Monday, October 31, 2011

World Series Review: I Suck at Predictions

 Despite worries from baseball elite that this year’s World Series would be boring and unprofitable due to the absence of large-market teams full of superstars, it turned out to be one of the most exciting Fall Classics in years.  Their worries were certainly valid, as the biggest audiences will typically tune in when teams from either coast are involved, and this Series was, as Sports Illustrated put it, “Central Casting,” with both the AL and NL Pennants going to teams far from the coasts, the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively.
The network carrying the Series also doesn’t begin to make a profit unless the two teams play five or more games in the best of seven series: since they pay Major League Baseball so much money to gain the exclusive televising rights, the advertising revenue after just four games (like the sweeps in 2004, 2005, and 2007) barely covers their cost.  If a Series reaches seven games, like this one, the network can charge huge amounts of money on advertising slots to get a return on their large investment.
 The games themselves were particularly compelling: on one side you had the Rangers, who have never won a World Series (including in their time as the Washington Senators), who were back after losing to the San Francisco Giants in last year’s Fall Classic, and who had been the no-doubt winners of the AL West for quite some time.  Across the diamond you had the Cinderella story:  the Cardinals had been ten games back in the Wild Card race with a month to play, and had just a 1.1% chance of even seeing the playoffs, before taking down the Braves to make it in, then the favored Phillies (who had been practically crowned World Champs in February), and the Brewers.
While Texas hunted fruitlessly for it’s first title, St. Louis tried to provide more incentive for free-agent to be Albert Pujols to stay with the team this offseason, and it might have worked – when asked if a repeat would be possible in 2012, Pujols grinned and said, “Why not?” 
The Series it self was compelling all the way through, as the two teams traded victories through Game 4, and then Texas gained a 3-2 advantage by winning Game 5.  If you didn’t watch what happened next, you missed a hell of a game.  Game 6 was one for the ages: the Rangers were one strike away from winning their first title – twice.  They had a two-run lead in both the ninth and tenth innings, and then David Freese and Lance Berkman (both with two strikes against them) batted in the tying runs.  Freese would hit a walkoff home run in the bottom of the eleventh inning to send the Series to its seventh game.
 After the drama of Game 6, Game 7 was slightly less exciting, as the Cards earned the lead in the third and never relinquished it.  Hometown boy David Freese was named World Series MVP, and the city of St. Louis earned the right to party in the streets for the second time in five years.  Despite the absence of a big-market team, this World Series was one for the ages – it’s only too bad that it’s over.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Surprise! John Lackey "needs" Tommy John

So there's your answer, Red Sox Nation.  While we've all been wishing for Theo to take John Lackey with him to Chicago, new GM Ben Cherington and the front office had their own plan in mind.  It was obvious to everyone that Lackey simply could not spend 2012 in a Red Sox uniform, especially once you added the allegations (and then confessions) of drinking and general gametime shenanigans to a moribund record that spoke for itself.

So John Lackey, like Daisuke Matsuzaka before him, will disappear onto the disabled list for the foreseeable future, while the Red Sox staff looks to clean up their act - and their collective reputation.  It is a rather neat solution, though it won't save John Henry and Co. any money.  I'm guessing they shopped him around, saw absolutely no one was biting, and decided to relegate the big righty to baseball purgatory.

I know many of you had worked out elaborate trade scenarios for getting rid of Lackey, and some had genuine merit for all parties involved, but you can't really be surprised that no other team wanted to take a chance on the overpaid hurler.  Lackey just turned thirty-three, he has a body type that doesn't age well (even before the now infamous weight gain of 2011), and he hasn't performed at a particularly high level in over two years.

Add to all of this the fact that he is owed more than $45 million for the next three years (a huge sum for a pitcher who has never logged a season ERA lower than 3.01, and that just once - his career ERA is over 4), and Lackey is a pitching pariah, without even tackling the allegations that he was one of the ringleaders of the *ahem* unprofessional behavior in the clubhouse this season.

All of these factors make for the perfect equation for the baseball cynic: banishment to pitcher hell.  Of course, Lackey has had documented elbow trouble, something the Sox brass were aware of when they signed him, which is why the team option for 2015 will now be at the Major League minimum (this vested with the news of Tommy John surgery).

This seems like a win-win for fans.  We've all been screaming to get him gone, and this will certainly see him out of sight for an extended period of time; the money is a bummer, but the Sox would have been eating most of the contract even if they had managed to scrounge a trade partner.  If the surgery is particularly successful, perhaps Lackey will return in 18 months better than we've seen him, and hopefully having eaten a large serving of humble pie (and very little actual pie).

And if not? Well, I'm sure management can come up with another creative solution for the John Lackey problem when the time comes. For now, it's out of sight, out of mind. Hasta luego, Lackey... I won't be missing you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"World Series munchies"

Trinity's meal plan is advertising "game-time munchies." I do enjoy the Rangers and Cardinals logos slathered in butter, though. So classy.

World Series Preview: 2011

 Typically you would examine starting pitching matchups very carefully when attempting to predict the outcome of a seven-game series like the Fall Classic, but this postseason has been anything but typical for the hurlers of the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers.  During the LCS, the Card’s starters managed just one win in their six games, and posted an atrocious 7.03 ERA, while the Rangers’ starting staff didn’t do much better: zero wins in six games with an ERA of 6.59.
            Not a single Rangers starter has managed to make an out in the seventh inning all postseason, and there has never been a World Series Champion that could make that dubious claim.  On the other hand, both teams are averaging less than five innings out of their starters per game during these playoffs, and the last team to win the Fall Classic with that distinction was the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates.  Both teams have relied heavily on their bullpens thus far, so it should be interesting to see how the pitching situation shakes out.
            Assuming starters can stay in the game for a reasonable length of time, the Rangers have the edge, despite the fact that the National League Cardinals have home-field advantage by virtue of the NL winning this year’s All-Star Game.  The Cards were just 20-20 this season against left-handed pitchers, and Texas boasts three southpaws in their playoff rotation. CJ Wilson will start the Series off tonight against Chris Carpenter (RHP).  Wilson has turned into a bona fide ace for the Rangers in the last two years, making a seamless transition from his bullpen days.  Tomorrow night will see righthander Colby Lewis starting for Texas, with lefty Jaime Garcia taking the mound for the Cards. The Rangers round out their rotation with lefthanders Derek Holland and Matt Harrison on Saturday and Sunday, while the Cards will counter with righties Edwin Jackson and Kyle Lohse.
            Star power is provided by the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler (2B), Josh Hamilton – hero of the 2008 Home Run Derby (CF), and Adrian Beltre (3B), while the biggest story on the Cardinals’ side of things is free-agent to be Albert Pujols (1B).  The Cards do have other star players (left fielder Matt Holliday, right fielder Lance Berkman), but the big questions revolve around Pujols: will he follow the dollars to greener pastures this offseason, or will he stay in baseball-crazy St. Louis? And either way, will he lead the cards to another Championship?
            The last time the Cardinals won the World Series was just fie seasons ago in 2006 – just two years after being swept from the Series by the Boston Red Sox.  The Rangers have a similar feel of unfinished business to them, as they return to the Fall Classic after falling to the San Francisco Giants in just five games last October.  The consensus in the baseball world seems to be that Texas has a pretty strong edge – even though they will not enjoy home field advantage – but that expecting St. Louis to bow out in four games would be just another fallacy. Texas should take it, but we’ll give them six games to do so, and they’ll win their very first World Series in their fifty year history.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I stand by Tito.

Of all the crap being spewed today, and all the blame being tossed around, the parts that most disgust me are those concerning the now former manger of the Red Sox, Terry Francona.  Yes, he has to expect that the dirty laundry of his divorce will be aired (just like pitcher John Lackey) in a market like Boston, and even that his family will get dragged into things - I mean, who wouldn't be concerned if they had a son and son-in-law stationed in Afghanistan.

No, the biggest disappointment is the allegation that Tito's use of prescription pain pills was abusive, that the skipper had a drug problem that hampered his ability to manage.  Obviously SOMETHING was hampering his managerial skills, but since we've all been intimately aware of Tito's myriad health problems for years, why is the medication a problem NOW?

When Tito was fined back in 2007 for wearing a pullover during a game instead of his team jersey, everyone was up in arms defending him.  The man has poor circulation and gets cold easily - you're really going to make a stink that he's wearing a team sanctioned sweatshirt instead of a restrictive jersey? It's not like he's on the field; I'm pretty sure the umpires don't need to see a jersey to know which team's manager he is.

Even longer ago, in 2005, Tito was taken to the hospital from Yankee Stadium with chest pains, so his history of illness, injury, and the legitimate need for medication has been established for more than half a decade.  We all knew he was taking pain medication. We have known this for YEARS. As Tito said, “It makes me angry that people say these things because I’ve busted my [butt] to be the best manager I can be. I wasn’t terribly successful this year, but I worked harder and spent more time at the ballpark this year than I ever did.’’

Granted, if I were living in a hotel, I might be at work more often, too, but the point is clear: if anything, Tito had more focus invested in the Sox this season.  Something went wrong, that much is obvious, and Tito has owned it, admitting he just wasn't getting through to the players as he once did: “The guys that weren’t down on the bench, I wanted them down on the bench,’’ Francona said last week on an appearance on WEEI, “I wanted them to support their teammates.’’

So maybe something was lost in translation - certainly lots of games were lost during this time.  But throwing around accusations of drug abuse when Francona's doctor assured him that wasn't the case? That's just low. Low, and like much of the news today, disappointing. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Playoff Preview 2011

 The marathon is over.  One hundred and sixty-two games later, just eight teams remain, all hunting for the right to raise the Commissioner’s Trophy into the October night.  The road to the postseason was exciting for many, with the Rays and the Cardinals sneaking in on the very last day of the regular season – both avoiding potential one-game playoffs for the Wild Card against the free-falling Red Sox (winners of the dubious “worst September collapse in history” distinction) and Braves, respectively.
            Two games into the Division Series at press time, and only the Brewers have an edge (two games to none, over the Diamondbacks).  The Yankees and Tigers, Phillies and Cards, and Rays and Rangers are all tied up, with each team laying claim to a singular LDS victory.  The biggest surprise thus far has to be Cliff Lee’s Game 2 loss, closely followed by James Shields’ disastrous start on Saturday.
            In the best-of-five Division Series, the safest money is on Milwaukee to defeat Arizona in three or four games to advance to the NLCS.  The other series are a bit more convoluted to predict while tied 1-1 each – it essentially means you're predicting the outcome of a best-of-three series; something any baseball fan will tell you is a crapshoot.  Most people are betting on Philadelphia to advance over St. Louis, but the Cards won’t be making it easy, especially since Albert Pujols’ troublesome left ankle didn’t stop him from knocking in the go-ahead run on Saturday to tie the series.
            As for New York and Detroit, the advantage will fall to the team whose ace pulls through Monday evening. Writing this Monday morning, I’m giving the edge to the Yankees and CC Sabathia, despite the apparent Cy Young winner Justin Verlander going for the Tigers at home.  Down in St. Pete, the Rangers have Colby Lewis going against the Rays’ young star David Price.  Price struggled down the stretch, so it’s possible that the 224 innings he pitched in 2011 (by far his career high) are catching up with the young lefty. Conversely, Lewis ended his season with a win, and is 3-0 lifetime against the Rays, so I’m going to give him – and the Rangers – the advantage for Game 3 and the ALDS.
            Assuming all of the above, the ALCS should be Texas vs. New York (Yankees will have home-field advantage), and the NLCS should be Milwaukee vs. Philadelphia (Phillies will have home-field advantage).  This is where the pitching staffs will really start to show; baseball is all about pitching, and one hot or strong-willed started can will his team to a World Series – just ask vintage Josh Beckett (2003, 2007).  Though Texas lacks a Sabathia-caliber ace, the rest of their staff is much more reliable than New York’s: if AJ Burnett were more dependable, the Yankees would have my confidence.  As it is, I’m giving the edge to the Rangers.
            If the Phillies manage to get eliminated before the World Series, it will be seen as a failure.  Like the disgraced BoSox, the Phillies were practically crowned champions in February, before a single game had been played. Their pitching pedigree cannot be questioned, but the Brewers are young, hot, and ambitious. For now, the advantage is with Philly.
            In a Texas-Philadelphia World Series (Philly, as the NL team, has home-field because of the NL win in the All-Star Game), the Phillies win it.  It is, as they say, all about the pitching, and no one can beat the Phillies hurlers, at least on paper.
            However, anyone who has read (or now seen) Michael Lewis’ Moneyball knows that playoffs, and especially best-of-five series, are little better than a roll of the dice. Anything can happen, and probably will: I’m predicting a Phillies-Rangers Fall Classic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Cardinals-Tigers, Diamondbacks-Rays, or Brewers-Yankees. That’s (playoff) baseball.

[Note: the strange timing of this entry - not at the beginning of the LDS - is due to the fact that it was originally written for the Trinity Tripod, and my deadline over there is Monday morning. This means I might already be wrong by the time it comes to press Tuesday night. Oops.]

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Breaking up a family: The legendary bond of Pedey and Tito

If you read this blog even semi-regularly, you know that I am an unabashed and shameless fangirl of both Tito and Theo.  Was there more that the two of them could have done this season? How much of the blame lies in the hands of the manager who makes the on-field decisions? How much lies with the GM who built the team? And, perhaps most importantly, what portion should lie at the feet of the athletes on the field?

The tales spilling out now that the season has been brought to a violent and screeching halt are eye-opening, in a word.

A commenter on this morning, referring to this piece.

Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy claims that the parting of Tito Francona and the Red Sox was anything but a mutual decision: " [John] Henry has had Francona in his crosshairs for a couple of years. Ultimately, Francona was not enough of a numbers guy to satisfy Boston’s Moneyball boss."  Francona tells a different story: he wasn't getting through to the players, the constant scrutiny of managing a baseball team that is so much more than that to so many people, he thought eight years was enough.

As usual with this particular corner of blogdom, I look at this travesty through the eyes of one Dustin Pedroia.  Pedey and Tito have a well-chronicled bond; they passed straight through legendary bromance to honorary father-son territory long ago.  They trade jokes about their receding hairlines, about Pedey's height, and Tito's age, they played (ah, the past tense) cribbage before every game, and by all accounts enjoyed a refreshingly honest and functional relationship.

So if I'm heartbroken over the skipper's departure, it stands to reason that Pedroia would feel even stronger, and he didn't disappoint: "I love him. He’s given me every opportunity in the world and given me the respect to play the game with a freedom, and that’s what he allows us players to do. Geez, man, he’s done everything for me and everything for my family ... he’s done everything for me in the five years I’ve been in the big leagues. My heart’s broken for him and I wish he was back and I wish I could have played my whole career for him. It’s going to be hard. I’m sure he’ll come back a better manager and a better person for it. Us, as an organization, we’re going to move forward together."
If that didn't make you tear up a bit, you have no heart (or you're not blinded by a a deep-seated love and admiration for everything that our second baseman does and says).  Pedey also threw in a couple of jabs about player responsibility, but if you want to read those you can go to the source.  This post exists for the sole purpose of mourning the now defunct dream team of Dustin Pedroia and Terry Francona.  I'll be drinking for them tonight.

Life, school, and baseball

Anyone uninterested in a post that's more about me than the Red Sox (I suspect that's most of you) can come back later for a reaction to the sacking of Tito.  Right now I need an outlet, and since this is my blog, I feel entitled to use the space for that - at least once.

This morning, I got up at seven to take the LSAT.  Through a series of unfortunate events (and several dimwitted and sleep-clouded actions on my part), I missed the test.  I was upset, obviously, but as I drove back to school, I realized that I was much more distressed about the fact that I wasted $140 (a sum I don't really have to throw away) than the fact that I wouldn't be sitting the exam.

Lately I've been thinking about the future (an inescapable pastime for a senior in college - especially in the current economic climate), and I'm suddenly not as sure as I used to be that I even want to be a lawyer.  It's always been my dream to work in baseball; I've always said I don't care what I have to do, as long as I can be around the game.

My first choice would be to earn a living in sportswriting, but you don't generally get offered a job at The Globe straight out of college, particularly if you don't have a journalism degree (TrinColl doesn't offer that major).  It used to be that you would pay your dues at a small local and/or regional newspaper, and then hopefully your if your work was good it would get recognized by a national publication and you would move up the ranks. Now, as many of you know, those smaller newspapers are in trouble, much more likely to be shedding payroll than taking chances on unknowns.

The next best thing would be to work for a team, in any capacity.  Baseball is a well known boys' club, steeped in tradition and notoriously difficult to break into. Given the game's established proclivity for hiring men, and especially former players, I assumed that (as a woman who last played even softball in high school) my best bet was to get a law degree and try to work with contracts, either with a team or for an agency.

In the last few weeks, I should have been studying for this test. I bought the review book, I had free time, but I couldn't bring myself to sit down and focus on it.  I just wasn't passionate about any of the material, and even less excited about the prospect of mortgaging my entire life away for three more years of education that I have no way of paying for.

I've always been so sure about my direction in life; I was a third grader with a twenty-year plan for my future, and now I'm floundering.  I'm sure this is nothing new, or even unusual, but it's particularly jarring for me because I have always known what my next step should be.

I don't flatter myself that I could make a living as a writer at this point in my life - I need a LOT more practice - and so I'm lost. I don't know where I should be looking, or what I should be doing, and I'm going to be dumped (ceremoniously, in a cap and gown, but still dumped) into the cold, cruel world in seven months.  The only thing I'm still sure of is my love for baseball, and the Red Sox (yes, even after this disgrace of a season).  I know I've been absolutely terrible at keeping up this blog in 2011, and I'm sorry. I hope to be better while I figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

[Also, for anyone who managed to slog through all that existential crap, I thank you. To show my appreciation, here's a video of Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky baseball players putting on a show - during a rain delay.]