Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Shane Exits With Class

The dismantling of the Red Sox began in earnest on Monday, as Shane Victorino was traded to the LA Angels for utility infielder Josh Rutledge.

The Flyin' Hawaiian stamped his name into Red Sox legend with two enormous hits that will forever be remembered: the 2013 Game 6 ALCS home run that put the Red Sox ahead to stay against Detroit, and the triple that cleared the bases against St. Louis in Game 6 of the World Series.

Injuries have derailed the last two seasons for Victorino, and now he moves to a contender in Anaheim.

And Shane leaves the Red Sox with class:

All the best Shane, and I'll never hear this song again without thinking of you:

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Thanks For The Memories, Pedro

We all know this has been a lost season for the Red Sox, and the less said and written about this on-going travesty, the better.

Today, before many thousands of fans at Cooperstown, NY, Pedro Martinez will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz. All four men are indeed worthy of induction.

The festivities will be broadcast on MLB Network at 1:30 PM today. I will be watching, and listening to what should be an entertaining speech Pedro is sure to give.

Pedro will also have his number 45 retired by the Red Sox this coming Tuesday night before the game at Fenway with the White Sox. That is sure to be fun as well.

Fans have been posting their favorite Pedro moments and games on Facebook over the course of the last few days. I had the pleasure to be at Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS at Fenway, where Pedro beat the Yankees and Roger Clemens, 12-1. He was simply dominant that night, and it being a postseason game, meant so much more. That is my favorite memory of him with me being in the building.

But my favorite of all is what I call the best pitched game I have ever seen.

On September 10, 1999, Pedro and the Sox faces New York at Yankee Stadium. The Sox were still in the race for the AL east title, trailing the Yankees by 6 1/2 games with 21 to go. Pedro hit Chuck Knoblauch, the first batter, and he was caught stealing. In the second inning, Chili Davis hit a shot into the right field bleachers to make it 1-0 New York.

Little did anyone realize that Davis would be the last Yankee to reach base.

Mike Stanley hit a two-run homer in the 6th, and Jose Offerman had an RBI single in the ninth to give Pedro all the offensive support he'd need.

In the bottom of the fourth, Bernie Williams grounded out to third. Of the remaining 15 batters Pedro faced, 12 would strike out, 2 would foul out, and Scott Brosius will lead off the sixth by flying out to left. That was the last fair ball the Yankees would hit in that game.

It was sheer dominance. Seeing the Dominican fans in the Yankee Stadium bleachers putting up Ks and rooting Pedro and the Sox home to victory was simply surreal. Pedro was knocking down the Yankees like bowling pins, and they had their "A" team out there that night. (And would win the World Series the following month.)

It still is the best game I have ever seen (and I saw it on TV; wish I could have been there live).

Congratulations to Pedro on the well-earned trip to immortality today.

Here are the edited highlights from that night. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Say Goodbye To Hollywood & The 2015 Season

I had a bad feeling about the Red Sox after that last game against the Yankees before the All-Star break.

The Sox had been playing going into that final game, and needed to win it to take the series. New York won, 8-6. And it left me with the feeling that they were going to come out flat in Anaheim. I just didn't think it was going to be THIS bad.

I looked at the schedule and saw the first ten games after the break with three contenders: LA Angels, Houston and Detroit. It was 10 games, and figured the Red Sox needed to go at least 7-3 if they had any hope of getting back in the race, and 4-3 on the opening 7-game road trip.

Both are impossible now. The first ever four game sweep in Anaheim by the Angels over the Sox put that to rest, and pretty much any hope the Red Sox had given their fans after a decent three-week stretch in late June and early July.

The numbers are simply putrid.

The Sox scored just 4 runs in 36 innings in the four games, the first time since 1965 they scored as few as four runs in a four-game series. They never had the lead in any of the four, and the last three runs were scored in garbage time of the final game. Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez went a combined 0-for-44. With the exception of Wade Miley's brilliant 7 innings on Friday, the starters were awful. LA outscored them 22-4. They ran into a hot Angels team, who are now in first place in the AL West, having won 15 of 18. Take nothing away from their starters, who were brilliant in the four game sweep.

The Sox bats were still in the All-Star break. What does that say about the motivation on this team? Not very much. They are now 42-51, 9 games behind New York in the AL East, and are tied with Seattle for the worst record in the American League.

I was waiting until the White Sox series next week to see whether the Red Sox were buyers or sellers for the July 31st trade deadline. Now, it's pretty clear. They are absolutely sellers. I think even the most cockeyed optimist of fans realizes that now.

Time to put together a plan for 2016.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Take a Break. Then Improve the Pitching.

Back in early April, if I had said to you that between the Red Sox and Yankees, one team would be 48-40 in first place, and the other 42-47 in fifth place, who would you have put where?

Yep, me too.

That the first half of the 2015 season has been a major disappointment for the Red Sox is not any startling news. The front office rolled the dice with the pitching staff and it has mostly come up lemons. Justin Masterson has been a complete flop, Joe Kelly is starting in AAA (maybe he should be relieving in Boston?), and Wade Miley has been too wildly inconsistent. Clay Buchholz has returned yet again to the DL, but Eduardo Rodriguez has shown real promise. And we'll see stud rookie lefthander Brian Johnson for the first time shortly after the break.

The bullpen? Yikes. No one trustworthy other than Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa.

If New York wins 88 games (the pace they are on right now), the Sox would have to go 47-26 in order to pass them. A tall order to say the least.

It's pretty clear that if the Red Sox are still withing shouting distance of first place by July 31, the pitching needs major improvement. Who to go after? That is still to be determined, and the bidding wars for those available will get going soon. Buchholz' loss makes getting a quality starter even more important than ever.

The offense got it cranking in June and early July. They have played more like they were advertised, and the fact the Sox went 15-9 to conclude the first half is testament to that. And it appears Dustin Pedroia will return to the lineup this weekend in Anaheim.

Losing the last series to New York this past weekend hurts, as 4 1/2 back and winning a series from your first-place rivals sounds a whole lot better than being 6 1/2 back. I can't say my optimism is overflowing for the second half beginning, as the Sox start it off with seven games against the two-best teams in AL West, the LA Angels and Houston Astros, both on the road.

I would recommend most fans take a break from this frustrating season for a few days. While the math doesn't say the Red Sox are done by any stretch, there's little room for error as the second half begins. A bad road trip could make the Sox sellers by July 31st. We'll just have to see.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

The Race Gets Tighter

It's starting to get interesting for the Red Sox in the AL East.

The Red Sox swept two games from the Miami Marlins, and have now won four games in a row for the first time in 2015. The 6-3 win last night means the Sox have won nine of their last twelve, and thirteen of their last twenty. On June 20th, they were 10 games back. Today, they sit just 5 games behind New York, and 1 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay in fourth. No one in front of them has played better than .500 ball over the last 10 days, and the Sox have taken advantage of that.

Last night's win was important mainly for Rick Porcello, who has been absolutely awful. Of all the pitchers who qualify for the ERA title race in the AL, Porcello was dead last at 6.08 going into last night's game.

Porcello was very good, going six innings and allowing just two earned runs. His ERA with Ryan Hanigan behind the plate is noticeably lower, and this was his his first start since Hanigan returned from his injury.

And very quietly, Koji Uehara seems to have regained his 2013 form. He was once again 1-2-3 in the ninth, and he has now allowed just one base runner in the last 29 he has faced, compiling 21 saves.

Now, the Evil Empire returns to Boston this weekend, in the first important series with New York in quite some time. It is the last series before the All-Star break, so the Sox can end the first half on a high note by taking this three-game set.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Is That Light I See Ahead In This Tunnel?

Well, all of a sudden, guess who the hottest team in the AL East is?

Yes, your Boston Red Sox.

The Sox took 2 of 3 from the AL West-leading Houston Astros at Fenway this past weekend. (Easily could have been a sweep if not for some bad base running and some questionable bullpen moves.) They've won three consecutive series, and 12 of their last 19 games. They are averaging 5.5 runs per game over that 19-game stretch, best in MLB.

Granted, the division is not strong at all. I wouldn't get too overly excited just yet. The Red Sox still trail New York by 6 games, and fourth place Toronto by four games. But no one ahead of them is hot right now, and no one appears ready to pull away from the pack.

But the signs are pointing in the right direction. The Sox have just five games left before the All-Star break: 2 with Miami and three with New York, all at Fenway.

BTW, a really odd thing happened yesterday. As David Ortiz played first base in an AL game for the first time since 2006 (Mike Napoli is THAT bad at the plate right now), not one putout was recorded at first base, the first time ever in team history that has happened.

And on the subject of Papi at first base, I don't think it's a bad thing to see him at first base a little more often. It allows Hanley Ramirez to DH, as he is no stellar outfielder. But Ortiz is not the butcher at first base he's made out to be. The last time he made an error at first was in 2009. (Granted that is only 28 regular season games since 2010, and doesn't include the World Series games he's played in, which he actually played flawless defense.) Sure, he's no Gold Glover by any stretch of the imagination, but putting him there once in a while might help. He would be exposed if he played first regularly. But Hanley Ramirez in left scares me a lot more.

Yes, put Papi on first base, and no one wants to throw the ball to him. Very odd.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Halfway There

They're teasing us again.

The Red Sox hit the halfway point of the 2015 season last night, with a 12-6 win over the Blue Jays in Toronto. They had the biggest first inning of the season, scoring 8 runs off a rookie named Matt Boyd, who faced seven hitters, and they all scored. (And how many of you were like me, thinking Wade Miley was going to give away that big lead in the 2nd?) David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez hit back-to-back home runs in that inning. It was a glimpse of a Red Sox team we thought we'd be seeing a lot more of 2015.

Last night was Game 81 of the 2015 season. The Sox conclude the first half at 37-44, six games out of first place, five games out of second. They ended it winning 5 of 7 on the road trip to Tampa Bay and Toronto.

Once again, the Red Sox are fortunate that there is no strong team in the AL East. Right now, the top four teams are separated by just one game in the standings. The Red Sox are the only fifth-place team that is not double-digits out of first place.

So, is there hope? The math may say yes, but this team still has to play consistently well, especially inside their division, to have a chance. And the month of July is no cakewalk. They play six games with Houston, three with New York, four with the LA Angels, three with Detroit, and one with Tampa Bay (to end the month), all teams with playoff aspirations. The Sox went 14-14 in June. Nothing to shout about, but it was much better than the awful May they had, where they finished a putrid 10-19.

The trading deadline is four weeks away, so are the Red Sox buyers or sellers? I would have to say now it maybe too early to tell. It will really depend on where they stand the morning of July 31st. There are really only seven teams right now who appear to be completely out of it right now (PHI, CIN, MIL, SEA, OAK, CHW and COL).

This holiday weekend's series at Fenway with the surprising AL West-leading Houston Astros will tell us a lot about where the Red Sox are heading right now, and if they can carry some of that newly built momentum home against a playoff contender. I'm not loaded with optimism, but things look a lot better than they did after losing 2 of 3 to Baltimore last week. Stay tuned.