Interleague play, well a series anyway, got interesting for 2011

Now this, although not ideal, would make interleague play more interesting.

Tampa Bay – going back to it’s roots?

That’s not a good thing – at least not if you root for the Rays.

Let’s face it, after the exodus of good, young players this off-season and the addition of aging, declining players….players are not looking at Tampa Bay as the place to play for a possible championship.

Congratulations – you’ve returned to what you started as – a spot for aging veterans come on the way to the end of their career

Remember Fred McGriff, Paul Sorrento, Dave Martinez, Wade Boggs, Jose Canseco, Ozzie Guillen, Bobby Witt, Norm Charlton, Greg Vaughn, Dwight Gooden – all one-time big name players that arrived to play in the Trop, all very much past their prime and ending their career in Tampa (or soon after) between 1998 and 2001.

You know, back when you were the Devil Rays, somewhat aptly named because the team seemingly was where players careers came to die.

Yes, those years were the emergence of Dan Wheeler, Aubrey Huff, and Victor Zambrano, but let’s face it – players didn’t look at Tampa Bay as place to go to be competitive.

The only reason why the 2011 Rays will perform better than those Devil Rays – good young pitching, and an established farm system – something the expansion Rays were trying to build back then.

Is it February 14th Yet?

Less than a month away from Pitchers and Catchers reporting for spring training, which means baseball is again almost upon us.

 

The Red Sox made their welll-known splashes in the Hot stove portion of the year by signing Carl Crawford, Dan Wheeler, and Bobby Jenks and trading for Adrian Gonzalez. The offense and defense of the Sox look solid for the upcoming 2011 season, assuming Adrian rehabs from his offseason shoulder injury in time to get ready and be effective.

No matter what a team looks like on paper, it’s how they perform on the field that matters. And although the Sox look good on paper, their are questions, which can not be answered until baseball starts.

Will Adrian be ready for opening day? while the news is promising that he has been playing ctach, reports are that he has not been raising his glove hand to catch balls thrown over his head.

There could be an issue if Adrian has any setbacks. Although Youkilis can fill in at first and Francona can have another player at Third base, like Jed Lowrie, the offensive drop between Gonzalez and Lowrie (or any other fill-in hitter) will be a big issue.

Who will emerge as the Primary catcher? Varitek is (offensively at least) no longer an everyday catcher, and fans saw a vast offensive improvement as a backup, but Saltalamacchia has not shown to be that much of an offensive upgrade over Tek. Salty has been working with Gary Tuck to improve his skills behind the plate, and with the additions of Gonzalez and Crawford offensive production ma not be as important for this year. Let’s not also forget the difference in difference in pitching with who was catching behind the plate (which was 3.87 with Tek and 5.22 with Martinez), which was the main reason why the Red Sox did not resign Martinez. And of course, if Adrian suffers a set-back, the pressure of increasing offensive output may be too much for Tek to achieve, and may put too muich pressure on Salty resulting in decreased defensive stability.

Who will be the everday shortstop? Ok, Marco Scutaro is the de-facto everyday SS, but he is really a second baseman, not a shortstop. As much as Boston fans love to point out how Derek Jeter is over-rated defensively, they love to ignore that Scutaro is defensively equivilant to Jeter in range – but less reliable. with just 40 less chances than Jeter, Scutaro had 3 times as many errors. Jed Lowrie is not a shortstop either, although he could fill in, he is much better suited for the corners and second base – but defensively has both better range and fielding abilty than Scutaro. There is a reason why Iglesias was projected to be in the Boston Clubhouse this season until his injury filled 2010 season delayed his arrival.

And finally, how will this bullpen hold up? The additions look great, but given the steady incline in Okajima, Jenks, and Papelbon’s ERA/WHIP over the past few years, this bullpen may not be quite as solid as it initially appears. Will Jenks and Okajima be the Jenks, Papelbon and Okajima of 2004/05, or will they reprise their 2010 year and become a bullpen that looks good on paper but does not perform well: the 2011 version of Matt Mantei, Keith Foulke, and Alan Embree?

 

Then again, these questions might all be answered early on in the season and before spring training comes to a close, and that’s why they play the game.

Red Sox catching up; Joe West.

The Red Sox started last weekend 8.5 games behind the Rays.  And even thought the Rays and Yankees faced the Worst NL teams while the Sox played the best, and after taking 3 games in Tampa, the Red Sox now sit 5.5 games behind the Rays for First.

Yes the Sox still are 2.5 games behind the Yankees – but they are gaining ground, and putting themselves into a better spot in the AL east. The Red Sox pitching has shined, allowing only 4 runs in 27 innings against the Rays (MLB’s best team going into the weekend), and 8 runs in 26 innings against the Phillies (the NL’s best team).

 

But one of the biggest stories tonight was Joe West: Red Sox fans, you remember Joe West; he’s the umpire who openly criticized the Yankees and Red Sox for their games “taking too long.”

 

Well, maybe games would go faster if he called a larger strike zone, and didn’t call Phantom Balks.

 

I’ve watched the video a number of times, and I don’t see a balk in either case. Really, Joe West, I’d like to know – inform us what Buehrle did to balk. I’d like to know what I’m missing, and I’m sure the announcers (who also do not seem to know where the balk was called) would like to have some clarification too.

 

Hey Bud Selig – if you fine, reprimand, suspend Harrelson for his comments on the air about Joe West, then you should really give that same punishment to Joe West as well. This was obvious instigation on the part of West.

 

Mark Buehrle, 2 balks in a single game: Seriously? Mark Buehrle had only 2 balks in total since the start of the 2006 season going into today. Even better, the last time Buehrle was called for a balk on a move to first, June 27th 2009; Buehrle didn’t actually throw the ball to first. That was because Konerko wasn’t covering first base, like Buehrle apparently thought he was. That takes us back to his previous balk in a bases loaded situation on August 7th, 2006 against the Angels. Hey, guess what, that Balk was on a pitch to the plate, not a move to first. Now since the start of the 2006 season, Buehrle has picked off 31 baserunners (35 including 4 this season) with 1 balk to first because he didn’t actually throw the baseball to first.

So Joe West calls 2 balks on a pitcher in one game. A pitcher who “commits” as many balks over the course of three innings as he had over the course of 4 seasons.

 

And the announcers are right; he was going to call a balk at the first opportunity. Of course, I just wonder how much faster that game would have been over if Joe West didn’t call the phantom balks, and eject both Ozzie and Buehrle. And of course, ejecting a pitcher who’s known for being a fast paced pitcher doesn’t help in keeping those game times down.

 

The reason I mention this: Get ready to see more Joe West, Red Sox fans.  He’ll be behind the plate for the First game – and After Pedroia’s comments about West’s comments, I wouldn’t be surprised if West made some questionable calls against Pedroia tomorrow night. 


And I hope Red Sox fans give Joe West the loud “welcome” he deserves when his name is announced prior to the first pitch.

Lester and Youkilis Dominate Twins!

Kevin Youkilis went 2 for 4 with 4 RBI, 3 of them coming in the 3rd with this Monster of a homerun into Center field that cleared the top of the camera platform and hit off of the brick wall behind it.

The view of the pitchers mound from the Green Monster looked awesome, as Jon Lester threw 103 pitches (76 for strikes) on his way to a 6-2 complete game victory over the Twins.

 

The only major blemish on the night came in the bottom of the 7th, when Victor Martinez’s hit into Right field was interfered with by a fan, costing the Red Sox a run. Now granted, the Sox didn’t need the run, but fans reaching into the field of play is one of those things that drives me up the wall.

Do baseball fans remember Steve Bartman? Do they remember the uproar over the (incorrect) perception that he cost his team a chance at a World Series title? Have Baltimore fans forgotten Jeffrey Maier?

The fact is that if you had to buy a ticket to get into the ballpark, you should not be reaching out after a ball in play or running onto the field.  All those other people paid good money to watch ballplayers, and not you, on the field. And so back to those people on the field that really matter:

 

The performance of both Lester tonight and Clay Buchholz yesterday means that the bullpen will be well rested. Hopefully, John Lackey can keep this winning streak alive.Unfortuantely, that might be easier said than done.  The Red Sox roll into Philly with a winning streak, with Lackey matching up against Cole Hamels, then Daisuke gets paired with Kyle Kendrick Saturday and on Sunday Wakefield faces off against old foe Roy Halladay.

 

This should be a good series. I’m just hoping the Red Sox can pull out a couple of wins before going down to Tampa.

tough road ahead for the Red Sox

Tonight the Sox play their last home game against the Minnesota Twins. Yes, the Twins won’t be back in Boston until sometime in 2011.

The Sox almost need to pick up a win here tonight, because the next upcoming Series for the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays are much kinder to the Yanks and Rays than the Sox.

 

The Red Sox get to go and play the NL East leading and defending NL Champion Phillies, then while the Yankees play NL East cellardwelling Mets and the Rays play the lowly NL Central cellardwelling Astros. There would be no surpise if the Yankees and Rays pick up a game or two in the standings against the Red Sox this weekend.

 

Hopefully the Sox can take advantage of the Yankees and Rays beating up on each other to pick up a game on one of those teams with a win tonight, and we’ll be seeing something like this at the end of tonights game:

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Go Sox!

A classless move.

On Wednesday, the New York Yankees filed a formal protest with the Commissioners office about how pitcher Josh Beckett came out of the game on Tuesday night.

Now Yankees manager Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman are making the claim that the Red Sox violated the rules when Manny Delcarmen replaced Beckett in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Nevrmind that Girardi hinted that the red Sox may have pulled Beckett out because he was in trouble and not hurt, and nevermind that this complaint was filed after the Red Sox placed Beckett on the 15 day DL.

 

Girardi and Cashman both claim that the Red Sox violated MLB Rule 8.03, that the Red Sox did not indicate an injury prior to motioning to the bullpen.

Maybe Girardi and Cashman should look more closely at the rulebook, particularly rule 8.03 which they claim was violoated, and then look at Rules 8.06 and Rule 4.19

“Rule 8.03:

When a pitcher takes his position at the beginning of each inning, or when he relieves another pitcher, he shall be permitted to pitch not to exceed eight preparatory pitches to his catcher during which play shall be suspended. A league by it’s own action my limit the number of preparatory pitches to less than eight preparatory pitches. Such preparatory pitches shall not consume more than one minute of time. If sudden emergency causes a pitcher to be summoned into the game without any opportunity to warm up, the umpire-in-chief shall allow him as many pitches as the umpire deems necessary.

 First notice there is no mention about order of notification of injury or replacement in rule 8.03

Second, the number of pitches the relief pitcher gets is definitively a judgement call by the umpire-in-chief.  This is clearly the case based on the last sentence in rule 8.06, which states:

“The substitute pitcher will be allowed eight preparatoy pitches or more if in the umpire’s judgment circumstances justify.” 

And since the number of preparatory pitches a pitcher may have is a judgment call by the umpire, the Yankees should definately refer to Rule 4.19:

“Each league shall adopt rules governing procedure for protesting a game, when a manager claims that an umpire’s decision is in violation of these rules. No protest shall ever be permitted on judgment decisions by the umpire. In all protested games, the decision of the League President shall be final.”

But then again, I never though World Series Champions would have to resort to such a classless manuever and file a formal protest about the manner of replacement of a pitcher during the game after the pitcher, whose replacement they are protesting, is placed on the 15-day DL. Clearly, Beckett was, and is, hurt.

25% of the way through the Season…

Panoramic.jpg (more…)

Another Season underway

IM001169.JPGWelcome to the second week of the 2009 Season – the MLB Thunderdome, where 30 teams enter, and at the end only 1 team leaves.

Congrats to Wakefield for winning his first game in Oakland since 1999. 10 years without a win there, this one has got to feel really good for him (and for the bullpen for the much needed day off.) And flirting with a no-hitter into the eight – which of course reminded me of Schillings bid for a perfect game (ending in a one hitter) against the A’s in 2007.

Oh, and Happy Jackie Robinson day! 

That being said, here in Boston, the Sports talk radio airwaves and office cooler talk has been dominated by the Red Sox poor start to the season: The lack of extra base hits by Ortiz (until today); the poor pitching performances by Lester and Matsuzaka; the lack of production by J.D. Drew, Dustin Pedroia; and where the Red Sox offense has gone, how Papi is probably done as a power threat, and how the Red Sox are in deep trouble because of their offense.

Of course, after an 8 run outburst today, I’m sure those same people will still espouse the lack of offensive production and how the Red Sox are doomed.

And I’m sure teams like the Nationals (0-7), Indians (2-7), Astros (1-6), Brewers (2-6), Giants (2-5) and others have fans who are jumping off the deep end right now about how their team has been playing.

Did I miss something, or have teams only played in up to 9 game sgoing into today? Fans, you know what the first week and a half of Baseball tells you about your team? Absolutely nothing. At this time in previous years, there are examples of plently of good and bad teams having starts that in no way indicated how their season would progress:

2008 – the Tampa Bay Rays sit at the bottom of the AL East with a 6-8 record and finish the year with a trip to the World Series; the St. Louis Cardinals and the Arizona Diamondbacks are tied with the MLB’s best record (10-4) and neither team makes the playoffs.

2007 – Atlanta claims the Best record on this date (8-3) but misses the playoffs and finishes 6 games out of the wild card. The Chicago Cubs start the season 4-7 and at the bottom of the NL Central, yet finishes the season in first. The Phillies at 3-8 have the second worst record in baseball, and they finish the season first in the NL East. And lets not forget Colorado, which starts 5-7, but has a stellar end of the season to force a 1 game playoff with the Padres (7-5) for the NL west title…with Arizona (9-4) and Los Angeles (8-4) watching from their homes.

2006 – San Deigo sits with a 3-7 record and at the bottom of the NL west, and they finish the season at the top, while divison leader Colorado (7-4) finishes where San Diego started. Boston (7-4) and Baltimore (7-5) sit atop the AL East, but finish 3rd and 4th in the Division, while the New York Yankees go from the bottom of the pack to the playoffs.

Hey, the 2004 World Series teams are 4-4 (Boston) and 4-6 (St Louis) at this point.

So my point is this, baseball fans, as of right now no one knows how good or bad your team really is. Maybe this is the Nationals year, maybe the Astros make the playoffs, maybe Seattle ends the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s run of division wins, and maybe the Marlins make another run at the World Series….

So, while the view from the Green Monster may not look so great right now (3-6) for you Red Sox fans, keep in mind that this is still April, and we haven’t seen enough baseball to know how October is going to turn out.

Lunch with Terry Francona

So a little background before I get into the really good part of the story.
WEEI 850AM sports talk radio in Boston often gets calls after Red Sox games (particularly the losses) about decisions Terry Francona made or did not make during games, so the Dale and Holley midday show came up with a brilliant promotion, “the Mohegan Sun Second Guess Contest.” Dale Arnold and Michael Holley, the hosts, had mentioned to callers before this year that Terry Francona had reasons for what he did, even if you disagreed with him, and with the release of Michael Holley’s book, “Red Sox Rule” about Terry Francona, they created this contest.

The rules were simple:
“- Tune-in to Boston baseball games.
– Listen for instances where you would “second guess the manager”
– These can be instances where you disagree with his decisions on pinch hitting & running, bullpen moves, line-up changes etc.
– They can also be instances where you would have made a move and he didn’t!
– After you have your “Second Guess,” simply log onto WEEI.com, visit the Dale and Holley page, click on the Second Guess Contest, and fill out the contest form.”

Each Week, Dale and Holley selected one “second guess” from the games played prior to Terry’s appearance on the show. The selected “second guess” was read live on-air to Terry Francona, and he responded and justified his decisions. Those second Guesses were entered into a randomly selected drawing at the end of the year to allow one weekly winner the grand prize of Lunch with Terry Francona in his office.

Yes, I was that very lucky weekly winner. 

Very early into the season and contest, I entered a Second guess which was picked -on April 11th, the Red Sox were playing the New York Yankees with a 1-1 tie going into the seventh inning. Jason Giambi was leading off the inning, and Terry brought Mike Timlin into the game. At the time Giambi was 1-22 on the season, but has hit righties better than lefties during his career, and no one had been used in the Boston Bullpen – I couldn’t figure out why Francona went with a righty against Giambi instead of bringing in Okajima or Lopez (both Lefties). So I entered the Second guess contest to ask. 

Terry Francona’s answer was that the decision had been made before the game that Timlin was going to pitch one inning in that game. With the Ninth inning reserved for Papelbon, the game situation left either the seventh or eighth innings available for Timlin to pitch – and as it worked out, Giambi (lefty), Molina (righty) and Gonzalez (righty) were due up in the seventh, while Cabrera (Switch) Cano (lefty) and Abreu (lefty) would be due up in the eighth. The matchups were better in the Seventh than the Eighth for Timlin, which is why Timlin was brought in then. In addition, with Giambi’s bad numbers overall for the season (1-22), and his previous year in which he hit lefties better than Righties; Terry didn’t feel this was a bad matchup, even with it being a lefty batter-righty pitcher situation.

So after hearing info which wasn’t previously known to me, I could understand what his reasoning was for making the move he did. Terry’s answer confirmed exactly why I’m not the manager of the Boston Red Sox (or any other team). For that second guess, my weekly prize was a one night, mid-week stay at Mohegan Sun, the sponsor of the Contest.

Following Game 7 of the ALCS, I listened in to Dale and Holley and to my amazement heard that my name had been picked out of the hat by producer Michael Berger to have lunch with Terry Francona. And so yesterday, December 17th, I got to go to Fenway Park and have Lunch with the two-time World Series Winning Manager for the Boston Red Sox Terry Francona, Mid-day Talk Show hosts Michael Holley and Dale Arnold, and mid-day show producers James Stewart and Michael Berger. Lunch was provided by Flemings. I also got to meet some clubhouse guys, as well as Jack McCormick.

Fenway Park is undergoing more construction this winter, and work crews were abundant on Yawkee and Van Ness. I met up with Dale and Holley in the EMC club, and I took a moment to look around. I noticed that seating sections 23 through 41 of the right field Roof box were torn out and workers were doing something (not sure what from my vantage point) in that area. Really informative, I know. Dale and Holley asked if I remembered my question, and I told them what it was, and what Terry’s response was. We then made our way down to the clubhouse and the Manager’s office. The Boston Red Sox clubhouse isn’t very big (hey, it’s a 96 year old stadium after all), and boxes full of stuff to be shipped down to Florida were already taking up floor space – but I was surprised to see some jerseys in the lockers, and a Youkilis nameplate over one locker, and a Tazawa nameplate over another. Unfortunately my Digital camera had been on for my trip into the city, and the batteries died, so I couldn’t take ay pics.

As we entered Terry’s office, I could see pictures of the 2004 and 2007 world series celebrations on one wall to the left of Terry’s desk, a poster of Pedroia and Ortiz (the Little Man movie spoof Poster produced by NESN) and a dry erase board which still had the September Schedule with who was scheduled to Start those games for the Sox (not updated for the rainout on the 27th), and another whiteboard with messages written on it to him from his family and Red Sox Staff members on the wall behind his desk. He had a bag of carrots on his desk, but seemed less interested in those carrots once he could smell the food Flemings had brought for our luncheon. Terry Francona offered us a beverage from his own persoanl fridge, and asked if I would want a redbull, Vitamin Water, bottled water, or a beer. Yes, the Manager of the Red Sox offered me beverages from his personal fridge in his office. Hey, I took the train in, so I had a beer in the Managers office at Fenway Park. How awesome is that! Terry said that he doesn’t drink beer that often in the office, so he wasn’t sure how old the beer was, but it tasted just fine. Of course, everything tastes better when you are in the Managers office at Fenway park. 

For the next 2 hours, we basically got to talk baseball and talk about old baseball stories (Francona being struck out 3 times by Mario Soto, playing for Pete Rose, various players he has played with and managed), and stories about the trip to Japan, the last spring training game before the Japan trip (with the delay from players standing up for the coaching staff), and answering questions I had about his job. I had a big list of my own questions to ask, a few from other people, and I didn’t get to all of them. The 2 hours we seemed to go by so quickly. While I’d like to give lots of details about the luncheon, there were topics and details that Terry definitely made known he didn’t want to become public. I have to respect that.

Not wanting to leave everyone in the total dark as to what we did talk about, I feel that he wouldn’t have a problem with the following being mentioned. He did confirm that he does meet with Free Agents the Red Sox are interested in (along with current players who would be affected by the signed of those free agents) to talk about their potential roles with the club, and also confirmed that he will meet with Free Agents he knows that the Red Sox management has no intention of signing. (A conclusion I had thought of because of the known conversation (indicated in Michael Holley’s “Red Sox Rule”) he had with Papelbon and Gagne before the Red Sox made the trade for Gagne in 2007.) He doesn’t really relax during the season now, but he mentioned playing Golf (amongst a few other activities) when he managed in Philly. He did say that while not every day is a good day, but there are only about 3 days a year where he gets “fed up.” Terry said he approaches talking to players about their injuries and their return to playing differently depending on both the player and situation, but he doesn’t bring up his own injury experiences with players. He believes Teixeira will make a decision about where he’ll play within 4 or 5 days, but gave no indication about where he thinks Teixeira will play. Terry said, when I asked, that he feels the Red Sox most pressing need right now is starting pitching. He also said that, despite the reports to the contrary, he has not talked to Mike Scioscia (or any other manager) this offseason about Manny Ramirez.

On the day my name was picked (10/22/08), Terry Francona joked that I was going to be disappointed and wasn’t going to see what I expected, and how I’d be seeing stuff in boxes and rodents in the clubhouse. I thought this was a joke, but to my surprise while we were eating, Michael Holley jumped from his seat as a mouse crawled over his shoe. I guess the manager wasn’t kidding about that, but then with construction and this being a 96 year old stadium, I guess it really shouldn’t be that surprising.


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At the end of the Lunch, I had a picture taken with (from left to right) Michael Holley, (me), Terry Francona, and Dale Arnold. Terry thanked me for not only having good questions but also asking them in a respectful way. I asked Terry if he would mind signing my “Red Sox Rule” book, along with 4 tickets – my 2005, 2007, and 2008 playoff tickets and my May 13, 2007(The Mothers day Miracle) ticket. He did!

A lunch and conversation with the manager, a beer, some autographs, and a compliment from the manager of the Red Sox. This day could not have been better.

And to start off their Thursday show, Dale and Holley thanked Terry Francona, Flemings, and Mohegan Sun. They then recapped our luncheon, and said I was a knowledgeable guest, who obviously enjoyed baseball and that I was the perfect kind of guest for this luncheon. (where’s the WEEI sound effect for tooting my own horn?)

I hope they get to do this contest again next year – It’s something every Baseball fan should have an opportunity to experience.

Thank you to the WEEI Dale and Holley midday show, the producers, Flemings, and Terry Francona for this unique opportunity. Thank you to Terry Francona, the Management and players of the Boston Red Sox for a memorable 2008 Season. I appreciated this more than I can express through words.

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