Monday, July 31, 2006

Nada, Nicht, Nyet...

The 4 p.m. trading deadline has come and gone, and the Yanks appear to have gotten the upper hand. They traded nothing for Abreu and Cory Lidle, and today they traded nothing (Shawn Chacon) to get Pirates 1B/OF Craig Wilson. The Red Sox, meanwhile, literally traded nothing. No moves announced from Yawkey Way today, despite rumors that they inquired about Soriano and Andruw Jones. Why do I let myself get excited about these things?

Schill Schelled

Maybe we should have known that the law of baseball averages would eventually catch up to Curt Schilling, who came into last night's game unbeaten on the home sod. The hard-hitting Angels gave Schilling whiplash last night, hitting three homers in the third and cruising to an easy 10-4 victory.

With the Sox losing 2 of 3 to the Angels - and the Yanks winning 2 of 3 from the Devil Dogs, and getting reinforcements in Abreu and Lidle - there's some pressure on Theo and his staff to come up with something today. Jayson Stark on this morning mentioned that the Sox have suddenly thrust themselves into the Alfonso Soriano sweepstakes. With Trot Nixon going down last night with what looked like another oblique problem, and Coco Crisp continuing to play CF like Ray Charles, the Sox could definitely use some more offense and another outfielder. I just hope they're not thinking of trading Loretta and putting Soriano at second - that would be a huge downgrade. But I like how Theo's thinking big. He knows that Lowell and Loretta have probably peaked, and that the offense needs a shot of energy. They've been scuffling big-time since the All-Star break. Needless to say, it should be a verrrrry interesting day around these parts. If they do nothing, the fans won't be happy.

Sox are in action tonight against Cleveland at Fenway. David Wells makes his remarkable return versus Paul Byrd.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Prayers Answered!

Ask and ye shall receive! Joe Morgan - the worst analyst in the history of televised baseball - is not in the booth tonight. ("Now watch this, Jon... this is a fastball... see how fast that ball moves?") He's not sick; rather, he's in Cooperstown with his fellow immortals toasting another class of inductees. Orel Hershiser is pinch-hitting. We're off to a good start...

Yankee$ Get Abreu, Lidle

We heard early on that Georgie Porgie liked Bobby Abreu, and the Boss finally got his man today. In a pure salary dump by Philly, they send Abreu and Cory Lidle to the Yankees for two no-name minor leaguers. It wasn't the prospects that got this deal done, it was the cash. Abreu, whose HR power is significantly down (he's got 8) this year, will average around $17 million over the next few years, and we all know the Yanks are the only team in baseball who can take that on. Am I worried about this deal? Abreu will make an already potent lineup better, and Lidle is obviously an improvement over Sidney Ponson. But we also know that just throwing money around doesn't guarantee success (see Pavano, Carl; Brown, Kevin).

As for the Sox, they've supposedly been one of the more active teams but no news yet... we'll keep you posted through the night as we do a little running commentary on tonight's Angels-Sox game. I'm hoping Joe Morgan calls in sick.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Live Look-In: Angels-Sox, Game 2

The Red Sox have stormed back from a 6-3 deficit against the hot Angels to tie the game at 6. We're in the bottom of the 9th, Youkilis on second with a leadoff double, and Papi was just intentionally walked. One down - Loretta popped up, failing to move Youk over. Now it's Manny's turn, and he grounds into an inning-ending double play. Rats. Loretta's at-bat was key. Heading into extras...

(Couple of thoughts during the commercials... my buddies and I love coming up with guys whose name sounds either white or black, and then you find out it's the reverse. ESPN's Bill Simmons calls these guys the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars. You hear the name Reggie Cleveland (left photo above) you think maybe a fleet-footed black guy, but Cleveland was actually a portly white dude from Ontario, Canada who pitched for the Sox. Other examples of names that sound black but aren't include 2B Marcus Giles of the Braves and Mariners LHP Jarrod Washburn. Howie Kendrick of the Angels is a reverse example (sounds white but is black). Try it - it's fun.

The Globe reports today on their blog that the Sox offered Coco Crisp to the White Sox for Mark Buerhle and they were turned down. Crisp is coming around with the bat a little bit, but he needs a GPS system. His tracking of flyballs this year has left something to be desired, and we thought he was going to be a defensive improvement over Judas Damon.)

Anyway, back to the action... we're now in the bottom of the 11th, tied 6-6, and Coco just grounded out. 1 down with Gonzo up. Base hit to left, and now it's Youk's turn again. Jerry Remy's doing the game for FOX today and had a good point earlier - Sox games have been a little longer this year because Youk sees so many pitches. And it's a bloop single to right. Sox have men on first and second with nobody out, and Loretta, Ortiz, and Manny coming up. Loretta's worked it to a 2-2 count. Now it's full. Papi is swinging menacingly in the on-deck circle. 3-2 pitch, and Loretta fans on a fastball. Two outs, and it's up to Papi. Scioscia is bringing in a lefty... Can Ortiz possibly do it again? All we need is a well-placed single, big feller... groundball to the left side of the infield... through!! Sox win 7-6 as the legend of Papi grows and grows... what a game...

Yanks were losing to the D-Rays 6-4 at last check...

Seventh Heaven for Angels

A tight, well-pitched ballgame last night between Jon Lester and Kelvim Escobar quickly turned sour for the Sox, as the Angels put together a six-run 7th inning to pull away. First game goes to the Orange County Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles, 8-3. And it gets tougher today with rookie phenom Jered Weaver (7-0, 1.15 ERA) going for the Angels.

The loss created a virtual dead heat in the AL East, as the Yankees continued to roll last night behind a gem from Chien Ming Wang. The gap is now a half-game, and the teams are tied in the loss column. Of course, the annoying Yanks fans are puffing out their chests this morning on the local sports radio station. Every now and then, I get thisclose to calling in and making a few points, but I just can't seem to bring myself to do it. Besides, that's what blogs like this are for...

What kills me about Yankee fans right now is that they truly believe their team deserves Purple Hearts for keeping the race close without Sheffield and Matsui. Are you kidding me? They say that it would be exactly like the Red Sox losing Manny and Ortiz. Yeah, okay... only problem with that analogy is that the Yankees can absorb the loss of two key bats because their deep pockets allow them to field a pretty deep lineup. Yank-me fans forget that they've got Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, and Jorge Posada to pick up the offensive slack. Who do the Red Sox have to pick up the slack if Manny and Papi were out at the same time? Ummmm... Trot Nixon, Mike Lowell, and Jason Varitek? It's not even close.

We're starting to see some trades trickle across the wire as we head toward Monday night's deadline. Biggest one so far was Brewers trading Carlos Lee to the Rangers for Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench, and Laynce Nix. Some relievers have also changed uniforms. Today's Herald reports that the Sox are making Trot Nixon, Wily Mo Pena, and (hmmmm...) Coco Crisp available. Are they making an all-out effort for Dontrelle?

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Globe Touts Hardball Heaven!!

OK, not really... but in Gordon Edes' nice piece this a.m. about what should be a great weekend series, way at the end, buried on page 2 in the very last paragraph... he mentions our site. Sort of.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Will They Make a Move? Or Stand Pat?

For all the hype and noise about potential trades, not much has happened... yet. All the big media outlets are claiming that it's a seller's market, but that may change as the clock keeps ticking toward Monday's trading deadline. Alfonso Soriano could be a Tiger or a White Sox or an Angel or even a (gulp) Yankee again come Monday night.

From most accounts, the Red Sox seem to be pretty active in pursuing pitching. Some reports have them talking with Florida about the tantalizing possiblity of acquiring Dontrelle Willis. They're also scouting Phillies starter Cory Lidle, who pitched very well today against Arizona in front of a few scouts. ESPN's Buster Olney is dropping hints that the Red Sox are trying to come up with some sort of creative, multi-team deal. That crazy Theo...

Here's my humble opinion on what the Red Sox need to do in order win their second world title in three years:

Scenario #1: Make the big splash move and get Dontrelle - if they have any shot at all to get him, and it takes a Dustin Pedroia or Craig Hansen - DO IT.

Barring the big move, here's Scenario #2:

1) Get Lidle. His numbers are deceiving as he had a few crappy outings early on, but he's been solid lately. Today, he handcuffed the Diamondbacks for seven innings, let in two runs, and struck out 8.

2) Replace the Gas Can Twins, Seanez and Tavarez, with Kyle Snyder and Kason Gabbard. Of all those who've auditioned for the No. 5 spot, these two showed the most promise. Snyder has started out well in each of his starts, and then he usually blows up in the 4th or 5th inning. Put 'em in there for a few innings if a starter has a short outing. Gabbard could be the lefty situation reliever they need.

3) Get a left-handed pinch-hitter for late game situations. And I have just the guy for you -- Todd Walker, now playing for the Cubs. Walker was on the 2003 Red Sox and came up with clutch hit after clutch hit (I remember a huge late-season homer against the Orioles). He's currently mired on the going nowhere Cubs, and could probably be had cheap. When it's Sox-Yanks in late September, and Mariano Rivera is on the hill, who would you rather see at the plate -- Alex Cora or Todd Walker? (Plus, his wife is un-ba-leeeee-vably hot).

Anyway, that's my thinking.

Like Watching Grass Grow

Yesterday's finale against the A's did nothing to help counter the argument that baseball can be a boring game. This one was tough to watch, listen to, or follow along on the Web. B-o-r-i-n-g. Sox lose 5-1 on a getaway day after mustering only four hits against A's starter Danny Haren.

Kyle Snyder (not to be confused with Schneider from One Day at a Time "fame") started this one, and stuck to his M.O. - pitching well through three innings, and then getting smacked around in the fourth and fifth. Adding insult to injury, he gave up two bombs to the ancient, hobbled Frank Thomas, whose nickname - the Big Hurt - is certainly appropriate these days. I think I've seen enough of Mr. Snyder to believe he's not the answer for the fifth spot in the rotation - though he may be a nice addition in the 'pen for middle relief. If he can provide three quality innings, and fill the role that Bronson Arroyo used to play occasionally, there may be a spot for him on the roster for the last two months of the season.

Day off today for the Sox, and then they have three this weekend against the Angels, who are tied for first in the AL West. Great mound matchups in this one -- Lester vs. Escobar tomorrow night; Beckett vs. young stud Jered Weaver on Saturday; and then Schilling vs. Lackey on Sunday Night Baseball.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Bay Area Bashers

For a moment last night, it looked like the Sox had frittered away a 6-1 lead and were going to suffer another tough-to-take loss. Schilling was cruising until the bottom of the 5th, when Oakland closed the gap to 6-4. They scored another run to make it a razor-thin 6-5 lead, and then the Sox exploded in their half of the 8th. Key hit was a bases-loaded double by the Captain that cleared the bases and gave the Gas Can twins (Tavarez/Seanez) some breathing room to "operate." Final score: 13-5.

Nice to see Schilling get his 13th, but more encouraging to see the bats wake up in Oakland. Through the first two games of this series, the Sox have scored 20 runs on 28 hits. Manny's in a home run groove (4 in the past week), Varitek is starting to rip the ball, Coco looks more comfortable at the plate, and Youkilis seems to be coming out of his late first-half slump.

Everything's looking up for the boys, who may see the return of David Wells within the next week. If Theo believes Wells can contribute down the stretch, the Sox might switch gears and look for offense at the trading deadline. They need a prototype #5 hitter behind Ortiz and Manny, and the rumor mill (speculative as it may be) has them considering Bobby Abreu. I think that's a stretch, though, as Abreu's huge contract will be an obstacle. They also could use a left-handed stick off the bench (Todd Walker?) for late-game pinch-hitting duties. The Herald is reporting today that Theo is interested in Phillies SP Jon Lieber and OF Pat Burrell, who would fit nicely in the 5-hole. Question is, what do you do with Trot? As always, stay tuned...

Matinee game today (3:35) as the Sox go for the sweep in Oakland. Kyle Snyder opposes Dan Haren, and this may be the game that the frustrated A's decide to plunk a Sox batter. Not that I'm encouraging that type of behavior, mind you, but MLB is due for a classic bench-clearing brawl. If it happens, Papi better get a bear hug around Carl Everett, Jr. (Milton Bradley) ASAP. That guy could do Mickey Rivers-type damage.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Manny Taketh Away; Manny Giveth

One day after his maddening (non) play in the outfield in Seattle, Manny Ramirez showed why we overlook these things, smashing a three-run homer in the third to give the Sox and Josh Beckett a comfy 4-0 lead over the A's in Oakland. The Sox went on to win, 7-3, behind Beckett (now 13-5) and additional homers from Papi and Alex Gonzalez. The bullpen also did its job well, with good outings from Craig Hansen, Mike Timlin, and Jonny Papelbon.

The Spanks beat Texas earlier in the day, 6-2, so the lead stays at 2 1/2 games. We have to start talking about the Blue Jays, too, who lost to Seattle 7-3 last night. AL wild card standings this morning look like this:

1. White Sox --
2. Yankees 1.5
3. Minnesota 2
4. Toronto 4.5
5. LA Angels 8.5
6. Oakland 8.5
7. Texas 9

The White Sox have struggled in a big way since the break, but yesterday signed KC closer Mike McDougal and are reportedly close to adding the mercurial but insanely talented Alfonso Soriano. By contrast, the Twins have been on an absolute tear (9-1 in their last 10) behind their twin aces (Santana and Liriano) and the M&M boys (Morneau and Mauer). The AL Central battle is going to be a bloodbath. The Angels and A's are tied in the weak AL West.

Curt Schilling tries to match Beckett with lucky win #13 tonight in Oakland vs. Jason Windsor. Mike Mussina goes against Adam Eaton in Texas.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Lost Opportunity

Yesterday's finale in Seattle was a punch to the gut, as the Sox lost a wild one, 9-8, on a Richie Sexson walk-off homer. Jon Lester's homecoming left something to be desired, but the Sox still should have won this game.

The key play came in the bottom of the 8th, when Adrian Beltre hit a smash to center field. The bright sun had been causing problems in the OF all day, and Coco Crisp blatantly misplayed this one. He jumped up to try to make an over-the-fence catch, and the ball hit the wall several feet to his right. Now, a misplay in that sun is understandable, right? There's a guy backing up Coco to make sure Beltre gets only a double, or at worst, a three-bagger, right? All reasonable assumptions, of course, unless the guy doing the backing up consistently has his head up his ass. Manny looked just as clueless as Coco, and all he had to do was look on the ground, grab the ball and fire it in. Instead, Manny gave a little shrug and pointed at the ball, leaving Coco to sprint after it. By that time, Beltre had rounded third and was sliding across the plate with an inexcusable inside the parker.

Still, it wasn't over. In the top of the 9th with two down, Jason Varitek crushed a home run to right off Mariners closer J.J. Putz to tie the game at 8. Francona elected to keep Mike Timlin in the game in the bottom of the inning, and that decision proved costly as Sexson's blast landed just a few feet from where Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was warming up. Final score: Mariners 9, Red Sox 8. This is one we may remember for a while, made worse by the fact that the Yanks had already lost again to Toronto earlier in the day. These lost opportunities are starting to kill.

No time to stew, though. The Sox are in Oakland tonight to try to exact some revenge from a couple weeks ago. Beckett vs. Zito in Game 1. Keep an eye out for a continuance of the beanball issues we saw at Fenway.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Home Run Derby, Then King Felix

The Sox took Game 1 vs. Seattle in a breeze Friday night, hitting five homers off Mariners starter Jamie Moyer. Final score was 9-4. Dongs came from Ortiz, Varitek, Manny, Gonzalez and Youkilis.

Game 2 was an entirely different story, thanks to young Mariners phenom Felix Hernandez who fireballed his team to a 5-2 win today and stopped the Sox' five-game winning streak. King Felix has suffered from the sophomore jinx this year, but he was dominant through seven before giving way to the bullpen. The Sox, meanwhile, brought up a young lefthander named Kason Gabbard from Double-A to start today in what would have been Tim Wakefield's spot. Gabbard pitched respectably, giving up two runs in five-plus innings. He was the hard-luck loser, and didn't get any help from Alex Gonzalez, who made a key error in the fifth that helped the Mariners take the lead.

Yankees beat Toronto today, so the lead is 2-1/2 games. Rubber game is tomorrow at 4:05. Native son Jon Lester vs. Jarrod Washburn.

Friday, July 21, 2006

On a Roll

Our boys are waking up in Seattle this morning after dispatching the tough Rangers yesterday in a makeup game at Fenway. Sox won 6-4 behind a gritty performance from Curt Schilling, who improved to 12-3 on the season and 8-0 in front of the hometown crowd. Nice thing about this one was they won without Papi in the lineup (resting a sore back - not a big deal) and without Mike Lowell at third. Wily Mo Pena pitched in with a couple of key RBI. The other nice thing about this one was that it put some pressure on the Yanks, who played last night at Toronto. Vernon Wells took Mariano Rivera yard in extra innings to put the Yanks 2 1/2 back.

On Wednesday, the Sox swept the Royals in their second consecutive 1-0 game. Josh Beckett was outstanding, mixing in a great curveball with his usual gas. Manny hit a solo HR for the only run. After the game, the team announced it had signed Beckett to a new three-year contract worth $30 million. After much deliberation, I think this is a good deal. Beckett has stayed injury and blister-free so far this year (knock on wood), he's supremely talented, and he's only 26 years old. Why let him become a free agent and let someone else set the market for him? One thing I do wonder -- were they waiting until he threw a gem to announce this? If he had given up four bombs to the Royals, would there have been a press conference after the game? Go ahead and laugh, but I wouldn't put it past this PR-conscious management team.

Anyway, the Sox have now won four straight after the Oakland ugliness, and are in the caffeine capital of the world tonight to face off against Ichiro and the Mariners. Seattle is in last place in the AL West, but only five games out. Kyle Snyder (ugh) against Jamie Moyer tonight in game one.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Cure For What Ails Ya

Two games against the Royals, two one-run victories to get the reeling Sox back on track. Game 1 on Monday night wasn't looking good. Down 4-1 in the 7th inning, Doug Mirabelli came through with a huge three-run homer into the first row of the Monster seats to tie it up. In the 8th, Manny hit a medium-depth sac fly to left to score Willie Harris (just barely). That made it 5-4 and it was Papelbon time in the 9th. One fun note from this one: David Ortiz stole his first base of the year with a nice hook slide into second.

Tonight was the Jon Lester Show. The lefty from Tacoma, Washington pitched eight innings of one-hit ball in what was a much-needed quality start. Where the hell would we be without this kid? He walked four tonight, but he was able to stay out of jams. And how about his poise? He's calm on the mound when the pressure builds, and you can see it in his overall demeanor when he's being interviewed. Not too up, not too down. Sox win the second game against KC the old-fashioned way, 1-0. Alex Gonzalez had the lone RBI of the night, driving in Jason Varitek with a single up the middle. Thank God for the Kansas City Royals.

Nice highlight of this one was the fans giving Jason Varitek a loud ovation. Once the game became official, 'Tek replaced Carlton Fisk on the all-time games caught list for the Sox -- 991 to 990.

In other Sox news, lots of comings and goings today. Willie Harris was designated for assignment and Javier Lopez sent down to Pawtucket to make room for the returning Wily Mo Pena and Jermaine Van Buren, who should serve as the medium-long man. Tim Wakefield's back is hurting and he's going in for more tests. And David Wells may be on the verge of making an improbable comeback. Just another day in the greatest sports soap opera going.

Game 3 is a rare scheduled day game tomorrow - Josh Beckett tries to right his ways against (another lefty) Mark Redman. 1:05 game time. Get those ESPN GameCast's cranking.

Late update: the friggin' Yankees came back from a 4-2 deficit to the Mariners to tie the game in the 9th, but then the heavens opened up and it's now raining heavily in the Bronx. Game is currently being delayed.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Pleading the Fifth

Not exactly a blistering start to the 2nd half for our heroes. The Sox go down again yesterday to that juggernaut from Oakland, 8-1, at Fenway. Making matters worse, those stiffs from Chicago got swept by the Yankees in New York over the weekend - so the lead is now basically no longer a lead. The Sox and Yanks are separated by a half-game this morning.

Again, the issue of not having a reliable fifth starter reared its ugly head. Kansas City cast-off Kyle Snyder pitched a clean game through four innings, before reality caught up with him in the top of the fifth and the A's put a five-spot on the scoreboard. The only two highlights on the Sox' side involved Alex Gonzalez, who made a dazzling double play and smacked his sixth homer of the year.

Part of me wants to sit here this morning and bitch and moan about why the Sox couldn't pull away from the Yankees in the first half. I want to know why Theo didn't pull the trigger on a deal that would help provide some separation. I want to know why he pulled the trigger on the Arroyo/Pena deal, when most intelligent fans hated it from day one. We may have ended an 86-year drought in 2004, but second-guessing is still in our blood. Everyone knows this is the year the Red Sox have to win the division, and as various Yankees kept falling in the first half, the pieces seemed to be in place.

The other part of me knew this was coming. After all, if we've learned one thing throughout all of our Yankee-hating years, it's to not discount the Bombers. Mussina, Jeter, and Randy Johnson could have gone down and the Yankees would still be breathing down our necks. Nothing comes easy in these parts, which in a weird, sadomasochistic kind of way, makes it all fun. It should be one hell of an interesting trading deadline.

If you're looking for a panacea for the ailing Sox, there's 25 guys from Kansas City rolling into Fenway tonight for the first of three games. The descendants of George Brett, Amos Otis and Frank White are 27 games below .500 in the tough AL Central. The Sox need to take at least two of three. If they don't, there will be panic in the streets of the Back Bay. Yanks take on Seattle in the Bronx.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Ace Steps Up

David Ortiz is being interviewed on NESN right now, and he's wearing a necklace that looks like a bicycle chain. Of course, Papi can afford that chain and - even cooler - have his own brand of salsa because he hits the baseball a very long way. He hit his major-league leading 32nd bomb tonight (90 rbi's) but far more impressive was his two-run triple (not a misprint) in the 4th inning to give the Sox and Curt Schilling an early 3-0 lead. They went on to win 7-0, notching their first shutout of the year and getting a much-needed victory after last night's beating.

There were some questions about Schilling coming in - he got hit in the elbow last time out - but he pitched his best game of the year going seven innings and giving up only two hits. He really had the A's guessing what he was going to throw next, and the velocity was consistently 92-95. Schilling is now 7-0 at Fenway this year.

Papi's triple was the big hit of the game, as he was able to slice one down the right-field line, and then it rattled around a bit before Carl Everett Jr. could haul it in. That gave the Sox a 3-0 lead and they were off and running.

Kyle Snyder has been called up from Pawtucket to make the start tomorrow in place of Tim Wakefield, who is still battling back discomfort. Wake will start Monday. Joe Blanton goes for the A's.

Hot Bummer Night

Not a fun Friday night at Fenway, as the Sox were humiliated by the punch-and-judy Oakland Athletics by the final tally of 15-3. Josh Beckett got racked, the bats went silent, and the bullpen - particulary Javier Lopez and Julian Tavarez - blew more things up than the Israeli military. Things got so bad that even Carl Everett's illegitimate son -- Milton Bradley, shown above throwing one of his many tantrums -- put together a 4-hit night.

Are you concerned about Beckett? I am. He's been nothing but shaky and inconsistent over the past couple of months. We keep seeing this stat about batters absolutely killing him on the first two pitches, which are undoubtedly fastballs down the middle. Dennis Eckersley last night opined that because Beckett's not getting his curveball over, it lets batters lay back and wait for the heater. Whatever the problem is, a mid-season adjustment is in high order. No Beckett, no postseason. Pretty simple.

The bats? Either it was just an off night, or it was another example of their struggles against tough lefties, this time Barry Zito. They'll bounce back today against Danny Haren, who they've had some success against.

As for the "relief," we know we've got the right arms when we have a lead -- some order of Timlin, Delcarmen, Hansen and Papelbon has instilled confidence. When we don't have the lead and we're trying to keep a game close, however, it's an entirely different story. Lopez and Tavarez last night allowed a 7-2 game to get completely out of hand, giving up a combined 7 hits and 8 runs in two innings. I don't think Papi can hit a 13-run homer, though I guess we shouldn't make fast assumptions when it comes to the AL MVP. Theo and crew will no doubt be looking for middle relievers at the trading deadline - the question is are there any good ones out there?

One last note before we move on from this debacle. One night after Mark Loretta made a crucial error, Alex Gonzalez made one last night to allow an inning to continue. Watch out tonight, Mike Lowell. Someone's sticking pins in their Red Sox voodoo doll, maybe somewhere a couple hundred miles to the south? Making matters worse, the Yankees pulled out a dramatic 6-5 victory against the White Sox last night, so the lead is now a razor-thin 1- 1/2 games.

Sox try to regroup tonight behind Curt Schilling, who last time we saw, had to leave a game in Chicago after taking a hard liner off his elbow. No word on how he's doing, but he's still scheduled to make the start - and you know how Curt loves being the stopper. Haren goes for the A's.

Friday, July 14, 2006

News Flash: Red Sox Infielder Makes Rare Error

Well, what looked like a nice win last night in the first of three against Oakland turned into a tough extra-inning loss. Big play came in the top of the 7th when the normally sure-handed Mark Loretta took his eyes off a grounder and let it get by him, allowing the A's to tie the score at 3. They went on to win 5-4 in 11 innings. Yanks were idle, so Sox' lead is now 2 1/2.

Jon Lester pitched true to form - lots of pitches and too many walks, but good damage control when he needed it. He left with a 3-1 lead. Pinch runner Willie Harris had another bad miscue on the basepaths, getting picked off late in the game. Willie may be looking for a new employer soon.

Game 2 tonight at the Fens features a good pitching matchup, which means the final score will be something like 11-10. Josh Beckett vs. Barry Zito.

Mid-Year Review , Part I

You can look at the Sox' performance in the first half of 2006 several ways. The glass-is-half-full view is that they're in good shape to finally supplant the Yankees as AL East kings. They're three games up at the break and the schedule (nine games against KC) is favorable. The negative nellies in the Nation, however, can point to the fact that the Red Sox went on that huge winning streak, are 20 games over .500, and yet those dreaded New Yorkers are still hanging around. If we've learned one thing over all these years, it's don't let the Yankees lurk.

Let's take a look at the starting position players. We'll do pitcher recaps in a separate post.

Kevin Youkilis, 1B:Right now, Youk's one of two or three guys who would get strong consideration for the 10th player award. He's finally gotten the chance to become more than a character from "Moneyball" and he's seized it in a big way. We knew he was a disciplined hitter, but we didn't know he'd be a good leadoff man and we certainly had our doubts about his switch to play first base full-time. The Greek God of Walks has answered his doubters resoundingly. Big question going forward is how he can handle the full 162-game grind. He slumped badly right before the break.

Mark Loretta, 2B: Sure, Theo's made some questionable moves, but you can't question this one. Loretta for Mirabelli, and now we've got Mirabelli back. I initially liked the pickup because of Loretta's offense, but I didn't know how solid he was defensively. Not the best range, but if he can get to it, it's an out. Also, when you hear about how 'professional' the Sox have become - through their conscious Idiotectomy - this is one of the guys leading the charge. Would be nice to see a little more pop from his bat in the second half.

Alex Gonzalez, SS:He went from A-Gone to Gonzo in about a month or so. Historically a weak hitter but one of the best we'll ever see playing shortstop. Smooth like butt-ah. The bonus is that he's started to swing the bat with a little more confidence, and in a short period of time has raised his average from Mendoza territory to above .275. If he keeps it up, he may have a new long-term contract to ponder.

Mike Lowell, 3B:10th player award is between Lowell and Youk. Another well-respected professional. Entering this season, all we heard from the sky-is-falling Boston media was that his bat speed was slow as molasses. He was all washed up. To be fair, he didn't have a good year last year with the Marlins - but what a difference a year makes. He's a doubles machine, occasionally hits the timely home run, and is stellar at third. A pretty good throw-in in the Beckett deal, wouldn't you say?

Jason Varitek, C:Not the best of halves for the captain, particularly with the lumber. If he can pick the offense up a notch in the second half, it would be a huge plus. Still can't figure out why Tito had him play all 19 against the White Sox in the last game before the break.

Manny Ramirez, LF:All-Stargate aside, Manny has been a pleasant surprise both on and off the field so far in 2006. On the field, he's seemed as focused as he's ever been. He's playing good defense and has been his normal imposing self in the cleanup spot. Sure, he still lollygags it down to first, or doesn't back up his fellow outfielders, but I think it's safe to say we're all glad he didn't leave. Papi needs the protection.

Coco Crisp, CF:Tough to grade Covelli Loyce Crisp at this stage. He missed a couple of months with the wrist problem, and some have questioned - based on his performance since he's been back - whether he's fully healed. Youk's done such a nice job batting leadoff that Tito has been able to drop Coco down in the order to take some pressure off. Logic would indicate that as he gets healthier, the hits - and SB's - will come. And maybe he goes back into the leadoff slot. His highlight of the first half was far and away the Superman catch he made off David Wright to beat the Mets.

Trot Nixon, RF:Not hitting for much power, but Trot's had a good half average-wise. Would love to see him or Lowell step up and be the solid No. 5 hitter this team badly needs. He's in a contract year, so hopefully that serves as a nice carrot down the stretch. He's gone 30 games without homering.

David Ortiz, DH:If Papi duplicates what he's done in the first half, he might need some space on his mantle for an MVP Award. The shift has certainly had a negative impact on his batting average, but the shift don't work when he's blasting balls into the bleachers. He's on track to become the first Sox basher to swat 50 since ol' Double X, Jimmie Foxx, did it back in 1938.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad...

Well, it coulda shoulda woulda been an impressive sweep of the defending world champs in their house, but it wasn't meant to be. After beating the ChiSox 9-6 on Saturday in the series' second game, the Red Sox lost to their stockinged brethren yesterday (last night), 6-5 in 19 innings. That's right - 19 innings. This one just kept going and going, and when it was all over, 40 players had participated, and 569 pitches had been thrown by 16 pitchers. In the bad news department, Varitek and Nixon went a combined 0 for 17 yesterday, and our superstud closer, Jon Papelbon, gave up a rare 9th-inning run for a blown save. In the good news department, the bullpen -- particularly Delcarmen, Hansen, and Tavarez -- was outstanding late in the game.

So we head into the All-Star break with a 3-game lead over the Yankees. Sox are 20 games over .500, at 53-33. Yanks are 50-36. When play resumes on Thursday, the Sox will be taking on the Oakland A's, and the Yanks will be hosting these same White Sox.

Enjoy the break. Monday and Wednesday are the only two days during the year that the four major sports leagues in the U.S. are quiet, so use the time to get reacquainted with family and friends! I'll have a mid-year recap to share in the next couple of days.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Update: Wake Hurting

We heard yesterday that Tim Wakefield was hurting with some back issues, and today we read in the Herald that he's concerned about pain that isn't going away. He's having an MRI today in the Windy City - cross fingers that it's something minor.

Battle of the Soxes

Round 1 in this much-anticipated series against the White Sox goes to the good guys last night, 7-2. It wasn't as easy as the final score might indicate, however.

The Sox (Red, that is) jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first thanks to a Papi home run off White Sox starter Mark Buehrle. Remember when Papi had trouble with lefties? A long-forgotten memory. The homer was Ortiz' 30th - the first Sox hitter to ever clout that many before the All-Star break. The ChiSox fought back and tied it at 2, but the Red Sox added single runs in the 4th, 5th, and 7th innings and then iced it with two solo bombs from Mike Lowell and Coco Crisp in the 9th.

Lowell had a terrific game with both the bat and the glove. So nice to be listening to the radio, bases loaded with White Sox, one out, score tied at 2, ground ball to Lowell - and you just know it's an automatic double play. The other offensive star - besides Papi - was Alex Gonzalez, who raised his batting average above .280 by going 4 for 4. Gonzo has been awesome at the plate the last few weeks. Jon Lester labored again - 95 pitches through six innings - but his performance was very impressive considering he was going up against the World Champs in their ballpark. The kid is cool out there, and knows how to pitch his way out of jams.

All in all, a very nice start to this series between two AL powerhouses. Yanks won last night 1-0 behind Jaret Wright's 10 K's so the lead stays at 3. Josh Beckett vs. Freddy Garcia today at 1 on Fox. Something tells me a few balls might leave the yard.

Friday, July 07, 2006

That's More Like It

What looked like a somewhat easy win over Tampa last night turned into a nailbiter before - who else? - David Ortiz iced the victory with an 8th inning grand slam. Shift this, sayeth Papi. Sox win going away, 12-5, and a much-needed win it was. You can never, ever lose four straight to Tampa Bay, and they certainly didn't want to be leaving for a tough three-game set against the White Sox on a down note. Thanks to the bats, they left with a little air under their wings and maintained their three-game edge on the Spanks.

Now we're looking at what hopefully will be a great matchup between the last two World Series champions. The Tigers may be leading the AL Central, but the White Sox know they're better. May be a little subplot story too, with Manny's apparent decision not to play for the AL All-Stars, who will be managed by White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen. Game 1 is at 8:30 tonight, and it's a matchup of southpaws. Jon Lester vs. Mark Buehrle.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Three Down, One to Go

Man, the Devil Dogs are starting to own us again. The Sox lost their third straight game to Tampa Bay tonight in a contest that featured a little bit of everything, including a catcher's interference call, a shot off one of those ridiculous catwalks that should have been a 2-run homer but instead was a rally-killing out, and a straight steal of home by Devil Ray dynamo Carl Crawford. (Looked just like the picture, which shows the great Jackie Robinson swiping home). Unfortunately, each of these rare happenings went against the Red Sox and they end up 5-2 losers.

The D-Rays jumped early on erstwhile No. 5 starter Jason Johnson, and the Sox couldn't climb back. Youkilis hit a bomb in the third inning that would have been out of any park, 'cept it hit the wrong catwalk and Carl Crawford (there he is again) caught the carom for one of the toughest-to-swallow outs you'll see. After that, the Sox seemed to lose a little steam.

This No. 5 starter thing is killing us right now. No offense to Jason Johnson, but he didn't have it again tonight - and he may be a memory after the All-Star break. This is where Theo has to be kicking himself for trading Bronson Arroyo away. The jury's still out on how much of Bronson's quick start is due to the weak-sister NL, but wouldn't it be nice to have him as your spot starter/long reliever right about now? I bet the lead over the Yanks would be more like 6 or 7 than the current 3 (Yanks beat Tribe, 11-3, tonight). In Theo's defense, though, we didn't know Matt Clement was going to completely lose it, and we thought we had gotten lucky with David Wells. They had to bring up Jon Lester, and thank goodness he's been as good as he's been or we'd be in deep doo-doo.

As it is, we've got a three-game cushion over the Yankees that should be more like double-digits. They friggin' lost Matsui, Sheffield, and Cano, and now Damon's out with an injury. But the Red Sox haven't been able to twist the knife. Should be a verrrry interesting trading season this year. Sox flaws: fifth starter, 6th and 7th inning relief, offense off the bench (Reggie Sanders?)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Another 'L' in Tampa

Another lefty. Another loss. Sox go down 9-6 in Tampa tonight. At least we know George isn't enjoying his birthday cake tonight - the Yanks are getting thumped in Cleveland right now. Indians lead 19-1 heading into the ninth. Time for A-Rod to hit one out.


Scott Kazmir always pitches well against the Red Sox, but last night he was at a different level, taking a one-hitter into the 8th inning and ending up with 10 K's and a complete-game shutout against a pretty potent Boston offense. Final score: D-Rays 3, Sox zip.

Imagine if the Mets hadn't traded Victor Zambrano for Kazmir? This was in the pre-Omar Minaya days - as Omar is quick to remind us - but man, what a horseshit trade. Who was at the wheel for that one? This kid's going to be a great one when it's all said and done. Wonder what his contract status is - we should just collect all the good lefties (Willis, Lilly, Kazmir) that give us trouble.

Anyway, back to the game. Beckett pitched well but was again hurt by the longball. Tampa's runs came on three solo shots, including two from the legendary Ty Wigginton. Not sure what it is about Beckett's fastball, but hitters have been on it this year, especially on the road. Francona actually made the point last night that Beckett supplies most of the power with his velocity. That's a true players manager for you.

The good news is that the Sox can wake up this 4th of July morning, lick their wounds, and know that they didn't lose any ground to the Yankees, who lost 5-2 last night to the Indians. The lead stands at 4 games, 5 over Toronto.

Schilling vs. Casey Fossum today at 4. After being passed over for the All-Star Game (in his hometown area of Pittsburgh no less), the betting here is that Schilling throws a gem.

Happy 230th birthday, America...

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Different Sense of Urgency?

As the Sox settle back into an AL schedule this week and get ready for the All-Star break, the sense of urgency to win the division has never been greater - and it's encouraging that we saw some signs in the first half of the season that show Terry Francona agrees. There's a pretty good chance that the AL wild card entry this year will come from the AL Central.

The axis of power in the dominant American League (.620+ winning pct. this year vs NL teams)still very much revolves around Boston and New York, but the AL West - particularly the Angels and the Mariners - has lost a step to the AL Central, which features the Tigers, the White Sox, and the suddenly resurgent Twins, who are riding the two best lefty starters in the game in Santana and Liriano.

All of which means the Red Sox really need to win the division this year and make it easy on themselves. While the huge winning streak was a hell of a lot of fun to watch every night, the fact of the matter is that the Yankees - with their long list of key injuries - are still lurking. They're missing Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, and Robinson Cano and they're still hanging around. Hopefully, the Sox can spread the gap this week - they're in Tampa to face the D-Rays and the Yankees start four tonight in Cleveland. Sox then head to Chicago while the Yanks get a turn to beat up on Tampa.

If I'm Terry Francona, I'm managing this week like we're fighting for a playoff spot. No days off for anyone. Less exposure for Taverez and Seanez. Short leashes when a pitcher's getting banged around. I can remember a few occasions so far where he's pulled a starter early, which he didn't do a lot of last year. Hopefully, this sense of urgency continues. It's time to put some serious YAC (yards after catch) on the Yankees.

By the way, the Sox placed four players on the AL All-Star squad - Manny, Ortiz, Papelbon, and Loretta. Figured Varitek wouldn't make it, but Schilling should be there.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Beat Goes On

The streak stands at 2, after the Sox again dispatched the Marlins, this time winning 4-3 on a late sacrifice fly from soon-to-be-All-Star-2B Mark Loretta. Sox are now 50-29 on the season - their best start since, ahem, 1986 - they've won 14 of their last 15, and they've got a 4 1/2 game lead on the Yankees, who are playing the Mets tonight in the Bronx.

Jon Lester started this one and struggled, but again showed that he has the poise and mettle to get out of tough jams. Papelbon came on in the 8th and got the last four outs for his 25th save - breaking the rookie record set by the original "Monster," Dick Radatz, in 1962. Youkilis, Varitek and Papi all hit solo homers.

Sox now head up the interstate to Tampa-St. Pete to tangle with those pesky Devil Rays for four big action-packed games. From there, it's on to Chicago for what should be a good series against the White Sox next weekend. Maybe exact a little revenge for last year's ALDS white-washing. And then, believe it or not, we're at the All-Star break. Sox could conceivably place six guys on the AL team: Manny, Ortiz, Papelbon, Schilling, Loretta, and Varitek. Rumor has it Loretta's going to make the team because of Robinson Cano's injury.

Home Run Derby

Nobody told us it was going to be Fireworks Night at Dolphins Stadium. The dynamic Dominican duo of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez combined last night to go 5 for 8 with 4 homers (2 each), 9 RBIs, and 5 runs scored. Former Marlin Mike Lowell pitched in with three doubles as the Sox cruised past Florida, 11-5, in hot, muggy Miami. It was nice to see Wakefield get some much-deserved run support. The errorless streak (a new MLB record) was snapped when Doug Mirabelli threw wildly trying to get a runner stealing second.

It was also a night for milestones. Manny's three-run bomb in the first inning was his 2,000th career hit; the win was Wake's 150th (15 wins with Pittsburgh, 135 with the Sox).

Yankees and the Big Ugly Unit lost to the Mets yesterday 8-3, so the lead stands at 4 games. Good matchup of young'uns today. Jon Lester versus Josh Johnson.

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