Monday, March 31, 2008

Money For Nothin'

OK Whitney, I ordered the Extra Innings without the luxury of knowing exactly how many occasions my family room will vibrate to the baritone voice of the greatest living play by play announcer not named Vin Scully (sorry Jon Miller, your cool but you talk to damn much.)

However, having just checked the Extra Innings schedule which I customized to list all Phillies games, I notice that I get no Harry at least for the first week of the season. (The useless tool lists each game after 4/6 as 'TBA' even though you can search for 14 days out.) Its seems I will be subjected to the Nats and Reds broadcast feeds. How lucky!

I want my, I want my, I want my Harry TV! Think I just Tivo some Chunky Soup commercials to satisfy my fix until then.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bartleby the Scrivener

This is a picture of the field configuration at the L.A. Coliseum, where the Sox will play the Dodgers tonight in front of an estimated 115,000. The legendary old stadium is a great many things, but it seems that a ballyard it quite clearly is not. That left-field wall is 60 feet high, made of mesh, and, oh, by the way, 201 feet from home.

It'll be worth the price of admission watching Manny play offense and defense tonight. Even Jason Varitek might be able to hit one out in left. Eh, scratch that. It does, after all, require contact to lift a ball into the air.

(h/t to Joy of Sox for the image)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Groundhog Day (er... Year)

86, 80, 86, 86, 88, 85, 89

This series of numbers is the Phillies’ win totals from 2001-2007. It’s quite remarkable, no?

4.60/4.44, 4.41/4.50, 4.88/4.30, 5.19/4.82, 4.98/4.48, 5.34/5.01, 5.51/5.07

This series of numbers is the ratio of runs scored to runs allowed over the same seven year span. Conveniently, the more runs the Phillies’ pitchers surrender, the more their offense seems to compensate. Too bad ball control doesn’t apply to baseball

1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 0, 0

This is the number of Phillies’ starting pitchers who logged 200+ innings each of those seasons.

I cherry picked these stats because they stood out in my mind. Mine is a mind tortured by the monotony of mediocrity seven seasons running. Of course, last year’s division title was a refreshing cool drink of water after wandering in the desert for so long. Who are we kidding though? In reality, this team was only marginally better than they had been the previous six seasons. The difference – sorry Whitney – was the Mets’ epic collapse. Granted, the Phils weren’t exactly handed the division when you consider that they beat the Mets 12 out of 19 games including the last 8 games. Nevertheless, it took extraordinary, almost miraculous circumstances for the division crown to fall into the Phils’ lap. Otherwise, it was a case of same ol’, same old. Been there, done that. Yadda, yadda, yadda…

Now back to the cherry picked stats. The first series of numbers establishes the reality. The latter two are what I believe to be the causation. Looking at the RS/RA ratio, the Phillies are on what I would have to believe is an unsustainable climb in runs scored. Sooner or later, one has to figure that the way these characters swing ever so freely, they are nearing their peak in run creation. The biggest change in their batting lineup is that Aaron Rowand is out and Pedro Feliz is in. Pedro is not likely going to add enough offensive production to make up for Rowand’s departure. He may hit 25 home runs but as strange as this may sound, he won’t be that productive given his poor OBP. Jimmy Rollins, one has to believe will approximate, but not eclipse his career year from last season. Ryan Howard is at least good for similar production. Pat Burrell is likely to mail in his usual 25 to 30 home runs, .380 OBP and streaky hitting. Chase Utley is everyone’s MVP candidate and I think he will have a great year but not significantly better than the past two seasons. I feel safe in predicting therefore, that the Phils will not average more runs per game than last season and will in all likelihood, score fewer runs.

Now let’s look at the 200+ inning pitched stat. I don’t have the time to look it up but I’d bet that last year’s Phillies was the first team in the wild card era – perhaps divisional era – to win a division title without even one starter logging 200+ innings. We all know how detrimental poor starting pitching is to a bullpen. The Phillies bullpen, while fantastic down the stretch last year is already dancing ever so closely to the edge when it comes to injury. Tom Gordon and Brad Lidge will both log significant time on the DL this year – book it. In fact, Lidge is beginning the season there. Gordon has been chucking with a a bad shoulder for 4 years now.

Cole Hamels has yet to go 200+ (admittedly, his career is still young) but he has battled injuries his whole professional career. Brett Myers returns to the rotation but in 4 years as a starter, he only surpassed 200 innings once. He was close a few other times but on a team which desperately needs a pitcher not just to log 200 innings but to comfortably surpass it, Brett has never fit the bill. Kyle Kendrick was a great story in 2007 but it appears now there was a very good reason he wasn’t invited to spring training with the big boys last year. His welcome tour around the league has officially come to an end. He has been thoroughly abused this March. Last year, he did give six solid innings per start but as a #3, we need him to do the heavy lifting along with #1 and #2 because it most certainly will not be done by #4 Jamie Moyer or #5 KrishBensonJDDurbinAdamEatonInsertNameHere.

Of course, things could turn out differently but when making a prediction about your team's success, you have to determine how many “ifs” you have and whether those “ifs” are significant.

The Phillies “ifs” are many.

If their top 3 starters pitch 200+ innings,

if their bullpen gets (Lidge) and stays (Gordon and Lidge) healthy,

if the middle relief duplicates the results of the second half of ’08,

and of course, the biggest if of all – the one if that inexplicably plagues this club like none other I have seen in over 30 years of following baseball - if, if, if the Phillies can come out of April with a decent record (forget good, just win 15 games,) then they can improve on last season’s 89 wins.

I will not even begin to guess whether the Mets will improve or decline I’d put money on decline. I also don’t think I could intelligently speculate on the Braves’ fortunes but my gut tells me they’re back. At any rate, I am thinking anywhere from 80 to 87 wins for the Phillies and a second or third place finish.

Cold Case

Yes, it's that time of year again. Well, yeah, for major league baseballers to begin suiting up and playing ball and all that, but more importantly, it's time for Rob and me to bet 24 premium lagers or ales on our teams. The Case Bet lives on.

This year I'm calling for 91 Met wins. Seems like a reasonable number. Hoping for more, but last year's pants-soiling is still fairly fresh in our minds, no?

Rob has gone out on a limb with 93.5 Sox wins, mentioning an improved slate of AL opponents as to why that number isn't higher. And so I get 2.5 games by way of a spread. Game on.

My accusations of Rob's sandbaggery have led to the enactment of a corollary wager: if your team wins five (5) or more games above the number you predicted, you owe a six-pack to the other guy. Gotta keep ourselves honest.

With the addition of Phillie Nick and Yankee Teejay to the MLC fold, a few other bets have been made. The Mets/Phils season series will net one lucky bettor some malt beverages; same goes for the Sox/Yanks. The terms of the Phils/Sox series in June are still being ironed out. And I suppose that the Subway Series is going to have to be made "interesting."

Gentlemen, start your livers. Cheers, lads.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rising Sun

Game 2 - Red Sox

A's 5, Red Sox 1
Record: 1-1

A disjointed performance by the Sox to match my disjointed spectating experience. Worst Case Jon Lester showed up in his season debut, needing 83 pitches to get through 4 innings and allowing 4 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks. The offense didn't offer him much assistance, with Manny Ramirez' solo homer the only scratch. David Ortiz and Jason Varitek went 0-for-Japan, while Sean Casey made his Red Sox debut count, grounding into a 9th-inning double play to sew things up nicely for the A's.

Now the Sox head to Los Angeles for 3 games against the Dodgers. Seems a bit odd to have interleague play start so early, but I guess it's a nice geographical accomodation for the Sox.

Wait. What? Those are exhibition games, you say? The heck? The Sox don't play another real game until next Tuesday? What rocket surgeon came up with that? I most certainly do not approve of this.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Secrets of the Morning

Game 1 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, A's 5 (10)
Record: 1-0

This is, above all, a blog about individual fans and their interactions with and observations of their teams. And so this afternoon you won’t be getting much from me in the way of pithy analysis or nuanced prose regarding the Sox’ 6-5 win over the A’s. Instead, I’ll tell you how it felt.

It felt weird, that’s how it felt. I woke up at 6:00 to catch the opening pitch from Tokyo, and was stymied by DirecTV, an organization rapidly ascending my list of non-preferred trading partners. (Aside: c’mon, Verizon, you slack bastards. I’m ready to buy FiOS as soon as you’re ready to sell it to me.) So I swore at the television for a few minutes and then went to take a shower.

With ESPN2 still out (but no other channels), I enjoyed the season’s first Matsuzaka Happy Fun Wildball Inning via’s top-notch game feed before heading downstairs to eat breakfast and watch Hi-5 on Noggin with my kids.

I caught most of innings 4 through 6 via XM radio, finally getting to hear the sounds of real, live baseball, if not see the sights. Manny’s 2-run double highlighted the Sox’ first rally of the season, which was capped off by emergency starter Brandon Moss’ first RBI of the season – a nice bit of foreshadowing.

Pulled into the office just in time to hear Kyle Snyder give back the lead, and followed the late innings via until I had to leave for a 9:00 a.m. meeting. From that point, I got my updates via text message, only getting the salient details (another 2-run double by Manny, Moss' first career homer to tie the game in the top of the 9th) and video highlights at a late lunch a few minutes ago.

Whitney called it dedication, though I might frame it as technologically-aided desperation. And weird. Did I mention weird?

We’ll try again tomorrow, me and DirecTV. And Jonathan Papelbon, who was decidedly middling. Oh, and Jason Varitek, who appears to be in midseason form. Maybe we’ll give Synder the day off, though.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Nobody's Fool

Eric Gillin, editor of and purported Sox fan, penned the following on Deadspin today as he previewed the Sox’ 2008 campaign:

At its most obvious, I would argue that to be a Sox fan simply means that you
want the team to win when they play other teams. I don't believe that a "true
fan" needs to be able to name seven players on the team that aren't Manny
Ramirez, David Ortiz or Jonathan Papelbon. I don't believe that true fans don't
wear pink and have to attend at least one home game a year. And I don't believe
that true fans even exist, except in the mind of insecure fans who feel that
these new fans haven't "earned" it, in the same way that people who liked
Nirvana when they were on Sub Pop have to remind everyone that came after who
"found" the band.
Dear Eric:

In the words of Gary Williams, “You’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong.” You are as wrong as wrong could possibly be. Your words remind me of the time that wrong decided it wasn’t wrong enough, so it stopped by Idi Amin’s house and picked the dictator up for a stirring session of kitten-juggling and octogenarian S&M.

It is a requirement that a true fan know more than 7 players on the roster. It is goddamned right that a true fan should be invested in the team – maybe they don’t have to make a home game if they live hundreds of miles from Boston, but they better fucking care enough to know the team’s record. The bandwagon fans haven’t fucking earned it, you ninny – that’s the point, and that’s why real baseball fans who haven't climbed on the bandwagon (deservedly) mock Sox fans today. These new-to-the-Nation fucksticks didn’t live with the very real if now mythologized angst that made 2004 so shockingly, palpably, surreally world-changing. They don't get the benefit of rooting for a winner without the soul-sucking agony of Aaron Boone and Bill Buckner and Ed Armbrister and Johnny Pesky holding the ball. They just don't. I don't revel in the misery of the past, nor do I want to return to it, but it goddamn informed who I am as a sports fan, and any purported Red Sox fan over the age of 21 that can't quote chapter and verse on the pre-2004 era doesn't count.

Quote-unquote true fans may not exist, but real ones do. People that “want the team to win when they play other teams” that didn’t do so 5 years ago can piss right off. You have to do more than want the team to win. You have to care, man. You have to. Sports are fuck all if you don’t.

Fuck me, man. You’re the kind of jagoff that gives us a bad name.

Kindest Regards,

Rob from Misery Loves Company

P.S. - My friend Scott was a Nirvana fan when they were on SubPop. He likes to remind us that he "found the band". And I'm glad he did. Once again, fuck you.


Cripes, it’s Opening Day Eve and I’ve got nothing. It’ll be baseball for breakfast tomorrow morning as Daisuke Matsuzaka takes the ball for the Sox against the A’s at 6:00 a.m. Eastern, and here I am all distracted and discombobulated.

As always, then, a completely unpremeditated and poorly researched take on my expectations for the 2008 Red Sox:

Theo and Tito’s Sox have set a pretty high bar for themselves on and off the field after 2 championships in 4 seasons, and there’s a part of me that wants to say that anything less than another World Series victory would be a disappointment. But there’s a lot more of me (35/37ths, let’s say), the baseball fan part, that understands how the game works and values the journey. The Sox players and front office can be upset if they fail to win another ring; I’d be a hypocrite of the highest order if I defined success that way.

So the greatest luxury afforded by the Sox’ recent accomplishments is that of perspective. I’m quite certain that during individual games I’ll be highly irrational, ranting and stomping against the inhumanity of it all. But I’m fairly confident (though not completely – I am, after all, a bit of a whackjob on this topic) that I’ll be able to balance that in-the-moment insanity with a longer view.

That psycho-babbling preview behind us, here’s what my rational brain expects from the Sox – and it’s maybe not as rosy as others may expect. Clearly, this team has the potential to be one of the league’s elite teams. They return the defending World Champion roster nearly intact, and while it’s a year older, that helps in at least as many cases as it hurts, with young players that much more experienced. But there’s enough nagging doubt, especially in the rotation, to give me pause before I proclaim the 2008 Sox a superteam.

On paper, a rotation of Josh Beckett, Matsuzaka, Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, and Jon Lester looks sensational. In the real world, Beckett enters the season with a nagging back injury, Schilling won’t pitch until at least July, Wakefield is 68 years old, and is Tim Wakefield, and Lester’s proven to be both talented and inconsistent in his short career. Possible fill-ins Bartolo Colon and Clay Buchholz offer high ceilings and unanswered questions of their own. And Julian Tavarez waits in the wings to entertain and confound. Other teams wish they had the same problems, but the fact remains that this group isn’t guaranteed to be as good as they look. It’s my biggest concern.

The Sox will hit – Manny Ramirez is allegedly in terrific shape and David Ortiz enters the season with a newly healthy knee. The law of averages dictates that Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew have to be better than they were in 2007, though it also indicts Mike Lowell. Dustin Pedroia proved he can hit in the bigs, and Kevin Youkilis won’t win any homerun titles, but he’s effective in the Sox’ lineup. Jacoby Ellsbury and his transition to a full-time player is a big question mark, and I don’t expect much of anything from the Sox’ catchers, with Jason Varitek clearly on the decline and Kevin Cash in the running for worst offensive player in history. With Sean Casey, Bobby Kielty, Alex Cora, and Coco Crisp on the bench and Brandon Moss and Kevin Carter waiting in the wings, I feel good enough about the Sox’ depth – hell, all 4 of those guys would start on a lot of other teams.

Finally, the bullpen should be solid to very good once again. In Jonathan Papelbon the Sox have the game’s most dominant closer, as well as the league’s most entertaining idiot. Manny Delcarmen seems poised to take the leap, and while Hideki Okajima likely won’t reach his lofty 2008 numbers, he’s still a better than average setup guy. The ancient Mike Timlin continues to defy time, and the Sox have a ton of fungible middle and long relievers in both Boston and Pawtucket.

So, all things considered, there’s no tangible complaint as we eagerly anticipate the new season, at least none that Pirates fans would brook. But there’s enough doubt mixed in to leaven any expectations with a little bit of realism. As with any championship team, a lot of things have to break right, even for a team as deep and talented as the Sox. Combine that mini-doubt with the unquestionable improvement by the Rays, the talent of the Jays, and the obvious threat posed by the Yankees, and it’s anything but a no-brainer for the Sox in 2008. (Left unsaid in that sentence but not this is the fact that the Orioles may be legendarily, epically awful this year – they enter the season with Kevin Millar batting cleanup. Cowboy Up may be replaced by S.O.S. in Charm City.)

In the end, I think the Sox should probably win the AL East, but not easily. And that means we’ll have an exciting summer, which is about all a baseball fan really wants. Roll out the bats, and let’s get it on. Lotta ball left.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Coldest Winter

Holy crap! The Red Sox play a regular season game in 4 days. Manny says, "Relax and be at peace, for the season of our contentment is upon us". He also muttered something about finding a McDonald's.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Mouse That Roared

This is really interesting. The Sox are considering boycotting the upcoming trip to Japan if the team's support personnel (coaches, trainers, equipment staff) don't receive compensation that was allegedly promised them as part of the travel package.

I love this. It shows both that the team is united and that they recognize the importance and value of the people that don't get their names in the newspapers every day (and, not for nothing, don't make millions of dollars for entertaining us). I really think the Sox will be getting on that plane, but not before MLB is forced to do the right thing.

Somewhere, Hank Steinbrenner quietly fumes.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Boys of Summer

I blame the Presidential campaign. Every four years – tractor beam, sucks me right in. I love the horse race.

Or, perhaps I can pin it on William & Mary’s extremely unexpected basketball season and altogether unprecedented run through the CAA tournament. A great deal of time and energy went towards my futile fandom, distracting me completely from any number of otherwise worthwhile pursuits.

I’ve been busy at work. I’ve been dealing with a minor yet aggravating health issue. I refinanced my house. My youngest daughter refuses to potty train. The writer’s strike ended and I had television to watch.

Well. That’s quite a list, compiled in an attempt to explain why I’ve never been less prepared for the beginning of baseball season. I have a superficial idea regarding the happenings in Fort Myers. I’m generally aware of Beckett’s back spasms, Coco’s disenchantment, Papelbon’s contract, Schilling’s shoulder, Lugo’s injury, and yesterday, Mirabelli’s release. I’m pleased that Bartolo Colon is reaching 94 on the JUGS gun, and that Dustin Pedroia remains irrepressibly cocky. I hear Manny’s in terrific shape, Papi’s knees feel much better, and J.D. Drew’s put his mediocre 2007 behind him. And I know that the Sox open regular season play in Japan in 11 short days.

But I’m not ready. Not by a longshot. I need to hunker down with some Roger Angell and David Halberstam, to commune with the Baseball Poets, watch 2007 World Series highlights and get into a proper frame of mind. I owe that to you, our faithful reader.

I eagerly await my colleagues’ excuses.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fight Club

I love Max Kellerman. Really. He's passionate and genuine, the latter being increasingly unique in the world of talking heads. He doesn't know dick about baseball, though.

This afternoon, Max and Brian Kenny were discussing the Yankees in the context of their recent brawl with the Devil Rays. They suggest that the Joe Girardi Yanks won't get pushed around like Joe Torre's teams. And maybe I buy a little bit of the argument that the gentlemanly elder Joe's persona rubbed off on his squad. A little. Might have helped that those teams were usually so much more talented than their opponents that rah-rah fake motivation wasn't necessary.

And so, an interesting back and forth kept me entertained during my lunch break. Until Kellerman strode deeply into the pages of revisionist history. Max Kellerman claims, with a straight face and a heartfelt belief, that Alex Rodriguez was seconds from flipping Jason Varitek on his back and pummelling the Sox' catcher during the duo's fateful donnybrook on July 24, 2004 before the scrum reached both men and toppled them to the ground. Here's what I wrote at the time:
When this team looks back after clinching the World Series title this fall,
Saturday, July 24 will be the single most important date in team history.
It's the day Jason Varitek decided to impose his will upon this season and upon
his teammates - and upon the Yankees, smashing his open hand into Alex
Rodriguez' well-paid mug, then lifting the Yankee star by one leg and
frog-hopping him 10 feet before collapsing under a pile of Sox and Yankees.
Let's just say that my memory of the incident and Kellerman's differ materially. It's possible that we're both biased. And after a winter of Hank Steinbrenner's whining, Kellerman's rant is but the cherry on top of the sundae. My, how the worm has turned.

At least until we find out that Josh Beckett's back injury is serious.

(Editor's Note: Team MLC has been deeply preoccupied with our alma mater's surprising run through the CAA basketball tournament and apologizes for neglecting our duties here. At least that's the excuse Whit, TJ, and I are going with - Nick's still pissed at the Phillies for underpaying Ryan Howard. With the season mere weeks away, we're stretching out and rubbing Icy Hot on places where we shouldn't. We promise to do better soon.)