Posted on: April 20, 2011 5:54 pm
Edited on: April 21, 2011 9:52 am
At the beginning of the 2008 baseball season, I was chatting with a couple of friends about how well I thought the Tampa Bay Devil Rays would be. They looked at me with a sincere look of confusion. The Devil Rays had gone 66-96 the year before, how good could they be one year later? They finished in last place in the American League East, and still would have to play against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees nineteen times each. They went to the World Series that year, and my friends were more amazed day by day as they continued to be division front-runners and even more when they won the division.
I would like to think that this year's team that will do the same is the Kansas City Royals. They have similar recent history of being terrible. Add that to the the fact that Dayton Moore traded away the only true staff ace that Kansas City has had in years with Zack Greinke, and you have to wonder where this sentiment comes from. The Royals are in second in the American League Central division, trailing only the Cleveland Indians. I truly don't expect the Royals to have the same run as the Devil Rays did back in 2008. I think they have as much of a chance of making it to the World Series this year, as I have of being their opening game starter in that World Series. I do not believe they will win the AL Central, but I believe that they certainly could win that division and make it to the playoffs.
By trading away Zack Greinke, the staff ace, a guy that had won the American League Cy Young Award with them a couple of years previous, that they were again retooling for the future. They did get Alcides Escobar, who potentially has the tools to be a fantastic shortstop and alleviates the club of the woes that they had previous years between Yuniesky Betancourt and others at that position. Perhaps Moore was more aware than any of us would give him credit for. Escobar has been a refreshing surprise for the club. He still isn't a fantastic hitter, but that should improve and keep pace with his defense and baserunning ability.
Luke Hochevar has helped alleviate the loss of the staff ace. He was a first round draft pick from the 2006 draft, so perhaps it was a now-or-never situation to force him to take the reigns of the staff. He certainly has the talent, and with a few years of experience under his belt, he has been a stabling presence at the front of the rotation. His struggles will certainly show during the season as a young pitcher, but he has the talent. Joakim Soria may be the best closer in baseball. His strikeout numbers are fantasic, and he's about as unhittable otherwise as any reliever in baseball. The pressure on him the past couple of years has been immense, as the Royals don't typically get themselves into cushy 3-run save situations, but he has shown his dominant stuff at the end of games for three and a half years now. Jeff Francis may be the best free agent signing by a club this year. He brings an experience of winning that these young pitchers are unfamiliar with at the Major League level. Just a few years ago, he was a staff ace for the Colorado Rockies that went to the World Series. His presence may be exactly what this young staff needs to mentor them through this season. He along with Bruce Chen and Kyle Davies will support Hochevar in this rotation. Robinson Tejeda and Tim Collins have stuff nearly as nasty as Soria. They can sit down batters in the seventh and eighth innings to get Soria those save opportunities.
Billy Butler is hitting as well as he ever has. His plate patience is evident also, as he has an on-base percentage of .493 right now. He finally has some protection in the lineup this year. Alex Gordon has been as fantastic as all that hype about him said he should have been; it just took a few years longer than it was expected. If he can keep this pace up throughout the season, he would probably get some consideration in Most Valuable Player discussions. It's exciting to see him hitting for average and power, and showing more patience at the plate than previous years. Something must have clicked in the off-season, because he has broken out this year like a true superstar. Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera have brought that winning experience to the lineup that Francis brought to the rotation. Both are having solid hitting seasons along with Chris Getz and Wilson Betemit who may finally be realizing some of the potential that was expected when he was drafted years ago. If Kila Ka'aihue can bring his average up and continue to hit for power, the corner infield positions will make a positive impact in games. The catcher position seems the weakest with Matt Treanor, but if Jason Kendall can come back and produce like his normal self, that position will be fine.
Probably nobody expects the Kansas City Royals to seriously contend this year. I really like the team, and I certainly don't expect them to have the same level of success that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays did in 2008, but I am not counting them out of possibly making the playoffs. They have the fortune of playing in the AL Central, which is likely the best situation for this team. They don't have the talent that the Devil Rays had three seasons ago. The Chicago White Sox are a big-market team, and the Detroit Tigers have a history and a fanbase that will allow them to typically spend some money, but I would hardly call them a big-market team. Cleveland has struggled almost as mightily as the Royals, and the Twins may be in the worst situation that they have encountered in quite a few years with Mauer being on the DL already this year. The White Sox haven't done anything to warrant serious discussion about winning anything. The Tigers have some top-end talent, but I don't believe they have a truly competitive roster. Whoever wins the AL Central will be expected to be fodder in the first round of the playoffs. It will be a winner by default, as they will likely have a worse record than any other division winner and possibly the wildcard winner. For this reason, I'm not counting the Royals out.
Regardless of what happens, I am truly hoping that they can have success down the road based on the first signs of success this year. Tampa Bay has made themselves much more relevant for successive years since 2008. With any luck, the Royals can catapult themselves to competitive status. The Zack Greinke trade may have given them a couple of solid pieces to that puzzle; not only did they solidify the shortstop position for years to come, but they also got Lorenzo Cain in that trade along with pitching prospects Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi. Lorenzo Cain is another highly touted prospect that should keep the outfield well represented. I remember the days that George Brett used to man third base, and Bret Saberhagen was the staff ace for the Royals. It was a better time for baseball. Let's hope this is the platform season for us to return to a time that the Kansas City Royals are contenders again.
Tags: Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, American League Central, Billy Butler, Boston Red Sox, Bret Saberhagen, Bruce Chen, Chicago White Sox, Chris Getz, Cleveland Indians, Cy Young Award, Dayton Moore, Detroit Tigers, George Brett, Jake Odorizzi, Jason Kendall, Jeff Francis, Jeff Francoeur, Jeremy Jeffress, Joakim Soria, Joe Mauer, Kansas City Royals, Kila Ka'aihue, Kyle Davies, Lorenzo Cain, Luke Hochevar, Matt Treanor, Melky Cabrera, Minnesota Twins, Most Valuable Player, MVP, New York Yankees, Robinson Tejeda, Royals, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Tampa Bay Rays, Tim Collins, Yuniesky Betancourt, Zack Greinke
Posted on: April 13, 2011 3:45 pm
That's what Matsuzaka seems to be doing out there on the mound when it's his turn in the rotation. The Red Sox are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place; they can't waive him--he's owed too much money. My guess is that they'd love to waive him, but it's not really a matter of the money that makes them continue to "roll the dice." If Daisuke fails, it was an embarassing baseball move four years ago when they paid over $50M to the Seibu Lions just to be able to negotiate a contract. It was considered a steal when they signed him to six years and $52M, but added to the $50M posting fee, it was merely a solid contract offer. If Matsuzaka fails, this bid by the Red Sox was a big mistake.
But how many tries does one player get? Matsuzaka hasn't been the player they envisioned since his second season. If only those World Baseball Classics counted toward his Red Sox contract. He was voted the MVP of the inaugural and second Classic. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, he just doesn't seem to pitch with the same fervor as he does when it is world competition. Perhaps the level of competition is overwhelming at the Major League level? This would be a valid point, except Japan has won both World Baseball Classics. Apparently their players are at least on par with US players. Also, let's not forget that US players are on many of their home teams' rosters.
Looking back on Matsuzaka's stats over the years, it would be hard to argue that he has earned his contract with the Red Sox. If he had been paid just the $52M from the contract, it still would have been money poorly spent, compound that with the posting fee, and it becomes a mistake of huge proportions. The real winners here were the Seibu Lions who pocketed $51,111,111 just for allowing Matsuzaka to negotiate with the Red Sox. That's enough money for them to pay their entire payroll for over two years!
In 2010, Matsuzaka had an ERA of below 4.00--following only one game! On August 5, 2010 the Red Sox faced the Cleveland Indians. Matsuzaka pitched quite well; he pitched 8 innings, allowed 5 hits, 1 earned run, walked 2, and struck out 6. His ERA after that game was 3.96; it was the only game that he ended with a cumulative ERA for the season of under 4.00. His next start a few days later, corrected that anomaly. It continued to get worse until his second to last start on September 26, 2010 in which he pitched 8 innings, allowed 2 earned runs, walked 1, and struck out 7. He didn't pitch terrible against Cleveland for his first start of 2011, but it certainly wasn't expected to be leaps and bounds better than his second start of this year.
Daisuke Matsuzaka has a no-trade clause in his contract. This is fairly normal, and I'm glad the Red Sox gave in on that demand. It was a reasonable concession as Matsuzaka was excited to play for the Red Sox. He was taking a chance on the situation, and I can certainly understand his desire to make sure that the Red Sox didn't undermine that by trading him away. I imagine that Matsuzaka would not accept an outright assignment to the minors where he could continue to work out his mechanics, timing, or demonic possession that has been affecting him over the past couple of years. I think it's time for the Red Sox to bring Matsuzaka and his translator into the office and tell him that he has an injury and is going on the 15-day disabled list. This way, he can save face, and the Red Sox can explain that it wasn't a mistake to sign him, but he's been trying to work through an injury. Whatever their decision, they have to do it soon. I realize that they don't have many options for starting pitching to turn to, but Tim Wakefield is still on the roster and there are minor leaguers that can give at least comparable results--Felix Dubront comes to mind.
Posted on: April 10, 2011 11:15 pm
Jered Weaver just pitched the game of his life tonight; he pitched seven innings, allowed one run, struck out a career-high fifteen batters. Absolutely fantastic achievement! As I was reviewing the article about his triumphant game, I started to think about Jeff Weaver's career. Jeff Weaver was a fantastic young pitcher with Detroit when I first started to like him. The Tigers were terrible, but Weaver put up a few winning seasons to start his career. Assuming a normal player will continue to improve, I thought he was going to be a star of the game for years to come.
Posted on: April 8, 2011 11:11 pm
Manny Ramirez retired today. It's the end of an era that should have probably ended a couple of years ago. This isn't Manny being Manny as his attitude has so affectionately been described, this was Manny getting out with the last shred of respectability that he could leave with. If he had stuck around, he would have undoubtedly been suspended. The last time he was suspended it was for 50 games; I don't recall right off what the suspension for subsequent issues involving performance enhancing drugs (PED's) is. Would this have been a one year suspension? If so, did Manny just speed up the inevitable? He retired rather than face the humiliation of another suspension. Another suspension would have brought his career to a halt anyway.
Manny hasn't been exceptionally relevant in baseball for a few years now. If you are into fantasy baseball, do you remember when Manny was his generation's Ryan Braun? He was a first round pick, which as an outfielder is huge. My guess is that you probably didn't even consider drafting Manny in this year's fantasy baseball draft. If you did, other owners in your league snickered as you picked him up, but secretly hoped that he didn't perform to 75% of what he used to do, and probably still could do. If so, he was a steal. Imagine picking up a player in the 20th round of the draft that batted .275, hit 20 homers, had 85 RBI with 75 runs scored--that would be the find that won your league!
Thanks for the memories Manny. You provided that lethal combination with David Ortiz that got the Red Sox a couple of World Series rings this century. You provided a bit of comic relief in an otherwise stodgy old sport. It was fun cheering for you to take those massive swings against the rival Yankees, and be successful. I remember hearing that the Red Sox signed Manny and thought: this is the guy they need in the middle of their lineup. I wasn't excited about the amount of money, but wasn't it great when the commissioner's office devalued the contract so that it ultimately became less than what he would have gotten if he had gone and resigned with the Cleveland Indians with the contrac they offered? Still eight years and $160M was a lot of money to a guy that was arguably a poor outfielder with a bat.
I remember being at the Philadelphia Phillies game that first time they were playing interleague play at Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia. I had seats right over by the third base line and quite near the front--it was the section of the stands that juts out very close to the foul line. Manny made an amazing catch while sliding into the wall that night. I was so close to the play that I couldn't see Manny because he had disappeared below the level of the wall. He got up with that wry smile that he had when he knew he just exceeded people's expectations of him, but not his own expectations. The guy I had gone to the game with had gotten up to go to the bathroom; when he got back, I told him that he had just missed the play of the game.
I remember that same smile while watching the Red Sox against the Yankees--I forget the year and the circumstances. I do remember the opposing player. Enrique Wilson had just nutted a fly ball over the left field wall in Yankee Stadium. Manny somehow got to the spot at the wall where the ball was going over. It seemed like he was jumping seven rows into the stands to rob Wilson of his homerun, but it was probably just the front row. Because it was Manny, it was larger than life. Enrique was rounding the bases in the fashion of a person who had known that he hit it out of the park. As he rounded second, the look on his face went from glowing delight to bewilderment; why were his teammates not lauding his achievement?! He looked at Manny, and there was that wry smile. Manny had not only robbed Wilson of that homerun, he had robbed the entire Yankee team and all of their fans in attendance, watching on television, and those that would later find out as they watched the highlights.
I just wish those were the ilk of memories that flooded my thoughts. Instead, I'm stuck with the memories of how Manny left Boston, how his attitude became bigger than the team could handle. I remember the irritation I felt when Manny refused the Dodgers' contract offer of one year and I believe $20M. He wanted two years and $50M. Nobody else was bidding anywhere near that, but he refused to believe that his career was ebbing. He got big money and two years from the Dodgers. I don't believe it was $50M, but I think it was close. I really stopped paying attention during that ordeal. Manny was overpricing himself, and distancing himself from his adoring fans. The game was no longer the game that it was while he was playing in Cleveland. It was no longer the game/business it was while playing in Boston, where he was worth the hassles because he truly was one of the few difference makers in the game. This was Manny's narcissism. Unfortunately, there were still some that were willing to feed that hubris.
Tags: Boston Red Sox, Citizen's Bank Park, Cleveland Indians, David Ortiz, Dodgers, Enrique Wilson, fantasy baseball, Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Manny, Manny Ramirez, ManRam, New York Yankees, PED's, performance enhancing drugs, Philadelphia Phillies, Phillies, Red Sox, Ryan Braun, Steroids, suspension, Yankees
Posted on: April 7, 2011 10:25 pm
The good news has to be that Jon Lester pitched a true gem tonight against the Indians. Kudos to him for doing his part to get the first Red Sox win of the year, unfortunately, he couldn't pitch the entire game. The bad news has to be that Daniel Bard lost the game again. This wasn't a full-out wheels-off-the-bus sort of meltdown like he had his previous outing; this was merely that lone run that was one run too many. The fact that he could lower his ERA while inking a game ERA for himself of 9 isn't so promising. I have faith in him, I just need to see reciprocity from him soon.
This whole situation reminds me of that infamous circumstance that Grady Little got himself into by leaving Pedro Martinez in one out too long. Pedro was having trouble getting wins that year because the bullpen kept giving away his leads. They had solid guys in the bullpen that year too; they just couldn't pull it together. Was it complacency? Did people tell them that they were supposed to be that good, so they started to believe it? Regardless, is Jon Lester going to start having those same situations arise? We all know this is a bad thing to feel like as a starting pitcher, as a manager, or as a fan. Grady Little got fired at the end of that year--thank goodness. We as fans hung our heads. But as a starting pitcher when you can't feel comfortable handing over a lead to your bullpen, you know they just start to try a little too hard for a little too long. They try to make every pitch perfect, and work through Jello-arm and dead-arm because they feel like the team needs them to.
The Red Sox don't need anyone to try to be the hero on the mound. They have a very nice pitching staff, from the starters to the closer. Each guy has got to have the comfort of knowing that the guys around him are capable of bailing anyone out on any given night.
The pitching effort by Lester was fantastic tonight, but let's not forget that Fausto Carmona did nearly an equal job. I'd take Lester's nine strikeouts and three walks over Carmona's four strikeouts and two walks. I was excited to see that Fausto may have returned to his front-of-the-rotation ability. He was exciting a few years ago and has had his share of injuries and setbacks.
I'm a little worried about the Yankees visiting Fenway tomorrow and having Lackey start. I know he's still a quality pitcher, but his confidence didn't seem like it was in the correct spot the other night after the Rangers beat up on him. Here's hoping that we don't have to hear about him never pitching well against the Yankees. Goodness knows we need a guy to step up for the Sox and do his job while all the others are doing their jobs too.
Posted on: April 5, 2011 3:56 pm
Hopefully Josh Beckett can get the Red Sox started on the path everyone believes they are destined to go down this year. I'm not sure what sign Beckett is, nor do I particularly believe in astrology, but everything seems to be aligned to make this a nearly perfect situation to begin a bounceback year for both Josh and the Sox.
Josh Beckett is a big game pitcher; there is no better proof than his 2003 World Series MVP Award against the New York Yankees. More relevant to Red Sox fans was his pitching against Cleveland in 2007 that sparked a comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the ALCS. His record in that series was a stellar 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA; this effort garnered him the ALCS MVP Award. He continued that effort with a winning effort in the World Series that year in game one against the Colorado Rockies by pitching seven innings and only allowing one run off six hits, with nine strikeouts.
This game is not of the same magnitude as those previous, but the Red Sox need a jumpstart, and Beckett may be just the person to give it. His psyche still tells him that he's capable of being the ace of that staff, even with great young pitchers in Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. He's still got the heart of a champion, and he knows how to carry a team that needs a lift.
There are other factors that may lead to a breakout game by the Sox. Red Sox hitters aren't accustomed to long losing streaks, and the mix of veterans and young players should lend to a hitters' delight tonight. It's also the Cleveland Indians; this isn't to say that the Indians aren't a good team, it's just to state the obvious that they aren't on the same level as the Sox. They can certainly beat the Sox on any given night, but I'd be willing to bet that out of 100 games, the Sox would win 95 of them with current lineups. This isn't the Indians team of the early nineties when Manny roamed their outfield, and Bartolo Colon aced a staff that annually made them contenders. This is a team working with some young talented players to rebuild.
Josh Beckett will undoubtedly get these young and veteran free-swingers to flail hopelessly at his pitches. He worked on some mechanical issues in the spring, and showed some comfort in his last outing of the spring when he pitched five innings allowing only one hit. Those mechanics are starting to feel more like second nature to him, hopefully that means great things for the Red Sox. They certainly need a shot in the arm at this early juncture in the season. Hopefully one of the most clutch pitchers in recent memory can prove that he's just the guy to give the ball to.