Saltalamacchia Catching On With Red Sox

It’s not an easy thing to replace a captain of 7 years on a professional sports team.  A guy like Jason Varitek, a rock for the organization and team leader from 1997-2011, is hard to replicate.  In particular in this era in major league baseball versatile catchers who contain top notch leadership skills are hard to come by.  It almost mirrors the old adage in the NFL that franchise quarterbacks are nearly impossible to find and you should savior them while you have one.  Varitek’s career started to dwindle a few seasons ago and the Sox even brought in a big name, former Indians catcher Victor Martinez, to split time with him.  When Martinez was allowed to walk in free agency a year and a half after he was acquired it was back to the drawing board for the Red Sox.

Saltalamacchia is becoming the player the Sox hoped for when they traded for him

Enter Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  Salty was acquired at the trade deadline during the 2010 season for spare parts and was placed in Pawtucket for the remainder of the year.  Salty was a big prospect coming up with Atlanta but hit a wall in Texas after he was acquired in a trade that sent Mark Teixeira packing.  Saltalamacchia was stuck in the minors and couldn’t even throw the ball to second base accurately when the Sox picked him up.  At the end of the year when Martinez walked to Detroit the Red Sox gave Saltalamacchia the keys to the car to at least share with Varitek for a year.  Many thought that a year playing with Jason Varitek would be vital.  Although he wasn’t the same player physically that he once was he had not lost anything mentally and could be a wealth of knowledge for a young guy playing under him.  It seems that those thoughts are coming to fruition.

Salty had a decent enough line last season splitting with Varitek.  He tailed off at the end of the season but his .235/.288/.450 line wasn’t horrible for a part time catcher.  He added a career high 16 home runs and 56 RBI.  He had a 31% caught stealing rate which was excellent considering how poorly the Red Sox pitchers held runners on.  People worried that when Varitek retired Salty would have trouble progressing without him but Salty is proving early in the season that one season may have been enough with Varitek.  Saltalamacchia looks like a much more confident player out there on the field this year.  He seems to have taken on Varitek’s role of team leader particularly with the young pitchers that he works with.

Salty had a Varitek moment when he stood up to Luke Scott

His offense has improved so far this year.  His .274/.311/.573 line with 9 home runs and 22 RBI make him a prime candidate for the American League All-Star team.  Only J.P. Arencibia of the Blue Jays has as many home runs as Saltalamacchia out of all American League catchers (not counting Mike Napoli who plays 3 different positions).  Of catchers in the American League with at least 100 plate appearances only A.J. Pierzynski and Joe Mauer have a higher batting average.  The improved play is contributed by his heightened confidence.  He may well break down again before the end of the season but he should be more used to the long season after finally going through it for the first time in two seasons last year.

Saltalamacchia showed everyone how much of a leader he had become in a 10 day stretch that started a few weeks ago in Tampa.  He was hit in the ear with a foul ball and suffered a gash that required 12 stitches.  Salty convinced manager Bobby Valentine to start him the next day in Philly and proceeded to hit a home run in the game.  He hit another one that weekend in Philly that was the 3rd longest home run of the season.  The following weekend when Tampa Bay came to Boston a brawl nearly broke out in the 9th inning when Sox pitcher Franklin Morales hit Rays slugger/big mouth Luke Scott in the leg.  When Scott started walking towards the mound Salty rudely cut him off with a bump of his chest guard.  The next night Salty came in the to 9th inning as a pinch hitter with the Sox down a run and promptly hit a game-winning walk-off home run against Rays’ closer Fernando Rodney who had not blown a save all year long.  It was reminiscent of Jason Varitek’s stand up to Alex Rodriguez and the subsequent game winning home run by Bill Mueller except this time Salty handled it all himself.

It’s rather amusing that for years Theo Epstein seemed to be trying to find a catcher to replace Jason Varitek.  He finally did in a throwaway trade at the deadline in ’10.  He took a shot in the dark with Saltalamacchia and Salty is looking to pay back the favor by becoming the player that the Red Sox didn’t seem to have.  In a few years Saltalamacchia will likely be joined by prospect Ryan Lavarnway to create a formidable catching duo.  Salty will have to quickly turn around the knowledge bestowed on him by Varitek to teach Lavarnway how to become a player and a leader.  If the start of this year is any indication then Salty should have his Varitek impression down pat by then.

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Red Sox And Rays Start Series With Fireworks

Maddon has turned into an over-officious gasbag

In what was becoming a rather uneventful game last night the benches of the Red Sox and Rays cleared after Franklin Morales hit Luke Scott in the top of the 9th inning with two outs.  This was the second game in a row that Luke Scott has been hit after a Red Sox player had been hit earlier in the game.  Last week in Tampa Adrian Gonzalez got into an otherwise harmless back-and-forth with the Boston media who were questioning where his power had gone.  Sick of the media talking about it he swore to them that he would hit a home run that night.  Later in the day Rays pitcher David Price retweeted a comment from a fan that the Rays should hit Gonzalez in his first at-bat after he predicted a home run.  Gonzalez was promptly hit in his first plate appearance.  That’s what makes Rays manager Joe Maddon’s post-game comments so interesting (and hypocritical).

Very proud of our effort 2nite. What occurred in the 9th reeked of intent. Was ridiculous, absurd, idiotic, incompetent, cowardly behavior. @RaysJoeMaddon

That is what Rays manager Joe Maddon tweeted after the game last night.  You can read more of Joe Maddon’s nauseating post-game comments here.  The odd part to me is that I’ve never seen a manager come out so vigorously against a guy getting hit intentionally even though the last game these two teams played, less than 10 days ago, Rays pitcher Matt Moore clearly hit Adrian Gonzalez intentionally.  What am I missing here?  I’ve been watching baseball religiously since I’ve been about 6 years old and it’s been one of the unwritten rules in baseball all my life and probably well before I was born.  If you feel a team is hitting your guys on purpose you get one of their guys back.  And when you throw at someone in retaliation you throw at their back side area, the “fleshy part of the thigh” to steal a quote from The Sopranos.  That’s exactly where Franklin Morales hit Scott last night.

Ever the classy one Scott grabbed Salty’s throat after he was hit

Maddon is like the little kid who preemptively tells his mother that his brother has been stealing cookies from the cookie jar so his brother gets all of the blame.  He is all over the place in his quotes.  Saying that his franchise is above things like that (please) and then basically predicting that someone on the Sox will get hurt because of this.  Maddon and the Rays have been operating the standard small-market vrs. big-market us against them philosophy for years and to his credit it has worked.  Now it’s just starting to become a joke.  The unwritten rules in baseball are never re-written.  They don’t change depending on your payroll.  The Red Sox and Yankees have every right to defend their guys when they are getting thrown at.  The sad part about this whole thing is that the media will actually buy his garbage even though if it was a Bobby V. or a Joe Girardi saying these things they would be criticized and rightfully so.

When you put a guy on a pedestal, like the media does with Maddon, then obviously he is going to develop an over-inflated ego and at this point his head is the size of a watermelon.  Plenty of managers in the MLB, both with big market clubs and small, handle themselves with class and humility (Terry Francona anyone?).  Maddon is no longer one of those guys and he still gets talked about like he’s God’s gift to managing.  Is the job that he has done been as good as any manager in the league since he’s been in Tampa?  Absolutely but let’s be real here.  The guy is a baseball manager, he’s not God, he didn’t cure cancer or anything like that.  We don’t really need to put him on high like he’s the messiah or something.  In my opinion, right now, he’s looking more like the spoiled rich kid who always has to get his way then the graceful overachiever that he was when he got the job in Tampa.  I think it’s time that we all got over Joe Maddon.  He’s just a baseball manager.  He’s a very good one but a very arrogant one as well.  Let’s stop acting like he is something different than what he actually is.

On a side note I loved Saltalamacchia standing up for his teammates and getting in Scott’s face.  It’s clear that the guy learned a TON in his 1 year with Varitek about being a leader. He is acting more and more like him every night.

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It’s Time For Red Sox Nation To Drop Their Ridiculous Grudge Against Adrian Gonzalez

Adrian Gonzalez has had a newsworthy week.  When Cody Ross went on the disabled list the Red Sox lost all but 2 of their key right-handed hitters in the middle of the lineup and those two guys played the same position.  Gonzalez volunteered to play in right field to allow the Sox to keep both Kevin Youkilis and Will Middlebrooks in the game.  When Bobby Valentine didn’t want to do it two days in a row Gonzalez, knowing it was a key rubber game in the series, insisted that he could go back out there again.  He also volunteered to pitch during the Red Sox 17 innings game a few weeks ago against the Orioles.  In reality since he’s joined the Red Sox Gonzalez has been a consummate professional and model teammate.  So why does Red Sox Nation have such a hard time liking the guy?

Good guys apparently finish last in Red Sox Nation

Last season Gonzalez hit .338 and tied for the major league lead with 213 hits.  He hit 27 homers and had 117 RBI.  He played Gold Glove defense at first base.  Last September while the Sox were free falling he still hit .318 for the month with 4 homers and 14 RBI.  In innings 7-9 during the season he hit .339 with 8 home runs and 41 RBI.  With 2 outs and runners in scoring position he hit .303 with 27 RBI.  In games that were “late & close” he hit .321 with 19 RBI.  He hit .298 against the Yankees and .293 against Tampa Bay during the season.  The guy was exactly as advertised when we acquired him – he just produces.

Apparently Red Sox Nation is still upset that he said that it “wasn’t part of God’s plan” for the Red Sox to make the post-season after their collapse last year.  My advice to Red Sox Nation – get over it.  How many times have you heard an athlete cite God as an influence on their career.  After the Super Bowl or at the NFL draft.  Hell, many athletes that I follow on Twitter tweet thanks to God for giving them another day.  How was what Gonzalez said any different?  I still don’t understand?  I think that it’s fair to say it would be natural for someone of deep faith to look to God in both the good times and the bad and that’s exactly what Adrian did.  Is there a perception that he didn’t try as hard because he thought he had God on his side?  The numbers certainly don’t back that up.  The quote was not that bad.  We don’t get on every athlete of deep faith because it is ignorant and I don’t see how Gonzalez is an exception.

The bottom line is that Adrian Gonzalez is a likable guy and he’s going to be around for another 6 years.  Red Sox Nation will eventually have to embrace him and I always say that there is no time like the present.  Save the vitriol for the guys who actually deserve it.

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Red Sox And Phillies Are Mirror Images Heading Into Weekend Series

173 Million Dollars.  18 wins.  Last place.  That’s where the Boston Red Sox stand on May 18th, 2012.  173 million dollars.  20 wins.  Last place.  That’s where the Philadelphia Phillies stand on May 18, 2012.  That is as similar as two teams can get at this point in the season.  It’s also incredibly disappointing for two teams who were looked at as surefire playoff contenders and possible World Series candidates.  As luck would have it for these two teams it is still early as there is still over 4 full months in the season.

Ellsbury’s injury was one of many endured by both teams in the early going

The similarities don’t stop with the wins and payroll.  The Phillies lost slugging first baseman Ryan Howard to a torn ACL in their final playoff game last year and are waiting to get him back.  Their other star infielder, Chase Utley, was also injured in spring training and the Phillies have been without him for the start of the season.  The Red Sox had similar woes when they lost closer Andrew Bailey and left fielder Carl Crawford to injuries in spring training and then lost center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury during the home opener.  The silver lining with all of these injuries is that all of these players are expected back before the All-Star Break which means both of these teams are going to get as good of an upgrade as you can get mid-season.  If they both can keep it close in the standings, and they have so far, the returns of these players could provide a big boost for the stretch run.

Big Papi and the Sox offense haven’t missed a beat so far

The only difference between the two teams is that while the Red Sox have hit the ball well their pitching has been inconsistent and the Phillies have had the starting pitching you’d expect from those guys but they’ve struggled offensively.  Obviously the Phillies don’t have their two best offensive hitters so it’s not a huge surprise that they couldn’t match production.  The Red Sox on the other hand are going with their best 5 in the rotation and the results thus far have been less than fruitful.  They have pitched better as of late but can they keep it up?  The bullpen suffered a big blow with Bailey going out but they have somewhat recovered.  The Phillies bullpen isn’t all that much better themselves.  Only Jonathan Papelbon (I’ll get to him in a minute) and Antonio Bastardo have an ERA under 4.00.  They’ve put a lot of pressure on their starters to get deep into games.  In the National League with the pitcher hitting that’s sometimes tough to do.

Papelbon suddenly has beef with the Sox

Then there is our old friend Jonathan Papelbon who seemingly has built up a grudge against the Red Sox out of nowhere.  I’m a little bit surprised because I, and I assumed a lot of other people, saw this divorce coming for a few years before it actually happened.  The Red Sox didn’t come to him with a long term deal and he was content with getting as much as he could in arbitration and playing it year to year.  Papelbon said on more than one occasion that he wanted to get the biggest deal ever for a closer on the free agent market and the Red Sox are notorious for not going above 3 years on any reliever.  So Papelbon went and got his 4 year deal with a 5th year option from the Phillies and the Red Sox got a new cost controlled closer.  Everyone got what they wanted right?  Apparently not because all of a sudden Papelbon feels disrespected.  My brother told me for a few years now how much he hated Papelbon because of all of his ridiculous antics and I always thought he was exaggerating but looking back on it maybe I had my Red Sox-colored glasses on.  This guy really is sort of a clown.

This series really is a big series for both teams.  Whoever wins this series should be right back in the thick of things in their division.  The pitching match-ups are as follows:  Bard-Hamels, Lester-Blanton, Beckett-Lee.  Tonight may be the most important game.  Daniel Bard will be the wild card.  Lester has dominated the Phillies in the past and Lee is pitching great this year.  But at the end of the day it will all come down to whether or not the Red Sox can maintain their pitching and if the Phillies can keep up offensively.  Who ever does what they need to do will have a leg up on their pennant race.

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Lester And Beckett Looked Like Their Old Selves In Sweep Of Seattle

The Red Sox have desperately needed their pitching to bear down all season long.  They needed Jon Lester and Josh Beckett to string together a run of good starts, they needed Clay Buchholz to do anything and they needed the young guys to maintain.  The Red Sox got all of that this week but the best performances of the week may have come from the team’s top 2 starters, Lester and Beckett.

Lester went the distance against the Mariners on Monday night

Sure it was Seattle but it wasn’t just about the results in the two games – it was about the demeanor and moxie of the two aces.  They’d been missing that swagger that they’ve both showed in the past and it finally came out on Monday and Tuesday.  They pitched angry and were determined to win.  They wouldn’t take no for an answer and when a borderline pitch was called they showed little emotion and went right back to work on the mound and pounded the strike zone.

Lester was excellent going 9 innings on Monday Night.  He was near dominant for the first 5 innings with the only hit being an infield single by Ichiro.  He worked out of jams in the 6th and the 7th and gave up a run in the 9th before closing out the Sox 6-1 win over the Mariners.  You could tell by the end that despite his pitch count rising he was determined to finish the game and he did exactly that, striking out Alex Liddi to end the game.  Lester finished the game with 6 strikeouts and no walks.

Josh Beckett fought through the elements to pitch 7 shutout innings on Tuesday

Josh Beckett was equally as impressive on Tuesday evening with a 7-inning shutout performance against the Mariners.  He was almost as efficient early on as Lester was by setting down the first 9.  Beckett was not flustered in the 4th and 6th when he quickly worked out of jams.  He had the Mariners on their toes all night and finished with 9 strikeouts with 2 walks.  Beckett’s curve ball was on point last night, better than it’s been all season long and he was pounding fastballs inside to hitters at around 93 MPH, something he hasn’t done consistently all season long.  I know 1 start isn’t going to get all of the haters off of his back but it will be interesting how much the fan base softens on him in the coming weeks if he gives more performances like that.  I know a lot of people will say “NEVER!” right now but, face it, we’re a fickle bunch by and large.

The one comforting thing about the last two games was that while the Red Sox were only up 3, 4, 5 runs it felt like we were up by 10.  Combine this kind of pitching with the offense we have and it creates a dynamic that gives our side confidence and at the same time dejects the opposition.  Getting out to early leads is key and we hadn’t been doing that in the early part of the season.  Early leads do wonders if your team’s confidence.

So now the Sox have won 5 in a row and stand at 2 games under .500.  I’m still not totally sold on the pitching but I’d be lying if the “standings watch” at this point of the year was very similar to last year.  In early May there were only 1 or 2 teams with a worse record than us.  Now you look and there is 11.  I remember doing the same thing last year.  I’m not saying the ship is righted but they are definitely trying to turn.  Whether or not they can complete it remains to be seen.

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Book Review: Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live

I’ve done two reviews so far and I actually finished my 3rd book about a month ago but I haven’t gotten around to reviewing it yet so here it is.  It’s a behind the scenes look at Saturday Night Live through the years as told by the cast and crew through authors Tom Schales and James Andrew Miller.

3rd book – Live From New York: An Uncensored History Of Saturday Night Live

Written by Tom Schales and James Andrew Miller

Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live

I watched my first episode of Saturday Night Live when I was around 11 years old.  It was around the time of the 1992 Presidential election and SNL was a good way for a kid like me to relate to politics because they made it funny.  Phil Hartman played Bill Clinton and Dana Carvey played both George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot.  It was funny to watch them make these politicians look so petty, juvenile and self-deprecating.  It became even funnier when I grew up and realized that’s how politicians really were even if they weren’t as blatant as their SNL counterparts.

The book is broken down into chapters by eras.  The first chapter goes over the first five years, also known as the “golden years” when Saturday Night Live was a ground breaking new show, then a chapter for the next 5 years when Lorne Michaels stepped away and so on.  The best thing about the book though is it’s not a couple authors writing in their own words what they heard second hand from the SNL vets but actual direct quotes from them strung together by topic.  It could get interesting when someone would paint someone else in a negative light and then in the very next paragraph there would be that person responding.  When something was covered it was covered by everyone, no one’s view point was left out.  The authors were very fair in that regard where the story never got skewed in one direction or another.

There is not a lot of blockbuster information in the book.  They did a lot of drugs in the 70′s.  Belushi was crazy, Fairley was a mess.  The interesting part was finding out exactly what went on behind the scenes.  Our now esteemed United States Senator from the state of Minnesota Al Franken recounted a story about him and his former writing partner Tom Davis buying their first ever bag of cocaine.  They spread the cocaine on their desk in their office and while trying to figure out how they wanted to do it John Belushi ran into their office, jumped onto their desk and snorted both lines.  They sat there in shock not knowing if they should be pissed that Belushi snorted all of their cocaine or amazed at what he had just done.  The stories that the guest hosts recalled about going through dress rehearsal and being convinced that Belushi was way too fucked up to make it through the show and then showtime came and Belushi absolutely killed it.  Belushi would save his best work when an Oscar winning actor would host the show.  He plodded through the week and rehearsals and the actor would be caught off guard when Belushi absolutely crushed him during the live show.  The guy was a comic genius and it’s too bad that his life ended before he could entertain many more people.

One of the more clever tools by the authors was building up moments by the order that they put the quotes.  When they got to the death of Belushi you were just waiting to read the reaction from Dan Aykroyd.  They went pages and even printed 2nd and 3rd quotes from people before they finally ended the section with quotes from Garrett Morris (who is disappointingly used sparingly through the book although he even admits the 5 years were so drug hazed that he doesn’t remember much), Jim Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd.  That was probably the best stuff in the whole book and any fan of Belushi should probably check it out.  I’ve always been a big fan of Saturday Night Live and I bought the first 4 seasons on DVD so it was very interesting to hear the people tell the stories of the people who were gone before my time – Belushi, Gilda Radner, Michael O’Donoghue – they all made me laugh but I had never watched an episode of Saturday Night Live while they were still on this earth.  I know Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and all those guys enough by now seeing them in all of the movies and interviews I’ve seen them in so it was cool to get an almost 1st person view of the ones that were gone.

Besides the first cast my favorite is the one I broke myself into Saturday Night Live with – the early to mid-90′s cast.  It’s almost hard to imagine that two of the featured players from the cast, Adam Sandler and Chris Rock, have become multi-billionaire media moguls and I watched them first starting out, struggling to get skits on Saturday Night Live.  It’s amazing that those two guys started out by sharing an office with Chris Farley and David Spade at 30 Rock.  Imagine if you told them then how many millions of dollars they would gross in Hollywood movies alone let alone comedy and TV specials, they would have probably laughed you out of the room.  My generation unfortunately got its Belushi, literally, in Chris Farley.  One of the amazing things about Saturday Night Live is how two guys could almost live a mirrored life like those two.  Right up until the very end when they died of the same exact mixture of heroin and cocaine.  It is pretty eery when you think about it.

A lot of people came out good and some people came out bad by what they said in the book.  Interestingly enough the guy who came off the most humble, to me at least, was Chris Rock.  While some of the other actors who didn’t get the experience that they were hoping for on Saturday Night Live they would criticize the writers, the other actors, or Lorne Michaels Chris Rock said flat out what the problem was during his time there – the writers simply didn’t know how to consistently write good material for a black comedian.  But he said he understood it and went on to give SNL credit for making him who he was today.  He wasn’t the least bit bitter and acknowledged that everything he learned about running his TV shows and comedy specials he learned from his time at Saturday Night Live.  It was pretty cool of him to acknowledge that even though he didn’t really have to.  He also heaped a shit ton of praise on every writer, producer, and fellow cast member that he worked with on the show.

Then there is Lorne Michaels.  He’s always been somewhat of an idol of mine.  He’s a creative genius.  He might not always have the best ideas but he continues to chug along and it doesn’t seem like he’s changed all that much except for the natural maturity of the aging process.  When he started the show he was the same age and Chase and Belushi and those guys.  He was kind of like a brother to them but as the generations have passed he became more like a father.  He talked about how he just let Belushi do his thing and never got in his way but when Farley came around he learned his lesson and sent him to rehab over 10 times.  Unfortunately not even Lorne could save him.  The entire last chapter is all about Lorne but it almost seems unnecessary at that point, like icing a cake that already has icing.  By time you get to that chapter you feel like you know him already.  He is Saturday Night Live and he’s been there almost every step of the way.

In a lot of ways Saturday Night Live is like the Boston Red Sox in my family.  My parents watched it when they were younger.  As a matter of fact when I was growing up my family would show us all of the comedies with the Saturday Night Live actors in them because they were their favorite comedians.  I grew up watching Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray.  Hell, I think the first time my father ever showed my Animal House was when I was 12 years old (the edited version of course).  Then I matured during my teenage years watching Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, and Chris Farley movies.  Just think of how many movies that you’ve seen in your life that have starred a Saturday Night Live alum.  There are not many bad ones either.  From Animal House to Horrible Bosses these guys have been making us laugh for over 30 years.  It would be cool for this show to survive beyond Lorne Michaels (Conan O’Brien, I’m looking at you) because I’d love to pass this down to my children as well.  If you like Saturday Night Live and you like to read get this book because it almost puts you right there backstage with all of them.

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Red Sox celebrate Wakefield today

The Red Sox will celebrate the career of Tim Wakefield today in a ceremony before the game.  It’s been sort of a whirlwind tour for Wakefield since announcing his retirement at the beginning of spring training in Fort Myers.  Wakefield, along with Jason Varitek, was on hand at the home opener against the Tampa Bay Rays to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.  Wakefield was back at Fenway a week later for the 100th anniversary and had a nice moment when him, Varitek, and David Ortiz wheeled out Red Sox legends Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky.  Wakefield earned that spot in Red Sox history and even after today when he gets his own day of appreciation you’ll probably see Tim Wakefield at many future Fenway functions, both in an official and unofficial capacity.  Wakefield was a consummate teammate and Boston Red Sox player in his 17 years here and it was never more evident than after the Red Sox 2nd World Championship in 2007:

 

I wrote about Wakefield at the time of his retirement announcement.  I covered pretty much everything baseball-wise in that blog.  It was fun watching a knuckle baller pitchfor all of those years.  I don’t know how many people ever truly sat back and appreciated just how old school of a baseball player Tim Wakefield was but I was certainly one of them.  Seriously who throws a knuckleball anymore?  And if they do who can do it as effectively as Wakefield has?  He made his major league debut in 1992 at the height of the steroids era and he kept chugging along with the Red Sox through the mid-90′s while Sosa, McGwire, and others were hitting moon shots all over major league baseball parks across the country.  When you think back on that it’s amazing that he ever made it to the 21st century where he enjoyed his greatest accomplishments in winning two World Series championships with the Red Sox.

I remember as far back as the 2003 season talking about how this guy would be able to pitch forever.  Forever ended up being 2011.  As impressive as he was, and he was very impressive in his time, major league baseball is just not a place for a 43-year old knuckleball pitcher in this day in age.  He did his job and he did it well for 17 years.  He’ll never make the Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown but he will be forever known as one of the most prolific Red Sox pitchers of all time with only Hall of Famer Cy Young and Roger Clemens having more wins than he did.  He’ll never have to buy a drink in Boston again and will always go down as one of the guys who broke the curse in 2004.  That alone would buy him a place in Red Sox lore but it was the innings he gave when he didn’t have to, the starts he gave up, the causes that he championed that made him run up the score.  Hats off to one of the good guys, Tim Wakefield

 

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Jon Lester Needs To Return To Form For The Red Sox To Contend

The Red Sox organization has been in a free fall since last September 1st.  Mirroring the Red Sox’ fall from grace has been the decline of the guy that used to be looked at as our young ace pitcher, Jon Lester.  Lester is only 28 years old this year but if he can not rebound from his sub-par pitching since last September than sadly we may have already seen the best days of Jon Lester as a pitcher.

Lester has been an inconsistent performer since last September 1

Lester’s woes have flown under the radar with Josh Beckett being public enemy #1 for what he’s done off the field, Clay Buchholz pitching as bad as any starter in the league at the outset of the season, and John Lackey in exile (even though he’s in the dugout at every home game) after Tommy John surgery.  Lester also got points from Red Sox Nation when he stepped up and accepted responsibility for what happened last season in the clubhouse and expressed remorse for what became of the Red Sox season and manager Terry Francona.  Lester, however, has been as inconsistent as any player on the Red Sox since last September 1st when the wheels began to come off of the wagon.

Consider that Lester made 25 starts between opening day and August 27th.  Of those 25 starts 19 of them were quality starts (pitching at least 6 innings while giving up only 4 runs or less).  A quality start is a benchmark for consistency for  a major league pitcher and a 76% Quality Start rate, which Lester had going into September last year, is an excellent number.  Lester also struck out at least 5 batters in 20 of his 25 starts including 11 in a game against the Angels on May 3rd of last year.  He had a 3.09 ERA heading into September last season and had walked 3.3 guys per 9 innings.  His shortest outing of the season was a 4 inning outing against Toronto on July 5th due to an injury that caused him to leave early in his next start as well and eventually land on the disabled list.  There were only three other occasions where Lester could not get into the 7th inning meaning he reached the 7th in 80% of his starts through August.  Then came September 1st.

Lester made 6 starts in September.  He had 3 quality starts, a 50% QS rate.  He went 5 innings, 4 innings, and 2 1/3 respectively in his other 3 outings.  His ERA in the month of September was 5.48, he walked 4.6 guys per 9 innings, and he sported a 1-3 record.  Things have not gotten better for Lester so far this season.  In 7 outings to start the year he has 4 quality starts.  He’s got a 4.29 ERA and he’s had more than 5 strikeouts in only 2 of his 7 starts.  He had given up 18 walks so far on the season.  He’s got a 1-3 record thus far.

When you put together Lester’s numbers from September 1 of last year the results are disappointing.  His 7 quality starts in 13 outings leaves him with an average 54% QS%.  He has a 4.76 ERA and a 4.2 BB/9 rate.  His record is 2-6.  Compare that with his 3.09 ERA and 3.3 BB/9 rate through August of last year and you find a serious downgrade in production.  Compared even further to his career stats going into last season when he had a 3.55 career ERA, 3.4 BB/9 rate and averaged about 16 wins per season you would assume that Lester is a much more effective pitcher than he’s been showing.

Lester’s been easily flustered by umpire calls but he needs to bare down in those situations

So the million dollar question is – what is the problem?  It doesn’t seem to be health related.  I do see Lester get flustered early in games over close calls that go the other way and he tends to lose his composure.  But why now at this point in his career?  Why does he seem to be regressing rather than maturing as a pitcher at age 28?  I doubt anyone knows the answer and I am hoping that what seems like a statistical anomaly is exactly that, a blip on the radar for a guy that has a ton of talent and will put it all behind him.  Lester hasn’t totally lost his arm, he’s just inconsistent.  You’ll see flashes of the Lester we thought we’d see every night and then the guy who throws too many pitches will come back 5 days later.  Lester is coming off of a string of sub-par outings and tonight would be the perfect time for him to throw another gem and give the Red Sox their 4th consecutive quality start, something they’ve only done one other time this season (series in Chicago).

Despite all the talk about beer, chicken, and golf it all comes down to starting pitching.  The Red Sox are 15-19 largely because their starting pitching has been inconsistent and hasn’t gotten deep into outings.  The bullpen has settled down but is still being used far too much because the starters aren’t going deep into games.  Jon Lester, not Josh Beckett, should be the ace of this staff.  He is 3 years younger than him and in the prime of his career.  If Lester doesn’t bear down and become the pitcher that he should be it will be hard to see us anywhere near the race this September 1st.  Hopefully tonight we will start to see that guy.

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Why A Josh Beckett Trade Won’t Reap The Same Rewards As The Nomar Garciaparra Trade

I’ve heard a lot of talk about how a Josh Beckett trade can be the catalyst to spark the Red Sox much the same way that the Nomar Garciaparra trade sparked the 2004 Red Sox.  I hate to rain on everyone’s parade but I’m afraid that ain’t going to happen.

Josh Beckett may have worn out his welcome in Boston but he has too many years and too many dollars left on his contract to net any type of return

First off Nomar Garciaparra was a position player and the lineup was still pretty good without him.  They had Ortiz, Manny, Damon, Millar, Mueller, Nixon, Varitek – basically it was a stacked lineup.  Our current starting rotation is far from stacked.  They have no one in their rotation with an ERA under 4.00 and they have, statistically, the worst starting pitcher in the American League thus far this year in Clay Buchholz.  As a whole, the bullpen’s ERA is a shade over 6.00, the second worst ERA in the league.  The alternatives to Beckett are Aaron Cook, who lasted all of two innings before hitting the disabled list, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had Tommy John Surgery less than 11 months ago.  All of the guys in the Sox system with top of the rotation potential (Anthony Ranaudo, Stolmy Pimentel, Matt Barnes) are nowhere close to being ready for the bigs.  The starting pitching depth just isn’t there.

Secondly is the difference there will be in the returns.  In exchange for Nomar, who had only a half of a year remaining on his contract, the Red Sox received Orlando Cabrera who replaced Nomar in the lineup and was very productive in the World Series run and Doug Mientkiewicz who solidified the weak spot of that team, infield defense.  Josh Beckett has 3 years left on his contract at roughly $18 million per season.  Not only will the Red Sox have to take on most, if not all, of the salary themselves but there will be very little return as far as players go.  Even Manny Ramirez netted us Jason Bay, who was instrumental in getting us to the ALCS in 2008, but Manny, like Nomar, only had a half of a year left on his deal.

The Nomar trade netted the Sox significant pieces in Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz

Third is that unlike Nomar Beckett has 10/5 trade veto rights which means that he could steer himself to any situation he wanted which could do one of two things.  A) lessen the bargaining power of the Red Sox if the other team knows that the Sox have few other options and B) he could steer himself to a American League contender and we would essentially be paying him to beat us for the next two and a half seasons.

I guess the only way I can see a Nomar/Manny-less type spark happening is if you believe that Beckett’s attitude is so rotten that it infects the entire clubhouse.  I just don’t buy into stuff like that.  These guys are big boys and they are going to act how they want regardless of who is or isn’t in the clubhouse.  The clubhouse doesn’t seem to have a good atmosphere as a whole right now and I have a hard time believing that it’s because of just one guy.  I’m not advocating not trading Beckett, I’m just saying that if you’re looking for a spark you probably aren’t going to get one by trading him now.  At this point I’d send Middlebrooks down when Youk is healthy and keep him, Lavarnway and Iglesias the hell away from the big club and ride this season out before cleaning house in the off-season.  Build around Pedroia, Lester, and the young guys from there.

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Bills Sign Vince Young

New Bills QB Vince Young

The Buffalo Bills signed Vince Young today meaning that they now have both the #1 and #3 picks of the 2006 NFL Draft on their team.  Vince Young will likely compete with Tyler Thigpen for the back-up quarterback spot.  If last year was any indication then Young shouldn’t have too much of a problem supplanting Thigpen as Fitzpatrick’s #2.  Last year Young saw action in 6 games for the Eagles, starting 3 of them.  He threw for 866 yards with 4 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.  Thigpen only saw sporadic duty in Buffalo despite Fitzpatrick suffering through broken ribs for the entire second half of the season, throwing for 25 yards on only 8 pass attempts.  He threw no touchdowns and was intercepted once.  It was clear that the Bills staff did not have faith to put Thigpen in the game despite Fitzpatrick’s injury so an upgrade to the back-up quarterback position made sense.  Should Young be pressed into action Chain Gailey is the perfect coach to try and utilize his strengths and mask his weaknesses.  The Bills will probably be heavy on the Wildcat formation this year but I doubt that you seen Young in it too often since Brad Smith is getting paid twice as much a year to be the Wildcat QB.

The interesting thing to note as that Vince Young, the #3 overall pick in the 2006 draft, will now join fellow new Bill Mario Williams, the #1 overall pick in the 2006 draft.  Obviously Williams comes with far more fanfare and expectations at this point in their careers.  The Bills had the #8 pick in that draft and selected Ohio State safety Donte Whitner who now plays for the San Fransisco 49ers.  All but one of the Bills other 8 draft choices in that class are now out of the NFL.  The lone exception is Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kyle Williams, selected 134th overall.

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