Well, it’s been almost a month since the Red Sox lost game 7 of the ALCS to the damn Tampa Bay Rays. I think it’s finally time to come out from the dark recesses of headquarters, dust myself off, and talk about what I think Boston needs to do to improve their team.

This is a pivotal offseason for the Red Sox. There are some glaring holes in the Sox lineup that need to be filled. If this team remains unchanged, they’ll be watching the playoffs on television in 2009.

There’s going to be a lot of Hot Stove activity going on in the next couple of weeks. The damn Yankees have $90 million coming off their books and are eager spend to improve their poor pitching, and like it or not, the Rays are going to be here for a while. If Tampa acquires a legitimate closer and a quality right fielder they’re going to be dangerous. The American League East is no longer a two-horse race.

So if I were Theo Epstein, this is what I would do, in order of importance.

1. Sign Mark Texiera.

Tex would tear up Fenway Park offensively and play Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base. This MUST be done! A switch-hitting. perennial All-Star first baseman does not become available very often. As an added bonus, Tex is a free agent, so it wouldn’t cost Boston any of its young talent to acquire him.

Of course, this means Kevin Youkilis is moved to third base, and Mike Lowell is odd man out. I would try to convince a healthy Lowell to learn how to play first base and become Boston’s super-sub. With Lowell playing a mix of first, third and DH, he could prove to the rest of the league that he is healthy, and improve his stock for a trade. (Minnesota and the White Sox need a third baseman). It wouldn’t be the most popular move in Boston, since Lowell is such a class act, but we are here to win ball games. Get out your checkbook, Theo, and make it happen.

2. Derek Lowe makes his triumphant return to Boston.

Lowe is the type of sinker-ball-throwing, ground-ball-inducing pitcher that is tailor-made for Fenway Park. He’s proven to come up huge in big games, as in the 2004 playoffs, when he won the deciding game in all three playoff series. Not to mention, he wants to pitch in Boston again. He may even give Theo a discount.

I look forward to a rotation of Beckett, Lester, Dice K, Lowe, and Wakefield. This would keep Justin Masterson in the bullpen to help solidify the 7th and 8th innings before turning it over to Papelbon.

3. Deal a solid pitching prospect, namely Michael Bowden or Clay Buchholz, for either of Texas’s catchers, Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Taylor Teagarden.

They each have different strengths: Salty is still a raw talent that hits pretty well but needs to improve defensively. Teagarden is a solid defensive catcher with a laser-rocket arm, and he has the potential to put up some big power numbers. What they have in common is that they both are ready to be a starting catcher in the majors.

I’m starting to lean towards a  Buchholz for Teagarden deal, but either way it’s an upgrade of the aging Varitek. Thanks for all of your hard work, ‘Tek. We’ll see you at Jason Varitek Appreciation day.

4. Trade Julio Lugo for a bucket of used baseballs.

Jed Lowrie is ready to be the everyday shortstop. Lugo sucks. Find some sucker GM to take him off our hands.

It almost seems too easy to improve this team. If Boston makes these moves, you can go and get the champagne on ice. If not, it may be a long season.

Don’t Stop Believin’

OK, now this is getting crazy. Boston looked lousy during games 2, 3, and 4 and 2/3 of game 5. Meanwhile, Tampa was playing like a team on a mission, trying to make up for ten years of futility. Suddenly during game 5, the switch was flipped, and like a modern version of Freaky Friday Boston began playing loose, youthful, carefree baseball, while Tampa turned into a  cautious, conservative baseball team that’s playing not to lose, instead of pushing the action and trying for the win.

So this brings us to game 7. Which version of these teams will show up? quick hits

  • Jon Lester vs. Matt Garza, game seven, winner goes to the World Series. This is the match-up Boston fans were wishing for and Rays fans were dreading.
  • Regarding the TBS technical difficulty that caused first-inning coverage of last night’s game to be preempted by The Steve Harvey Show: According to a theory by thefoulline contributor Dylan “Conspiracy Theorist” Hamilton, TBS, concerned that the Rays’ current losing streak has reminded much of the Tampa Bay fan base how much they prefer Steve Harvey to baseball, did it on purpose.
  • The Sox bullpen has looked fantastic. Okajima gets better every time he pitches and looks like the Oki of 2007. Masterson looked absolutely scared shitless out there, and then he proceeded to shut down the Rays 1-2-3 hitters. Then there’s Papelbon. Tired, sore, gassed from pitching two tough innings in game 5, he goes out throwing 90 MPH fastballs with good location and gets the save. In a word… awesome.
  • High definition television is not kind to Kevin Youkilis.
  • Coco Crisp is doing his best 2007 Jacoby Ellsbury impersonation. Coco did more damage to James Shields last night than any punch would ever do.
  • Dan the #1 Rays Fan: Hang in there. This is still better than watching the Rays of the past. There’s still a lot of baseball left.
  • Jason Varitek saved his job with the Sox next year with a huge home run and an even bigger throw out of Dioner Navarro. That’s why he’s the Captain.
  • Terry Francona is the best manager in Red Sox history. Although the 78 pieces of tobacco wrapped in Double Bubble that he is constantly chewing during the game is pretty disgusting.
  • Josh Beckett dug down deep last night and pitched his ass off for 5 innings. This guy is a competitor.
  • James Shields is a tough pitcher with a promising future, but his “Big Game” nickname may have been a little premature. Names like that get invented in the postseason.
  • Dustin Pedroia is going to blow up tonight. He lives for moments like this, and he’s been too quiet for too long.
  • During the 6th inning of game 5 in Fenway Park, did anyone really think we would be watching a game 7?
  • There is no moment better in sports than the MLB playoffs.

I Believe

364 days ago I wrote a post called “Keeping the Faith, Part 2.” At that time Boston was in a 3-1 hole to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series, and they were getting ready to face CC Sabathia in game 5. One year later, I find myself in a similar position, full of hope and optimism and sitting in front of my laptop. Can Boston make another comeback and crush the hopes and dreams of Rays fans everywhere? I not only hope so, but I’m going to give the reasons why.

  1. Scott Kazmir is pitching tonight. Why would Joe Maddon do this? He is either hoping that Kazmir rebounds from his last several poor performances and pulls out a win, or he’s that confident that “Big Game” James Shields will be money in game 6 at Tropicana Field to win it in front of the home crowd. Whatever the reason, I giggled a little when I saw Kazmir as tonight’s starting pitcher. This series is at least going back to St. Pete.
  2. The Red Sox have played horrible baseball. This the all-or-nothing, backs-to-the-wall scenario that shows a team’s character. Like Gene Hackman said in The Replacements, “winners want the ball.”  The Red Sox are the defending World Series Champions. Let’s start acting like it.
  3. 1986, down 3-1 to the California Angels in the ALCS. 2004, down 3-0 to the NY Yankees in the ALCS. 2007, down 3-1 to the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS. They’ve been here before and have won. They will do it again.
  4. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. There is no way in hell that these guys throw another crappy game like their last time out.
  5. Big Papi actually got an extra-base hit last game. The offensive flood gates are officially open.
  6. There is no way that the Rays can keep up with their 8 home runs a game pace. MLB is going to start charging them for lost baseballs.
  7. Dice K is a ninja. The Rays won’t know what hit them.
  8. Jason Varitek got the hole in his glove stitched up, so no more inning-extending passed balls.
  9. The Sox only have to win three measly games. A three game winning streak is nothing. They’ve done it 16 times this season.

So now you can see how obvious it is that Boston will rally back and win this series. I almost feel bad for the Rays…

Go Sox!

Love to Hate

Let me start by saying that I hate the Rays. With the exception of Evan Longoria, who is obviously a superstar, and Carlos Pena, who goes unnoticed as the Rays’ team leader, I hate every player, coach and manager on that team. Is it sour grapes because they’ve won the season series with Boston? Maybe. But unlike the national media, I do not see these Rays as the darlings of the league. I find them utterly unlikeable, and I can’t put my finger on the exact reason.

Maybe it stems from their stupid name. What exactly is a Ray? Does it mean a ray of hope for a team that had sucked for so long? Is it short for x-ray, to describe the transparency of the fair-weather fans that are suddenly so eager to jump aboard the bandwagon? (Dan excluded, of course.) Whatever it means, it’s a stupid name. Sure, Red Sox is not the manliest name, but at least I know what it means.

Maybe it’s because of Jonny Gomes and his endless string of cheap shots. Or Carl Crawford’s gangster neck tattoo. Or maybe it’s because Gabe Gross looks like he should be selling life insurance instead of patrolling right field. Maybe it’s B.J. Upton’s never-ending wad of chew that never leaves his left cheek. Or Dioner Navarro’s stupid kiss to the dugout after every hit. I even hate Joe Magrane and Dewayne Staats. I hope that they both suffer from non-cancerous polyps of their vocal cords.

I may not like these guys, but I am not going to discount their success playing in and winning the hardest division in baseball. These guys just find every conceivable way to win, and it drives me absolutely nuts. I’ve watched a lot of Rays baseball this year, and I’m pretty sure that they have never lost. This team is giving me nightmares.

Now, being the stubborn Sox fan that I am, I still like Boston’s chances to go to back-to-back World Series, and here’s why. First of all, Boston has a ton of postseason experience. Normally this would be a bigger advantage, but unfortunately Tampa has proved to be oblivious to pressure. Secondly, Boston has the best scouting department in the majors. They have consistently prepared Boston for every postseason opponent the last several years. They can pinpoint another team’s tendencies and weaknesses and exploit them. Thirdly, Boston has not played their best baseball… yet. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim handed the Red Sox this series on a silver platter, with their shoddy fielding and ill-advised suicide squeezes.

These guys are ready to fire on all cylinders. Jon Lester is an Ace, Papelbon is pitching lights out, Jason Bay and J.D. are coming up with huge at-bats, and there is no way in hell that Dustin Pedroia has a repeat performance of the ALDS.  I also see Josh Beckett knocking off the rust and regaining his form from past postseasons. This is a team that is ready to take off.

Boston wins this series in 6.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over

I hate Dane Cook. I don’t think he’s funny. But I agree with him, there is only one October. I also like to think that there is only one November, one April, etc., etc. The Major League playoffs is the one event in all of sports that consistently delivers. What’s so great about the playoffs is you can never count a team out. No matter what the game count is, until you’ve won four it’s still anybody’s game.

Behind solid pitching and an offense that can score in bunches, Boston rallied from a three-games-to-one deficit to knock off the Cleveland Indians. It’s easy to compare this team to the 2004 World Series Champions. Both teams never say die and play hard until the final out.

In game seven last night, Dice K may have quieted the critics for a little while at least. Dice K came out of the gates smoking. He pounded his fastball and kept the Indians off balance with his off-speed stuff. The first three innings he was awesome. The fourth and fifth innings, Dice K allowed a couple of baserunners but was able to minimize the damage. He performed well last night. Let’s hope his new-found confidence will carry over to the World Series.

Speaking of confidence, is there anyone playing with more confidence than Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis right now? Pedroia is the Little Engine That Could. This guy goes up to the plate and just lets it rip. His two-run home run was the difference maker last night. He followed that up with a bases-loaded double in the eighth. Pedroia thrives under pressure. Not too bad for a rookie.

Youkilis is scary. The way he looks. The sweat constantly pouring off his head. The intensity that he plays with every game. Youkilis was the one guy in the Sox lineup that was consistent through out the ALCS. He batted .425 and had four home runs. These two guys have been the catalysts in rejuvenating the Boston offense. As the stage gets bigger, these two play better.

What makes this victory so special is not only the way the Red Sox came back, but the competition they did it against. The Cleveland Indians are a great team. They play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. They have a great lineup of young talent that never quits. They are a classy organization with passionate fans. They will build off this loss. I’m sure they’ll be back in the playoffs for many years to come.

The Red Sox are firing on all cylinders right now. The starting pitching has come around, featuring two of the best playoff pitchers of all time. The Sox offense has been scary, with everybody contributing. And the bullpen has been lights out. They will be facing a Rockies team that has won 21 out of the last 22 games. Of course, all of these wins came against the Junior Varsity that is known as the National League. Let’s hope the eight days off and the four inches of snow in Colorado have cooled them off.

Talk is cheap

This isn’t time for a rah-rah speech. The Sox have the home crowd and the momentum. Boston has come back before. They will do it again.
Enjoy the Videos!

And one more for good measure.

The Sox win tonight, the series is over.

Go Sox!

Keeping the Faith, Part 2

The Red Sox have dug themselves into a nice hole, now down 3-1 to the Indians. But I am not ready to throw in the towel quite yet. Before you start calling me a disillusioned idiot, let’s consider a few things. First of all, with the exception of game one, the Red Sox offense has been missing in action. Boston has made some ordinary pitchers look like Sandy Koufax. I have to believe that the Boston coaching staff is going to working their butts off to correct whatever has caused the Sox bats to go cold. Also, the Sox have proven they can put up bunches of runs and can go on a winning streak of their own.

We also have Josh Beckett pitching game 5 Thursday night. We all know what he can do in the playoffs. I still agree with Francona not to start Beckett last night. He can’t pitch every game. The Sox need someone else to step up and pitch a decent game.

This reminds me of Kevin Millar in the 2004 playoffs against the Yankees. Boston was down 3-0 in the series, with Derek Lowe set to pitch game 4. Millar warned the Yankees, “Don’t let us win this game, because if we do, we have Schilling, then Pedro, then anything can happen in game 7.” This holds true now. Beckett wins Thursday. Followed by Schilling in Game 6, and then anything can happen in game 7.

The clock is ticking, but there is still time to turn this thing around. Keep the faith.

Go Sox!

Keeping the faith

The Red Sox are going to be limping around the bases tonight after repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot over and over again in game 3. The Sox were primed to put a big number on the scoreboard in the early innings last night, but instead they stranded 7 runners in the first two innings.

This was of course followed by David Ortiz getting hit by a ball hit by Man-Ram, killing another rally. I haven’t seen a runner get hit by a ball since I was 10 years old playing little league baseball. This was a stupid base running error.

The Sox left 12 runners on base last night. I don’t care who you are playing, if you leave runners on base you lose the game. A team like Cleveland will capitalize on team’s mistakes and make them pay.

This brings me to Dice K. I keep telling myself that he is a rookie and he will get better. I might be in denial. He looked really good for the first three innings. His fastball had some pop to it, and he was getting a lot of strikeouts. Unfortunately, this drove up his pitch count and wore him out. Like many games this season, the 5th inning has been Dice K’s kryptonite. For some reason this inning has killed him all year. This guy had the reputation of not only being a big game pitcher, but a guy that could throw 130 pitches in a game. He has shown that he can throw about 75 in the major leagues before wearing down. I still believe that he will get better. I just wish it had started last night.

A couple of quick thoughts about tonight’s game. I wholeheartedly agree with Terry Francona to save Beckett for Game 5. Pitchers throwing on three days’ rest don’t win in the playoffs. This has been proven over and over again. This is not the time for Boston to get desperate. They are are in a 2-1 hole. This is not the end of the series by any stretch of the imagination. They have proven and will prove again that they can come back in the playoffs. Let’s not panic. Keep the faith.

Also, let’s find a way to get Jacoby Ellsbury into the lineup. I don’t care if he takes Coco’s spot or J.D.’s spot. Heck, I don’t care if he catches. This guy has provided a spark for the Sox since being called up. Let’s give him the chance to start a fire.

Interesting pitching match-up tonight. Old Man River vs. Father Time. This could be a great pitchers’ duel. Or it could turn into a beer league softball game. Either way it promises to be interesting.

Go Sox!

Game 3 buzz

Big game in Cleveland tonight. Dice K is hoping to rebound from his ordinary performance against Anaheim in the ALDS. Cleveland, for some odd reason, is going with Jake Westbrook. I haven’t been this excited about a possible Boston rout since John Lackey pitched at Fenway.

Cleveland is a patient team that jumps on the fastball and can pile on runs. With Dice K on the mound, they are sure to get a healthy dose of off-speed pitches that paint the outside corner. Dice K doesn’t need to go out tonight and throw a no-hitter. He needs to play his game and mix up his pitches. If he pitches decent, the Red Sox will win.

Jake Westbrook, on the other hand, might be the worst game-three starter in the ALCS since the Red Sox started Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd in 1986. Westbrook gave up 9 hits and 6 runs in 5 innings against a mediocre team calling themselves the Yankees. Boston needs to get on this guy early in the game. This will keep the always-loud Cleveland fans quiet. And when the Indians resort to releasing another swarm of Lake Erie midges on the Sox, it will be too late.

Cleveland rocks

Well… that’s five hours of my life that I will never get back. Thank you, Eric Gagne and Javy Lopez. The Sox losing by a touchdown in 11 innings was not what I envisioned for Game 2. This was supposed to be a duel between two big-game starting pitchers. Runs were supposed to be at a premium. Instead we saw two very patient teams at the plate and 19 runs on the scoreboard.

Both teams did a great job of not chasing pitches outside the strike zone, and they were forcing Schilling and Carmona to beat them. We all know how that ended up. Both pitchers lasted less than 5 innings, and this game became a battle of the bullpens. For 4 innings, both teams’ bullpens were on cruise control. It was like every pitcher that came into the game transformed into Mariano Rivera (the good one of 4 years ago, not the sucky one of recent memory) to shut down both teams’ hitters.

This was lining up perfectly for a dramatic 2004ish sequence to end the game. Bottom of the ninth inning, 2 outs. Pedroia draws a walk. Ellsbury comes in to pinch run and steals second base. Youkilis comes to bat with a runner in scoring position. This was supposed to be followed by a line drive into right field. Sox win. Instead, Youk battles for about 47 pitches and ends up smacking a line drive right at Grady Sizemore to end the inning.

Two things bothered me about this AB. First, Youk needed to play for the base hit. He needed to shorten his swing and just make decent contact. Instead he does a full out gorilla swing and drives it right at Sizemore. The second thing was that Sizemore did a cheesy fake dive to catch this ball. He was going all out to make it onto SportsCenter’s Top Ten Plays of the Day. Just catch the ball and get off the damn field.

This was of course followed by Gagne and Lopez making their grand entrances in the most important inning of the series. For me, this was like watching two cars speeding right at each other. I knew it wasn’t going to end well for either one, but strangely I couldn’t look away at the impending collision. We all know what happened next. Gagne gets our hopes up with a quick strikeout. This is the point when I actually thought for a second that Gagne might pitch a decent inning for once. Poof! End of the illusion. A single to Sizemore and a walk to Asdrubal “I have too many consonants in my first name” Cabrera, and Gagne is out of the game. He now has the rest of the night free to scare the children of Boston with his nasty facial hair. Lopez enters and gives up a quick RBI single to Nixon. The flood gates open, and a close, hard-fought game turns into a blowout.

A wise man once wrote, “Said woman take it slow, It’ll work itself out fine. All we need is just a little patience.” O.K. that was Axl Rose, but the point is, I’m out of patience with Gagne. He has been given every opportunity to succeed and has failed miserably every time. Gagne, you were welcomed to the jungle… you can leave now.