball Injury (CBI).

Pedro Ciriaco was 3 for 4 with a double and is currently hitting .464.

Carl Crawford returned to the lineup and was 1 for 3 with a single. He scored twice and drew a walk. He only walked 23 times last season.

The Red Sox made Dylan Axelrod look like a Cy Young candidate, but that tends to happen when they face someone they have little experience facing. And that also makes this win even more satisfying because it was a game that easily could have gone the other way.

The Red Sox need Jon Lester to start pitching like Aaron Cook. Lester is on the mound tonight, facing Philip Humber. Humber is 3-4 with a 6.01 ERA and hasn't had a Quality Start since May. Adrian Gonzalez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia have done well against him in the past.

This is a great chance to secure at least a split in this series.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bobby Valentine vs. Kevin Youkilis

Kevin Youkilis is returning to Fenway Park tonight. And even though most Red Sox fans agree that he probably had to be traded, there is still a strong undercurrent of support and appreciation for the man who brought a Paul O'Neill attitude to the corner infield, who won a Gold Glove at first base then was willing to move to third, who was an associate member of the 2004 World Series winning Red Sox and a very full member of the 2007 World Series winning Red Sox.

Everyone seems happy to welcome Kevin Youkilis back, especially the promotions people in the Red Sox ticket office. Everyone except Bobby Valentine.

It doesn't seem like Valentine and Youkilis saw eye-to-eye. It's not difficult to figure out why. Valentine sees himself as an Alpha. Youkilis is always grumbling and gritting his teeth. He's a dissenter. It was natural for these two to tango.

Even now, when April is a distant memory, Bobby Valentine is still harping on how his ex-player reacted to stuff that he told the media months ago.

Before I discuss this further, let's remember that Youkilis is gone. He's a member of another team in another city in another division. He is no longer the charge or responsibility of the Red Sox or of Bobby Valentine. He's out of here, absent, long gone. He's an opponent now, and his time as a member of the Red Sox is very much in the past. It is long since time to move on.

So why is Bobby V talking about him in the present tense? Everyone, including Youkilis, seems to have moved on. So why can't Bobby V say "he was a good player but the circumstances dictated that we do something because we had too many players for too few spots in the lineup." Why can't Bobby V implement worn-out, yet honest lines such as that?

Instead, Valentine placed all responsibility for any player-manager relationship strains on Youkilis: "I think the comment I made early, he made a big issue out of, and I don't think he ever wanted to get over it... I have no idea. It was whatever he wanted it to be."

So Valentine is saying that the ex-player who has been traded and played well for his new team couldn't get over something? Seems to me like Valentine can't get over Youkilis.

In retrospect, it doesn't seem like Valentine was ever a big fan of Youkilis. Valentine has been diplomatic and defensive when discussing all the other injured players on the Red Sox. With Youkilis, Valentine publicly questioned his work-ethic and his commitment to the team.

There are plenty of players on the Red Sox whose commitment and work-ethic are worthy of scrutiny, Why did Valentine pick Youkilis'?

Maybe it was because Youkilis was alleged to be the so-called "snitch" that leaked information to the media about Josh Beckett and friends getting liquored and chickened up in the clubhouse.

Did Valentine target Youkilis? Did he think he could rally the disjointed Red Sox clubhouse and unite them against a common enemy?

If not, why is Valentine still talking about it? Since being traded, Youkilis has fed the media the standard lines. He appreciated his time in Boston but he's focused on the White Sox now. Any and all Youkilis-driven clubhouse drama ended when Youkilis left the clubhouse. Why is Valentine still trying to isolate Kevin Youkilis and attack him?

Why is Kevin Youkilis a major issue for Valentine? I thought the point of trading Youkilis was to prevent him from becoming an issue.

But I guess Valentine wants to try to unite his team around a common cause. Valentine feels the need to be responsible for everything. That's why he blames Youkilis for creating a strenuous clubhouse atmosphere. And now Valentine wants to be the one who gets credit for getting Youkilis out of here and allowing that atmosphere to calm. Valentine's remarks simply provoked the beast into acting like a beast. And Valentine helped remove the beast. Bobby V wants credit for the tranquility he's helped create in the Red Sox clubhouse.

Well be careful what you wish for, Bobby, you just might get it. You seem hell-bent on being responsible for what happens with this team, and in the end, you likely will be. Don't worry. I'm sure Francona will get a job managing a baseball team and ESPN will be looking for a loud-mouthed, opinionated, frequently incorrect jerk to help boost ratings. Bobby V is the Skip Bayless of baseball managers.

Red Sox Take Two of Three in Tampa Bay

This was an important series win for the Sox. They needed to start the second half right. They needed to beat teams like the Rays who are competing for those Wild Card spots. To finish above the Rays in the standings, they need to beat them. It's very simple, but very true.

I'm not overwhelmed by the Sox performance this past weekend, though. Saturday was a winnable game that was lost. And the Sox gave Tampa Bay plenty of opportunities to turn the other games around.

Honestly, are you impressed with what Josh Beckett and Alfredo Aceves did yesterday afternoon? Beckett was a slow-motion disaster in the 1st inning, then Aceves nearly blew a 4 run lead in the 9th.

The Sox are only 1.5 games out of the 2nd Wild Card spot. But there are 4 teams between them and Baltimore. In this race, the name of the game is separation. What will separate the Red Sox from these teams in the final standings?

Winning a series like this is important because it helps give them separation from Tampa Bay. A sweep, obviously, would have given them even more separation. Had they swept, they'd be 0.5 games out, ahead of Tampa Bay, and tied with Oakland and Detroit. Only the two Wild Card teams (the Angels and Orioles) would be ahead of them.

If Josh Beckett can pitch as well as he did from the 2nd inning on, that can give the Sox the necessary separation to break away from the pack. Jacoby Ellsbury went 3 for 5 yesterday, he could prove to be the separation from the other teams. If Adrian Gonzalez can hit in the clutch, if Will Middlebrooks can get hot again, if Clay Buchholz can stay healthy and effective, if Mike Aviles can hit the occasional homerun (as he did yesterday), these could all be the separating factors that allow the Red Sox to get one of the Wild Card spots.

One thing they must also do is be able to score against good pitching and hold their own against good teams. Speaking of which, the White Sox come to town for 4 games. I'll be content with a 2-2 split in this series.

Tonight Aaron Cook faces Dylan Axelrod, who has been a part-time starter for the White Sox. But none of the Red Sox have much experience against him, and that's frequently not a good sign.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Friday, July 13, 2012

Worst Olympic Uniforms Ever

Be proud, America. These are what your Olympic athletes will be wearing in London for the Summer Games.

In case you didn't notice the tastefully subtle logo on the front, these are made by Ralph Lauren. Technically, though, they were made in China. What's more American than large corporate logos and outsourcing jobs to China? Complaining about it.

Then again, if we didn't send so much work to China, then how would the Chinese be able to afford to lend us so much money?

Many others have written and ranted about the uniforms being made in China, about how much larger the Ralph Lauren logo is than the American flag, about how this is a very French looking ensemble, with the beret and everything. Ralph Lauren even rearranged red, white, and blue into blue, white, and red on the beret. Which is France's flag.

And like the Ralph Lauren logo, the French flag on the beret is also bigger than the American flag.

All nationalistic sentiment aside, I just think they look like shit. They're beyond pompous and preppy. I think even the lacrosse captain at Princeton, the de facto King of Preps, would feel conspicuous in this outfit.

I remember the US team used to wear stuff like cowboy hats and Western shirts. What was wrong with that?

Even better, how about a white, Colonel Sanders style southern gentleman suit?

Since the Olympics are in Britain, and we're 2-0 against the British, maybe we should rub it in. How about a blue Continental Army jacket and a tri-corner hat? Each athlete carrying a 6 pack of Sam Adams.

Or perhaps the US Olympians could enter the Opening Ceremony riding a float made to resemble the U.S.S. Constitution. It is, after all, the 100th anniversary of the War of 1812.

Then again, the tri-corner hat might be too Tea Party for some people. And according to celebrities like Janeane Garafalo and James Earl Jones, the Tea Party is racist. And since celebrities know what they're talking about, they must be correct.

The male athletes could dress like the bros on Jersey Shore, slicking their hair up, spray-on tan, shirtless, with a vacant look in their eyes, their lips pursed, and their face cocked in the "what's up" position. And the females could dress like skanks.

Perhaps they could have an outfit that resembles lacrosse culture. Bright neon colored shirts, socks pulled up to the knees, flip-flops, big pink-rimmed slitted sunglasses, the hat of an NL Central team, and a lacrosse stick that goes with the outfit.

In all seriousness, what's wrong with a casual outdoorsy kind of look? Jeans, workboots, a t-shirt with a "USA" logo on the front and sleeves. Or a business casual look? Polo shirt and khakis for the guys, blouse and calf-length skirt for the ladies.

Maybe such outfits don't represent all of us. But the Ralph Lauren, Frenchy costumes don't represent any of us.

Leave Lester Alone

Peter Gammons accidentally-on-purpose let it slip that Jon Lester seemed unhappy here in Boston. And during the All-Star Break, with no other sports news to sink one's teeth into, the story exploded. It even prompted Lester himself to Tweet that he was in fact happy to play here.

If Jon Lester is unhappy here, I can't really blame him. This team hasn't won a playoff game since 2008, hasn't been to the playoffs since 2009, has finished in 3rd place since 2010, and suffered an infamous collapse in 2011.

The team has changed managers, changed GMs, and their clubhouse character is questioned (rightfully so) on a daily basis.

And who would be happy working for Larry Lucchino and John Henry?

I criticize Lester all the time because he seems whiny, but I can't disagree with his whining here. I criticize Lucchino for being a bad boss, Cherington for being a sock-puppet, and Valentine for being a reality TV show personality. How can I criticize Lester for not enjoying working for these guys?

And do we want Jon Lester happy?

Didn't we hate how careless Beckett and Lackey were as the team collapsed last September? They were happy as the team went down the drain and it pissed us off. As General Patton said: "I wouldn't give a hoot and hell for a man who lost and laughed."

Jon Lester is 5-6 with a 4.49 ERA. If he were happily joking around with Peter Gammons and laughing it up with the dugout with David Ortiz, I'd be pissed at him. And so would a lot of Sox fans. I think he's as disappointed with his performance this year as we are, if not more so.

And he should be. He shouldn't be happy. I'm glad that at least one key player on this team is unhappy with losing.

Here's what actually happened. Gammons was told something juicy by a person in the Sox front-office. That's why he let it slip on The Hub, and then later that same day on The Fan. It was a leak, a nugget of speculation that would elicit a reaction.

What is the Machiavellian motivation for the leak? I don't know. Maybe the Sox want to gauge fan reaction to a possible Lester trade. Maybe they're laying the foundation of the "he didn't want to be here" campaign they'll launch after Lester is traded or leaves.

Or maybe they wanted fans to speculate if this team was going to "blow up" the roster just so Ben Cherington could declare that he won't blow up the roster. Although, keep in mind this is the same guy who declared that Youkilis would start over Middlebrooks when he returned. Cherington will do whatever puppet-master Larry Lucchino commands he do.

I don't mind Lester being unhappy. I'm unhappy. Misery loves company.

In honor of Friday the 13th, I published this post at 1:13 PM, or 13:13.

Sox Starting Second Half Tonight

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the Sox playing a 16 game stretch against below average opponents, and how it was a great opportunity for them to pad the win column. They went 9-7, which is good enough to win the AFC West, but it fell below my expectations.

The Sox failed to take advantage of weaker opposition. And now they're playing the good teams. They've already lost 3 of 4 to the Yankees.

They're playing the Rays this weekend. Tampa Bay is 2 games ahead of the Sox in the AL East (and Wild Card race). The Sox are 5-4 against the Rays this season.

Then Kevin Youkilis and the surging White Sox come to town for 4 games. They've won 9 of their last 12 and are in 1st place in the Central. They're good on the road, too, with a 23-16 record away from home. The Red Sox beat the White Sox 3 times in a 4 game series in Chicago. But that was back in April. These White Sox are different.

Toronto comes to town for three games. The Blue Jays and Red Sox have the same record. The Sox are 5-4 against the Jays and have won 4 of their last 6 meetings.

Then it's three games in Arlington, Texas. In July. Against the AL West leading Rangers. Cue the weather excuse. The 52-34 Rangers have the 2nd best record in baseball, best run differential in the Majors, and the best home record in the AL.

The Sox then play a weekend series in New York. The Yankees have taken 5 of 6 from the Red Sox this season.

Then it's 3 games against the Wild Card contending Detroit Tigers. The Sox were swept by Detroit in April. Then won 3 of 4 against them in May. The Tigers were hot entering the All-Star Break, but by the time this series is played (end of July), that will likely change.

So the next 19 games for the Sox play will be against opponents who are .500 or better. 10 games will be against division leaders.

The weighted average record of these opponents is 47-38, or .552.

The Sox squandered an opportunity against below .500 teams to accumulate wins. So now they must win against teams that are above .500. The Yankees and Rangers are both above .600.

It's possible for the Sox to survive this stretch, even do well. They've been good against Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Detroit. And if the lineup gets hot, they can go on a run against anyone.

But they must at least tread water. Because of their failure to beat the Athletics and Mariners, now they have to do well against the White Sox, Yankees, and Rangers. They've put themselves in a tough spot.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

What Would be Justice for Penn State?

The late Joe Paterno, former Penn State President Graham Spanier, and former Athletic Directors Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have all been accused of a cover-up that allowed Jerry Sandusky to prey on young boys, in order to preserve the reputations of the school and the football program. In other words, these high-ranking Penn State officials put PR ahead of the safety of children.

Sandusky has already met Justice. And Paterno has already met his Maker. Paterno's legacy is tarnished in the eyes of most people. Only a few Penn State cultists cling to the idea of JoePa as a great man. Some of the other PSU officials involved will likely face perjury charges. It will also be quite difficult for them to find a job at another school.

What about the program, though? What would constitute Justice for the football team that was placed on so high a pedestal that pedophilia was ignored?

Some have suggested the "Death Penalty," which would ban the existence of the team for a period of time. SMU received the "Death Penalty" when their rampant compensation for athletes was revealed. And surely this is worse than any NCAA violation.

That's a bit harsh to me. Not that I don't like the idea of being harsh to PSU, but I prefer a punishment that doesn't allow Penn State any sympathy. I can already see ESPN lauding Penn State's inevitable recovery from the "Death Penalty," with stories about the resiliency of the institution.

The "Death Penalty" would also be over too quickly. It's a very harsh punishment but it only lasts 1 or 2 years, I prefer a punishment that lingers on. Just as Sandusky was allowed to linger at Penn State.

The "Death Penalty" would not destroy Penn State football. The program would return to prominence shortly after it was born again. It's in a top league, has good facilities, has history, is nationally prominent, and is in a good geographic location for recruiting. It would be a premier program shortly after resurrection.

Instead, Penn State football should be banned from post-season play. No bowl games. No Big Ten title game. For at least 5 seasons.

They should have their scholarship limit severely reduced. From 85 to 50 (or fewer), for 6 years. After that, they should be allowed only 70 scholarships for 4 years.

All current players would be given the option to transfer.

What I would like to see is an extended period of Penn State football being a second-tier team. I want to see them lose recruits to Miami (Ohio). I want to see them get blown out by Northwestern.

I want to see the program that Paterno, Spanier, Curley, and Schultz tried to preserve reduced to mediocrity. I want their efforts to protect Penn State football to wind up hurting Penn State football.

That would be Justice.

Rob Gronkowski Goes Deep

The AAA All-Star Game was held in Buffalo this week (as if you didn't already know that), and Rob Gronkowski participated in the celebrity HR Derby out there. He more than participated. He won. Gronk hit a total of 12 homers over the significantly-closer-than-the-normal-wall celebrity wall. He beat the likes of the Bills' Fred Jackson, Sabres' forward Patrick Kaleta, and QB legend Jim Kelly.

Gronkowski was born in Amherst, NY, a town only 10 miles from downtown Buffalo. However, the Patriots' tight-end was greeted with some light booing as he stepped to the plate. His performance eventually won the crowd over, especially this blast, which was an actual homerun over the permanent outfield fence.

Belichick does indeed like players who can play multiple positions or multiple sports.

But while demonstrating his baseball skills, he seemed to forget how to catch, which is kind of an important thing for a tight-end to do.

The Red Sox Have the Worst Doctors in Boston

When the Red Sox resume their 2012 campaign in St. Petersburg this weekend, they'll welcome back a pair of key players from the Disabled List: Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz. Will Middlebrooks is also likely to return to the lineup.

That's not a bad way to start the second half of a season. Ellsbury will bolster the Sox lineup, and perhaps bring more consistency to the team's offensive production. Buchholz was pitching very well until his esophagus flared up. He was 4-0 with a 2.40 ERA in June. And Middlebrooks' .538 slugging percentage is second on the Sox roster, behind only David Ortiz.

So that's great news on the injury front.

However, I've decided to take all injury news regarding Red Sox players with a grain of salt. Daisuke Matsuzaka's neck problems, and the way the Sox handled his rehab and return to the Majors, have raised some serious concerns.

The City of Boston is home to some of the best doctors and medical facilities in the world. So why does the local baseball team have so many confusing medical foul-ups?

Daisuke's trapezius issue is the latest in a pattern of missed diagnoses and failed rehabilitation strategies.

During spring training and while rehabbing in Pawtucket, Matsuzaka repeatedly experienced soreness in his neck. He was given two cortisone injections. At one point during his rehab he was shutdown. Then he resumed throwing after a shot, claimed he was fine, and the Red Sox brought him back to the Majors.

This was despite the fact that his rehab outings weren't very good. Especially for a Major Leaguer facing AAA talent.

He seemed fine once he returned, although he had difficulty pitching well in the 1st inning. In other words, he struggled to warm-up.

Before his latest start in Oakland, he was unable to throw a bullpen session due to stiffness in the neck. He was still allowed to start the game. Disaster ensued. Now he's back to the DL.

With injuries, the Sox consistently seem to do two things:

1. Allow players to convince medical personnel that they're okay.
2. Return players from injury as quickly as possible (which perhaps explains #1), even if there still might be an unhealed issue.

Daisuke said he was healthy and ready to pitch. And the Sox listened. Because it's exactly what the Sox wanted him to say. They want their players back out there ASAP.

Jacoby Ellsbury in 2010 is the most extreme example of a player rushed to return to the lineup. The Sox wanted Ellsbury back in the lineup as quickly as possible, so they never considered any reasons to not re-activate him. He spent the year with recurring injuries that were never properly healed.

Earlier this season, Dustin Pedroia injured his thumb. It seemed as though the DL was a last resort option. Pedroia was eager to return to the lineup, and the Red Sox allowed him to do so. He only missed 6 games. He struggled for a month until the team started to question if something was still wrong. And now he's on the DL.

Had he been placed on the DL back in May, he might be healed and completely ready to play by now.

I don't think the Red Sox have incompetent doctors working for them. But I do think those doctors operate with a certain goal in mind. Instead of needing absolute proof that a player is healthy, they'll let the player play so long as there's no obvious sign of injury. They'll ignore things like Daisuke struggling to warm-up, or Pedroia struggling to hit.

They let Ellsbury return even when his ribs needed more healing. They let Daisuke rehab even when his neck is stiff. They let Pedroia play after tearing a muscle in his thumb. Even when that was re-aggravated last week, manager Bobby Valentine declared Pedroia's thumb was "Not really hurt. I just think he needs these two days, and so does he... He's a little stiff here and there."

Pedroia was eventually placed on the DL. Thankfully Bobby V is not a doctor (I don't think so anyway).

So Ellsbury, Buchholz, and Middlebrooks are returning. Hopefully they're returning at the appropriate time, and haven't been rushed back to the lineup.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tom Brady Participates in Staring Contest

Hibernation is a Mistake for the Bruins

The Patriots made the Super Bowl, then spent the off-season accumulating wide-receviers and drafted talented defensive players. The Celtics made the Eastern Conference finals and have added scoring from their bench and a pair of big men in the Draft.

What have the Bruins done after being eliminated in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Re-signed their 4th liners. And that's about it.

It seems as though the B's think that since they won the Cup in 2011, they must already have a model for winning in place. Most of the current Bruins were on that Cup winning team, so it follows that the Bruins already have a Cup winning contender. They just need a few tweaks and slight improvements.

The problem with that theory is that there were two hugely significant reasons the Bruins won the Cup, and they no longer apply:

#1: The Play of Tim Thomas
Thomas was not human during the 2010-11 season. His 1.998 GAA was an NHL record (Brian Elliott had a 1.557 GAA in 2011-12, although he only played 38 games). His .938 save percentage was also a record. Then he got even better in the playoffs, with a 1.98 GAA and a .940 SV%. In the Cup Finals, he had a 1.15 GAA, allowing 8 goals in 7 games. He allowed 4 goals in the last 5 games of the Finals.

The Bruins won the Cup because they got insanely good goaltending. It's unfair and unreasonable to expect Tuukka Rask to duplicate Thomas' performance. Even Thomas couldn't duplicate them.

#2: The Bruins Had Favorable Matchups in 2011
The second reason the Bruins won the Cup in 2011 is that they faced opponents they matched up well against. They could physically dominate Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver. And they could take advantage of Philadelphia's shaky goaltending, which was so poor that the Flyers signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9 year deal the next season.

The B's were able to push the Canadiens, Lightning, and Canucks around. Furthermore, the Lightning and Canucks got most of their production from the top line and from their Power Play. Chara, Seidenberg, and the Bergeron line were able to limit Stamkos and then the Sedins.

In 2011, the Bruins took advantage of a great opportunity. They had the best goaltending in the League, and were facing teams that they could physically dominate.

Such opportunities are rare. Obviously Thomas is no longer with the team, and as good as Rask is, he hasn't shown the potential to be as insanely good as Thomas was in 2011. And what are the odds of encountering three teams that can be shoved into submission and a fourth that has Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher splitting time in net?

So in order for the Bruins' model to work, they need Rask to play nearly perfectly in net, and to play teams that cannot physically withstand them. The Bruins will be sunk if Rask plays like a human and/or the Bruins play teams like the Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, Devils, or Capitals in the playoffs.

So I don't like how inactive the Bruins have been. They seem to think that they have the winning formula and are a few small pieces away from winning the Cup again. But their winning was based on Tim Thomas playing brilliantly, and on all the stars aligning to give them an opportunity to win the Cup.

Rask is not Thomas in 2011. Thomas in 2012 wasn't even Thomas in 2011.

This team needs better top-line forwards. Lucic is a bruiser that seems to skate at 80% speed 80% of the time, has limited skills, and is horrible on defense. Krejci is a "play-making distributor" which means he can't shoot.

I don't know if Rick Nash is the solution. I do know that the Bruins are more than a few minor adjustments away from being Cup contenders. They need more than a "puck-moving defenseman," to improve their Power Play. They need talented forwards. Forwards who are multi-dimensional. Forwards who can score.

The Bruins seem to be operating under faulty logic. The biggest reasons they won the Cup are taking a year off in Colorado (Thomas), are retired (Mark Recchi), or are beyond their control (their matchups with non-physical opponents).

Most of these current Bruins players may have won in 2011, but they also lost in the opening round in 2012. Some more work can be done to improve them.

National League 8, American League 0

I didn't watch much of this game. I'm a Red Sox fan. I watch plenty of meaningless baseball that's not being taken completely seriously by the players.

David Ortiz was 1 for 2 with a single. And that was the AL's problem. All 6 of their hits were singles.

Verlander was taken advantage of for 5 runs in the 1st. And the game was over after that. If you continued to watch, I'm sorry that you haven't yet found anything more interesting in your life to do.

Although to be fair, the MLB All-Star Game is the best among the 4 major sports. The NHL All-Star Game and NFL Pro Bowl lack the physicality that are the foundations of those two sports. And the NBA All-Star Game doesn't feature defense until the 4th quarter.

Maybe it's something about the game of baseball, that allows it to be played lackadaisically, yet still be played in a normal way. It doesn't require 100% effort to be played. Just ask the 2011 Red Sox.

So the NL will have homefield advantage in the World Series. And that probably doesn't mean much for Sox fans.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Possible All-Star Break Alternatives

I think it's a bit ridiculous how in depth ESPN covered and analyzed the trivial filler-material known as the Homerun Derby. Then again, what else should they talk about? There are no other sports to discuss this week.

I think it's time for the other sports to step up and schedule something for the All-Star Break. The sports fans in this country are eager to be entertained. Give them some options.

Maybe something as simple as making the All-Star Break the first day of free agent movement for the NBA and NHL. At least then there'd be something to talk about apart from batting practice dingers.

Or maybe the NBA and NHL can allow teams to scrimmage each other during this one week.

Better yet, call this week "Pick-Up Game Week." Allow the players to form their own teams and play a game or two in some small gyms and rinks around the US and Canada. Do it for charity. People would love to see unique combinations of players. And as mentioned, there is nothing else on.

The sports fan deserves an option this week. Give us some big free agent signings, or some scrimmages between hastily assembled teams. Let's see KG and Paul Pierce build separate teams and play each other in Boston. Let's see a team of French Canadian hockey players play an Ontarian team in Ottawa. How about an all-star team of European basketball barnstorms across the country?

The Homerun Derby is for morons. Big men hold a club, are thrown easily hit balls that are wound much tighter than regulation balls, and they hit them 450 feet while Chris Berman flirts with a heart attack. It's impressive for a few moments, then repetitive and tedious.

The other sports should take advantage of the opportunity and give us some mid-season entertainment. The players would like it. The media would like it. The broadcasters would like it. The fans would love it.

Entertain us, please.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Ray Allen's Mid-Life Crisis

As a person who wants to see the Celtics win, Ray Allen leaving doesn't bug me much. He'd become a bench player. And didn't seem suited to being that. In the playoffs, he was less selective with his shots, willing to attempt riskier ones than normal. Almost as if he were hungry to take as many shots as he could in the reduced minutes he was on the floor.

His defense was also suffering, mostly due to injury. He now has two new first-names: "When Healthy." Every-time he's discussed now, it's "When healthy, Ray Allen..." And that's never a good sign. It means a player has chronic injury issues. And as a 36 year old with over 1,100 games under his belt, injury issues are part of the game, not just bad luck. They also rarely go away once they start appearing.

He's old, he's slow, he can't train as rigorously as he used to. Which means his shooting will likely worsen. He still had value as a role-player and a situational shooter. But he didn't want to be relegated to secondary status.

So he took less money to play for a good team that has made him believe that he'll do more.

The Celtics got slightly worse, the Heat got slightly better. It's not a major loss for me as someone who wants to see the Celtics win. Especially since overall this off-season, the Celtics have improved.

However, as a fan, with emotional attachments to the team and the game, I hate this Decision of his.

He didn't want to try to earn a spot up here. He didn't want to fight, didn't want to endure the embarrassment of being a bench player. He wanted his ego to be boosted by someone else, not by his own performance.

He's in a mid-life crisis. The Celtics are a sensible Volvo. He wanted a flashy red Porsche (Miami). He wants an instant confidence boost. He doesn't want to acknowledge, accept, and adjust to his aging. He didn't want to earn what he wants. He wanted it given to him because he feels like he deserves it.

Good luck to him. He helped the Celtics win a title in 2008, and that should never be forgotten. For the record, I hate this decision of his, I don't hate him or even dislike him. He's on the Heat, so I wouldn't mind seeing him fail. But he should be welcomed with very loud applause when the Heat play in Boston.

I'm sure Celtics fans will do that. They're one of the more knowledgeable and thoughtful fanbases in the NBA and in this town.

And if Ray Allen does get a standing ovation, it will also show him what he gave up in Boston to get his tires pumped in South Beach.

Broken Red Sox Welcome All-Star Break

The Red Sox are 3-8 in their last 11 games. They were 7-2 in their previous 9. That's 10-10. They're a .500 team capable of brilliance one week, then shameful performances the next. Every part of the team is talented but unreliable. It balances out over a long run. And the result is a 43-43 team.

Actually, they're a 32-23 team when their best pitchers are on the mound, and an 11-20 team when they're two worst starters pitch. Those two worst starters are Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. The Sox are a .582 team when anyone else starts. They're a .355 team when either of these guys pitches.

The Sox haven't won a Josh Beckett start since May 26th.

This isn't an aberration caused by bad luck or poor run support. These two pitchers are simply not pitching well. They're pitching poorly, and not just for two guys who were expected to pitch well. Beckett's ERA is 4.43. Lester's is 4.49. The ERA for the entire American League is 4.04. So both of these guys have ERAs that are about 0.40 higher than the League average. That's bad.

This weekend, Beckett and Lester failed. I heard some analysts applauding Beckett for settling down and going 5 innings on Friday, but he lost the game in the 1st inning. And then last night, Lester couldn't even go 5 innings. These two pitchers don't put the team in position to win very often.

There's no denying their talent, but there's also no denying their failure.

And that's the story of the Red Sox as a whole. You can point to injuries, and count down the days until Jacoby Ellsbury returns. But the two best pitchers on the team have ERAs that are about 10% higher than the AL average. How are you supposed to win when your most talented players are playing worse than the League's average talent?

Not to mention you have a middle-reliever who is obsessed with Mark Teixeira. Your best hitter is concerned about his contract. And your bullpen is a patched together mess that's one loose thread away from disintegrating.

During the All-Star Break, the Red Sox will be playing the most consistent baseball they've played all season long.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Friday, July 06, 2012

Is David Ortiz a Hall of Famer?

No. He's not.

Sorry, Boston, but the beloved Big Papi should not be enshrined in Cooperstown. And there are three reasons why.

Reason #1:
He's a Designated Hitter. Of the 1,823 games of baseball he's played, he's only played 257 in the field. There are no current Hall of Famers who were primarily DHs. Edgar Martinez might be inducted one day. But he played more twice as many games in the field as Ortiz has (592). So far, Martinez has only managed to receive 36.5% in Hall of Fame voting. Induction to the Hall requires 75%.

David Ortiz has much more impressive numbers than Edgar Martinez, but he's still a DH. By itself, that's not enough to keep him out of Cooperstown. But it doesn't help his cause. The DH is viewed (perhaps rightly so) as an incomplete, one dimensional player. It's for big fat sluggers who have no other skills but hitting.

Reason #2:
400 Homeruns simply isn't as astonishing anymore. Neither is the 500 HR mark. There's a very good chance that Ortiz will finish his career with more than 500 homeruns. That's not an automatic ticket to the Hall anymore.

Ortiz has played his career in the most slugger-friendly era in the game's history. The ball was wound tightly, ballparks were built smaller, expansion spread pitching talent thinly, scouting videos allowed batters to see pitchers before ever facing them.

Which is more impressive: Griffey's 630 homeruns, or Mantle's 536? Frank Thomas' 521, or Carl Yastrzemski's 452?

Accumulating massive amounts of homeruns is not as impressive as it used to be. And the fact that the DH allows players to extend their careers as slow, unathletic, hulking sluggers doesn't help Ortiz's case, even if he finishes with 550+ homeruns.

And even before the Sluggers' Era, 400 homeruns was not a guarantee to the Hall. Dave Kingman hit 442 in the '70s and '80s. He's not in the Hall. Darrel Evans hit 414 during the same period, and is also not in Cooperstown. Both these guys played a defensive position as well.

Dale Murphy hit 398 homeruns. He also won the MVP twice and 5 Gold Gloves. He's not in the Hall. Joe Carter hit 396. Graig Nettles hit 390. 400 homeruns has never been a key to the Hall, and it's even less of one these days.

Reason #3:
Perhaps the biggest reason Ortiz isn't a Hall of Famer is that he has a PED history. A PEDigree, if you will. He tested positive in 2003, when the MLB anonymously tested players in order to gauge how prevalent PEDs were in the game. In 2009, it was learned that his name was on a secret list of positive tests.

Ortiz blamed an ignorance of over-the-counter supplements for the positive test. He did so after he had time to consult with the MLBPA and confirm that what he tested positive for was never going to be known.

The Big Papi loving Boston sports media refused to dig any deeper or ask any hard questions. We all forgave Ortiz and he never apologized or satisfactorily explained what he took, when he took it, and why.

Statistically, his numbers suggest a major mid-career improvement, particularly in the power department.

He went from a solid 20 homerun hitter with a .500 slugging percentage in 2002, to a menacing 31 homerun hitter with a .592 slugging percentage in 2003. That's the year he tested positive for PEDs, and that's the year he became good friends with Manny Ramirez.

He continued to improve. 41 homeruns, 47, then 54. He tripled his annual homerun output from 18 in 2001 to 54 in 2006. As his HR numbers increased, his slugging percentage didn't change much because he was hitting fewer doubles in 2005 and 2006. In 2004, he hit 47 doubles, then 40 in 2005, then 29 in 2006. He was hitting just as many balls hard (between 85 to 91 extra-base hits per season from 2004 to 2006), they were simply travelling farther. Doubles were becoming homeruns. Because he was stronger.

PEDs can't make a regular person into a great ballplayer. But they can turn a solid hitter into an All-Star. They can turn doubles into homeruns.

58 of his 400 homeruns came before he arrived in Boston, and before his positive test. 342 came after that test.

142 of his 400 homeruns came in a three year burst from 2004 to 2006. He then slowed down, and has hit 169 homeruns in 5.5 seasons.

How much did PEDs impact those numbers? There's no way to know. He never revealed what he took, or how long he took it. He claims he doesn't know. So how can we know?

All we can really know is what we see on the field. I see a DH who has reached a milestone that isn't very amazing anymore and who has a positive PED test in his history that correlates with his improvement as a player. Because of that, I don't see a Hall of Famer.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Hey David Ortiz, Shut Up

Before I commence ranting, I think the Red Sox should give David Ortiz a contract extension. He's on pace for 40 homeruns, he's leading the team in every category, he's worth the money.

But I also think he needs to shut the fuck up. I am tired of his rants about respect. Those are words that agents use to justify a player's greed. And now he's claiming that he feels "humiliated" to not have a contract extension already.

He's getting paid over $14 million to play baseball. Wait, excuse me. He doesn't play the field so he's getting paid $14 million to hit. And he's bitching about respect? Fuck off, Papi.

And the Red Sox have announced they won't give you an extension mid-season. I don't agree with that decision, but it's been made, deal with it.

There are a lot of people in this country out of work, or working part-time jobs and struggling to pay their bills. And Ortiz is whining about respect because he's not sure how many millions of dollars he'll make next year. He's just another out of touch fantasy-world athlete.

Then there's the hardships of his team. The Red Sox are struggling (and failing) to rise more than a few games above .500. And he's worried about himself. They get swept by the lowly A's, and he's talking about his contract and how it makes him feel. There is no "I" in team but there are two in "David Ortiz."

This team is 42-40, on pace for an 84-78 season. He's doing his job on the field, but off of it he doesn't seem to care about the team. He's more frustrated with not having an extension for 2013 than the Red Sox going 2-5 on a roadtrip against crappy teams.

Is he a team player? We applauded him for that team meeting he held a while ago. But was that meeting about the team or about his own ego? In that meeting, we know he pitted the hitters against the starting pitchers. Does that sound very team-building? Dividing everyone into opposing groups?

Would he have done the same thing if the hitters were the guys not pulling their weight? They aren't right now, and Mr. Team Meeting hasn't done anything about that.

I've been thoroughly annoyed with the martyr complex Ortiz has demonstrated the last two seasons. He gets 35,000 people cheering him on every night and then claims he isn't respected? And look at the shitty car he had to drive back in 2007...

That poor, humiliated, embarrassed, bastard. That's a Mercedes Benz SL65 AMG. It has a V12 engine that produces 604 horsepower. If he doesn't get that extension for 2014, how will he be able to afford another $100k+ car so he can keep cars like this one from racking up too much mileage.

Poor David Ortiz. Poor deprived, disrespected, under-appreciated, underpaid, David Ortiz. Now I can understand why he's crying so much. Life is so hard for him.

I feel bad for David Ortiz. I really do. It must be hard to see a baseball through all these crocodile tears.

He's just like every other greedy, selfish, obnoxious, disconnected ballplayer on this team.

Maybe the Red Sox Shouldn't Have Traded Kevin Youkilis

Hindsight is 20/20. And Kevin Youkilis is 11 for 36. He's hitting .306 for the White Sox, including a game-winning RBI single yesterday. He's already knocked in 9 runs and hit a homerun in Chicago. He only had 14 RBI and 4 HRs with the Red Sox before he was traded.

Meanwhile, Will Middlebrooks hasn't played recently and is questionable to play this weekend. When he strained his hamstring a few days ago, Red Sox suck-up Nick Cafardo astutely noted "The Sox ideally could use a veteran corner infielder or someone with third base experience."

I know a team that is not only willing to give up such a player, they'd also be willing to pay most of his salary, and all you'd have to give them is a utility guy with a sub-Mendoza average, and a mediocre minor league reliever.

The same club that sold recycled shreds of infield tarp for $60 a pop sold Youkilis for next-to-nothing.

And we all agreed it was smart. Because Youkilis must have been becoming a problem in the clubhouse.

Was he? I don't know. The media, which has a history of being influenced by the whispers and rumors that leak out of Red Sox Front Office, seemed convinced that he was. And perhaps he was. He's always seemed to be, at best, a prickly personality. And at worst, an utter prick.

But if clubhouse chemistry was the motivation, aren't there similarly offensive jerks to get rid of? Why is Josh Beckett still on this team if chemistry is a worry? Not only is he a lazy weasel, you can actually get something for him in a trade. And don't bother arguing that Beckett's high salary makes him untradeable. The Red Sox were willing to continue to pay Youkilis.

Sure, the Red Sox "need" Beckett in order to win. And that is the absolute worst kind of negative clubhouse guy to have, the one who has all the power. That's the guy that must be gotten rid of.

I fell in line with everyone else. It seemed as though Kevin Youkilis had to go and had to go quickly. And it's easy now to look back question it, with him winning games, and Middlebrooks temporarily out of the lineup.

But why was it so rushed? The deadline is still weeks away. Why were the Sox negotiating with multiple teams but unable to get anything significant in return?

Clubhouse issues aside, are the Red Sox better or worse with Kevin Youkilis on the bench or Brent Lillibridge?

And would Youkilis have been a problem if the Red Sox had kept him informed about his status with the team? Just a quick meeting with the GM maybe telling him "You'll be hearing your name in trade rumors, we are talking with teams about trading you. We'll keep you posted." Instead, Youkilis was the last to know about what was happening to him. He had to learn about it from the Globe and Herald at the same time we did.

That'd make me an angry individual and potential clubhouse problem.

The Sox traded Youkilis but didn't dump his salary, didn't get much in return, and are now a little worse actually. They might have resolved a chemistry issue, but there's still plenty of acid in that mixture. And now Middlebrooks is hurt, Youkilis is doing well in black and white, and the Sox are realizing that they're very shallow at third base.

At the very least, Youkilis' success in Chicago seems like the Red Sox are paying the price for some bad karma.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Ortiz Hits 400th, Sox Lose 40th

The Red Sox went 7-2 on their homestand. And then went to the West Coast to play two of the worst teams in the AL. And they went 2-5, including a 3 game sweep at the hand of the Oakland Athletics. And so ends a 16 game stretch against inferior opponents that I felt the Sox could take advantage of. Instead, they went 9-7.

The pitching has been fine (apart from Matsuzaka's horror show). As it was yesterday. Aaron Cook went a very respectable 6 innings, allowing 3 runs. That's not great, but it gave the Sox a chance to win.

A chance they didn't take advantage of yesterday, nor have they taken advantage of on this road trip. They scored 14 runs in 7 games. That's 2 runs per game if your nursing a firework hangover.

This came after scoring 69 runs in 9 games (7.67 per game).

The only thing consistent about the Red Sox offense has been their inconsistency.

David Ortiz hit his 400th homerun. It was a solo homerun. His 22nd of the season. He's on pace for over 40 and will thankfully not be taking part in the Homerun Derby. He's been the most consistent and by far most prolific member of the Red Sox offense.

Maybe things will improve when Ellsbury returns. Maybe not. We're just slightly over halfway through the season and the Sox are on pace for 84 wins. They win 7 of 9, then lose 5 of 7. All against mediocre and poor opponents.

They have a 4 game homestand before the All-Star break. The Yankees are in town starting Friday, then a doubleheader Saturday, and a game Sunday night.

This series is an opportunity to reclaim ground in the divisional race. Or to be knocked out of it completely.

Josh Beckett opens the series for the Sox (why does that give me a bad feeling?). He opposes Hiroki Kuroda. In June he was 4-1 with a 1.98 ERA. This could be difficult for the Sox.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy 4th of July

Celtics Sign Jason Terry

The Celtics and Jason Terry agreed to a 3 year deal yesterday. The deal is reported to be worth the "full mid-level exception of $5 million." I don't understand the NBA salary cap at all, so whatever.

Anyway, Terry is a solid bench scorer. He already is Ray Allen could be "if healthy." He's a veteran, he's comfortable off the bench, he's played over 1,000 regular season games and 87 playoff games. He already has a ring.

He has the 4th most 3-pointers of all-time. He's a .380 career 3-point shooter and .448 from the field.

He only started 1 game last season, but he averaged 15.1 points.

He gives the Celtics what Ray Allen might be able to give. That doesn't mean the Celtics couldn't still utilize Allen. But it does mean they are less dependent on him to provide some bench scoring. And they desperately needed scoring from the bench. Brandon Bass was the only Celtic who scored well off the bench (11.8 points per game off the bench). Apart from him, no Celtic scored more than 7 points per game as a bench player.

So in this off-season, the Celtics have added size and bench scoring. Two of their biggest problems from last year might be solved.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Matsuzaka Meltdown

On the bright side, Daisuke Matsuzaka's painful performance (both for him and for Sox fans) allowed many in New England to fall asleep at a normal hour.

In the second inning, Daisuke threw 17 pitches. 10 were balls. 3 were struck as hits (a single, a double, a homerun), 2 were foul, and 2 were strikes. Bobby Valentine mercifully pulled him out of the game.

This game was one of the worst I've ever seen him pitch. He was fooling no-one. Even the Mariners would have scored off him. Carl Crawford would have hit him. Adrian Gonzalez would have knocked him around, even in clutch situations.

It was ugly.

Daisuke's supporters always use the win-loss argument. Well, he's 0-3 now. With a nearly evil ERA of 6.65.

The word is that he's had neck stiffness. He's had it throughout his rehab but has usually been able to pitch through it. But after this debacle, he might be placed on the DL.

Daisuke's dreadful outing overshadows how feeble the Red Sox offense was last night and has been in the Pacific Time Zone. They've scored 10 runs in the last 5 games. Before coming out West, they were scoring in bunches. That's been the story all year long with this lineup: flood or drought, feast or famine.

6 hits last night, 5 of them singles. 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position. Ortiz and Gonzalez each grounded into a double play. The Sox made Sean Doolittle look amazing. He threw 2.1 perfect innings of relief.

The good news is that Jon Lester is on the mound tonight. Before the season, Lester got all pissy because he wasn't considered "elite." Well here's yet another chance for you to demonstrate your elitiness, Mr. Lester. The Sox are on a 2-3 slide, last night's starter got shelled, the offense is struggling, and the team needs something special from you to help them turn the tide.

He faces Bartolo Colon, who is 6-7 with a 4.22 ERA. Colon has been very inconsistent this season. For instance, in April he was 2-2 with a 2.86 ERA. In May he was 1-3 with a 7.92 ERA. An inconsistent starting pitcher against an inconsistent offense. The Sox will either score less than 3 or more than 10.

In his career, David Ortiz is 5 for 43 against Colon (.116 average). One of those hits was a homerun.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo