Monday, May 31, 2010

The Tek and Papi Reunion Tour

Even from the right field grandstand, it was easy to tell that Jon Lester didn't have his best stuff yesterday. It seemed like every count was going 3-0, 3-1, or 3-2, and more than once Lester would start off 0-2, and manage to walk the batter. Jon was obviously struggling, and he was almost like a vintage Daisuke in his ability to wiggle out of some jams in the early frames.

Even when the Sox were behind (it was a brief one inning), it was a great day to be at the park: the weather was perfect, the sun was shining, and my seats were in the shade (I'm pale enough to be borderline albino - I wear SPF 100+).

When the bats started to come alive, I was practically in heaven. Watching Jason Varitek and David Ortiz go yard on a beautiful summer afternoon took me right back to those magical years when the two were the best at their respective positions - and both seem to be enjoying a resurgence of late.

My Papi poster... That sweet swing is making a comeback tour!

The Boston Globe online notes that David Ortiz is the best he's been in three years, while Globe columnist Chad Finn gives Varitek an "A," but cautions against overwork. Interestingly enough, the appraches to keeping these two aging players productive must be opposites: David needs to be in the lineup as much as possible in order to saty in his groove and keep getting good looks at pitches, and Varitek is raking because of all his time on the bench.

As an everyday catcher, the toll on Tek's body in recent years has been enormous - his first and second half splits were absurdly different in 2007, 2008, and 2009, and it's obvious that the toll on his joints from catching was the culprit. Now, largely relieved from those duties, he can focus more on hitting, and it's paying off.

One of the first Sox posters I ever bought was this Tek one... I miss the high socks.

I get a lot of personal joy from having these two back to some semblance of their old form, as they've been with the team for most of my baseball watching life (Tek more so than Papi, but still). Though my bedroom (both at home and at school) is thoroughly covered in Red Sox paraphenalia, only three players have full-sized posters of their own on my walls: Dustin Pedroia (obviously), David Ortiz, and Jason Varitek. Now if Pedey could just get his swagger back, all would be right with my walls... erm, world.

Some might think having Pedroia's giant face on your wall is creepy... These people clearly don't know me at all.

Take me out to the - SHHHH!!!!

Yesterday was the epitome of a perfect summer afternoon. I was at the ballpark with two of my friends, it was a beautiful day, and the Red Sox were beating up on the Royals. All was as it should be. Or so I thought.

Part way through the game, the child seated in front of us turned around and dropped a bomb, "Excuse me, but could you please be quieter?"

Needless to say, we were floored. I know that the three of us are hardly quiet, but we were careful to keep our conversation appropriate and inoffensive; none of us were drinking, so that wasn't the issue. We assured the boy that we would keep it down, mostly because we didn't know what else to say - who expects things to be quiet at Fenway Park?

Please, use your "inside voices."

Throughout the game, whenever we spoke, even when it was cheering for the team, or singing along to "Sweet Caroline," this eight-year-old kid would turn around in his seat and glare at us. I'll be the first to call out obnoxious fans at games, and I assure you that we were being perfectly reasonable: our noise was due to enthusiasm about the game (more on that in a post later - I have to fill me Sox-less evening with writing), but he seemed to be personally offended by our enjoyment.

I put this to you, dear readers... have you ever been asked to be quiet - QUIET - at a ball game? What were the circumstances?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Shipping Up to Boston

Or, rather, DOWN to Boston, but in any case, I'm off to see Jon Lester battle Bruce Chen. Apparently it's New Hampshire Day at Fenway Park; who knew?

Anyway, after my less than optimistic post yesterday, I was simply thrilled when Buchholz got the well-deserved "W" last night, especially against someone like Zack Greinke (who must be about sobbing for some run support by now).

I won't bore you with Lester's extensive stats; suffice to say he dominates at Fenway Park, and in the month of May, and against the Royals.

Anyone remember this historic performance against Kansas City?

I'm sorry this is so short, but I'm literally about to run out the door... More to come later tonight when I return - but look for me in the right field grandstand!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What's wrong with this picture?

Bill Hall was the only Red Sox hitter to record a 1-2-3 inning last night, in the ninth. Hall managed to hit 89 MPH on the radar gun, and was a rare bright spot for the Sox.

I know what's wrong, here: HALL IS A POSITION PLAYER!

Come on, boys... these are the Kansas City Royals, the punching bag of the American League: the Royals are 21-28 (only the Orioles, Mariners, and Indians are worse). For the last two nights, two Sox starters in a row (both coming off spectacular outings) imploded before our eyes. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield turned in less than satisfactory starts, and while they are the least dependable of the Sox arms, they both need to get their game faces on.

After all of Wakefield's intimations that he deserves to start (for the record, I think he does), he's not doing much to convince anyone that he should keep his roster spot once Josh Beckett gets off the DL. As for Daisuke? Well, I gave you my opinion the other day, and he's another one who has butted heads with Sox management. To the floundering righties: time to put your money where your mouth is. Do better next time.

Tonight, we'll be treated to two young stars: Clay Buchholz and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, Zack Grienke.

SO glad Greinke isn't in the AL East.

At first glance, this matchup favors the Royals, but Greinke is coming off a terrible start: 3 1/3 innings pitched, 7 earned runs (8 runs overall), and just one strikeout, all in interleague play against the Rockies (25-23). Here's hoping Buchholz continues to impress!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Daisuke Matsuzaka: A nibbler for the ages.

Daisuke Matsuzaka is, in a word, maddening. In his last start, we saw a flash of the brilliance that made Theo and Co. believe he was worth $100+million, and then last night he became Dice-BB, the enigma we have come to know and loathe.

Though this picture IS hilarious...

The fact is that even when Matsuzaka is winning, he is not fun to watch. The man won 18 games in 2008, and he nibbled his way through all of them. The most frustrating thing of all is that occasionally we get to see what it looks like when he stops trying to finesse opposing batters and really goes after them - it's a beautiful thing, unless you're the Philadelphia Phillies.

Somehow, Matsuzaka mystified the Phils through 7 2/3 hitless innings, flirting with a no-hitter but "settling" for 8 innings of shutout baseball. Who was that man, and where the hell was he last night? Yesterday evening, Daisuke Matsuzaka flirted with a different kind of history: there are just nineteen no-hitters in Red Sox history, but only three Sox pitcher have allowed eight free passes in a game in the last FIFTEEN YEARS. According to the Globe's Peter Abraham (via Twitter, @peteabe), the last Sox pitcher to do so was Matsuzaka himself, in May of 2008, and before that was Josh Beckett (8/19/06), and then you have to go way back to 1994, when Chris Nabholz achieved the dubious distinction.

What, you don't remember Chris Nabholz's one year in Boston? 3-4, 6.64 ERA? Twenty-nine walks in eight games? Lucky you.

The only time I've ever witnessed Daisuke pitch in person came on October 16, 2008. ALCS Game 5. And he was less than impressive, allowing 5 runs in 6 innings. Luckily, as you all know, the bats bailed him out in dramatic fashion, and the Sox lived to see another day. However, I don't like seeing Matsuzaka pitch, even when he's doing well, and every time it looks like he'll be pitching a game I have tickets to, I groan. Somehow I've escaped it for a while, but you can only be lucky for so long.

Tonight, Shakey Wakey goes against Kyle Davies. Let's hope HIS Philadelphia performace was more than a fluke... Get us back on track, Wake!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tampa Bay, Swept Away

I have to be honest: when I saw last night's lineup, I wasn't particularly optimistic. VMart, Drew and Ellsbury were out, the enigma John Lackey was on the mound, and Matt Garza (6-3, 3.36 ERA against the Red Sox in 14 career games) was set to go for the Rays.

Personally, I think that the nasty beard and llama impersonations are the secret to his success.

To be frank, I was almost ready to write it off and wait for the Celtics (don't even get me started on THAT mess), which would have been a mistake. Earlier in the season, this team would have thought as I did - a few substitutions in the lineup and a good pitcher going for the opposing team is as good as a loss. Not so anymore: these Red Sox aren't taking anything lying down. The pitching has come alive, just as we were promised, and the bats are catching fire.

Last night's game was all about offense, even though Lackey turned in a quality start. Every Sox starter reached base at least once, led by the 4-for-5 performace of Adrian Beltre, who is absolutely raking. Beltre drove in six runs with two homers and a triple last night, and is batting a team-best .341. The only starters to miss out on the hit parade were Marco Scutaro, Kevin Youkilis, and Jason Varitek, and all three reached base via a walk (two for Youk).

The "fill-ins," Darnell McDonald, Jeremy Hermida, and Jason Varitek, went a combined 4-for-14 with a walk, three RBI, and two runs scored while Drew, Ells, and VMart rested up. Meanwhile, the bullpen continued to pull its weight, allowing one run (by Nelson) in 2 2/3 innings of work. And just like that, the team with MLB's best record was swept away.

Hermida's beard is taking awesome lessons from Youk's goatee.

As I'm sure you know, the Sox return home tonight to face the Kansas City Royals in a four game set. 2010 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke is far and away the team's best starter, is just 1-5, despite a 3.57 ERA (he has four no-decisions). The Sox will face Brian Bannister tonight (3-3, 4.73 ERA), Kyle Davies Friday (3-3, 4.53 ERA), Greinke Saturday, and Gil Meche Sunday (0-4, 6.66 ERA). I don't want to jinx anything, but I like our chances; this teams seems to be turning things around, and it's a joy to watch.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hello there, Pitching...

Finally. THIS is what we were promised, way back in the offseason, back when Jason Bay walked on over to the National League. We were assured that the pitching would save us, even though we no longer had a pack of thumpers in the lineup (and somewhere, Kevin Youkilis wonders what he has to do to get some recognition).

Dude is a BOSS.

After last night's spectacular showing - by both Lester and the bullpen, the Sox are on a roll. They've won series in Toronto, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and Tampa Bay, and took one of two in New York, all in the last two weeks, going 10-5 in that span. They are 7-1 in their last eight games, and have a chance to sweep the Rays this evening. If the Sox can win tonight, they would be 5.5 games behind the Rays in the standings, and could pass Toronto to take third place in the division.

It's the pitching. It's always the pitching. Theo knows it, and Tito knows it, and John Farrell knows it, and even the sausage vendors must know it by now. If pitching really does win championships, and our staff can continue with any semblance of their recent brilliance, I'm anticipating a long run into October.

Tonight John Lackey (4-3, 5.07 ERA) will go against the spitter, Matt Garza (5-2, 2.37 ERA). On paper, it looks like Garza's game - especially at the Trop - but I'm going to guess that Lackey's determination not to be the one to end the recent streak will result in a spectacular performance. That combined with certain bats finally catching fire (ahem, David Ortiz) should make for a win. Don't make me a liar, John!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Interleague Woes

So I know I'm a little late here, but I haven't had reliable internet for the last few days, and I absolutely NEED to chime in on interleague play.

As I'm sure you know, the Red Sox lack a "natural rival." MLB initially tried out Atlanta, but there are so few people who remember the Braves in Boston that it just didn't make sense. This year, it's the Philadelphia Phillies in the "rival" spot - the NL team that the Red Sox will play two series against. Every year, the Yankees get six games against the moribund Mets, and the Rays get six versus the Marlins.

What the hell, Bud Selig?! I know this is about ticket sales, but it's woefully unfair. The Red Sox's interleague opponents are a combined 115-101 (141-118 if you count the Phillies twice, which makes sense since we play them twice as much). The combined record of the Yankees opponents is 108-113 (130-136 when you count the Mets twice), and the record of the Rays opponents is a deplorable 107-115 (130-137 when you count the Marlins twice).

But we should all thank Jason Bay and the Mets for handing the Yankees a series loss...

This is absurd. It's one thing that MLB doesn't have any semblance of a balanced schedule, assuring that the Red Sox, Rays, and Yankees will beat up on each other, and the AL West (home of just four teams) will generally have a clear winner.

I'm by no means a baseball purist. I like the expansion teams (but no more, please!), and I like interleague, but not in its current manifestation. Within the divisions, every team should play the same teams the same number of times. The Rays will probably pick up at least 3 more games on the Red Sox on scheduling alone, and that is more than enough to decide the division.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fist-pump at your own risk.

FINALLY... My finals are over, grades are in (excpet for one particulaly delinquent professor), and aside from a few administrative things, I'm done with sophomore year. You guys know what that means: I'm now free to focus on the more important things in life - like baseball.

Last nights heart attack of a game was actually the first time in about a week and a half that I got to watch more than 3 innings of a Sox game, and I sure picked the right one.

As soon as I was able to tune in, my least favorite player (ever) started melting down. Yes, I'm referring to Joba Chamberlain AGAIN... the kid's a punk, and watching him blow the game for New York was absolutely delicious. The first PLAY I saw was least-favorite-players two and three botching a Scutaro grounder - an A*Rod throw that pulled Mr. Leigh Teixeira off the bag at first. So. Much. Gloating. What an expensive error, eh? Between the two of them, A*Rod and Marky-Mark are pulling down nearly $60million this year.

I'll be back later with a longer post (probably a State of the Sox update), but I had to take this opportunity when I had ten free minutes and give you patient readers something after my extended absence!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

State of the Sox: Bridge to Nowhere?

It is May 11. I'm smack in the middle of finals week (hence the long absence - sorry!), but I can't focus on the philosophical leanings of fictional Russians, or make convoluted connections between the GI Bill and John Coltrane. All I can think of is the State of the Sox.

Gone is the wonderful month of April, when all bad performances can be brushed away with the simple phrase, "Relax, it's early." Well, it's no longer early, and the Sox have been at or below .500 for the majority of the season. What gives? Was the "bridge" year that Theo spoke of in the offseason baseball's version of the bridge to nowhere?

At this point in the season, the game-by-game, analyze everything approach taken by fans in the first weeks has mostly dissipated. Not so this year: after the four-game sweep of the Angels, we were playoff material; two games lost to the Yankees later, and we were destined to finish below the lowly Orioles.

So what's the issue? In a word, it's injuries. The Red Sox have played a scant 6 games with their Startin Day outfield, as both Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury have been out for nearly a month with unforeseeable injuries. I mean, come on: cracked ribs, kidney stones, and a sports hernia? Lady Luck is not on our side so far. As for the struggling defense, please leave Bill Hall alone - he was never meant to start in center field, and Adrian Beltre, though error prone thus far, traditionally improves over the course of a season.

The lineup seems to be hitting its stride - thank god for Marco Scutaro's ability to hit leadoff, eh?

And his ability to do awesome things like this...

At this point, the season could go either way... I wouldn't be surprised if the Red Sox won it all. But I would be equally unsurprised if they missed the playoffs. If you can say anything for this team, it's unique. I'm excited to see how things turn out - they play 162 for a reason.

Monday, May 3, 2010

I love college...

Despite the many pitfalls to going to school in Connecticut (Y-FAB, for instance), there are some great advantages to being smack on the divide between Red Sox and Yankee territory.

This morning, my IR professor (whose baseball allegiances had previously been a mystery to me), was trying to explain the problem of indeterminacy in predicting the future of international relations. Simply put, it means that you can't predict certain things because their factors haven't yet fallen into place.

Getting more blank stares than usual, he decided to use a baseball analogy (if he hadn't waited until the last day to do so, I might have paid more attentions all semester).

"So, say you're asked to predict who will win the World Series in 2050. You might say the Red Sox, right? Because that would make sense... Or, if you're crazy, you could say the Yankees - although they do have all the money, but that's another story."

He went on to explain that through indeterminacy, it would be nearly impossible to predict something like that: the players won't even have been born yet. However, I was busy seeing IR in a whole new light: I've been writing my Cultural Studies essays about baseball all semester, and I did my final statistics projects on publicly funded baseball stadiums, but never had I looked at IR theory through a baseball perspective.

Thank god I picked a New England school. The fact that we're close to Yankee territory (with some Phillies fans here and there), just keeps things interesting.