Red Sox and Yankees: Rivals Go Head-To-Head For The First Time in 2009

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The Red Sox/Yankees rivalry
is the best in baseball, and possibly the best in professional sports.
I was raised to hate the Yankees, I mean, really, really hate them. I have a friend who was raised the same way, only opposite. She was raised to hate the Red Sox.

Why?

Who cares? It’s fun! It is certainly not a friendly rivalry, but it
is fun to have a “bad guy” to unite against. Its a showdown of good
versus evil, the Red Sox Nation vs. the Evil Empire, minor tweaks vs.
major, multi-million dollar overhaul.

A rivalry, yes, but most definitely a fun one.

Of course, with this rivalry, things can (and do) tend to go too
far. With Joba Chamberlain on the mound tonight, things might get a
little interesting. 

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If you recall from the previous two seasons, there is some bad blood
between Chamberlain and Youkilis. Why? Who knows. Fact of the matter
is, Joba’s thrown at Youkilis four times. Four. 

So far, no brawls, but it is getting a little ridiculous. Buzzing a
player inside is one thing, its acceptable, its part of the game, but
throwing at hitters, at their heads, is unacceptable. When Josh Beckett
did it earlier this season, it was an accident and everyone knew it.
When Joba did it last season, it was no accident.

If he does it again, judging by the reactions last time, there will most likely be a brawl or an ejection, or both.

Tonight, Chamberlain, who went 4.2 innings with six hits, five
earned runs, five walks and four strikeouts in his last start, will
square off against Red Sox southpaw Jon Lester. Lester looked much
better in his start against Baltimore going 7 innings with only four
hits, zero earned runs, and nine strike-outs.

While Youkilis’s consecutive on-base streak was snapped Wednesday
night, he is still making American League pitchers look bad, hitting
.429 with an OBP of .522.

In other good news, the Red Sox starters are all now hitting above .200, with Lowell, Youkilis, and Green hitting above .310.

The Yankees and Red Sox kick off their three game series at Fenway
tonight at 7:10 PM, with Chamberlain taking the mound against Lester.

Saturday’s game will be at 4:10 PM on Fox with A.J. Burnett squaring
off against Josh Beckett, who’s original start was pushed back a day
due to his suspension.

Finally, Andy Pettite will face off with Justin Masterson in the Sunday Night Baseball game on ESPN at 8 PM.

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Marathon Morning: Red Sox Sweep The Orioles With A Twelve Run Rout

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Its a good morning when you have a
baseball game at 11 and you have nothing to do. Its even better when
you get to see a young guy pull off a show-stopping performance on Patriots Day of all days. All while thousands of people ran in the 113th Boston Marathon.

Justin
Masterson, usually the long reliever/all around lights
out pitcher from the bull pen, got his first start of 2009. In 5
innings he struck out 3, walked 2, and allowed 1 earned run on 4 hits. Not a bad outing, considering he did all that
on just 84 pitches. And thanks to the Red Sox very strong bull pen,
that one run was the only one allowed all game.

The bats got going in the first, when Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a double. A single from Dustin Pedroia scored the speedy Ellsbury, and a ground out from Baldelli brought in Dustin, putting the Sox up by two.

In the second, Jason Varitek continued with his seemingly rejuvenated
swing (its only a few weeks into the season, but I remain optimistic)
and launched a solo shot into the monster seats, where fans were
alternating between watching the game, and watching the marathon
runners make their way through Kenmore Square.

The Orioles scored in the third, and it remained close until the bottom of the sixth. Another RBI single for Pedroia and a triple from David Ortiz made it 6-1, Red Sox.

The bull pen held the Orioles to a scoreless top half of the seventh,
and then the Red Sox really got started. The Orioles faced 12 Red Sox
batters, Mike Lowell had an RBI double and an RBI single in the inning.
Also with RBI singles in the seventh were Ellsbury, Pedroia, and Youkilis.

The
best part of today? With the exception of Ortiz, who’s average is up to
.196, the rest of the team is now hitting above .220. Pedroia got
moving, so did Ellsbury, and Ortiz had a good day with two hits, two
RBI, and a run scored.

Lefty pitcher Hunter Jones made his major league debut, and pitched a scoreless 9th for the Red Sox, while Rocco Baldelli left the game in the fourth with a mild hamstring strain, and Orioles third-basemen Ryan Freel left the game in the third after being hit by a pick-off attempt from Masterson. He went to the hospital as a precaution, but there is no news yet on when he will return to the Orioles line up.

The
Sox now have a five game winning streak, are back over .500, and have
now won their 66th Patriot’s Day game, which started with a 21-gun
salute from the Minutemen, and ended with a 12-run salute from the Red
Sox.

“Wake”ing Up The Red Sox

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Wednesday, Tim Wakefield flirted with a perfect game, and might have restored the Red Sox confidence in themselves.

I feel like we need the Hitchiker’s Guide to Baseball with a big sign on the back that says “Don’t Panic” and we really shouldn’t. We’ve got, what, 152 games left or something like that?

It feels as though these first two weeks of baseball, the Red Sox have been trying to start a car. Sometimes the ignition
turns over, but it doesn’t last long. Maybe Wake’s start is the jump
they need to really get moving. It does not help, of course, that they
had to face first the Rays, and then the emotionally charged and always
difficult LA Angels.

Looking at the stats for the first two weeks of the season give me hope, however. They have allowed the second fewest runs in the AL East, the Rays have allowed two fewer, but the Red Sox are one of the three teams with more runs allowed than runs scored. So there is your problem. Well, Dice-K and Lowrie being injured doesn’t help either, but truly, the issue is offense.

The Red Sox have just 35 RBIs so far this year. That’s 27th in the league. Their on-base percentage is ranked considerably higher. Which leads me to one issue: they can’t hit with runners on. While more of the team has moved above .200, Varitek (who’s right at .200), Pedroia, Ellsbury, and Ortiz are all still below the .200 mark. Dustin is a traditionally slow starter, so his engine should start going soon, Papi had his first extra-base hit of the season, so maybe that will kick him into gear, and Ellsbury seems to be coming back, he’s hit much better in the A’s series than the others.

Maybe
Wake’s brush with history will rejuvinate the entire team. Right now,
Youkilis and Bay are on fire. Youk’s hitting .472 and Bay is hitting
.345, both with two homers. Varitek’s average might be a little low,
but of his five hits, two are doubles, and two are home runs. He’s
hitting for much more power than last year and is tied with the lowest
number of strike-outs on the team.

I’m
an eternal optimist. So maybe all of this is nothing, and they’re going
to continue to be below .500 for the first time in years, but somehow,
I doubt it. Maybe Tek is going to have another bad year, but what I’ve
seen so far says otherwise. Maybe Bay won’t hit 30 homers, but I think
he will. And maybe Kevin Youkilis will slump after the All-Star break,
but I have faith.

The
Sox return home tonight to take on the Orioles at 7:10. Penny takes on
Guthrie, who has looked pretty good in his two starts for the birds.
The Orioles are a game back of the AL East leading Toronto Blue Jays. Raise
your hand if you saw that one coming. If Penny can locate tonight, and
the bats can get moving, I think the Sox turn it around and get back above .500.

CC Sabathia: Its Not His Fault

Yesterday the Yankees trotted out their 140-million dollar ace to
wow the lowly likes of the Baltimore Orioles. CC Sabathia, the reason
the Brewers were in the playoffs last year, the work-horse who has
thrown more innings in the past two years than anyone, Goliath himself, had one really bad day.

But it wasn’t his fault.

It was windy, so the pitches weren’t going where he wanted.

The crushing weight of being the Yankee’s ace was way too tough, he’s not used to it yet.

No,
that’s not it. Those are excuses. The truth it the strike zone was the
size of a postage stamp. That’s why he didn’t have any strikeouts, if
he pitched in the minuscule zone, the Orioles would hit it. So he had no choice but to walk five batters.

Again,
that’s an excuse. It’s because there were too many Orioles fans at
Camden Yards. The usually Empire-filled stadium was full of too many
people rooting for the home team and that really threw him off.

No,
that sounds like another excuse. Here’s the real reason that Sabathia
had such a difficult time and didn’t get a single strike-out all game:
he doesn’t do well in April. If you look at his starts last April, he
was terrible.

Yes. He is not good in April. That’s why he
allowed 8 hits and six earned runs in just over four innings for an ERA
of 12.46. That is the answer. You see, it wasn’t Sabathia’s fault, it’s
April’s fault. April is just not his month, but don’t worry Yanks, come
May 1st, I’m sure he’ll do better.

While I respect
CC for all that he’s been able to do the past two years, now that he’s
a Yankee, he’s in the firing zone, so no mercy, and I look forward to a
great competitive year in the AL East.

Red Sox Spring Training Analysis (Part 3)

This is the third and final stats-drive spring training analysis, mostly
because spring training is now over. If you haven’t read the first two
articles, check them out:
Part 1 and Part 2.

Today we’re going to look at J.D. Drew and Jason Bay, then take a quick look at the Red Sox pitching staff. 

We’ll
start with the oft-injured J.D. Drew. I think he’s going to have a
great year, because he’s under no pressure to carry the team like he
did last June. He’ll bat 5th, in between Youkilis and Bay, which is a
great place for him. J.D. Drew has come up with some of the most clutch
hits in the history of baseball, no pitcher is going to walk Youkilis
to get to Drew, and similarly, no pitcher would willingly walk Drew to
get to Bay.

Drew’s back will be the
main concern this season, but with capable back-ups, Francona will have
an easy time giving Drew the rest he needs. Think about it, when Drew
came back from his back issues for the playoffs, he hit some seriously
clutch hits and helped the Red Sox reach game 7 of the ALCS.

In
2007, Drew hit .321 with 13 hits, 1 home run, and 7 RBI in spring
training, then hit .270 with 126 hits, 11 homers, and 64 RBI. Of
course, Drew’s biggest contribution in 2007 was the 14 million dollar
two out Grand Slam in the ALCS , which we all remember fondly as the
day Boston fans officially forgave J.D. Drew. 

In
2008, Drew’s Spring Training posted frighteningly similar numbers: .321
average, 9 hits, 1 home run, and 5 RBI. for the 2008 season, where he
was absolutely on fire the month of June and then kind of…fizzled,
Drew hit .280 with 103 hits, 19 dingers, and 64 RBI.

I’m
beginning to wonder if a good spring is bad for Drew’s regular season,
which fills me with hope, because his 2009 spring training numbers are
down. He hit .265 with 9 hits and 1 RBI. 

So
what’s the projection for Drew this season? It’s difficult to say,
honestly, because we never know how many at-bats he’ll get or how much
his back will bother him.

My
projection is he’ll hit somewhere in the .270-.290 range with maybe 15
home runs, it could go higher if he is rested when he starts slumping.

Next we’ll look at Jason Bay.

Jason had a monster season last year, coming off an injury-dampened 2007. How will he look in his first full year as a Red Sox?

In
2008 spring training, Bay hit .231 with 9 hits and 5 RBI. He hit .286
with 165 hits, 31 homers, and 101 RBI during the regular season.

This spring, including his brief stint at the World Baseball Classic, Bay hit .285 with 12 hits, 4 home runs, and 11 RBI.

So
what’s the projection for 2009? Can Jason Bay replace Manny’s bat in
the line-up? No. But he can get pretty close. I’d look for Bay to have
another 30+ home run season, and bat around .280-.300. That could be
overly optimistic, but I have faith in him

.

The pitching staff
might be the strength of this Red Sox team, despite a talented line-up.
With three aces, four if Smoltz or Penny come back with a good bit of
their past form, and one of the best bull pens in the league, the Sox
are looking to make another run at the post-season.

In
this I’m going to look at the (current) starting five: Beckett, Lester,
Dice-K, Wakefield, and Penny. Then, in honor of the stellar ‘pen, we’ll
look at Papelbon to close things out.

Beckett is slated to
start opening day at Fenway against the Rays, so what should we expect
from him? Will he be good but not great like last year, or lights out
like he was in 2007? I’m banking on 2007, since he was never really
healthy in 2008.

My projection for
the 2009 season is that Beckett will be on form again, pitch about 200
innings, with 70-75 earned runs, 40-45 walks, and 185-190 strikeouts.
I’d look for him to post an ERA around 3.15-3.25.

Next
we have Jon Lester, who emerged as one of the game’s elite southpaws
last season, and should continue to build on that in 2009.

The
only concern facing Lester this year is the number of innings he threw
last year. He pitched 210 innings, and was clearly gassed by game 7 of
the ALCS.

While
I don’t expect him to pitch that many innings again, I project he will
throw about 190-200, with 70-75 earned runs, 60 walks, and 155-160
strike outs. I’d look for him to post an ERA of about 3.18-3.28.

Then
we have Daisuke Matsuzaka, the heart attack-inducing MVP of the World
Baseball Classic. Dice-K has looked good this spring, at the WBC and
with the Sox. While you should never count on him to eat innings, or
have a low number of walks, he’s just looking to have a break-out year.
I’d look for him to go about 176 innings, with 73 earned runs, 85-90
free passes, and 165-170 strike-outs. I’d look for him to post an ERA
around 3.45-3.65, but don’t discount him, it’s just as likely for that
ERA to settle out around 2.90-3.10.

Then
we have Tim Wakefield, the longest tenured Red Sox, and still pitching
strong. That’s mostly due to the fact he’s a knuckleballer, and thus
the pitching motion doesn’t wear on his shoulder like the normal
pitching motion.

So
will Wake look good again this year? Sure. He’s consistent. He should
eat about 186 innings, with 90-95 earned runs, 65-70 walks, and 115
strike outs. He should post an ERA of 3.85-4.00, but this won’t matter
as much if he can get the run support.

Tim Wakefield is going to give up two or three runs a game. His season record depends on how much run-support he gets.

Brad
Penny is the newest addition to the pitching staff, and like many of
the Red Sox additions, he’s coming off of an injury. Assuming he
recovers and gets back to some of his form, I’d look for Penny to go
between 170-190 innings, 75-80 earned runs, and post an ERA of
3.20-3.50. I have a wide range here because I’m not sure how Penny will
perform. It’s a sort of waiting game with him.

And now we’ll close this series off with one of the game’s elite closers, Jonathan Papelbon.

Paps
has posted great stats the past three years, with more than 30 saves in
2006, 2007, and 2008. I wouldn’t look for that to change at all. Last
year, Papelbon had 41 saves, I’d look for him to have between 40-45
saves this season and post an ERA of 2.60-2.80.

Papelbon
is the capstone of a stellar bull pen, and should have fewer four,
five, and six out saves this year because the road from the starter to
Papelbon is paved with pitchers like Takashi Saito, Justin Masterson,
lefty-specialist Javier Lopez, and many others.

With
that, I end my stats freak predictions. What’s my prediction for the
season? I think the Red Sox win the AL East, but it’s a tough road with
the Yankees and the Rays, so I think we’re in for a very exciting season.

In Defense of Josh McDaniels

Now that Jay Cutler is on his way out of Denver, we have to look at what started this whole ordeal and why it ended in such a messy divorce.

Many people blame rookie head coach Josh McDaniels, but how can you? Maybe he didn’t handle the situation as well as someone with more experience. But, looking at their stats last year, you can’t blame him for going after Matt Cassel.

Here’s a few reasons why McDaniels should have gone after Cassel:

1. Josh knows Cassel and knows how he works. I would compare it to someone getting a new job and bringing their old secretary with them because they know each other and how things are organized and how they both work. Its comfortable, its a good plan, and would ease some of the transition from offensive coordinator to head coach, probably making life easier on the entire coaching staff.

2. Cassel was better than Cutler last year. The Broncos played in a weaker division, with the Chiefs and the Raiders, their only competition coming from the Chargers. The AFC East had three possible playoff teams the last week of the regular season.

Here are Matt Cassel’s stats for 2008 and Jay Cutler’s stats for 2008. You compare.

Cassel: 21 TD 11 Int and an 89.4 passer rating

Cutler: 25 TD 18 Int and an 86 passer rating

You might say these numbers are virtually the same, but again, you have to look at the division.

3. Finally, the NFL is a business. They are in the business of winning, and they have the weapons, McDaniels wouldn’t have been a good coach if he didn’t look into upgrading one of those weapons. He has to look at all the options before just taking what he was given.

So, if McDaniels was not making a bad decision in terms of coaching, then why all the drama? Here’s why: Cutler has handled this situation as poorly as anyone could. In Cleveland, Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn hear trade rumors every day. In Chicago, there is similar QB unrest. Even look at baseball, Mike Lowell was on the trading block because the Red Sox wanted Teixiera. They didn’t get him, and Lowell is fine. All of these men take the trade talk in stride, understanding that it is a business, and their teams have to try and get the best player to help them win.

In fact, most of these guys take the trade talk as motivation, to prove to their teams why it was a good idea to keep them. That’s all Cutler had to do. He is supposed to be the leader, and as a leader, you take the punches and turn them into motivation. You don’t whine, ignore the team like a 13 year old girl sulking after being told “no”, you understand its a business, and roll with it.

Jay Cutler would have had a great year under McDaniels, he’s pretty good at offense, and he could have put Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal to good work. Now I guess we’ll never know.

Red Sox Spring Training Analysis (Part 2)

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A few days ago, I posted an article analyzing the Red Sox and using
my stats love to predict the 2009 season based on spring training. You
can read that article here, if you haven’t.This is the second in what will be a series of articles.

Today I’m going to look at the question marks of the Red Sox, Mike Lowell, Jed Lowrie, and Kevin Youkilis.

We’ll start with Mike Lowell, who had offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip.

In Spring Training 2007, Mike hit .170 with 9 hits, 3 homers, and 8 RBI.

In his World Series MVP 2007 Season, he hit .324 with 191 hits, 21 dingers, and 120 RBI.

In Spring Training 2008, he batted .237 with 9 hits, 2 home runs, and 5 RBI

2008 was a down year for Mike, mostly due to his hip issue. He hit .274 with 115 hits, 17 homers, and 73 RBI.

So,
how does he bounce back? He’s looked good so far in spring training,
and the hip doesn’t seem to be bothering him. In spring training this
year, Lowell has hit .286 with 9 hits, 3 home runs and 4 RBI.

My
prediction for the 2009 season? I think he bounces back to good form,
maybe not the year he had in 2007, but pretty good. I think Mike will
hit around .275-.290 (I give him a wide margin because of the injury)
with about 150 hits, between 94-100 RBI and probably around 18-20 home
runs.

Next we’ll look at the Jed Lowrie.
He’ll be the short stop on opening day, but he’ll have to fight to keep
the job when Julio Lugo comes back, because the Red Sox don’t want nine
million dollars riding the bench.

Lowrie is difficult because he is young, and we don’t know what to expect from him yet.

In
2008, he batted .098 with 4 hits and 3 RBI in spring training, then hit
.258 with 67 hits, 2 homers, and 46 RBI in 81 games with the Red Sox
last year.

So then we have to ask
ourselves, how much does spring training really matter? Can it be used
to predict a player’s performance? The answer is no. It can give a some
insight to what a player might do, but the law of averages does not
take into account injuries, slumps, and hot streaks.

That
being said, Jed Lowrie is a sort of dark horse in 2009. In spring
training so far, he’s batted .408 with 20 hits, 2 home runs, and 11
RBI.

So how will Jed do in 2009?
Good question. I’m going to predict he’ll hit around .260-.280, with
maybe 80-90 hits. However, if his spring training is any indication of
how he’ll do this year, he could do much better. It will definitely be
exciting to watch.

Next we move on to Kevin Youkilis.

Last year was the first year that Youk didn’t slump a little after the All-Star break. The question is, at 29, can Youk
repeat last year’s stats or will they take a little dip? Again, this is
where all the stats in the world can’t predict the answer.

In
2007, Youk hit .375, with 18 hits and 5 RBI in spring training, and
.288 with 152 hits, 16 homers, and 83 RBI in the regular season.

2008 was Youk’s year. He finished 3rd in the AL MVP race and had a career year in terms of hitting.

In spring training, he hit .297 with 11 hits, 3 home runs, and 8 RBI.

During the regular season, Youk hit .312 with 1678 hits, 29 homers, and 115 RBI.

In 2009, Youk played in the World Baseball Classic, which skews his stats a little.

In the WBC, Youk hit .182 with 4 hits, 3 homers, 9 RBI, and 6 walks.

In spring training, Youk has hit .208 with 5 hits, 1 home run, 3 RBI and 4 walks.

So what does Kevin Youkilis regular season look like? If he doesn’t slump after the All-Star break, I think Youk can hit around .285-.300, with 95-100 RBI and 20-25 homers. Of course, his OBP will be high, as usual, because he’s a tough out, and he should be pretty good protection for Ortiz this year.

That’s all the analysis for today. Next I’ll look at J.D. Drew, Jason Bay, and the pitching staff.