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!

Changes

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 thefoulline.com 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?

thefoulline.com 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!

Makes Me Wonder

The three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins was exactly what the Boston Red Sox needed. The Sox have been going through the motions lately, getting little to no production from Manny, Lugo, Ellsbury, and Varitek. Even Jonathan Papelbon has been getting hit. These guys had looked like a shell of their former selves.

During this series with Minnesota, Boston won the first game 1-0. They rallied back from a three-run deficit to win the second game, and they had the blowout in the third game to cap the sweep. I know that one good series doesn’t make a season, but this could be a turning point for the Sox. They beat a very good team three times, in three very different ways. Boston is finally getting healthy, and this could be when we see the real Red Sox show up.

Thefoulline.com Quick Hits:

  • Boston is 34-10 playing at Fenway and 21-29 on the road. Home field is going to be more important than ever this postseason.
  • Some guy named Clay Buchholz is starting for Boston Friday night. I hope that he can do as well as some of the other young pitchers the Red Sox have used this year.
  • Congrats to Evan Longoria for making the All Star team. It’s well deserved and is sure to be the first of many during his career.
  • Speaking of the All Star game… Imagine, if you will, the 9th inning, the AL up by one run. Francona goes to the bullpen, the last All Star game in Yankee Stadium… and out comes Jonathan Papelbon. It won’t happen. But it would be awesome to stick it to the entire state of New York.
  • Dustin Pedroia needs to be in the running for the MVP of the league.
  • Vernon Wells of the Toronto Blue Jays is injured again and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. It’s time for Toronto to concede the season and look towards next year.
  • After dropping three in a row, and losing 13-2 to Cleveland as I write this, you know that the Rays are counting the minutes to the All Star break so they can regroup. This is just a bump in the road. They’ll be competitive all year long.
  • Is A-Rod dating Madonna really newsworthy? Would this even be in the paper if the Yankees were relevant?

All Star

Baseball has some of the most passionate and knowledgeable fans in all of sports, but for some reason, when the fans have the chance to select the starters for the mid-summer classic, they have the tendency to pick with their hearts instead of their brains. As much as I like players like Jason Varitek and Ken Griffey Jr., they are not deserving of an All Star nod. With the All Star selections being announced at 2:00 p.m. today, I’m going to jump the gun and give you the players that have truly played like an All Star during the first half of the season.

Although I’d like to make the team entirely of Red Sox players, I’m going to try to be as impartial as possible, which means there may be a Ray or a Yankee on the team. Ugh!

American League

Catcher: Joe Mauer
Pencil him in for the next ten years.

First Base: Justin Morneau
This was a close race between Youkilis and Morneau. Both players have similar numbers. I just think Morneau is better.

Second Base: Dustin Pedroia
This guy is a great hitter and an under-appreciated defender. His defense gives him a slight edge over Ian Kinsler.

Third base: Alex Rodriguez
After a controversial week in the tabloids, this selection should soothe the Material Girl’s pain.

Shortstop: Michael Young
Sorry, Jeter. I know that this is the last year in Yankee Stadium, but Young is better than you.

Outfield: Josh Hamilton, Grady Sizemore, Carlos Quinton
There have been some great performances by AL outfielders during the first half of the season. These three have been the best.

Designated Hitter: Milton Bradley
Even with one arm, I think Big Papi should be the DH. But I’m afraid that Bradley will hunt me down and beat me to a pulp if he’s not picked.

Starting Pitcher: Cliff Lee
11-1, 2.26 ERA. Lee has been the biggest pitching surprise in the league.

Reserves:
Dioner Navarro C
Kevin Youkilis 1B
Ian Kinsler 2B
Brian Roberts 2B
Evan Longoria 3B
Derek Jeter SS
B.J. Upton OF
Nick Markakis OF
Ichiro Suzuki OF
J.D. Drew OF
Roy Halladay SP
Ervin Santana SP
James Shields SP
Justin Duchscherer SP
Joe Saunders SP
Gavin Floyd SP
Jon Lester SP
Jonathan Papelbon RP
Francisco Rodriguez RP
Mariano Rivera RP

National League

Catcher: Russell Martin
Martin is in a class by himself. Easily the best catcher in baseball.

First Base: Lance Berkman
After an amazing first half, Berkman is the NL MVP.

Second Base: Chase Utley
24 ding-dongs on the season so far. He has carried the Phillies.

Third base: Larry Jones
Grown men shouldn’t be called Chipper, even when they hit close to .400.

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez
This guy makes the game look easy. He’s a lock for the next ten years.

Designated Hitter: Ryan Howard
I like that this guy will either strikeout or go yard. There is no in-between.

Outfield: Nate McLouth, Carlos Beltran, Ryan Braun
These three aren’t the biggest names in the National League, but they’ve been carrying their respective teams.

Starting Pitcher: Tim Lincecum
This kid weighs 120 pounds and throws 98 MPH. The fact that he’s 10-1 and is the lone bright spot on the Giants also helps.

Reserves:
Geovany Soto C
Brian McCann C
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
Derrek Lee 1B
Dan Uggla 2B
David Wright 3B
Jose Reyes SS
Miguel Tejada SS
Carlos Lee OF
Pat Burrell OF
Matt Holliday OF
Edinson Volquez SP
Brandon Webb SP
Dan Haren SP
Cole Hamels SP
Ben Sheets SP
Ryan Dempster SP
Kerry Wood RP
Jose Valverde RP
Brad Lidge RP

So there you have it, the official thefoulline.com 2008 All Star Team.

Here Comes the Sun

The sun did rise today.

The birds are singing, and things seem to be OK.

After watching the Red Sox get out-hit, out-pitched, outplayed and out-cheered the last three nights, I wasn’t so sure that was going to happen. But here we are – it’s a new day and we have the damn Yankees to focus on.

There’s a lot of baseball left to played. Let’s turn this thing around.

Thefoulline.com quick hits

  • After receiving threats in the mail a few days ago, Sox players avoided fans in the stands like they had the ebola virus (with David Aardsma being the exception, but I think he may have a few screws loose anyway).
  • Walking into the game last night and seeing ex-Sox player Bill Lee in attendance signing autographs I thought was going to be a good omen. It wasn’t.
  • Evan Longoria is a great ballplayer, but after watching him interact with the young fans in the crowd, I think he is an even better person. Within two years, this guy is going to be the most popular player in baseball.
  • With Terry Francona picking the reserves for the All-Star Game, I think Longoria just secured a spot on the roster.
  • Funny observation of the night: The Red Sox coaches warm up as if they are playing that night. I watched as Brad Mills and Luis Alicea played some long toss before the game. After watching the Sox bullpen implode last night, they could have used them.
  • Three games, three dumb moves by Francona. Game 1: Not pinch hitting Sean Casey for Lugo in the 9th inning. Game 2: Having the ice-cold Jason Varitek pinch hit. Game 3: Keeping Craig Hansen in the game too long and having him walk half the Rays lineup.
  • Bonus dumb move from Game 3: Having the above mentioned Varitek do a hit and run with the slowest guy on the team standing on first base. It was a recipe for failure.
  • Manny sucks.
  • What a relief, Boston has four games against the Yankees.
  • 3 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay Rays feels like 100 right now.
  • Thanks to the Rays fan who jump started my truck in the parking lot after the game. I take back some of the bad stuff I’ve said about their kind in the past.

Land of Competition

I’m sorry to make this such a short post, but with thefoulline.com war room up and running for tonight’s draft, resources are running low. So here are a few quick hits.

  • The Sox split their Japan series with the A’s. Considering that they traveled across the world for this goodwill tour and still walked away with a win, it’s not too shabby. Plus, there are now a million Japanese fans who are part of Red Sox Nation.
  • Maybe it’s time for John Henry to create Red Sox World.
  • Jon Lester consistently pitches well for the Sox, but he always seems to give up a 3-run home run. Hopefully this will change with experience.
  • J.D. drew loves to toy with fans’ expectations of him. He teased us with 7 RBIs in the first two games, then pulled a typical Drew move and removed himself from the opener with “back stiffness.” It’s a long season, he’s going to need to play with a few aches and pains eventually. But why would this season be any different?
  • I wouldn’t take J.D. Drew in the 20th round of the fantasy draft. Dylan can have him.
  • What type of bizarro world are we in when Julio Lugo and Brandon Moss are looking great, and Big Papi and Jason Varitek look like it’s their first day of spring training?
  • Did Manny’s early success at the plate leap frog him into a first-round draft pick?
  • There is still an outside chance the Sox will go 161-1.
  • Did you hear about Jose Canseco’s new book? He claims that A-Rod was constantly hitting on Canseco’s wife. I hope no one tells this to Derek Jeter. I wouldn’t want him to get jealous.
  • Brandon Moss was optioned to Triple A Pawtucket today. Something tells me he’ll be back.
  • I guarantee that I will not pick any Yankees under any circumstances in tonight’s draft.

Just to echo “The Commissioner” Matt McLaughlin, let’s all have fun this season. Good Luck.

The Best of What’s Around

With Opening Day of the 2008 Major League Baseball season a few short hours away, the staff at thefoulline.com has come up with the inaugural Thefoulline.com All-Pro Team of Awesomeness. This is a team of players, handpicked by Dylan and me, who represent what this site stands for. These players may not necessarily be the best at their respective positions, some may not even be good at baseball at all, but they have the attributes to make them worthy of this prestigious honor.

To be eligible for this team, players have to meet certain requirements:

  • No Yankees allowed
  • Must be able to play hurt, and not spend more time on the DL then on the active roster. (This means Rocco Baldelli is out.)
  • Must keep their name on the sports page, not on the police blotter.
  • Not on the Mitchell Report. Sorry, Roger.
  • Most importantly, these are players that Dylan and I like. It was hard to not make it all Red Sox, but we did our best.
  • No Yankees allowed

Here is the 2008 Thefoulline.com All-Pro Team of Awesomeness

Catcher: Jason Varitek
Varitek is not only the captain of the Boston Red Sox, but we are making him the captain here as well. Although he’s getting on in years, he still prepares his pitchers well and calls a great game.

First Base: Mark Texiera
Tex flies under the radar as far as elite first basemen go. He’s solid every year he plays.

Second Base: Dustin Pedroia
The baddest man in Boston provides the scrappy trash-talking factor for the team. If this guy was 6 feet tall, he would be a household name.

Shortstop: Orlando Cabrera
I still can’t get over the Sox not signing him in favor of Edgar Renteria. The O.C. was great for Boston during their 2004 run.

Third Base: Alex R…..NOT! David Wright
This guy has every chick in New York City wanting him, and he still goes out and hits .324 with 30 HRs. Plus I like the fact that Derek Jeter gets this guy’s leftovers. Best 3rd baseman in NYC.

Right Field: Vladimir Guerrero
Vlad swings for the fences with every swing of the bat and has a laser-rocket arm. What’s not to like? He once went yard in the on-deck circle.

Center Field: Grady Sizemore
Sizemore plays the game like a new and improved Jim Edmonds. Not to mention, Grady is a pretty cool first name.

Left Field: Carl Crawford
Poor Carl, playing in relative obscurity in Tampa, still manages to put up great numbers. And he has to play his spring training games next to road-rager Jon Weber.

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz
This one was obvious. He’s one of the most likable people in all of sports as well as the greatest postseason clutch hitter on the planet. Plus, I can’t really think of another DH worth a damn.

Starting Pitcher: Josh Beckett
He makes the team due to his remarkable playoff record and the fact that he never smiles during a game. This guy epitomizes intensity.

Starting Pitcher: Scott Kazmir
This future Red Sox led the league in strikeouts last year. Also Dylan has a man-crush on him, and vice-versa.

Starting Pitcher: Jake Peavy
He’s great at nothing but really good at everything.

Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez
His nickname is King, and he one-hit the Red Sox last year. That’s good enough for me.

Starting Pitcher: Tom Glavine
Token old-timer of the staff and 300-game winner. Also Dylan saw him play high school hockey in Billerica, Mass.

Closer: Jonathan Papelbon
Great stuff. Decent dancer. Crazy as hell.

Bench: Carlos Pena
The pride of Haverhill, Mass.

Bench: Troy Tulowitzki
Pretty good ballplayer, even if he does play for the Rockies.

Bench: Joe Mauer
Close personal friend of Matt McLaughlin, so he makes the team.

Bench: Kevin Millar
This guy will never make it out on the field for this team, but he’s a fun guy to keep around.

Manager: Sparky Anderson
My dad’s favorite manager when I was growing up.

League Commissioner: Bill Lee

Here’s our team. I think that they would fare pretty well in the league. Who makes your Team of Awesomeness?

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Attention all Major League ballplayers, playing hard against the Yankees will no longer be tolerated!

After some no-name Tampa Bay Ray ran over some no-name Yankee player a few days ago, the Bronx Bombers took exception to anyone daring to challenge them, and they vowed revenge. Yesterday, during Round 2 of the epic Yankees-Rays brouhaha, that revenge took the form of Shelley “My Parents Really Wanted a Girl” Duncan.

By now, I’m sure everyone has seen the replay. Duncan did her best Pearl Harbor impression into the unsuspecting second baseman Akinori Iwamura. What made this dirty play even worse was when Duncan stood up and acted like (s)he didn’t do anything wrong. This chick is your typical, cheap-shot, idiotic, self-entitled Yankee. I expect this stuff from A-Rod, not from some moron that has done absolutely nothing in this league.

Thefoulline.com Quick Hits

  • The Red Sox released Doug Mirabelli today. How this one-trick pony has lasted in the league this long is beyond me. This guy hasn’t been able to hit his weight in average over the past several years. If the Sox are going to use a weak-hitting, defensive-minded backup catcher, make it one of the young kids. Jason Varitek needs to start grooming his heir.
  • Clay Buchholz is dating a Penthouse model. This just proves my theory that woman are attracted to dumb, lanky, goofy-looking men. She is in no way interested in his potential future earnings.
  • Bartolo Colon looked pretty good today. Two innings and 1 ER against the always-potent Tampa Bay Rays. Not a bad way to begin his epic comeback.
  • To be filed in the Talk Is Cheap folder: Coco Crisp vowed at the beginning of spring training that he would not be happy with being a backup outfielder and would win the starting centerfielder spot. Since this bold statement, Crisp has played in two spring training games. Thanks for totally killing your trade value.
  • In sad news today, the loyal thefoulline.com reader/contributor known as “the Canadian Yankee/Pirate fan” has suffered a serious injury. It appears that in an attempt to simultaneously cheer for his two favorite teams during the Yankees-Pirates game today, his head exploded. We all hope for a speedy recovery.