Miserable Musings

The Sox are one game up in the Wild Card race with 3 to play. And a day after Jacoby Ellsbury’s dramatic home-run that will hopefully inject some life into this team, all people are talking about is John Lackey’s post-game tirade against the press.

For those who don’t know, Lackey — who was seen swearing and showing up his manager on television when Terry Francona removed him from the game last night — went on a tirade against the media after the game because a TMZ reporter texted him 30 minutes prior to the game to ask him about filing for divorce from his wife, who is currently battling cancer.

Now Lackey, who continues to make Carl Everett look like Albert Einstein, has created a distraction in the final days of a season for a much-hyped team that is on the edge of crumbling. He may be the only player in Red Sox history who could make fans think JD Drew isn’t so bad. Between rolling his eyes when teammates don’t make plays, his historically terrible season, and cursing out his manager (who has stood by him all season) for taking him out of a close, must-win game given said historically terrible season, Lackey is making a strong case for most hated Sox player by Sox fans ever.

While we’re on the subject of Lackey, I know a lot of people think his filing for divorce is a terrible thing and feel so bad for his wife. And it is a terrible thing. But don’t feel bad for her because of this. That’s what you get when you marry somebody strictly for money. How do I know she married him strictly for money? Well, then, did she marry him for his good looks, his intellect, or his charming personality?

Meanwhile, this Red Sox team is arguably the least enjoyable Red Sox team of the last 16 years. Sure, the 2001 team had a lot of selfish jerks and that team imploded late in the season. But, at that point, the Sox still hadn’t won the World Series yet, and they had fought through an incredible number of injuries to key players like Pedro, Nomar and Tek to stay competitive until September. The 2006 team also imploded late in the season, but they were competitive for most of that season and we got to watch Papi’s push for the team home run record. But this team, with it’s huge payroll, superstar line-up and 100-win expectations were SUPPOSED to dominate this year. But right from the opening bell and their 2-10 start, this team has been a terrible disappointment, and hard to root for. Still . . .

Go Sox!

What Might Have Been

Sox fans have a tendency to be overreactionary every April, when there have been so few games for the passionate fan base to digest. Every win and you hear people claiming we’re winning it all this year; Every loss and they lament this team is going nowhere and question where management went wrong. This April, given the team’s high expectations, even the most level-headed fans had to cringe at the team’s 2 and 10 start. But, alas, it was April . . .

I’ve always said you can’t start to judge a team fairly until it’s at least mid-May. And now that we’ve passed that point, those early struggles are beginning to fade into memory as the true potential of this team is starting to shine. Despite that difficult start, the team is now just a half-game behind the Yankees and 2.5 behind the surging Devil Rays (you’ll always be the “Devil Rays”, Tampa). True, Carl Crawford has yet to find his stride, and Daisuke and Lackey just went on the DL. But no team in baseball has dominant 4 and 5 starters, so the Sox should be able to bide their time. It’s certainly better to right these guys in May then late-September. And we know Crawford is too good a player to continue to scuffle like this. It’s May. And the outlook for 2011 is still bright.

—–

The Cubs come into Fenway this weekend for the first time since the 1918 World Series. Let me just say upfront that I don’t like the Cubs. I don’t feel any kinship with them. Don’t like their fanbase. Didn’t like Harry Carey’s singing voice. And, honestly, I’m not nearly as excited about this series as I thought I would be.

Sure, the history isn’t lost on me. But, really, this is just a regular season series against a another team, and you just hope the Sox can beat them up and keep on rolling.

However, I can’t help but think about what might have been in 2003. In what was one of the greatest Octobers in baseball history, the Sox and Cubs were poised to meet in a historic World Series. The Sox almost had Game 7 against the Yankees won when Grady Little’s ineptitude reared its empty head; and the Cubs were just 5 outs away when Bartman interfered with foul ball and the Cubs went on to complete an epic collapse.

But what a Series it might have been. Both historic franchises; both with passionate fanbases; both their league’s face of baseball futility for more than 85 years. Regardless of how it played out, it would have been amazing to watch.

CRAWDADDY!

The Red Sox have signed Carl Crawford, and you’d have to be a lobotomy patient or a Yankee fan not to like this deal.

Just days after trading for Adrian Gonzalez, the Sox signed the best position player on the market. And, just like that, inserted themselves as favorites heading into this season. In case you forgot, this is the team that won 89 games last year . . . without Gonzalez and Crawford, and without Youkilus, Pedroia and Ellsbury. AND, with Beckett and Lackey having sub-par years.

Forget losting Beltre and Martinez. Beltre’s entire miserable career has been a classic case of monumental underachievement. His best two seasons: Free agent years. Some poor sucker is going to sign him and condemn his team to mediocrity. Victor Martinez? A very good hitter, but a sub-par catcher whose best days are already behind him.

Forget the money. The Sox aren’t suddenly jacking up their payroll. In fact, with the money they had coming off the books, the price they’re paying for Gonzalez and Crawford is essentially a wash. And they have more money – including JD Drew’s ridiculous contract – coming off next season. This isn’t a case of the Sox suddenly spending a lot. This is a case of good fiscal management.

Forget that this team is lefty-heavy. Yeah, they have a lot of lefties. But, both Gonzalez and Crawford have good numbers against lefties. And, as mentioned earlier, the Sox have two right-handed MVP candidates coming back into their lineup in Youkilus and Pedroia.

Forget about the Yankees signing Cliff Lee. The Crawford deal appears to have made the Yankees overreact, and go up to a seven-year offer for Lee, which they stated they didn’t want to do. Seven-year deals for position players are one thing, as they are historically much more durable and consistent. Pitchers, on the other hand, are much less predictable, even when they are healthy. And they are always one-pitch away from a blown-rotator cuff. AND, while Lee has enjoyed an excellent couple of years, he’s also been plagued by injuries during his career. Seven years is too much for any pitcher. Don’t be surprised if Lee is good for the first two or three years of this contract, then is an anchor for the rest of it. And, even with a good Lee, you still have to like how the Red Sox starting rotation matches up with the Yankees, especially if Lackey and Beckett return to form.

Forget about the bullpen. Like it or not, it’s always a crapshoot. How often in recent years have we seen the Sox and other teams stock up on great relievers in the offseason, only to have them struggle in the season. Middle-relief is almost impossible to predict. You do your best, then make adjustments along the way. Throughout his tenure as Sox GM, Theo has had his issues with the bullpen, but he’s also shown a knack for being able to improve it during the season (last year not withstanding). The starting core is great, the back end with Paps and Bard is very good, and the middle WILL come together.

Considering how much better this 89-win Red Sox team looks, is it crazy to dream of a 100-win season already?

Ramblings On The Lost Season & Other Things

Last year it finally happened. After decades of passionately waiting for The Year, we’ve now had two of them in the last six, and been almost there most of the other years. With so much winning, many of us Sox fans have finally become complacent, downright bored with winning.

It was hard to get up for the 2010 season. Going in, it seemed like the same routine. We’d be good, and still in it come September. So many of us found ourselves in wait-and-see mode, just waiting for the eventual meaningful games to come, and having a hard time getting excited the rest of the year. That was certainly the case with me — I barely blogged at all. And I know I’m not the only one. NESN’s ratings were down enough to make John Henry break a sweat. And it took some creative counting to keep that so-called consecutive sellout streak alive.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll take complacent success over years of meaningless mediocrity any day of the weak. Still, I couldn’t help but envy fans of such teams as the Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, and San Diego Padres last year who got to cheer with meaning throughout the season . . . a season that really meant something to them.

Last year should have been an exciting year for Sox fans. To say the team was plagued by injuries would be a GIGANTIC understatement. Youk, Pedroia, Ellsbury and many more missed huge portions of the season. They should have struggled to be a .500 team. Still, they won 89 games . . . in the AL East! It was an amazing season. And Terry Francona was robbed in the AL Manager of the Year voting.

Now we move on to 2011. That team that won 89 games now gets Youk, Pedrioa and Ellsbury back. If that isn’t enough to put them in the playoff hunt, you have to believe that Lackey and Beckett will almost certainly perform better this season. On top of that, the Sox FINALLY land Adrian Gonzalez. If that’s not enough to get you excited for the 2011 season, consider they’ll be playing 18 games against a Tampa Bay team that is still strong, but won’t be the powerhouse it has been in recent years. AND, there is still plenty more offseason remaining for the Sox to land another bat.

In fact, things look so good for the Sox, us fans can probably take the season off and wait for those meaningful games late in the season and October that are certainly headed our way.

By the way, Jason Werth’s contract is more proof that some major league general manager’s aren’t any smarter than your middle-of-the-road fantasy baseballer.

The Manny Dilemma

When Manny Ramirez was a member of the Red Sox, he caused fans a lot of headaches. Now, as a member of the Dodgers, he’s still causing Sox fans headaches.

Ramirez returns to Fenway Park as a member of the Dodgers this weekend. And, as was often the case each season of his Red Sox tenure, many fans aren’t sure whether to boo him or cheer him.

During his time in Boston, Ramirez gave us plenty of reasons to loathe him: phantom injuries that wouldn’t show up on tests but would cause him to miss games; not hustling, at times not even running, demanding trades, arguing with teammates and pushing down traveling secretaries, and, most of all, seeming to not care.

Of course, he gave us plenty of reasons to cheer. Along with David Ortiz, he was part of what statistically was the best 3-4 hitting combo since Gehrig and Ruth. AND, he just happened to be the MVP of the first Red Sox World Series in 86 years.

Ultimately, he was the worst kind of baseball player — the kind that quits on his teammates and his fans — and at the same time our Baseball Jesus, saving us from 86 years of torture.

So now, just like years ago, we don’t know whether to boo him or cheer him.

Fans booed Johnny Damon when he came back as a Yankee. But his sins were much less. All he did was go for the money as a free agent, just like 99.9 percent of all other athletes. And just like you’d do in the same situation. This despite all his heroics in the 2004 playoffs.

Johnny shouldn’t have been booed. But to me, Manny and his quiting present and much more difficult case.

Come game time tomorrow, I don’t think Manny should be booed. Face it, without him we don’t win two World Series. And maybe it’s easy now to take those for granted. But for those of us who REALLY remember what it was like before 2004, we’ll never take those for granted.

However, Manny quit, and quit many times on this team. He should never receive a standing ovation in Fenway Park, just like he should never have his number retired.

Just polite applause please, and then cheer for him to quit on the Dodgers.

Fall Championships > Spring Championships

Dan:

These are strange days for your Boston Schizophrenic Sox. One day they are getting swept by the lowly Orioles . . . the next they look like world-beaters against the Anaheim Close To Los Angeles In California Near Baja Angels. One day (actually, most lately) Big Papi looks more lost than Kate and Sawyer . . . the next he’s swatting home runs again. One day, arms like Beckett and Lackey are getting worked over like a fat hooker in Bangkok . . . the next they look like the guys the Sox expected when they threw truckloads of money at them this spring.

There’s no telling what you’ll get when they step onto the field.

The only thing that’s for sure is it is a long, long season. Over the past 15 years, the Red Sox have won a lot of April championships . . . just two of which translated into World Series rings. We know they have a greating starting rotation. The bullpen arms will most likely come around. And they should score more runs with that lineup. Maybe not a ton . . . but more than they’re getting now. As the season progresses, they’ll be in the hunt. We know the Yankees will be there, too. The big question looming — the monster in the closet — is: Just how good are these Tampa Bay Rays?

My Prediction: Pain

Dan:

Finally . . . FINALLY . . . the 2010 season is upon us. This means it’s also time for that futile exercise that is predicting the upcoming season. Like most of us, I can sometimes let out a hardy “BOOYAH!” when picks go right; more often, I’m left scratching my head saying “Didn’t see that one coming.” But for some reason, it is still fun. So, here are this year’s brilliant picks:

AL EAST
1. Yankees
2. Red Sox (Wild Card)
3. Rays
4. Orioles
5. Blue Jays

The great thing about this season is almost every division is wide open. Our own AL East is no different, and I could easily see each of the top three teams winning the division. At the end of the year, the top three teams might only be seperated by a few games . . . and although I see the wildcard coming from this division, that parity might make it otherwise. The Yankees have it all — good rotation, bullpen, and a fearsome offense led by two titans in A-Rod and Texeira. New York has the inside track. Expect the Rays to have a bounce-back year, ala the 2007 Indians and 2009 Rockies. They have a good rotation, and I expect a breakout year from David Price. They have a good line-up, featuring Longoria emerging as one of the game’s best players and Carl Crawford playing for a contract. And they have youth on their side. I originally penciled them in as second-place, but . . . . . I just can’t help but love the Red Sox rotation. They have a good bullpen, and I think their offense will be better than expected (although fans will hate how much Cameron strikes out), but their rotation is out of this world. Sure they have Beckett and Lester, and they added Lackey. But remembering how good Daisuke was at the end of last year, I see a very good season in store for him. And, given Buchholz’s age and development, this will likely be a breakout season for him. Given that, I can’t put the Sox at third. But this could go a number of ways. No matter what, it is sure to be exciting.

AL Central
1. Twins
2. White Sox
3. Tigers
4. Indians
5. Royals

The Twins always find a way to win, and with two superstars in Morneau and Mauer entering the prime of their careers, they are downright scary. Even with Joe Nathan going down, the Twins should handily win this division, but – again – probably fall short in October.

AL West
1. Angels
2. Mariners
3. Rangers
4. Athletics

One of those wide-open divisions, a case can be made for any of these teams. But, at the end of the day, I still think the Angels — even though they no longer have Lackey and Guerrero — have too much overall talent. The Mariners have a GREAT pitching staff, especially if Erik Bedard comes back strong, which I think he will. But overall, I don’t see them hitting enough. The Rangers can hit, and they had some young pitchers step up last year, but will they step up or step back in 2010. I think they’ll step back. The A’s have a good young staff, but they’re not there yet.

NL East
1. Phillies
2. Marlins (Wild Card)
3. Mets
4. Braves
5. Nationals

The Phils have had a good run, and adding Roy Halladay was a master stroke. Expect them to win again, and Halladay will be dominant in the NL (he’s my pick for Cy Young this year). The upstart Marlins will challenge the Phils, and certainly be in the Wild Card hunt. They have excellent young pitching and good young bats, led by Hanley Ramirez. The Mets remind me of the Red Sox during the final days of the Dan Duquette regime — the ingredients are good, but the soup is bad.

NL Central
1. Cardinals
2. Reds
3. Brewers
4. Cubs
5. Astros
6. Pirates

Each year it seems I pick the Cardinals to tumble, and they almost always prove me wrong. This year, they look to be far and away the most well-balanced, talented team in the division. The Reds have an exciting young team and will surprise people, ala the 2007 Rockies and 2008 Rays. The Brewers have offense, but I’m not a believer in their pitching. The Cubs? Whatever . . .

NL West
1. Rockies
2. Dodgers
3. Diamondbacks
4. Giants
5. Padres

One of those wide-open divisions, the only certainty is the Padres will finish dead last. Other than that, anyone can win the division. The Rockies have a ton of young talent, and Ubaldo Jimenez is ready to emerge as one of the game’s best pitchers. The Dodgers may have the most talent in the division, but I’m not sure about their soup (see the Mets). The Diamondbacks should have been much, much better last year. A young team that went to the NLCS in 2008, expect a bounce-back year if Brandon Webb is healthy. This could be a dangerous team. The Giants have good pitching, but not much else.

World Series:
Red Sox over Phillies

Yep, call me a homer. But, like I said, I love the Red Sox rotation, especially if Daisuke and Buchholz step up as I think they will. Of course, I also said I wouldn’t be surprised if they miss the playoffs. BUT . . . if they do make it to October . . . I see that rotation carrying them all the way, even past the improved Phils.

Nomar, If Only . . .

Dan:

I know I’m gonna catch a lot of heat for this, but I’m gonna say it anyway: Nomar, if only you’d stayed away from the ‘roids. What might have been . . .

Don’t take this as bashing him. It’s not.

Well, maybe it is, but it isn’t meant to be mean, directly, anyway. You see, ten years ago, Nomar Garciaparra was my favorite player. Besides being arguably the game’s best hitter, and being enormously clutch in the ’98 and ’99 playoffs for the Sox, Nomar also seemed to be a great guy. He always seemed friendly on camera, had his head on straight. He seemed to appreciate the tradition of the Sox, speaking fondly of Johnny Pesky and becoming emotional when Ted Williams passed.

Heck, during his time with the Sox I showed him the ultimate respect, changing my softball uniform number from 9 to 5.

But then it all went south.

When contract negotiations rolled around prior to 2004, Nomar seemed greedy, turning down a 4-year, $60 million deal. Did he really want to stay here? Or was he just another player going for the biggest buck? He turned surly. Seeming to mope and complain all the time. Stories began to leak out about him being tired of Sox fans’ obsession with the team, and how he wanted to play elsewhere; stories about not getting along with other teammates. After the Sox stormed back from being down 0-2 to the A’s in the 2003 ALDS to tie the series 2-2, Nomar reportedly got on the bus to head to Oakland and said “Why is everyone so excited? They’re (the fans) just gonna rip us when we lose.”

And then there was that game in New York. While Derek Jeter was diving face-first into the stands, Nomar sat pouting on the bench, refusing to pinch hit.

Of course, his reported bad attitude isn’t the cause of his premature decline. That can most likely be attributed to steroids.

When Nomar was drafted by the Sox, he was described as an excellent defensive shortstop who could also hit some. When he debuted with the Sox, he was as string-bean with all the muscularity of a 10-year-old girl. In baseball, however, you don’t need huge muscles to be a great hitter. And Nomar could hit, winning consecutive batting titles in 1999 and 2000. His .372 in 2000 was the highest by a right-handed batter since Joe DiMaggio. His range was excellent, and the throws he made from deep in the hole were spectacular.

But then he bulked up. We all know about the 2001 SI cover. We all know what was going on in baseball during that time. We all know as he grew bulkier, his range slowed, and he started suffering from multiple injuries. Bulky, muscular guys aren’t meant to play shortstop.

And here we are. Nomar is retiring at the young age of 36. A one-time shoe-in for Cooperstown, not to mention having his number retired in Fenway, he ended up flaming out like a shooting star, and now will likely receive neither accolade.

That kid sure could play back then. What might have been . . .

Spring Has Sprung

Dan:

Spring has sprung. Last week, pitchers and catchers reported for spring training, and this week it’s the position players. And so begins the long, often torturous journey toward the beginning of the season.

Sure, now it’s good. After a winter of starving for baseball, we now get our fill of stories about guys like Big Papi and Victor Martinez. But this will soon dry up, like it does every spring. The stories about the main players will soon all be told, and baseball reporters desperate for more articles out of spring training will be feeding us features on any 29-year-old prospect still hoping to someday make the bigs as a mediocre, junktime-eating middle reliever. We get a brief rush when actual baseball games begin again, even though we end up watching a glorified Pawtucket game. Then that gets old fast, and we’re left waiting, desperately for the actual season to begin.

But I’ll take it. It’s baseball, and, like everyone else, I’ll devour every Sox article I can get, and look forward to those first few spring training games, when all seems right with the world and better days are right around the corner.

End of the Offseason

Dan:

Well, that was interesting.

At the beginning of this offseason — right after being swept out of the playoffs, thanks in large part to an impotent offense — the path the Sox needed to take this winter seemed clear. They needed to give their offense a boost by bringing back Jason Bay and acquiring a big bat, namely Adrian Gonzalez. Everything else — starting pitching, bullpen — seemed fine.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, the Sox seemed to go in the opposite direction, surprisingly signing elite pitching free agent John Lackey, and then bringing in a collection of misfits and cast-offs mostly aimed at improving their defense.

Despite all the hype surrounding his signing, make no mistake — Marco Scutaro is no star. Before last year’s peculiar breakout season, which came as Scutaro approaches his mid-30s (ala Gary Matthews Jr.), Scutaro has always been a bit role player in the majors. I have a hard time believing — a really hard time believing — that he can suddenly be a serious contributor on an elite baseball team. His defense might be good, but I’ll believe his offense when I see it. I maintain we might have been better bringing Alex Gonzalez back.

The Sox other signings, however, are intriguing. I’ve never been an Adrian Beltre fan, as he has been a collosal underachiever his whole career. However, playing for a contract, in Fenway park, at cheap money, and with his unquestionable defensive skills, Beltre brings a ton of upside and potential to this team.

I love the Jeremy Hermidia signing, as he has always had immense potential, but has struggled after coming to the majors probably much too early. Still very young, he has a chance to fly under the radar as a backup in Fenway, and could realistically become a break-out star.

And while I hate his strikeouts, I love the athleticism that Mike Cameron brings to this team. With him in center and Ellsbury in left, that’s one talented outfield that will be fun to watch. The defense and athleticism that guys like Cameron, Beltre, and platooner Bill Hall bring to this team could be a shot of excitement, much like the addition of Orlando Cabrera gave this team in 2004.

This — plus what is easily now the best pitching staff on the planet — should make this an intriguing, fun team to watch this season . . . even though the offseason didn’t go according to MY plan.

Pitchers and catchers, I’m ready for ya.

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