We’ve Got Cabin Fever…It’s Burning In Our Brain

We’ve been snowed in for almost a week now. Not Boston-level snowed in by any stretch of the imagination, but snowed in for us, which basically means 4″ of snow, some ice, and Hoth-level temperatures for the rest of the week. Which means I haven’t been in school all week. 

So let me go over a few things I haven’t talked about on my hiatus. First off, can we just celebrate for a moment the fact that the Patriots are SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS?????

I’m done!!! That was such an AWESOME moment. I literally fell on the floor (I was at a party, people can vouch for this).

And I heard the best Boston sports question EVER the week after the Super Bowl:

If you walked into a bar and Malcolm Butler and Dave Roberts were both there and you only have enough money to buy one of them a drink, who do you buy for?


Ug. I can’t even decide. Butler put to rest so many demons…Spygate, 2007, 2011…but Dave Roberts’s steal basically started off the chain reaction that put to rest 86 years of nonsense for the Red Sox. Too hard. Can’t do it.

Speaking of the Red Sox, it’s SPRING TRAINING! It’s HERE! PITCHERS AND CATCHERS REPORTED TODAY! BASEBALL SEASON IS STARTED!!!!!!

I’m so stinking excited. Not only because I love baseball (seriously…love it) but because it’s like the heralding of spring. It means that all this stupid winter stuff is going to melt away and the temperatures will warm up (it’s a balmy 18 degrees right now…) and we can pull out the spring clothes and get ready for that magical time known as SUMMER.

I can’t even…

So on to another topic. I’ve had a lot of time this snow break to work on finances. Dave Ramsey. So fun. It’s in the book a little, but I didn’t realize how absolutely irritating the, let’s just call them “DR Doldrums” are. I’m almost done with my first debt (yay!) and then I’ll start snowballing the next debt. And I see the light way, way, way at the end of the tunnel but right now all I keep thinking is “AM I EVER GOING TO HAVE ANY MONEY AGAIN?”. 

I know. I know. Stick to the plan. It’s going to work out if you stick to the plan. It’s like loosing weight. It sucks while you’re doing it, and you may not see progress ALL the time, but the end is worth all the work and sweat and healthy eating. 

I’m going with the mantra I have been learning to apply to everything: Jesus take the wheel.

Right now I’m discouraged, right now I don’t want to snowball my debts, I want to go to Hawaii and buy new spring clothes and shop and go out more. But that’s not how this works. That’s what got me into this mess, and stopping all those behaviors is what will get me out. 

It’s exactly like loosing weight. I had to change the way I ate, completely, before I could really start to lose (30 lbs so far! and continuing) So with my finances I have to change the way I think and the way I do things. And once that first debt is gone, it’ll feel really good and I will get that adrenaline boost, similar to the one you get from losing 5 lbs. And then I’ll feel more ready to tackle the next debt and it will snowball, but right now I still have the debt, I have lots of things coming up I need to pay for, and I’m in the DR Doldrums. I’ll just have to keep watching highlights of Super Bowl XLIX and see pictures from Spring Training to help motivate me. Because if I ever want to GO to spring training or buy Patriots things again, I have to get my brain in a better financial place. 

Jesus take the wheel, cause I’m gonna crash if I drive. And just so I don’t end this blog on a low note, here’s Tom Brady jumping up and down in reaction to the Butler interception (what was Carroll thinking????)

Generation Gap: A Boston Fan’s Psyche

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Since 2001 there has been a steady shift in the mentality of a Boston fan. Well, the young ones, anyway. It really took off in 2004 after the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years.

I watch most games with my Dad, he’s been a fan his entire life and he’s the reason I love the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox, and Bruins as much as I do. But as fans go, we are very different. 

Lets look situation-ally first: Red Sox game, no score, bases loaded, one out, and Papi’s up.

My first thoughts: “grand slam, runs will score on a double, sac fly would score at least one, so would a single or a walk”. These are the first things that float trough my mind. 

My Dad, on the other hand, is the pre-2001 vintage. His first thoughts: “Here comes the double play! They leave more men on base than anybody.”

We all know about Red Sox fans in the pre-2004 era. If one thing goes wrong they curl up in a ball, and get ready for the “inevitable”. And lets face it, a lot has gone wrong in his 50+ years of following Boston teams. The Patriots were awful for a long time, the Celtics were good in the early days, but then turned into a joke in the 90s, the Bruins have been up and down, and the Sox…well, we’ll just say they had some heart-wrenching losses in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. 

If you consider what he’s seen, its understandable that he is, as I call him, a “Negative Nancy”. But I’ve noticed a similar issue with many of the older Boston fans. In April they were ready to throw in the towel, despite the fact that a baseball season had just started. 

Why does this happen?

I’ve decided its all about heartbreak. I have been following Boston sports since I was old enough to understand. Lets assume the age of understanding is about five, so that’s 1991.

So in 19 years, I have seen the Patriots go to five Super-bowls, win three, lose one they had no chance in, and only one heartbreaking loss that still haunts me. I cannot, and will not look at footage from that day.

I have seen the Red Sox win two World Series, and make it to the playoffs almost a dozen times. I only have one heartbreak: 2003. 

The Celtics were a joke in the 90s, and most of the 21st century, until the creation of the Big Three. Now they are pushing for banner 18. Last year was tough, but without Garnett, I did not expect too much. 

So in my experience, the heartbreaks are much rarer, and the teams have played better. How many other cities can say their NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL teams have all been to the playoffs in the past three years? Not many. Three, to be exact: Boston, NY/NJ, and Arizona. And if we were not grouping the New York/New Jersey teams together, there would only be two. 

If you look at it like that, it’s pretty darn amazing, especially since Boston has two championships in that span. But I look at things optimistically. I have a saying in my house, and I have applied it to every sport I watch. I don’t give up until the buzzer sounds or the last out is made. I refuse to admit defeat until the clock runs out, sometimes a little irrationally, but I have seen some terrific comebacks in my time. 

That’s what separates the young fans from the old. The young fans feel the losses, and remember all the heartbreaks, but they also remember the joys, the triumphs, and some pretty amazing plays. 

The older generation, the “Negative Nancys” have not recovered from the heartbreaks. They vividly remember ’67, ’75, ’86, and all the other close-but-no-cigar moments. To them this whole winning thing is new and they aren’t sure how long it will last, so they steel themselves against the inevitable. 

So while the older generation is just waiting for the other shoe to drop, the younger generation is living in the moment. The older generation expects every walk allowed by a Sox pitcher to score, and expected the Bruins to go down after being up 3-0. 

After watching game five of the Celtics-Orlando series, my dad said “They’re done, just like the Bruins.” A sentiment echoed by his friends, and the older fans I know. The young were more hopeful. Going home for game six, we knew the Celtics would win. 

Does that mean the younger generation has more faith than our fathers, and grandfathers? No. Less pessimism? Definitely.  

I gloated for a few days about how optimism always wins in the end. And who knows, maybe the next generation of Boston fans will be another batch of “Negative Nancys.” Maybe they will be irrational optimists, or maybe they’ll just be normal. That would be a switch, wouldn’t it?

Duet or Ménage À Trois? An AL East Prediction

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Last year the Yankees (ug) took home the ring, the year before, the Rays lost to the Phillies in the World Series, and three years ago, the Red Sox won. Needless to say the AL East is looking to have a repeat appearance this year, but who?

 

The Red Sox made some moves to shore up defense, the Yankees lost a few bats, and the Rays and Orioles reloaded with young prospects and solid trades. So who is going to win? 

 

If the Yankees could get consistent starts from their three-four-five guys, they could win the division. Is that likely? No.

The Red Sox lost a big bat in Jason Bay but added John Lackey, who could be a number one starter but is starting number three, behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. He’ll be followed by the seemingly ageless Wakefield, Dick-K, and the young, talented Clay Buchholz. Now, Dice-Ki is injured and we’re not really sure how Buchholz is going to do, but if they all bounce back, the Sox could go for a six man rotation. 

Not likely, but it could happen.

The Rays, as always, are the Dark Horse. They have iffy pitching and young guys just starting their careers, but they are faster th
an the Yankees and Red Sox and very talented. Of course that youth does lend itself to inconsistency, especially playing in Boston and New York where the fans can be pretty hostile. Taking that all into consideration, do they win over 90 games? 

Eh. Maybe. 

The Orioles are better. Not great, but certainly much better than last year. And Toronto…well, we’ll go ahead and label this a rebuilding year for them. They traded away Doc Halladay, it’s to be expected.

 

So with opening day just hours away ( hallelujah!), what else would we do but make predictions on what is going to happen six months from now? Bear in mind I am not using any sort of scientific formulas, stats, or anything on these predictions, which is contrary to the typical baseball fan’s thinking. (Admit it, we love stats!) 

I’m doing something new this year, I’m going with my gut. I’ve watched these guys all spring, and this is what I came up with it. 

First, my final division standings:

 

  1. Red Sox
  2. Rays*
  3. Yankees
  4. Orioles
  5. Blue Jays
Call me a homer, but I really like this Red Sox team. They are a little faster, their defense is better, and the addition of John Lackey is a huge boost to the pitching staff. The bullpen is good, and Daniel Bard is waiting in the wings, so if Jonathan Papelbon struggles with closing, he can be replaced. I don’t see that happening, but I’m sure that, and his last game are in his mind, getting his competitive juices flowing. 
Plus, who wants to face a weekend where your pitchers are Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and John Lackey? Yikes. And you’ve got Jacoby Ellsbury who is stellar and still not done developing. Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia are great at the plate, and if Papi returns to form…double yikes. 
If they all stay healthy and the pitchers stay on their form, there’s no reason this team can’t win the division.
Now to explain the asterisk on the Rays.
Like I said, the Rays are the Dark Horse. Even Longoria is a beast, and they have a few young guys like B.J. Upton who are due for a breakout year. A few good trades and young talent means this Rays team is a lot like the one that went to the World Series in 2008. 
I just get a feeling about this team. But here’s a caveat. I think the Rays will get off to a big start, but if they start to falter around the All-Star break, I’m going to put them out of the playoffs. I just think that if they get too far behind or see themselves slipping, they might fold under the pressure. So that’s why I put the Rays as the Wild card*. 
So on to Steinbrinner and his evil Minions.
Let’s start with the pitching staff. C.C. Sabathia is a beast. There’s no denying that, but after him gets a little…iffy. A.J. Burnett doesn’t like throwing to Jorge Posada, but Jose Molina is gone, so he has no choice. Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez are good innings eaters, but Pettitte’s age makes him a question mark. 
And yes, Mark Teixeira, Jeter, A-Rod, they can all hit, but the Yankees bench isn’t exactly deep this year. The losses of Judas (I mean Johnny) Damon and Matsui hurts them in terms of power. The Yankees look good this year, but repeating is very difficult, and in a division this tough? Eh.
I have them (maybe) not making the playoffs. But that’s dependent on the Rays. 
My prediction for the Yanks is third/ Wild card. They played like a team on a mission last year and I just don’t get that feeling from them now. 
Now for the other teams in the AL East. 
The Orioles really did a lot this year, and while they probably won’t make the playoffs, they will make life hard on everyone else in the East. They have a young staff that in a few years could really give the rest of the AL east headaches in a few years, and we could see flashes of that this season. My prediction, they finish in fourth place.
The Blue Jays…they won’t do much this year. They couldn’t make it to the playoffs when they had the one-two punch of Halladay and Burnett. They’ve got some good players, but it’s not enough to compete in a division that has the Yankees and Red Sox. 
We’ll start to see things heat up in this division around the All-Star break, that’s when the good teams will separate from the bad and the ugly. Then we’ll know if we have a Red Sox-Yankees duet or a Red-Sox-Rays-Yankees Ménage À Trois.

Seroids, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Loathe The List

David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez join Sosa, A-Rod, and Bonds as players named on the now infamous list.

But let’s be clear about this list (that’s not even supposed to
exist). It was a voluntary testing program to learn how wide-spread
performance enhancing drug (PED) use was in major league baseball. We
don’t know how wide spread, we don’t know if there were other lists,
but it is important to remember that at the time, many of the PEDs that
players tested positive for WERE NOT banned.

Another thing about the list: It is not a guide to who used
steroids in the majors. Some of the players on the ever-blessed list
tested positive for items that you can buy at a drug store and weren’t
banned by major league baseball until 2005.

So, before we judge anybody–and I’m including my least favorite player in all of baseball Alex Rodriguez in this–we have to know what they took, for how long, and why.

To automatically judge based on a name on a list…did we learn
nothing from Joe McCarthy? His “list” of card-carrying communists was a
farce. This list is a little more serious, but it doesn’t discriminate
between a legit ‘roid user and someone who used something that wasn’t banned at the time to get over an injury.

Quite frankly I’m sick and tired of hearing about steroids in
baseball. The only people who really care about perpetuating this
nonsense is the media. The fans, the players, and everyone else would
just like to move on. The media won’t let us.

I’d like to see whoever is leaking these names step forward and
claim responsibility. That @%*hole should be in jail. No one seems to
have compunctions that the way we’re getting information about this
list is ILLEGAL. 

Doesn’t anyone wonder why, if David Ortiz was juicing in 2003, his
post-season batting average was below the Mendoza line? Anybody else
wonder if Ortiz’s bat heated up by getting a different batting coach
and having Manny Ramirez hitting behind him? Is that so terribly
illogical that a 27-year-old baseball player could discover his swing
after going to a new club?

Gee. What a novel idea.

Barry Bonds got huge. He was quite literally a Giant. That is not
natural. Ortiz had a seemingly natural progression and hey…he’s in
the middle of what looks like a natural digression.

Here’s an analogy for you. For those of you who prefer things to be politically correct, stop reading now or skip ahead. It’s an analogy to
make a point, nothing more. For those of you still reading, answer
these questions: Do you respect Thomas Jefferson? George Washington?
James Madison? Do you think they were great men?

They were all slave owners. When they lived, slavery was a common
practice, it was not illegal. Yes, it sucked. Yes, it was wrong. And no
one is denying that it was a terrible thing and it’s sad that America
was formed with that institution still in place.

So does that change your opinion of the founding fathers? Should
they go into the history books with an asterisk because slavery was
outlawed almost one-hundred years later? Are they no longer great men?

No.

It’s the same with these players. Habitual juicers…I have more of
an issue with them, but if they weren’t breaking the rules, they don’t
deserve to be punished. Period.

We don’t call for discrediting of men who had questionable practices before it was illegal, why should we do it now?

It’s certainly something to think about. It’s not a black and white
issue, and it’s not something to be judged without all sides of the
story.

Do your research. The media will not tell you all the facts and you
can’t trust the TV. You have to look for yourself. How many people know
what that list is and why none of the names are supposed to be
released? How many people know that the players weren’t doing anything
against the rules at the time of the test?

As fans, we have a responsibility to look into the stories we are
fed every day. We have a responsibility to read and learn and make our
own decisions. As for me, I’m behind Papi 100%. I’m betting it comes
out that he was not a habitual juicer, and he might be one of the ones
who used something over the counter he didn’t even know was a PED, or
didn’t know it’d be banned later. 

The Boston Red Six?

On Friday, the Boston Red Sox
take on the Toronto Blue Jays to kick off the second half of the
season. On the hill for the Red Sox will be Clay Buchholz.

Many will remember Buchholz from his no-hitter in September 2007.
Others remember how bad his 2008 season was, as he was shipped off to
the minors.

In 2009, Buchholz has been dominating while playing for Triple-A
Pawtucket. But with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield, Brad
Penny, and Dice-K, there was no room on the rotation.

When Dice-K went down, John Smoltz stepped up. So what do you do with the sixth man on the pitching roster?

If you’re Terry Francona, you should put him in the rotation. Does this mean that the Red Sox could have a six-man rotation?

It’s possible. If Buchholz proves that he has what it takes to pitch
at the major league level again, it will be difficult to take him out
of the rotation.

Early in the season, there was talk by the fans/media about Tim
Wakefield eventually landing in the bullpen, but he’s tied for the lead
league in wins (with Josh Beckett).

How about John Smoltz? If he’s locating his pitches, he’s great, which means he will stay on the roster.

How about Penny? There was the thought he might be traded, but
that’s not going to happen anymore. Lester and Beckett are certainly
not going anywhere. Maybe if Dice-K goes to rehab, they can throw him
in the ‘pen.

Then you look towards August and September. By then, Dice-K will hopefully be back in good form, leaving the Red Sox with seven quality starters. That is if everyone stays healthy.

As usual, the Red Sox have approached the season with their eyes on
October. Slipping in April and May and late-slump before the All-Star
break mean absolutely nothing at this point.

A few days rest will do the bullpen some good, and they should
bounce back from the issues they’ve had the past two weeks or so. Bay
and Youkilis are seemingly heating up again, and Papi seems to be
rejuvenated.

Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have improved their starts lately. They
seem to be the aces we expected at the beginning of the year.

Smoltz is looking good. Penny is looking good. Clay Buchholz can only add to the rotation.

As far as Wakefield is concerned, his first ever All-Star game
should only serve to motivate and inspire him to keep pitching well.

Would this six man rotation work for the Red Sox? It cuts down on
the number of starts, and thus, the number of possible wins. On the
other hand, would the extra rest make the starters more likely to win?

We might actually get to see the answer to that question.

The Red Sox don’t care if Josh Beckett only has the opportunity to win 15 more games instead of 20, and he doesn’t either.

No one will care if this method helps win a World Series. In fact,
if that happens, six-man rotations might become the new rule in
baseball.

Or maybe not.

The big question facing the Red Sox in the second half is a good
one; what do we do with our extra pitching? They basically have great
bargaining chips that won’t hurt the team if they go.

This would not be a bad move on the Red Sox part. This could put
them in prime position to make a great run in October, whether they use
five or six pitchers in their rotation.

“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.

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.

Red Sox Spring Training Analysis (Part 1)

It’s time for a little baseball prognosticating.

I admit to being a stats addict, and as such, I’m going to look at
the stats from spring training in 2008, compare them to the stats from
the 2008 regular season, and then see what conclusions can be drawn for
this season based on this year’s spring training numbers.

Whew. Good thing I’m a stats freak…’cause that’s a lot of numbers.

We’ll start by looking at the captain, and see if his 2009 will be better than 2008.

‘Tek hit .320 in 2008 Spring training, with three homers and seven RBI.

In 2008, he hit .220 with 13 home runs and an astounding 122 strikeouts in 131 games.

So far this spring, Varitek has hit .206 with 3 homers and 12 RBI.
Maybe the lower spring training batting average bodes well for ‘Tek;
his 2007 spring training batting average was .108, and he ended up
hitting .255 with 17 home runs in 2007.

Prediction: ‘Tek will hit somewhere between .229 and .245 for 2009. We’ll see.

 

Next, we’ll take a look at Jacoby Ellsbury.

In 2008 spring training, Jacoby hit .209 with 4 RBI and 3 runs scored.

During the regular season, despite slumps, Jacoby finished with .280, 47 RBI, 98 runs scored and 50 stolen bases.

This spring, Jacoby has hit .250 with 8 runs scored, 5 RBI, and one steal.

Look for him to hit around .300 this season, with more runs scored
and more stolen bases if he can avoid the slumps. Since this will be
(sort of) his third year in the majors, maybe he can avoid the
sophomore slump. If he does, Ellsbury will be one of the game’s elite
leadoff hitters. That, combined with his great defense, should lead to
an excellent player.

 

Now lets look at the AL MVP Dustin Pedroia.

In 2008 spring training, Dustin batted .179 with one homer and four RBI.

By the time the 2008 season rolled around, he stepped up his game considerably, hitting .326 with 17 home runs and 83 RBI.

This spring, not including his brief stint at the World Baseball Classic, Pedroia has hit .370 with four RBI and 10 hits.

Pedroia throws off the stats a little, because so far, he’s been a
slow starter (he hit .196 in 2007 spring training, then hit .317 for
the year). But because of the World Baseball Classic, we don’t have all
his stats. If you figure them all out, Dustin’s spring average is
.279–considerably higher than his usual spring training average. That
means I have to forget stats and just guesstimate.

Look for Pedroia to do better than his stellar year last year,
hitting around the .335 to .350 mark. This may be overly optimistic,
but he’s got the will and the drive.

That’s it for part one. Next, I’ll look at Lowrie, Lowell, and Youkilis, and see what kind of years they will have.

“Wright” Stuff: Team USA Knocks Off Puerto Rico

Team USA finally manages a defeat of Puerto Rico and makes it to the World Baseball Classic semi-finals on the back of Mets 3B David Wright.

It was a wild one last night, and one of the best baseball games I’ve seen in a while. Of course, it has only been spring training, but still, this was phenomenal.

Puerto Rico drew the first blood with a solo dinger off of Ted Lilly in the second, but Team USA responded with
two runs of their own, including a huge slide and bad throw that
brought David Wright home on a Brian McCann sac-fly. Kevin Youkilis
added to the lead with a solo tater off of Jonathan Sanchez with two outs in the third.

But Puerto Rico wasn’t going anywhere. A two run shot by Carlos Delgado in the fourth (also off of Ted Lilly) evened things up 3-3.

In the sixth, an Alex Rios single with two men on put Puerto Rico up 4-3. They built on teat lead the top of the ninth, when Ramon Vasquez hit one that got by Derek Jeter, allowing the man on second to score and putting Puerto Rico up 5-3 with half a frame left for team USA to stave off elimination.

Shane Victorino led off the bottom of the ninth with a single off of his Phillies teammate JC Romero, followed by a single from Brian Roberts. A line-out by Derek Jeter moved Victorino to third. Roberts stole second, and Jimmy Rollins walked to load the bases.

Puerto
Rico brought in Fernando Cabrera to relieve Romero and face Kevin
Youkilis, their two run lead in danger of disappearing. Cabrera walked
Youkilis on 5 pitches, leaving the Americans down by one run.

Mets
3b David Wright stepped up to the plate, and on the 2-1 pitch, he hit a
bloop double to the right corner, bringing home two runs and keeping
the Americans in the WBC

It
was quite a game, and if you missed it, you missed the best baseball
game since the Red Sox ALCS game 5 comeback last season.

The Americans will move on while Puerto Rico returns to spring training. Regardless of how things go from here, Team USA has already outshone the 2006 team. But with players like Wright, Rollins, Victorino, Jeter, and Youkilis (among many, many others) its hard to see them giving up now.

Team USA will play Venezuela, who they split a series with in Toronto, to see who will will Pool 2 tonight (March 18th) at 7 PM eastern. If you haven’t been watching the WBC, tune in now, because things are getting very interesting.

The Beasts of the East: Who Wins Baseball’s Best Divisions?

It seems like everyone is making their picks for who wins the AL East, I’m going to take it one step further and look at both the AL and NL East, arguably baseball’s best divisions.

Lets
start in the National League. The East is a powerful division, will the
defending World Champion Phillies again take the top spot? Will the
Mets suffer another late-season collapse? Can the Marlins overtake them both? Will the Nats actually look good this year? Barring major injuries and some fluky miracle season, here are my picks for the NL East:

  1. New York Mets (2008: 89-73, 3 GB) Here’s why: K-Rod and JJ Putz should ease the Mets’ bullpen woes,
    somewhat. It will at least keep them from hemorrhaging so much at the end
    of games. They have a good offense anchored by Wright, Reyes, and
    Beltran, the Mets should be able to make the playoffs this year. If
    they don’t, I give up, they must be cursed.
  2. Philadelphia Phillies (2008: 92-10, WS Champs) They kept most of their World Series winning team together, backed by a great offense with players like Utley, Howard, Victorino, and Rollins. However,
    the injury bug tends to bite hard the year after winning it all (look
    at the Red Sox from last year: same team, new injuries). Look for the Wildcard to come from the East this year.
  3. Florida Marlins (2008: 84-77, 7 1/2 GB) The Marlin’s
    are a good young team on a tight budget, and could surprise everyone
    and take over the East this season. With Hanley Ramirez and excellent
    pitching, the Marlins are a force to be reckoned with. Look for them to
    hang around and make life miserable for the Mets and Phillies.
  4. Atlanta Braves (2008: 72-90, 20 GB) Atlanta made some good moves in the off-season, with good pitching additions, but a weak offense will have them trailing the Mets, Phils, and Marlins this year. They are young, so look for the Braves to start contending more in a year or so.
  5. Washington Nationals (2008: 59-102, 32 1/2 GB) The Nats
    are young. I wouldn’t look for them to be great this year, but I would
    expect a better season than 2008. They’ll still come in at the bottom
    of the NL East, but with a much better record.

Now
on to baseball’s toughest division. The AL East has appeared in the
World Series 54 times out of 104 series. Of those 54 appearances, they
have won the World Series 38 times. That’s a pretty impressive
division, and its only getting tougher. Here are my (mostly) unbiased
picks.

  1. Boston Red Sox (2008: 95-67, 2 GB, Wildcard) Boston made a few little moves in the offseason that will have a very big impact. “Bargain” additions of Smoltz, Penny, Saito, and Tazawa make a descent bull pen and good pitching staff into a phenomenal pitching staff with a lights-out ‘pen. They have a few young guys to watch, both on the field and on the mound, and have several key players returning from injury in Lowell, Ortiz, and Beckett. This
    team came within one game of the World Series last year when they were
    hurt, now that everyone’s back, look for them to retake the East.
  2. Tampa Bay Rays (2008: 97-65, AL Champions) Everyone is still waiting to see if the Rays are “for real”. They are. The addition of Pat Burrell certainly helped the Rays, but they may have the same issue as the Phillies: health. In order for the Rays to compete, Troy Percival needs to stay healthy, and the pitching staff is a little lacking in depth.
    The key cog in the Ray’s wheel is David Price. He came in and pitched
    well late in the season, but once there’s a legitimate scouting report
    out on him, major league hitters will figure him out. He has to stand
    up to the pressure and eat up good innings. If not, the Yankees may
    take back the second spot, and wi
    th it the AL Wildcard spot.
  3. New York Yankees (2008: 89-73,
    8 GB) Why, if they spend $400 million dollars on stellar players this
    off-season, are the Yankees in third? Because they spent millions of
    dollars on a very small number of players and neglected to give
    themselves some dep
    th.
    CC Sabathia ate up a lot of innings last year, many times on short
    rest. It takes longer than a few months to recover from that and puts
    you at risk for injury. Burnett should do okay, and the addition of Teixeira will definitely help the Yanks, but without much of a bullpen and with
    starters who don’t always eat up innings, the Yanks may find themselves
    losing games late. Mariano Rivera, great closer that he is, is also
    approaching 40, and will start to decline.The Yanks will keep things interesting, and be competitive, making things tough for the Rays and Red Sox.
  4. Toronto Blue Jays (2008: 86-76, 11 GB) The Jays, in any other division, would be a playoff team every year. The loss of Burnett could hurt them, but they still have Halladay
    and a great pitching staff. They are looking for some players to return
    to form and some young guys to give them a lift, but probably not
    enough to compete for a playoff spot because their division is so
    tough. 
  5. Baltimore Orioles (2008: 68-93, 28 1/2 GB) Though the
    Orioles have a young, good offense, their lack of pitching means they
    will again be in last place in the division. Look for them to do a
    little better than last year, but with a division this tough, where
    they have to face the Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, and Jays in 72 games this
    season, its going to be a difficult year.

News from the Weekend:

The Red Sox locked up LHP Jon Lester for 5 years, and ended talks (temporarily) with
OF Jason Bay. Because of his free agent status at the end of the 2009
season and the down economy, Bay decided to wait and see what the
market does. He would like to stay in Boston, but not at a cut rate
when he could get more elsewhere.

Dustin Pedroia
has a minor abdominal strain and will need a few days of rest before
resuming baseball activities. The injury is minor and should not effect
his opening day status.

The shortstop debate is over for the Red Sox, at least temporarily. Julio Lugo will have arthroscopic surgery on his knee tomorrow and will be out of opening day. Jed Lowrie will (most likely) start the season as the Red Sox shortstop.

Manny
Ramirez started his spring training by being pulled from a game due to
a hamstring injury. After trying to cut off a double in left field, he
felt tightness in his hamstring and was pinch hit for in the bottom of
the 4th inning.