Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dream Job: Acquired!

I've been sitting on some pretty big news for a while now. About two weeks ago, I went to Secaucus, New Jersey for a job interview at MLB Network - and I was offered the job!

I couldn't be more excited to start - this is everything I worked for in graduate school, and everyone I met when I was down there as extremely friendly and welcoming.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the whole process (aside from the whole "gainful employment" thing), was that the interview was conducted in Chris Rose and Kevin Millar's office. Since the two of them often work from home, it was vacant for the day, and I sat in Kevin Millar's chair, trying to act like it was no big deal.

I discovered while covering the Nationals this summer that the awe of professional athletes wears off very quickly when you see them every day, but I'm still pretty pumped to get to work in the same building as Sean Casey, Mike Lowell, John Smoltz, Millar, and even old friend Heidi Watney, among others.

I'll be working behind the scenes (and that's how I prefer it), mostly cutting video teases to start. Tune in if you can, I'll be starting the second week in December!

2015 Bill James Projection: Pablo Sandoval

2011: 117 games, .315 BA, .357 OBP, .552 SLG, 23 HR, 70 RBI
2012 projection: 144 games, .311 BA, .363 OBP, .525 SLG, 24 HR, 86 RBI
2012: 108 games, .283 BA, .342 OBP, .447 SLG, 12 HR, 63 RBI
2013 projection: 150 games, .298 BA, .356 OBP, .498 SLG, 22 HR, 88 RBI
2013: 141 games, .278 BA, .341 OBP, .417 SLG, 14 HR, 79 RBI
2014 projection: 140 games, .292 BA, .354 OBP, .466 SLG, 18 HR, 81 RBI
2014: 157 games, .279 BA, .324 OBP, .415 SLG, 16 HR, 73 RBI
2015 projection: 151 games, .287 BA, .344 OBP, .447 SLG, 18 HR, 82 RBI

I don't know about any of you, but when I was watching the World Series this year, the idea that the Red Sox would go after - and then sign! - Pablo Sandoval never even crossed my mind. I took it as a matter of course that he would return to the Giants, but I'm thrilled to have been wrong.

The man they call Panda will be in Boston for the foreseeable future, as the deal has been reported at 5 years/$100 million. While I know there are people concerned about the length of the deal, I am not one of them: Sandoval is currently 28 years old, and will be just 33 at the end of this contract - well within the lifespan of an elite hitter.

There's plenty of speculation that Sandoval has been brought into the fold to take David Ortiz's place as a full time DH when the lefthanded legend calls it a career. Obviously, Red Sox fans will always have a special place in our hearts for Ortiz, but the comparison with Sandoval isn't too out there.

Panda is the kind of player who typically has good production during the regular season, but absolutely explodes when the pressure is on. Over three World Series, Sandoval batted .426 with 3 HR, 8 RBI, and a WS MVP Award. For comparison, Ortiz's line is .455 with 3 HR, 14 RBI, and 2 WS MVP Awards.

Personally, I can't wait to see the two of them sharing a lineup; as a guy who thrives in high-stakes situations, the pressure cooker of Boston should suit Sandoval nicely.

Monday, November 24, 2014

2015 Bill James Projections: Hanley Ramirez

2011: 92 games, .243 BA, .333 OBP, .379 SLG, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 20 SB
2012 projection: 136 games, .298 BA, .379 OBP, .489 SLG, 21 HR, 69 RBI, 28 SB
2012: 157 games, .257 BA, .322 OBP, .437 SLG, 24 HR, 92 RBI, 21 SB
2013 projection: 144 games, .281 BA, .356 OBP, .470 SLG, 22 HR, 75 RBI, 23 SB
2013: 86 games, .345 BA, .402 OBP, .638 SLG, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 10 SB
2014 projection: 151 games, .296 BA, .368 OBP, .505 SLG, 27 HR, 86 RBI, 23 SB
2014: 128 games, .283 BA, .369 OBP, .448 SLG, 13 HR, 71 RBI, 14 SB
2015 projection: 151 games, .290 BA, .367 OBP, .476 SLG, 23 HR, 85 RBI, 20 SB

The rumors would crop up almost every year between the time Hanley Ramirez went to Florida and this offseason: the one-time Red Sox prospect was coming back. It now seems there's an actual fire under all that smoke, and Ramirez, now a bona fide star, is on his way back to Boston.

But what can we expect from Ramirez this season? It's unclear where the soon-to-be 31-year-old will even play: the Red Sox seem content with Xander Bogaerts at shortstop (and pulling him from his natural position seemed to have consequences this season), and are reportedly among the finalists to sign free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval.

There's talk that Ramirez could end up in left field if the Red Sox are the winners of the Sandoval sweepstakes, but he's never played a major league game in the outfield in his ten years of service time. One thing remains clear: no matter what we get from Ramirez defensively, his bat will add some much-needed pop to a Red Sox lineup that in 2014 could be accurately described as "lethargic."

Ramirez's average has hovered around .300 his entire career, and his power numbers are certainly well above what you would expect from a shortstop in the post-steroid era. Over the past few years, Bill James and his team have done a reliable job either underestimating Ramirez slightly, or hitting their projections almost exactly on the nose.

If Ramirez can live up to what James has projected for his 2015 in the midst of trading one big market (LA) for another (the admittedly much more baseball-crazed Boston), we should have an exciting season on our hands.

Welcome back to Boston, Hanley Ramirez: the expectations will be higher here, but the fans will show up before the third inning and stay until the end, and the reward, should you lead us all the way, will be that much sweeter.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

2015 Bill James Projections: Mike Napoli

2011: 113 games, .320 BA, .414 OBP, .631 SLG, 30 HR, 75 RBI
2012 projection: 131 games, .271 BA, .364 OBP, .537 SLG, 31 HR, 83 RBI
2012: 108 games, .227 BA, .343 OBP, .469 SLG, 24 HR, 56 RBI
2013 projection: 127 games, .248 BA, .350 OBP, .498 SLG, 29 HR, 75 RBI
2013: 139 games, .259 BA, .360 OBP, .482 SLG, 23 HR, 92 RBI
2014 projection: 137 games, .246 BA, .348 OBP, .471 SLG, 26 HR, 79 RBI
2014: 119 games, .248 BA, .370 OBP, .419 SLG, 17 HR, 55 RBI
2015 projection: 135 games, .246 BA, .355 OBP, .453 SLG, 23 HR, 72 RBI

The biggest discrepancy between Mike Napoli's 2013 season and his 2014 season is in the power numbers, primarily home runs and RBIs. Of course, there were fewer Red Sox on base for Nap to drive in this season than last, and he played twenty fewer games this season than last, all well dealing with assorted injuries.

Napoli is currently recovering from surgery to relieve his sleep apnea, a condition that restricts airways during sleep, causing loud snoring and a disruption in breathing. Sleep apnea sufferers often feel tired even after a full night's sleep, so if the surgery was successful it stands to reason Napoli will be better rested in 2015.

After last year's World Series, the Red Sox extended Nap to the tune of two years, and $32 million, so he's due $16 million in 2015, and will be a free agent at the conclusion of next season. If Napoli can perform up to Bill James' projections for him next season, it will be money well spent.

Mike Napoli has embraced the Red Sox and Boston in a way that few players can, and his current contract is exactly the kind of thing the team should pursue in the future: short in years, and perhaps a bit generous in annual value. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

2015 Bill James Projections: Xander Bogaerts

2013: 18 games, .250 BA, .320 OBP, .364 SLG, 1 HR, 5 RBI
2014 projection: 156 games, .283 BA, .357 OBP, .450 SLG, 19 HR, 84 RBI
2014: 144 games, .240 BA, .297 OBP, .362 SLG, 12 HR, 46 RBI
2015 projection: 156 games, .264 BA, .328 OBP, .407 SLG, 16 HR, 66 RBI

Xander Bogaerts didn't quite live up to his 2014 projections, but it was well within the margin of error, and well within an acceptable range for a major league shortstop.

Not to mention, Bogaerts is still just 22 - there's plenty of time for him to develop into the offensive and defensive wunderkind we're all hoping for - unlike some people I can think of (ahem, Clay Buchholz).

Once again in 2014, Bogaerts was asked to shift around the infield in deference to Stephen Drew, though he was allowed to return to his natural position at shortstop when Drew headed south at the trade deadline. 

The best two months of Bogaerts' 2014? May, before Drew came to town, and September, once Bogaerts readjusted to being a full time shortstop. Those also happen to be the two months in which he had the most plate appearances.

As a guy who seemingly performs best when he's playing in the field regularly, Xander Bogaerts will probably never be able to make a career transition to DH. But as the shortstop position should be his alone for 2015, it should be safe to expect improvement.

Monday, November 10, 2014

2015 Bill James Projections: Will Middlebrooks

2012: 75 games, .288 BA, .325 OBP, .509 SLG, 15 HR, 54 RBI
2013 projection: 153 games, .277 BA, .316 OBP, .490 SLG, 29 HR, 99 RBI
2013: 94 games, .227 BA, .271 OBP, .425 SLG, 17 HR, 49 RBI
2014 projection: 145 games, .266 BA, .310 OBP, .490 SLG, 32 HR, 102 RBI
2014: 63 games, .191 BA, .256 OBP, .265 SLG, 2 HR, 19 RBI
2015 projection: 127 games, .244 BA, .292 OBP, .418 SLG, 19 HR, 70 RBI

Will Middlebrooks has had his fair share of setbacks in his first few years. He's been shuttled back and forth to Pawtucket for seasoning and rehab, and this year he played his fewest games in Boston since his debut in 2012.

Middlebrook's calf strain in April, followed shortly by a broken finger, were probably among the first signs that 2014 would be a disappointing year. In the games he actually managed to stay on the field, his numbers were underwhelming.

Bill James' projections for Middlebrooks represent a huge jump in productivity over his injury-shortened 2014, but if we're being honest with ourselves they're really not up to snuff for a corner infielder in the American League.

Doubtless the Red Sox front office has been aware of this for quite some time, and I trust Ben Cherington to have some ideas up his sleeves if Middlebrooks become yet another prospect who can't live up to the hype.

As with most home-grown prospects, Middlebrooks is a fan favorite. But all the fans in the world rooting for him won't force him to make the adjustments necessary to be the lineup-anchoring force the Red Sox need him to be. That's up to him.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

2015 Bill James Projections: David Ortiz

2011 projection: 151 games, .261 BA, .366 OBP, .509 SLG, 33 HR, 112 RBI
2011: 146 games, .309 BA, .398 OBP, .554 SLG, 29 HR, 96 RBI
2012 projection: 150 games, .277 BA, .378 OBP, .517 SLG, 30 HR, 104 RBI
2012: 90 games, .318 BA, .415 OBP, .611 SLG, 23 HR, 60 RBI
2013 projection: 147 games, .283 BA, .386 OBP, .533 SLG, 32 HR, 103 RBI
2013: 137 games, .309 BA, .395 OBP, .564 SLG, 30 HR, 103 RBI
2014 projection: 146 games, .287 BA, .384 OBP, .531 SLG, 30 HR, 98 RBI
2014: 142 games, .263 BA, .355 OBP, .517 SLG, 35 HR, 104 RBI
2015 projection: 144 games, .275 BA, .371 OBP, .517 SLG, 32 HR, 102 RBI

David Ortiz's batting average might be the only metric by which he shows his age, and it's still well within the acceptable range. The legendary lefty's power numbers are perennially strong, and he's as beloved by fans as he was a decade ago.

The Red Sox are one of the few teams left in the American League that employ a true DH; most other clubs use the DH spot to give players a day or two to rest without being pulled from the lineup. 

Players like Adam Dunn or Victor Martinez might play their share of games as the DH, but they're coming off careers as position players. David Ortiz, on the other hand, has been a designated hitter far longer than he ever played first base - and he's excellent at it.

I'm not worried about Big Papi in 2015 - he's done a reasonable job meeting - and often surpassing - Bill James' projections in the last few years. Someday soon, we will have to face the reality of David Ortiz's baseball mortality. But today is not that day.

Friday, November 7, 2014

2015 Bill James Projections: Clay Buchholz

2011 projection: 13-9, 29 starts, 193 IP, 3.54 ERA, 74 BB, 168 SO
2011: 6-3, 14 starts, 82.2 IP, 3.48 ERA, 31 BB, 60 SO
2012 projection: 13-8, 30 starts, 191 IP, 3.53 ERA, 73 BB, 162 SO
2012: 11-8, 29 starts, 189.1 IP, 4.56 ERA, 64 BB, 129 SO
2013 projection: 12-11, 30 starts, 205 IP, 3.56 ERA,  72 BB, 163 SO
2013: 12-1, 16 starts, 108.1 IP, 1.74 ERA, 36 BB, 96 SO
2014 projection: 12-9, 29 starts, 190 IP, 3.46 ERA, 64 BB, 153 SO
2014: 8-11, 28 starts, 170.1 IP, 5.34 ERA, 54 BB, 132 SO
2015 projection: 12-10, 29 starts, 196 IP, 3.58 ERA, 62 BB, 156 SO

I don't want to alarm anyone, but the last two years the Red Sox have won the World Series are also the only two times in Clay Buchholz's career with a season ERA under 2. 

Then again, he didn't play close to a full season either time: in 2007, it was because he was a rookie, making his debut. In 2013, he dominated in the first half, only to be sidelined by injury down the stretch.

As is his custom when turning in a full season, Buchholz's 2014 was a disappointment. It's as if his slim frame can't sustain excellence for more than a dozen starts. He's a top of the line pitcher, when he can be healthy.

Obviously, Bill James and his team can't predict injury, but if they did, Buchholz would be a safe bet. It's time to give up the dream we embraced when Buchholz came up: he's thirty years old, and he'll never be the young ace we hoped for. 

But if Buchholz can live up to James' projections for starts and ERA, he's a passable third or fourth starter. The biggest problem facing the Red Sox this offseason is their pitching. If Jon Lester returns home to us, that would be an excellent start, because having Clay Buchholz be the most established pitcher on the team (as he was after the trade deadline this year) simply doesn't work.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

2015 Bill James Projections: Jackie Bradley Jr.

2013 projection: 148 games, .258 BA, .351 OBP, .419 SLG, 13 HR, 65 RBI, 20 SB
2013: 37 games, .189 BA, .280 OBP, .337 SLG, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 2 SB
2014 projection: 131 games, .248 BA, .329 OBP, .420 SLG, 15 HR, 55 RBI, 13 SB
2014: 127 games, .198 BA, .265 OBP, .266 SLG, 1 HR, 30 RBI, 8 SB
2015 projection: 129 games, .226 BA, .298 OBP, .341 SLG, 6 HR, 36 RBI, 8 SB

It's no secret that Jackie Bradley Jr.'s value doesn't primarily lie in his bat. This season wasn't nearly as much fun overall as 2013, but Bradley's consistently spectacular performance in the outfield was one of the few bright spots.

Bill James is slightly less optimistic for 2015 after Bradley's disappointing offensive performance in 2014, but he's still predicting some improvement, including a nearly 30 point jump in batting average.

Obviously Bradley will never be a power hitter, but post-steroid era, how many elite defensive center fielders can claim that title? Not to mention, runs saved are just as valuable as runs scored, and though Bradley scored only 53, he saved 14. 

The player Bradley was tasked with replacing in the Red Sox outfield, Jacoby Ellsbury, scored 88 runs, but saved -5, meaning his defense (and let's be clear, probably his below-average throwing arm) cost the Yankees five runs. Bradley was worth 67 net runs to the Red Sox, while Ellsbury was worth 83 for the Yankees - not as big a difference as one might expect, given the $20 million difference in their salaries.

Would it be nice to have Ellsbury? Sure, at least until he's owed $63 million dollars for ages 35-37. But if Bradley can improve at the plate as much as James seems to believe, he's an absolute steal - and the highlight reel catches will keep on coming.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dustin Pedroia Wins Gold Glove, Remains Awesome

Yesterday Dustin Pedroia won the fourth Gold Glove of his nine year career. It would be easy for me to wax poetic about Pedroia's grit, athleticism, and determination - I've done so many, many times.

But it is not Pedroia's hardware, or even his tools that make him one of the faces of the franchise, a captain in all but name. Dustin Pedroia is a de facto leader of the Red Sox because he puts the team first - you can feel his will to win.

I have the utmost confidence that if Pedroia were asked to trade his individual accolades (RoY, MVP, four-time All Star, four-time Gold Glove, Silver Slugger) for another World Series win, he'd immediately ask where to sign up.

The Red Sox were not a good team this year. There was remarkably little griping from a fanbase famous for it, but mostly because we were still awash in the hangover from 2013 until nearly June. But this award for Pedroia shows that he gives 110% every day, every season.

He's on the wrong side of thirty now, but he still throws his body around like he's fresh from the minors (in fact, sometimes I wish he'd be more careful). There is no halfway when it comes to Dustin Pedroia's style of play; he's the player I want in the big situations - though I wouldn't say no to Papi.

Gold Gloves aren't super accurate for actually measuring a player's defensive prowess - Derek Jeter won two after the age of thirty-five, and his range wasn't even that great in his prime.

By some metrics, Dustin Pedroia is the best second baseman in the American League, and that's all fine and good, but the real question is: if you could have an second baseman, would you pick him?

For me, the answer is always, unequivocally, yes.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Can you believe it?"

Exactly ten years ago, everything changed. Joe Castiglione asked us if we believed it, and at fourteen, I did. I believed, and with the arrogance of fourteen-year-olds everywhere, I thought I understood what it meant.

And I guess I did, on a shallow level. I knew the lore, had read about the near misses, and heard tales of the Curse of the Bambino - though the only real Red Sox tragedy I ever witnessed was the broken look on Tim Wakefield's face at the end of the 2003 ALCS.

So I, like the rest of New England, celebrated with reckless abandon. Granted, as a freshman in high school, my partying was considerably more measured than many other fans, but I was ecstatic nonetheless.

Of course, in the decade since that frenzied celebration, I have come to realize that I can never understand what that night meant to older generations. To my fellow fans who suffered through 1986,  1978, 1975, 1967, and 1946, I can only tip my cap to your perseverance and your faith.

Sure, the Red Sox had been in the playoff hunt twice before I was even ten years old - that alone made me more fortunate than my mother's generation. But despite three playoff exits in my young life, the dull certainty of defeat hadn't set into my psyche by 2004.

I was excited, but I could certainly, as Castiglione asked, "believe it."

I don't buy into the idea that certain fans are better than others. I hate when people look down their noses at fans who they deem "lesser" - and if you've spent any time with me, you'll know how I loathe the uniquely sexist and patronizing idea of the "Pink Hat" fan.

If you've decided you love the Red Sox, that's enough for me. Fenway Park's friendly confines can fit millions through the turnstiles every year, and the metaphorical tent of Red Sox Nation is big enough for millions more.

But I won't deny that there are those who suffer for their fandom more than others. To this end, I'd like to use this anniversary of euphoria to express my admiration for the generations of fans who were subjected to many more years of heartache than I ever endured. You are the backbone of this fandom, and in the spirit of that amazing night ten years ago, I'll leave you once more with the words of Joe Castiglione:

"...for the first time in 86 years, the Red Sox have won baseball's world championship! Can you believe it?"

Friday, October 17, 2014

Wild Card World Series!

Last season, both Wild Card winners were out before the LCS round. The Pirates were ousted by the Cardinals in five games in their NLDS, and in the ALDS, the Rays were taken out by the Red Sox in four.

This year, the Royals and the Giants are not willing to go quietly. Since their respective Wild Card games, neither team has faced elimination - indeed, to the certain chagrin of network executives and advertising departments, none of the series this postseason have made it the maximum five or seven games.

Unfortunately, the efficiency with which the Royals and Giants have dispatched their opponents means we won't have any baseball until Tuesday.

On the bright side, these barren four days will be good preparation for the long winter that awaits on the other side of the World Series. Hopefully, the Royals and Giants can do what no other matchup has done, and extend this thing the whole seven games.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

NL Wild Card: Pirates vs. Giants

Choosing who to root for tonight is basically a no-brainer for me. The most obvious reason is the fact that the Giants have won two World Series titles in the last five years, while the Pirates haven't tasted victory in over three decades.

But as I've noted in this space before, the Pirates boast a player from my home town of North Conway, NH (population: 2,349). Though Jeff Locke isn't starting tonight's game, if Edinson Volquez can best Giants starter Madison Bumgarner, the Redstone Rocket is likely to get a chance moving forward.

The entire region is fiercely proud - we didn't boast nearly as much about our two winter Olympians a few months back as we do about Locke. It's simple supply and demand: if you live in the north mountains, excellent skiers are a dime a dozen, while baseball season is often snow-shortened, making professional-caliber players a rarity.

It's likely that Locke won't see the field tonight - he is, after all, a starter - but I can promise that New Hampshire will be watching for a glimpse of him in the dugout, and rooting for the Pirates to take the win so we can cheer him on in the next round.

It would be difficult for tonight's Wild Card game to top the drama of the Royals twelfth inning walk-off last night, but nothing is impossible in baseball!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

AL Wild Card: A's vs. Royals

I'm sure I'm far from the only Red Sox fan rooting for Jon Lester to lead the A's to a Wild Card win over the Royals tonight. But hoping for victory from one of Red Sox Nation's most mourned 2014 departures isn't the only reason to back Oakland over Kansas City.

The starter for the Royals is James Shields.

Yes, this James Shields:

(Interestingly enough, former Ray/A/Red Sox and current A Jonny Gomes is also involved in this fight)

And the presumable center field starter for the A's? None other than Shield's long-lost brawling partner (and former Red Sox), Coco Crisp.

Now, I won't go so far as to suggest that a Brawl 2.0 between the Crisp and Shields would be ideal, but it would lend even more drama to the win-or-go-home Wild Card game.

Given the choice between former (and hated) Ray James Shields and perennial Red Sox killer Billy Butler, and the horde of former Red Sox playing for the A's, and the choice is clear. Perhaps it makes us mercenaries, and it certainly makes us bandwagoners, but today, Red Sox Nation may as well be A's Nation.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Wild [Card] Choices

The leaves are changing, the air is cooling, and playoff baseball is here again! Though yesterday's events ensured there would be no one-game playoffs to reach tomorrow and Wednesday's Wild Card one-game playoff, the excitement begins in earnest tomorrow, and I'm in a strange position.

The Red Sox are out of it (and have been for what feels like forever), and I'd be pretty much okay if any of the remaining playoff teams won the whole thing. Sure, I have a preference for the Nationals - I spent six weeks this summer covering them. Watching from the press box and interacting in the clubhouse, I discovered that the Nats are an easy group to like - plus, the franchise hasn't ever won it all, in Washington or Montreal.

But I can find a reason to root for nearly every team involved - except perhaps the Cardinals, mostly because I'm over shenanigans like these.

Just out of the teams playing in the Wild Card games tomorrow and Wednesday, there's no bad choice. Sure, I'm rooting for the A's over the Royals, but mostly because Jon Lester is on the mound for Oakland, and I want to see more Jonny Gomes postseason antics. Plus, the A's are like a Red Sox alumni club: Lester, Gomes, Jed Lowrie, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss, and Nick Punto are all on the active roster.

But if the Royals come out on top, I'll have to be happy for their fans: they haven't had anything to cheer for in October in almost thirty years.

On the National League side of things, the Pirates have an edge in my heart. Partly because Pittsburgh fans have endured years of futility, but also for a more personal/regional reason. One of the Pirates starting pitchers, Jeff Locke, hails from my home town.  We're used to Olympic skiers up here in New Hampshire, but a professional baseball player is much more exciting for us - we've all been converted Pirates fans since he was traded to Pittsburgh in 2009.

But I became a (casual) Giants fan during their 2012 World Series run. Marco Scutaro is no longer in San Francisco, but they have former Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy, as well as their own unique cast of characters - how can you root against a guy who's nicknamed Kung Fu Panda?

It's kind of nice to know that no matter which teams make it out of the Wild Card round, I won't be crushed by the outcome. Sure, I have my preferences, but I can find it in my heart to be happy for whichever team wins. Nothing that happens in the next month will measure up to last year - but it's time for the playoffs! With or without the Red Sox, October is the most wonderful time of the year.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Steven Souza Jr. is the best kind of goofball

Since Steven Souza Jr. is going be all over SportsCenter for his spectacular catch, I feel obligated to tell you all that he’s an enormous goofball.
When I was covering the Syracuse Chiefs (the Nationals Triple-A team) this season, he used to roam the hallways shirtless so we reporters would have to look, pick up teammates' children and tell them they wanted to be interviewed, and impersonate Ricky Bobby when cameras were rolling: 

He was a bit more subdued when first called up to Washington, but I’m sure by now he’s back to his boisterous self. In all seriousness though, I couldn’t be happier for him about his part of today.

He was always happy to speak to the press after games, whether the Chiefs had lost or (more frequently) won. Gracious and friendly, his fooling around was almost as entertaining as his routinely spectacular play on the field and at the plate.

Today's play to cement Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter was just the beginning. Souza will continue to impress through the Nats playoff run and in the years to come - you can quote me on that.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

What a difference a year makes

On this day in 2013, I wrote a post entitled #GetBeard, reveling in the facial hair, antics, and camaraderie of the eventual World Champions. Even though I didn't want to jinx anything, I (like much of Red Sox Nation) could tell that team was something special.

They rose to the occasion after a terrible tragedy, taking on the rallying cry of "Boston Strong" and fulfilling the dreams of a city and region that desperately needed something to celebrate.

This year has been disappointing almost from the get-go. Aside from the ring ceremony, which was as touching as expected, there's been precious little to celebrate on Yawkey Way this season.

The Red Sox have been mathematically eliminated for a week now, when last year at this time we were on the edge of our collective seats, watching an unbelievably charismatic team dominate down the stretch.

The most ironic part is that what we've seen from this year's squad is what we were supposed to expect last season, but while last year everything seemed to go right, this year has been marred by underperformance, injuries, and trades. The 2013 Word Champion Boston Red Sox were like the Goonies: they never said die. They expected to win, and they played like it.

Not so this season. There's been an aura of surrender all season, and if it was a mere hint in the spring and early summer, it was practically the company line after the trade deadline fire sale.

Sure, there have been some promising performances from a few of the young players, and just today, Daniel Nava partied like it was 2010 with a grand slam.

Sadly, 2014 has been a forgettable season overall, but if you had asked me last year if I would take this season in exchange for the fun of 2013, I would have said yes a million times over.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Never change, Papelbon

I was so caught up with the trade deadline yesterday that I neglected to share one of my favorite anecdotes so far. It concerns perhaps the most quirky former Red Sox out there, a pitcher who once told Amalie Benjamin to "put the fact that he's a sheriff in Mississippi into a story."

Of course, I'm talking about former closer Jonathan Papelbon, Lord Cinco Ocho himself. The man Manny Delcarmen described as the strangest he's ever shared a bullpen with. Even though I knew the Phillies were in Washington for a four game set, it totally slipped my mind that Paps would be in town.

Which is why it took me a moment to realize that the player who poked fun at the camera setup Julianne and I were using yesterday on the field was the same man who once danced around Fenway Park with a beer box on his head.

We were shooting a pre-game standup regarding the Nationals trade deadline activity, and I wanted to frame up the shot with the field and the scoreboard in the background. Because neither Julianne nor I are particularly tall, we achieved this by having her stand on the camera case.

Halfway through the first take, we heard a voice drawl, "I've never seen anything like that before." I turned around, and out of the dugout behind me emerged Jonathan Papelbon, gesturing at the case under Jules' feet.

He chuckled and added that it might be easier if we were taller, and before we could formulate any kind of reasonable response, he was walking away for team stretching.

I've been able to mostly shed the baseball fan inside of me when I'm working, but after that interaction I indulged in a moment of reflection. If seventeen-year-old me had ever anticipated something like that, as casual as it was, I would have freaked out. 

Five weeks into covering every Nationals home game, the thrill of interacting with major league ballplayers has become all but mundane - but I spared a grin for Papelbon, if only for nostalgia's sake.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Sentimentality of the Jon Lester Trade

©Kayla Chadwick 2012
In pure rational baseball terms, I don't hate the Jon Lester [and Jonny Gomes] for Yoenis Cespedes [and a draft pick] trade. Cespedes is a solid player, Lester's contract extension talks weren't going well, and it's certainly still possible that Lester returns to Boston as a free agent.

But I'm not a baseball fan because I'm rational - and I'm certainly not a Red Sox fan because I'm rational. I fell for this sport and this team in the same head-over-heels, giddy, out of control way that you fall for a first love. Sure, the fact that I was born and raised in New Hampshire made the Sox an obvious choice, but how could you not fall for the classic beauty of Fenway Park? For the fun-loving antics and absolute domination of Pedro Martinez, who dazzled Red Sox fans in his heyday?

Jon Lester didn't come onto the scene until I was already a diehard, but I fell in love with him just the same. Everyone knows Lester's amazing story: touted prospect is diagnosed with cancer, makes a miraculous recovery and returns to the game in time to win the clinching game of the 2007 World Series. Oh, and the very next season he threw a no-hitter, the eighteenth in franchise history.

Lester is a favorite among fans, teammates, and managers. The looks on Lester's and Terry Francona's faces as the two embraced following Lester's no-hitter never fails to make me tear up.

Even when Lester was part of the infamous Beer and Chicken Incident of 2011, he was one of the only players involved to come forward, admit it was wrong, and work to move past it. He's grown from the rookie who looked up to Josh Beckett to a player John Farrell can point to as an example when pitchers come up through the system. The student has become the teacher.

Sure, Lester has had poor games, and even the odd mediocre season - but he's a good lefthanded pitcher who can be absolutely dominating under the right circumstances. He typically takes responsibility for his mistakes, and gives his teammates ample credit for their contributions to his successes. 

Lester is a fan favorite - and for good reason. He'll certainly help the A's down the stretch, and give Red Sox fans a good reason to watch the playoffs, even though the Sox are all but mathematically eliminated.

Even though the Lester trade makes good baseball sense, it's hard to see him go. He's yet another piece of the 2007 team gone, a home grown player with a story worthy of a blockbuster film, headed to the west coast in the blink of an eye. Sure, he might be back by next Opening Day - but it's just as likely that we'll never see him in a Red Sox uniform again.

Somehow, Lester is more than a baseball player to me (and, I suspect, to many of you). I hope he's successful going forward, that he wins a lot of games down the stretch, and most of all, that he comes home to us over this offseason.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Nationals Get Revenge, Destroy Cubs 13-0

After a disappointing Fourth of July performance yesterday, the Nationals came roaring back this afternoon with a 13-0 drubbing of the Chicago Cubs. It was clear that the contest would be one-sided very early on, as the Nats batted around in the third - the only players who didn't record at least one RBI or run scored in that inning were Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez.

But Harper and Gonzalez eventually joined the hit parade in what was truly a team effort. Gonzalez pitched eight innings, scattering four hits and allowing no runs in his sixth win of the season. According to manager Matt Williams, the lefty asked to go back out for the ninth, but as Gonzalez was at 110 pitches, Williams sent Craig Stammen to the mound to get the final three outs.

The victory signaled a return to business as usual for the Nats, who had a five game winning streak snapped by the Cubs yesterday. After a long stretch where multiple players were out with injuries, it seems Nationals fans are finally seeing the team they expected at the beginning of the season, and the results are exactly what they had hoped for.

Though the red-hot Braves are still in first in the NL East, Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has high hopes for the Nats - vowing that unlike last season, the Braves won't be able to pull away.

The rubber match of the series is tomorrow at 1:35, and the Nationals have a challenge ahead with Jake Arrieta on the mound for the Cubs, while Jordan Zimmermann will take the ball for the Nats.

Shipping Down to DC

I've been the worst Red Sox blogger in the world lately - and it's not because the Red Sox have been one of the worst baseball teams lately (though that's certainly true - shout out to the rest of the AL East for also being generally terrible).

No, I've been awful because I haven't been able to catch many Red Sox games, as I spend most of my time at Nationals Park these days, covering the Nats for NewsChannel 9 in Syracuse as a field production intern. You might reasonably wonder why a Syracuse station would care about the Nationals... it's because the Nats' Triple-A affiliate is the Syracuse Chiefs.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have seen me live-tweeting Chiefs games a few weeks back, as I covered a few of those (and photogged many more) during my last semester at the Newhouse School. You've doubtless noticed me live-tweeting Nats games for the last week - so for those Red Sox fans who are sticking with me, I appreciate it.

This blog will have have Nats home game recaps and video starting tonight, and (probably) ending in five weeks when the internship concludes. I'll be sure to tag those posts appropriately, starting with this one, and to add Red Sox posts whenever I can.

To any Nationals fans who might now stumble upon this blog - welcome! Let me know if there's anything you'd like to see here.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Manny Delcarmen - Where is he now?

Ever wondered what's happened to old friend Manny Delcarmen after he was traded to the Rockies in 2010? Mostly, he's bounced around the minor leagues. He's currently in Syracuse, with the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, and I sat down with him for an interview. We talked 2007 World Series, bullpen antics, and the curious personality of Jonathan Papelbon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Friday, May 23, 2014

Boston turns its lonely eyes to Lackey

After the incredible euphoria Red Sox Nation felt during the 2013 season and playoff run, the last month has been brutal. Twitter has been buzzing with a self-pitying and sarcastic hashtag, #worsttofirsttoworst, and comparisons to the atrocious 2012 season have been made in several corners.

Realistically, the Red Sox aren't the worst. The worst team in baseball (according to their record) is the Houston Astros. The worst team in the AL East is the Tampa Bay Rays (and I unashamedly revel in that fact). The Red Sox are only five games out, thanks to the AL East finally being a mediocre division after years of dominance.

It's only May, and there's plenty of time for the Red Sox to scrape their way back into things - but that has to start sooner rather than later. John Lackey will start off this weekend's three-game series against the Rays tonight at Tropicana Field.

If the Sox can sweep the Rays, it would push the pesky Tampa Bay team further in to the basement, and once agains send Boston clawing closer to a .500 record and a clean start. For the Red Sox to get themselves back to .500 by the end of May they'll need to win eight of nine - with five games coming on the road, five against the Rays, and four against the Braves.

It's a tall order, but just like any other series, the Red Sox will have to take this stretch one game at a time. Tonight, they'll hope that Lackey can rebound from a less-than-stellar start his last time out.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

David Ortiz is better than you.

He's better than all of us, really. And without a doubt, better than the Minnesota Twins. It's pretty obvious that David Ortiz has never quite forgiven the Twins for not giving him the chance he deserved at the beginning of his career - since joining the Red Sox in 2003, he's absolutely dominated against Minnesota.

In 55 games, Ortiz has hit at a .344 clip, with 17 home runs, and an incredible 1.106 OPS. Last night alone, Big Papi had four hits, including two homers, and four RBIs. I'm sure the Twins executive who approved Ortiz's release regrets it every day - and assuming that person still has a job, last night must have been extremely painful.

But just like last October, amazing production from Ortiz is not enough to win games for the Red Sox. Perhaps he needs to pull his teammates aside for another pep talk - the AL East standings will only remain a mess for so long.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Standings check-in

It's official: the AL East is a mess. Just 4.5 games separate the first place Orioles (18-14) from the last place Rays (15-20). The Red Sox, finally back at .500, are in fourth place - but just two games behind the O's.

The winningest teams in the American League are the Tigers and the A's - and they have just three more wins than the Red Sox. It may be only a month into the season, but this kind of parity keeps things exciting - and will keep a less than stellar start from the Sox from overwhelming their chances later on.

Meanwhile, the Rays should be thanking Bud Selig and co. for switching the lowly Astros to the AL, because without them Tampa Bay would be in the basement all alone.

The AL East standings are probably about to get more stratified, as Baltimore will welcome the Astros to Camden Yards to extend their lead, while the second place Yankees have to head to Miwaukee to face off against the Brewers (who are currently holding onto the best record in baseball).

The Red Sox won't have it easy if they want to continue to pick up ground; the Rangers might be in third place in the AL West, but they always seem to give the Sox trouble.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Seriously Unserious

Check out this week's installment of Seriously Unserious - featuring Sammy Sosa, Tracy McGrady, Vince Young, Joe Maddon, and more.

Lackey deals in Red Sox win

Photo by Matt West
What a difference a week makes - it hasn't been that long since we were crediting the bullpen with being the most reliable part of the Red Sox pitching staff. But last night the starter led the way, as John Lackey tossed eight innings, scattering six hits, no walks, and giving up just two runs.

Lackey departed with a sizable lead, and Edward Mujica came on for the ninth with a five run cushion - but he couldn't nail it down. Mujica managed to get two outs, but it was messy, as he allowed a leadoff double to James Loney, and a walk to Wil Myers - both of whom scored on a single and a throwing error by Xander Bogaerts.

At that point, John Farrell had apparently seen enough, and called out to the bullpen for Koji Uehara, who was able to close out the game on three pitches, striking out Ben Zobrist. How is it possible that Mujica couldn't pitch a single inning with a five run lead?

Luckily for the Red Sox, they now have the roster they had hoped to start the season with, meaning that the bullpen should have more leads to protect in the upcoming weeks. Hopefully Mujica can straighten himself out, because Uehara is thirty-nine years old, and even his seemingly magic arm needs regular rest.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

North of the border, a roller coaster win for Red Sox

When Clay Buchholz gave up three runs in the bottom of the first inning yesterday at Rogers Centre, all I could think was, Here we go again.

But Buchholz got himself out of the inning - and through six more without giving up another run. It's a testament to Buchholz that he didn't melt down completely, even though it was clear early on that he didn't have his best stuff.

It certainly helped that Buchholz's teammates regained the lead for him in the top of the third, led by a grad slam by the often-frustrating A.J. Pierzynski, and a solo home run by prodigal son Will Middlebrooks.

Interestingly enough, it was only after Buchholz left the game that things got tense. The bullpen has so far been the most reliable part of the Red Sox season, but yesterday was an exception. Junichi Tazawa came in for the eighth inning, and promptly gave up a home run.

Traditionally, Tazawa has not pitched well at Rogers Centre (his ERA in Canada is 9.00 - the second worst of anywhere he's pitched after the 27.00 ERA he put up in the third of an inning he pitched at Dodger Stadium).

After Tazawa gave up his second run, John Farrell called out to the bullpen for Chris Capuano, who managed a strikeout and a walk before being replaced by Koji Uehara. The ever-reliable Uehara got the final out in the eighth, and then closed out the ninth - albeit with the slight hiccup of giving a home run to Jose Bautista.

It was a wild ride from start to finish - but even the ugly wins count. Jon Lester takes the mound tonight against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, giving the Red Sox a chance to sweep the series and get back to .500 on the season.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Red Sox crush Blue Jays

Last night's Red Sox looked like an entirely different team than the one that got demolished by the Yankees on Thursday. Will Middlebrooks and Shane Victorino are back in action, and their presence helped the offense score eight runs on the hapless Blue Jays.

Jake Peavy pitched seven innings and gave up just a single run, then Chris Capuano and Andrew Miller each pitched a scoreless frame to finish out the contest.

Every Red Sox batter had at least one hit - and the seemingly hopeless A.J. Pierzynski had three. It was a game that triggered pleasant memories of last season, a fantastic romp through Rogers Centre that was almost enough to wipe away the rotten taste from the loss to the Yankees the night before.

Was yesterday's game the harbinger of things to come? Have the Red Sox turned the corner on their horrible start? The return of Middlebrooks and Victorino certainly won't hurt - and now that we know about secret knuckleballer Mike Carp, things are looking up.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Seriously Unserious

If you need a laugh after last night's travesty of a game (and who doesn't?), check out my newest project, Seriously Unserious for a satirical take on recent sports headlines.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lackey is brilliant in Red Sox win

John Lackey's 2013 postseason brilliance was overshadowed by FOX's lovefest for Justin Verlander - and his brilliance last night is being overshadowed by Michael Pineda's blatant flouting of a rule that basically everybody bends.

But even with the shenanigans going on in the opposing dugout, Lackey was dominant in yesterday's game, holding the Yankees to a single run over eight innings. More impressively, Lackey had eleven strikeouts, no walks, and gave the bullpen some much needed rest.

People scoffed at me when I drafted Lackey for two of my fantasy teams, but I believe I'll have the last laugh. Throughout his career, Lackey has been a workhorse, and since his incredibly successful Tommy John surgery in 2012 he's been extremely solid.

Last season, Lackey suffered from a serious lack of run support, but even though he lost more games than he won, he tossed 189 innings with a 3.52 ERA, and won the clinching game of the World Series. Before last night's game, Lackey hadn't been all that impressive so far this season, but I see great things in the future - last night was just the opening salvo. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In Defense of Jacoby Ellsbury

Even when Jacoby Ellsbury won us all free tacos in 2007, even when he was healthy, I always kept myself from embracing him fully. He certainly helped the Red Sox during his time here, and by all accounts was a good teammate; he even grew a beard during last season's magical run.

But through all that, there was a lingering certainty that Ellsbury's presence in the Red Sox dugout, and in center field at Fenway, was temporary. You don't sign with Scott Boras to take a home town discount.

I understand that fans were upset at Ellsbury's departure. He was a young, talented, home grown player with the kind of speed we rarely get to see in a Red Sox uniform. But unlike certain other beloved players who have defected to the Bronx, Ellsbury never claimed he wouldn't play for the Yankees. Ellsbury never promised to be a Red Sox for life.

Hell, the Red Sox didn't even offer Ellsbury a contract, knowing full well they would have to commit to him for more years and more dollars than they were comfortable with. Sure, Ellsbury has been dynamite for the Yankees for far this season, but not signing him was never about this season.

The Red Sox didn't sign Jacoby Ellsbury because there's no telling what kind of player he will be by the end of his contract. Would you be willing to pay Jacoby Ellsbury $21 million dollars for his age 37 season? Especially considering his lack of durability in his twenties, I'm perfectly content to say goodbye.

I know Red Sox fans are suffering through a pretty bad start, and it's easy to say that keeping Ellsbury would have prevented that. That might even be true, but it's short-sighted - the Red Sox had Ellsbury for most of his prime years, at a reasonable price, and it would not be prudent to pay a premium for the better part of the next decade. (Personally, I'm in the camp that wishes we'd kept Jarrod Saltalamacchia instead of embarking on the A.J. Pierzynski Experiment.)

I haven't been at Fenway yet this season, so I missed Ellsbury's (figuratively) pinstriped Fenway debut. I understand the mixed reaction fans had to him, particularly given his spectacular performance in the absolute thrashing the Red Sox took at the hands of the Yankees.

But what did Red Sox fans want Ellsbury to do? Retire? The Red Sox didn't even offer him a contract (and no, a one-year qualifying offer doesn't count). Sure, it hurts that he went to the Yankees as opposed to literally any other team. But he took the money and security the Yankees offered, and almost anyone out there would do the same.

The truth is, Ellsbury looks like he belongs in a Yankees uniform. The Red Sox were always looser and sillier than would have suited Ellsbury - the Yankees straight-laced style fits his businesslike demeanor much better. 

Obviously, I would prefer he have no more games like last night while playing against the Red Sox, but I won't waste any more time booing him or wringing my hands because he left us. Ellsbury was never a traitor. He's a practical man who made a pragmatic decision, and I won't hold it against him.