Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sox Walk-Off

Betts celebrates his walk-off (Barstool Sports)
This season's first meeting between the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays turned out to be a good one, though it did not start well for the Olde Towne Team. The half-hour rain-delay may have affected both starting pitchers, who each needed 36 pitches to get through the first and allowed five runs between them.

Jose Reyes got Toronto off and running by ripping Joe Kelly's second pitch of the night for a single, stole second, then came around to score when Devon Travis singled to right. Kelly walked Josh Donaldson, losing him on a full-count. Two outs later, he lost another full count when Russell Martin turned on Kelly's ninth pitch of the at-bat and smashed two-run double down the left field line. Kelly stranded Martin on second by getting Michael Saunders to fly out to deep center and end the inning, by which point he had already thrown 36 pitches and dug Boston into a 3-0 hole.

The Red Sox rallied immediately, getting two runs back in their half of the first on an opposite field single from Pablo Sandoval. The game would have at least been tied, however, had Mookie Betts not been thrown out trying to steal second base. Betts had tipped his hand by trying to steal on the previous pitch, which Dustin Pedroia fouled off.

Following a scoreless second inning in which both sides went down in order and failed to hit the ball out of the infield, the Jays struck again. Travis, the red-hot rookie, continued his incredible start by lining an 0-2 pitch over the Monster to lead off the third. Kelly recovered to fan Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion, blowing away the heart of Toronto's order with his high-90s fastball.

Kelly ran into trouble again in the fourth as his control abandoned him. He walked Martin on four pitches and Saunders on five, setting up Kevin Pillar's run-scoring single. The game might have gotten out of hand were it not for consecutive outstanding plays by Boston's defense. The first was Sandoval showing off his surprising agility by laying out, Bobby Orr-style, to snag a blooped bunt off the bat of Dalton Pompey. The second was an unassisted double play by Xander Bogaerts, who gunned the speedy Reyes at first and has looked much more comfortable at shortstop this year than he did last.

Sandoval's web-gem led to an early exit for the lumbering third baseman due to whiplash-like symptoms (he's been cleared to play tonight), but not before he belted his first Fenway home run in the bottom of the fourth. He hit a rocket into the bullpen off Aaron Sanchez, bringing the Sox to back within two. Boston closed the gap to one in the following frame after Kelly set down the Jays in order. Betts started the rally with a two-out double to left, then scored when Sanchez airmailed Dustin Pedroia's tapper out of play. The error, committed on a play which would have ended the inning, proved costly.
Kelly wasn't sharp, but kept his team in the game (Chat Sports)
With both starters gone by the seventh inning, John Gibbons entrusted his shaky bullpen to protect Toronto's one-run lead. Aaron Loup made short work of the Sox in the seventh, needing just eight pitches to retire the side. Alexi Ogando, the former reliever-turned starter-turned reliever again, did his part by keeping the Jays off the board in the seventh and eighth.

Gibbons tapped Roberto Osuna to navigate the eighth inning, a move that immediately misfired when he allowed back-to-back singles and uncorked a wild pitch. He walked David Ortiz to load the bases, only to face Boston's hottest hitter in Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez delivered, nearly finding the gap with a liner to left but settling for game-tying sacrifice fly. Osuna preserved the tie, escaping the inning without further damage by whiffing Allen Craig and getting Daniel Nava to line out to Donaldson, who made a spectacular leaping catch--one of his many great defensive plays on the day--to end the inning.

With the score all even at 5-5 heading into the ninth, it was Koji Time, and Koji Uehara did not disappoint. He whiffed Saunders and Pillar before getting Pompey to pop out to third, setting Boston up for some bottom of the ninth heroics.

And who better to play the hero than Betts, who in spite of his poor numbers has dazzled Red Sox fans with his highlight-reel theatrics and flair for the dramatic in the early-going. With one out and runners on second and third, Gibbons made the curious move of not walking Betts to set up a force at the plate and potential inning-ending double play. He let Miguel Castro pitch to the kid, who made Toronto pay by singling through its drawn-in infield for his third hit of the night, plating Bogaerts for the winning run.

The win improved Boston's record to 11-9, moving them into a tie for second place in the AL East with Tampa Bay, who lost to New York (AL) 4-1. The loss dropped Toronto to last place in the division, half a game behind Baltimore. The Red Sox will look to win again tonight behind Clay Buchholz, while the Jays will counter with Drew Hutchison.

Hamilton Headed Back to Texas

Hamilton's brief but costly tenure with the Angels is over (Rant Sports)
On December 15th, 2012, the Los Angeles Angels signed Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million deal. Two and a half years later, they traded him away for essentially nothing--either a player to be named later or a fraction of the $80 million he's still owed.

There have been a lot of ugly contracts handed out in recent years, but Hamilton's might trump them all. Depending on how much the Rangers pay, which is believed to be anywhere from $6-8 million to $15 million, the Angels are on the hook for at least $110 million for a season and a half of mediocre production. Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs agree Hamilton produced about three wins above replacement in 2013-2014 combined, meaning he cost the Angels around $35 million per win--five to six times what a win is supposed to cost on the open market.

The Angels bought high on Hamilton, who was coming off five straight All-Star appearances and a big 43-homer season. His first year in LA was a massive disappointment, as his OPS fell nearly 200 points and he hit half as many home runs in the same number of plate appearances. The Angels also flopped, going 78-84 after winning 89 games the year before.

Hamilton's second go-round with the Angels wasn't much better, as he played all of eight games before landing on the disabled list with a thumb injury, which he sustained while doing what everyone knows is one of the riskiest and least rewarding plays in baseball--diving headfirst into first base. The daring play cost him two months and much of his power, for he slugged just .386 after returning to action in early June. He missed most of September with shoulder soreness and was a bust in the playoffs, going hitless in 13 at-bats as the Angels were swept in the ALDS.

Hurt again, Hamilton is currently recovering from shoulder surgery. He also relapsed recently, which proved to be the straw that broke the camel's (more specifically, Arte Moreno's) back. The Angels owner had had enough of Hamilton, who was costing him truckloads of money and giving him next to nothing in return.

That Hamilton's career soured so quickly was hardly surprising, though it was something of a worst-case scenario. He has been undone by all the flaws that made this pact so risky in the first place. His high strikeout rate in 2012 proved to be the new normal, as he followed up that year's 25.5 percent whiff rate with a 24.8 percent mark in 2013 and 28.3 percent mark last year. His injury woes followed him, limiting him to just 89 games last year and shelving him for the start of 2015.

He was also hurt by the move away from Texas, putting up a .690 home OPS in 2013 and a .616 home OPS in 2014. Age has certainly been a factor as well, as Hamilton's decline is on par with what most athletes experience in  their early 30s. Lastly, he was unable to shake the personal issues that have plagued him his entire career, ultimately preventing him from realizing his full potential.

In light of all this, one can understand why the Angels were so eager to cut bait and move on. They realized Hamilton was a sunk cost and not worth the headaches. Obviously they feel they will be better off without him, even if that means paying most of his contract for him to go away.

As for the Rangers, they can't be any worse with him. They are currently last in the AL West and are getting nothing offensively from their outfielders. Hamilton had his best years in Texas, so it's worth finding out if he can recapture some of his former glory with his old team. Hopefully he does Alex Rodriguez-style, because when he's right he's one of the most electrifying talents in the game. If he doesn't, the cost to the Rangers is entirely inconsequential. They can't lose.

The Angels, meanwhile, will continue to lose money on Hamilton for three more years. All they can do is hope he doesn't return to form with their division rivals and take advantage of all those opportunities he'll get to punish the team still signing his checks.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Baseball's Elite Eight

PED use aside, Bonds (left) and A-Rod are two of the greatest living ballplayers (NYPost)
So MLB.com is letting fans determine the four greatest living players in baseball history (a title Joe DiMaggio proudly but wrongly held from 1969 until his death in 1999). Only not really, because voters are selecting from a ballot of eight candidates, several of whom shouldn't be there. Several writers, Joe Posnanski chief among them, have already pointed out the lunacy of Sandy Koufax's inclusion, and by extension Pedro Martinez (who was a lot like Koufax, only with better developmental seasons and a handful of years tacked on at the end of his career). Johnny Bench seems to be an odd choice as well, and I probably wouldn't have given Tom Seaver much thought.

If I were in charge of creating the ballot, these are the eight guys I'd put on there:

Barry Bonds
Nobody had a career anything close to the one that Bobby Bonds's son did, which is why the most similar batter to him has a similarity score of only 761 (fun fact: it's his godfather). He leads the world in home runs and walks, has more MVPs than anybody, stole 514 bases, and was the best (or nearly so) defensive left fielder of all-time. 2000-2004 Bonds was the closest anyone has come to dominating the game like Babe Ruth since, well, Babe Ruth.

Roger Clemens
The pitching equivalent of Bonds is, in all likelihood, the best pitcher to ever grace this earth (check back with us in 15 years, Clayton Kershaw).  The crazy thing about Clemens is how he was so good for so long. He won his first Cy Young award and was named MVP in 1986 at age 23; He won his seventh and final Cy Young in 2004 at 41, was the major league ERA champion the next year, and had a 2.30 ERA (194 ERA+) the year after that.

Hank Aaron
Aaron may have ceded his title as the Home Run King to Bonds, but he's still number one all-time in RBI, total bases, and extra base hits. What blows my mind about Aaron is that he was so good for so long, drawing MVP votes every year from 1955 through 1973, but came away with only one MVP award. He finished third six times, but for some reason I'm just really surprised by that, especially since he kept raking even as offense disappeared in the 1960s.

Willie Mays
At his best, Mays was the best all-around ballplayer there ever was. He had 50-homer power, 40-steal speed, was a threat to win a batting title, and played center field better than anyone not named Andruw Jones. It's scary to think what he could have accomplished had he not lost two full seasons to military service and played in one of the worst possible offensive environments (Candlestick Park in the '60s) imaginable.

Randy Johnson
The Big Unit also had a Koufax-esque run for the ages in the late '90s/early '00s, earning four straight Cys and five in all. The nine-time strikeout champion punched up more K's than everyone besides Nolan Ryan, won over 300 games, and staked his claim as the best southpaw to ever take the bump (apologies to Koufax, Kershaw, and Lefty Grove).

Greg Maddux
Mad Dog matched the peak of Koufax (four consecutive Cys, 2.15 ERA over a seven-year stretch) while remaining healthy and durable enough to complete more than 5,000 innings. Think about it--that's averaging 250 innings per year for 20 years. Nobody today, not even of Mark Buehrle, is capable of that.

Rickey Henderson
Henderson may not have the as great as he thought/proclaimed he was, but he was still pretty damn good. Man of Steal stole more bases and scored more runs than anybody in baseball history, reached base over 5,200 times, swatted nearly 300 home runs, and swiped 100 bags or more in a season three times. Henderson, who maintained a .401 OBP over 25 seasons and 13,346 plate appearances, was also exceptional into old age, leading the league in walks and steals at 39 and batting .315/.423/.466 at 40.

Alex Rodriguez
If nothing else, Rodriguez is reminding us this year of the incredibly gifted player once considered the best all-around talent in baseball. From his Mike Trout-esque beginnings in Seattle to his towering seasons in Texas to his continued dominance in New York, Rodriguez has been a force in major league baseball for two decades now. He's done some incredible things along the way, like win five home run crowns and three MVP awards while playing top-shelf defense and stealing hundreds of bases. The sad thing is that he probably still could have done all those things without PEDs.

Of these eight, I'd vote for Bonds, Aaron, Mays, and Clemens. If the ballot could have stretched to 10 I would have included Mike Schmidt and probably Seaver, with Frank Robinson just missing the cut.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Gonzalez Going Bananas, Miggy Mashing

Gonzalez's great start has helped the Dodgers to an 8-3 record (ABC News)
Adrian Gonzalez came up to bat with the bases loaded twice in yesterday's Rockies-Dodgers game. The first time was in the bottom of the third, with the score tied 1-1 and only one out. With nowhere to put Gonzalez, Jordan Lyles had no choice but to pitch to the man from Mildon, who entered the game batting a scintillating .550/.609/1.125.

To his credit, Lyles got Gonzalez to ground into what should have been an inning-ending double play. Gonzalez rolled a tailor-made rally killer to Troy Tulowitzki, who quickly flipped to DJ LeMahieu at second. Though he had plenty of time to get the slow-footed Gonzalez, LeMahieu rushed his throw to first and buried it in the dirt. Justin Morneau was unable to field the hop at first, allowing Gonzalez to reach and the go-ahead run to score.

But that's just how hot Gonzalez is these days. The fielders are just as afraid of him as the pitchers are, and even his outs hurt opposing teams.

In the bottom of the fifth with the score still 2-1, Gonzalez came up in another bases loaded situation. Once again, Lyles was forced to pitch to him, and once again Gonzalez made him wish he hadn't. Gonzalez laced a long, looping drive that one-hopped the center field wall, landing just beyond the reach of a diving Charlie Blackmon. Joc Pederson and Jimmy Rollins scored, giving Los Angeles a 4-1 lead and boosting Gonzalez's RBI total to 14 on the young season. Gonzalez's single would prove to be the game-winning hit, as LA went on to win 6-3.

Gonzalez, who has hit safely in every game thus far and leads the majors in just about every conceivable batting metric, has been unstoppable since starting the season on fire against San Diego. Gonzalez had an opening series for the ages, going 10-for-13 with five home runs, two doubles, seven RBI, and seven runs scored as the Dodgers took two out of three from the Padres. After falling a triple shy of the cycle in each of the first two games, Gonzalez capped his monster series with his first career three-homer game.

Gonzalez has yet to go hard since, but he hasn't stopped hitting in the meantime. For starters, his .523/.580/1.625 line represents season lows in all three categories. Yeah. His plate discipline stats also reflect how locked in he is right now. He's made contact on nearly 90 percent of his swings, getting wood on almost 98 percent of the pitches he's swung at inside the strike zone. His swinging strike percentage, currently below five percent, is half his career rate. He's done his best Victor Martinez impression by striking out only three times.

Gonzalez's hot streak shows that even as his 33rd birthday rapidly approaches, he's still a great player. The quiet, steady first baseman usually doesn't generate many headlines, but right now he's the star of the show. Los Angeles is first in the NL West, but if he was having a Mark Teixeira-type start they wouldn't be. He's either scored or driven in 22 of the team's 56 runs thus far--a whopping 39.3 percent--and is responsible for over a quarter of their total bases.

With Matt Kemp gone and Yasiel Puig struggling to find consistency at the major league level, Gonzalez is clearly the best hitter on his team. If the last two weeks have taught us anything, it's that.
Cabrera can still crank, too (Tigers Sout)
Gonzalez isn't the only 30-something first baseman off to a torrid start. Over in the American League, in a mysterious land called Michigan, Miguel Cabrera has continued to remind everyone why he was considered the best hitter on the planet before last year.

Cabrera, who turned 32 yesterday, has been almost as impossible to get out as Gonzalez. Although his numbers pale in comparison to the latter's gaudy figures, they're still video game worthy. Through 11 games, Cabrera's hitting .442/.510/.674 with an AL-leading 19 hits. He's also driven in 10 runs so far, tied with J.D. Martinez for most on the Tigers.

Like Los Angeles, Detroit is also off to a strong start, having won nine of ten before getting blown up by Chicago yesterday. The Tigers, who many thought might fall apart this year, have resumed their usual perch atop the AL Central, Cabrera once again a big reason why.

While the two-time AL MVP hasn't been as consistent as Gonzalez (he's already gone hitless three times), he did have a series where the other team had no answer for him. In Cleveland last weekend for Detroit's first road series of the season, Cabrera laid waste to Tribe pitching. He went 3-for-5 in the opener and 4-for-5 the next day, but that was just a teaser for the grand finale: a 4-for-4 day with two long balls and a double as Detroit won 8-5 to complete the sweep.

Like Gonzalez, Cabrera hasn't cleared the fences since his mega-game but has continued to rake. He's reached base in every game since Opening Day and currently leads the American League in on-base percentage. The ankle injury that plagued him last year and required offseason surgery appears not to be an issue, and if it is he's hiding it very well. This is an encouraging sign for the Tigers, who won't see Cabrera's eight-year, $248 million contract extension begin until next year.

Before the year, everyone was quick to hand Mike Trout the MVP award (myself included). However, it looks like Cabrera's going to make it an interesting race...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Sox Win Third in a Row

Kelly was on his game today, firing seven innings of one-hit ball (Boston Globe)
Less than 12 hours after putting the Yankees to bed with a 6-5, 19-inning victory, the Red Sox ripped off another win versus their ancient foes. Boston beat New York 8-4, and thankfully needed only the requisite nine innings to do so this time.

With most of the position players still groggy from last night's marathon, starters Joe Kelly and Adam Warren encountered little resistance through the first six innings. Both teams plated a run in the second and Boston broke through for another in the fourth, but overall the bats were mostly quiet until the late innings. With both starters out of the game, however, the bats finally came alive.

The Red Sox pounced on Justin Wilson and Chris Martin for three runs in the top of the seventh, two on a double by Dustin Pedroia that sailed over Chris Young's head and bounced to the center field wall. Boston struck for three more in the top of the eighth against Matt Tracy, who was unfairly charged with three earned runs when Garrett Jones botched a two out fly ball off the bat of Brock Holt. The play was ruled a bases-clearing double for Holt--his fourth hit of the day.

Holt's hit/Jones's miscue put the game out of reach for New York, extending Boston's lead to 8-1. With Kelly gone after yielding just one hit through seven, the Yankees made some noise with two outs in the bottom of the eighth. After back-to-back singles by Gregorio Petit and Brett Gardner, Young yanked a hanging 0-2 slider from Alexi Ogando into the left field bleachers for a three-run homer. Not taking any chances, John Farrell lifted Ogando in favor of Anthony Varvaro, who finished off the inning by striking out Carlos Beltran (side-note: how washed up does he look right now?) on a foul tip.

The ninth saw both teams put a man in scoring position, but neither scored and that was that. Boston will look to sweep New York tomorrow night behind Clay Buchholz, fresh off a masterful Opening Day start in Philadelphia. The Yankees will try to salvage the series finale with Masahiro Tanaka on the bump, hoping Tanaka can put a rough start to the year behind him. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN starting at 8:05 PM EST.

The Longest Game

Ortiz watches his go-ahead home run leave the yard (Yahoo)
By late afternoon/early evening on the east coast, assuming they don't play another extraordinarily long game, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will have played the equivalent of three baseball games in under 24 hours. As someone who's done so--albeit with seven inning games--in college, I can tell you it's not fun. Baseball may not be the most physically punishing sport, but it still gives your body a beating.

Alas, that's what happens when you decide to play an impromptu doubleheader the night before an afternoon game. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees met for the first time of the season yesterday at Yankee Stadium, and for roughly seven hours they were about as evenly matched as two teams can be. The Red Sox ultimately outlasted their rivals, prevailing 6-5 thanks to a timely sacrifice fly by Mookie Betts in the top of the 19th.

While this  rivalry is known for its marathon games, last night's 19-inning affair took the cake. Including a 16 minute delay cause by a power outage, it took seven hours and five minutes to complete. It was the longest game time-wise in Red Sox history. It was the longest game time-wise in Yankees history.

John Farrell and Joe Girardi were constantly re-arranging their lineup cards as they emptied their bullpens and benches, deploying 17 pitchers and 25 position players between them. Pinch hitters and runners came and went. A brigade of relievers contributed innings before Boston settled on Steven Wright and New York leaned on Esmil Rogers to see them through. The two sides combined for 32 hits, 14 walks, and 28 strikeouts.

While the game was insufferably long, it was anything but boring. It had a game-saving home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth by Chase Headley to send the game into extras. It had another game-tying blast in the bottom of the 16th by Mark Teixeiraafter David Ortiz put Boston ahead in the top of the frame with a moon shot of his own. It had baserunning blunders, perfect throws, floating knuckleballs, timely hits, and too many missed opportunities to count. And it ended on a beautifully turned double play by Xander Bogaerts (who gloved a hard shot up the middle by Garrett Jones that would have gone through had Bogaerts not shifted), Dustin Pedroia (who threw across his body, leaping to avoid the slide of former teammate Jacoby Ellsbury), and Mike Napoli (nice catch)--the only one Boston turned all night.

Last night's game was an instant classic, the kind these two teams tend to produce so frequently. Though I found myself wishing for the game to end several times (a man's gotta sleep), and grew increasingly frustrated as the Red Sox blew lead after lead, I'm glad I stayed up for it. Those are the kinds of games you don't forget. I still remember staying up for a 16-inning Sox-Rays duel during the 2011 season (Boston won that battle, but lost the war). Baseball fans watch so many games every year that they inevitably blur together, but I'm damn sure I won't forget this one.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Red Sox Take Series Finale

Masterson had a strong debut on the mound and at the dish (Press Herald)
Last night's Red Sox-Phillies game was unusual. What made it unusual was that in the third inning, both teams combined to score eight runs. In the other eight innings, neither side scored once.  Even more unusual was that all eight runs scored with two outs.

Thankfully for Boston, their third inning was much more productive, as they batted around and scored six runs. Philadelphia managed just two runs in the bottom half, and that was it for scoring for the rest of the evening.

What made Boston's big inning even more impressive was that the Sox scored all their runs with two outs, after Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia were retired. David Ortiz started the rally with a single to Chase Utley, Hanley Ramirez followed with an infield single of his own, and Pablo Sandoval walked.

With the bases full, Shane Victorino delivered, rifling a shot down the third base line that Cody Asche gloved, but threw over too late to nab the speedy Victorino. A coaching visit to the mound did nothing to settle David Buchanan, who walked in a run to make it 2-0 Boston.

The big blow was a triple by Xander Bogaerts, who lofted a fly ball down the right field line that took a funny hop and bounced past Jeff Francoeur, who came in so hard and fast that his hat flew off Willie Mays-style. As if that wasn't enough, Justin Masterson got in on the action by roping a single back through the box to knock in Bogaerts, helping his own cause by extending Boston's lead to six.

Masterson gave back two of those runs in the bottom of the frame, allowing Freddy Galvis to score on a wild pitch and serving up an RBI single to Utley--all with two outs.

Masterson wasn't masterful, but he was pretty good, making it through six to earn the quality start and the win Buchanan exited after his nightmare inning, and while Philadelphia's bullpen held the Red Sox in check, the Phillies were unable to get anything going offensively.

Boston's road trip continues tonight at Yankee Stadium, with Wade Miley making his Red Sox debut against Nathan Eovaldi, who'll be making his Yankee debut.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sox Suffer First Lost

Porcello pitched well but lost due to lack of run support (Boston Globe)
 The Boston Red Sox, my pick to win the American League this year, remained undefeated for exactly one game. Maybe I should start re-thinking that prediction.

The afterglow of Boston's 8-0 Opening Day beatdown faded quickly, as the Red Sox lost 4-2 last night. With the game time temperature dipping below 40 degrees, Boston's bats went cold after blasting five home runs in Monday afternoon's slugfest, managing just two singles and no runs through the first seven innings.

Rick Porcello and Aaron Harang, both debuting with their respective teams, traded scoreless frames until the sixth, when Philadelphia broke through for three runs. After fanning Ryan Howard to open the bottom of the frame, Porcello hiccuped. A walk, a single, and a just-enough homer to Jeff Francoeur of all people (of course he plays for the Phillies) made it 3-0 Philly in an eyeblink. Porcello got out of the inning without further damage, but his mistake to Frenchy ultimately cost his new team the game.

With Philadelphia leading 4-0 in the top of the eighth, having added an insurance run on a Chase Utley sacrifice fly, Boston rallied against Ken Giles. A Darin Ruf fielding error, Xander Bogaerts' single, and three walks--the last a bases loaded free pass to Pablo Sandoval--let in two Red Sox runs. With the bases still loaded and two down, Ryne Sandberg called for his closer, Jonathan Papelbon, to get out of the jam against his former team.

For a heart-stopping moment, the substitution appeared to backfire when Hanley Ramirez--his bat still smoldering from his pair of Opening Day homers--unloaded on an 0-1 pitch, driving it high and deep towards the left-center field wall. A couple months from now it probably lands in the seats, but the cold caused it to die on the warning track just shy of the 374 sign.

The next two Boston at-bats ended similarly, with fly balls harmlessly dropping into the mitt of Phillies left fielder Ben Revere. With the Sox down to their last out, Ryan Hanigan reached on catcher's interference, bringing the potential tying-run to the plate in the form of Bogaerts.  It was a classic baseball matchup of a battle-tested closer staring down the eager kid at the plate. This time, experience won out, as Pap whiffed Bogaerts to end the game and earn his 326th career save.

Other notes: the recently-extended Porcello pitched very well until his sixth-inning speed bump, but let's wait and see how he fares against a real lineup...Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, and Hanley Ramirez went a combined 0-for-10 after hitting five home runs between them on Monday...Mike Napoli went 0-for-4 in place of David Ortiz...Sandoval notched his first Red Sox hit, going 2-for-3 with an RBI walk...Boston's struggles with runners in scoring position continued, as they are now 2-for-13 in such situations...Francoeur's long ball was the only extra base hit of the game...There was some sloppy defense, with both teams making two errors resulting in three unearned runs...Philadelphia had twice as many runs and twice as many hits as Boston...Both teams left six men on base.

Boston will look to take the rubber game today behind Justin Masterson, making his first start for the Red Sox since 2009. Philadelphia will counter with ground-baller David Buchanan, fresh off a solid rookie season in which he posted a 3.75 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 117 and 2/3 innings. With tonight's forecast looking cold and rainy, don't expect much offense.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Panning Boston's Porcello Extension

Did the Boston Red Sox pay Porcello too much? (Off The Monster)
Posted below are the numbers for two American League starting pitchers from 2009 through 2013.

Pitcher A: 1,021.2 IP, 3.74 ERA (116 ERA+), 3.56 FIP, 1.27 WHIP, 2.73 K/BB ratio, 19.5 bWAR
Pitcher B:   868.2 IP, 4.51 ERA (94 ERA+), 4.11 FIP, 1.39 WHIP, 2.37 K/BB ratio, 6.7 bWAR

When it came time to extend pitcher A last spring, the Boston Red Sox offered him four years and $70 million. They just extended pitcher B for four years and $82.5 million, on top of the $12.5 million they're already paying him this year.


Pitcher A, as you should have guessed, is Jon Lester. He turned down Boston's pitiful offer, had the best year of his career, and landed a six-year, $155 million megadeal with the Chicago Cubs. Pitcher B is Rick Porcello, whom Boston smartly traded Yoenis Cespedes for in December and extended yesterday. Porcello also enjoyed a career year in 2014, albeit not at the same level as Lester's.

Whereas the Red Sox clearly undervalued Lester last year, it appears they overvalued Porcello here. They're banking on him sustaining last year's success, which I wouldn't count on now that he pitches half his games in Fenway Park. That wouldn't worry me so much if he was someone who misses a lot of bats, but he isn't. His career strikeout rate is 5.5 K/9, well below league average. Porcello pitches to contact, and in Fenway's friendly confines contact usually leads to lots of singles and doubles. Whatever benefit he stands to gain from an improved defense behind him (Detroit's infield was terrible, which explains the sizable difference between his ERA and FIP) figures to be negated and then some by his new home park.

Red Sox management clearly views Porcello as a great pitcher, but I don't see it. I mean yeah, he's durable, but he's only cleared 200 innings in a season once. His walk rate is low, but he gives up a lot of hits and hardly strikes anyone out. He's tall and generates lots of ground balls, he's never spent a day on the disabled list, and he has postseason experience, but is that worth investing $95 million in him from this year through 2019?

Even though Boston's getting his prime years, I don't think so. Before last year, Porcello was a midrotation innings eater, a low-end number three or solid four in Detroit's rotation. Boston's lack of quality starters makes him their ace or, if Clay Buchholz is the ace, then their number two. Porcello would have been a fine number two last year had he not been on the same team as Max Scherzer, David Price, Anibal Sanchez, and Justin Verlander.

He's not an ace, though, and $20 million a year is ace money. At this stage in his career--26 years old and with more than 1,000 big league innings under his belt--Porcello's not going to get much better. He is who he is at this point, and that's a middle of the road, average to slightly-above average starting pitcher. There's no need to commit five years and nearly $100 million to one of those when they can be found much cheaper on the free agent market every year, or can be developed from within at a fraction of the cost.

If I was Cherington, I would have waited to see how not only how Porcello adjusts to pitching at Fenway, but also how this year unfolds for his team. It's not hard to imagine a scenario where Boston's rotation bursts into flame, in which case Cherington could have shipped Porcello to a contender for a nice haul of prospects.

So why did Cherington make this move now? I'm willing to bet he wanted to avoid repeating the same mistake he made last year by failing to lock down Lester early and letting negotiations drag on, which ultimately resulted in his being traded to Oakland. I also think Cherington wanted some security and stability in a rotation that is very much in flux, what with Buchholz perpetually injured, Justin Masterson in on a one-year deal, and Joe Kelly better-suited for the bullpen. Porcello is sturdy and reliable--a rock--and letting him go would have made Boston's rotation even more uncertain going forward.

Guys like that are nice to have, but I wouldn't commit almost $100 million to one.

Celtics Must Finish Strong

Against all odds, the Celtics are one the brink of a playoff berth (MassLive)
I don't want to jinx it, but the Boston Celtics are almost there. The regular season ends one week from tomorrow, and when it does Boston might be playoff-bound.

In order to hold onto the 8th seed, however, the Celtics have to close out the year strong. They currently hold a one game lead over the Indiana Pacers, who just got Paul George back from the nasty leg injury he suffered last August. There is no margin for error.

Boston's schedule isn't exactly a cakewalk, either. They play the Pistons in Detroit tomorrow, then the Cavs in another road game Friday. They return home to face Cleveland again on Sunday, play their final home game versus the Raptors Tuesday, then fly out to Milwaukee to wrap up their season against the Bucks.

That's five games in eight days against some pretty good teams, not to mention thousands of miles of travel. The Pistons are one loss away from being eliminated, but they're not dead yet so you can bet they'll put up a fight tomorrow. The Cavs are settled in as the number two seed, so they don't have much to play for, but they're still a much better basketball team than the Celtics what with LeBron James, Kevin Love, and co. Cleveland's also red-hot, having won eight of their last ten games. The best Boston could hope to do would be to top Detroit, then earn a split with Cleveland.

The Raptors are still vying with the Bulls for the third seed/trying to avoid letting the Wizards knock them out of the fourth seed, but at least the Celtics will have home court advantage for that one. Then it's on to Milwaukee, which could be a must-win for Boston depending on how the next week plays out. Let's hope it isn't, because winning the second game of a back-to-back on the road after flying 1,000 miles is going to be damn-near impossible. The Bucks will have probably locked up their own playoff berth by then, but if not then that game is going to be a knockdown, dragged out fight to the death.

If Boston can go 2-3 over the next week, then that should be good enough to put them in the playoffs. because even with George back, the Pacers probably aren't going to win four out of five. The easiest way for the Celtics to do that is to beat Detroit tomorrow night and steal Sunday's game from the Cavs, as Cleveland could be resting regulars on the road. If not, they might have to wait until the season finale to clinch, which hopefully doesn't happen. Boston's been on such a tear recently--19-12 since February 2nd--that I don't think it will.

The Celtics are so close to making the playoffs that I can taste it. Now they just need to finish the job.

The Return of Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod hit well in his return to action yesterday (ABC News)
The Yankees suffered a 6-1 Opening Day loss to the Blue Jays yesterday, but the story of the afternoon was Alex Rodriguez playing his first major league game since serving his suspension. He was greeted with a loud ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd, receiving "A-Rod" chants from the Bleacher Creatures. Batting seventh and DHing for the Bombers, Rodriguez worked an eight pitch walk in his first at-bat and roped a single to center his second time up. A-Rod lined out to right fielder Jose Bautista in his final at-bat.

Merely a shell of the elite player that he used to be, Rodriguez is no longer capable of playing the field everyday or batting in the middle of a lineup. New York's re-acquisition of third baseman Chase Headley over the winter has forced Rodriguez off the hot corner, where he was New York's starter from 2004-2013. He'll also probably see time at first base, a position he had never played before until this spring training.

The best case scenario for Rodriguez, now in his 21st major league season and turning 40 this summer, is for him to stay healthy enough to bat about .250 with 15 or so home runs. That won't come close to earning his exorbitant salary, but at least it's something. 

Rodriguez begins the season with 654 home runs, fifth on the all-time list and only six shy of Willie Mays. Catching Barry Bonds or even Babe Ruth seems out of the question at this point, but he'll pass Mays soon enough. Rodriguez might not have much left of his reputation, but his power stroke is still somewhat intact, as evidenced by the three home runs he swatted in 45 spring at-bats.

Rodriguez can expect to be booed mercilessly on the road, but that's nothing new to him. His hitting coach this past winter, Barry Bonds, certainly knows what that's like. Bonds can rest easy knowing that Rodriguez won't reach his record, and that with the recent downturn in offense it will probably stay safe for the foreseeable future.

Crazy as it sounds, I find myself rooting for A-Rod. Maybe it's because the whole world is against him. Maybe it's because I was a fan of his for so long that, like with an old flame, I find myself unable to completely cut ties.

Or maybe it's because Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest baseball players ever, and there still appears to be some greatness left in him. I want to see it emerge, however briefly, if only to be in awe of his otherworldly talent once again.

No Captain, My Captain

Pedroia belted two home runs as part of a 3-for-5 day yesterday (FoxSports)
Dustin Pedroia chafed at the possibility of becoming the next Boston Red Sox captain.

"I'm not even captain of my own house," he quipped, which is why he's setting his sights on the upcoming season instead. “I’m ready to go…If (the season) started tomorrow, I’d be good,” he told Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe back in January. “I plan on playing 162 (games this year). My body’s back. I feel strong. I’m lifting everything. Right back to normal.”

Both Pedroia and the Red Sox would like a return to normalcy after a disastrous 2014 season. Boston followed up its 2013 World Series championship by finishing last in the AL East with a 71-91 record, trading away much of its title-winning roster before season’s end. Pedroia suffered a down year as well, batting just .278/.337/.376 with seven home runs and six stolen bases before undergoing wrist surgery in September. Excited by recent high-profile additions such as Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, Pedroia expects better results from himself and the Sox in 2015.

“We’ve upgraded our offense. We’re going to be pretty deep. A lot of really good players,” Pedroia said of this year’s club. “Every year there’s always guys who step up and do different things. We’ve got a ton of guys and we’re going to need them all to accomplish what we want.”

As always, Pedroia puts the goals of his team above all else. It’s that kind of attitude that would make him a great captain, the role he seemed poised to inherit from former teammate Jason Varitek when Varitek retired three years ago. Surprisingly, Boston has not promoted its de facto captain in the meantime.

“When (Varitek) retired…we felt like the right thing to do was to ask 25 guys to lead and be captains and not just one, and Dustin certainly bought into that,” general manager Ben Cherington explained to NESN. “To me, that’s sort of still where we are. But we know when we walk into the clubhouse that a lot of eyes are on (Pedroia) and we rely on him for a lot of leadership.

“What we need is 25 guys leading, not just one. That’s what’s led us to our best success.”
It's plays like these that make Pedroia one of the best second basemen in the game today (YouTube)
Given that neither Boston’s 2004 nor 2013 World Series champion squads had captains, Cherington might have a point. In fact, there has been a noticeable dearth of Red Sox captains over the years. Only four men have held the position in the past nine decades, and just three since World War II. Many outstanding, long-tenured Red Sox were never given the title, Ted Williams chief among them. Boston once went 23 seasons without a captain, a dry spell that makes the current streak seem like a blip.

Still, it’s a good bet that the next Red Sox captain will be Pedroia—the team’s sparkplug second baseman since 2006. He’s emerged as one of the best players in baseball during that time, winning a Rookie of the Year and MVP award as well as four Gold Gloves and two World Series rings. Now 31, the four-time All-Star is entering his tenth season with the Bosox, who recently inked him to a $108million contract extension that runs through 2021. By that point Pedroia will be 38 and near the end of his career, meaning he’s all but guaranteed to retire with the only professional organization he’s ever known.

It’s hard to imagine the Red Sox not naming Pedroia captain before he hangs up his spikes, but they say they are comfortable with his role in the clubhouse and don’t feel pressed to change it.

“It doesn’t require that letter on his chest to be the captain or the leader of our team—one of them,” manager John Farrell said during January’s Red Sox Town Hall event at Foxwoods Resort Casino. “I can say this, if you put a ‘C’ on Pedey’s jersey, he’s not going to change. He plays for the Red Sox, not the ‘C’ or the name that’s on the back.”

Captain or not, Pedroia will continue to carry himself like one. He’ll keep swinging from the heels and running out grounders and diving for every ball hit in the vicinity of second base. Nobody plays harder than the plucky Pedroia—one of Boston’s best players and most respected leaders, with or without a “C” stitched to his uniform.