Monday, April 24, 2006

CLEMENT-TIME

What a god-awful stinker thrown by Matt Clement on Sunday afternoon. Sure, the box score shows that he only gave up 2 earned runs in 5+ innings, but having watched the game taking place on the carpet in Toronto it was obvious that Clement is still not where everyone hoped he would be after being signed by the Sox after the 2004 season. Fastballs were up and over the plate, his control was erratic, even outs were made loudly.

What has been the saving grace of the Sox this season has continued to be the team defense. Mike Lowell (other than that airmail toss to first base that Manute Bol would have never been able to reach) and Alex Gonzalez (pretty soon they will start awarding errors to the guy on ground balls up the middle: Lookit dat, Vinny! Gonzalez shoulda had it. E-6. Boo!) have been airtight as advertised. Trot Nixon can actually move in the outfield these days. Manny is under-rated in left field, Youk is improving at first base, and Mark Loretta is slicker than a Sha-Na-Na concert on the double play.

Trot-trot, who has been nothing short of great this first month (despite missing five games), creates another one of those wonderful Mark Blount-Greg Spires conundrums. Do the Sox sign Trot to that huge contract since he is playing so well in his walk year, or do they let him walk and roll the dice that it was a one year wonder and he will turn back into the 100 game disabled list regular of previous seasons? Personally, I believe he is gone, and could be gone by July 31. For all the Trot Nixon love out there in the greater Boston area (yes, Jenn, that includes you.), Nixon is not one of the new management teams guys, nor was he even one of the Duke boys. Nope, Trot-Trot to London is the last holdover of the heady Lou Gorman days.

Speaking of Toronto and the SkyDome, remember the heady days of Joe Carter, Robby Alomar, and young stud closer Mike Timlin and the SkyDome was the next big thing in what was needed to bring fans to a ballgame? Hotels and malls in the bleachers, 4 million attendance figures, and that beautiful artificial surface. All those Larry Lucchino bashers need remember only Camden Yards at Oriole Park as his contribution to the game of baseball. Without Camden Yards, there could be Riverfront Stadium clones popping up all over baseball: even, gasp, in historic Brahman Boston!

* * *

HOT SOX:

Sternieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Adam Stern made two amazing catches in centerfield this week. From the diving catch to bail out Jon Papelbon to the gutsy effort smacking into the left-centerfield wall the next night, he showed exactly what a young Johnny Damon showed in Kansas City: pure, all-out hustle and no fear of flying. Of course, Sternie hit below the Mendoza line, which explains why he will be the latest Todd Benzinger/Chico Walker/Reggie Whittemore type cult favorite in Pawtucket this summer.

With the pending return of Coco Crisp, it makes sense to get Stern down to AAA and play everyday, as he really has not had a lot of at-bats; however, I would rather have Stern in Boston for two weeks and take my chances on Willie Harris taking a hike and bringing up someone like Machado to be utility/emergency outfielder.

Youkkkkkkkkkkk!!!

Everybody loves the Greek God of Walks. No, not just for that .433 on-base percentage, but because of that power he has exhibited at the plate. Youkilis has looked decent at first base, and he has toiled long behind a decent, but in no way all-star, third baseman these last two years. Funny, but with Mike Lowell denting the Green Monster and Kevin Youkilis leading the offense, there has been nary a Bill Mueller reference for a while. Funny what performing does to quiet down whining idiots.

Hard to be Bard

Another passed ball, another bake sale for the Doug Mirabelli Hall of Fame enshrinement fund. Look, Mirabelli was a decent back-up who finally caught on to catching Tim Wakefield in his third season as his personal caddy. Queer Eye fave Dougie was a decent bat early on, until he lost all semblance of control at the plate last year and started hacking like Reggie Jackson. I understand Josh Bard is learning on the job and has hit at a .167 clip, but cut the guy some slack. Mirabelli is gone, but Mark Get Back Loretta is the best all-around second baseman the Sox have had since Jerry Remy (if anyone emails me about Jeff Frey, they will just get a smack).

The Future is so Bright, I have to Wear Shades


That title is just for Brigs. Anyway, the pitching of Jonathan Papelbon just further underscores how good things look in the future for the Red Sox. Next year they can add Papelbon to the rotation and slide Craig Hansen into the bullpen. Manny Delcarmen should be ready for the big time. Lenny DiNardo, Jon Lester and Abe Alvarez may be ready to help-out in the starting rotation. The Sox braintrust has really nailed the formula for being a large market team operating like a small market team. There is young talent pouring through the system at long last. Some of it was traded, but not for veterans on the downslope, but rather young veterans (Josh Beckett, Coco Crisp) who will play a major role with the team into the next decade.

* * *

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

WHAT A DEAL!

Patriots Day, 2006: Can we finally stop the idiot callers on WEEI from calling in and complaining about the Doug Mirabelli-Mark Loretta trade? In case anyone missed it, just like the Josh Beckett trade, Boston cleaned-up in a lopsided deal. (I see Hanley Ramirez lost the game for the Marlins with an error late in the game the other night. Hmmm, I wonder if they would want Wily Mo Pena in their outfield?)

* * *

SPEAKING OF WILY MO:

Highlight of the season: Watching the Sox game the other day, my two-year old, Emmalee, turns to me and says: Daddy, I like Wily Mo.

* * *

SUCCESSFUL OFFSEASON FOR THE PATRIOTS:

Big Sey in the fold, and Deion Branch is opening the savings account. What an amazing deal signed by Seymour. The amount of cash he receives in the first two years is insane, yet amazingly he does not kill the cap over the length of the deal. By next March, according to ESPN.com writer Len Pasquarelli, Seymour will have received over $24 million. The cap hit this year is under $5 million and only $8-9 million until 2009 when it is $11 million. By then, they will likely be working on the next big payday for Seymour.

A deal great for the player and good for the cap. So rare in this day and age in the NFL, but great to see us fans in New England.

* * *

NFL DRAFT DAY SUNDAY:

Peter King had a great article about the crapshoot that is the draft and how it just wastes trees to write about who will go when where and for whom and how. So anyway, I have my dream draft for the Patriots (note: this will NEVER happen, but what the heck. I can write a REAL entry about the draft another time):

Round 1: LenDale White, RB USC: The best running back in the NFL draft lands in our laps. Rickles & I celebrate by running laps around the house and chanting WHITE, WHITE, WHITE until the cops take us away for upsetting the one token black family in my suburbanite neighborhood.

(A trade up by the Pats to the middle of the second round)

Round 2: Mathias Kiwanuka, DE BC: The best defense end/linebacker/hybrid/Willie McGinest wanna-be in the draft inexplicably has dropped from a pre-season top 5 pick to a consensus second rounder. As Nancy Kerrigan once asked: Why? I saw consensus top 5 pick Mario Williams in one game only (against BC) and he was manhandled the entire game by the BC O-line. Kiwi, on the other hand, was the best player on the field that day. This guy is the Lofa Tatupu of the 2006 draft.

Round 3: Maurice Stovall, WR Notre Dame: The Charlie Weis connection. Stovall, likely gone in round two, inexplicably drops (well, he drops because this is a DREAM draft) to the third round where Scott Pioli packages some flotsam and jetsam picks to move up and grab him one spot before the Jets get their slimy hands on him after trading up previously.

Round 4: Cedric Griffin, FS Texas: Yeah, I do not ever remember any Longhorns in the Patriots camp other than Major Applewhite a few years ago (and he did not even last through mini-camp). But this guy did nothing but make plays for a winner. Sounds like a Patriot to me. Hey, the Patriots ALWAYS have a need for another safety.

Give the Patriots any of these guys, and it will be a heck of a draft.

* * *

THE MERCIFUL END:

THIS is what it is like to be a Kansas City Royals fan today. Memories of those wonderful teams of the seventies and eighties when they were the top of the pecking order; retired numbers for all those stars of the past; a consistent message of NEXT year being the year the youngsters put it together and the team begins surprising some people around the league; and finally those bizarre moves made by the front office that just make you scratch your head.

I give you the 2005-06 Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics.

* * *

Thursday, April 13, 2006

WHERE DID I GO?

Oh yes, the Bent-man is back. Where have I been? Work, work, and more work. It happens. But I can take a deep breath and get back to the keyboard at last. So has anything happened in sports? Hah! Where to begin? I guess we start with the Red Sox starting rotation and then jump around all over the place through the Boston sports landscape.

RED SOX:

The Red Sox are 6-2 as I write this. Amazingly, the Red Sox have morphed into the kind of team I dreamed they could be since my childhood. Fantastic starting pitching, a great bullpen, solid defense, and a strong line-up. Today I feel like talking about the glue of the team: the starting rotation. Tomorrow the bullpen, and then the offense and team defense.

STARTING ROTATION:
Josh Beckett: The bad news? He has not pitched up to anything close to his potential so far this season. The good news? He is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts. Since the Red Sox swung the deal to steal Beckett away from the Florida Marlins, I have been struck by how Sox fans were nonplussed by the move. This kid is 25, has four killer pitches, is just beginning to scratch the surface of his talent, plays with raw emotion, and is a potential 20 game winner, front-of-the-rotation workhorse. Fans are finally seeing just how good Beckett can be for Boston. I compare this move to the deal Dan Duquette swung to get Pedro Martinez for Tony Armas Jr and Carl Pavano.

Curt Schilling: So this is what a healthy Curt Schilling looks like. Hard to believe, but this is really the first time since 2003 that he has been able to rear back and bring the cheese. Big Schill is 2-0 and a 1.93 ERA through his first two games. More importantly, he has taken the two little big dawgs (Jon Papelbon and Josh Beckett) under his wing and given the Sox pitching staff an identity (other than Pedro and the Jamokes, as they were known from 1998 through 2003).

Tim Wakefield: Well, I call him Shaky Wakey for a reason, right? One horrific performance followed by an solid performance. Wake, unlike the Inside Track gals at the Boston Herald and the WEEI Screaming Moron Society, has apparently adjusted to not having future first ballot hall of famer and fifteen time gold glove winner Doug Mirabelli on the receiving end of his knuckleball. Wake will win about 15 games. He will have that one stretch where he is unhittable for about three games; then, he will have that stretch where he gets bombed two or three games in a row. Hey, it comes with the pitch. His consistency is in his inconsistency.

Matt Clement: Arguably the forgotten man in the Red Sox rotation, where he is probably very happy to be. Before getting beaned last season, Clement was an all-star and arguably the number one starter. I remember writing an entry titled: CEMENT CLEMENT AS #1. Witty, I know. I should be working at the Metro, I know. Anyway, the point is that he went out, got beaned by a batted ball, and never was the same again the rest of the season. Well, Clement looked great in his first start until he ran out of gas. He hopefully can get in a comfort zone unequalled at any time in his career: he is the number four starter; he is the forgotten man: everyone talks about the emergence of Beckett, the resurgence of Schilling, the consistency of Wakefield, and the zoo that is David Wells; he can just show up, do his job, hit the shower, and disappear for four days. If the Red Sox can keep him in his comfort zone, Clement can be the kind of starter to win 15 games in the number four spot. Of course, there is a reason is he has been one of the most erratic, frustrating pitchers in the game. He is a gamble. He could win 20; he could lose 20. No one knows.

David Wells: What to say about Boomer? Obviously, it is still spring training for the big guy, but do you want to be the one to tell him he needs three more starts in AAA? Me neither. Wells will improve, eventually (say, May?). But he has gone from the April 2004 ace to the 2005 number five starter. How the hell is that possible? Hmm. Acquire the best young pitcher in baseball. Check. Get your number one starter healthy. Check. Have your summer ace bounce back from his horrific second half of 2004. Check. Trade Bronson Arroyo to Cincinnati for a young slugger loaded with potential. Check. Have other old fart in the rotation healthier than your current number five starter and have the manager insist on sticking him at the #2 spot in the rotation. Check. Other young stud starter closing games until regular closer is healthy from double-knee surgery. Check. Well, I guess that makes perfect sense in retrospect. Expect double-digit wins from Wells this season. If he gets (relatively) healthy, he can remain an asset (or trade bait).

* * *

WHERE HAVE ALL THE RED SOX GONE?

How are the displaced Idiots doing? The joy of conning my wife into getting the MLB package allows me to switch from seven to ten games a night (which must drive her insane). No problems, I will repay her one way or another. (p.s., thanks, Babe. I appreciate it.)

Bill Mueller had a strong first week. Too bad he will be on the DL two or three times this season. Everyone loves Billy Ballgame. He is hitting some sick number (.469 at the moment). I like Mueller, but Lowell is comparable defensively and has a lot more pop in his bat (He already is proving he was made to hit in Fenway Park).

Kevin Millar is ripping up AAA, as he hit two homers off the Devil Rays pitching staff last night. Of course, against major league pitching (aka the Red Sox), he came up a little short. In fact, he looked downright overmatched against Jonathan Papelbon at the end of one of the games.

Nomar: Is he still in the league? Just kidding. I have my fingers crossed that Nomie will get into at least 50 games this year.

Johnny Damon: Just remember, we got Coco Crisp for ¼ the cost of Damon. In three years, Theo will look like the smartest GM in baseball (And Kathy chimes in with: not just the hottest GM in baseball). Damon could hit .400 this year and it was still a smart move by the Red Sox.

Pedro: The Pedro Martinez shoulder blow-out lottery is on and I have July 7 as the date. Otherwise, he has done alright so far.

* * *

Saturday, April 08, 2006

ARE YOU MOCKING ME?

I love mock drafts. Just the idea that you are trying to predict what 32 teams are going to do, when you have no idea what the one team you follow religiously is going to do, is so much fun. I love seeing these experts, who do nothing but focus on the draft all year long, have no idea where anyone is going, but still publish a number of mock drafts throughout the year. This week, Mel Kiper Jr, the expert among all experts (he is on ESPN for chrissake!) titles his mock draft: Texans set to take Bush number one overall. Gee, I had no idea they were leaning that way.

Anyway, Helmet-head Kiper predicts the Patriots will now choose Santonio Holmes, a junior wide receiver from THE Ohio State University. NFLDraftCountdown.com says that, and I quote: Similar in many ways to Terry Glenn. Yes, that sound you just heard was Bill Belichick dry heaving. First off, if the Patriots go wide receiver, I imagine they will try to get a slider in the second round (like Deion Branch). Second, if Lendale White is still on the board, there is no way the big bruising running back that Bill Belichick has been looking for since he arrived in New England is going to be passed over.

* * *

BECKS

Yeah, that was me standing on my bed at 10:45pm pumping my fist and shouting as Josh Beckett mowed down Brad Wilkerson to end the seventh inning. Yeah, that was me who has been babbling on non-stop since the Red Sox got him that Josh Beckett was the best thing since sliced bread (ehh, when did sliced bread become such a big deal. Was it ever that big of a deal to not have to slice bread? Sliced cheese would have been more impressive in my opinion. The phrase should be amended to: best thing since the Internet was created to give bozos like me a forum and all the porn anyone could ever want. That is more like it).

Anyway, Beckett was as awesome as advertised. He pitched horribly, yet gave up just one run in seven innings (do you remember when Pedro used to have those games?). Yeah, he had trouble early, he threw way too many pitches, but when he needed that big out, he got it. Not to put too much shine on the Sox, but the performances by Beckett and Schilling to open the season came against Texas, a team with the best line-up 1-9 in baseball playing in a park made for hitters (not the Great American Ballfield in Cincinnati, but George W. Bush Park in Arlington (or whatever the heck they call it) is a launching pad.

Not to denigrate the Yankees, who have put their entire season on the backs of their line-up (because they have one starting pitcher, one closer, and the line-up: that is it), but Texas is the best line-up in the American League if not in all of baseball. For all you Yankees lovers out there, look at how the line-up falls apart at the bottom. Texas is strong straight through. I mean, Horsehead Posada wishes he was the offensive juggernaut that is Rod Barajas.

Of course, Beckett turned into the invisible man last night in ninth inning as Jonathan Papelbon was brought in to close out the ninth inning of a 2-1 game. First point, we know the Red Sox front office is very, very, very comfortable with a bullpen with multiple closers (Foulke, Papelbon, and Timlin) as the much ballyhooed closer-by-committee disaster of 2003 proved. It was not the idea that was poor, it was the pitchers in the bullpen who were the problem. Second point, Keith Foulke is coming off double-knee surgery. You do not exactly throw him into the fire before he is healthy and comfortable coming out of the bullpen. In retrospect, it was damned laughable to think any sane team (This is the Red Sox, however) would even put any pitcher into that kind of situation. Three games in, 157 to go.

* * *

Thursday, April 06, 2006

No thanks to ESPN

Tonight (Thursday) I decided to watch yet another installment of the UEFA Champions league cup matches on ESPN. The first one of the week, a 0-0 draw between Barcelona and Benfica, was mis-timed so I only caught the last 40 minutes. No big deal, as it was a highly boring match, not what I had expected for a Barcelona game. This installment, which was obviously a taped match (for reasons that will become evident) between Champions league perennials Internazionale (Inter Milan) and Spanish newcomers Villareal, was sure to be a little more exciting than the first game of the week.

Sure enough, Villareal get off to a flying start with a goal in the first minute from Forlon. This match was at Milan, so this is an ever-crucial away goal which could help Villareal in the long run. According to Champions league rules, if two teams' aggregates result in a draw, then advancement in the elimination round will be awarded to the club with the most away goals. This Villareal goal, however, was answered in the 7th minute by Inter's powerful attacker Adriano. The first half saw a couple of close shots by Inter and several spectacular saves by Villareal's goalkeeper Sebastian Viera.

I'm watching in the second half, and it's still a fairly well-contested 1-1 game. Then, my eye happens to catch the scrolling scores on the bottom of the TV screen. Now, sure I'm watching a TiVo'ed game, and sure this game is on tape delay, but instead of seeing something more about Barry Bonds or finding out that the NFL is banning dancing, I see the Inter/Villareal final score! Damn it!!

Luckily, about 10 minutes later, Inter striker Oberfemi Martins knocks home the game winner (although arguably offside). However, Villareal make it interesting with a couple of close strikes at the Inter goal.

This was a hotly contested match, and the final score could easily have gone to 5-4 in favor of either team. However, a 2-1 edge, while definitely good for Internazionale, leaves the door open for Villareal to pull a George Mason-like upset in the second leg of this round, which will be played in Villareal. Look for that one on ESPN next week. Let's just hope they don't kill the excitement.

-Christopher J. Brigham

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

MICROCOSM

Amazing how two days a season makes. What do we know about the Red Sox after the first two games? Well, Curt Schilling will win 30 games, Tim Wakefield stays up at night crying for Doug Mirabelli, for Big Papi, much like another rotund Red Sox first baseman in the 1990s, the price goes up each day, no one knows what to expect from Keith Foulke, and Coco Crisp has serious jets. Well, hyperbole aside, the Red Sox are still a mystery much like the other 31 teams.

*Yes, Curt Schilling is light years ahead of where he was in 2005, but only an idiot (and by idiot I mean anyone on a major sports radio show, television show, or writing in a major publication) would not have seen that before the start of the season.

* Yes, Tim Wakefield will have to adapt to a catcher other than Doug Mirabelli. Boo-freaking-hoo. Only in Boston does the former back-up catcher catch so much press. If Mirabelli was so damned good, would he not play everyday ahead of Jason Varitek?

* Yes, Big Papi needs to be locked-up long-term ASAP because if his agent even sniffs the open market, the money paid to him will make the Johnny Damon abomination (I mean, contract) seem like chump change. Like Tom Brady and Richard Seymour, Paul Pierce, and (well, no one on the Bruins. I guess we go by the OTHER major sports team) Taylor Twellman, there are certain franchise players that you lock-up long-term immediately for whatever the going rate is because no matter how much they accept, it is a bargain compared to the open market price.

* Yes, Keith Foulke did not look particularly sharp on opening day. That said, he was pitching with a big lead and he ALWAYS pitches differently when not in a save situation. Tuesday afternoon he threw fastball after fastball (all around 90 mph) to the Rangers since he just wanted outs and did not care if he gave up a few hits and runs along the way. Foulke had physical, not mental problems. He is healthy. He will go back to being the 1998-2004 Keith Foulke. End of discussion.

* Yes, Coco Crisp is going to be huge in Boston. He will hit, run, steal bases, play defense, and endear himself to the fans and immediately become the next big thing. In three years, we will be laughing at the Indians and Yankees as they trot out Russell Branyan clone Andy Marte (I hope I am right, but I really think he is the real deal and will be more of a .280-35-115-.900 hitter in the middle of the Cleveland line-up for years to come) and Bernie Williams (circa 2005) clone Johnny Damon in their respective line-ups while Coco Crisp sells millions of boxes of cereal in Boston.

I think the Red Sox have a huge advantage in that they trot out the best starting five East of Chicago (I am of course referring to the White Sox, not the Cubs. Yes, I have Kerry Wood on one of my fantasy teams. Send cash with the condolences, please. BTW, outside of Barry Zito, the anchor of both my fantasy teams, giving up a gazillion runs on opening day against the damned Yankees, Oakland has a good, young starting rotation. Hold off on the condolences for Zito, as I am predicting he will go 8-0 down the stretch when Billy Beane trades him to a contender in the National League for yet another pitching prospect who will win 15 games in 2007). The Yankees have trouble finding five healthy arms and the Blue Jays are already finding out why Josh Beckett, not A.J. Burnett, was the prize arm coming out of Florida. Boston is in the drivers seat in the A.L. East.

* * *

I SWEAR I AM NOT CRAZY (OR AT LEAST NOT THE ONLY ONE):

As I have repeatedly made the point this off-season, the Patriots off-season will be a success as long as Deion Branch and Richard Seymour both sign long-term extensions. Well, finally it is nice to see that I seem to have the pulse of the team with this report from Len Pasquarelli of ESPN.com (http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/insider/columns/story?columnist=pasquarelli_len&id=2391669). The most interesting point of the piece of the article is the last paragraph. Forgive me if I do not get too excited about Peerless Price: One, he killed my fantasy team his first season in Atlanta; 2. I remember the specter of Donald Hayes and more recently former Wolverine David Terrell; and 3. the keyword used to describe Price is listless. I do not know about anyone else, but listless players are not on the top of my list:
Fans in New England continue to wring their hands over the fact the Patriots have about $17 million in salary cap room, have allowed some key veterans to escape and have done very little in the way of adding reinforcements. As legitimate as those concerns may be, one high-ranking Pats officials noted this week that the team does have a plan for investing those cap funds, and that one element of it is an attempt to sign defensive lineman Richard Seymour and wide receiver Deion Branch to long-term contract extensions.
"It's going to cost a lot of money to do those two things," said the official. "And I don't know that we'll get it done. But I know this: We have to plan as if we'll get extensions finished with those two, and we have to have the money set aside, because it's going to be expensive."
Look for New England to make its usual modest foray into free agency, adding some mid-range players at palatable prices, and then fitting them into the Patriots' scheme. And don't be surprised if one of those players is wide receiver Peerless Price, who might be a typical New England reclamation project. Price seems light-years removed from the player who caught 94 passes for 1,252 yards and nine touchdowns in Buffalo in 2002. After two listless seasons in Atlanta, he was released, signed with Dallas last summer and released again. Price has only 115 catches for 1,509 yards and six touchdowns the past three seasons. But he is only 29, and the Patriots -- whose experienced receivers beyond Branch include only Bethel Johnson and the recently signed Reche Caldwell -- might be willing to give Price a chance to salvage his career.

* * *

WILY MO REDUX:

A few notes from the Sporting News Inside Dish article: The Red Sox had a chance to get Lyle Overbay from the Brewers for Bronson Arroyo before Milwaukee reconsidered. LYLE OVERBAY?!? Oh man, that would have been beautiful. Lyle can just plain hit, and the thought of him hitting in Fenway for 80 games is just too delicious to think about. Of course, the Inside Dish also notes that the Reds almost dealt Wily Mo to the Orioles for Rodrigo Lopez, but the contract Arroyo signed made him too attractive. Of course, my wife Kathy would tell you that contract or not, Bronson is too attractive.

* * *

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