Results tagged “Baseball” from Who Made You Mirabelli?

No News is Good News

| | Comments (151) | TrackBacks (0)
dice-k.jpgAs of this morning, everyone and their uncle had their jock-straps in a twist over some theoretical announcement regarding Diasuke Matsuzaka's future with the Boston Red Sox. Was he going to start? Was he going to be benched? Was he going to be released? Taken out back and shot? WHAT? Somebody... please tell us what is going on.
But as the tension become more and more palpable (mostly because of the unreal amounts of media attention it was getting... but what do you want? -- it was an off-day), it became clear that Red Sox fans weren't even going to get a nugget of anything. The Red Sox are almost as bad as the Patriots in that respect. They have become masters in saying literally nothing. It's almost enough to pray for an Ozzie Guillen-type figure... almost.
But taking a step outside the box, the question is this: does it really matter when Dice-K comes back? We've already seen he's no Beckett in the post-season. And now that our bats have woken up from their beauty rest, the team is winning... without him.
Obviously, you want your ka-trillion dollar man out there earning his salt. But his return isn't going to make-or-break the season. If anything, it's going to give Red Sox fans more heartburn, as pointed out in a brilliant, funny, and awe-inspiring article by a good friend of Who Made You Mirabelli, Michael James Silver, or Pythagorus, as he is known is some circles. He's a talented young writer for FireBrandAL who is really going places. No wonder why his work has gotten picked up by the likes of ESPN.com's Rob Neyer, and was featured on the MLB Outsiders homepage.
Although it is somewhat silly that Dice-K, in all of his virtual irrelevance, is making the homepage of anything these days... slow news day.

Clay in Control

| | Comments (208) | TrackBacks (0)

Clay%20Buchholz%202.jpgForget the six game lead in the Wild Card -- well don't actually forget it, because that's pretty awesome too -- but last night's rubber match against the Tampa Bay Rays showed us something that might be more useful come October: the emergence of Clay Buccholz as a control starter.

This is a guy with a career 1.73 SO/BB average, never knotching a season over 2.20. However, within the last week, Big Play Clay has earned himself a 4.0 SO/BB average. How's that for control? Hitting the spots has always been his biggest problem. His stuff is evident, and it's clear that he knows how to use it. But nibbling at the corners is something that he doesn't have yet... and that's fine. Those are the type of skills acquired by nothing but time and practice.

This trend is not only good for the kid, who very well may be a head case (emotionally... not psychologically... and yes... there is a difference), but it's also good for the team. Things are starting to click all over the place at the exact right time -- which as we've seen with the Rockies in '07 and the Rays in '08, trumps virtually all other skill sets.

Unfortunately, the Red Sox don't have time to stop and think about how nice this is starting to feel. Tonight, the Rangers go up against the Orioles, and Chris Tillman is going to call Scott Feldman his "daddy," after all -- he's practically old enough to be.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have won seven straight -- although tonight's matchup against Halladay and Baby Joba should be one for the ages... or in Joba's case, up until the fourth inning.

Down to the Wire

| | Comments (14) | TrackBacks (0)

t1_wagner.jpg

Well a thinly stretched, yet talented bullpen will be gettins some more support in the form of one Mr. Bill Wagner. For some yet unknown reason, the 38-year-old closer waived his no-trade clause, supposedly just minutes before the 1:30 p.m. deadline.

According to Boston.com,

"The source said the Red Sox have agreed to Wagner's wishes and will not pick up his $8 million option for 2010, the final element of the four-year, $43 million deal he signed with the Mets as a free agent before the 2006 season. Notably, the club will retain the right to offer him arbitration, meaning they would get two compensatory draft picks if another team signs him. "

Now, this promises to muddy the closing waters even more - although not for a while at least. It appears that one of Boston's draws to Wagner was the promise that the team will not overuse his still delicate arm, and that he would ease into a new role as a set-up man.

Although not in any immediate fear for his job (or at least he shouldn't be, with Bard's collapse and Wagner's recovery time-table), Jon Papelbon is still a tad unhappy about the whole situation.

"What has he done? Has he pitched this year?" Is he ready to pitch or is he not? ... I think our bullpen is good where we're at right now. Don't get me wrong. But I guess you could always make it better. It's kind of like the [Eric] Gagne thing, I guess."

Wagner apparently didn't take the comments lying down according to Boston.com, telling SI.com,

"[W]hen he walks in my shoes then I'll say something. Let him be 38 and have Tommy John surgery."  

This has the makings of a potential serious rift, and could serve to push Papelbon out of town even faster. As stacked as we are, this is not the time to burn any bridges, especially with a young man who has given us what appears to have been the best of his career.

But in either case, the Red Sox now have more potential closers on one team than the entire NL Central. It's rediculous. However, this Wagner move could fill one void in particular - the Veteran spot left by the departure of John Smoltz.

From the beginning of the season, it was clear that Smoltz's strongest contributions to the team could have been in a tight relief spot in extra innings on a tense October night. Now, Billy Wagner can fill that role - and that's more of a psychological advantage than anything - an advantage which this team is dying for right now. 

Pitching Out Of Order

| | Comments (8) | TrackBacks (0)
images.jpgWith all of the roster moves surrounding the trade deadline, there has to be a slight degree of forgiveness if the casual fan hasn't quite memorized the new roster... never mind the line-up. But it's not everyday when the manager forgets who the closer(s) are.

Tuning into a tie game in the ninth against a division rival, one would expect to see... maybe Jonathan Papelbon... maybe Daniel Bard - clearly the closer of the future. No, no, dear friends. Ramon Ramirez. That is what we saw.

Now, for those unfortunate souls watching the game on the trusted MLB.tv, we actually didn't "see" this per se. Instead, we found ourselves cursing the webmaster and then cursing Takashi Saito via ESPN's gamecast... a lovely way to spend an evening indeed.

But back to the pitching. Daniel Bard is, almost unquestionably going to be the closer for the Boston Red Sox at some point in the future, barring injury or trade - although the Fangraph boys think his "untouchable" tag is a bit undeserved. He gave up a two-run jack to Evan Longoria, who despite his uncharacteristically low numbers this season, has a propensity for tattooing young pitchers with not a lot of ball movement when their velocity tails... he is after all a professional ball player. But despite Longoria's jolt to Bard's confidence, the kid looks like the real deal. But the only way to give him a go is to give him a go... in a close situation.

If the Sox management was looking to play tonight a little more conservatively and give Papelbon the green light in the ninth... all well and good. That's what the team pays him for. That is not, however, what they pay Ramon Ramirez for. Nothing against poor Ram Ram - who ended up pitching his way out of a serious tight spot, but what? Why? Huh? So confused... must lay down.

 

malamud.jpg

It's time to come out of the cave folks... it's a whole new week. Yes... David Ortiz tested positive for steroids in 2003. And no... there really is no possible way that Tim Tebow hasn't gotten laid at a school like Florida.

Now, anyone who can honestly say TO THEMSELVES that they didn't see the Ortiz allegation coming need to walk themselves to the nearest Pearl Vision. The Red Sox Hipocrites Code, to which we all hold steadfast, mandates that we defend him until the bitter end in front of others, especially Yankees fans. But to ourselves, we must be true.

These feelings of expected mourning are strangely familiar. When you were eight, you figured out that Santa Clause wasn't real, but four years later - at the ripe old age of 12, your parents probably told you that there was truly no chimney shimmey - and it still kind of stung. As is the case with Santa Clause; the fat man, is indeed, not real.

Apparently, there have been fistfights in the Boston Globe newsroom as to what to do next. Dan Shaughnessy suggests that Papi take the strong, silent approach - a la Mark McGwire. Bob Ryan, on the other hand, feels like Papi should throw himself head first into the steroid fire.

Now, Who Made Your Mirabelli? would never be so bold as to suggest any advice for the Big Guy himself. However, if you are wondering how to crawl out of this dark, dingy hole that Papi's needle pushing has left you in, we recommend a good read for our loyal readers.

Go to the local bookstore and pick up a copy of Bernard Malamud's The Natural. That's right, the Robert Redford movie. As easy to read as it is vivid in detail, the book will remind you of why you fell in love with the game to begin with. It's about everything that is pure and unadulterated about the game. Maybe one day, professional baseball can get back to the days of Roy Hobbs... a character who himself was modelled, at least in part, after Teddy Ballgame himself.

Come to think of it, we do have one suggestion for Mr. Selig. Make the classic book "required reading" for all new players entering the minors... although books on tape might be more appropriate for some. **cough cough** Kevin Millar ** cough cough**

Patriot Games

| | Comments (17) | TrackBacks (0)
pin0704.gif
For a long time, the Red Sox have been considered one of the most "American" franchises in the most American of games, whatever that may mean.

But what it doesn't mean is wearing your patriotism on your sleeve -- or on your hat, as it were. This weekend was another aimless (as opposed to shameless) appeal to latent American ideals by the MLB. The league has again saught to brand itself with this form of "consumer patriotism" - this year with mandated Red Hats. But let's face it, no color can accurately capture the notion of patriotism.

The fact that we are able to enjoy baseball on a sweltering afternoon in the same city where the very ideas of democracy and freedom became solidified as law on the Fourth of July is about as patriotic as it gets; no matter what hat color we wear.

So stop shopping for it; it's not something we can buy. Instead, we need to start understanding it. It's something we should appreciate everyday; we don't need a weekend holiday to do it. Every time we watch any game, we must appreciate the sacrifices made to make that Sunday afternoon at the ballpark possible.

Sorry this one was so heavy, and we hope everyone enjoyed their weekend holiday. But let's not let these feelings slide: let's live it everyday. As much as we're members of Red Sox Nation, we're all a part of this nation too - and we should be damn proud of it.

See, now even Jason Bay knows what I'm talking about.

Smoltz, but No Cigar

| | Comments (8) | TrackBacks (0)
PicImg_MLB_APR_12_4b21.JPGEvery human has a fight or flight mechanism that kicks in during times of stress. During John Smoltz's first outing back from major shoulder surgery last week, that flight instinct manifested itself as a very hittable slider.

In last Thursday match up against the Nationals, the 42-year-old threw 10 sliders in just the first inning (which stretched a grueling 34-pitches). With a less than stellar slider these days, this was a clear sign that he was in trouble, and he was looking for ways out.

Today, he threw zero first inning sliders. This means that he's more comfortable with his pitches, and is more in command. Today, he kept the off-speed pitches down. Today, he decided to fight.

Now, it's certainly easy to forget the plusses when the bullpen puts forth such a putrid showing. It's just too bad that their stinkfest had to outshine Smoltz's real comeback. In what would be the biggest comeback in the history of the Orioles franchise, Red Sox "relievers" gave up five runs in two consecutive innings, after Adam Jones, on of the most dangerous young players in the leauge, left the game. Ten runs between Masterson, Okajima, and Saito? Seriously? This is a team that crumbled to the Sox 11 times in the last twelve meetings, mind you. Since when did Oscar Salazar coming off the bench strike fear into the hearts of major league pitchers? So many questions... so little time.
cc_mets.jpg

In what must have been an homage to the New Yankee stadium, Red Sox pitchers were letting them fly in last night's loss to the Twins. They tied a modern day record for most wild pitches in a single game with a whopping six slips. Four of those humdingers came from the apparently spasm ridden hand of Daisuke Matsuzaka. The other two came from Delcarmen, who laid an egg and a half, and Masterson - who tried to clean up after the cracking of said egg. In related news, catcher George Kottaras had a nervous breakdown after tonight's "display," and the Twin Cities negotiation team has been trying to talk him down from the clock tower.

Masterson and Manny (which it feels surprisingly refreshing to call him) have no excuse - but any Red Sox fan could tell you that if they had to put money on one pitcher throwing four wild pitches in a game, it would be none other than Daisuke Matsuzaka.

"Labor" is a good word to associate with the Dice-man. Everything he does now seems tedious - not boring - but tedious. Never known for his quick style of play (or his endurance for that matter), Dice-K through over a hundred pitches tonight... in only five innings. Sox fans have come to realize that the high priced import is far from a sure thing - apparently a Rolaids sponsorship is somewhere in the wings.

But the interesting thing, the element that keeps us coming back for more after getting slapped around for a few hours every six days, is that the difference between a brilliant Dice-K start is a razor-thin line. Half of the (or maybe the only) fun in watching this guy pitch revolves around seeing him get into these sticky situations just to see what kind of pitch he'll invent to get out of them.

It's long and sometimes painful (as we saw tonight) - but at least it's entertaining. Unless, of course, you're poor George Kottaras.

Last night, the Rays handled the Red Sox and rolled into the World Series. They did it with an overpowering starter who, all strops and headcase reactions aside, could become one of the best in baseball. They did it with a closer who had never close a game before, but may be the  best pitching prospect in baseball (who said losing never pays?). They did it the right we, and Boston just got flat out beat.

So why hadn't I been posting about this string of crazy events that led to this inexplicable Game 7 ... and it's subsequent Red Sox meltdown? Like so many superstitious Sox fans I thought I was on to something. Maybe checking in on the blog was bad luck, so I did away with it, hoping to spur on Boston and then resume blogging in the World Series.

Evidently it came up one or two Jason Varitek hits short.

Was it a memorable series? Absolutely. It was beyond that. But that doesn't make the Game 7 loss that much easier, particularly considering Jon Lester's strong start less than a week after he was shelled by the same team.

In fact, no matter how one tries to step back from the scene and take everything in, it's impossible not to be struck with the distinct feeling that, as good as the Red Sox were at times during the year, and as good as they were against the Angels in the ALDS, they just ran out of bullets. Missing Mike Lowell and a legitimate fourth playoff pitcher -- check out Tim Wakefield's splits in recent ALCS performances and you'll see what I mean -- they just didn't have the ammunition to go seven games with the Rays. Somehow they got there anyway, and the Rays came up with just enough plays to get through.

Will the Sox bounce back? Sure. But the franchise faces a lot of difficult offseason decisions about it's future. We'll be analyzing those in significantly more detail in the days to come. For now, we're going to go back to prying to pretend last night -- and much of the last nine months against the Rays, for that matter -- never happened.
What do the Sawx have to do to stay alive tonight? It's not hard to figure out:


1) Have Daisuke Matsuzaka throw an efficient outing: Another game like Game 1 on Friday would set Boston up for a nice, conservative win. Matsuzaka can be infuriating for his voluminous walks, but he has a knack for working out of the jams he creates. Now would be a very ideal time to tap into the competitiveness Theo Epstein and co. cited when paying out the nose for the right to sign him in November 2006.

2) For God's sake hit someone!: Scott Kazmir would be a good place for the Red Sox to beginhitting again, and there's no time like the present. Sure, Kazmir is the Rays' ace, but he's been hittable by Boston's bats in his last two outings against the Red Sox, both in the regular season and in Game 2. Both of those matchups were in Florida, and Kazmir has fared pretty well at Fenway in his career (4-4, 3.02 ERA in 11 starts). Boston needs to get to Kazmir and get to him early, scoring off him before the Rays have a chance to summon their terrific bullpen.

3) Relieve pressure early: The last two games at Fenway have sounded like a tomb, with fans staring at Rays routs in silence. If Boston can jump to an early lead, they can remind their fans that this whole comeback thing is old hat with them.

4) Give the Rays something to think about: Staying alive for another day will force the series to back to Florida, and then the Red Sox could tap into the mystique forged by the 2004 and 2007 Sox squads before them. That, needless to say, would be a huge benefit.

Can Boston pull off all four of those goals? Maybe, but things will have to be a lot different than they have been recently if the Sox are going to stay alive. Otherwise the long, cold offseason starts tonight. And with the Patriots where they're at right now, that's not a pretty place to be.

There's a post worth reading that has a bit of WMYM on it over at The Washington Post's Baseball Insider Blog, and it gets to the heart of the second incredibly questionable decision by Terry Francona in the first two games (for the record, the first questionable call was leaving Daisuke Matsuzaka in the game to start the eighth inning of Game 1).

paulbyrdalcs1.pngAnyone else get why this guy wasn't on the mound
in the 11th last night? Yeah, we don't either.


It gets into a lot of depth but here's the gist: Why start the bottom of the 11th with Mike Timlin when you could use a perfectly ready Paul Byrd?

Byrd is on the Red Sox roster for a reason. He's a crafty and clever pitcher, and while his guile can't get him out of every jam, it was good enough for him to rack up a 4-2 record with Boston since the Red Sox added him for the stretch run. Needless to say, plenty of his eight starts came against top notch competition (though, interestingly, none came against the Rays).

But wait, there's more. Another potential Byrd advantage is that the Rays haven't seen him this season at all! When Byrd was still pitching for the Indians, he missed the teams only two series against Tampa Bay early in the season. For some pitchers that might not be an advantage, but for Byrd it probably is. The 6-foot-1 righty uses a bizarre, double windup that has a tendency to throw off hitters, and might be just the kind of weapon to unnerve the Rays hitters.

Add to that Byrd's stats in his three most recent trip to the postseason -- last year's ALDS and ALCS -- where he was 2-0 while allowing a total of four runs over 14 innings against the Yankees and Red Sox, and one has to wonder why Francona decided against throwing him instead of Timlin.

As you can read, the post goes on to question whether Francona is saving Byrd for a surprise Game 6 start, given Josh Beckett's recent woes. For the record, I don't think that's the case, and I imagine Andy doesn't think that's the case, either (though he can speak for himself).

Still, it makes one wonder why Byrd is on the roster if not to pitch in that exact situation. Mike Timlin finished the regular season as the team's mop-up man, strictly playing in extra innings and blowouts. That seemed to be the role he was targeted for in this series, too, until he was summoned in the 11th last night. 

So what can Tito be thinking? Is he really considering giving Byrd a start in Game 6 and also trying to save his arm in case he has to be used some in Game 4, which will be started by the ever-terrifying dual persona of Tim Wakefield? It's possible, but given Francona's predilection to stick with "his guys", it seems unlikely.

Really, the whole issue is a head-scratcher, and that's what makes it so strange. Francona rarely makes decisions that beg for second guessing. Maybe he'll be right about this one in the long run, too, but it has us awful curious at the moment.




Sure, it was a punch to the gut. The Red Sox should have won Game 2. They should have won it more than once over. Still, losing 2-1 to Tampa Bay isn't the end of the world.

In fact, given the home form of both teams in this series against the other, winning one of the first two games in Tampa Bay was a huge factor. If you'd told Boston fans before the series that the Sox would win one of Games 1 and 2, it would be hard to argue that the Sox weren't right on track.

At the end of the day -- a particularly long and painful, at that -- that's exactly where Boston is: on track. The problem is that the track is a much more narrow and precarious one than they would have been on after a 2-0 series lead. Now the Sox have no room for error, and that's a dangerous position with a knuckleball pitcher taking the mound in Game 4 in chilly and occasionally drizzly Fenway Park.

Jon Lester's Game 3 start is now a must win. Tim Wakefield's Game 4 will have even more pressure sitting on it, and the Rays will certainly have their eyes trained on a win there, particularly if they can get another Andy Sonnanstine start like they got in Game 4 in Chicago.

More important to the series' complexion, however, was Josh Beckett's utter inability to compete in clutch situations. Boston got Beckett three leads, he lost all of them. Hideki Okajima, Justin Masterson and Jonathan Papelbon were all impeccable -- not to mention Manny Delcarmen, who got clutch outs again -- but those outings would have been preserving a win if Beckett had done his job.

Clearly, Beckett isn't the same pitcher everyone saw in the regular season, let alone in the 2007 postseason. Instead of three aces, the Red Sox suddenly have two and a huge question mark, and Terry Francona has to decide what to do with the rotation going forward.

Despite all of those problems, the Sox really are still on track, if barely. Now, if they can augment Dustin Pedroia's offensive awakening with more steady contributions from Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay and anything from the uber-slumping David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Sox could really be in business.

Will that happen? Time will tell. For the moment, the Sox have to think about an incredibly disappointing Game 2 for another 24 hours, hoping that the next time they get a lead, their starting pitcher will hold it.
We're up against the gun here at WMYM, so we're going to make things easy: Here's my ALCS series breakdown in terms of pitching, hitting and, finally, a flat out prediction. Here's hoping it's more accurate than Andy's stab at the ALDS.

ortizbay.JPGBig Papi and Jason Bay hope there's more to hug about in the games to come.

PITCHING:

Boston: Matsuzaka-Beckett-Lester-Wakefield-Matsuzaka-Beckett-Lester
Tampa Bay: Shields-Kazmir-Garza-Sonnanstine-Sheilds-Kazmir-Garza

It's hard to make a convincing argument that Tampa Bay has a rotation advantage, particularly with the recent form of Boston's burgeoning ace left hander Jon Lester. With Lester potentially getting the ball in both Games 3 and 7, Boston would seem to have him right in the clutch that he's been excelling at. Josh Beckett had his shakiest postseason outing ever in Boston's ALDS loss, but an extra day of rest -- as opposed to two starts in three weeks -- should have him a lot closer to being on point in this series. Daisuke Matsuzaka continue to be an enigma, wriggling out of jams throughout high pitch counts over just five innings. We still haven't seen him go deep in a postseason game. Could this be the series? And as for Wakefield ... he's Tim Wakefield. While WMYM has a shrine dedicated to him, he's utterly hit or miss at the best of times. He has, however, traditionally been dominant at the Trop, but he'll have to ply his pitches at chilly Fenway in Game 4 of this series.

As for the Rays, Shields has had rough outings against the Sox, Kazmir got drilled the last time Boston faced him in the Trop while Garza continues to seem like the scariest guy they throw out on the hill. Andy Sonnanstine was great closing out the White Sox. Great. Stay tuned. That Game 4 could look like a mismatch in the Rays' favor depending on how the series turns before it.

The bullpen, however, is another story. The Rays have a plethora of setup men without the closer they took and injury-riddled shot on in the offseason: Troy Percival. That hasn't slowed them, and it probably won't now, either. The Sox relievers looked much better in the ALDS than they did in much of the season, but there are still questions. Justin Masterson had one of his shakiest outings as a big leaguer to set the stage for Jed Lowrie's heroic walk-off. Then there's the fact that Mike Timlin earned the extra roster spot. We're longtime backers of Captain Camo, but he was almost a walking white surrender flag during the second half of this year. If he has to come in during clutch situations, watch out. The Rays teed off on him the last time he came in against Tampa. Of course, they did that against Jonathan Papelbon once, too, so you never know.

EDGE: Red Sox. The rotation should help make up for Tampa's bullpen buffer.

HITTING:

Boston: Ellsbury-Pedroia-Ortiz-Youkilis-Drew-Bay-Kotsay-Lowrie-Varitek
Tampa Bay: Iwamura-Upton-Pena-Longoria-Crawford-Floyd-Navarro-Gross-Bartlett

On paper, this is another mismatch. Unfortunately, that's paper that was drawn up over the bulk of the regular season, not a series of clutch matchups between the Red Sox and Rays and the two teams' subsequent ALDS wins. Jacoby Ellsbury seems to be waking up at just the right time for Boston, and if Ortiz can do more than he did in a miserable series against the Angels and if J.D. Drew can stay healthy, the Sox look plenty dangerous. If either of those factors don't come through ... or even don't come through the way Boston needs them to, the Jason Bay will have to be called on to hit at the blistering pace he put up against Anaheim.

Tampa Bay, on the other hand, bats a bunch of guys who many would need scorecards for. That's before you look at monstrous hot streaks for B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria, two hitters sandwiched by Boston area-native and crushing power hitter Carlos Pena. The 'los does strike out plenty, but Longoria has to be considered one of the most terrifying up and coming hitters in the majors. Navarro is another whose contributions can't be minimized. The catcher had a bushel of huge hits against Boston this year, including the ball that cost Jonathan Papelbon in the game that forever turned the AL East tide.

EDGE: Push

PREDICTION: They say great pitching wins championships, and both these teams have the potential to have it. Sure, Tampa Bay's rotation is as young as the rest of its roster, but it's got plenty of heat and talent. That being said, betting against Josh Beckett (despite his ALDS numbers) and what seems like the ghost of Sandy Koufax embodied by Jon Lester is a hard thing to do. That's before you add in hopes for Matsuzaka and the fact that the Red Sox's two most important hitters -- Big Papi and Dustin Pedroia -- almost tossed out in 0-fer in the ALDS, and couldn't possibly be any worse. If Ortiz and Pedroia hit while Beckett improves and Lester keeps cruising, the Sox should win. It says here that will happen.

RED SOX IN SIX

Monday night's ALDS-clinching victory over the Angels was a particularly sweet one, even if it did come with a full Immodium bottle's worth of discomfort for our friends over at The Halo is Lit, as you can read about in exquisitely painful detail here.

Still, it was a sweet one for the Red Sox because it affirmed that they would win by sticking to their program, running out their young guns in key situations and winning and losing with them. Of course, had things turned out differently with the sketchy Varitek tag in the top of the 9th, this could well be a prelude to an epitaph of a Boston kind.

Instead, Jed Lowrie's game-winning single provided yet another reprieve for Terry Francona, whose golden touch kept it's postseason gild, this time in thanks to an excellent bailout performance from Manny Delcarmen and the patient bats of both Jason Bay and Jed Lowrie.

That being said, the Anaheim comeback against Justin Masterson in the eighth was more than just troubling. Masterson entered in relief of Jon Lester, whose 22 innings of scoreless postseason work is the longest streak for a Red Sox pitcher since Babe Ruth. Yes, Babe Ruth. Lester has been incomparably amazing through two postseason games, and he was more than happy to trot back out to the hill, 109 pitches into his outing or not.

Instead, Masterson struggled, putting the runners Hideki Okajima allowed on via walks into scoring position when he missed Varitek's sign and crossed him up with a four-seam fastball instead of a slider, then delivering a payoff pitch to the wheelhouse of the one Angels hitter that did damage to Boston throughout the series, Torrii Hunter.

Was it a bad outing? Surely. Was it the kind of bad outing that Masterson can learn from? Sure, and that's clearly the bright side Francona was hoping to ram home for the young reliever. Masterson has shown improvement from outing to outing since first shipping off to the bullpen way back when Clay Buchholz returned to the rotation. There's no reason to believe he won't internalize his nightmarish eighth inning, write it off as his one bad frame of the postseason and go out against a team he's faced plenty with renewed confidence.

At least he better, for the Red Sox' sake. If he doesn't, the Sox will have a serious problem. Okajima has alternated between lights out performances and full on scuffles, and Masterson has yet to truly bridge into a multiple innings shutout man in the postseason. Just as the bullpen was thoroughly worked through in the ALDS, there will be plenty of work against the Rays, who are sure to keep games close deep. After all, they won more one-run games than anyone else in baseball.

For that, there's still four more days of introspective analysis. For now, it's comforting to think back on another year and another exit for the Angels at the hands of a team named "Sox".
Here's thanking Andy for being oh-so beautifully wrong, as he's all too happy to admit.

lowriepump1.pngLowrie was the hero, a fitting contribution from just another of the
disparate unexpected stars that have buoyed Boston's season.
(AP)

There will be plenty more tomorrow, including, hopefully, a first-person perspective from Andypants himself, who happened to dig out some fourth row seats. Until then, here's another happy image to contemplate. Admit it, watching Jonathan Papelbon spray champagne just never gets old.

papschampagne1.pngPaps goes crazy, as if he didn't have a
special "celebration alert" beeper on his belt.
(AP)



Sox fans probably shouldn’t have expected much from the Olde Towne Team this past weekend, so it may just be best to forgive and forget as we wish them bon voyage on their way to Anaheim.

Yankees.jpg
While the Sox celebrated Jonathan Van Every's walk-off single late Sunday night, there was little else to smile about after three games with the Yankees. (AP).


Still, there were a couple disconcerting developments from the weekend series with the Yankees.

  1. Mike Lowell’s injury on Friday night. It can’t be overstated what his presence in the Sox’ lineup means. Having that right hip injury flare up again, especially in a short series against the powerful Angels, is a bit frightening.
  2. Another shaky outing out of Jonathan Papelbon. Granted, he had four very good appearances prior to Sunday afternoon’s debacle. But that’s now three outings in September where he was knocked around pretty badly, and there were several others where he escaped jams by the skin of his teeth.
  3. For that matter, the questions are back about some of the bullpen. Granted, most of the guys who got shelled on Friday night won’t even sniff the postseason roster (hello, Devern Hansack and Chris Smith!). But in all likelihood, either David Aardsma or Mike Timlin will be, and this weekend won’t ease any fears. Especially Aardsma’s suckfest on Friday (0.2 IP, 5 ER) was followed up by nearly matching it on Sunday (1 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 1 BB).
  4. And possibly most importantly, the news that Josh Beckett has a strained oblique and will be pushed back to Game 3. The optimist in WMYM hopes that the injury is no more severe than Terry Francona painted it to be on Sunday night. The cynic in us says that it may be more severe, leading to the frightening prospect of having to start Paul Byrd AND Tim Wakefield against that Angels lineup. Mercy me.

Still, let’s remember a few things. Seeing J.D. Drew back in action on Sunday (and watching him make a nice sliding grab on a sinking liner) is at the very least reassuring. And that Angels ace John Lackey had a sweet outing in his final postseason prep, to the tune of 10 earned runs and 12 hits in 2.2 IP. Plus, we DO all remember what happened the last time the Sox lost 19-8 to the Yankees, don’t we?
So WMYM is approaching the Angels series with cautious optimism. Also, it’s always nice when some guy named Gil can get their first major league hit!

gil01.gif
Check back soon for a preview of the Angels series. Also, thanks to Cameron for having me aboard, and for that wonderful introduction.
His name is J  V-to-the-O-G. And then there's a T at the end. So it doesn't really work with the whole Jay-Z intro, but WMYM has been trying to work that in to a post for about as long as Dougie's been a superhero in the body of a backup catcher. Nice to have it out of our system.

That being said, there IS a serious reason for this post, and his name is James Andy Vogt. Andy is the newest addition to the WMYM team, and he's going to be a great new voice for people to tune in for the coming weeks, months and, dare we say, years. Here's why:

1) He's a lifelong Massachusetts native and devoted Sox fan.
2) His name ACTUAL name is Jimmy-V. Seriously. So you know that he never gives up.
3) He's a professional sports writer who's been covering sports in and around Boston for years.
4) He's nearly as dedicated to the unadulterated adulation of backup catchers as we are. Go ahead. Just ask him who his favorite Red Sox player is. Who is it Andy? "Kevin Cash!" See! That was Andy. Boom. What a perfect fit.

Andy will actually be taking you through the next week and a half, pivotal though it is, while the rest of WMYM take to globe-trotting in our constant quest to, well, globe-trot. If anyone is incredibly bored and/or hungover, we highly recommend they tune in to the 35th annual Berlin Marathon right here at approximately 3 a.m. EST on Sunday morning when you get back from a long night of boozing. WMYM will be represented by the dude in the Sox hat dropping the Kenyans like flies.

In the meantime, we're going to leave you with the original Jimmy-V, who remains, as always, an inspiration to us all. Don't even try and say he isn't. Andy will come hunt you down.


Remember how we were just talking about the advantages of being able to prep for the postseason instead of fighting for a division title? Well, take Exhibit A: Red Sox 5, Indians 4.

What did Boston get from this victory if they aren't going to be able to catch the Rays? They got a key inning from Manny Delcarmen in a pressure situation, a 1-2-3 ninth to preserve a win. And make no mistake, the Boston native needed that to restore confidence that he can dominate when it counts in the playoffs.

While Justin Masterson's emergence as a reliable set up man has made the bullpen deeper and more dynamic, Delcarmen still hadn't reestablished himself as the absolute go-to righty after the break. Sure, Terry Francona was treating him like a prototypical tight spot pitcher, but Delcarmen has flopped almost a third of the time, not exactly the kind of success rate that one looks for come the postseason.

Luckily for Tito, Delcarmen actually seems to have turned a corner. He's been tough against Tampa Bay, set the stage fairly well for Javier Lopez's lefty spot work and legitimately appeared to be one overpowering performance away from entering the playoffs with a significant strut.

Cue Wednesday night. If Delcarmen can produce quality pitches and, more significantly, locate like he did in Wednesday's win, Francona will suddenly have a quartet of key relievers to set the stage for the one and only Jonathan Papelbon.  From the right, Francona can use Delcarmen and Masterson. From the left: Lopez and the resurgent Hideki Okajima. If those four are firing on all cylinders, the bullpen really can be as clutch as it was in 2007.

And, since all traditional adages point to pitching being the key to postseason success, that quartet -- plus Papelbon, of course -- behind starters Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield/Paul Byrd (depending on Wake's health) makes Boston a legitimate title contender again.

That, more than any division title, should be good news for Sox fans.

It Is, And Isn't, Over

| | Comments (19) | TrackBacks (0)
Two things were made strikingly clear after Monday night's loss to Cleveland:

1) The Red Sox will not win the AL East
2) That won't keep them from the playoffs.

Sure, the Indians found a way to wriggle out of just enough jams to escape with a victory at Fenway, a narrow 4-3 Boston loss than sent the Rays to a 2 1/2-game edge in the AL East that will be almost impossible for Boston to make up in a mere six games. Naturally, having Tampa Bay visit the always hospitable climes of Baltimore doesn't help matters, either.

beckettletdown.pngBeckett spent entirely too much time receiving relayed
throws from hits allowed on Monday.
(AP)

Still, the one night setback -- complete with an utterly underwhelming Josh Beckett start that may well be his last before a date in Anaheim -- isn't about to keep the Red Sox from the playoffs eventually. Whether it's tomorrow with Paul Byrd, Wednesday with Tim Wakefield or, at worst, Thursday with Jon Lester, Boston will finish off it's playoff journey during this series in Fenway, against Cleveland. It'll happen, particularly since -- if another loss comes their way tomorrow -- the inevitable overarching panic of an impending Yankees series without the absolute certainty that they're eliminated from the playoffs, would likely be enough to get a brilliant start from Lester.

In a way, the dual realizations of Monday night's games, both the one in Boston and the one in Baltimore, could make things better for the Red Sox down the road. If Boston isn't going to win the division, there's no point trotting out the full rotation of starters down the stretch. Clearly, Terry Francona is about a loss away from tossing in the cards and resting as many starters as possible might be a significant boon to eventual postseason aspirations. It's clear that any long term Red Sox success will depend on both the health of the pitching staff -- fourth and fifth starter aside -- and the health of the team's most significant bats. Mike Lowell has to get healthy, and get healthy fast. J.D. Drew needs to continue improving, with aims of being able to play without having to spend longer spells on the bench. Regardless of epidural shots, and Drew had his second of the year yesterday, the Sox need him and the reliable bat he brought throughout the first half once the playoffs get rolling. That's a lot more likely to happen if they don't feel pressure to use them out down the stretch first.

So, is WMYM saying that it's a good thing Boston is fading down the stretch in the division? No, we're not crazy. It'd be nice to miss the Angels, with their depth and logistical travel problems, in the first round for a change, sure. But WMYM IS saying that health in the postseason is a very close second to getting the right matchup. After all, there's no team that knows that better than Anaheim, after last year's first round exit at the hands of these very Sox.

And thus, the double-edged sword cuts through another day of the pennant race, giving us a loss that hurts but doesn't maim where one more victory can heal all wounds ... at least all the wounds that aren't suffered by Mike Lowell or J.D. Drew.
When the season is over and everyone looks back on the Red Sox campaign, the three home victories over Toronto in early September may look like three matter of fact games. Three wins over a team that never really put it together, despite it's pitching depth and powerful middle of the order.

pedroialaugh.pngDustin Pedroia helped the Sox get the last laugh this
weekend, but Toronto gets a shot at retaliation soon.
Those games in Canada will be just as important.
(AP)

Of course, that kind of retrospective analysis minimizes the significance of the series in the moment. If the tables were turned on these results, with the Blue Jays taking three of four at Fenway instead of the other way around, the Wild Card race would appear very much alive. Instead, the Sox seem to be cruising toward the postseason, whether they earn that ticket via the aforementioned Wild Card or the AL East crown. That the AL East crown is even still in the picture after last weekend's Fenway meltdown to Tampa Bay is an accomplishment.

Now, Boston gets a three-game shot at a reprieve. Take two of three in Tampa Bay -- a tall task considering the fact that the Sox have yet to win there this year -- and Beantown will leave with a tie for the division lead. Lost two of three, or witness another sweep, and the division is all but officially finito.

Winning the division may still be a tall task -- trips to Toronto and Cleveland, not to mention that finale with the Yankees, remain on the schedule -- but making up ground on Tampa Bay may put enough shake into the Rays to let the Sox keep pace and maybe steal away with the division crown.

But none of this is relevant if the Sox can't pick up ground over the next three days. The Thunderdome is calling, it's just a matter of whether Boston can answer, starting with Daisuke Matsuzaka tonight.

Tags