July 2006

No Deal

At the end of the day, there was no deal that Theo Epstein felt comfortable making, so he didn’t make a knee-jerk reaction to the Yankees getting Bobby Abreu.

To me, this is proof that Epstein was not kidding when he said there might be a time when the organization might have to take a small step back in order to take a step forward for the long haul.

Obviously teams wanted Lester and the Red Sox weren’t going to part with him. Is this team good enough to win the World Series? Maybe, maybe not. Would they be guaranteed to win the World Series if they made a big deal? Of course not, and in that case, they might have suffered in future years as well.

This isn’t to say that i’m not surprised Theo didn’t make a deal. I am surprised that with all the movement  and deals that were made, the Red Sox didn’t make one, but that might, in the end, be the best thing. We’ll find out.

As for tonight, i wouldn’t be too worked up about Wells. He hasn’t pitched in two months. He’s rusty. This is the price you pay sometimes for bypassing a rehab start.

Ian.

Yankees make their move

The Yankees got their bat, and it’s a big bat in Bobby Abreu. We all know that Theo Epstein is not a reactionary GM, so i don’t think he’s going to make a move just to counter what the Yankees did.

But I know he’s been making all of his phone calls trying to make this team better, so if a move is there to be had, Theo will make it. That said. it’s hard to get a feel on whether a move will be made.

Obviously they have some chips in the outfield. I’d hesitate to trade Trot because of how hard it is to play right field at Fenway. But if Coco or Wily Mo is the means to an end — getting a good starting pitcher — I’d strike.

Who thinks a big move is coming and who doesn’t? Let me know.

Ian.

That Time of Year

Very simple blog  that i’ll keep live until Monday’s trade deadline.  What are the final things that Theo Epstein needs to do to make this team a World Series team before July 31?

I want to hear everyone’s suggestions. Should he stand pat, tweak or shake things up? give me specifics.

This should be good fodder as we sift through these final couple of days of rumors and speculation before Monday at 4 p.m. ET, when we find out for good what the 2006 Red Sox will look like down the stretch.

Ian.

The Kids are human

Jon Lester finally plummeted back to Planet Earth today. So did Manny Delcarmen. Let’s remember, they are rookies. This wasn’t going to last forever.

Lester had been walking a tight rope for the last few weeks, putting men on base and somehow wiggling out of jams. Today, his mistakes were crushed off and over the walls here at Safeco. Because of how grounded and focused Lester is, I doubt that pitching in his hometown had any impact on his lackluster start thus far today. It was just one of those days that was bound to happen sooner or later.

As for Delcarmen, he had been uttterly brilliant of late, setting guys up with his fastball and finishing them with his curve. But he got knocked around a little today.

Coco got  on base his first two at-bats today, doubles both times up. That’s a good sign for sure. And Varitek made solid contact a couple of times. If the Red Sox can get some bang from the lower part of the order, the offense will become dangerous again.

Not so dangerous these days is Trot. Has anyone noticed that he’s transformed into a singles hitter of late? Nixon last went deep on June 9. He has no extra basehits in July. It’s strange, Nixon came out last year hitting for some power, suffered some injuries and really hasn’t had any power over the last calendar year.

I’m wondering if the Red Sox charge hard for a No. 5 hitter over the trading deadline.

Greetings from Seattle

Here I am, back, well-rested after eight days off. And I come back in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest. Seattle is the best. Anyone who has never been out here is depriving themselves of a great experience. This is, IMO, the best city on the Major League Baseball tour when you factor in everything. The city, the ballpark, the people, the scenery, just a great, great place.

On to baseball, where word finally broke that it will be Kason Gabbard taking the ball for the Red Sox Saturday in place of the injured Tim Wakefield. This can’t exactly be a confidence booster for Abe Alvarez and Jason Johnson to be snubbed in favor of a man even the most astute Red Sox fans had not heard of until this week.

I think they’re trying to catch lightning in a bottle, as was the case with David Pauley earlier this year, and that worked OK for a couple of starts.

Wells continues to take very encouraging steps. he’ll throw a simulated game Monday in Oakland, and perhaps make a Minor League rehab start five days later. My best guess is that you could see David Wells back on the mound at Fenway either Aug. 3 at home against Cleveland or on the road the next night at Tropicana Field.

Clement doesn’t seem anywhere close to pitching again. I’d think September at the earliest.

Mike Lowell is still a little sick, so Youkilis will play third tonight, with Ortiz at first and Manny DH-ing. The Manny-Ortiz thing will stay like that tomorrow as well with Youk taking the day off and Lowell presumably getting back into the lineup. Kapler is in left tonight; Wily Mo will probably be there tomorrow.

There it is, the news of the day, in a nutshell.

Heat is On

Greetings from Pennsylvania, where, by the way, Hershey Park is one of the greatest amusement parks I’ve ever gone to. It’s so much better than Disney, where everything is such a production and every ride is a two-hour wait. Hershey has lots of stuff for the kids and us adults. Tons of roller coasters and fun water rides.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, how about that pennant race. The weather is stifling lately and now, literally, the heat is on the Red Sox. Just a meager half-game separates them from the Yankees entering play on Monday.

Now we will find out what this 2006 Red Sox team is made of. Can Josh Beckett get his act together when the team needs him most? How will Mark Loretta, Coco Crisp, Mike Lowell and the other newbies respond to the pressure of playing in a pennant race in Boston, where every pitch is scrutinized to the Nth degree?

With the Royals coming to town, we’re going to hear plenty about Mientkiewicz. Spare me. He should have never kept that ball. He had as little to do with the Red Sox winning that World Series as any player on the entire roster. He should have given the ball to Foulke, case closed. He should really stop whining about how he was treated after trying to keep a ball that never should have been his. At least his agent had the sense to get the ball into the Hall of Fame.

The Red Sox need to regain their swagger here and flatten the Royals.

Monday update: It might have been 100 degrees at Dutch Wonderland today, a quaint little kids park in Lancaster, PA. And thankfully, they had a water park, where we spent the last two hours of the day. There is NOTHING better than getting splashed by globs of water when it’s 100 degrees out.

I’ll check in soon. Later.

Ian.

Start Me Up

Was that any way to start the second half? How maddening is Julian Tavarez? Every time he takes a leap forward — as in four shutout innings last Sunday in Chicago — he takes a giant step back as in a couple of the hanging meatballs he threw tonight.

Oh well, I wasn’t at Fenway tonight, I started a week of vacation tonight. I actually fell asleep on the futon with my four-year old son and awoke in the bottom of the 11th with Ortiz at the plate, thinking he could hit a walkoff home run yet again. Then i saw that the Sox had fallen behind 5-3 during my slumber.

They still gave it a nice fight at the end. I thought Lowell might jack one there, but he let the first two pitches go over to get behind 0-2. Ah well, let’s see what Beckett has tomorrow night.

I’m sure I’ll still be posting periodically during my hiatus, though i will be traveling with the family for a minivan vacation to some kids parks in Pennsylvania starting on Saturday. Feel free to use this blog as your sounding board during that time. It helps me keep track of what i’m missing.

I return to game coverage when the Red Sox begin their West Coast trip in Seattle next Friday, July 21.

Later,

Ian.

Putting a bow on it

The first half is over after an epic 19-inning game — unfortunately a loss — and I think you’d have to be pretty happy if you’re a Red Sox fan.

This team has a terrific combination of veterans and young players right now, and everyone seems to be feeling good about themselves at the moment. Earlier in the half, the Red Sox couldn’t seem to get in any kind of groove. They’d win three, lose two, win four, lose two, win four, lose one, that type of thing.

But they’ve recently gone on a run that any contender goes on during the course of the season and that’s when you have the inner confidence to believe you’re going to win every night.

Here were the most pleasant developments of the first half:

Papelbon’s emergence:We all knew this guy was going to be something special from that first day he took the mound against the Twins on July 31, 2005. But who could know he would so swiftly rise to the point where he might be the best closer in baseball? The Red Sox have a great attitude right now, and that is that all they need to do is be winning a game going into the eighth inning and they are going to win.

Schilling’s
resurgence:
This is what Curt Schilling said following his last start of Spring Training — "I want to believe that physically I can be where I was, if not better,
because I feel like I’ve added some things, and mentally I’m better. Until you go out there and it counts, you can think
all you want. I’m human, so I want to see myself get it done, so that’s
probably where a lot of the nerves come from."

I think we can all agree that the nerves are gone, and so are the questions, both from Schilling and everyone else. Is he the dominant guy he was from 2001-2004? Not quite, but he’s not far off either. Is he still a guy you’d want to take the ball when something is on the line? No question about it. If Schilling can figure out how to limit his gopher balls, he might be even better in the second half.

Papi’s pop: Every year, you think to yourself, there’s no way this guy can be better than he was last year. And every year, he comes back better than he was the year before. How is that possible? Because David Ortiz has the gift that only the select best athletes in the world have, and that’s a burning desire to never let up and to constantly be adjusting and learning. Jimmie Foxx’s team record of 50 home runs is going down as logn as Papi stays healthy. And wouldn’t it be great drama to watch him go for 60?

Steady at the corners: Kevin Youkilis can flat-out play, both at the plate and in the field. But did anyone know what a consummate leadoff hitter he would be? Mike Lowell has been a breath of fresh air for this team. I can’t think of a bigger professional that i’ve ever seen on a daily basis. He defines the term "gamer". And as Kevin Millar said to me about Lowell back in May, "Holy doubles!". Yeah, the doubles keep booming off Lowell’s bat, and the home runs come every now and then also. Defensively, Lowell is Bill Mueller without the bad knees. Smooth and slick, always in position to make the play.

Kids are here to stay: Jon Lester, Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen can tell the Pawtucket equipment manager not to keep a locker fresh for them at McCoy. This trio is here to stay. Lester has shown rare poise — Papelbon-esque poise — for someone so young. Any team would take him as a fifth starter. Delcarmen is commanding his offspeed pitches, something he couldn’t do last year. Hansen is throwing his fastball with confidence and getting results even without his patented slider working.

Concerns: Not everything is rosy, even for a first place team. One issue that concerns me is Jason Varitek’s bat. Could all those years of wear and tear finally be slowing Varitek down at the plate? Or is it more a confidence issue. I’m thinking it’s more mental than physical, and that Varitek will have a strong finish, but we’ll see. Also, we’ve yet to see the real Coco Crisp — the guy who dominated for a month in Fort Myers. I know that it was only Spring Training, but Coco looked like a player who was going to do special things this year and we’ve seen no signs of that yet. Obviously the injury was a huge road block, so perhaps he’ll get stronger down the stretch. This team still does not have a fifth starter. Jason Johnson? Come on. I don’t think that is going to work. It’s hard to count on Clement right now both because of the way he pitched earlier this year and because of health issues. Before it’s all said and done, I believe Theo Epstein will find a fifth starter from outside the organization.

I’ll talk to everyone from Pittsbrugh. Thanks for all the great posts throughout the first half and spread word about the blog. We should double the readership in the second half. There’s a goal.

Thanks,

Ian.

Guess who delivers the must win?

I am out of words and adjectives to describe what David Ortiz has meant to this team the last four years. He is ridiculously clutch. Someone, somewhere please find me a hitter more clutch than this guy.

The Sox have lost three in a row. The Rays are giving them fits again tonight. Even though the Sox are ahead, the game just does not feel safe. It’s 6-5 in the ninth and Ortiz wallops a grand slam. Everyone can breathe easy.

Two homers and six ribbies for the big man tonight. He has 29 homers ,the most by a Sox player before the All-Star break since Yaz in 1969. Ortiz now has 82 ribbies, just two shy of Manny’s club record before the All-Star break, set in 2001.

Much like Celtics fans in the 1980s with Bird, you just need to savor every moment with this guy. He is doing things at a rate we might never see again in our Red Sox lifetime.

That’s all I have to say at this time. See you from the Windy City. I can’t wait for Schill’s grudgefest against Ozzie on Sunday.

Later,

Ian.

The Jason Johnson experiement

OK, we are just eight innings into the Jason Johnson experiment, but I am already finding it unwatchable. It appears his problems are far deeper than the shoddy infield that played behind him in Cleveland.

The guy just has a knack for giving up hits. It is a reminder of what Derek Lowe was like at his worst. I mentioned to a couple of other people that the only thing missing from tonight’s game were the "Derek Lowe face" as Bill Simmons always calls it, and the Derek Lowe shoulder shrug.

Giving up hits is one thing, but not being able to hold runners is even more frustrating. Everyone knows Crawford is one of the fastest runners in baseball, but Johnson never even gave the slightest look toward third base when he went into his slow, plodding motion and crawford stole home easily.

Paging Kyle Snyder; paging Abe Alvarez; paging a healthy Matt Clement. Paging somebody. Call me pessimistic — actually, I’m usually quite optimistic — but I just don’t see this experiment working. Not that there was any risk for trying. Johnson was virtually free. I guess we are now finding out why he was so readily available.

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