Sunday, May 30, 2010

Five Swings: Buck Holds Royals

The Sox faced a "must win" against Zach Greinke and the Royals, and Clay Buchholz nailed down his seventh win before the 578th consecutive Fenway sellout.

1. Fan Friendly. Here's the 'fan's eye view from my seats, as my daughter Julia, home from California had bought tickets to take the old man. Unlike the last time we went together in 2004, there was no profanity, no loudmouthed drunks nearby, and the whole experience (including a win) was much better.

2. Momentum. The saying about "momentum lasting as long as the next day's pitcher" applied in full, as Buchholz made pitches when he had to, and the bullpen and timely defense kept the Royals off the board. From our seats, judging balls and strikes was impossible, but the strike zone seemed small. Okay, so it wasn't a perfect game like Roy Halladay's today, but when was the last time you were at a 1-0 game at Fenway? I expected you wouldn't remember either.

3. First Timer. The family seated behind us brought their son, who seemed to be about nine years old, and it was exciting to see him and think back almost fifty years to my first walk up the ramp to see the green grass and the entire experience. Way to go, young man, enjoying the game and great seats.

4. Dusted. Dustin Pedroia might struggle at the plate, but he made a pair of game saving plays. With runners on first and second, Adrian Beltre fought off a rocket, and Pedroia made a great turn at second off an imperfect throw to preserve the shutout. In the bottom of the ninth with Jason Kendall on third, Pedroia fielded a rocket to his right, flashing backhand leather to save the game late.

5. Pitching up to Boston. Jonathan Papelbon came on to the usual fanfare, and had to face 4-5-6. He jammed Billy Butler to fly out to left, then fanned Jose Guillen (and his eleven homers), and got a fly out to end it. Papelbon managed to get through the ninth 'clean' and hit 95-96 regularly on the gun.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Five Swings: Don't Look Now, Stats and More

After entering the Alternate Reality of the 2010: Lost Season, the Sox overwhelmed the Rays and restored order to chaos. Meanwhile, what do the stats say.

1. Belted. What a difference a day makes for Adrian Beltre, who now sits in the top 20 in OPS in the AL, ahead of...Joe Mauer and A-Rod (sans PEDs). Twelve total bases last night didn't hurt AB.
Maybe A-Rod has too many extra-curriculars in play. Ty Wigginton? But what this shows is how dominant a hitter that Kevin Youkilis has become.

2. Fielding Bible. The Red Sox chased the "run prevention" theme in the off-season, which sounded good, until it didn't work, at least for the first quarter of the season.
Fielding percentage can be a misleading stat, as it doesn't account for other types of defensive misplays, like balls bouncing past you off walls, missing cutoffs, poor range, and so forth. I think Hawk Harrelson had a 1.000 percentage one season, and nobody was handing him a Gold Glove. I'm not really sold on Scutaro defensively, but other than that, the infield's pretty sound. Jeremy Hermida has a lot of Greenwell in him in left defensively, and J.D. Drew is an exceptionally underrated right-fielder defensively.

3. 8 Bawl. Daisuke Matsuzaka did the "who am I" thing tonight with EIGHT walks in less than five innings. Okay, so the umpires in MLB leave a lot to be desired (have they EVER been worse?) but even so, Matsuzaka needed a dog and a cane to find the zone.

4. Presto Chango.
The Sox have moved into the plus category by simply playing better baseball. Tony Mazz had a good piece on the perspective of one-run games. The Yankees play few one-run games because they're croaking teams. So, maybe it's good to have some more bats.

5. Change we can believe in? As a former pitcher (yes, even made it into a Division I college game), I had a lot of interest in finding ways to get batters out. Without overwhelming stuff, pitchers need to rely on alternatives, like deception, control, changing speeds, working the strike zone, controlling the running game, and identifying hitters' weaknesses. I always wondered whether 'multiple' change ups had value. For example, some teach throwing the change by gripping the ball deeper in the hand, others favor the 'circle' change, where the index finger and thumb come together to make a circle, former Sox standout Bob Stanley threw the palm ball, and the knuckler can have value. Why is it that so few 'power pitchers' (e.g. Jonathan Papelbon) have an effective changeup? And, we should note that one of the best, Pedro Martinez, had one of the best changeups. Food for thought.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pitch Count

The Red Sox shutout the Rays tonight 2-0 to consolidate their recent strength. In the past seven outings (per NESN), the Sox have six quality starts, a 1.69 ERA, and 7.1 innings per start.

Jon Lester got his fifth win and lowered his ERA to 3.15 and continues to creep down his WHIP ratio, already in the top 15 in the AL. Lester only lasted six innings between nine strikeouts and five walks, but allowed only a single hit.

The pen pals of Delcarmen, Bard, and Papelbon combined to close out the Rays without a hit the rest of the way. Papelbon notched his eleventh save with a fastball up into the mid 90's, including taking B.J. Upton out with heat upstairs to close out the game.

Papelbon's strikeout to walk ratio has been continually falling through the past years, and we'll see whether that's a durable trend. As noted before, the Sox believe K/BB ratio predicts future ERA better than current ERA itself.

Jacoby Ellsbury continues to have soreness and that gives Darnell McDonald a third life.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ray Ban

Maybe the pressure was off for the Sox with the Celtics and '24' the headliners. In any event, they came into the Trop led by Clay Buchholz who had a quality start (6 innings, one earned run) en route to his sixth win.

Buchholz among the AL ERA leaders, now 6-3 with a 3.07 ERA. Not hard to see why Tampa is in first place...all five starters among the elite.

The Sox outhomered the Rays 2-1, with David Ortiz (9) and Kevin Youkilis going grove yard.

Additionally, the Sox had another errorless game and have crept up to 5th in the AL in fielding percentage, just one component of good overall defense.

Minor Inconvenience. The Sox upper minor league teams struggled, with the PawSox garnering only one hit in a shutout loss, and Portland getting whacked 7-2. Salem was idle.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Five Swings: Surprise, Surprise

The Sox took two of three from the Phillies and have clearly played better baseball lately.

1. Yooook. The Sox fans traveling down the coast got rewarded seeing one of the best hitters in MLB today, no not Chase Utley, but Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis slammed a homer off Phils ace Roy Halladay, whom the Sox have handled about as well as anyone. Youkilis' production brought his OPS to 1.071 and has an other-worldly on-base-percentage of .459.

2. Wake up call. Tim Wakefield left his angst in the clubhouse and delivered eight innings of shutout baseball. Wakefield, who has pitched for the Sox since God's dog was eating Puppy Chow, lowered his ERA to 4.44 and got his first victory of the season.

3. Avatar. Mike Cameron will be bringing his major-league avatar back to the Sox any day now, after a three-hit, walk off homer game today. Darnell McDonald did a very serviceable job in Cameron's injury-absence, although Terry Francona must be feeling better about getting his starters back.

4. Brotherly Love. J.D. Drew absorbed his usual quota of boos from the "bull" Penns, but finished with a pair of hits today, as well as a run scored and RBI. His substitute, Darnell got a cameo before he rides off into the sunset. With the Sox injury situation, he'll likely be back.

5. Next! With Matsuzaka and Wakefield back-to-back, the Sox should be getting Buchholz, Lester, and Lackey against the division-leading Tampans. The Sox have crawled back into the wild-card race thanks to some struggles from the Bronx Bombers. The key? The Sox need to keep the speedy Rays off the bases, and get more runners of their own on. The Sox are fourth in the AL in runs scored, and just flipped the plus-minus switch into the positive column.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Five Swings: State of the Nation

The Sox continue inter-league play facing the Phillies and the Phanatic.

Here's my son, Conor, with the Phanatic at a recent Sunday Night Baseball game

1. Good, Better, Best. The Sox continue to struggle against the better teams in baseball, and Philadelphia certainly qualifies. The Philles are the most "American League" team in the NL with a highly potent lineup, including Monster Masher Ryan Howard and arguably the best offensive second baseman in baseball, Chase Utley (no disrespect to Robinson Cano, an AL MVP candidate.

2. Lackey Struggles. In his last three starts (18 innings), Lackey, a control pitcher, has yielded fifteen earned runs (ERA 7.5) and more worrisome, twenty-three hits and twelve walks, with a WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) approaching two. I don't think anyone is worried about Lackey, but he needs to find his release point to get consistent.

3. Ellsbury Do-boy. Jacoby Ellsbury returns after experiencing multiple rib fractures in a collision with Ivan Beltre, another 'consequence' of lineup shifting with Ellsbury going to left. Healing of rib fractures varies substantially (okay, I've only been a doctor for twenty-nine years), but the potential for reinjury (swinging, sliding, diving, collisions with walls) merited plenty of respect.

4. Macho-Matsu Man. Matsu, Matsu-Man, he toys with the strike zone, 'cause he can. Matsuzaka, the enigmatic one, has brought a live fastball to the road appearance tonight, but it's early to be judging results against the potent Philly lineup. Historically, Daisuke's nibbling and "one bad inning" make watching him the baseball equivalent of Chinese water torture.

5. "Win Prevention". The Sox buzzword for 2010 was "run prevention". The numbers don't lie.

The Sox have an ERA about TWO runs higher than Tampa and have allowed the most runs in the American League. You can't sugar coat it or whitewash it, or use anyone euphemism. It is what it is.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Grumpy Old Men

The Red Sox rallied from a 5-0 deficit at the new House of Horrors, to split their two game set with the Yankees.

The "bridge" Red Sox, with young veterans like Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester, contends with the older, more often disenchanted, "expendable" Red Sox, the Wakefield, Varitek, Ortiz, and Lowell class...

The 'generational' conflict breaks no unique ground. In business, young turks find ways to push old lions aside, and I've seen (in the military) a figurative coup d'etat where a young Navy Captain managed to displace by politics and title an older statesman physician.

The 'victim' in this Greek tragedy isn't ownership or Theo Epstein, but one Terry Francona, whose legendary 'closed door scrubbing' has kept the family laundry presentable for years, even with the challenges of Hall of Fame bound prima donas surrounding him. But when the 'family' starts throwing mud pies, then the only rational policy becomes sending the axeman out. The Patriots have never lacked the ability to throw a veteran overboard as a matter of example or principle. Football, of course, excels at brutality, while baseball prides itself on more pastoral leadership.

Of course, that is more fiction than fact. Baseball has produced many of the most defective managerial personalities around, ranging from legendary figures like John McGraw and Billy Martin, to lesser known Massholes whom I will leave unnamed.

So, if you want to feel sorry for someone, forget about the Massachusetts city squad, Lowell and Wakefield, and focus on the skipper, Terry Francona.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How Many Times?

How many times have you said, "that's it, I'm not going to watch these guys anymore." Admit it, you've said it, but then like some crack addict, you're back watching NESN, reading Boston Dirt Dogs, and arguing about it at the water cooler.

Is it possible? Can you really give up watching something that you care about but that makes you crazy? I did it for CNBC (Tout TV), the folks trying to sell you that stocks only go up, and that everything is normal, and you can trust Wall Street. Haven't watched them since the end of 2008.

But the Sawx? Can I live without watching Dice-K diddle around the strike zone, Tim "Send 'em in" Bogar at third, Marco (I've got a better arm than he does) Scutaro, and the rest?

Sure, I'd miss Dustin Pedroia's feisty play and Youkilis cursing himself out for a nonproductive at-bat. And I'd miss J.D. Drew's sweet swing, "Sweet Caroline", and "Dirty Water".

I mean, I live by the mantra that there are more old drunks than old doctors, but are there more old drunks than old Red Sox fans, too?

"In Theo We Trust" has gone to the back burner, and the Sox must be looking for a new slogan like, "we're not dead, yet" or "you wouldn't give up on your sick grandma that easily", "the Celtics don't play every night", or "at least we're not the Bruins."

Charlie Brown had a word for it, "aarrgghh".

Monday, May 17, 2010

Swing and A Miss

We approach the quarter pole mark of the baseball season and harsh reality confronts us: the Red Sox, as currently constructed*, are not a contender in the American League East.

*With Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron on the Disabled List.

The Sox haven't shown the ability to compete against 'elite' competition. The Bostons lost a series apiece to Detroit and Minnesota, and have an abysmal 2-8 record against their AL East rivals, bringing their record to 4-12 (.250) against the best competition. Even if the Sox beat up on the rest (now 15-7), they (not we) have to start winning against the big dogs.

Naturally, it hasn't gotten any easier as they head to Yankee Stadium where the Bronx Bombers are pitch-slapping them (again), with the locals putting up a crooked number (5) against Daisuke Matsuzaka in the opening inning. For the Sox, David Ortiz has produced a bright spot, a solo homer...and the Sox have closed the Yankees lead to 6-5.

Almost a quarter of the season done, and the Red Sox are LAST in runs prevented. So much for the run prevention strategy. Cripes, the Sox have allowed almost TWICE as many runs as Tampa Bay. Fortunately, the Sox are fourth in runs scored, or they'd be the Baltimore Orioles.

Should Sox fans toss in the towel, become Revolution devotees, subscribe to the NBA and NFL Channels, or simply grow vegetables in the back yard?

Frankly, we're past the panic button, and the season has a more grim appearance.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Five Swings: Complaint Department

The Sox seek to win their second straight in Detroit, with Jon Lester seeking another quality start.

1. #itch Selection. Jon Lester was more or less rolling along into the sixth and up 1-2 on Brennan Boesch. Lester had fanned Boesch twice and Boesch was late on the fastball. The Lester-Martinez battery sped up his bat with a curveball that got too much plate, leading to a two-run triple. Pitch selection!

2. Hall of Fame. Bill Hall went deep for the second consecutive game, with a very respectable 0PS of almost .800 for a reserve. Good acquisition.

3. Casey at the Mound. The Casey Kelly Watch continues with a marquis minor league matchup against Kyle Drabek. So far, it's Drabek, who's gone seven scoreless innings, while Kelly yielded one earned run in 4 2/3, presumably on a pitch count.

4. Give a guy a break. Dustin Pedroia got thrown out from second trying to score on a single to left by David Ortiz. Tim Bogar hasn't exactly distinguished himself so far, but with two outs and a rookie leftfielder (Casper Wells), maybe Tim deserves a pass on this one. Ortiz with another pair of hits has his average up to .226 and a seven game hit streak. Way to go...

5. Being There. The Sox definitely have played less painful baseball lately, although I'm happy to nitpick where I see fit. Adrian Beltre has been picking it down at third tonight and the defense in general seems better. The Globe said the Sox are the only team without an error from first or second base.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Five Swings: Not Going Anywhere?

The Red Sox finished the homestand 7-3, winning two of the three series but not really gaining much ground.

1. "Get away day" I didn't see the game today, but apparently 2:32 wasn't quick enough for Dale Scott. Rumor has it that the strike zone expanded faster than the Gulf of Mexico oil slick, with David Ortiz looking at a third strike as though he was looking through the wrong end of the pitches were so far outside. Terry Francona got tossed for arguing balls and strikes, and Dale Scott called a "soup's on the table" game. From a Sox fan: I eyeball about 16 strikes called in favor of Toronto pitchers that were balls (though some are close) and maybe 2 inaccurate calls that favored the Red Sox pitchers. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, and I honestly don't believe Dale Scott was out to get the Sox today. What you do have here, though, is ample evidence of a really poorly called game by the home plate umpire - which in this case, happened to favor the Jays.

2. Bench Jockeys. Help me out here. What's the best bench jockey line you've ever heard? I'm not talking, "did you forget your guide dog" or "where's the white cane blue?" How about, "they paying you for THAT?" Or, "forget about umpiring in the post-season" or maybe "got a plane to catch." I'm old-fashioned and like, "don't make me come out there."

3. 37,198. If you didn't want to sell out a game, wouldn't a 1 PM Thursday game be a good way to do it? Wrong. The paid attendance was 100.7 percent of regular season capacity. The 573rd consecutive sell-out at America's Most Beloved Ballpark didn't end quite as well as fans would have liked with the two run ninth inning rally falling short.

4. Miracles Never Cease. Daisuke Matsuzaka notched a seven-inning zero-walk game last night for his best game in a Sox uniform in many moons. The so-called "power nibbler" continued his mastery of the Jays. The best part of baseball for me is the regular appearance of 'things you don't see". And a walk-free Matsuzaka quality start definitely isn't something on Sox fans' radar.

5. Wakefield of Dreams? Tim Wakefield remains unhappy about his role. You can probably add him to the list of Jason Varitek, David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, and maybe Jeremy Hermida. I doubt that Mike Cameron or Jacoby Ellsbury are thrilled about their seasons either. And if Terry Francona is happy, that would come as quite a surprise, too. Aging, sometimes product players harken back to better days. Younger players look to break into the lineup. According to Mike Reiss, Wakefield's winless in his last nine starts, so maybe the Sox are a little unhappy with his roll as well...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Five Swings: Walk on By

The Red Sox try to consolidate their homestand seeking to get a three game series with the Jays off on the right foot.

1. "Walks will kill you." Brandon Morrow had his own Sam McDowell/Matt Young moment with a plethora of walks that allowed the Red Sox to move the 'bridge year' along. While the Sox were walking around the bases, Casey Kelley surrendered three runs and seven hits in five innings for Portland.

2. Hit parade. The Red Sox offense hasn't been the problem, Jason Bay or no J Bay. The Sox now have three hitters over .300, including Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Beltre.

3. Lackeywanna Blues. John Lackey hasn't been able to stand prosperity, a three-run lead, as the Jays have him on the ropes. Lackey had gotten his ERA sub four, but has now ballooned back up to 4.74. But let's hope he can have a Jack 'moment' (either Jack Morris or Jack McDowell) and pitch well enough to win.

4. Run Win Prevention.
Plan: Run Prevention. Method: pitching and defense. Results: PPP (piss poor performance)

5. TLTL. Too little too late? The Hardball Times shows their projected standings. This is not pretty.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Five Swings: Musical Tributes to the Red Sox?

It's not that I've run out of ideas (not possible), but I want to express my thoughts about the Sox in a different format. Doesn't even mean I like the songs.

Lady Gaga calls out the Sox.

Pray for the Sox.

My best days are ahead of me. Let's hope so.

Don't go away mad...

Something for the pain...

And one very, very message for Sox fans, from the heart:

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Five Swings: Men Against Boys?

The Red Sox simply didn't get enough rain today, enough to get rid of C.C. Sabathia but not the rest of the Bronx tale.

1. Astrodirt? I've seen more turf fields with cutouts than grass fields with artificial dirt. I'm guessing that Adrian Beltre didn't just forget how to field, but rather he's struggling with the notorious Fenway infield. Is it impossible to fix this? I've read about Pedroia complaining about the field, too, but it seems like the Yankees are handling it.

2. 2 TD. At least the Sox held the Yankees to a pair of touchdowns today, but unfortunately the Sox could only muster a field goal. C.C. looked like a mere mortal today, and the Sox did get payback after he plunked Pedroia to avenge perceived iniquities.

3. Pen Pals. I have to say, I was conflicted when Scott Schoeneweis came over. Schoeneweis has had a lot of personal tragedy, and he's going to have a job somewhere, because he's lefthanded and breathing. But with an ERA at 8.76, and seeing him not really getting righthanders or lefthanders out, shouldn't we just let the left-handed thing go?

4. Walking on broken glass. You can lose a season in the first month, but if you can't beat the big dogs, should you even get off the porch. The Sox fall to 1-8 against the Rays and the Bombers, and for the most part, it's been as ugly as it feels.
The Sox have all the staying power of the bull market, with the negative plus-minus in perfect harmony with the action you're seeing on the field. "Moneyball", not lost in translation. The Yankees and the Rays ("fear the Rays") are both excellent teams, and currently the Red Sox are not. Fantasize all you want, but the energy level is low and the results congruous.

5. I before E. Was the Red Sox loss of Mark Teixeira (Mr. Double E before I) the "Tipping Point" for the decline of Red Sox civilization? Three Teixeira home runs today remind the Red Sox that THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR TALENT. Yes, "you're never as good as you look when you win or as bad as you look when you lose." Maybe it's simply an overreaction to the Red Sox inability to beat good teams. But it felt the same when the Orioles pecked the Sox' eyes out. Where's the Relief? I before E.

A Digression for the Bruins

From my local cable television show, "Let's Talk Sports" - The "Andy Rooney" segment with Lou Spagnola

Friday, May 07, 2010

Five Swings: Still Your Daddy

The Red Sox swept the Angels, but return to the Real World with the Yankees making their second trip into the Hub.

1. Overconfidence? The Red Sox cracked the .500 mark yesterday, and fell back into the crack today, with the Yankees taking the locals to the woodshed. Josh Beckett rolled along, with five strikeouts in the first couple of innings, but then Nick Swisher took a hanger into the camera well, and the Sox could never get it going.

2. When the going gets tough. Last year the Sox beat up on the weak sisters en route to the playoffs. But against the good teams, they struggled. It's looking like deja vu all over again, as first the Rays and now the boys from the Big Apple made mincemeat of the Bostons.

3. Better dead than red? Are they selling a lot of red jerseys with the Friday night Red Sox red softball jerseys? I hope so, because it was Friday night lightweights tonight. Phil Hughes with his strong start now looks like the real deal, while the Yankees sent impostor Ian Kennedy out of town after the stuff didn't match the hype. Superstitious? No. But what's the Friday night alternate jersey record.

4. Illsbury? Jacoby Ellsbury's working on 26 days of inaction as he heals from multiple rib fractures.  Although criticizing him seems 'easy', do Sox fans want him to return and re-injure himself because he came back prematurely? Rib fractures are extremely painful and outfielders get the 'chance' to dive, run into walls, and of course swing the bat.

5. "Rest" of the story. Trying to come up with a positive, I'll note that the Sox didn't exhaust the bullpen. Josh Beckett's ERA soared to 7.46, but Tim Wakefield got some work with three good innings. David Ortiz had a pair of RBI, and the much-maligned J.D. Drew sees his OPS now at .845.

As for the 'rest' of the Boston sports scene, the Celtics got slaughtered by the Cavs to go 1-2, and the Flyers sent the Bruins to a fifth game with an overtime win as the B's lead the Philadelphias 3-1.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Five Swings: Are You Kidding Me?

The Red Sox try to extend their mini winning streak, hosting the Angels and leading 2-1 into the bottom of the 7th.

1. Tim-ber. It's Tim Bogar coaching third, right? What the hell is he thinking about? Did he think the Angels had Johnny Damon in left field. A single to left with one out, men on first and second, and Hideki Matsui has the ball in his glove BEFORE Marco Scutaro reaches third, in medium left. It's "Send Him In, Tim" and even with a bad throw, Scutaro is a dead duck. Frankly, we're early in the season, and Bogar's looked horrific coaching third.

2. Friends don't let friends hit. John Lackey worked seven strong innings, allowing only one run and two hits against his former mates. Lackey wasn't his sharpest regarding control, allowing a couple of walks, but he kept the ball down and the Angels in check. Quality start!

3. No-mas. It was Nomar Garciaparra sendoff night, as Sox management remembered Nomar for his contributions. Nomar won a couple of batting titles, and gave a high level of effort, before he effectively wore out his welcome as part of the disgruntled. His trade, leading to the key acquisitions of Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz turned the fates around and the Sox erased 86 years of frustration. Where was Mo Vaughn in the bosom buddies crew?

4. The Dread Pirate Roberts. Dave Roberts becomes the second Sox player in recent years to be diagnosed with lymphoma, with reported Hodgkins Disease. Roberts will live forever in Sox fans' memories as the catalyst whose steal of second helped begin the end of the Yankees in that aforementioned 2004 post-season run. He also did a credible job as a fill-in broadcaster last season during Jerry Remy's absence. He may not have been 'a natural', but he was informative and likable.

5. Four play. The Sox vaunted starting pitching staff is getting there, with Jon Lester (3.93) getting his ERA under four (remember it's earned runs allowed multiplied by nine, divided by total innings pitched). Lackey moved under 4 (3.89) with his effort tonight. Clay Buchholz (2.97) has already been toeing the line. Obviously, at 6.31, Josh Beckett has a ways to go, but nobody feels he's as bad as he's looked lately.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Five Swings: Buchholz!

The Sox return home, optimistic that home cooking will help heal ailing bats.

1. Small Ball. As in small-minded. The easiest 'target' for the Sox miasma becomes...Terry Francona. I'm not going there, as if you don't have the horses, you ain't gonna ride. I'm sure that he didn't expect to be missing a pair of starting outfielders and an anemic start from Victor Martinez. Speaking of the latter, we're not hearing a huge clamor for the Sox to throw big money at V-Mart, who has struggled early in his contract year.

2. Bucking the trend. Clay Buchholz comes in as the Sox most effective starter, year to date. The question with Buchholz has been about harnessing his enormous talent. The Sox have promoted pitching off the fastball as a developmental philosophy. Buchholz has always reminded me of Hall of Famer Jim Palmer who controlled the strike zone in and out, up and down with his fastball. Remaining redundant, I contend Buchholz has the best 'raw stuff' on the staff. I hope that he doesn't 'lose' his curveball by overemphasizing the slider, which is his FOURTH best pitch.

3. Statheads. Statistics don't overrule what you see, they reinforce it. Of players with at least fifty plate appearances, the Sox have two players with an OPS of at least .800, you guessed it, Dustin Pedroia (.876) and Kevin Youkilis (.860). You want the answer? The Sox are sixth in runs scored, and LAST in runs allowed. Yes, Matilda you read that right, LAST.

4. Rank order. Fans have a smörgåsbord of choices tonight, including the Red Sox, playoff hockey (on the Vs Network), and postseason basketball as the C's face King James and the Cavs. James is a great player, just as was Michael Jordan. Russell was simply the greatest winner in the HISTORY of sports, winning a pair of NCAA titles, Olympic gold, and eleven NBA championships in thirteen seasons. Russell won five NBA MVP awards, and AVERAGED 22.5 rebounds per game in his entire career. He revolutionized the game defensively and was the greatest shot-botherer in the history of basketball.

5. Mixed Grill. The Sox come in third in the AL in home runs, trailing Toronto and Chicago. To reiterate, the offense hasn't been top shelf, but it hasn't been the sine qua non of defeat. Tampa has an ERA 1.77 runs per game better than the Sox. If the Sox don't get some juices going soon, well, let's just say that they'll be the ones trading talent at the deadline, not buying it.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Five Swings: Define "Worst"

Fenway South saw the Red Sox swept away in extra innings by the Orioles, who came into the series as the worst team in Major League Baseball.

1. Worst House. The Sox battled back to .500 and then went into a deep snooze for a three game pitch-slapping at the hands of the Woes. If you get annihilated by the "worst" team in the majors, how does that make you feel? The Sox lost 4-5 (10), 9-12, and 2-3 (10). Two quality starts (Lackey and Beckett) turned into defeats, generally the odds against that are about 6-1 against. But in the 'run prevention' era, who knows?

2. Wigged Out. Ty Wigginton became the Gates Brown, Ichiro, Frank Catalanotto Soxkiller du jour, driving a Papelbon pitch into the left centerfield gap, after Papelbon had yielded a walk and an errant pickoff throw to start the extra-inning fire. Wigginton, filling in for Brian Roberts at second, brought the Orioles closer to the Red Sox than the Sox are to either the Yankees or the Rays.

3. Dis-gruntled. The Sox had an unexpected off-day for Kevin Youkilis with an injury, which got Mike Lowell his first MLB start at first base. Regrettably neither Lowell nor David Ortiz had any production today. Such are the vicissitudes of professional baseball.

4. Turnaround. If this is truly the "bridge" year, between more offensive talent (to be bought after Julio Lugo and Dis-gruntled come off the books) then this is looking like London Bridge, falling down in the standings and in entertainment value.

5. Mr. Bright Side. Well, it's not all bad, with J.D. Drew and Jason Varitek both going yard, and Darnell McDonald still carrying a .900 OPS. Josh Beckett recovered from a two run fourth to throw seven innings, and Daniel Bard pitched out of a jam. The Sox aren't the worst team in baseball; there just playing like it. Don't you feel better now?

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Five Swings: Accidental Death

The Red Sox trail the Orioles 12-9 as they head into the ninth against the Woes. Ouch.

1. Fenway South. The ballgame for the most part sounds like a home game in July, with Sox fans loudly cheering Sox success, and tossing back an Oriole homer. So much for the good news, as the Sox came in with a better road than home record. Are they confused?

2. Rolling the Daisuke. Daisuke Matsuzaka looked like the Daisuke of old, with some 'power nibbling' and even walked Adam Jones to lead off the game. Matsuzaka allowed 6 ER in 4.2 innings, and not to be outdone, Father Time, or Father Tim Wakefield allowed 5 in 2.1 innings.

3. Plus-minus. It feels bad, because it is bad.
Good teams have very favorable plus-minus ratings, runs scored versus runs allowed. The Sox just aren't playing very well right now, with the plus minus very solidly in the red. It's not an accidental death when you live in the's bad baseball.

4. Pitching and defense. Well, the defense hasn't been good either, with the team 12th in fielding percentage and defensive Maven Adrian Beltre having made four errors in the past eight games. Theo came out of the bunker earlier and that seemed to help...maybe he needs to dodge the torches and pitchforks and make another appearance.

5. Get real. Baseball is a tough sport, not one where you can swing harder or grip the ball tighter and play better. You can hit in tough luck (at 'em balls) or pitch ineffectively ("wild in the strike zone"), or just slump. David Ortiz hit a pair of homers tonight after taking extra BP. If only it were that simple. Talent makes a difference, too, and missing Ellsbury and Cameron (injuries are part of the game) hasn't helped.
Still, it may not be too soon to start putting the finger on the problem.