Monday, June 25, 2012

Missing You(k) Already

I've watched Kevin Youkilis' entire career in the Red Sox organization. I saw the kid with the funny batting stance playing third for the Portland Seadogs:

I read Moneyball where he gained national attention as Billy Beane's wet dream: the Greek God of Walks.  I watched him transform from an on-base machine to a power hitter and legitimate MVP contender (as much as I love Pedey, Youk might have deserved it more in 2008).  He earned a Gold Glove in 2007, and set a defensive record in 2008 (though it has since been broken) with 2,002 error-less fielding attempts.

And through it all, Youkilis was a Dirt Dog. He played the game with grit and hustle, and with some foresight of the new NESN marketing quip: every pitch, every play, every hit, every game matters.

It mattered so much to Youkilis that his teammates sometimes got annoyed at his overflowing passions and outbursts of anger when something went wrong.  We all remember the June 2008 game where Manny Ramirez, reportedly tired of Youk's helmet tossing and bat-slamming after every unsuccessful at-bat, actually took a swing at the then-first baseman, and the two had to be restrained by other teammates.

But the fans loved Youkilis for that very reason: he cared about every game the way we care about every game - viscerally, passionately, and whole-heartedly.  On the opposite end of fan scapegoats like JD Drew, who get in trouble for the lack of emotion, Youkilis was a hardnosed player who the fans could relate to.

As much popularity as players like Jacoby Ellsbury enjoy, they seem somewhat out of reach, like they're not quite real.  In addition to being a hugely talented multimillionaire, Ells is also an attractive Goldenboy, while Youkilis just seems so much more relatable. Though he's even wealthier than Ells, Youk wouldn't look out of place on a construction site, or at a family reunion - he seems down to earth despite enjoying successes most people never dream of.

I wore a Kevin Youkilis jersey to work today, in memory of the good times, and multiple people asked me about it. We were all on the same page: it was time for the Greek God of Walks-turned-All Star to bow out and make room for the next rookie sensation, but there was a sense of nostalgia in each short exchange.  The beginning of Youk's career in Boston coincided with the Reversal of the Curse, ushering in some of the best years in recent Red Sox memory, and he will always be inexorably tied to those memories.  I wish him nothing but the best over in Chicago - he deserves it.

Even though this will never look quite right.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Interleague Hope?

Once again the Red Sox are on the precipice of being back where they were on Opening Day: back at .500. After a masterful performance from Jon Lester last night, albeit with a 3-run homerun hiccup, the Red Sox held on for the win and brought their dismal record to 32-33.  With one more game against the Cubs, then three more against the struggling Marlins, and finally a three-game set against the second-place Braves, the Red Sox have a chance to wrap up interleague play above .500.

The Sox were supposed to have Josh Beckett pitching for them tonight in the third and final game against the Cubs, but he's been placed on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation.  When reporters asked Beckett for comments about his situation, he refused, telling them he would talk about it on Tuesday.

Now, I could get into how flipping annoying it is that Beckett can't be bothered to address the media, but that's old news, and we've discussed it in this space more than once.  Instead, we'll do a short preview of Beckett's fill-in, Franklin Morales.

Morales hasn't started a game in more than three years, but he has had some rather long relief outings lately.  So far this season, Morales has pitched 23.2 innings, and has a very respectable 3.04 ERA. In the year since Morales came to Boston from the Rockies, he's had some success, and he seems to be excited for the opportunity to start.

Clay Buchholz, on the other hand, was asked about the possibility of him starting this evening on his normal four days of rest, but he chose to take the start against the Marlins on Tuesday at Fenway, after the offday.

It's the story of the season: the much-hyped Red Sox pitching staff continues to struggle, underperform, and end up on the DL.  Hopefully Morales can do something relatively rare for the Sox this season, and get the win.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Time to turn things around... or else.

Even with a big performance from Clay Buchholz last night to snap the losing streak, the Red Sox can't seem to keep their collective heads above water. Yes, there have been injuries to several key players, but it's mid-June now, and rumors are starting to fly about the fast-approaching trading deadline.

I can't remember the last time the Sox sent off a big piece without getting a major league ready contributor in return - but if the rumors are true, that's exactly what's likely to happen.

Doubtless you've been watching the log jam since Kevin Youkilis returned from the disabled list, forcing Bobby V. to shuffle the lineup to make sure Youk, Adrian Gonzalez, and upstart rookie Will Middlebrooks all see some playing time.  The result has been Gonzo taking a lot of turns in the outfield - and it's not as if he's terrible (he's certainly much better - and more comfortable - than Youk ever was out there), but it's kind of ridiculous to be playing your Gold Glove first baseman in the outfield on a regular basis.

Of course, Youkilis is a Gold Glove first baseman, too, but his natural position (like Middlebrooks') is third base.  And now, with interleague play, David Ortiz is in the mix as well. No one is getting the playing time they should be, and it's looking more and more like Kevin Youkilis' days with the Sox are numbered.

The biggest question now is where he'll land, and what the Red Sox will get in return.  My money is on some prospects (though some QUALITY prospects), especially if we don't turn things around in a big way, and soon.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Understanding the standings

This season is weird.  The Red Sox are tied for last place in the AL East, and the Orioles are in second (after an extended stay on top).  All five teams in the division are over .500, and the AL East isn't the only division doing so well - though it is apparently an East Coast thing, since the other division in a similar situation is the NL East (though the Phillies are sitting AT .500, not above).

I know it's daunting that the Red Sox are in the cellar so late in the season, but on the bright side they are just three games out of first, and starting a three-game set with the second-place Orioles this evening.  It's also interesting to note that the Red Sox would be in third place in the AL Central (just half a game behind the second place Indians - yes, the second place INDIANS), second place in the AL West, second in the NL Central, and third in the NL West.

I know I've beaten the whole "our division is just too good!" excuse to death in this space, but it's true. With the new playoff format, this might be the year where a third place team makes the playoffs - and it could even be the Red Sox.

There's no reason to panic yet - it's still very possible to come back and win the division. There are 108 more games to play, and sweeping the O's in upcoming this series would be an excellent start. We have Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz on the bump for the series, and it's time they started to prove that they are the top-three starters we thought they were.