Start Me Up

Baseball season is finally back, and although the offseason for the Boston Red Sox didn’t go the way I’d hope it would, I’m still optimistic for a successful 2009 campaign.

It’s becoming more and more obvious that Theo Epstein and Terry Francona don’t read thefoulline.com. If they had, we’d be watching Mark Texiera and Derek Lowe gearing up for the season in Fort Myers, while watching the enigmatic Julio Lugo and overrated Jason Varitek packing their bags to destination Anywhere But Boston.

But after my initial disappointment with the lack of big name signings, I’m starting to really like the additions of Brad Penny, Takashi Saito and especially future Hall of Famer John Smoltz. These guys are low cost, with potential huge rewards for Boston. Even though Smoltz won’t be ready until June, he could be the big addition to the lineup that usually takes place at the trade deadline. If Boston makes the postseason, a lineup with Josh Beckett and John Smoltz would be scary.

Before we can talk about the playoffs, there are a lot of questions about this team that could severely affect their post season chances. Will Josh Beckett, David Ortiz, and Mike Lowell rebound from their 2008 injury-plagued season? With Coco Crisp shipped off to Kansas City, is Jacoby Ellsbury ready to be the everyday centerfielder and leadoff hitter? Can a full season of Jason Bay make up for the loss of Manny? Who will be the Red Sox catcher of the future?

To make matters worse, rivals Tampa Bay and New York revamped their already dangerous lineups. The Yankees decided to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on big-game choker CC Sabathia, the oft-injured A.J. Burnett, and current thefoulline.com public enemy #2 Mark Texiera. Will this high priced talent lead to a return to the postseason for the Bronx Bombers? Or will these guys wilt under the pressure of playing in the Big Apple like Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown and Carl Pavano? Let’s hope for the latter.

As for the Rays, I really like the additions of Pat Burrell and Matt Joyce to fill the right field and designated hitter spots. This is a big upgrade of the Gabe Gross/Cliff Floyd combo. I’m interested in seeing whether Evan Longoria can duplicate his rookie season, and if the Rays can repeat their success with their closer-by-committee bullpen.

The good news is baseball is back.
The competition  for the AL East crown promises to be fierce.
Let the games begin!

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.