Monthly Archives: April 2010

There’s a Bull in the Pen

Sunday was a difficult day for me as a fan. I watched a 1-0 deficit as the offense seemed stagnant. I saw a 4-1 lead slip away after a great effort from Wakefield. I died a little inside as the same bullpen loaded the bases in the 10th inning with nobody out, and then went on to let up singles to the next two batters, allowing all 3 runners to score without recording an out. I was given a ray of hope as the Orioles trotted out their closer for his 3rd straight inning, and the rally materialized only to be stomped on right before it was finished.

In all that, I saw something that makes me truly happy, Daniel Bard. I’ve been a Bard fan for a while, and am certainly happy that he is being trusted with our most important non-closer outs. I’m not quite on the “replace Papelbon with Bard” bandwagon yet, but I can absolutely see how down the road this may be a solution. I mainly say this because in what many view as an “off year” for Papelbon last year, he was 38/41 in save opportunities, only three blown, with a 1.85 ERA. I’ll also note that this is tied for the second lowest ERA of his career, the first being his Rookie season as closer, posting a 0.92 ERA. I’m of the mindset to keep Papelbon until he can no longer do the job, because having BOTH Bard and Papelbon only hurts the other team.

Back to Bard though. In the top of the 9th inning, Bard faced 3 batters, and struck them all out. This is always impressive, especially with the 100 MPH fastball lighting up the radar gun. That isn’t what impressed me on this particular day though. With 1 out, Bard faced Adam Jones. With a 1-1 count, Bard threw back to back nasty curveballs for the strike out. (MLB gameday called them sliders, but they sure looked like curves to me.) I was quite happy with this. Bard can throw heat past anyone, and still has strikeout pitches! This will take him a long way in terms of being unpredictable, as hitters can’t simply go to the plate and assume fastball 90% of the time as it seems they do with Papelbon.

He is another Red Sox farm system product that I expect to be part of this regime for many years to come.  With Papelbon not eligible for free agency until 2011, the back end of the bullpen is sure to be solid for the next two years.

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Edit: Bard does it again last night in the first game of the Blue Jays series. He retires all 3 men he faced, allowing one inherited runner to score on a sac fly. I noticed the curve I spoke of did in fact look like much more of a slider. I don’t know if it looked different than the previous game, but the pitch is a slider with some drop to it. If you think about a 12-6 curve, this is a 1:30-7:30 slider. Extra nasty. Papelbon seems to be throwing both the split and slider more as well.

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An Ortiz-less 2011

I would like to start out by defending Ortiz for a moment. I think the scrutiny his every at bat gets due to last year’s slow start is unfair. The large majority of the fan base, media, and analysts seem to be ready to throw in the towel.  After 26 at bats, I think this is absurd. You must give Ortiz at least a month, possibly until mid May, to come around because if he does he is too valuable to let go. I think people are still bitter about a bad start last year and a playoff sweep in the first round. Calm down Red Sox nation, its April, there is plenty of baseball to be played.  26 at bats (or 26 of anything) is a pathetic sample size in the statistics world.

Now, even with the bad start last year, David Ortiz finished the season with 28 HR, and 99 RBI. I would like to think that given whatever mini-slump he is in now, he will break out of and do about the same this year. Then the question is as follows. Do you resign David Ortiz for 2011?

Regardless of what I think the answer should be, I will tell you what the answer will be. No, this is David Ortiz’s last season in a Red Sox uniform. Again, I cannot emphasize enough that my opinion on this is not due to his failure to hit well in the first 8 games of the year. There are 4 main reasons that I believe Ortiz will be departing at the end of the season.

  1. Jeremy Hermida and Mike Lowell. In 2009, the Sox could wait out the Ortiz slump, as their options for replacement were very limited. Our bench players were Nick Green, Jed Lowrie, Rocco Baldelli, Chris Carter, Jon Van Every, and Mark Kotsay. These were not exactly potent offensive forces, with several of them on the DL or in AAA to start the year. Ortiz had no practical replacement options, so they left him there. Jeremy Hermida could not be off to a better start; taking advantage of seemingly every plate appearance he has been given. If this keeps up, I see Hermida being a cornerstone of the team in years to come. I believe Hermida is on a 1-year deal, and I’m not sure the status of the contract rights, but I’m sure if he performs that there will be an effort to keep the 25-year old. Mike Lowell is Mike Lowell. We all know the situation he is in. Terry Francona will be giving both of these guys’ at bats, and he will likely have to use the DH slot to do that. If they are hitting and Ortiz is not, eventually he will lose playing time. Ortiz has two be looking at these two in his rear view mirror and can’t be thrilled about it.
  2. Contract. Ortiz’s contract is up at the end of the year. The Red Sox hold a $12.5 Million option for the 2011 season, and there is no buyout clause. Boston could let him walk without paying him a dime. With concerns surrounding the slump(s), and age, $12.5M is probably not going to happen. The Sox will pass on the option, and this would leave both sides in a position where they would have to negotiate a new deal. I see Theo Epstein aiming in the 1-year, $5 million range, if offering anything at all.
  3. The Slump(s). I said the slump(s) don’t matter right now, and they don’t.  Ortiz could break out tomorrow and have a great season. The problem is the perception, and the talk, is there.  If Ortiz hits .280/32/110 this year, a stint of 4 for 26 at the start of the season will be inconsequential; however the perception of bad starts has been cemented in everyone’s mind. There is no way around it. On opening day 2011, wherever he is, David Ortiz will be asked if he is slumping if he goes 0-4. He will likely have to face these questions in spring training as well. This puts extra pressure on him to hit home runs every game. This has the potential of upsetting the big teddy bear, and can put him in a mindset of struggling, which will actually lead to him struggling.
  4. The direction of the team, pitching and defense. Youth, speed, and some of the more “natural” talents are what are being valued more these days. I realize that Ortiz is a DH, and he has no impact on the pitching or defense, but the fact remains that this team has a different feel to it than it did from 2000-2008. I don’t want to blame it on the steroid era, but I think that is part of it. The whole game is changing, and the big boppers have less of a place if they don’t meet the other aspects of the game.

Any of these reasons on their own may not be enough to get him out, but the union of all of them presents an interesting argument for letting him walk. Given all this, if Ortiz does turn it around in the next week or so, and winds up with that .280 Avg/32 HR/110 RBI  line, I would be for signing him to a 1-year deal, but probably not at his contract option price.

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Opening Day! (Night!)

Hooray for Opening Day! What a fight on Opening Night!

There was a lot of talk about the absurdity of having the Sox and Yankees open the season, especially on a Sunday night. Some of the reasons that I heard arguing against it were as follows;

  • They ruined the “holiday” factor of opening day. People would no longer take off of work/school to spend the day in Boston and see the game. The idea of Opening Night would kill the special feel associated with an opening day game. Especially with Easter being on this particular Sunday, there was a concern that the game would lose some attention.
  • ESPN was the reason the game was moved. Originally scheduled as a Monday day game, this game was moved to Sunday night as part of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Under contract, they reserved the right to move one game to Sunday to start the season, and being Sox/Yanks, it was the big ticket game. Naturally, they chose it. I’m not exactly sure of all the details, but as I understand it, due to the NCAA Women’s tournament having priority to the ESPN broadcast, Sunday Night Baseball was moved to ESPN 2, losing its broadcast rights in the Boston and NY markets. This then seemed silly as ESPN would lose the majority of their viewership.
  • Red Sox vs. Yankees? Really? These teams play about 19 times a year, why do they need to start off the season facing each other. The game means very little, and it would make more sense for the teams to meet first in May when they are both a little bit more into the flow of the season.

I was almost on board with these arguments. Then I watched last night’s game, and now I am completely okay with the move. My counter arguments;

  • Even with Easter, this was still a holiday for me. I agree, it may have detracted from the day if I was going to the game, but I wasn’t that lucky. Instead, I woke up, put on my lucky Red Sox undergarments, (what else says fandom like a nice pair of Red Sox boxers), and went to church. After church, I changed into my full Sox outfit. Red Sox t-shirt, White Home Jersey (#3), and Red baseball cap with traditional B logo. Blue brim. Appropriately faded with about 10 years of wear on it. I still had an Easter dinner, and I don’t think the game interfered with that at all. I was excited all day, and by the time the game started I was ecstatic. The buildup was great. I watched the whole game, stayed up to late, and was tired at work. It was totally worth it.
  • ESPN would have had this issue no matter what game was selected. I don’t get the argument. The fact is ESPN was taken. ESPN 2 had issues no matter what team/network they had to deal with. Why not select the game with the best chance of viewership out of market? Aside from that, I, along with much of the working world, would not be watching the game if it was this afternoon.
  • I use your point against you. These teams play 19 times a year! Who cares if three of them are right out of the gate? The two teams can still meet several times in August and September.  Last night’s game was a back and forth fantastic game. I could not be more amped up for the season.

As for the event itself, wow. It left me in a euphoric daze, at a loss for words combined with the excitement of a thrilling comeback. The opening ceremonies were very well done, and not overly drawn out. Bringing Pedro out from behind the green monster was great, though the song choice was a bit strange. They probably could have done something with a little more pump-up factor. Joshua Sacco delivering the miracle speech was quite possibly the funniest thing I have ever seen. It was not tasteless, only because he is a kid, and he delivered it so well. I didn’t see any clips of the Yankee dugout, but I have to believe even they were smiling. It was classic.

And now to applaud you, the fan. I could not have been prouder of Red Sox Nation than when Mike Lowell got a standing ovation that delayed the reading of the roster. Mike, I hope you felt appreciated last night, because we still love you. Give us your all and we will support you, even if it is a limited role.

Neil Diamond, what was with that jacket? You were 17 when the Dodgers moved. Still holding a grudge? Regardless, it was great. I’m very happy NESN showed that and didn’t just cut to commercial.  Stephen Tyler on the other hand, I could have done without. You really were not that good, and then you creepily almost went full bore into a lip locked kiss with your daughter. It looked like she had to pull away just to avoid that from happening.

Well that’s enough for now. This post is long enough. I will analyze play more down the road, especially after Tuesday’s game as I have tickets!

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