October 2008

Looking Ahead

The World Series is over, and I think a lot of Red Sox fans are happy about this. Wasn’t it hard to watch that Fall Classic knowing that your team was so painfully close to being in there, and very well could have won it all?

Anyway, congratulations to the Phillies and to the Rays. They both had great seasons and should be extremely proud of what they accomplished.

I am still just blown away by the season that Brad Lidge had. There wasn’t one time all year he didn’t do his job. He converted every save opportunity from the beginning of April until the end of October. That is mighty impressive.

On to Red Sox matters. The end of the World Series means that we can start looking ahead to the winter, and what will soon be a simmering stove of player movement.

I’m not sure the Red Sox need to spend over $200 million on Mark Teixeira as great a hitter as he is. The Red Sox have a highly productive bat in Kevin Youkilis at first, and Mike Lowell — coming off hip surgery — at third. Let’s face it, because Lowell is rehabbing, you’re not going to be able to trade him. This is an uncommon injury so I don’t think many teams would take the risk. And if Lowell can get himself healthy, the Red Sox have a very productive bat in the middle of that lineup.

Pitching is always a place you can upgrade and there’s a lot to like in this year’s market. I’d start by making a furious run at Jake Peavy. This guy is a stopper, and pitching in an environment like Boston could get him to take his game to another level. The Red Sox have the chips to legitimately be in the race for a player like this, much like they were for Santana last year. And Theo Epstein and Padres GM Kevin Towers obviously have a great relationship.

I’m not big on Sabathia. He’s going to be overly expensive, so if I’m the Red Sox, I let the Yankees overspend on him.

Derek Lowe is an interesting one. We all know what he can do. We all know how much he thrives in Boston, especially in October. But what will the market be for the sinkerballer? Obviously he wants to come back  but it’s unclear how much the Red Sox would spend for a player in his mid 30s, albeit one who has been exceedingly durable throughout his career.

A.J. Burnett? I’d be a little leery there. He’s a tease. Sure, he finally had a great year and it was in a contract year. Not sure he could keep that up over the course of a long-term deal.

Catcher is the most intriguing part of this winter. It is hard to fathom that the Red Sox could be without Jason Varitek when pitchers and catchers report in February. As Kevin Youkilis said after Game 7,
“If I walk into Spring Training and don’t see Jason Varitek, it will be a day that will be very eye-opening and very sad.”

I’m with Youk on this one. I know Varitek was beyond terrible offensively this season. Could it be, however, that it was nothing more than a player putting too much pressure on himself in a contract year, not to mention the fact that he was going through a divorce? The guy is human. Both these things could have played an impact. If I’m the Red Sox, I try real hard to get Varitek signed for two years and hope that it’s enough. There’s just not a lot of catching out there.

I think the Boston offense doesn’t need a big shakeup. If you get Lowell healthy and David Ortiz close to back to what he was, those are two big additions to your lineup right there. Jacoby Ellsbury will probably get better and so, too, could Jed Lowrie.

What would all of you like to happen this offseason?

Closing Time

Sorry I haven’t been around the last few days. I needed some time to decompress. I’m sure most of you feel the same way.

At any rate, I just wanted to thank all of you for keeping the comments section lively all season. It was an entertaining year to say the least.

This year’s group was extremely classy, and I have to thank all of you for that.

I’ll still be around in the winter, so keep stopping by Brownie Points.

It figures to be another fascinating offseason.  Have a great weekend.

Ian.

Game 7 of the ALCS

Is there really anything else to say?

Let’s get this thing going.

Game 6 of the ALCS

Apologies for my late entry. At least I was here for the start of the game, unlike TBS. I haven’t read the comments section yet, but I imagine you folks were a little, uh, perturbed.

Top of the sixth: What a wild game. Who among you called the Jason Varitek home run after the captain had started the series in an 0-for-14 spell? That error by Jason Bartlett was a killer for the Rays. And David Ortiz, who is finding his rhythm in this series just in time, just poked his bat out there and stuck the ball into right for an RBI single to make it 4-2.

Bottom of the fifth: Beckett looks like he’s laboring now. His velocity is down to 88-90. He gives up game-tying solo homer to  Bartlett, who had hit one home run all year. He reached back and blew a 93-mph heater by Iwamura to get out of the inning.

Top of the fourth: This night has truly been bizarre. First, there’s no TV for the first inning and now it appears home plate umpire Deryl Cousins has bowed out of the game because of a health issue. It might have been a foul tip by Jason Varitek a couple of innings ago. At any rate, we’re in a delay. Delay is over. Here comes Tim McLelland.

Bottom of the third. Beckett still looking sharp, but a backdoor curve
hit the No. 9 hitter, Jason Bartlett with one out. Josh said a couple
of naughty words in a shocker. Huge out by Beckett after falling 3-0 to
Iwamura and Upton looming to get back into the count and get him on a
popup. Great sequence with Upton. Beckett really had him mixed up
between the heat and the soft stuff. Finally got him on a curve, with
Upton tapping weakly back to the box.

Top of the third. Boy, Shields really looked wobbly. He’s up to 69
pitches. The Red Sox were a big hit away from giving themselves a
little breathing room, but couldn’t quite get it.

Bottom of the second inning:Beckett looked much sharper. And his offspeed stuff looks great.

Top of the second inning: Huge for Youk to hit the equalizer there and quiet down the cowbells. Jason Varitek came up in a big spot and you’d have to think he’d get a hit sooner or later in the series, but not that time.

Bottom of the first inning. I think everyone was looking to see a sharp Beckett, so it was a bit of a concern that the ridiculously hot B.J. Upton took him to the C-ring catwalk. But Josh Beckett settled down and Jed Lowrie went into the hole to make the exact 6-4-3 double play that he bobbled in Game 1 against the Angels.

Observations from first inning. Great idea by Coco Crisp to start the game with a bunt, but getting picked off there? Ouch.

OK, back later.

Season On The Brink — Again

Here we go again. The Red Sox fighting off elimination. In manager Terry Francona‘s term as manager, the club has faced elimination in eight postseason games and have won seven of them.

If you stretch it back to 2003, the team is 11-2 in those situations. And if you want to go back to 1999, they are 14-3 when they face elimination. If you really want to stretch it out, the Red Sox are 24-11 all-time on nights they could have been eliminated from a postseason series.

In all honesty, that doesn’t help them win tonight’s game. They need to out-execute the Rays to do that. But it does, as Jason Varitek says, create a “sense of belief”.

I would expect a revved-up Fenway crowd for this one. It’s been strange to see the team play so poorly at home, where they are 1-3 thus far in this postseason and the only win came on that fluky botched squeeze by the Angels.

To get to the World Series, the Red Sox need to win three in a row. An optimist would point out that they’ve done that 15 times this season, and twice against the Rays.

Including the postseason, opponents are 0-for-1 against Dice-K with the bases loaded this season, though I’m sure most Sox players and fans would hope he doesn’t try to stretch that stat out tonight.

And after a dreary day, the sky is brightening. It’s a mystery who will throw out the first pitch. I haven’t seen anything on that yet. Any guesses? I’m sure most people are more preoccupied with what Dice-K and Kazmir’s first pitches are going to look like.

Later,

Ian.

White Knuckle Time

Urgency has reached the Red Sox for the first time in 2008. They lose tonight, and they’re in a very deep hole. Yes, I know they came back from 3-1 in last year’s ALCS, but last time they had a vintage Josh Beckett lined up for Game 5 and a battle-tested Curt Schilling lined up for Game 6.

They need this win tonight and it could come down to which way Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball is floating. Keep in mind, the venerable veteran was in this exact situation once before. The Red Sox trailed the Yankees 2-1 entering Game 4 of the 2003 ALCS and Wakefield came up huge in that game.

But the offense also needs to get going. Jacoby Ellsbury must get on base and Big Papi must start hitting again. If that happens, everything else should fall into place.

One stunning observation from yesterday is how dead the crowd was. And this is even before Lester gave up the longballs. I would expect the crowd would be much livelier tonight, given the situation.

Ian.

Game 2 of the ALCS — More Problems For Beckett

If you’re concerned, you should be. Josh Beckett has come out and gotten hit hard through three innings. Everyone was hoping his Game 3 start against the Angels was just a fluke of rustiness. While Josh isn’t laboring to that degree, the Rays are making solid contact against him.

I’m not sure it’s realistic to expect Beckett will suddenly put the Red Sox on his back this postseason. Lester will have to keep being that guy.

That said, the Boston bats have done a great job against Kazmir, who threw 87 pitches in the first four innings.

Also, David Ortiz‘s comments were very provocative after Game 1, saying that he saw different faces on the Rays than in the regular season. In other words, they weren’t the same care-free team they were during the regular season. It was extremely interesting to hear Rays manager Joe Maddon back those comments before Game 2:

“I agree, and I did see it,” said Maddon. “That was our first foray into that situation yesterday and I’d like to believe we’re going to come out and be more typical today. But I can’t disagree with him.”

Tonight, we will find out what kind of series this is going to be. Remember, when the Indians beat the Sox in Game 2 of last year’s ALCS, that basically set up a seven-game series.

Game 1 of the ALCS

Thoughts from the first inning:

If that ground-rule double from Kevin Youkilis takes a different kind of bounce, the Red Sox are up 1-0. That’s baseball.

Does Dice-K intentionally try to stress everyone out with the high-wire walk routine? I think not, but I’ve never seen a pitcher who offends so many fans and media members. Maybe I have a bit of a biased view, but I guess I do enjoy the drama of it all.

Thoughts from the second inning:

Dice-K might have had enough dancing with fire in the first, not to mention in Anaheim. A clean, clean, crisp second.

Thoughts from the third inning:

Shields is looking NASTY. But so was Lackey in the first five innings of Game 1 against the LAA. Speaking of Lackey, he really disgraced himself with some of his comments after the Angels ere eliminated.

Thoughts in the bottom of the fifth:

Matsuzaka went from shaky shaky shaky to some of the most dominant pitching we’ve seen from him all year. He’s just mowing through the order right now

Thoughts from the bottom of the sixth:
Got to love those over-shifts. The one Pedroia was in against Pena kept Dice-K’s no-hitter going for an extra inning.

Thoughts from the bottom of the seventh:
The fact that Manny Delcarmen began the inning warming up in the Boston bullpen leads me to believe that Dice-K — 89 pitches through six — wouldn’t have been able to go the distance, no-hitter or not. A clean hard single by Crawford ended the bid.

Enough about Fight Night

During ALCS media hour, the Red Sox were pretty patient with all the different lines of questioning. And believe me, this is an interesting time of year when it comes to questions. You have media people here from all over the place and many of these people haven’t covered much baseball all season.

But the one question that seemed to be getting on the nerves of the players is whether there is any lingering animosity from the fight that took place back in June. You know. The one where Coco Crisp charged James Shields and did his best Muhammad Ali moves. That was so long ago. The Celtics were playing Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Manny Ramirez was still a core member of the Red Sox. In fact, he took a swing at Kevin Youkilis that same night.

Anyway, David Ortiz had the best response to the fight questions.

“Bad blood? This isn’t the WWF. This is a baseball game
bro. Come on. I see them out there, they hug me, I’m hugging them back. It’s a
game. Sometimes you have things happen in the game. It stays on the field. It’s not like you’re going to walk in the parking lot and wait for someone and whup
his [butt]. This is a baseball game, everybody has fun, you play your best and
hope to win the game, that’s about it.”

While Ortiz thought the fight talk was kind of funny, Youkilis is downright tired of it.

“The intensity is always there in the playoffs. I think everyone in the media is trying to look for someone to charge the mound and throw at guys. I don’t think that’s going to happen. That’s more of a media thing. It’s been blown out of proportion. To be honest with you, I think it’s getting kind of old.”

Not much in the way of real news today. Timlin is on the roster. Gil Velazquez — we hardly knew ye — is off.

Youkilis will start at third tomorrow. Mark Kotsay will get the nod at first. Where have you gone, Sean Casey?

Game 4 of the ALDS — Lowell done?

Not only is Mike Lowell out of tonight’s game, he probably won’t play again until 2009. He’s off the roster, meaning he loses eligibility until the World Seres. Last night, it was clear as day just how limited Lowell had become on both sides of the ball.

Mark Kotsay will again play first base. Red Sox manager Terry Francona says everyone from Jonathan Papelbon to the rest of his relievers are likely available.

The lineup is pretty standard: Kotsay hitting seventh and playing first. Everything else is the same.  J.D. Drew back in there in the five-hole.

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