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.

The Winner Takes It All, Week 1

Well boys and girl, we have the first week of the inaugural fantasy baseball league in the books. The competition is fierce so far with several teams putting up some solid numbers. Since this is an off day for the Red Sox, here is a brief synopsis of what I saw from each of the fantasy teams this week. In no particular order:

  • My Best Efforts: This is a pretty well-rounded team from top to bottom. They had the best individual performance from any pitcher so far with Jake Peavy and his whopping 63.5 points. If they add a catcher that is actually in the major leagues, they could be a force this year.
  • Lessthanzero: An up-and-down week from our neighbor to the north. He had a big week from Derek Lee, Alex Gordon, and Corey “I wear my sunglasses at night” Hart. LTZ is going to need first-round fantasy pick Erik Bedard to rebound from his minor hip injury, and for Jose Reyes to play to his potential for this team to make a serious run.
  • SarasotaRedRays: Featuring Prince Fielder, David Ortiz, and Kenji Johjima, team SRR has probably the most out of shape team in the league. He was able to get good fantasy numbers from Carlos Zambrano and Bobby Jenks. Even with J.J. Putz missing time this week and a bench in need of some work, SarasotaRedRays still performed well enough to earn 316.83 points and a third place finish.
  • Bostonbad boys: This team may have the best pitching staff in the league featuring Johan Santana, Brandon Webb, and Dice K. Unfortunately, this team may stay unchanged all season because my dad forgot how to log in to the site. It’s tough getting old.
  • Boston Braves: This team had a mediocre week from its big three, Ryan Howard, Russell Martin, and Aramis Ramirez. This team’s saving grace was a good week from its closers. I expect a big week for these guys next week after a blockbuster trade with the YankeeHaters (pending league approval).
  • The Showstoppers: Theo Epstein’s prodigy Matt McLaughlin’s team is the league leader in points for the first week, with good numbers from every position. If he can upgrade his catcher, I don’t see anyone beating him any time soon.
  • Rogers Syringe: This team is in trouble. Although it may look good on paper to have seven shortstops, pitching is also important. Dylan threw caution to the wind this week, fielding only 13 out of a possible 16 positions. He’s either the most confidant G.M., or the craziest. This team needs to be blown up and reassembled. Does anyone need a shortstop?
  • Chickenheads: This team had the second most points this week and will be a serious contender if he keeps his team intact. With A-Rod and Pujols in the lineup, and an above-average pitching staff, this team won’t be laying any eggs anytime soon.
  • Yankeehaters: I like the look of my team. After a blockbuster trade with the Chickenheads, the additions of Fausto Carmona and Josh Hamilton paid immediate dividends. My impatience with my players and the desire to make at least one mega-deal a week may be my downfall. I may regret dealing Manny Ramirez.
  • Love Boat Captains: After a strong draft from our only woman in the league, Team LBC had an up-and-down week. Placido Polanco was a huge disappointment, going from 2007 All-Star to a two-point benchwarmer for week 2. It took a few games for stars Matt Holliday, Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter to regain their stroke from last year. A solid 35.5 points from Pirate Ian Snell (who??) made this a respectable week for LBC. This is a good team that will play better in weeks to come.

What do you think of the season so far?

A blessing in disguise

Yesterday when I read that Curt Schilling had an injured shoulder and was going to miss the first half of the season, I was pretty worried. I was hoping that Schill was going to have a solid final season in the major leagues and make a push for making the Hall of Fame someday. I was concerned that the Red Sox would miss his leadership. I wondered how the Red Sox rotation would fare with two young guns assuming a very important role. I was wondering if Theo Epstein blew it by not making a serious run at Johan Santana.

But then I came to my senses.

The Red Sox had the best rotation in baseball last year in spite of the elementary performance of Schilling. Schill came into spring training looking like a poor man’s Joba Chamberlain, and it showed with his injury. The once dominant fast-baller had morphed into a finesse pitcher with a weight problem. Hitters were no longer intimidated by him, which was evident by his 9-8 record. He couldn’t blow the pitches past the hitters and resorted to nibbling the corners. I was on the edge of my seat every time Schilling pitched last year, because he was always one pitch away from serving up a three run home-run. I had big hopes for Schilling this year. He seemed motivated to come to camp this year in better shape and erase the memories of his disappointing 2007 season.

With Schilling missing at least the first half of the season, this is the opportunity Clay Buchholz needs to prove why he is Boston’s top pitching prospect. Buchholz was dominant during his short stint with the Sox last year, but being that he is only 24 years old and still developing, the Sox will want to limit his innings this season. So maybe he can assume the #5 spot in the rotation until Schilling comes back, then go to a six-man rotation for the playoff run. This will give everyone a little rest and get them ready for the playoffs.

I still really like Boston’s rotation this year. Beckett will be Beckett and should chalk up another 20 wins. Dice K, with a season of experience under his belt, should take his game up a notch. Wakefield is always good for at least 12 wins. Then we have the always improving Jon Lester, and the wild card Clay Buchholz. If any of these guys falter, Boston will have some options. Kyle Snyder and Julian Tavarez are always available to start. There some kids in the minors worthy of a call-up. And if all else fails, Theo will make the deal to shore up the rotation.

We all know pitching wins games. We’ll soon see if the Sox have enough to defend their title.

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!

Throwing Dice

When a team is down one game to none in a five-game series, game two is a must-win. With the exception of the 2004 Red Sox, teams don’t come back from a 2-0 deficit.

That’s why tonight the Angels are going to put out their best lineup and leave it all out on the field. We’ll see Vlad playing right field. Mike Scioscia will have his guys trying to bunt for hits and steal bases, with a few hits and runs mixed in for fun. These are the things that got the Angels into the postseason. If they can’t do these things now, it will be what puts them into the off-season. You could say that this is the most important game for both teams to win.

Terry Francona knew the importance of this when he announced the starting rotation. Game one was a no-brainer. Cy Beckett was starting – easiest decision ever. For game two he had some options: Curt Schilling, Dice K, or Tim Wakefield. What we didn’t know at the time was that despite his solid final start of the season, Wakefield’s back was still hurting, so he was out. I think everyone assumed Schilling would start game two. After all, he’s pitched well during his last five starts, and is arguably one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time.

Dice K has looked good, not great this year pitching in the Major Leagues. Earlier in the season, he caught a lot of teams off guard with his array of off-speed pitches picking up some wins. The second time against these same teams, batters would force him to hit his spots, driving up his pitch count and frustrating Dice K at times. The key for Dice K is getting that first pitch for a strike and then nibbling the corners with his off-speed pitches. If he gets too cute with his pitches and can’t command his fastball it could be a rough outing.

What concerns me about Dice K is that he is a different pitcher when there are runners on base. I don’t know if he focuses too much on the baserunner, or he doesn’t get enough leg push pitching from the stretch, but with a team like the Angels, who can get on base and are disruptive on the base paths, I worry how Dice K will do. But this is a guy that had very little run support and was still able to win 15 games as a rookie, playing in the toughest division in baseball.

So what made Francona go with a rookie for the biggest game of the series? Everyone has heard the stories of Dice K throwing 250+ pitches in a high school playoff game, then going out and throwing a no-hitter in the final for only the second time in Japanese high school baseball history. He followed that up by dominating the competition during the World Baseball Classic, posting a 3-0 record and winning the MVP pitching against the best players on the planet. Some pitchers have the ability to take it up a notch when it matters. It’s like they have an extra gear.

So why would Tito Francona send out a 15-win rookie with the knack of pitching lights out in big games against a team that has never faced him?

Something tells me we’ll find out tonight.