Bloody Sox

Red Sox Rants — and other random opinions about sports

Archive for the month “October, 2008”

Considering Varitek

Jason Varitek filed for free agency today. I’ve read a few comments from fans that dismiss Jason altogether, as if it is a no-brainer NOT to resign him. I think those fans have a collective memory that is way too short. Perhaps they don’t remember the string of mediocre players who filled the catcher’s position for the Sox after Carleton Fisk left town. Rich Gedman was okay (.252 lifetime avg.). Tony Pena was reasonable, if in the twilight of his career. Scott Hatteberg. Gary Allenson. Etc… None of these players were bad, but they were not great and they did not provide the anchor that Jason Varitek has. I don’t think it is any coincidence that the Sox greatest seasons have come with him behind the plate. No, he will never be the same player he was in 2004, but he will probably be better at the plate next year than he was this year. Don’t forget, he had two crippling illnesses in the spring, and he was dealing with his divorce. Is it any surprise his offense was down? I think the Sox should do their best to sign him to three more years, with the understanding, perhaps, that by the second or third year, he will be sharing the catching duties with a young player, such as Mark Wagner, to whom he will be a mentor. Transition is good.

Congrats, Phillies! Now bring on ’09

It will only be sporting to acknowledge the Philadelphia Phillies on becoming the 2008 World Champions of baseball. Congratulations!

Now that that is out of the way, let’s bring on 2009. Specifically, I wonder what Theo Epstein is working on to help the Red Sox overtake the Tampa Bay Rays — and to stave off the Yankees. We need a bat or two, a catcher, maybe a third baseman, some middle relief and a solid starting pitcher. Can Theo pull all that out of his bag of tricks? Stay tuned.

Looking forward

Well, the 2008 Red Sox baseball season came to an end sooner than we hoped, but not as soon as we feared it might just last Wednesday. I think these past few days are a pretty clear microcosm of the entire 2008 season for the BoSox. This was a scrappy team that continued fighting tough odds only to lose out to a superior ball club. It is tough for a World Champion to return to the World Series, but the Sox almost did it, despite devastating injuries that plagued them throughout the year. And despite the distraction of Whatshisname. By rights, since they paid his $20 million salary ALL year long, Ramirez should have been plying his significant batting skills for the Red Sox cause right up until last night — and perhaps beyond. But Mr. “Every Manny for Himself” was too worried about his own self interest. So Theo gave him the heave ho and thank god for that. But, of course, the distraction and the hole in the lineup worked against this team much of the year. Then there were the injuries to major players like David Ortiz, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew. Add to that sub-par performances from Jacoby Ellsbury, Julio Lugo and Jason Varitek and you have to ask yourself how this team managed to perform as well as it did. I have a two-word answer for that: Youkilis and Pedroia.

These two guys — especially Youk — were the solid rock of this team and a great foundation for 2009. But this team is going to need a lot of rebuilding over the winter. Is the superman David Ortiz gone for good? If so, do we ditch him? Who will do the catching next year; Tek, or will there be a new face behind the mask? How do we add some power to the middle of this lineup? Is Mark Teixeira a viable option, and if so, where does Youkilis pay? If not Teixeira, is Matt Holliday in the mix, and if so, who is the odd man out in the outfield? Can we shore up the middle relief? Who will replace Mike Timlin as the reliable setup man?

All these questions — and probably many moves that only Theo has been thinking about — will keep us occupied for the next five months as we await the start of spring training. In the meantime, let’s give this Sox team its due. They battled a lot of adversity and had a pretty good run. We can be proud of them.

Zowie!

If I actually got TV reception (or satellite or cable) I have to admit that I would have been one of those folks who turned off the TV and went to bed after the Rays built a 7 to 0 lead in last night’s game. As it was, I was following the game results with periodic checks of the Internet. I did stop checking once the Sox were down by seven runs. However, the first thing I did this morning when I woke up was check the Internet to see what the final score was — and there was a little bit of hopefulness in my heart as I did so. Nevertheless, I was stunned when I learned that the Sox had made an historic comeback, scoring eight runs in the final three innings to pull out an improbable victory in game five of the ALCS.

Phew!

And now? Well, another trip to the World Series does not seem quite so far-fetched today as it did yesterday. The Sox would still have to be considered long shots for the chance to face the Phillies for the World Championship, but all of New England must feel a whole lot better than they did 24 hours ago. And, even if the Sox lose tomorrow or Sunday, they will have made this series respectable. The Rays ARE a very good team, and losing to them would not be a disgrace. Losing to them as the Sox had been doing in games two through four (especially games three and four) would have been disgraceful. No hitting, bad pitching. No one coming up with clutch base hits.

Speaking of which, did Coco Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury exchange bodies or something? Cuz it’s kinda weird how THAT tide has turned since last year at this time.

Anyway: GO SOX!

The last hurrah?

Tonight is possibly the last time the Red Sox will take the field in 2008. If it is, it may also be the last time we see Tim Wakefield, Mike Timlin and Jason Varitek in Red Sox uniforms. All three of these players have been terrific contributors to the Red Sox success over the past several years, and it will be sad to say goodbye. I especially respect Tim Wakefield, who labored for the Sox through many lean years, but who has always — ALWAYS — been a true professional, and a man of dignity. I hope he is back next year, but if not I just say, Thank you, Tim.

Mike Timlin is definitely running on fumes and it seems highly unlikely he’ll even be in baseball next year, let alone in a Sox uniform. His skills have dropped off in the past couple of years, but it was comforting having him in the bullpen up until this year.

As for Varitek, he has been a great Sox play… possibly the best Red Sox catcher of all time, and certainly no lower than the second best backstop behind hall of famer Carlton Fisk. But, I must say that I’m disappointed in his apparent pouting about being pinch hit for in this post season — you didn’t hear any complaints from Wakefield when he didn’t pitch. But the captain has earned a little leeway from his outstanding play during the past ten years. If, indeed, tonight is Tek’s last appearance for the Red Sox, then it will be a sad day — and good luck, Theo, filling Tek’s socks.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rays win tonight’s game, but I believe the Red Sox will win. I think Dice-K will pitch well, Kazmir won’t and this team  — the Red Sox — have too much pride to go meekly. Look for the series to go back to Tampa Bay where the Rays will take game six and move on to face the Phillies.

I’m not optimistic, but…

… if any team can climb out of a 3 to 1 hole it is the Red Sox. The offense just needs a little spark… Ortiz or someone in the lead off spot actually getting a couple of hits would be nice. I’m encouraged by the fact that Maddon has moved Kazmir up a game to face Dice-K… It indicates to me that he is conceding game five and maybe, just maybe, a win tomorrow night is all the Sox need to gain some momentum.

Yes, I’m grasping at straws here, but what else is there to do?

I guess I could talk about the Dallas Cowboys dumb trade for Roy Williams. Apparently Jerry Jones doesn’t remember almost 20 years ago when the Cowboys traded Herschel Walker to the Vikings for an ungodly number of draft picks. Getting those draft picks helped build the Cowboys into the 1990s dynasty. It did nothing for the Vikings. But Jerry Jones is a notorious idiot. Like many rich men, he thinks his ability to make money in one area means he is a genius. This is the same guy who paid big money for Drew Henson and Chad Hutchinson, and drafted Quincy Carter high in the first round. This is the same man who thought he could replace Jimmy Johnson with Barry Switzer. Oh, and it is the same man who trusted Pacman Jones. Dumbass!

Second guessing Tito

Last night’s poor outing by the Red Sox was highlighted (or is that lowlighted?) by the surprisingly ineffective performance of Jon Lester. I don’t know why he had the bad start, but he has been prone occasionally to have a bad game, from which he bounces back the following start. For instance, he pitched 6.2 innings of one-run ball in Yankee Stadium August 28, after a seven-run,  2.1 inning outing in Toronto August 23rd. But, because Francona pitched Lester in the third game instead of the second game, it seems very likely we have seen Lester’s last start of 2008. Or, to put it another way, the Sox will have to get two wins from the starts of Wakefield, Dice-K, and Beckett in games four through six, to force a game seven, and that seems a long shot at this point.

Francona is a terrific manager, and I have no intentions of starting a lynch mob. This argument is merely an academic exercise; however, I think Tito made a mistake with his starting rotation for this series. In my previous post I questioned this very rotation, so I don’t think I’m overly indulging in second guessing here. And, what’s more, I think there is reason to believe that Lester may have pitched better in the second game (and he certainly could not have pitched worse than Beckett). There would have been less pressure on the kid — and remember, he IS only a kid. The Sox would have been coming off a big win the night before; Beckett, in theory, was still the ace of the staff; and it was not a crucial game. But after Beckett’s meltdown, ALL the pressure fell onto Lester’s shoulders. And while Lester has been very tough and very good, he is only human — in fact, that’s the very reason given by Francona for starting Lester on extra rest in game three. This last part — projecting a strong outing from Lester in a game two start — is, of course, mere speculation. It is equally possible the Sox would be in the exact same position (down 2-1) had Lester’s and Beckett’s starts been reversed. But, in my scenario, Lester would have the opportunity to pitch again in game six, and if a game seven was then needed, the Sox could have thrown everyone at the Rays if Beckett were to fail.

We’ll see what happens from here out. This team, in the past, has been very resilient. They bounced back last year down 3-1 against the Indians, and — very memorably — were down 3-0 against the Yankees in ’04. But this is not the same team. They don’t have the fire power on offense they have had in the past, and — thanks to Francona’s decision to start Lester in game three — their most reliable starting pitcher may not pitch again. And, really, they just are not as good as the Rays.

Surpsingly convincing

The Red Sox just ousted the team with the best record in all baseball from the playoffs. Not bad. While it wasn’t an “easy” series victory, it was convincing. These are some gritty, grind-it-out ball players. Is that style going to work against the relentless Rays? Hope so, but ain’t so sure.

The Sox biggest weakness is their bull pen. You can sort of hide a weak bull pen in a five game series, but no so much in seven games. That means they will need long, quality starts from Dice-K, Beckett, Lester and Wakefield (the announced starters for games one through four respectively). Other than Lester, it is a real crap shoot as to whether or not these guys can go seven or eight strong innings. If the offense were more potent, you could cover up some of the bullpen holes with big leads… that’s not going to happen, especially not against the fine Rays starting pitching.

And I’m not so content with the way Francona has arranged his starters. For Lester to pitch twice, the series will have to go to seven games. It is hard to see the Sox winning this series without two wins from Lester, which means it will have to go seven games for the Sox to win it. That’s just too dicey for me, not with this scrappy Rays team. If they take the Sox to the seventh game, they’re winning it, even with Lester pitching the deciding game.

But, I’m usually wrong about these things. I thought the Sox would lose to the Angels for similar reasons — i.e. the bull pen. Part of the reason they won the ALDS is because of the rest days, which allowed Francona to pitch Papelbon two innings twice. He’s not going to have that luxury in the ALCS, not with seven games in ten days.

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