Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Come join the Red Sox Maineiacs for another live chat tonight at 8:30 as the Red Sox take on the Rockies.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Gentlemen Start Your Playoff Beards-the 2013 Red Sox are AL East Champs

An idea that seemed crazy one year ago, all but impossible at the start of the season, and unlikely perhaps, even at the the All Star Break has come to fruition.  The Boston Red Sox have won the AL East, and they have won it running away from the pack.  The September 20th clinch date ties the 1995 sons of Kevin Kennedy for the earliest clincher.  The '95 club also won the AL East by more than any of the previous six Sox AL East titles, by 7 games, which this club will hopefully surpass.

Let's just briefly touch on some of the cast of characters responsible for the last to first revival.

General Manager Ben Cherington.  His first off season in post 2011 was marred by the refusal of Larry Lucchino to take off the training wheels and saddling Ben with a manager( who we won't mention by name) that he did not want and I suspect knew would not work. In his first winter  Ben was also totally handcuffed by the bloated payroll.  The August 2012 one quarter billion dollar payroll purge( thanks, LA)  ridded the payroll of wasted dollars and allowed Ben some freedom from the front office to start over.  Ben got the manager he wanted, even trading a big league player for him, and developed a strategy to sign multiple mid range free agents rather than one or two high priced stars. As we will mention down the roll call, Ben got both the managerial and players decisions exactly right.

Manager John Farrell.  Maybe any guy off the street would have looked good after 2012, but Farrell proved that his previous connection with the veterans on this team, his personna, and leadership made him the perfect manager for this particular team.  Ultimately, the players make or break a team, but the respect Farrell commands from his players and returns to his players and staff ( I am sure every player on that team noticed Farrell got Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino into the lineup and onto the field for the clinching inning at the end of last night's game!) are one of the bedrock foundations of this group.

Coaching Staff.  Each and every member of the staff should be commended for their work, and a return to normalcy between a Sox skipper and his coaches.  But two in particular should be mentioned. Pitching Coach Juan Nieves came into what could have been a very awkward situation, a first time pitching coach with no previous connection to this franchise working under a manager who recently     ( and very successfully) held your job.  All winter long the talk filled the air of how Farrell was going to fix his pitchers. Based on the results and from the comments heard, Nieves ( and Farrell, too for that matter) handled the relationship perfectly.

The other coach deserving special mention is Orono's own Brian Butterfield.  Long recognized in baseball circles as a tireless worker and outstanding instructor,  he brought these qualities and more to this special team.  Not only did he do an outstanding job coaching third, but his work developing the defensive shifts used by the Sox has been very important.  He also deserves commendation for his infield coaching of players such as Mike Napoli, Daniel Nava, Jose Iglesias ( as a 3rd baseman), and recently with Xander Bogaerts.

Starting Rotation.  All six starters who were regular contributors at some point of the year have ranged from outstanding to solid innings eaters.  Jon Lester's mid year slump has been bookended by ace-like stretches.  John Lackey coming off Tommy John surgery has been excellent all year long, only his lack of run support has kept him from winning about 17 games.  Ryan Dempster has given the team solid innings all year long and now may  be a key bullpen guy in the postseason.  Felix Doubront had about a three month period where he allowed 3 runs or less every start. Clay Buchholz was 9-0 with a sub 2.00 ERA on June 8 when a neck ailment kept him out until  a week or two ago.  Clay is now 11-0, and while he was out kids Allen Webster and Brandon Workman helped keep the Sox afloat until they traded for Jake Peavy.  Peavy, a tough as nails vet, filled the Buchholz role from late July on, and could be part of a dominant post season rotation.

Koji-  Uehara gets his own mention apart from the rest of the bullpen because he has been the savior at the end of games.  After losing All Star closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey to injury ( a blessing in disguise??) and trying, briefly, Junichi Tazawa as closer, Koji grabbed the reins and turned in perhaps the greatest half season of closing in baseball history.  He walks no one, and lately every save is a 12 to 14 pitch 1-2-3 inning.  He is probably the one Red Sox player, who if they can duplicate their regular season in October, would most likely signal a championship.

Returning Vets: David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Will Middlebrooks, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and ( to some degree) Daniel Nava.  Some of these guys had a bump or two along the way, Papi was not healthy at the start, and Jacoby is not healthy at the end. ( and his ability to play in October could be a very big factor).  Middlebrooks of course crashed and burned for the middle( no pun intended) before returning with a vengeance.  Pedey has been beyond outstanding in the field and on and off at the plate ( probably due to a lingering thumb injury suffered on Opening Day). Salty has hit fewer home runs this year, but a bushel of doubles, and has improved his game all around.  Nava, who barely qualifies as a vet, and was somewhat of a surprise to make the team, was at last look second to Mike Trout in OPS for AL outfielders.

Ben's free agent crop: Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Ryan Dempster ( see pitching comment), and not a free agent but a helluva steal, Mike Carp.  Every single guy on this list ( maybe with the exception of Dempster, maybe) has met or exceeded evey on and off the field expectation for them.  Napoli, yes he now holds the Sox single season strikeout record, has provided right handed power, and has also repeated his career long super September surge.  Drew, maligned all year ( hey, it's JD), has played and hit better and better all year long.  Victorino is the toughest son of a bitch I have ever seen play for Boston, and fantastic defensive player.  And what can you say about Gomes.  He must be lucky everywhere he goes they win !  And the pitching staff always seems to up their game when Ross is behind the plate.  Carp, whose last name is an anagram for Crap has been anything but, with many big pinch hits and home runs in limited but increasing playing time. The culture of this club has changed completely and I suspect these new guys have a lot to do with that.

There is still work to do because finishing with the best overall AL record is very important.  And this crew is embracing the chance to do that.  In the last day I have seen or read tweets with Gomes, Workman, and Buchholz all mentioning going for 100 wins.  They need 6-1 from here out and that would give them the #1 seed in the American League.

Thanks, Red Sox for a great year, so far.  Go get the job done.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

2013 Red Sox are Going to the Post Season!

Behind a masterful complete game two hitter by John Lackey, the Red Sox have clinched a post season spot.  This comes only one year after the worst debacle in Sox history.

 Later tonight the Sox could also clinch a tie for the AL East division crown.The Rays are losing to Texas 6-2 , a Tampa loss would reduce the magic number to 1, which would mean the best the Rays could do is tie Boston( which they will not do, by the way.)

A win at Fenway Friday night will clinch their 7th AL East title over the years.  Five of the previous six have been won at Fenway, and this year's crew will not go through the weekend without clinching.

The gutty, gritty bunch have not lost more than 3 in a row at any time this year. Since the infamous Dempster drilling A-Rod game on August 18th ( a game which the pundits warned would wake the Yanks) the Red Sox are 19-8, a .703 winning percentage.

Congratulations to the Sox and after the clinch the division( tomorrow night I believe), a real party can be had in Red Sox Nation.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Is the AL East Race Over?

In yesterday's Three Truths post I posed the question is the AL race over?  Are the Red Sox a shoo in for the title?  Let's take a look at some numbers starting with the standings in the AL East.

1. Boston        87-58        ---        17 games left
2. Tampa Bay 78-64        7.5       20 games left
3. Baltimore    76-66         9.5      20 games left
4. New York   76-67        10        19 games left
5. Toronto       67-76         19       19 games left

A very comfortable lead as of this Sunday night, three weeks from the end of the season for the Sox. Let us also look at the wild card standings because this will illustrate how much the AL East foes, except the Jays, are in the heat of the wild card race and therefore will be going all out every night.  No playing out the string.

1. Texas   81-61     +3.5
2. Tampa  77-64      ___  ( Rays would be the 2nd wild card, and all of the games behind for the others are in relation to the second wild card)

3. Cleveland 76-66     2
4. Baltimore  76-66     2
5. New York 76-67     2.5
6. Kansas City 75-68   3.5

With a lot of AL East games among each other, there should be no one team to sweep the others with so much on the line.  That is a good thing for the team out front: your Boston Red Sox.  And by the way I predict if they get any help at all from Boston( beating up at least some on Rays, Yanks, and O's) that Cleveland will get the second wild card.  Go look at their remaining schedule.  The Paw Sox could win at least 15 of the remaining 20 the Tribe has. ( although the lost to the Mets with Dice-K starting today!)

Here is a quick breakdown of the AL East schedules from here in.

Boston 8 away ( 3 Rays, 2 Rockies, 3 O's)  9 home ( 3 each with Yankees, O's and Jays)

Tampa Bay 9 away ( 3 Twins, 3 Yanks, 3 Jays), 11 Home ( 3 Red Sox, 4 Texas, 4 O's)

Baltimore 10 away( 3 Jays, 3 Red Sox, 4 Rays)  10 home ( 4 Yanks, 3 Jays, 3 Red Sox)

New York 13 away ( 4 O's, 3 Red Sox, 3 Jays, 3 Astros)  6 Home (3 each Giants and Rays)-The Yanks begin a ten game road trip tomorrow all of the remaining road games except Houston. the Yanks and O's play four while the Sox and Rays play their three game set.

Let us quickly review the only team with any reasonable chance to catch Boston, the Rays.  Foremost the two teams start their final head to head meetings of the year Tuesday in St. Petersburg for three games.  The Rays are starting David Price on Tuesday versus the returning Clay Buchholz.  To my thinking catching David Price in game one is a slight advantage.  Best case scenario the Sox beat Price or his bullpen in game one and mission accomplished.  Worst case Price beats Boston, and the Sox still have two cracks at the Rays.  If Boston can win just one game in this series they will leave town 6 1/2 games ahead with 14 to play.  Two of three is always a goal in any series, but one will do the trick. Plus Matt Moore pitched today meaning he misses this series unless Maddon wants to hurl him on three day rest.  Unlikely as he is just coming back from injury.

The other trouble spot I see for the Rays is the pair of 4 games series left, both with contenders.  It is always seems harder to win a four game set than two or three.

Finally, let's play with some numbers to help determine if this AL East race is all ready over.  Here are a half a dozen different scenarios.

1. As of tonight the Red Sox magic number for clinching the title is 12.  So if the Red Sox go 12-5 or better they win the East.

2. If the Red Sox win 10 games or more this would eliminate Baltimore and 9 more wins eliminates the Yankees.

For the next four items, we will plug in a possible Red Sox win/loss record and see what the others would need to do to catch or pass the Sox.

3. The Red Sox go 9-8 ( roughly .500)

Tampa Bay would need to go 18-2 to tie and 19-1 to finish first
Baltimore would need to 20-0 to tie and could not win without a playoff or tie breaker
New York as mentioned above is out with 9 Sox wins.

4. Red Sox finish 8-9 ( roughly .500 again)

The Rays need 17-3 to tie, 18-2 to win.
The O's need 19-1 to tie, 20-0 to win ( this would also mean the Sox 8-9 includes 6 losses to O's)
Yankees need 19-0 to tie cannot win outright.

Now we will take a little walk on the dark side

5. If Sox go 6-11

Rays could tie with 15-5 and win with 16-4.
Orioles could tie with 17-3 and win with 18-2
Yankees could tie with 17-2 and win with 18-1

So even on the dark side there is light.  If the Red Sox win only about 1 of every three games, the Rays need to play .800 to catch them ( with all of those tough games left), and the Orioles need to play at a  .900 pace, while the Yanks could only afford to lose one game in three weeks.

One last peek into the abyss of the really dark side,

6. The Red Sox  go 2-15  ( and I would like to take the way, way, way over on that bet)

Tampa Bay could catch the Sox with a 11-9, and win with 12-8
Baltimore needs 13-7 to tie and 14-6 to win
New York needs 13-6 to tie and 14-5 to win.

Again the light peeks in.  Even if the Sox duplicate 2011 ( and I am here to tell you, the Beards will not do this!)  The Rays need .600 ball, the Orioles .700 and the Yanks over .730 ball.

This numbers strongly suggest that yes the AL East race is OVER!  Me, I would like to wait until next weekend, after the Rays series and into next weekend last meeting with the Yankees.

Postscript.  Two other things to watch.  The overall best AL record. The Sox hold it currently by three games over Oakland and four over Detroit.  And then if the Sox get this overall best record they would host the wild card team, which could be the AL East foes Rays, Orioles, or Yankees.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Three Truths for the Red Sox Stretch Drive

I started a September Sox segment on 92.9 The Ticket with Dale and Clem yesterday entitled Three Truths.  I took three reasons given by the Sox skeptics for potential Red Sox failure in September, and then I gave the truth about those skepticisms.  Here they are:

1. The Red Sox finish on the road, and 12 of last 21 are on the road.

The Truth:  The Red Sox are the only AL East team with a winning road record.  Including the two wins in New York in the most recent games, the Sox are 39-32 on the road, .549 winning %.  Also, all of the games are versus the AL East ( except two in Colorado and the Sox are 2-0 against the Rockies this year) and the Sox have a 34-25 against the rest of the AL East.

2. The David Huff Fallacy aka the Red Sox cannot hit left handed pitching.

The Truth: Before the start of the current Yankee series, the Red Sox had the EXACT same winning percentage versus left handed and right handed pitching. .596. The Sox were 28-19 versus lefties and 56-38 against right handed pitching.  And with the re-emergence of Will Middlebrooks, the awakening of Mike Napoli, and Shane Victorino turning himself into Jose Bautista as a right handed only batter, and even the return of David Ross, this lineup is no longer heavily tilted to the left.

3. The vaunted Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff will prevail over all in September.

Again going into Thursday'a action the Red Sox had given up as a staff 566 runs in 141 games.  The Rays had allowed fewer, but it was 555 in three fewer games! At that point the Sox had given up an average of 4.014 per game, while the Rays All World( supposedly) staff had allowed 4.021. Basically the same, but the Sox had given up fewer per game by a fraction.  By the way going into Thursday's action the AL team with least runs allowed, and by a margin of 30 runs or so was Kansas City! (Although the 16 the Tigers put on the board against KC last night puts a dent in that).

So on this September 7th morning with 19 games left for Boston,  the Red Sox hold a 7 1/2 game lead over the Rays, 9 1/2 over Baltimore and 10 over the Yankees, the question is " is the AL East race over?"  More on that later this weekend.

P.S. One last updated truth, with an apparent foot injury bothering Jacoby Ellsbury, Jackie Bradley, Jr. has been recalled and is starting in center field.  With the aforementioned David Huff starting for New York, Xander Bogaerts is in the lineup at shortstop for Stephen Drew.

The Truth: This will be the first of hopefully hundreds of Red Sox starting lineups which includes both Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, Jr.