Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Numbah 21

Another night, another win. Josh Beckett returns from the DL and pitches a gem as the Sox beat the Smiling Racists 4-2 on Tuesday night. After dropping two-of-three in the NYC last weekend against the comatose Yankees, the Sox have reeled off five straight wins againt Texas and Cleveland.

They are already 21 games over .500.

21 games.

Let's crunch some numbers.

There are 8 teams in MLB that have a total of 21 wins or less. That means for the Yankees, Devil Rays, Nationals, and Astros to be as many games over .500 as the Pilgrims are right now they could not have lost a single game instead of losing between 29-31 as they have. Even crazier, the Royals, Rangers, Cardinals, and Reds have won less games than the Red Sox are over. 500. That's amazingly obscene.

It's not just the bottom dwellars that pale. The team with the next highest number of games above even are the Mets, at an impressive 16 games in the positive column. But after that the next best are Cleveland's 12 games, Detroit, Proper-LA, and Not-Really-LA's 11. Crazy. I hope the Nation keeps some perspective when the team loses 4-of-5 and their lead drops into the single digits.

Of course, the number 21 means only one thing to the Nation.

Roger Clemens. The Yankees announced today that Clemens will probably make his return on Monday against the White Sox. There's nothing more to say, really. The Yanks are 14.5 games out in the AL East (8.5 in the Wild Card), have lost five in a row and after this coming weekend's series against the Sox they'll have only 6 games left with Boston. The best way for them to get back in the race is to sweep and yet they have apparently decided their best chance at beating Boston does not include starting the highest salaried player in baseball.

If you didn't sign Clemens to pitch in games like this, then you're pretty much admitting you paid $28 million for your 4th starter.

I understand the downfall of the Yanks is a story, but ESPN has been revelling in their stumbles a little too hard. Too much attention for a last place team, even if they are the Yankees.

You want to give some attention to a last place team that really deserves it? Check out the Rockies. In last place in the NL West, the Mountains have rolled off seven straight wins after beating the lifeless Cardinals 8-3. Yeah, the hottest team in baseball is a last place team. They haven't won 7 games in a row since 1998. Todd Helton and Matt Holliday are fist and third in the NL in batting, third and fourth in .OPS, and Holliday is third in RBI. No one's printing playoff tickets, yet, but I'd much rather be watching Baseball Tonight break down the Rockies' winning streak at least as had as they've been yapping about the Yanks' troubles.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Filling Out Your American League All-Star Ballots

Head to any Major League Baseball team site and you will find an image imploring you to vote for the 2007 MLB All-Star Game. Unfortunately, whether you visit the home site of one of MLB's best teams or one of it's worst teams, each individualized image lists only players for that particular team. While it's not made explicit on each page, the inference is pretty clear - vote for all members of your favorite team.

Not "vote for the most deserving," but "vote for your favorite."

And you know, I'm okay with MLB selling it that way so long as we all agree that it's a popularity contest and not a reward for on-field excellence. We won't, of course - SportsCenter will spend as much, if not more time, talking about who got snubbed rather than who was the most (or least) deserving members of the actual squad. But if MLB is selling this as a popularity contest, and if they're determined to send one member of each team, why not send the highest polling member of every squad to the team?

I hate the "everyone's invited" approach to filling out the rosters, but since Buddy Selig isn't going to change it, we're stuck with it.

I don't think fans should get to vote for the starters, either. I think the fans should be able to vote one player from each position into the game, but leave it up to the manager/league office who starts and base that on an objective analysis of who's having the best season. And since balloting is under way and since Memorial Day Weekend makes for a convenient opportunity to reflect on the season, here's my "all-deserving" ballot for the American League as we approach the 50-game mark.

CATCHER: VICTOR MARTINEZ, INDIANS. It's a two-man race in the AL between Martinez and Jorge Posada, with Posada hitting for a higher average (.371 to .318 through Friday night) and scoring more runs (29 to 26) and Martinez having advantages in HR (7 to 6) and RBI (36 to 28). Both have caught 9 runners attempting to steal. I'm going with Martinez because all things being equal, I'll default to the guy who's team is 9 games ahead in the standings.

FIRST BASE: JUSTIN MORNEAU, TWINS. I'm tempted to go with David Ortiz here, since MLB doesn't list DH on All-Star ballots on years when the game is played in a National League Park. It's stupid - would anyone really care if we just ditched having to have the pitcher bat in NL parks during All-Star games? It's not like pitchers ever bat in these games anyway. Ortiz and Morneau have similar stats (and Kevin Youkilis isn't far behind), but Morneau, you know, uses his glove on a daily basis, so I'd rather reward him than Papi for the starting 1B spot.

SECOND BASE: BRIAN ROBERTS, ORIOLES. If we were deciding solely on offensive numbers than Tampa Bay's BJ Upton might get the nod. Upton gets the nod on power numbers, while Roberts gets the advantages in SB, but their assist:error ratios skew heavily to Roberts: 137:2 for Roberts and 116:10 for Upton.

THIRD BASE: ALEX RODRIGUEZ, YANKEES. It's not really even close. Without A-Rod, Mike Lowell would be as obvious a choice as A-Rod is now, and Lowell's not in A-Rod's league. A-Rod has Lowell more-than-covered in R (42-24), HR (19-9), RBI (44-37), SB (4-2), and .OPS (1.08-.959). The only category where Lowell has A-Rod beat is .AVG (.329-.305), and that's not nearly enough (especially given Lowell's unusually high number of errors) to overcome A-Rod's dominance.

SHORTSTOP: CARLOS GUILLEN, TIGERS. Oh, how times have changed. It seemed only yesterday when the AL had the market covered on shortstops (A-Rod, Jeter, Nomar, Tejada), but now the case could be made the four best SS are in the NL (Reyes, Hardy, Hanley Ramirez, and Jimmy Rollins). Guillen and Jeter are virtual coin-flips for the nod here, but I give the nod to Guillen because while they've both played poor defense, the Tigers are having the much better season.

OOUTFIELD: MAGGLIO ORDONEZ, TIGERS; TORII HUNTER, TWINS; VLADIMIR GUERRERO, ANGELS. Ordonez is probably the early season MVP and Hunter and Vlad are having huge seasons. It's tough not including Grady Sizemore, but of the four he's last in HR, RBI, .AVG, and .OPS. He's first in SB by a huge margin, but it's not enough to overcome the excellent seasons the other three top OFs are having.

So that's: Martinez, Morneau, Roberts, Rodriguez, Guillen, Ordonez, Hunter, Guerrero. FWIW, if I was voting simply my favorites, my ballot would most likely look like this: C-Varitek, 1B-Ortiz, 2B-Polanco, 3B-Crede, SS-Jeter, OF-Ichiro, OF-Wells, OF-Nixon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Grizzlies, Celtics, Bucks Get What They Deserve

In what has to rank as one of the biggest upsets in NBA Draft lottery history, none of the three worst teams in the league will wind up with the top pick.

Or the second pick.

Or the third pick.

The Grizz, Celtics, and Bucks all saw the ping pong balls bounce horribly, horribly wrong for them and while I am a Celtics fan, I'm thrilled that the three teams who so clearly tanked games this season were not rewarded.

Look, I certainly wouldn't have been crushed if the Celtics had ended up with the #1 or #2 pick, but I can appreciate the way karma (or David Stern, for the conspiracy buffs) stepped in and laughed in the face of three teams who were clearly trying to out-suck each other for the better part of the season. When a team tanks it cheats the fans who pay to sit and watch those games in person and it's just wrong.

I'm sure Danny Ainge is throwing up right now and Doc is trying to hide his grin at having signed that new contract extension. Doc knows he's going to get canned at some point next season until the Cs make major strides, and he's managed to get another year's salary out of the Celtics.

All is not totally lost. 85% lost, sure, but the Celtics will get a good player - either 6-10 UNC power forward Brandon Wright, 6-9 power forward Al Horford from Florida, or 7 foot Yi Jianlian, a face-to-the-basket forward from China. All are probablies, not sure things, but a guy like Horford might be the best fit unless the Cs want to add yet another project. Horford, at least, is more prospect than project. I wouldn't overlook the Celtics trading out of the 5-spot if they can, either to land an NBA vet or to trade out of the pick this year to get an extra pick next year or in 2009.

I wouldn't mind seeing the Celtics take Florida forward Corey Brewer, who I thought was the best player on the best team in college hoops this year. Unfortunately it would give the Cs yet another "3" and not the legit center they really need, but I think Brewer is worth it. I can't comment on Jianlian because I didn't even know he existed until yesterday, but he has been playing against professional and not college kids, so there's something to that. If he really is the next Nowitzki (or at least 85% Nowitzki), that might be too much potential to pass up. The Cs don't really need more potential, though, they need contributors and Brewer or Horford would probably contribute more than anyone else the Celts can grab at #5.

Don't let anyone try to spin you on the idea that the Celtics worst case scenario didn't come true at the Draft Lottery, though. All that's left for the team is to make the best of what happened, but don't let them fool you with "It's a deep draft" talk. Whomever they get is not going to make the team as good as it would have been with Oden. It was Oden or Bust, really.

And it went Bust. Big time.

The Celtics, by the way, are running a "Meet the Draft Pick" Contest. I'm guessing whomever wins it will ask the eventual pick, "Um, can you get me Greg Oden's autograph?"

I don't really believe in karma (I don't really disbelieve it, either) but Probability is an even shakier mistress to rely on. I can't help but think the Draft Lottery turned out exactly right, at least as far as the three worst teams in the league are concerned.

Additional Note to all my fellow Celtics fans: STOP WHINING. As I cruise the net reading opinions I hear all this whining and bellyaching. Get over it. The problems with this team do not center around not getting Greg Oden. The problems with this team reside with Danny and Doc more than anyone or anything else.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Jason Giambi's Big Crime is Telling the Truth

I don't have a huge amount of sympathy for Jason Giambi or any other other professional cheater, but it's unfortunate that his biggest crime in the eyes of MLB is that he's telling the truth.

Last week Jason Giambi said that Major League Baseball should apologize to the fans for the whole steroids mess: "I was wrong for doing that stuff. What we should have done a long time ago was stand up -- players, ownership, everybody -- and said, 'We made a mistake.' We should have apologized back then and made sure we had a rule in place and gone forward. Steroids and all of that was a part of history. But it was a topic that everybody wanted to avoid. Nobody wanted to talk about it."

Since then there's been a slow-burn by MLB on Giambi. There's talk the Yankees might want to void his contract and that the Commissioner's Office will investigate his comments.

It's complete bullshit. Giambi is absolutely correct - if MLB had handled this issue at any point, from the blowing up of players' bodies in the mid-to-late 90s, to Sports Illustrated's 2002 expose on Ken Caminiti's cheating, to the Congressional hearings where Mark McGwire flushed his credibility, right up to right this very moment, the steroids issue would go away.

But MLB has got to take the hit, which they steadfastly refuse to do.

You can't move forward in a relationship without an acknowledgment of your sins and Giambi seems to understand this pretty simple concept. MLB, on the other hand, seems to believe in the philosophy that all problems will go away if you pretend they didn't happen and stop talking about it. (This is apparently Bud's thinking about Barry Bonds breaking Henry Aaron's record - "If I'm not there, it doesn't count.")

What MLB doesn't want is for the truth to come out. That's why they've got the toothless George Mitchell investigation and that's why they're sending out all of this bluster about investigating Giambi's comments. What, like they're surprised he used steroids? Of course not - he apparently admitted as much in grand jury testimony on the BALCO case.

The part of Giambi's statment last week to USA Today that really irritates MLB is that bit about how "everyone" should apologize. The Company Line at MLB is to dump all of this onto the players.

Yankees' GM Brian Cashman told the AP: "There's an implication that there was a lot of people that were involved that would know that, what was going on, and I can tell you that's false. We've spoken to that in the past, so I do have a problem with that, without a doubt, because I can tell you -- I can speak from being right there, too -- that whatever goes on individually with these guys, is really on them."

Yeah. Right.

Maybe Giambi knows this. Maybe he knows that MLB is going to do everything they can to make the players out as the lone bad guys here and wants to fire a few shots into the air to let everyone know that MLB is full of shit. Everyone in MLB got rich off the cheaters and it's not fair that the players get punked out while the owners continue to rake in cake.

We can see from the history of MLB's non-action that they're not serious about the steroids issue - not then, not now. And until Bud, Don Fehr, the owners, the players, managers, general mangers, scouts all step up and apologize - both as individuals and players - MLB won't be able to put this behind them. Instead, MLB treats the steroids issue like that fat ugly chick they knocked up in college and won't take responsibility for until the courts make them.

Giambi is right, but MLB will do whatever it can to shut him up.

Live Blog: BoSox v. Yanks: It's Still May, People

Haven't done a live blog for a month so I figured I'd trot one out for tonight's ESPN telecast of Sox/Yanks. The Red Sox and Yankees face-off in the Bronx tonight in one of the weirder meetings between the two teams. The Sox find themselves the best team in baseball and hold a commanding 10.5 game lead over second-place Baltimore and New York. That's just sick - 43 games into their season and the Red Sox are already lapping the AL East. There's no way a series in May in "must-win" for the Yankees, but if they're serious about contending they need to start putting some wins together. Tonight's SPs are Tim Wakefield (4-4, 2.41) and Chien-Ming Wang (2-3, 4.54). Tonight's ESPN announcers are Dave O'Brien (who now does Red Sox radio), Rick Sutcliffe, and Erin Andrews.

Pre-Game: Dave O'Brien has already said that if the Yankees want to win the AL East they "might have to sweep" the series. Please.

TOP of FIRST: Good start for Wang to get Lugo and Youk, but then he walks Ortiz. The crowd at Yankee Stadium sounds 10.5 games back, too. They're dead silent - even their attempt to boo Manny sounds half-hearted. Manny bounces a single through the middle and just-like-that there's 2 on and 2 out. J.D. Drew comes to the plate and after a hot start he's slowed way down. If the team wasn't winning, Drew would be getting roasted by the fans right now. He's got 13 RBIs on the season - half of Julio Lugo's total. Hitters count, 3-1, and Drew dribbles a grounder to second to end the inning on a pitch he should've probably slapped to left field.

BOTTOM of FIRST: Johnny Caveman leads off with a single to left. Has there every been a player, in any sport, who's pissed away so much fan-love as Damon? Sox fans will forgive him but they'll never love him again (even the Pink Hats), and Yankees fans will never embrace him as anything more than a trophy unless he somehow wins them a World Series or two. Damon steals second but Matsui can't take advantage, whiffing on a knuckler.

It's up to A-Rod to cash in on the RISP and he does, bashing a deep HR to LF off a hanging knuckler. Yankees 2, Red Sox 0.

TOP of SECOND: Lowell Ks, Crisp fouls out, Mirabelli rips a single, and the attention turns to Roger Clemens in the booth. Do you get the feeling when listening to Sutcliffe talk that he had a painful experience as a fifth grader being ripped by his teacher for giving an oral report in a monotone voice? I do. It's like he can't string two syllables together without changing the inflection of his voice.

Alex Cora single and just like last inning there's 2 on with 2 out as Wang let the inning get away from him for the second time. Lugo works a 3-and-2 count, bounces one up the middle and Jeter bobbles it on the exchange. Everyone's safe but no runs are in. Another full count (this time to Youk), runners on the move, and Youkilis whiffs at a soft curve. Two innings in and the Sox have already left 5 men on base.

BOTTOM of SECOND: Before Giambi even steps into the box they're talking about his steroids comments and having to meet with Commish Buddy Boy. He steps in, O'Brien says, "Let's see what the crowd thinks" and the crowd pretty much just sits there, doing nothing. It's a good thing all these tickets were bought months ago because the crowd feels like they'd rather be home watching the season finales of 24 and Heroes.

My comments on the matter are fully explained here, but I think it's pretty clear that MLB is going to make an example out of Giambi. The last thing MLB wants is anyone telling the truth about the steroids issue. Almost as an aside, he hits a HR, but then the announcers are right back on Giambi's comments; Sutcliffe says he wants to know the truth, so he'll probably be visited by the Men in Black later in the week to silence him.

MLB needs to realize this story is going to get out; they can control it or they can let it dribble out over the years. I wish they'd just take the one big hit, but they won't.

Cano doubles and Damon singles and now the Yanks have 2-on and 2-out with Jeter stepping up. He rips a single to left, scoring Cano. Yanks 4, Sox 0.

TOP of THIRD: Wake doesn't have it tonight, so the offense has to start getting things done or this game will be over quick. They don't, going down in order and I'm starting to think I'd rather be watching the season-ending ep of 24 and that show has been a bigger mess than the Yanks' season ove the past 8-10 weeks.

BOTTOM of THIRD: Man, you know when Wake's struggling because he slows waaaaaay down. Walks to A-Rod, Abreu, and Giambi. Luckily for the Sox, A-Rod tried to steal third and was caught, giving them a real chance to get out of the inning unscathed. And they do when Cano grounds out.

TOP of FOURTH: Man, this is a boring game. The teams seem dead, the crowd is dead, and the announcers aren't even trying. Gotta wonder if the balloon has finally popped on Yanks/Sox, or if this is just a result of the Yanks being 10.5 out. Wonder if the crowd will be any different tomorrow or Wednesday if the Yanks can get some wins going here.

I flip over to 24 and Jack Bauer is doing something crazy. Looks like I didn't miss anything.

Wang is doing his part to slow this game down, seemingly going to 3-1 or 3-2 to every single batter. It's working, but it's slow going.

BOTTOM of FOURTH: The Yanks are getting the best of Damon tonight. After ripping a single to right, he stole second, then advanced to third on a sac fly. Wake got Jeter to pop out to right to end the inning, but Damon looks like the only guy to be going full-steam-ahead tonight. Do the Yankees have their version of the Pink Hats? If so, they're swooning. It's bad enough all around New England right now guys are having to listen to their girlfriends say things like, "Remember when Jahnny Damin played for the Sawks? He was so wicked awesome."

TOP of FIFTH: Sox finally score as Ortiz doubles home Youk but that's all they can get as Manny continues to struggle. Yanks 4, Sox 1.

BOTTOM of FIFTH: Posada gets double-upped at first on a close call that the umps get wrong but Wake can't get a quick inning as he gives up a single to Abreu. It gets worse. Giambi walks and then Cano triples to center, scoring both runners. Yankees 6, Sox 1, as game time stretches over 2 hours.

TOP of SIXTH: With one out, Crisp singles, but Mirabelli hits into a DP to end the inning.

BOTTOM OF SIXTH: Romero replaces Wake and walks the first two batters, then gets the next two to pop out, then walks Posada to load the bases. This is not good pitching. Abreu grounds out to second, meaning that inning took 152 minutes to accomplish zero. Good job guys.

TOP of SEVENTH: In what might be the Sox best last chance to get back into this game, the Sox get 2-on with 1-out after Youk doubles to left and moving Lugo to third. Ortiz, Manny, and Drew are due up, and Torre makes a pitching change, bringing in lefty specialist Mike Myers to pitch to Papi. Both teams get a little as Papi sac-flies Lugo home. NY brings in Brian Bruney to pitch to Manny and he Ks Ramirez looking. Manny's awful season continues. Yanks 6, Sox 2.

BOTTOM of SEVENTH: Manny Delcarmen in, Yanks go down 1-2-3. O'Brien and Sutcliffe keep telling us, "No lead is safe against Boston," but you get the feeling they're already calling ahead to room service to have a hot meal waiting.

TOP of EIGHTH: Sox go down 1-2, then Crisp walks, Mirabelli, gets on with an error, Scott Proctor drills Alex Cora, and the bases are juiced with 2 outs. Sox have done this a bunch tonight - get guys on with 2 outs - but have been unable to get any of them in. Julio Lugo comes to the plate and the trend continues as he grounds into a force at second.

Frustrating night but I'd rather be frustrated by failing to get guys in rather than frustrated because you can't get anyone on. Not that it matters much in the end ...

BOTTOM of EIGHTH: Jeter gets plunked by Joel Pineiro but nothing comes of it. This game is plodding towards the 3 1/2 hour mark.

TOP of NINTH: BoSox go down without much of a fight. Papi walks but nothing comes of it and the Yanks take game one of the series. Boring game - Wake didn't have it and the Sox offense didn't take advantage of any of their opportunities.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Interleague Play Proves Baseball is Full of Whiny-Ass Babies

Interleague play is back starting tonight which means we are assured of two inevitable events - lazy ass columnists and TV shows will bring up old arguments to stir up fake controversy and some baseball players will whine about how unfair it all is.

On the media front - just avoid ESPN today and you'll be spared. They'll have plenty of screaming heads (do the morons on Around the Horn flip a coin to decide what their opinion is on a given day?) arguing about "fairness" and "the way it used to be" and heaven forbid if someone cranks out the "sanctity of the game." Stop.

On the players front, Chipper Jones has already popped off, saying it's not fair that the Braves have to play the Red Sox and other top AL teams while other teams they're fighting with for a playoff spot get to play lesser teams.

Honestly? Shut the fuck up.

There's nothing lamer than watching baseball players bitch about the schedule. You play 162 freaking games and you're worried about a handful of games that you have to play against the Red Sox or Yankees (who, by the way, suck ass right now) while, what, the Phillies get to play the Blue Jays? It's just a silly complaint and the solutions aren't any better.

Getting rid of the "natural rivals" clause means we don't get White Sox v. Cubs or Mets v. Yankees. That's what fans want to see so why deny that to them? So Chipper Jones feels better about the "fairness" of the schedule? Please.

Man up, Larry.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Matsuzaka Rolls, Clemens Almost Ready to Pitch ... in A Ball

Daisuke Matsuzaka and the BoSox rolled to an efficient 7-1 victory over the Tigers on Monday night, as Matsuzaka (or Mr. Sparkle, as Deadspin now wants us to call him) threw a complete 1 ER, 6 Hit, 5 K, 0 BB game at the visiting AL Central leaders.

For all his struggles, Dice-K is now 5-2. The 4.17 ERA is fourth worst among the five starters, but his 5 wins is second and with Beckett's finger again giving him problems again (that problem seemed to go away when he stopped dating Leann Tweeden, didn't it? Does that mean anything? Should we all pretend it does?) Matsuzaka needs to step up. Shutting down the Tigers is nice if not overly impressive - the Tigers' strength is their pitching not their offense - but it's good to see Matsuzaka shutting down the AL's current second-best team.

Meanwhile, down in the Bronx ...

Checking the standings this morning and the Yankees are now 8.5 games out in the AL East and Roger Clemens hasn't even made his first minor league start, yet. He doesn't go until Friday by which time the Yanks could be anywhere from 5.5 games behind the Red Sox to 11.5 games out. Clemens isn't supposed to be up with the Yankees until June and even when he does come back let's not forget he's pretty much a 6-inning pitcher at this point.

That saves the Yankees' bullpen how exactly?

Of course, it really hasn't been the Yanks' pitching of late that's let them down, but rather a combination of not getting the hitting and pitching on the same night much in the last week.

How close do the Yankees have to be to make a difference? 8.5 out of the AL East right now is one thing, but they're also 4.5 behind Cleveland for the Wild Card and there are 4 teams between them and WC-leading Cleveland.

At this point both teams should be happy where they are - the Sox for having baseball's best record at 26-11 and the Yanks for not being any further out.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Let's Hope Mommy Didn't Stop Watching

Even when things go all suckjob on the Red Sox this year the team still seems to turn out golden.

On Mother's Day the Sox had two bits of bad news staring them in the face - Josh Beckett left the game early with what the AP described as a "torn flap of skin on his right middle finger" and they were down 5-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth.

The jury is still out on the Beckett news, but somehow the team came back and scored six in the ninth to remind the Orioles why they're the Orioles. Or rather, it was the Orioles who reminded us why they're the Orioles, letting Boston back in the game when the Sox should have been toast.

The inning started innocently with a Lugo groundout, but then the Os opened the door when catcher Ron Hernandez dropped a Coco Crisp popout. The Sox immediately took advantage as Ortiz doubled Crisp home, then loaded the bases as Wily Mo singled and J.D. Drew walked. Apparently, the Os had no faith in Youk to get the job done, so they walked him to force in Ortiz. Os 5, Sox 2.

Varitek followed by doubling home Wily Mo and Drew. Os 5, Sox 4.

After Hinske was intentionally walked, Alex Cora hit into a force out of Youk at home. Should have been the third out, but it wasn't, because this is Baltimore. Os pitcher Chris Ray dropped the toss at first on Julio Lugo's attempt to end the game by grounding out, allowing Tek and Hinske to score. Os 5, Sox 6. Drive. Home. Safely.

The game showed why I really like this Sox team - when teams give them an extra shot the Sox seem to always take advantage of it, winning games they probably should have lost. It's all rather exciting and the difference the 2004 World Championship has made on Red Sox Nation is palpable. Pre-2004 people would be saying things right now like, "They're just raising our expectations to crush us later on," but now the Nation is willing to think Championship again. Let's hope we won't be assholes about it ... um, yeah, we will ...

Good times. Stay humble, Nation.

For now.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Seriously, What the Hell, Toronto?

Tim Wakefield has the best ERA amongst starting pitchers in the American League. Read that again. After throwing 7 shutout innings at the still-searching-for-the-bottom-Blue Jays, Wake's ERA is down to 1.79. The Sox crushed Toronto again Thursday night, winning 8-0 behind Wake's dominance and a well-rounded offensive attack. Mike Lowell hit a HR in his third straight game and Youk and Papi each knocked in a pair of runs.

The Sox are still red-hot (4 wins in a row, 8-2 in their last 10), and now have a 7 game lead over second place NY in the AL East. Lost in all the winning is the disappearance of JD Drew, who's a pathetic 5-for-35 in his last ten games.

The big question is what's wrong with Toronto? The Jays have lost 9 in a row, and were outscored 26-5 in the 3-game series. It's so bad for Toronto right now that the 8 runs they game up on Thursday was the fewest runs allowed in the series. Roy Halladay, their ace, was shelled for his second straight start.

I really thought the Jays would be better than this.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Josh Beckett is the Greatest Pitcher in the History of the History of Pitching

Josh Beckett became baseball's first seven-game winner on Tuesday night as the Red Sox downed the suddenly-horrible Blue Jays 9-2. Beckett started out last season hot, too, before cooling off to finish with a mediocre 16-11 record and 5.01 ERA, but the guy appears to be a different pitcher this season.

I'd love to say I know why, but I don't because I can't watch most of his games and I don't trust highlights (or ESPN) to accurately represent what he's doing now versus what he did then.

What I do know is that last season Beckett seemed to straddle the line between brilliant and terrible and this year he's neither.

It would be easy to say Beckett is the best pitcher in baseball, but while he's having a terrific season he's hardly dominant. He's having a great season but not an epic season.

His seven wins leads the bigs, but he's 5th in ERA in the American League with a 2.57 ERA, which is good, but not dominant. Heck, he doesn't even have the best ERA among Boston's starters - that goes to Tim Wakefield's 2.11 mark. Beckett's 7-0; Wake's 3-3. In the other major pitching stats - Ks, WHIP, BAA - he's in the top 10, as well, but he's also benefited from the Sox averaging neary 8 runs per start for Beckett. Everything, in other words, is rolling his way. Which isn't to diminish his accomplishments, but just for comparison, Tampa Bay's James Shields had more innings pitched, more Ks, better WHIP and BAA going into Tuesday night with the same number of starts, and had only given up two more hits and 6 more earned runs than Beckett and no one is talking about him outside of St. Pete.

Beckett is more impressive this season than last and it might come down to simply being the difference between pitching and throwing. Beckett's always had a great fastball and it did seem last year he relied on his big arm too much, challenging too many hitters with balls right down the middle. This year it appears he's matured, pitching instead of throwing. The Sox gave him a big early lead on Tuesday and he did what pitchers are supposed to with big leads - throw strikes and let their fielders do the work. Beckett only struck out 5 hitters in 7 innings, but he walked only one batter.

Beckett turns 27 next week and he seems to be entering his prime years pitching the best and most consistent baseball of his career. And while all the talk these days is about the Yankees landing Clemens, it shouldn't be forgotten that in the arms race between baseball's two biggest bullies, the Sox have added Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, and Daisuke Matsuzaka from outside their organization in the past four seasons and the Yankees have added an aged and faded Randy Johnson, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, busts Javier Vazquez and Carl Pavano, and just-demoted Kei Igawa.

Sure, the Sox made a mistake with Matt Clement but on the whole they're dominating the arms race with the Yankees - and everyone else - right now.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Roger Clemens Unretires (GASP!), Signs with Yankees (SHOCK!)

In news that surprised absolutely no one, Roger Clemens has come out of retirement to pitch for the Yankees. Give the Yankees credit for signing the only guy on the planet who was available that might actually help them, and credit the Rocket for milking $18.5 million out of George Steinbrenner's wrinkled teat.

According to the AP, the deal Clemens signed with the Yanks on Sunday was actually for $28 million, but by the time he comes to the majors in a month the prorated portion will be $18.5 and the Yanks' total investment (with the salary cap penalty) will be for $26 million.

Just think about that for a second - a $26 million one-year investment in a 45-year old right arm. That's nuts, even for Clemens, but all power to him for taking advantage of the Yanks' desperation. Plus, you're not even getting him full-time: "Clemens will have the same travel privileges he had with Houston last year, when he sometimes skipped road trips if he wasn't scheduled to pitch, spending time at home with his family and working with Astros minor leaguers."

Roger Clemens makes third-string QBs look overworked.

While this move will widely be heralded as overwhelmingly positive, it's a move only the Yankees could make. Even with the bloated payrolls in Boston and Anaheim, no one else was going to step up and offer Clemens $28 million.

Sports Illustrated's primary baseball writer and noted Yankees' homer Jon Heyman has apparently lost his mind, as well. Heyman argues "this is the best $28 million they ever spent (and actually since the salary's pro-rated over the entire season, it'll only cost them between $18-19 million)."

Only $18.5 million. Only. For a 45-year old. For four, maybe five, months. I'd love to know what Boston and Houston were offering (although according to the AP neither club wanted him on their big league club until July) because I'm guessing it would work out to nowhere near $18.5 million in Clemens' pocket. (And as I write this, Peter Gammons is reporting the Sox offer $10 million less than New York's offer, so way to go Yankees.)

There's no way this is the best $28 million the Yankees have ever spent, either, but that's the idiocy of Jon Heyman for you. The same Jon Heyman who said on Rome is Burning last week that he absolutely believed Gary Thorne's assertion that Curt Schilling painted his sock.

So congrats to the Yanks for getting Clemens and congrats to the Rocket for getting paid in a very serious way. The Yanks still don't have a rotation that can match Boston's but with that offense it doesn't have to match, it only has to get close, and this move likely does that.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Manny or Matsuzaka?

What you take from last night's 8-7 win by the Red Sox over the Mariners says a lot about which cafeteria table you sit at during lunch in the Nation.

Do you focus on Manny's potentially slump-busting 2 HR night that twice gave the Sox the lead? Or do you focus on Matsuzaka's worst performance of the season, in which he gave up 7 ER in only 5 innings?

Matsuzaka has gotten awfully lucky this season - his 2 losses came in arguably his two best performances, and when he's been bad he's profited from strong run support. He gave up 5 first inning runs last night, but the Sox came back with five of their own in the second, then got him two more in the fourth, which he immediately gave back in the fifth. He struggled with control, walking five, including the first three batters of the game.

Manny, on the other hand, went 2-for-4 with 2 HR and 3 RBI, and has raised his average up to a still-pathetic .235, but at least it's climbing. His game-winning HR was a thing of beauty as he drove the pitch from Chris Reitsma over the bullpens in right. As all Sox fans (and Indians fans, for that matter) know, when Manny gets hot he can carry a team for weeks. It's too early to say he's turned the corner just yet and entered on one of those hot streaks, but it's a good sign that he's starting to drive the ball to right.

Right now things seem to be in perfect balance for the Sox - they're getting just enough hitting on nights when their pitching struggles, and just enough pitching on nights when the hitting isn't there. The Pilgrims are 5.5 up on Tampa Bay, Toronto, and New York, and are one of only two teams (along with the Indians) who have yet to hit double-digits in losses.

Up next is a weekend series in Minnesota against the Twins, who always seem to have Boston's number in the Triple H Dome. Wake, Tavarez (opposite Johan Santana), and Schilling have the scheduled starts.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Milan & Liverpool Set to Meet in Athens

One of my all-time pet peeves in sports is the 63 points Michael Jordan scored against the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the opening round of the 1986 NBA Playoffs. Announcers love to point out that game as if it's some kind of evidence of the greatness of Jordan, but rarely does any announcer tell the rest of that story - that not only did the Bulls lose that series, they lost that game, 135-131 in double-OT. Instead of being an example of the greatness of Jordan, that game is more an example of the failure of the Bulls to put the right people around Jordan at that stage in his career, or of Jordan to get the best of his teammates, a trait he would later develop, and a trait that helps to set him apart from the likes of Kobe Bryant.

I bring Jordan's 63 up because it reminds me a bit of what Manchester United did on the pitch against AC Milan today, which was waste the epic performances of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo from last week and lose today's game 3-0 and the series on aggregate goals. I can imagine that in years to come people will point to what Rooney did last week as a sign of his greatness and forget that Man Utd. failed to take advantage of that opportunity.

Or conversely, maybe everyone will forget what Rooney and Ronaldo did last week, which would also be a shame. People tend to forget that when the 1980 US Hockey team beat the Soviet Union they still had to beat Finland to secure the gold, or when the 1991 Duke Blue Devils beat UNLV in the NCAA Basketball Tournament they still had to beat Kansas for the National Championship. What would happen to our memories of those epic wins if the US Hockey team and Duke had failed to win their respective tournaments?

What should be remembered from today's match was that AC Milan put on an amazing team performance, dominating Man U in the heavy rain and advancing to face Liverpool in the Champions League final on May 23 in Athens. All Man U had to do to today was get a tie, but they couldn't even come close to managing that; instead of relying on the individual brilliance of Kaka, as they did last week, Milan played well all over the pitch, getting goals from Kaka, Clarence Seedorf, and Alberto Gilardino. Unlike last week, Machester United never got adequate pressure on Dida, Milan's sometimes shaky keeper.

Last week was a game of superstars and Manchester United has one more than Milan, but today was a game of teams, and AC Milan proved to be the better team. With United's decimated defense, that's not a surprise.

The Champions League final will be a rematch of the classic 2005 final between the two clubs in Istanbul where Milan was up 3-0 at the half, only to see Liverpool come storming back and win the match on penalties.