Terrified of Tampa

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Devil Rrays, originally uploaded by mandolux.

[Tampa is] going to be not just a team on the radar screen in coming years, they’re going to turn into a force.” – Theo Epstein.

Sadly, I concur. The sentiment would have probably seemed at once more prescient and less surprising had I published this when I first started writing it. Which, for the record, was actually before this March 20th Twitter. Also, before we were at the quarter pole looking up at the Rays in the standings.

By now, everyone and their mother has heard about these “new” Rays, making this piece both redundant and superfluous. But I’m not quite convinced that Red Sox Nation is as concerned about the Rays as they should be.

Obviously they’re going to cause problems this year. There’s the fact that they’re leading the division, of course, but more alarming is the fact that their Run Differential suggests that they should be leading the division (the Rays have scored 26 more runs than they’ve allowed through 43 games, while the Sox are +25 through 44). Think it’s a scheduling thing? They’re 18-12 vs the AL East.

Frankly, it’s looking more and more like the BP guys called this one, as they called the White Sox’ miserable ’07 season. I thought they’d be improved, but that an 88-74 season was seriously optimistic.

That’ll learn me to compete with the math geeks.

My real concern, however, isn’t this season. Not that I relish the thought of a resurgent Rays club, but Tampa making a single season run like the Marlins of yore I could live with. The longtime laughingstock positioning itself for years of competitive play, I’m not sure I can.

Which is a problem, because that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Consider the roster:

C D Navarro
1B C Pena
2B A Iwamure
3B E Longoria
SS J Barlett
RF J Gomes
CF B Upton
LF C Crawford

SP J Shields
SP S Kazmir
SP E Jackson
SP M Garza
SP A Sonnanstine

RP T Percival
RP D Wheeler
RP A Reyes
RP T Miller

I’m not sure what you see, but I see a solid club. They’re above average, I’d argue, everywhere but catcher, shortstop and right field – and I haven’t even run the numbers, that could be understating the case. The rotation is solid 1-4, and the bullpen has options beyond a closer fresh off the juvenation machine.

And unlike the aforemention Marlins, the Rays are in the process of making sure that the key pieces will be around for years to come. Shields, Longoria, Wheeler, Pena, and now Kazmir. And if Neyer’s right, Upton could follow.

Perhaps you’ll also recall how our much vaunted farm system was ranked second in all of major league baseball? Guess who finished ahead of us. Seriously.

As if Tampa’s current staff wasn’t frightening enough, help is on the way. David Price, last year’s first overall pick in the draft, got an excellent review from A-Rod despite coughing up a homer to the Cooler while the latter was on a rehab assignment. Bolstering the staff shortly should be Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Jeff Niemann, while Bartlett’s replacement Reid Brignac is in place.

Couple the best farm system in the game, with a talented young major league roster and the financial wherewithal to sign some of the young players to multi-year deals and what do you get? A competitive Rays club. Oh, and they may be getting a brand new waterfront ballpark.

Within one, maybe two years at the outside, we’ll be sitting in our rockers waxing nostalgic about the good old days when we only had to worry about the Yankees. Mark my words.

You can talk all you want about the talented Blue Jays pitching staff – which is excellent, no doubt – but it’s the Rays that really scare me.

Crickets?

A few of you have emailed me irate. Two of you have emailed me to ask if I was dead. Some of you probably are the former and wish the latter. Which is cool.

For your benefit, a quick explanation for the ongoing radio silence: first, I’ve moved (temporarily) back to Maine, to be closer to the Sox (and it’s paying off, I saw Dustin Richardson throw last night at Portland – poor outing). Second, I was travelling most of the week, and the subsequent red eye knocked me out for a while (I’m old). Then, to add insult to injury, I’ve got a friend visiting and we’re heading up to Acadia momentarily.

Ergo, it’ll be silent for a few more days. But have patience, for once things settle, there should be more to go around here than you can handle, bro.

Maine’s all about free time. And Sox blogging.

P.S. Don’t worry about Paps. Worry instead about how we’re going to unload Lugo.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up With Current Events

(Image courtesy of the Boston Globe)

Yes, I’m a couple of days late with this, but did you really want me to post something on Sunday? Trust me, you did not. Besides, I’ve been a little busy preparing for a cross-country move.

Anyway, In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events, we lost five in a row then won an absolute gem tonight. So we’ve got that going for us.

Also, we’re tied for first and we were swept first by the bubonic plague and then by a rash of injuries. Not good times.

But now it’s time for this week’s ICYHBKUWCE…

The Crisp

The complexion of these rumors has likely changed dramatically in the wake of Kielty’s broken hand and my Navajo brother’s gimpy groin, but I still think Crisp is going sooner or later. The Great Gammons’ money appears to be on the Cubs:

With the Orioles strong, hustling start, there is an increased belief that Peter Angelos won’t allow Brian Roberts to be traded, hence the [I think he meant Cubs] renewed discussions with the Red Sox concerning Coco Crisp. Boston is still interested in Cubs right-handed pitcher Sean Gallagher and a Class A prospect in return for Crisp.

Gallagher, for the record, is the Cubs 5th best prospect according to BP, with a 90-94 MPH fastball, 11-5 curveball and a change. Ceiling appears to be #3 starter.

Still, Gammons’ acknowledges that Beane is still lurking:

Billy Beane called Theo Epstein again Friday, trying to talk him into dealing Coco Crisp.

Olney, on the other hand, suggests that we explore a deal with M’s for the now blocked catcher Clement:

The Mariners locked up Kenji Johjima to a long-term deal…What follows is pure speculation; to repeat, pure speculation. With the Mariners now committed to Johjima for the next few years, it might make sense for Seattle to offer catching prospect Jeff Clement to the Red Sox in return for outfielder Coco Crisp, with other players also involved in the deal; the Red Sox would have to include some pitching.

That would be an interesting deal, frankly. I’m not sure how we’d integrate him into this year’s roster, given that Wake needs a catcher with stellar hands and that from all reports is not Clement, but it would potentially address our future catching situation. Clement does not project to offer the same defense that Tek does, but his bat should be top notch for the position.

What Olney doesn’t state, however, is that a Clement acquisition would likely spell the end of Tek’s tenure. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

The Debut

Prior to his emergency start this past week, the Baseball Prospectus guys were discussing Justin Masterson and mentioned that their analyst Kevin Goldstein had called Masterson’s sinker “arguably the best in all of the minor leagues.” Normally these kinds of enthusiastic endorsements spell doom for the pitcher.

Not so, fortunately, though Lopez and MDC (Oki gets a free pass b/c, seriously, bases loaded no one out?) didn’t just blow the game they torched it. Molotov Cocktails and everything.

The numbers for the big sinkerballer? 95 pitches over 6 innings, 2 hits, 1 run (nicked for a dinger by Napoli). 11 of his 18 outs were groundballs, and he walked four against four K’s.

The two questions for me following his outing? First, will he be down in Portland long enough for me to see him throw? Second, if his changeup has improved enough to use it effectively in his very first major league start, does he still profile as a reliever?

This season, that’s certainly how he’ll contribute. But longer term, I’m beginning wondering if there are 3/4 starter innings in his future.

The Homer

The Iwamura homer was a crushing blow, without a doubt. Buchholz was dominant, as was Jackson for that matter, and piling another one into the losing column in such a fashion was a kick in the teeth. But I’m in full agreement with Chad Finn when he said the following, and not just because he’s a Bath, ME native:

Call me a Tito Apologist if you must, but I don’t blame him at all for leaving Clay Buchholz in during the eighth inning Saturday night, when his spectacular performance was spoiled by Akinori Iwamura’s two-run homer. Seems to me the same people who were charbroiling Francona for leaving Buchholz in are the same ones who would be yowling if he pulled him and either Hideki Okajima or Jonathan Papelbon had coughed up the game. The kid was cruising, and he was beaten when a good hitter hit a good pitch. Sometimes that happens.

Sometimes that happens, indeed. I won’t resort to the “tip your cap” cliche, but I’m tempted. Sorely.

The Return

One other pitcher on the roster merry go round we’ve had the past few weeks was none other than one time future closer, turned potential bust, turned, well, listen to his catcher:

“I thought he threw the ball excellent,” said Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash. “From seeing him in Pawtucket last year, a little bit in spring training, that was definitely a bright spot. I look forward to seeing him out there again. His slider has improved drastically. He showed pretty good fastball command other than that one pitch.”

Call me crazy, but I think we’re going to need Hansen before all is said and done. Here’s hoping he keeps it up down in Pawtucket. His first appearance after his recall, he was excellent: 3K in 2 IP, to go with no hits and no walks. Tonight? Not so much. 2 hits, a walk, a K and 3 runs in 1.1 IP.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up With Current Events

One Day At Fenway – Letus Extreme Film – Time Lapse – HDTV from Tom Guilmette on Vimeo.

We’ve come back in a couple of games. While we’d all prefer to not to have to come back, count me among those that does believe that doing it successfully does confer an intangible confidence to the club. What’s that worth, statistically speaking?

Maybe nothing. But maybe something. And either way, chalk us up for a couple more wins and a tie for the major league lead in wins. It’s early, so I’d make little or nothing out of that – no more than I would when we were several games back – but I am going to say I Told You So when I claimed the sky wasn’t falling.

Anyway, on to this week’s roundup.

The Bullpen Hopefuls

I waited so long to report on this that the Globe actually caught me up, but a couple of the potential late season bullpen contributors have been throwing well. In order of their proximity to the majors:

  1. Hansen:
    The one time future closer turned potential bust is quietly getting people out at a nice clip. In 11 IP, Hansen’s surrendered 1 unearned run and 2 hits, while K’ing 11, and perhaps most importantly, walking only 3. It’s too early to be excited, but it’s not impossible to imagine him to make a leap similar to the one Delcarmen executed last season.
  2. Masterson:
    Is straight lighting it up. Through an admittedly small sample size of 4 starts, the sinkerballer has a .95 ERA in 19 IP, to go along with 23 K’s and only 5 BB’s. He’s not long for Portland, sadly, as I doubt that I’ll get back to Maine in time to see another start from him there.
  3. Richardson:
    Ignored by the Globe, possibly because he’s more of a one pitch pitcher (fastball), the lefty Dutin Richardson is also throwing well for our AA club. In 3 starts covering 17 IP, he’s coughed up 4 ER while’s striking out 20 against 6 free passes. Not bad numbers, particularly given the fact that he’s a lefty.
  4. Bard:
    You might recall that I’ve been skeptical of Bard’s near term viability due to his complete inability to throw strikes. Well, given the fact that he throws near 100, count me among those that would be happy to be proven wrong. Which he may yet do, if his start is any indication. Law’s been hearing good things, saying “I’ve been hearing that Bard has been out of sight since Hawaii. His velo is back, and he’s pounding the lower half of the zone. And of course he’s throwing strikes,” and the numbers back him up. In 11.2 IP at Greenville, Bard’s K’d 16 against a mere 2 walks and 5 hits. For someone who spent last season walking better than a batter an inning, this is a positive development, small sample size or no.

The Catching Hopefuls

Beyond some of the nice pitching, there’s some decent news on the catching front. And with Kevin Cash as our primary backup, all I can say is thank Jebus. The rundown, in order of proximity to the majors:

  1. Kottaras:
    Not doing much other than leading a relatively strong Pawtucket offense in OPS with a .276/.354/621 line. The major obstacle to his ascension this season is his defensive liability; he’s not Tek, and while he’s presumably catching the knuckleballer Charlie Zink, I haven’t heard that he’s a candidate for Cash’s spot.
  2. Brown:
    Brown’s tailed off a bit since an early hot start, but .762 OPS (.244/.340/.422) at Pawtucket is at least respectable given his reputation as a solid defensive catcher.
  3. Wagner:
    Like Brown, Wagner’s tailed off a bit since the start of the season, but in his first season at AA, he’s putting up a .250/.318/.350 line. Far from setting the world on fire, but the 23 year old is keeping his head above water which is nice to see.

The Good and Bad Mechanics

Like Rob Neyer, these photos of Lopez and Oki mid-delivery make me vaguely nauseous. But I’m gratified that Driveline Mechanics has little but positive feedback on Buchholz’ mechanics.

The Kids

Kevin Thomas just covered this, but let me reinforce his contention that the kids are playing well. Ellsbury’s speed – particularly in the Yankees series – proved to be gamebreaking as advertised. And Lowrie? Well, he’s merely putting up a .429/.375/.571 line since his call up.

Yes, the kids will take their lumps as all rookies do. Some will flame out spectacularly. But for now they’re doing well plugging holes and making other assets (Crisp, Lugo) expendable in the event that we can find a good trading partner.

(thanks to Tim Daloisio for the link to the video)

Defending Farnsworth? Seriously?

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manny at bat, originally uploaded by eürodäna.

Since the incident, there’s been substantial discussion of Farnsworth vs Manny. The Great Gammons sneered at the move, calling Farnsworth a AAA pitcher. Manny, always unpredictable, actually sided with the pitcher that threw at him. MLB, for its part, did not, suspending the pitcher for three games. And then there are the Yankee fans.

One of general sports blogs I read and enjoy, The Big Lead, posted the following commentary from their so-called “Baseball Friend,” a friend who follows baseball and is sadly an avid Yankee fan. Given the absurdity of the comment, I feel no shame about giving it the FJM treatment.

First of all, let’s call Manny what he is. He is one of the 10 greatest right-handed hitters of all time. Possibly top five.

I’m glad we can agree on something, but something tells me this is a setup.

That being said, he is also a no-class, show-boating, homer-watching embarrassment to the game and he is universally-loathed throughout the sport for the way he carries himself on the field. Please spare me the “Manny being Manny,” shit, ok? You’re a grown-up. Respect the game. Just because you’re also an idiot savant doesn’t give you the right to act that way on the field.

This is an awesome point. Truly awesome.

Or it would be if it was remotely true.

Manny is so universally loathed that Jeter and Posada told Orsillo and Remy just days ago how much they respected his work ethic and ability. And hell, if you’re looking for “universally loathed,” Farnsworth is the better candidate. At least Ramirez’ teammates like him.

More to the point, you’re not really going to argue that “show-boating” and “homer-watching” are adequate justification for having his career taken away from him, are you? Because if he backs into that high 90’s pitch, that’s what we’re talking about.

And for all of you Sox fans (I’m looking at YOU, Gammons, you unbelievable whiner who can’t even be professional enough to keep your blatant homerism to yourself for three seconds on camera,)

Sorry, sorry, sorry, I know it’s bad form to interrupt, but this is less than correct. Where less than correct means utterly wrong. Though every Yankees fan I know believes the opposite quite earnestly, likely because of Gammons history with the team and the Globe, the Hall of Fame reporter actually has a great deal of respect for the Yankees. Everyone from Cashman to Torre has had pleasant things said about him; his frequent gushing about Jeter, in fact, is faintly nauseating to this Sox fan.

I guess you could be right though; maybe it was a blatant Sox homer that wrote this borderline puff piece on Cap’n Jetes. You know how long that took me to find, BTW? One query on Google; turns out it’s the first return for a query of “Gammons Jeter.”

Also, Baseball friend = pot, Gammon = kettle, but I digress…

bitching and moaning this morning, let me say this about that:

1. See above

Sorry, you lost me. Which part? The Manny-is-classless bit, or the Gammons-hates-the-Yankees claim? I’m not sure what either has to do with your defense, here, but I’m sure we’re getting to that.

2. The game has been played like this for years. A guy gets a little too comfortable in the box…you make him uncomfortable.

It sure has. But you’re not really arguing that all brushbacks are created equal, are you? If he’d hit Manny in the face, that would certainly make him uncomfortable, but would that be right? I mean, c’mon.

If I was making this argument, I might allow for a more nuanced view. One that distinguished, for example, between the way Pedro brushed back Matsui in ’04 (AKA the right way) and the way he did it with Garcia in ’03 (not the right way).

But then I’m not one of those “my player right or wrong” folks.

I’m assuming, of course, that when Pedro did all of the above, you were fine with it, and attempted to quell the rage in your fellow Yankee fans by reminding them that “the game has been played like this for years.” And everyone agreed and sat down for tea and remarked upon what a nice gentleman that Martinez fellow was.

3. Even if Farnsworth DID hit him, that would still put the Yankees about 572 steps behind the Sox in terms of hitting the other team’s superstar. The way the Sox have used Derek Jeter for target practice over the past 10+ years has been disgraceful.

That, or the way that Jeter dives over the plate and keeps getting hit in the hands and wrist is disgraceful. One or the other.

Here’s a fun exercise. Remind me of the last time one of our guys threw a high 90’s ball inches behind Jeter’s head. It might be my booze addled memory, but I just can’t remember the last time that happened.

Hitting someone in the hands is not the same as throwing at their head. Trust me, it’s just not. We can probably arrange for a demonstration if you’re still skeptical.

Just know that these aren’t the placid, zipped up, professional-to-a-fault Joe Torre Yanks anymore, and quite frankly, I’m ecstatic. Everyone should know that they’re on notice. Viva Girardi!

Translation: Viva head hunting! Before we take off, one reminder: your guys have heads too. Also, Beckett throws hard. Real hard.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up With Current Events

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Lester in the Pen, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

Running late, as usual. Blame the Red Sox this time. What would you have me do: watch the Sox/Yankees or crank out the ICYHBKUWCE that I owe you?

Exactly.

In the meantime, I’m not going to say anything about our play of late so as not to jinx us. But given that there’s another tilt with the empire coming in a littler over an hour, I’m going to keep this short and sweet. This week’s edition of In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events is player focused.

Enjoy, or at least read it.

Cash

Heard anyone complaining about his defense, and/or the impact it’s having on Timmeh? Me neither. The Sox should, of course, be actively on the market for catching because one injury to Tek and we’re in serious trouble (Brown and Kottaras’ success notwithstanding – more on that in a follow up). We could, in fact, find ourselves in a similar position to the Empire.

Colon

It’s not exactly throwing heat, but Colon – sidelined by an oblique injury – is at least back to playing catch.

Cora

Cora, on the other hand, was DL’d with Thurston replacing him. If Lowell wasn’t already out, I’d be less concerned about this, as it would offer Lowrie an opportunity to get his feet wet in an uber-utility role.

Delcarmen

Yes, his inconsistency is driving me crazy too. This past weekend, he gets couple of big outs against the Yankees. Last night? 2 free passes in an inning, and one hit by pitch scoring the at-the-time tying run.

How a pitcher with his stuff gets into so many 3 ball counts is beyond me, but until his command is better he won’t be the relief ace that we want him to be. Anyone else think it was interesting to see him replaced by Aardsma last night – particularly given their similarity?

Lester

Frustrating as MDC might be, however, it’s nothing compared to Lester. As Zach Hayes over at Fire Brand summarizes:

So far this season, Lester has thrown one outstanding start against weak hitting Oakland, one below average start against Detroit and two bad starts in Japan vs. the A’s and Monday at Cleveland. Lester isn’t being consistently pounded for home runs and hits (just two big ones- Emil Brown and Marcus Thames), but he’s constantly falling behind in the count, throwing all over the zone and putting too many free runners on base.

Remember when I asked whether his Oakland start was an adjustment or mere statistical variation? Well, we may not know the answer yet, but the initial data isn’t promising. It’s so unpromising, in fact, that Hayes asks whether or not it might be Lester rather than Buchholz that’s sent down when/if Colon arrives.

My own take is that Buchholz will be headed back down, unless Lester completely and utterly melts down, for the simple reason of innings. Buchholz’ professional innings totals? 22.2 IP Majors, 285.2 Minors. Lester? 144.1 IP Majors, 483.2 minors.

Lester’s far better positioned than Buchholz to handle a full season’s workload at this point, cancer or no cancer.

Lowell

Not much to relate here: the swelling’s down, but there’s been no further progress.

Lowrie

Congrats to the rookie for his first appearance, first major league hit, and first major league three RBI game. Particularly since the latter proved the difference in the ballgame. Oh, if you see him, wish him a happy birthday tomorrow.

Papi

I can’t say – apart from the hits collected – that I’ve seen much to convince me Papi’s back. But I have to say that the comment that Evan over at Fire Brand collected from Pizza Cutter was enlightening:

In general, Ortiz hits a lot of foul balls (including two strike fouls!) although he’s a power hitter and power hitters are generally high risk/high reward swingers, hence a lot of K’s and a lot of HR’s. Part of the reason that he’s so good is that his swing allows him to recover from a big swing midway and at least poke a ball foul to stay alive.

David Ortiz’s “slump” is nothing more than a run of bad luck. BABIP is generally within control of the hitter and Ortiz, a lifetime .310 BABIP hitter is hitting .114 this year…As much as I’d love it if he would politely hit like this for the next few months (or at least until the Red Sox get out of Cleveland tonight), I wouldn’t bet on that happening unless there’s some sort of (major) injury that we don’t know about. Patience is a virtue. Y’all waited 86 years. Ortiz will be fine.

Worth thinking about; I should have looked up his BABIP data myself.

Tek

Speaking of slumps, remember when everyone wrote him off after Japan/LA? I do.

Disgracing the Yankees



“It’s a bunch of bullshit.” – Hankenstein

That polished little utterance came, as you might guess, in response to a query of the significance of the once buried Ortiz jersey.

This assertion might have been slightly more credible had it not been for the fact that it was delivered after his club spent five hours cutting through two feet of concrete with jackhammers to extract it. But whatever.

The real question, asked here before, is whether even Yankee fans deserve a public face like Hankenstein. Is he not the least polished owner the game has seen? Or at least, the least polished since Marge Schott?

Before you answer, listen to what he had to say of Castignoli – the construction worker who planted the Jersey:

“I hope his coworkers kick the shit out of him.”

Seriously. Those words were delivered to a writer for a major daily by the son of a billionaire. It’s like he fell out of the uncouth tree and hit every branch on the way down.

If I was a Yankees fan, I would be ashamed to have this man representing my club. Which makes me glad that I’m not, and never will be.

(photo courtesy the New York Post)