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What a Choke!

What a weekend for sports! The Boston Celtics knocked off the Cleveland Cavaliers, in LeBron’s last chance before his upcoming free agency to show what he is made of. The Boston Bruins just died in a game 7 that was eerily similar to the series, as they went up 3-0 only to blow it and lose 4-3. The Celtics then went on to win game 1 in Orlando, at times dominating the Magic. Oh yeah, there was some baseball played too, but it wasn’t that exciting in comparison. With some rather big collapses happening, I decided to reflect on some of the biggest (as well as some of my personal favorite) collapses and chokes in history. With a lot of discussion about chokes in sports, I will start with what I used as a definition.

Choke [chohk] (verb,choked, chok·ing, noun) -A choke is a team failing to execute in a situation where they should be more than just a favorite to win. This often occurs in a situation where any par performance would have resulted in a sound victory. Some sort of failure on the team to execute is required. A choke may be viewed in the context of a single game, a series, or a season.

And with that, my top 13.

#13) 2010 NCAA Tournament: Kansas University loses to Northern Iowa in 2nd round

Kansas was not only the favorite to win this game but one of two favorites to win the tournament. Over 80% of ESPN Tournament Bracket players had either Kansas or Kentucky winning. Neither made the final four, but Kentucky wasn’t eliminated in the second round by a 9-seed. Brackets were decimated.

#12) 2007 ALCS: Cleveland Indians

Cleveland loves their collapses, as they were unable to hold a 3-1 series lead against the Boston Red Sox. For a team with 19 game winners C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, as well as future Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, this team was completely unable to close, allowing the Red Sox to steamroll themselves to their 2nd world series in four years.

#11) 1964 Phillies Phold

After a magical season including Jim Bunning’s perfect game (first in the NL since 1880), the Phightin’ Phils had a 6.5 game lead with 12 to play. After losing 10 games in a row, with the first seven at home, the Phillies had sunk to 3rd place, and would not be a part of any postseason activity. Phail.

#10) 2007/2008 Regular Season: New York Mets

The Mets have recently become the poster child for late season failures. In 2007, the Mets had a 7 game lead on September 12th, with 17 games left to play. The Mets only won 5 of those 17. They lost 5 of 6 to the 4th place Nationals. This one went down to the last game of the season, only to have Tom Glavine let up seven runs in the first culminating in a great collapse.

The Mets then went out and signed two time Cy Young Award Winner Johan Santana, figuring that this would compensate for any weaknesses associated with their collapse. They went into 2008 as surefire favorites to win the NL East, only to be once again eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of season. This was just the beginning of the issues for the Mets as they would plunge to 4th place and a 70 win season in 2009, a team that was once again predicted to contend for a playoff run.

#9) 2007-2008 Pursuit of Perfection: 18-1 New England Patriots

You may note that in my definition above I said that a choke may be defined as a season and I would like to make that distinction here. This was a choked season which is not to be confused with a choked game. The only reason that they make this list was the potential implications of being the greatest NFL team of all time by obtaining a perfect 19-0 record. The Super Bowl itself does not quite qualify to me as a choke. Sure, the Patriots were up 14-3 going into the 4th quarter, but the Giants’ 14 point run bordered on the miraculous. “The Helmet Catch” was a freak play, something one could probably not reproduce in many attempts.  It turned out to be a game where the clock operators were under as much scrutiny as any coach’s decision. There didn’t seem to be a failure on the part of the Patriots to win the game, but more like a spectacular drive by the Giants to put them over the top. The NFL, probably more any other sport, is one where any team can win on any given day. For this reason, I categorize failure to capitalize on the pursuit of perfection as a choke and not the game itself.

#8) 1942 Red Wings / 1975 Penguins

Any team that has ever been up 3-0 in a series and doesn’t win certainly falls into the choke categories. Both of these teams lost to the higher seeded team in the end, after failing to complete their respective underdog runs. For this reason, they get only slightly more credit than #7.

#7) 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals (Hockey): Boston Bruins

They had four chances to beat out the somewhat injured and defeated Flyers, who became only the third hockey team to accomplish such a feat. I thought about ranking this higher, but let us not forget that the Bruins were not a very good team to begin with this season. Two months ago, there were questions as to them even making the playoffs. The Flyers were a lower seed than the Bruins, making this slightly worse than #8. Give it five years for all to settle in, and this will be grouped in the same category as the Wings and Penguins.

#6) 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals (Basketball): Cleveland Cavaliers

In a collapse that left LeBron James without a title in Cleveland, the Celtics may have not only made headlines for themselves, but they may have just cost LeBron a huge part of his legacy.  Cleveland was his city and his team. After numerous opportunities to make a championship run and numerous failures, one can accuse coaching, front office management, and the players themselves.

The fact is that LeBron will take the brunt of this, and Cleveland will suffer if he leaves. For a team that was the best home team in Basketball for several years, they squandered their last two home games. Boston may have earned this win with spectacular defense and a tremendously elevated level of play, but the fact remains that LeBron choked in his abilities to bring a championship to the Cavs.

#5) 1978 Red Sox

Boston held a 14 game lead over the New York Yankees, a lead that would dwindle only to be eventually erased after being swept in a four game set by New York, now referred to as The Boston Massacre. The Yankees forced a one game playoff tie breaker where Bucky Dent, who had hit an average of three HR’s per season in his career; hit a 3 run homer to lead the Yankees to a 5-4 victory over the Sox. The Yankees went on to win the World Series. Bucky ******* Dent.

#4) 1990-1994 Buffalo Bills

The only thing worse than being 0-4 in Super Bowl appearances (Vikings, Bills) is doing it in four straight years. The Bills made their first appearance in the Super Bowl in 1991, only to lose by one point to the New York Giants. They would repeat their Super Bowl run in the next three years losing to the Redskins, and then in back to back years to the Cowboys.

#3) 2003 NLCS: Chicago Cubs

Similar to #11, the Cubs squandered a 3-1 series lead. What makes this much worse than the Indians, was that in game 6, the Cubs had a 3-0 lead behind Matt Clement’s three hitter with just five outs to go. Lifetime Cubs fan Steve Bartman interfered with a foul ball off the bat of Louis Castillo, preventing Moises Alou from making the catch. The thread had been pulled, and the unraveling began. Bartman was escorted out of the stadium for his own safety, and has been ridiculed ever since. The Curse of the Billy Goat lives on.

#2) 1986 World Series: Boston Red Sox

It was game 6 and the Red Sox had a 3-2 series lead. After scoring two in the top of the 10th, the Red Sox had a 5-3 lead with two out. They were one out from their first championship since 1918, and one out from defeating the curse of the Bambino. A few hits later it was 5-4. Enter Mookie Wilson. Mookie Wilson was at the plate and fought out a ten pitch at bat. On the 7th pitch of the at bat, Bob Stanley’s wild pitch tied the game at five. Pitch number ten to Wilson was the infamous grounder through the legs of Bill Buckner, scoring Ray Knight to win the ball game. There is no guarantee that had Buckner fielded the ball that they would have won, however their inability to close out this game, as well as game 7, lands them in the #2 spot all time. I refuse to lower this on the list on the basis that the “curse” has been broken, or that Boston has more or less forgiven Buckner. At the time this was an epic collapse, and it should remain so when talking about it.

#1) 2004 ALCS: New York Yankees

The biggest collapse in sports history, as well as my personal favorite, was the New York Yankees failing to close out the Boston Red Sox after a 3-0 series lead with home field advantage. With a lead going into the 9th inning of game 4, Kevin Millar led off with a walk, off of arguably the best closer of all time, Mariano Rivera. Pinch runner Dave Roberts was Boston’s personal savior that night. The entire world knew that Roberts was stealing second, and after several pickoff attempts he went on the first pitch Rivera sent home. Safe.

This was the single turning point, as Bill Mueller would single him in for the tie. David Ortiz would then hit a two run shot in the 12th, giving the Sox their first win in the series. This was just a taste of what was coming. Rivera would blow the save again in game 5, this time with some help from Tom Gordon. Boston went on to win this game in the 14th where David Ortiz was the walk-off star again singling in Damon. Curt Shilling would pitch the “Bloody Sock” game in game 6 in Yankee Stadium, and the Boston bats beat up the Yankees in game 7 to cap the greatest comeback ever. Everything made this series epic. It was Sox/Yanks, it was Rivera, it was David Ortiz, it was long games ending well after midnight, it was the lovable idiots taking down the evil empire, and it was certainly the biggest choke ever.


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Lackey Lacking Nothing

For the 2nd time in three games, I had the privilege of going to Fenway Park (Right Field Box, Section 1, Row D, Seat 3.) It was another great game in a completely different way than Monday was. I was able to get down to Fenway much earlier, and enjoy some pre-game excitement. After wandering around a little, we made it to Jerry Remy’s. The baseball gods smiled on me from above as they opened up a seat right at the window in front. It was pretty fun, being able to watch the street action and bar at the same time.

I made it to the park just in time for Nomar’s ceremony. I found it interesting that it meant more to me to see Brian Daubach, Lou Merloni, and Trot Nixon. I was very excited when Trot came out, as was the rest of Fenway judging by the ovation. It was nice to see him (Nomar) honored, and they did a good job at keeping it short and sweet. I expected a long drawn out event, but it was over quickly and they got on with the game in a reasonable fashion. On top of that all, Nomar’s first pitch was classic. That is something I will not forget, as he made it so unique to him and what I remember from his days playing for us.

It was a very quick game, especially since I had just been calibrated to the near four hour slugfest that was Monday night. This game had a brisk pace to it, as Lackey was moving through hitters very efficiently. Lackey certainly deserved a win for this one only allowing 2 hits and 2 walks over 7 innings of work. Lackey just dominated his old team, and made them look silly on quite a few swings. Lackey got his ERA under 4 in this outing (3.89) which is very nice to see after some of the big ERA’s we saw early this year. Lester was able to accomplish this in his last start as well.

Dustin Pedroia had his typical scrappy fantastic defense, and David Ortiz hit a home run, keeping me from calling for his benching for just a little longer. Beltre also had a HR, his second of the season, both of which were at my games this week! Bard and Papelbon were forceful in their slamming of the door, always nice to see.

I was awfully surprised to see Pinero come out for the 6th, as the Sox did a great job of getting his pitch count way up. For 8 hits and 3 walks, he did a good job (or the Red Sox did a poor job) in only allowing 2 runs.

The Red Sox are back to a .500 record, and look to have gained some momentum going into the Yankee series this weekend. ERA’s are sinking, and the offense has picked up a little. This team still has a lot of work to do but I do feel like they are coming together. Before that ugly sweep in Baltimore the Sox were in a 7 of 9 run. Now they have won 3 in a row. There is talent and promise on this team and there is no reason to think they can’t do something big in 2010.

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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.


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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Hold up!

One of my favorite, most underrated statistics in baseball, is the hold. I run a fantasy league every year, and Holds are always a statistic that I add to the league. I feel it give some validation to a middle reliever and counts accomplishments the way wins do for a pitcher or saves for a closer. Middle relievers aren’t usually factors in decisions, unless they blow it or the offense just happens to come alive while they are pitching. As a result the W-L record of a reliever isn’t really an important bit of information to have.

That’s why the hold is great. It’s a middle relievers save. The hold is a relatively young statistic, maybe 9 years or so, but I think it’s definition could use a little revamping.

A hold is currently defined the same way a save is, except that the pitcher does not finish the game, and that your team does in fact win. A pitcher must record at least 1 out to get a hold.

1) Enter’s the game with a 3 run lead or less, leaves game with lead.
2) Enter’s game with tying run in the on deck circle, leaves game with lead.
3) Pitches 3 innings, regardless of lead, leaves game with lead.

I think that there should be a 4th condition in which a hold may be earned. Tie games. Last night the Phillies and Mets went 12 innings before the Mets eventually won it. I think there were 6 pitchers that did their job to the quality that I expect when I think a reliever should be getting a hold.

JC Romero, Brad Lidge, and Rudy Seanez pitched the 8th, 9th, and 10th innings respectively for the Phillies. Each pitcher pitched 1 full inning and allowed zero runs.

Billy Wagner, Joe Smith, and Scott Schoeneweis pitched the 9th, 10th and 11th innings respectively for the Mets. Each pitcher pitched and inning or more (1.0, 1.1, and 1.1 IP), and allowed zero runs.

None of these pitchers factored in the decision, as it was a tie game when they entered, and when they left. I feel that they should be awarded a hold for this performance. My proposal for the 4th condition on a hold is…

4) A reliever enters the game with a tie score, and does not allow any runs (inherited or not). The pitcher records at least one out and leaves the game still tied. The pitcher may not be involved in the decision for this hold to count.

This would increase the frequency of holds a little bit, but in the essence of what I think a hold should be, I don’t think it needs to be defined strictly by the constraints of what a save is. Those 6 pitchers each held the game in the state it was in and gave their team a chance to win. They should be credited for it.

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Offseason Updates

I apologize to those who have been checking for updates and haven’t seen any in a while. I have been following everything in baseball, I just have not had time to write about it. In any event, I thought I’d do a little catching up. Mitchell Report I’d like to start by expressing my huge excitement that nothing in the Mitchell report tainted in any way the Red Sox World Series titles. For those who don’t know, the only connections that the Red Sox had to the report were Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, Brendan Donnelly, Eric Gagne, Jose Canseco, Paxton Crawford, Jeremy Giambi, Steve Woodward, Josias Manzanillo, Chris Donnels, Mike Lansing, Kent Merker, and Mike Stanton.Donnelly and Gagne were the only members of either World Series team. Donnelly was injured for the majority of the season, and clearly nobody can make the argument that the 2007 Red Sox won because Gagne allegedly juiced. In any event, both players were in the report when the players were elsewhere. Clemens is still fighting his name in the report, but regardless of how that turns out, he hasn’t been a Sox player in long enough, nor has he been since the years he was allegedly involved. On a side note, Curt Schilling really needs to keep his mouth shut on this one. I don’t need to hear that he is disappointed in Clemens. Unless Schill knows something that we don’t, leave it be, it’s not his place to speak publicly about it. With little to no major contributions from any other players, the Red Sox and the Mitchell report will likely never be closely related, and probably never talked about together. Thankfully the Sox are clean on this one, and I would like to believe they still run a clean organization. Offseason MovesAs I noted in my end of season post, the 2008 Red Sox will look much like they did in 2007, except improved. (I know, it’s great to think they are lined up to be BETTER.)The resigning of Curt Schilling and Mike Lowell to 1 and 3 year contracts respectively will help our club greatly. Curt brings veteran leadership and will help the young guys regardless of his on field performance. Without the status of the “ace” in 2008, I think Schillings pitching will be much more appreciated this year, and if he goes 15-8, I’ll be very happy with 15 wins, much like my year in, year out attitude with Wakefield. I expect him to miss a few starts this year, but I’m okay with that as it will allow someone to step up for a few spot starts.I view the Lowell signing as even more important. We don’t have any top prospects lined up for third base, and most of the Lowell alternatives involved moving Youkilis to third. I think that would have been a poor choice, as Youk has clearly found some comfort at first base. His defense was excellent this year (no errors in the regular season, as well as making some spectacular plays) and his on field play did not interfere with his offensive production at all. Keep him there because it was working. Very happy to know that Youk and Lowell will be our corners for a few years.One year extensions were exercised for Tavarez and Wakefield. I fully expected them to sign Wake, as the organization recognizes what a value he is. Tavarez surprised me a little bit, but I am really happy that they did. Tavarez has shown time and time again he can start with only a few hours notice, which can be very handy to have around. He will once again fall in that middle relief role but his flexibility will help us through the season in spot starts, extra inning games, and any games where a starter is knocked out early.Catcher Kevin Cash was outright sent to Pawtuckett, and declined the assignment and thus became a free agent. Don’t worry though, our catching prospect re-signed shortly after and has an invitation to spring training. He could be Wakefields catcher if Mirabelli doesn’t wind up in a Sox uniform again.Timlin has been signed to a 1 year deal as well, and I can’t say I’m disappointed about that. I love his composure on the mound and love the way he rebounded in 2007 after everyone (myself included) had given up on him. A healthy Timlin can only help us. The Team As Is Youkilis, Pedroia, Lugo, Manny, Drew, and Varitek are extremely likely to keep their spots on the field, pending some blockbuster trade. Ortiz is obviously the DH. Crisp and Ellsbury are both in the picture for a job in center field. My guess is that right now Crisp has the job. I do think Crisp is on the trade market, but like usual, Epstien will not pull the trigger just to pull it. He has to get something that is valuable to him.The rotation looks like you would expect. Beckett, Matsuzaka, Schilling, Wakefield, and a # 5 starter. The five hole likely belongs to Lester right now, as it should, with Buchholz looming in the background. Unless Lester winds up in a trade for Johan Santana, I see him in the starting rotation and Buchholz starting the year in AAA.As for the Santana trade rumors, Lester, Buchholz, and Ellsbury have all been put into the trade rumors. Personally I think Buchholz and Ellsbury are untouchable, even for Santana. If that deal goes through I think we would see Lester and Crisp in that deal. I find it hard to believe Epstien would agree to something else.Papelbon will be the closer once again, and I only see him becoming more dominant as he gets stronger and develops his other pitches a little more.Okajima and Matsuzaka will be interesting to watch as they start their second seasons in the USA. I find it hard to believe Oki will be as dominant as he was, however, I still see him being very effective and a great 8th inning guy and an excellent back up for Papelbon. I expect Matsuzaka to improve greatly as I expect him to mature in his second American League season much like Beckett did in his second season with the Red Sox. I think we will see many more 7+ inning outings from him.  Get ready because the 2008 Red Sox are on their way, and they are looking stronger than ever. There is no way that this team doesn’t make the playoffs.     

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2008 Red Sox: What They Should/Could and Will Look Like in the Future

2007 is over. The Red Sox were the best team in baseball, best regular season record and a World Series ring. The best part about this is, 2008 is going to look largely the same. Here is a position by position analysis of what the 2008 Boston Red Sox will look like, and what they should and will likely do with any holes that may exist.

1st Base: Kevin Youkilis
Does anyone else realize that was his SECOND full major league season? Only his second season as a full time player and he was absolutely spectacular. Youkilis is going to put up another big season, and will be a spectacular on base machine again. I also expect his power numbers go up.

2nd Base: Dustin Pedroia
Look at this, another fantastic youth produced by the Red Sox organization. This guy was fantastic May through October. His sophomore year is going to be fun to watch. Still calling for ROTY ’07.

Short Stop: Julio Lugo
This guy has 3 more years on contract with the Sox, and I pretty much expect them to give Lugo another chance. He showed several signs of promise this year, and hopefully the Sox can stick to their guns and let Lugo get a second year in with a little less pressure on him. I think he can come through and be a great speed guy for us for the next three years.

3rd Base: EMPTY
There are a few options here.

Option #1: I vote Mike Lowell. Lowell is looking for a 3-4 year deal before he retires. GIVE IT TO HIM! Lowell is a great guy and offers so much to this team. With the youth movement the Sox are moving towards, Lowell could be a great veteran guy to have around for a few more years.

Option #2: Alex Rodriguez. I don’t see this happening at all. Mainly because I see the Sox agreeing with me on the resigning Lowell. There is one and only one situation in which Alex Rodriguez comes to Boston. Boston would have to TRADE Julio Lugo, and play A-Rod at short. I’m so confidant in the Sox signing Lowell that this is the only way A-Rod comes to Boston. The Red Sox are going to put a price tag on A-Rod, and they will not go above that. They will not overpay. My guess, is that they won’t pay more than 26 Mil a year for him, which is insane in the first place. Someone is going to bid higher, or Boras is gonig to demand more, and A-Rod will not wind up in Boston.

Option #3: Move Youkilis to third. I say not, an errorless season is good enough for me. Keep him over at first.

Left Field: Manny Rameriez
One more year on the contract, I see no reason why this changes.

Center Field: ?

Hard call here. Jacoby Ellsbury or Coco Crisp? I think it’s time for Ellsbury! Let Ellsbury start the season there and give him a real shot at the majors. I in no way think Crisp should be let go though. Let Crisp be a bench player for one year. Let him play every few days, do a 4 man outfield rotation to a certain degree. Coco can be a great player on the bench and can be used as a defensive replacement for Manny late in games, and can also be a great Dave Roberts type weapon. Manny has one more year on his contract, keep Coco for that year and start ’09 with an outfield of Coco, Ellsbury, and Drew.

Right Field: JD Drew
Everyone keeps referring to the JD Drew signing as a failure by the Sox. I say nay. Drew had a poor year in general, but he started fantastic, and ended fantastic. Drew could be an great bat in this lineup and I think, like Lugo, a second year in Boston would drastically help him.


Josh Beckett: Is there any question now that this guy is #1?
Daisuke Matsuzaka: Tagging this guy to start #2. He’s had a whole season of AL ball, I look to him to improve in year two just as Josh Beckett did.
Jon Lester: I want this guy in my 3 hole. Game 4 was great, he can perform, give him the chance to do it for a full season.
Tim Wakefield: Take this $4 million option once again! This is why I wrote about him being tremendously valueable. Let him take 30 or so starts, he will win a good number of them and take innings away from everyone else. This also means keeping Mirabelli around.
Clay Buccholz: Let the rookie regime begin.

Yes ladies and gents, Curt Schilling is not in my ’08 rotation. Curt, I want you to retire. I know you said one more year, but please, finish your career as a Sox and go down in the books with a ring. I don’t want to see you go anywhere else and I really think the Sox are going with youth here and are not going to resign you. Call it quits, I love you and I love your hall of fame career. Go out with some pride.

Closer: Papelbon
Quite possibly a few more postseasons from being considered one of the best closers of all time, right up there with Rivera. This guy is fantastic and he is going to keep being so. With the team the Sox have build, expect Papelbon to have plenty of chances to prove himself as a Rivera level closer.


Okijima: Of course they keep him around. Big part of the team this year.
Delcarmen: This is your year little Manny, step up and be a fantastic 7th or 8th inning guy for us. You have the stuff to make it happen.

Bench: Alex Cora

Keep this guy around. Great utility infielder.

I’m not going to bother with the other bullpen or bench slots because there’s nearly no chance to get them right. Those are a few slots where Theo will chose what our best options are and I do not have enough information to really know what those last few players are.

2008 is going to be a fantastic year for the Red Sox in which I think they can easily put up another 95 wins, and a legitimate shot at 100 wins.

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2007 Baseball Awards

It’s over ladies and gentlemen. 2007 was a great baseball season filled with records, magic, underdogs, and juggernauts. Now it’s time to take a look back and pick my Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year, and MVP awards. These are my picks, not the actual winners, though I’m hoping they closely align.

 AL Cy Young: Josh Beckett
This is a lock, I’ve been saying it since August. Nobody beat Beckett when it mattered this year. 4-0 in the postseason (which isn’t supposed to count in voting) and the only 20 game winner, which he did even while missing a few starts with that “evulsion” earlier in the game.

NL Cy Young: Jake Peavy
In my mind, this is another no brain-er. I know San Diego didn’t make the playoffs, but they were right there. He had more K’s than many of the strikeout kings of Beckett, Santana, Kazmir etc. His ERA was almost .5 runs lower than the second place guy, at an amazing 2.54 runs per 9. He finished with 19 wins, most in the NL and Beckett’s 20 was the only thing keeping him from a pitching triple crown. His one weak resume point was game 163 when that super hot Colorado team was in their fantastic run to make an amazing playoff appearance. I don’t think that one loss is enough to discount what he did the rest of the season.

AL Rookie of the Year: Dustin Pedroia
Do I need to explain this one? After this kid hit less than .200 to start the season, the media and fans around Boston were calling for his exit. Terry Francona stuck to his guns, backed by Theo Epstien, and this guy was amazing all year. He was able to lead off, hit second, get on base, and hit a surprise home run now and then. In 520 at bats, he only struck out 42 times.
NL Rookie of the Year: Troy Tulowitzki
.291 Average, 24 HR, 99 RBI
Those are the numbers you expect a grizzled veteran to put up. Combine that with his excellent defense and you have a guy who is destined for good things with Colorado.

Manager of the Year: Terry Francona
I say this not as a Red Sox fan, or because his team won the World Series. I say this because of what he has accomplished with this club. The environment he has created allows each and every player to continue to learn and develop, wether they be a veteran or a rookie. Sticking with Pedroia in April can be looked at as one of his best moves all year, right up there with his fantastic bullpen management. Papelbon and Okajima did very well through the postseason and were able to pitch multiple effective innings strictly because of the way Francona handled the team. These players are just a bunch of guys having fun out on the field, not worried about consequence or failure. They can go out there day in and day out and just have some fun, and it’s all to the credit of Terry Francona.

AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez
Doesn’t even need to be discussed. Everyone already knows it.

NL MVP: Matt Holiday
I almost picked Ryan Howard for this one, it was very close. Holiday beats Howard in RBI by one, and average .340 to .268. Their OBP are about the same, but Howard has 11 more home runs finishing in at 47 dingers. At 26 more runs scored, 74 more hits, and almost twice as many doubles, I have to go with Holiday here. He was a better all around player.

Red Sox Gold Gloves:
Kevin Youkilis – Perfect. Enough Said. No regular season errors.
Jason Varitek – Not just his glove, but the way he handles pitchers and calls the game. I think that should be counted in gold glove discussions because it’s how he plays his position.
Dustin Pedroia – He might not actually win it, but he absolutely could have. He made amazing plays and highlight reels all year. Polonco had a fantastic year at second and very well may win it over Pedroia.
Coco Crisp – “Did you see that game where Crisp went horizontal and made that game saving catch?”   …   “Which one?”

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Red Sox 2 – Rockies 0: The Sox Can’t be Stopped

Ubaldo Jimenez? Really? As someone who generally follows the American League much closer than the National League, I was awfully surprised to hear Ubaldo Jimenez was pitching game 2. I’m just so used to seeing bigger names in postseason play. I didn’t know much about this guy, just that he threw hard.

 And throw hard he did. He kept the Sox from putting 10 runs up on the board. He got Pedroia out with one pitch to start the game, very unlike the disciplined Red Sox. The Sox could have given into this, they could have swung hard, and let him beat them. What happened instead? They made him work, they got men on base, he got out of jams, they got him into deep counts, and he would get them out.

But that’s the point! This guy had thrown 91 pitches when they took him out in the 5th inning. 91 PITCHES! Complete game performances usually fall in the 100-120 pitch range. This is what the Sox do! They knocked out yet another starter, made the bullpen pitch yet again.

And that’s only ONE dynamic of this Red Sox team! They have the ability to get the starter out of the game, they have the ability to put up 10 runs, they have the ability to pitch well, and have good to great defense pretty much everywhere on the field, Manny included. They have the ability to grind at bats, and take a clutch walk. They have the speed to steal the Dave Roberts base if need be. They have the power to get that 3 run home run, or the ability to lay down a bunt. The lineup is dangerous in different ways top to bottom. They will take the blowout if you hand it to them, but can fight to the death in a 1 run game better than any team I’ve seen this year.

The bullpen on this team is brilliantly constructed as well. Okajima is pitching like he did in April. Why? Because they gave him September time off, they rested him, controlled his usage, and didn’t over pitch him. Papelbon anyone? Why do you think he can go more than an inning right now? His first career 2 inning save happened in the Cleveland Series (despite the end score being a blowout.) That isn’t a coincidence! They didn’t let him do that this season so he COULD now! He didn’t over pitch, and he didn’t have an injury collapse like in 2006.

The Red Sox just have more ways to win than other teams. The Yankees this year could pretty much only win by slugging. San Diego had the best ERA in the majors and couldn’t make the postseason (at the hands of the Rockies in game 163 for those of you who forgot how Colorado got here.) San Diego finished in 20th or 30 in runs scored in the Majors, and 9th of 16 in the NL. That’s why the Sox are going to win, they are all around the best team.

Yes the Rockies can win some games in this series. (As I predicted Sox in 6)
Yes they could put up 10 runs and make Matsuzaka look silly.
Yes the Red Sox CAN lose games.

No I don’t see any way the Red Sox can lose a 7 game series already up 2-0.

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Sox Prove They’ve Got It

Another chapter in the Sox-Yankees rivalry has just been written. A fantastic September series between the two teams saw all that this rivalry has to offer. In a year where these two teams could meet in the ALCS again, we saw it all. Okajima/Papelbon blow a 7-2 lead and the Yankees have a come from behind thriller. Josh Beckett beat Chin Ming Wang for sole possession of the wins lead, leaving him as one of the frontrunners in the AL Cy Young race. Boston’s bats came alive in a 10-1 rout. Schilling and Clemens matched off in a spectacular pitchers duel. Derek Jeter continues to show the world he can get it done with a 3-run homer that would win it for the Yankees. Rookie Joba Chamberlin’s scoreless streak ends at the hands of Mike Lowell. The Sox score off of Marino Rivera in the Bottom of the 9th, load the bases, and get David Ortiz to the plate with 2 out, only to have him pop out to end it.

I mean this is the kind of epic storyline that makes this rivalry so fantastic. The Yankees took 2/3 from the Red Sox. That may make it seem like the Yankees are a better team, but here’s what I saw this weekend that makes me think the Red Sox still have the edge over the Yankees in a 7 game series.

Starting Pitching

The Red Sox had 3 superb outings. I use the term superb, not because they were Cy Young performances, but because they were against the Yankees.

Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 5.2 innings of 2 run ball. He got into jams, and he worked himself out. He had 7 K’s in his short outing, most (if not all) were on his fastball, the same pitch that was getting him knocked around for that 12.bad ERA and the streak of bad outings. Daisuke used his off speed stuff much better against these Yankees, and it made his fastball better. Daisuke will be on 6 days rest for his next few starts because of off days, so look for his pitch efficiency to get better and any signs of fatigue to fade. This guy is still the #3 starter.

Josh Beckett. Need I say more? This guy is the Ace of the staff this year, and should start Game 1 in any series. He stifled the Yanks for 5 baserunners over 7 innings with 7 K’s. One of those baserunners was his only hiccup of the game, a Jeter home run in the first inning.

Curt Schilling pitched very well. For a guy whose heat is cooling off, Schilling is becoming a more masterful pitcher with his other pitches. He kept the Yankees to 1 run into the 8th inning. Yeah so he gave up a 3 run shot to Jeter in the 8th. He’s DEREK JETER! He is going to do that now and then. Great show by Schilling and I’m not afraid to have this guy start Game 2 in a playoff series.

If you look at the Yankees, we tagged 2 of their starters very well. Clemens was the only guy we couldn’t get a few off of, but he only went 6 innings. That was the longest performance by any Yankee starter. Burn out your pen like that in a playoff series and you won’t be getting the save in a game 6 or 7.  Advantage Red Sox.


Congratulations to the Yankees for beating Okajima/Papelbon to overcome a 7-2 game. A rare feat. Don’t get your hopes up though because this won’t be the norm. You won that specific game, but at least 90% of the time, that game is a Sox win and you can’t count on winning the game against these guys.

Oki will get more rest as we close out the season, they won’t burn him out. Papelbon will be more ferocious next time you see him, feeding off the adrenaline you have so kindly provided him with. Don’t look now, but even Gagne held you to two scoreless innings in this series. Fill out that pen with Timlin, Delcarmen, and a possible Buchholz addition to the postseason roster, I’ll take a 1-0 lead any day.


That’s it. This defense deserves some credit. Most of the year, they have been riding under the radar. Not many errors, not much in the way of spetacular. Just kind of there.

I’m changing that. These guys are fantastic. You can’t even count the number of times Dustin Pedroia has robbed guys of hits. Mike Lowell is making great plays all over the place, even if the guy is still safe (stole a double from Jeter by snagging one over the line. Kept Jeter to an infield single.) Coco Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury have made some excellent outfield catches and their speed only works to their advantage. JD Drew and Manny aren’t even bad defensively either! Drew has speed and Manny always seems to wow you when you think he can’t play defense. Lugo has speed and Youk has his errorless streak. Crisp, Pedroia, and Youk all could be in gold glove discussions. These guys are GOOD! They are second in the league in defense for a reason and I think it’s about time they earned some credit. Defense was a huge part of the ’04 club and it should not be overlooked in this years run.


Okay, so the Red Sox aren’t #1 here. They aren’t going to score 10 runs every game, but certainly can. The Sox batters did what they did best this weekend. They grinded out at bats, they made the pitchers work, and they got themselves in situations where they could win. If you can’t create these situations you have nothing but the home-run to save you.

It took the Yankees Derek Jeter to win last night. There was no other offensive hero. Jeter hit the home run off Beckett the day before. Jeter is a hugely talented All-Star and will continue to do this.

The Red Sox don’t need too. Every one of our guys can put together a situation. A walk, a hit by pitch, a stolen base, a bloop single. Any of these things are huge because this team has so many tools. Think about the 9th last night. Julio Lugo gets a double with 2 out off of proven closer Mariano Rivera to get the Sox within one. ROOKIES Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia reach base with a hit by pitch and a walk. Those aren’t the David Ortiz’s, Derek Jeter’s, or Alex Rodriguez’s of the world. They fill out the team and they do it well. All of these guys can make things happen, and last night, almost did.

I’m not telling you the Yankees can’t win. On any given day, any given team can win. A lesser team can beat a better team, even in a 7 game playoff series. That’s what we saw this weekend, the lesser team (though not by much) coming through for some wins. I am telling you though, that the Red Sox are the better team. They have the tools, the weapons, and the ability to make it happen. They have more ways to win, and will do so well into the playoffs.

-Kevin Cole

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No Save for You!

A few days ago (September 6), Jayson Stark wrote in his Rumblings and Grumblings on about changing the save stat.

I completely agree with him about the “flawedness” of the save, and also think something needs to be done about it.

 First of all, I don’t think they will every change the criteria for the save. As stated by Stark, by doing that you completely ruin 40 years worth of statistical data, and make it completely impossible to compare closers from that era to future eras.  It just won’t happen, it’s like approaching MLB and saying, “Hey we are going to re-define batting average as hits/total plate appearances.” (Average is currently computed by hits/at bats. Walks, sacrifice bunts, sac flies, hit by pitches, etc. are all not counted in At Bats but would be in total plate appearances. This would drastically lower batting averages by all players.)

However, Stark (rather, the unnamed AL Executive whom he interviewed) does propose another idea which I rather like; the Stop.

“To earn a stop, a reliever would have to enter with the tying run either on base or at the plate at any point in the game — and then:

A. Retire at least one hitter.

B. Leave with the lead intact.

C. Get his team through the inning without any baserunner he was responsible for scoring.

So if, for instance, Carlos Marmol strikes out Prince Fielder with two on and two outs in the eighth inning of a 5-3 game, he gets a stop. But if Ryan Dempster then enters and gets through the ninth, he wouldn’t earn a stop even though he would get a save. ” – From the Stark Article.

This is a fantastic idea. This is a statistic that any reliever can earn. This is a statistic that shows the value of a guy who can come into the game with runners on and get out of the inning. This statistic puts some value on a middle reliever. It puts closers and 8th inning guys on the same page.

Better yet, the save still exists. Managers can still be a save slave, and GM’s can continue to overpay for them. You can still compare any save leader to Mariano Rivera. You can still compare any starter turned closer or vice versa to John Smoltz.

But what about the Hold? We already have a statistic for measuring the effectiveness of a middle reliever. Holds, in my opinion, have been a hugely underrated statistic. In fact, every year in my fantasy league, I go out of my way to add holds to format of the league. Valuable guys like Scott Linebrink, Scott Shields, or Hideki Okajima would never find their ways on to most fantasy teams otherwise. Now, the previous two may not have had fantastic years in ’07, but in years prior have been textbook examples of the guys I’m talking about.

The beauty of the stop is, it combines the value of a hold with the value of a save, and gets rid of the junky ways you can earn them.

Let’s see the Stop in 2008.

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