Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Backing In

That beeping noise you hear is the sound of the Red Sox backing into the playoffs. Before the Sox left Baltimore last week, their magic number was seven, and all of Red Sox Nation (your pessimist author included) figured that the Sox would sew up this playoff thing before leaving The New Toilet and heading back to Fenway. When they entered the Bronx, the magic number was three, and the Sox had to figure that they’d win at least one game, get some help from the Rangers, and head home as the AL Wild Card selection.

But another sweep at the hands of the MFY, not to mention Jon Lester giving all of us a freaking heart-attack with that line drive he took off his quad (how that wasn’t his knee, I’ll never know), followed by two straight losses at home against the Jays of Canadia, and it doesn’t really feel like a time to celebrate. Plus, it doesn’t really feel like a playoff birth if Paps doesn’t wear a Natty Light box on his head in public. Maybe he did in the closed-clubhouse celebration that took place at 1AM EDT when the Angels knocked off the Rangers, but since the stadium was empty, no fans got to enjoy the spraying of champagne.

Look, the 2009 Red Sox are a good team. You don’t make the playoffs if you’re a bad, or mediocre team (the 2006 Cardinals excluded). The Sox can have dominant pitching if Lester, Beckett and Buchholz are on top of their games. They have power with Youks, Bay and Papi. They get on base with Pedey, Drew and V-Mart. They’ve got speed with Jacoby and Lowell. (wait, scratch that last one.) And they can close out games with Oki, Wagner and Paps. But in this last week they’re not clicking. And momentum the reason why one of the Wild Card teams has been in the World Series in seven of the last 10 years. So even though the Sox have nothing to play for in the next five games, it’d still be nice to see them try just enough to get those competitive juices flowing. Because you know the The Angeles Angels of Anaheim are going to be foaming at the mouth for a rematch of 2008 and 2007…and 2004 (oh, and don’t forget 1986!).

But even with all that said, congrats Sox. You played through a rough season of injuries and John Smoltz starts and are still going to be playing in October for the third straight season. Pop a couple of bottles of champagne, cause you deserve it.

posted by Matt at 2:56 pm  

Friday, September 25, 2009

RoyAAAl Pains

By nature, I’m not a glass-as-half-full guy. In fact, if the glass is full, I’ll probably complain that the liquid isn’t going all the way up to the top, and if it’s at the top, I’ll complain that you can’t drink any of it without spilling some. But even I was swept up in this optimistic view that heading into this week’s series with the Royals, the Sox still could take the MFY in the division. The MFY were only 5 up, they were facing The The Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Anaheim, and the Sox got to play the lowly RoyAAAls. In theory, the Sox could have been four or 3.5 back going into to the series at the New Toilet, and with a sweep would really put the pressure on. That’s what I get for being an optimist.

Now the Sox are 5.5 back, and now I’m wondering what happened to the bullpen I used to know and love. Delcarmen and Bard combined to deny Wakefield a precious chance to increase his win total in a Sox uniform (Wake has been 18 wins short of 192 since before the All Star Game thanks to the pen blowing two leads of his), while Ramirez tried to blow another great performance by Buchholz in the final game of the series.

So instead of hoping for an AL East banner, I’m now just wondering what John Farrell can do to get the pen put back together before the playoffs. Josh Beckett doesn’t look like he’s going to be throwing many complete game shutouts in October, so we may actually have to rely on the arms of Delcarmen, Bard, and Ramirez if the Sox want to move past the ALDS. Let’s be honest, if you can’t get the RoyAAAls out in September, how are you going to get out the MFY in October?

posted by Matt at 2:04 pm  

Monday, September 21, 2009

Home Away From Home

Some people are claiming that the Sox brought their road record up to an even .500 this weekend while playing in Camden Yards. I maintain they’re still stuck at 29-36, since Camden is really just an extension of Fenway. The Sox finished the season series with the Orioles at a paltry 16 wins and two losses. If the Sox could play the Orioles every game they would finish with a record of 144-18. In the 2009 season series each of the following pitchers managed to start and not lose a game against the Orioles: Penny (twice), Beckett (three times), Lester (four), Masterson, Buchholz (three), Byrd, and Dice-K. And just in case you needed another reason why the Sox had to get rid of Smoltz, he started both loses against the O’s. If you can’t beat the O’s, clearly this isn’t the place for you.

All three pitchers the Sox threw at the O’s this weekend earned their wins, but only one was impressive. Lester was medicore for him (6 IP, 3 ER), Dice-K continued to show that he’s worthy of a spot in the rotation (5.1IP, 3ER), but Buchholz is the one that needs to finally be talked about. Since the start was against the O’s, you could try to discount it. After all, it was just over two years ago that Buchh didn’t give up any hits to the orangemen. But now he’s really starting to look like a pitcher, not just a thrower. The biggest sign of maturity is that he threw 56% of his pitches for strikes and only gave up a single run in 6 IP. (For Dice-K, you’d call that “pounding the zone.”) And this wasn’t just an isolated incident. Buchh has gone 4-0 in his last 5 starts with a 1.57 ERA. Sample size too small? How about 5-1 in his last 8 starts with a 2.60 ERA?

Heading into the playoffs in 2007 I was very disappointed that they shut Clay down and he couldn’t help the Sox on their 2nd World Series run this millennium. After the no-no, it seemed like the pitching staff needed an extra arm. Well, it’s been two years, but 2009 seems like when he’ll get to make that mark in the post-season. The magic number for the Wild Card is down to seven, and now he may actually be old enough to drink during a champagne celebration.

posted by Matt at 2:44 pm  

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just a Bit Low

Please list, in order, the things you least expected to see last night:

  • A-Gon getting two bases-loaded two-out bloop singles (one of the walk-off variety)
  • A-Gon drawing a walk
  • NICK GREEEEEEEEN drawing a 9th inning bases-loaded two-out walk to tie the game
  • Mike Scioscia bitching at the umpires

Whoops, how’d that last one get in there? Look, I don’t know if the pitch was a ball or a strike (Mike, you can shut up now). I saw the ESPN pitch-zone thing, which clearly called the 3-2 pitch a strike. I saw Brian Fuentes jump up and down (the apple doesn’t fall far from the managerial tree). I saw Rick Reed flinch just a bit after the pitch. But here’s the most important thing I saw: Mike Napoli jerk his glove up just a little bit to try to bring the ball back into the strike zone. If Scioscia wants to blame somebody, he should blame his catcher. If Napoli holds that ball exactly where he caught it, his pitcher probably gets the benefit of the doubt. But once Reed saw Napoli try to bring the pitch back into the zone, you’ve got to believe that in the split-second he had to make a call he thought “if the catcher didn’t even think that pitch was a strike, why should I?”

Not that any of this should take away from A-Gon’s moment in the sun. Seriously, how often does A-Gon walk??!! Broken-bat game-winning hits come and go, but Alex Gonzalez drew a walk! Four balls! A free pass! One base on balls! Plus, let’s be honest about that last hit: Juan Rivera earned the “Roger Dorn Hustle Award” by pulling up short AND not diving for a very catchable ball. But I’ll take it. I can’t hope for TWO walks out of the guy.

posted by Matt at 11:28 am  

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The 52 Million Dollar Man

Daisuke Matsuzaka, pitcher. A shoulder barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic shoulder. Daisuke Matsuzaka will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.

He disappears for four three months after starting the season with an 8.23 ERA, faces the team with the second most runs scored in the majors, and puts up a spectacular six inning, three hit, five strikeout and most importantly ZERO run performance? What else do you expect us to think they did to him down in Fort Myers, lifted weights?


Update: After reading through the blogsphere, I’m confused why everybody is praising Dice-K for “pounding the zone.” He threw 56% of pitches for strikes, and that includes swings and misses outside of the strike zone. People, be happy for his performance, but don’t pretend the bionic makeover turned Dice-K into Curt Schilling circa 2004.

posted by Matt at 10:19 am  

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Jon Lester: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

When Jon Lester pitched his no-hitter it seemed like he had done everything a lefty starter on the Sox could hope to accomplish, short of a Cy Young award. For a recap, here was Dirty Watah’s imagined to-do list for Jon Lester by age 24:

(Sorry, I know it was a shameless plug.) I didn’t realize that his to-do list by age 25 was to break the Red Sox single-season strikeout record by a lefthander, or to allow one or fewer earned runs in 11 of 19 starts. How good is Lester right now? On Friday night, he started the game for the Sox and three of the first four batters he faced reached base. “Screw it”, Lester says, “I want a do-over.” So the rain started pouring, the umps suspended the game and Lester shut-out the Rays for eight innings on Sunday. He’s so good right now, that he gets a second-chance when he wants it. Not even Pedro could do that in his prime.

In the past we’ve hoped that Beckett could teach Lester a thing or two about pitching. But I think the student has officially passed the master. With the sweep of the O’s and the Rays, the Sox sit 26 games over .500 and four up in the Wild Card race. And when the playoffs start, if the Sox are one of the eight finalists, Tito shouldn’t have much of a question as to who to start in game one. Jon Lester is no longer pitcher 1b or 2, he is the ace of this pitching staff.

Speaking of Tito, I have to give him credit for his handling of the bullpen with the day-night doubleheader today. Granted it helps with Buchholz goes 7 innings and only gives up one run, and Lester goes 8 shut-out innings, but using Paps to close the first game and holding Wagner to close the second was the perfect use of having two bonafide closers in the pen. Reason number 26 why he manages the Boston Red Sox, and I write a blog about them.

posted by Matt at 8:47 pm  

Friday, September 4, 2009

Did You Know?

This was a huge series down at Dumpicana Field, and due to various work efforts I was stuck listening to a good portion of it on the radio on XM. So instead of getting Joe and Dave, I got to hear Andy and Dave on the Rays radio station and learned quite a bit about the game of baseball. I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty intelligent fan, but I clearly had some gaping holes in my baseball knowledge.

For example, did you know that Joe Maddon invented baseball? Did you know that Carl Crawford was the first player to ever steal a base? Or that Carlos Pena was the first player to ever think “I wonder what would happen if I hit the ball OVER the fence”? Did you know that Matt Garza has NEVER lost a big game? That James Shields cured cancer? That Dan Wheeler is a better closer than Mariano Rivera?

In between their ballwashing of the Tampa Bay organization, I did learn a few real tidbits from the Tampa announcers. That Lester was dominant…again. That Paps had the best save of his Sox uniform in the first game, and he owes Jacoby a bottle of some really good Scotch for his sliding catch in the 8th. That Beckett still looks like crap. But most importantly, that the Sox took two of three against the Rays and pushed them to six games back in the Wild Card. And potentially the best news: that barring anything really strange, the Sox are done with Dumpicana Field for the season!

posted by Matt at 10:58 am  

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Welcome Back!

I apologize for the lack of posts, I’ve been travelling for the past week. And normally, this should be of no interest to my loyal Dirty Watah readers (thanks Mom!) but it was for my yearly pilgrimage back to Fenway.

Kim and I took a little detour into the heart of MFY country first. We were there for the weekend, and managed to be in NY for only one of the three games (the one where the Sox beat the snot out of the MFY). I haven’t been in NY during baseball season in awhile, but I forgot exactly how little Manhattan cares about their $200M payroll. Wandering around Manhattan I could count the number of MFY hats I saw using both hands and feet, and 2/3 of those hats were the flat-brim-still-with-the-New-Era-sticker on them variety. In other words the “I wear this to look cool, but couldn’t name two members of the MFY rotation” crowd. I’ve been to Europe and China in the past two years and I saw a higher ratio of MFY hats to heads there than in Manhattan.

We arrived in Boston last Sunday just in time for first pitch. Or, just in time for Beckett to give up a home run to Jeter. If Beckett doesn’t fix his “mechanical” problems (I put it in quotes since I hope it’s mechanical and not really an injury), even if the Sox do make the playoffs it’s gonna be a quick exit. My real question during that game is, wtf is wrong with Damon and Swisher?

You’re on national TV you idiots! You couldn’t just come up with a handshake? Who knows, maybe their handshake would be worse. Maybe they’d make a circle with the thumb and index finger on their left hand, then push their right hand through it and high-five.

So Kim, Kim’s family and I went to one of the White Sox games. No, not the one where Jacoby broke the single-season steals record. And not the one where we all got to welcome walkoff-HR-machine Big Papi back to Fenway. Not even the one where Nick GREEEEEEN pitched (although Kim was there later in the week). We saw the one where Buchholz looked awful, but Jose Contreras was even worse and allowed six unearned runs in a single inning. But a win is a win, and after seeing the Sox lose three times this season, twice in the 12th inning, I was happy to see any victory by the Sox in person.

Speaking of welcoming people back, how about a big ovation for Paul Byrd. Remember when our pitching staff was “too deep”? Now we’re bringing in pitchers who were throwing BP for their son’s 12 year old Little League team earlier in the season. Maybe it was good practice for him though, since the 12-year olds may bat better than the Blue Jays. What else can explain his six inning, no run performance on Sunday?

Anyways, it’s good to be home, and hopefully post again regularly. And maybe if we’re lucky I can welcome back another trip to the post season soon with the real Josh Beckett. Oh, and here are some more pictures I took at Fenway:

sox_wsox_8-24

27 Photos

 
posted by Matt at 11:29 am