Thursday, May 31, 2007

Can't Win Them All.....apparently.....Tribe def Sox 8-4

The story of this game is pretty simple. One of the most potent lineups in the game finally woke up and got to Daisuke Matsuzaka who was clearly having an off night. The Red Sox gave some solid run support and fell just short as David Ortiz' blast went just inches foul of the Pesky Pole missing the grand slam to tie the game at 6-6. The pitching staff had an uncharacteristic breakdown with Daisuke giving up 6 runs and then the typically rock solid bullpen (particularly JC Romero) allowing another 2. I'm not disappointed with the outcome as the Indians are a solid team and had you told me the sox would be taking 2 out of 3 from them a week ago I'd have been more than satisfied. Daisuke is still young, coming off an illness and probably still adjusting to American baseball. I was encouraged by the lack of walks given up by Daisuke as this had been a problem for him in many of his past outings and I'm confident he'll make the adjustments necessary and be in excellent form for his next start. Kevin Youkilis had an off night going only 1 for 5, but was still enough to keep the hitting streak alive. Dustin Pedroia continues to prove that his early season slump was just that and nothing more as his average climbed to .308 with a 2 for 4 performance in last night's game.

The sox open up a 3 game series against the Yankees at Fenway on Friday and will be facing the meat of their rotation with Wang, Mussina and Petite and quite notably NOT the Rocket who's start has been pushed back to the following series with the Chicago White Sox. There seems to be some mixed feelings on this decision to push back Roger's start to Chicago. Some people feel this is giving the Red Sox the psychological edge and showing that the Yankees fear the Red Sox and this misses the opportunity to send the message that the Yankees are coming after the Sox head on. This is all true, but you know what would REALLY give the Red Sox the psychological edge? If they put Roger in against a potent Red Sox lineup, he gets booed onto and off the field as he gets shelled in his first attempt back in the majors with everybody in Boston and New York watching. That could potentially shatter the Yankees already low confidence to the point of no return and solidify the idea that the Rocket isn't going to bail the Yankees out of this one in the minds of the fans. I agree with the Yankees decision to let him start against the so-so offense of the White Sox to build up the confidence of the club, the New York fans and the Rocket himself before pitting him against a powerhouse like the Red Sox.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

14.5 games up and Giddy as a schoolgirl

This is the sort of scenario you dream about in the preseason. The Red Sox are firing on all cylinders handing loss after loss to the best teams MLB has to offer. Josh Beckett has finally recovered from his minor injury and seems to have rejoined the rotation without missing a beat. We can afford to give David Ortiz a few extra days to recover from a minor hamstring injury because hey, no use blowing out the guys when you've got 14.5 games on the Yankees. The Yankees on the other hand are absolutely falling apart. Alex Rodriguez's hot bat has finally cooled off enough that he's no longer carrying their offense and the starting pitching continues to give up runs. The only relief in sight is the return of Roger Clemens. I can only say that I think Roger will be an improvement on an extremely lackluster pitching staff, but it won't be enough. I would question whether he would be enough even if the Rocket was in his prime. With some mixed results in various minor league starts, the Rocket's advanced age and the fact that he'll be going up against some solid AL hitting rather than the soft NL lineups he's faced the past few years with the astros strikes me as a recipe for disappointment for Yankee fans. Will he get lit up every night and booed out of baseball once and for all? Probably not. Will he be the Yankees knight in shining armor who's going to turn the corner for the Yankees, anchor the pitching staff and rebuild the confidence of the Yankees as every New Yorker has his fingers crossed that he will? I doubt it. The Red Sox are just too strong right now with 2.5 Games over the NL best Mets and 4.5 over the AL's second best Indians, whom the sox have roughed up for 2 wins in 2 games, going for the sweep tonight with Daisuke on the mound tonight. The sox have proven that they can beat the best, they're resilient in the face of injuries due to their excellent depth. The bulk of the offense has not been provided solely by the 3 and 4 spots as we had come to expect from the Sox offense, but rather from a number of sources. Kevin Youkilis is atop the AL for batting average tied for second behind Jorge Posada. Other contributors include Mike Lowell and Dustin Pedroia as of late who have been contributing to the offense. It really doesn't get much better than this.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sox take 2 out of 3 from Braves, Head into rubber game vs. Yankees tonight

Well, not going to lie, I missed the day/night doubleheader against the Braves as well as the third game on the occasion of my friend returning from Indiana and my girlfriend's graduation ceremony. Needless to say taking 2 out of 3 from an NL powerhouse like the Braves further proves that the Sox can compete and win against the best MLB has to offer, after taking 3 out of 4 from the Tigers as well as this recent series against the Braves. The one loss to the Braves, an embarassing 14-0 rout, is forgivable given the lackluster performance of minor leaguer Davern Hansack as well as a poor follow up by the Red Sox bullpen giving up an additional 10 runs on top of those given up by Hansack. If there was a game to put a second string performance out against, the logical choice would have been the start by Braves starter John Smoltz. Smoltz quieted the Sox bats that had rung up the Braves for 13 runs earlier that day allowing just 3 hits in 7 innings with the Braves bullpen holding the sox hitless in the final two innings of the shutout. Smoltz made his start despite a dislocated pinky in a previous start.

The third game also looked like another "would be loss" with a second AAA call up in Kason Gabbard facing Braves starter Tim Hudson. This was not the case however with the sox beating up on Hudson early to score 4 runs in the first inning and two more before Hudson was pulled after 4 2/3 innings. Gabbard provided a solid performance going 5 innings and allowing only 2 runs on 6 hits at which point the Boston bullpen provided the remaining 3 innings allowing a run to secure the win. Hideki Okajima and Johnathan Papelbon seemed somewhat shaky with Okajima allowing two hits in his one inning of work and Papelbon allowing 3 hits and a run in his one inning of work. Fortunately the sox were still able to clinch the 6-3 win with ease despite these atypical performances by the otherwise lights out sox relievers.

Tim Wakefield had clearly been off his game in his previous start and Monday in the bronx was no different for Wakefield who had another rough outing, missing the mark and allowing far too many walks in the opening game against the Yankees. These would come back to haunt Wakefield as he would allow 6 runs in 5 innings, which the Red Sox would be unable to overcome despite 3 hitless innings provided by the Boston bullpen (Romero, Delcarmen, Piniero). Tim Wakefield's ERA has skyrocketed due to his last two starts from a league leading 1.79 to 3.14.

Last night's game also seemed as though it could be a rough ride with fifth starter Julian Tavarez against Mike Mussina. The sox again surprised with Julian Tavarez escaping with a respectable 5 2/3 innings with 3 hits and 2 runs allowed. Unfortunately, he also issued 4 walks and was lucky to end his day on a double play ball to get out of trouble. Okajima and Papelbon again provided adequate relief but had a somewhat shaky outing both of them walking a pair in their inning of work. Okajima allowed a run to score on a near double play ball hit by Derek Jeter which Jeter was able to outrun with his exceptional speed and a little help from A-Rod shoulder tackling of Dustin Pedroia in an attempt to disrupt the throw to first.

The game tonight puts sox Ace Curt Schilling against Andy Petite in what should be an interesting game. Petite's unimpressive 2-3 record is deceiving given his excellent 2.83 ERA

The celtics got royally screwed by the ping pong balls yet again as the team with the 2nd worst record in the NBA will miss out on both highly touted draft picks Kevin Durant and Greg Oden to the Portland Trailblazers and the Seattle Supersonics who beat some long odds to get the top picks in the draft. Sure, the Celtics will get somebody good, but not a franchise player like they needed. But I can see where this is going to go, the celtics will take another year to mature for it's young talent, their high draft pick will certainly help them to a better finish than last year, just short of the playoffs or possibly lose in the first round of the playoffs leaving them with a mediocre team with mediocre draft pics dwelling just below the cusp of being a real contender for years to come. This was the year they needed a big name to help them get over the hump and get Boston to remember where the Boston Garden is and draw some eyes away from Foxboro and Fenway. But it looks like that's not going to happen, another 5 rebuilding years for Danny Ainge and the boys in green.

Friday, May 18, 2007's all allright, Sox take 3 of 4 from the Tigers (Day 2-1, Night 4-2)

I must admit I was cautiously optimistic coming into this series against the Tigers. This would be the first real chance for the Sox to test themselves against a really well rounded and potent Tigers team. They made a very impressive showing taking 3 out of 4 from one of the AL's best teams and proved they can beat good teams as well as bad ones.

The first game I must admit I had nearly chalked up as a loss mentally, fortunately the Red Sox did not. The matchup of the undefeated Mike Maroth against the struggling Julian Tavarez did not look favorable for the sox. Prior to the game Maroth fell ill and was unable to make his start, forcing the Tigers to call up struggling minor league pitcher Zach Miner. With the new matchup between Tavarez and Miner one would have anticipated fireworks from the potent Sox and Tigers lineups rather than the unlikely pitcher's duel that ensued. Tavarez gave what is most likely his most impressive start of the year with 7 innings, 4 hits and only one run scored silencing the Tigers bats. Zach Miner also gave a more impressive performance than expected pitching a better game against the sox than in his most recent starts at the triple A level. Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon seemed to wrap up the game with ease in the 8th and 9th innings not giving up a single hit and holding on to the smallest of leads to clinch the win and the save for Papelbon. Manny and Kevin Youkilis were responsible for most of the Red Sox offense both having 2 for 4 days and driving home a run. Kevin Youkilis' consistent hitting has continued to be impressive and has one of the best averages in the American League.

Game 2 called for some roster movements with David Ortiz sitting out the second game due to illness. This allowed Manny to be moved to the DH spot. As a result, Eric Hinske and Willy Mo Pena started in the outfield to replace the still injured JD Drew. This games looked much more favorable for the Sox than the day game with Ace Curt Schilling on the mound against the Tigers Chad Durbin. Schilling had what could only be described as a shaky outing, giving up 8 hits and 4 walks over 6 innings. Fortunately for Schilling these base runners were well distributed and only two runs scored thanks to some outfield heroics by Eric Hinske making a diving catch while simultaneously doing a faceplant in the outfield warning track. Brendan Donnelly and Javier Lopez combined to provide two scoreless innings leading into a perfect ninth inning by Hideki Okajima in his second appearance of the day to record the save. On the offensive side Eric Hinske provided a home run two score the two runs with two outs in the inning to provide the difference in the contest in favor of the Sox. Wily Mo Pena was walked three times in the game defying the belief that he is an impatient hitter who constantly strikes out and shows that he may be maturing in his major league career. Perhaps at some point he'll be worth trading away Bronson Arroyo for....but I doubt it.

Hideki Okajima making two appearances in one day and not allowing a hit.
Julian Tavarez for making his best start of the year.
Eric Hinske for winning the night game for the sox with both his glove and his bat.
Kevin Youkilis for continuing to be a vital part of the sox offense.

Curt Schilling for having a shaky outing that by all rights should have yielded more than two runs for the Tigers offense. This win had more to do with the Heroics of Eric Hinske than Curt's pitching.
The sox offense for failing to score more than two runs against a struggling minor league pitcher who flew in from Detroit only hours beforehand.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Verlander scorches sox 2-7

Let's get one thing out of the way right now: Tim Wakefield's name is next to the L in this game, but by no means had a terrible outing. The story of this game has more to do with the W next to Verlander's who threw an excellent game against the sox with only Kevin Youkilis crossing the plate twice tarnishing an otherwise excellent performance. Wakefield also pitched well outside of a very bumpy 3rd inning where a solo shot and Magglio Ordonez hit a 3 run homer to put the game out of reach for the sox. The three run eighth inning had one run charged to Tim Wakefield for the walk to Gary Sheffield which Brendan Donnelly subsequently let through, as well as two additional runs as he was unable to close the door with two outs. The sox looked as though they might rally when Kevin Youkilis hit a solo shot with two outs in the bottom of the eighth to end Verlander's day and a few hits in the ninth, but the order was too tall this time and the sox couldn't deliver. Maybe if Josh Beckett had been on the hook for the loss?

I felt this game was closer than the score indicated with 6 of the Tigers 7 runs coming with two outs in the inning. I'm also not necessarily disappointed with this loss, the Tigers are an excellent team and Verlander is and excellent starter winning last year's Rookie of the Year honors and still looking strong. When looking at the starters and the strength of the Tigers I would be happy with 3-1 in this four game series and content with splitting the series given that they have 3-0 Maroth against 1-4 Julian Tavarez tonight who has had some mediocre performances as of late.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dice-K turns it around in Fenway def. Tigers 7-1

The last two games should give a real spark of hope to the Boston fans that maybe this team has the kind of talent and spirit to make it happen this year. The prospect of dropping 2 out of 3 to a lackluster Orioles team in Fenway could have been a strong indicator of the sox cooling off and losing their edge, but instead they came back in dramatic fashion in the bottom of the ninth to take the rubber game of the series. Sure, they had some help. Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez missed an infield pop up any high schooler could have made to allow Coco Crisp to reach and prompted the inexplicable pulling of Orioles SP Jeremy Guthrie after throwing a gem 8 1/3 shutout innings with no signs of weakness. Normally "hearing footsteps" is a term applied to Wide Receivers in football, but watching Chris Ray missing the toss from Kevin Millar for the last out of the game with the game on the line that was all I could think about with Julio Lugo sneaking in behind him. The Orioles felt the pressure and cracked. The team with the best fielding percentage in the AL committed two huge errors in the ninth and paid for it with a loss. Josh Beckett's injury and lackluster performance is certainly cause for concern, but judging by the post game reactions and the nature of his injury I wouldn't imagine this will develop into a serious problem or cost him more than one start.

Tonight's game against the Tigers was similarly encouraging. Looking through the Red Sox's schedule thus far it seems somewhat lacking for wins against good teams with the exception of a 3 game sweep of the the Angels in Fenway. 5 out of 6 against the Yankees is certainly nice, but these aren't the Yankees we can expect come fall given the serious injuries to their starting rotation. The Tigers came into Fenway one of the hottest teams in Baseball on top of the AL central. Dice K on the other hand had been underachieving with some mediocre starts (last week v. Toronto) and some terrible starts (v. Seattle), but this complete game gem against a strong AL team gives alot of reason for optimism that he's made the adjustments to the American strike zone, ball and rotation and is now in a position to be dominant. His performance lacked the power of the strike-out happy performances seen thus far, but the consistent outs were an encouraging sign nonetheless.

This places the Sox 8.5 games ahead of the Yankees who did not play tonight and gives them the best record in Baseball by 1.5 games over the upstart Brewers who seem to be finally cooling off having lost their last two games.