Sunday, June 28, 2009

Braves New World

NATIONAL ANTHEM:


Seriously? The Atlanta Braves are the "regional rival" team for the Sox in the N.L. East? Mets-Yankees, Nats-Orioles, Rays-Marlins, that all makes sense. Sox-Braves? That's as useless as Phillies-Jays (march our Mitch Williams and Mike Timlin for these games!). Let's face it, there is no regional rival or any natural rival in the National League for the Red Sox, as with most teams with this Interleague business. The Braves are a stretch based upon them playing in Boston over 50 years ago.

Interleague was a fun idea at first that has lost all enjoyment and meaning. The excitement of seeing Nick Johnson lead the Nationals against the Red Sox for "the Revenge of Julian Tavarez" doesn't seem worth staying up to see. How about we bring in the Reds for "Bronson Arroyo and his carpal tunnel syndrome Live at Fenway Park featuring the brother or cousin of James Taylor or whoever the F-List celebrity they run out for these games happens to be." Or, the drama that is, "the Endy Chavez Show." Yah, the novelty is gone and I hate to think a division title or wild card being decided again on strength of Interleague schedule. Just end this idiocity already!

FIRST PITCH:

My bullpen explodes, then the next day your bullpen explodes. That is either any doubleheader in Little League or else it was the Red Sox & Orioles last two games of their series here on Tuesday night (6/30) and Wednesday afternoon (7/1). The Sox blowing a nine to one lead is not what anyone expects to see with this fantastic bullpen, but then again, I'd rather they get it out of their system in July versus Baltimore rather than versus the Rays in October.

Personally, I blame my mother for the Sox losing last night. When I was talking on the phone with her and she asked if I was watching the Sox, I said that at 9-1 I felt like I could switch over to the Discovery channel to watch "Deadliest Catch" (or as they called it on the always snarky Simpsons this year, "Drowningest Catch").

So my mom then decides to mention that she hates how when the Sox score all these runs and don't save any for the next game. I then told her to watch what she says because you can never score enough runs and you can't tell these guys to run out there and have them make outs on purpose. Then (further tempting the Baseball Gods) she brings up that they could be rained out and the Sox game wouldn't even count!

So did she curse the Red Sox last night? Nahhhh. Who would be that superstitous?

  • Of course, I am the same person who sat in the same position without moving during game six of the ALCS in 1986 after Don Baylor's home run (EVERYONE forgets that without Baylor's home run there would be no Dave Henderson heroics) and my legs cramped up so bad by the end of the game that I could not walk for the rest of the day;
  • the same person who waited until there were two outs in the ninth inning of game six of the World Series in 1986 to wake up my Dad so he could finally see the Sox win the series and never forgave myself for jinxing the Sox until 2004;
  • the same person who ate an entire box of Ritz crackers in the first period of the Bruins playoff series in the 80s some time because it coincided with an offensive explosion one game and all I ended up with was disappointment again and a stomach-ache;
  • the same person who was convinced he was the reason the Patriots lost to the Packers in the Super Bowl in XXXI in January of 1997 because I didn't watch the game at my apartment;
  • the same guy who during Super Bowl XXXVI ran upstairs to wake up his three month old son and hold him because the Pats were ahead 17-3 when I put him to bed and without him it was 14-0 Rams;
  • the same guy who knew Aaron Bleeping Boone was the result of moving from my spot on the floor in front of the TV in the bedroom at the condo to the living room downstairs;
  • and the same person who made his three year old son run around in a circle shouting "Ral-ly Weas-el, Ral-ly Weas-el" after I created the antidote to the Rally Monkey in the 2004 ALCS, and to this day I would probably admit under sodium penthenol that I truly believe the Rally Weasel carried the Sox in 04 through the ALCS and to the promised land against the Cardinals in the World Series.

Superstitious? Me? Perish the thought! What would give anyone that idea?

SITUATIONAL LEFTY CALL TO THE BULLPEN:
It's all about the top five memories of the 1980 Red Sox:

  • Was there a bigger tease in the past 30 years in Red Sox history than Dave Stapleton in 1980? Look at the slash stats: .321/.338/.463 and an .802 OBP for a rookie utility infielder.
  • Why does no one else remember back-up outfielder Jim "Pigpen" Dwyer? He was one of my favorite players that year. Yes, he was called "Pigpen" because rumor had it that he had body odor issues.
  • I remember being six years old in 1980 and my dad telling me Win Remmerswaal was from the Netherlands and for the next 29 years I've had this insane vision of him pitching in wooden shoes and a "dutch boy" hat with tulips growing in the outfield. And, no, I did not drop acid with Bill Lee in 1980.
  • The Sox had the HOT lefties up from Pawtucket that year: Hurst, Ojeda & Tudor. Later, the Sox gave away Hurst and Tudor for a cheese sandwich and a bag of batting practice balls. Ojeda and Tudor only starred in the 1985 (Tudor, St. Louis), 1986 (Ojeda, NY Mets), and 1987 (Tudor, St. Louis) world series.
  • What a bullpen! Bob "the Steamer" Stanley; my favorite player on the entire team, lefty Tom Burgmeier; Dick "the Dragon" Drago (I always imagined he probably tormented a young Dan Shaughnessy in the locker room by walking around naked and telling him to say hello to "the Dragon"); Skip "they traded Stan Papi for me?" Lockwood; and Bill "Soup" Campbell (true story, I never had Campbell's soup until I was in high school because my parents boycotted the Campbells soup company. Swear to God!).
SWEET CAROLINE:

Top Five Reasons the Sox are Rocking the AL East:

  1. ERA+ for the top four starting pitchers to date: Beckett (133), Lester (107), Wakefield (111), & Penny (97) (ERA+ is league ERA versus pitcher ERA and adjusted to ballpark). Good starting pitching is where it all starts.
  2. Bullpen checks in with ERA+ at: Papelbon (251), Ram-Ram (251), Oki-Doki (135), Manny DC (228), and Taka (143). Those numbers are INSANE!
  3. Youkilis brings up the question of "Texeira who?"
  4. The Rays were nice enough to leave David Price in AAA half the season. THANKS!!!
  5. The Yankees insist on trotting out some bizarre outfield/dh combo of Johnny Damon, Brett Gardner, Hideki Matsui, and Nick Swisher. Seriously, that's what $200 million plus buys in today's market?


EXTRA INNINGS:


  • I'd intentionally walk Albert Pujols every at-bat even if Barry Bonds was hitting behind him.
  • Seriously, Phat Albert has 30 home runs and 32 strikeouts. That is sick!
  • Anyone else expecting Manny to pop a hamstring his first night back in LA?
  • Nice of the Yankees to force the Pirates to eat $400k on Eric Hinske's salary. Seriously? The rich steal from the poor, literally?
  • Every Pirates minor league outfielder must be dying to get up to the majors so they can get traded out of Pittsburgh.
  • I said it five years ago and I'll say it again: Get Nick Johnson to Boston already!
  • It warms my heart to see the 1980s St Louis Cardinals still hate the 1980s Mets. Kick Gary Carter's ass, Jack Clark! Yeah!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

MISCELLANEOUS RUMBLINGS

Some leftovers here that didn't make it into the Extra Innings last night...

  • Coco Crisp out for the year with a torn labrum in his shoulder and was hitting .228 for the Royals. We got Ram-Ram for him? I feel so bad for Royals fans, I really do. What a great trade that turned out for the Red Sox, and yet another nightmare deal for a franchise that hasn't caught a break since the days of Bret Saberhagen.
  • Not that I'm a big fan of these made-up footy tournaments, but what a Clint Dempsey-tastic finish the US had against Egypt to catapult them ahead of the mighty Azzurri (who got spanked around by the Brazillians). If it was a tournament that mattered, people would be extremely excited. But...yah, it doesn't matter and Spain will kick the US's rear-ends anyway.
  • NBA Draft, NHL Draft, whatever. It's nice not to be in the lottery picks.
  • Reymond Fuentes, the Red Sox first round pick and future successor to Jacoby Ellsbury when he hits free-agency in a couple of years, how did I forget to chime in on him? Fuentes is probably one of the fastest players drafted with game-changing raw speed. Only 18, projections expect him to develop into a possible power/speed threat. A cousin to Carlos Beltran, he is still far from ready for the majors and is likely on a slow rise through the minors ala Henley Ramirez where he was able to grow through each level and continuously earn his way up the ladder--certainly not a Papelbon or Lester-esque rise through the minors is expected.
  • Manny plus Albuquerque...a match made in heaven.
  • The Red Sox are one twisted ankle by Nick Green from the Gil Velazquez era at shortstop. Wait, pretend I didn't just type that. Way too scary to think about.
  • Do I really need to read an article about Nancy Kerrigan? Someone tell Dan Shaughnessy to write about Sam Jones, Ken Hodge, Troy Brown, or Jerry York and Jack Parker if he's writing a puff piece to sell tickets for "The Tradition" at the Garden. Writing about Nancy Kerrigan and the pressures she faced is not going to get my rear off the couch and there, that's for sure.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Weather=Cold / Red Sox=Hot

NATIONAL ANTHEM:

The Red Sox have been hot. Smoking hot. Colorado Rockies hot. But a nine-game road trip threatens to cool off any team. The Sox kick off the trip against the Washington Nationals. Yes, the Nats are horrible at 20-47, but this Nationals team is playing hard for embattled manager Manny Acta and recently took two of three from Toronto and beat the Yankees a couple of times as well.

A look at the pitching match-ups in my morning Boston Globe (last paper subscriber, ever! Whoo-hoo!) made me spit out my coffee, as the Nats young guns just do not look MLB ready compared to the Sox. Of course, that means they'll probably sweep the Sox just because I wrote that here. Really, with John Smoltz stepping in for the injured Dice-K, Brad Penny has become the weakest link in the Red Sox rotation. Consider, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Shaky-Wakey are the three most consistent performers right now, and Smoltzie should be a huge upgrade. Penny really, really, really sould be moved, but credit Theo for waiting for someone (Cubs? Mets? Rangers?) getting desperate enough to give up a top-line prospect.

Speaking of trades, the same goes for Taka Saito, as his role in the bullpen will likely be filled by phenom Daniel Bard. Personally, I think the Sox would be fine with Justin Masterson back in the rotation, which will allow for Javier Lopez to return as that extra lefty that Terry Francona can keep in the pen for that one batter and save Oki-Doki for a clean, full inning if necessary. Saito, as much as we all have come to lean on him, is closer quality for a team desperate for bullpen help (the Mets wish they had some prospects now, eh?). Most importantly, he has a history of injuries and has been remarkably healthy this season (knock on wood, c'mon, I need something to knock on....bingo, side table, that works) and its time to trade high.

I have heard some talk that the Sox are crazy if they mess with success and make any moves, but the team has to think long-term while at the same time going for it all this year. The Sox can win without Penny and Saito this year (Michael Bowden would be a great addition to the bullpen this fall as well), and owe it to their future to get another young power arm or a young corner outfielder or infielder who can hit for power while they have the chips in hand.

FIRST PITCH:

Can we just take a minute and admire Jason Bay this season? Speed, defense, power/slugging, and on-base percentage, he has been everything thhe Sox could hope for and then some stepping into the role as big man in the lineup. Bay brings a current VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) of 27.9, tops on the team; .317 EQA (equivalent average), second only on the team to Youk; and an OPS (On-base Plus Slugging average) of .970, second again to Youk. He's been slamming the ball off and over the Monster to a tune of 36 extra base hits with 18 home runs. Jay Bay, keep making that money every swing of the bat.

SITUATIONAL LEFTY COMING IN:


Prediction--Five Possible Red Sox Second Half Heros:

  1. Dustin Pedroia: He's going to get hot this summer, and when he does, he can carry this offense through the dog days of August.
  2. Jonathan Papelbon: Hard to believe, but he has yet to get comfortable on the mound this season as he tries to continue to find out how to protect his shoulder. Scary.
  3. Jed Lowrie: We love you, Nick Green, but when Jed comes back, the job is his for the rest of the season. If healthy, he can show how well he can hit.
  4. J.D. Drew: Remember that insane hot streak last summer? Yah, I believe he has another one in him.
  5. David Ortiz: Because we have to believe!
  6. BONUS! - Julio Lugo: Well, he is hitting .300, right?

SWEET CAROLINE:

Top Five Yankee Bashing Rants for the Day:

  1. Brett Gardner/Melkey Cabrera: A two-headed non-monster in centerfield. They've both overacheived so far and they both still are mediocre.
  2. Chien-Ming Wang: From a consistent 18 game winner to...no wins?
  3. A-Rod: "Wahhhhhh, I'm mentally fatigued." Can he do anything more to consistently make himself unlikeable? Keep up the good work, dipshit.
  4. Alfredo Aceves: The league is about two weeks from getting the book on you, kid. Enjoy that first-half success while you can.
  5. Mariano Rivera: Has he finally gone from otherworldly to great? Quick, get another cousin from the pool cabana to sacrifice to the Baseball Gods.

EXTRA INNINGS:

  • Albert Pujols is the best hitter in baseball, bar none. Like I told the Lovely Mrs. B. when I told her I named the cardinal in the back yard Pujols and she asked what I called the female mate: "I call the female "Manny" because he's Pujol's bitch!"
  • My kids are just infatuated by a baseball player named "Poo-holes".
  • My daughter (all of five) still considers Manny as her favorite Red Sox.
  • My son (all of seven) still loves Pokey Reese (though Curt Schilling is still his favorite Red Sox player).
  • Me, I can't decide between Eddie Jurak and Chico Walker.
  • Juan Pena and Paxton Crawford were supposed to be the next great young Sox pitchers, remember?
  • What ever happened to Robinson Checo, the Dominican Mystery Man?
  • What ever happened to the Gin Blossoms? They coulda/shoulda been huge.
  • I like that extra high camera angle NESN is using when broadcasting from Nationals Park, or whatever the heck they call it in D.C.
  • Speaking of NESN, just why is Kathryn Tappen on TV?
  • No one else wants to say it, but I will: Remy who?
  • Eck! Eck! Eck! Hall-of-Fame starter/reliever/drinker/announcer.
  • Still waiting on my invitation for John Henry's wedding.
  • Maroon Five/Shmaroon Five as a wedding band? Bahh, nothing at his wedding will top the "Kirk Noises" from my pal Eric's best man speech for my pal Kirk's wedding last weekend. Instant classic! (Sorry, you had to be there.)
  • Why is it on FIOS I cannot watch Fox25?
  • Oh, to protect me from Butch Stearns. Wow, what a considerate company.
  • OK, I finally will admit it. Theo, you &%#!&^ blew it giving away Bronson Arroyo for Wily Freaking Mo Freaking Pena! Seriously, how many wins did that trade cost the Sox?
  • Ramon Ramirez not winning the 10th Player Award would be the biggest tragedy (sorry Nick Green).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

(Un)Organized Team Activities

KICKOFF:

Big Vince Wilfork is unhappy. OK, I understand that he is ready to get his after he finally finishes his ridiculously cheap six year rookie contract. Playing this year at about one-tenth of his free market value, Big Vince is deservedly ready to get his this offseason (note the total lack of usage of cliches such as "Mo' Money" or "Show me the Money"--I am so proud of my restraint).

So what can the Patriots do?


With the NFL labor market so extremely muddled due to the uncertaintly around the capped/uncapped year upcoming, can the Patriots even afford to to sign Wilfork and tie-up a boatload of money? Also, consider that Wilfork has been playing for cheap so long, contributing value so high above his pay scale that even overpaying him, the team breaks even over the length of his new contract. Will there even be a franchise tag in the new NFL of 2011?


Too many questions, and not enough answers for the Patriots to panic and make a brash move. The only way this deal goes through before the season is if Wilfork leaves a lot of money on the table. After the way he's fought in the trenches for the last five years, I think it's safe for Big Vince to cash in.


Here's what else Bill Belichick thinks about at 2am:


Five Major Potential Unrestricted Free Agents at the End of 2010:


1. Big Vince Wilfork (NT): Remember, impact 3-4 nose tackles don't grow on trees.

2. Leigh Bodden (CB): By the end of the Super Bowl XLIV, Patriots fan are going to be clamoring to sign Bodden, who is such a perfect fit for the Bill Belichick defense and should make everyone forget about Asante Samuel. Unfortunately, Bodden is looking to make-up for all the money he lost in Detroit.

3. Ben Watson (TE): Wait a minute, forget about Watson. I've had my fill of this bozo. He has all the tools except he can't catch the ball. Don't be too shocked if Watson gets dinged in training camp and then is released at the final cutdowns after the pre-season.

3 (take two): Kevin Faulk (RB): Faulk, who has inherited the mantle of Mr. Patriot from Troy Brown, has serious competition for third down back in Fred Taylor, especially if Maroney bounces back. If a desperate team throws enough cash at Faulk in an uncapped year, would he consider jumping ship?

4. Stephen Neal (OG): There will be a lot of demand for this mauler on the open market. Oh, and while discussing Neal, has he not progressed to the point where he can be discussed without going into "he was a champion wrestler" and "he never played football in college". Enough already! Neal deserves to stand on his NFL merits as a top guard in the NFL.

5. Richard Seymour (DE): Has Big Sey priced himselft out of NE? How much money would Seymour get from Mangini and the Browns on the open market? Or for that matter, the cash available from the Jets, Ravens, or any other team running a 3-4 defense?

Bonus: Jarvis Green (DE): Where is Jarvis in the team's plans in the future? A so-called third down specialist at DE, I don't recall Green getting close to too many quarterbacks last year. Green's lack of pass rush didn't help the team's problems with third down efficiency on defense.


HALF-TIME:


Five Key Points of Interest This Summer in Foxboro:

  1. Tom Brady is back: Nuff said. Now bring me the head of Ben Roethlisberger.
  2. #3 & 4 Receivers: Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis need to draw away safety coverage from Randy Moss, the tight ends, and Wes Welker. Whether they just run fly patterns down the sidelines does not matter, as long as they bring the threat of a deep ball to keep the free safety deep it doesn't matter how many balls they catch. In 07 Dante Stallworth opened up the field for Welker and Moss; In 08 Jabar Gaffney did not.
  3. How many running backs are too many? Hmm, right now I'll pull out my quote from "Numb" by U2 (from their vastly underrated "Zooropa" album) by the falsetto-voiced Bono behind the Edge's vocals: "Too much is not enough."
  4. Patrick Pass: AUGH! AUGH! AUGH!
  5. Bill Likes to Redshirt the Freshmen in their first year at Foxboro University: With Shawn Crable (OLB), Tyrone Wheatley (CB), and Jonathan Wilhite (CB) expected to make contributions this season on defense, there is hope for 2011 with third round picks Brandon Tate (WR) and Tyrone McKenzie (OLB).

2 MINUTE OFFENSE:


Continuing to stay with the Patriots big weakness in 08, the secondary is looking like a huge upgrade in 09. The Patriots have a ton of youth and speed available with their Fab Five in the secondary: Wheatley, Wilhite, and rookie Darius Butler at cornerback; Brandon Merriweather and rookie Patrick Chung at safety. Throw in veterans Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs at cornerback and James Sanders at safety, and this unit got real deep real quick.

Cross that question mark off the list. Something tells me that if Belichick could win a Super Bowl with Otis "My Man" Smith, Hank Poteat, Ty Poole, Earthwind Moreland, and Randall Gay at cornerback, this unit could flourish in 2009-10.

OVERTIME:

Five Patriots I Expect to Take the Next Step This Year:

  1. Brandon Merriweather (S): This is it. The athletic ability of year one, the gradual growth in year two, the breakout year in year three? This kid could be the biggest contributor in the secondary this season.
  2. David Thomas (TE): Seriously. The former Longhorn has great hands (that is what happens when you have Vince Young throwing the ball all over the state of Texas), and right now the Patriots have some serious competition at tight end. Thomas, if healthy, is potentially a huge asset at TE. Tight end has been the one position that must drive Belichick insane. Two first round picks and multiple free agents later and the position is still a black hole. When Christian Fauria and Mike Vrable were the most productive tight end of the Belichick era, that is a position ripe for the taking.
  3. Terence Wheatley (CB): He had the skills last year. With health, he should shine.
  4. Matthew Slater (KR): The son of Jackie has a chance to shine with Ellis Hobbs out of New England and the returner position wide open. Kid, this is what you were drafted for--time to shine.
  5. Gary Guyton (ILB): The surprise of 2008 sould be able to continue to grow into replacement for Bruschi.
  6. BONUS: Shawn Crable (OLB): He looked the part in 2008 during the preseason with his incredible wingspan and great speed. He showed the ability to fly around the corner at the QB, and having him drop into coverage allowed him to get to the ball and make plays in space. He was drafted for a reason--this year hopefully the Foxboro faithful see the full package.

POST-GAME PRESS CONFERENCE:

Three More Potential Unrestricted Free Agents in 2010 (or Restricted Free Agents, depending on the labor agreement):

  1. Stephen Gostowski (K)
  2. Nick Kaczur (OT)
  3. Logan Mankins (OG)

Bent Offerings

Traditionally, burnt offerings were presented as an act of sacrifice; "Bent Offerings" have no sacrificial lamb other than the Boston-area athletes, management, and media members deserving criticism, perspective, praise and critiques (especially critiques of anyone or anything from the NY market, natch). In the ongoing spirit of BostonSportPage.com, I'm continuing to experiment with the presentation of the content and I'm trying to get this info out in a format that hopefully forces more creativity and commentary. Of course, the content should have the usual "Bent" perspective (hah, I can at least make myself laugh).

Team activities have started in Foxboro, so I will kick things off with the Patriots, followed shortly by the Red Sox, currently fighting the Yankees for first place. Thanks to all who continue to read, and I hope I can continue to entertain and amuse.

Enjoy!

-Hal Bent, 06-10-09

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