Wednesday, August 25, 2004

No More Nomar?

--Boston Dirtdogs is reporting that Nomar Garciaparra maybe be done for the season with an injury to the wrist. Like we've said before, the site isn't a bible, but they're right more often than they're wrong. If Nomar does miss a big chunk of the home stretch, Theo looks like a genius and a fortune teller. Better than a geek with a crew cut.

-- Last night Mike Timlin looked a lot like the playoff version of Mike Timlin. Don't tell me he's going to make up for the absence of Scott Williamson though, because he can't. He's not good enough, and neither is Curtis Leskanic, despite what the Herald suggested this morning. There is no dominant bullpen arm in Boston other than Keith Foulke's, and if you're looking for a hometown 1-2 punch the likes of Gordon/Rivera or K-Rod/Percival, go check the disabled list, because that's where it's hiding. But there's more than one way to build a bullpen. What the Red Sox have that other clubs don't is extreme depth. If managed correctly, they have the ability to optimize every important matchup from the 7th inning on. Mendoza, Embree, Timlin, Leskanic, Myers, Adams, and Foulke. That's 7 quality guys that can trot in and out at will, depending on the situation. Sure it's not three Gossages and a couple of Sutters, but it's reliable. They can get outs, and they can do it in different ways. This is not a bunch that should result in one guy in the 7th, another in the 8th, and the closer in the 9th. It's a handy way to do business, but it doesn't play to their strengths. To maximize this pen you've got to go by an out here and out there, using your strikeout guys when you need them and your sinkers when you don't. No one pitcher has enough talent to overcome everything the other team can offer, but as unit their skill set is wide and deep. It's not something you'll find in New York, Minnesota, or Anaheim, but if Francona is careful it could be just as good. Or hey, maybe even a little better.

-- Wakefield's knuckler seems to have stomped knuckling, and it's been going on for over a month. The pitch just isn't fooling people. The best way to tell is passed balls, and Mirabelli hasn't muffed one in a while. Hope he sorts that out.

-- The good thing about slumping players is that usually they'll break out and compensate. Players tend to be average, for themselves anyway, and extremely good or bad years just don't happen that often. Hence the term average. So if a .280 hitter hits .250 for the first half, there's a pretty good chance they'll go .310 in the second half. Norms tend to be norms. For the second half you might think you have a great player on your hands, but you don't really -- you just have the natural result of the lousy one you had in the first. No one has proved this better over the last month that Kevin Millar and Jason Varitek. Slump now, feast later. It's almost worth it when they start feasting. Right?

-- I promise you Bill Belichick was much more happy than sad that the Patriots got whooped on Saturday. It's not that easy to motivate on 14 straight wins. Getting clock by 30 points by the Blah Blah Bengals however - another story.

-- The wild card won't be decided until the last two weeks of the season. Don't expect anyone to pull away until the West teams start playing each other over and over. This won't get comfortable any time soon. But isn't it more fun that way?

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Roster Movin On Up

A few roster moves for the Red Sox - McCarty and Youkilis on the DL, Earl Snyder and Leskanic activated. McCarty's official reason for injury is "only two weeks til roster expand." Earl Snyder, who will very likely be playing third tonight, was Youkilis' backup in Pawtucket, making him Boston's fourth-string third baseman. That's fairly ridiculous.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Dougy Better Be Fresh

Doug Mientkiewicz is starting at second base tonight for the Red Sox. With Derek Lowe on the mound. It's certainly odd. He'll be fine range-wise, but gotta wonder about turning the double play. Here's one thought: Toronto's SP Justin Miller has a left/right OPS split this year of 1.102/.597. That is almost entirely unheard of. I can see why you want the lefties in there, but this might be a bit of a stretch.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

My Parents Are Doctors

I am what is traditionally referred to as an underachiever. While three of the five members of The Official Ninth Family have medical degrees, I have a degree in mixology. That's bartending. And I don't use it. They try to figure out what's wrong with humans, I try to figure out what's wrong with my satellite TV. They write prescriptions for medicine, I write pithy sports blogs. When I'm not too busy reloading It's not that their pursuits are more important, it's that they're much more important. And it hurts. Not so much that I won't accept their money, but still, there's pain. So, in a blatant yet passive aggressive attempt to prove my worth, I will administer some diagnoses of my own. Yes, they are about baseball. But there are baseball doctors. I think.

Boston Misses Nomar's Bat

~Symptom: Orlando Cabrera stinking it up. His numbers (.190/.227/.333) are Crespoian, but his approach is even worse. I think he's taken about four pitches as a Red Sox, and it's not because pitchers are attacking the strike zone. Any old curveball in the dirt looks pretty tasty to Orlando, which is surprising considering his career .405 slugging percentage suggests that for him, a walk is truly as good as a hit. He rarely makes contact and even more rarely makes it solidly. It's probably, nay, definitely unfair to judge a guy on such a small sample size, but right now he's making his one good season look like just that: one good season. The good news however is that Millar and Mueller are finally hitting. It may be that as go these two players, so goes the Boston offense. A capable Millar gives the Sox a legitimate #5 hitter with power. He hits lefties and righties equally well, and, as we have seen in the last few weeks, can be an excellent run producer. With Trot Nixon out, this is an important hole to fill. Mueller on the other hand, has asked specifically to hit at the bottom of the order, but that may be for the best. If he can continue to contribute, he really extends the Sox' lineup, giving them what is akin to a second #3 hitter lower down. That's something that Tony LaRussa discusses often, spacing out your best hitters. It makes every inning difficult for pitchers, not just those against the heart of the order. It's a great a theory, but you need the personnel. For now, Boston has it.
~Prescription: Hope that Mueller, Millar, and the unmentioned Kevin Youkilis (67 Runs Produced in 52 Games) keep yielding quality. Trot and Nomar have left a Steve Balboni-sized hole in the lineup. Keep an eye trained on Edgar Renteria who already is making rumblings about leaving St. Louis. Cabrera will give you glove, but you'll have to get the stick elsewhere.

~Illness: Bullpen Pitching Is Not Playoff Caliber

~Symptom: Well, they're giving up a lot of friggin' runs. There is a lot of talk about Timlin and Embree being over-used, which is true for appearances but not particularly so for innings. Yes, they're 5th and 8th in the AL in games respectively, but Embree has pitched only half as many innings as Paul Quantrill and Timlin's very middle of the pack with 57 IP's. Francona, for all his bullpen woes, has been pretty good at limiting these guys to an inning a piece. Use then should not be an explanation for mediocrity. And that's what they've been - mediocre. Not terrible, just average. Which would be just fine, if they were doing what they were designed to, which is pitch the 7th and occasional 8th. What has really hurt Boston has been that failure of this plan, due to the absence of Scott Williamson. His injury (or injuries), has removed not only the best strikeout option in the pen, but has pushed Timlin and Embree into a place they don't really belong. It's not that they're overtaxed as much as they're not really good enough to be in that role in first place. Let's be honest, Willy isn't coming back this season, no matter what they say. So, unless T&E magically become the pitchers they were in last year's playoffs, this situation won't improve on its own.
~Prescription: Francona needs to reconsider his usage patterns. If the Sox are leading a close one, he refuses any relievers other than his "big" three. That's not working. Mendoza is the hottest man in the pen right now, and should get a chance to try pressure situations. Frankly, he has the best career track record of the bunch. Also, Mike Myers should pitch to the opponent's best lefty in every close game after the 6th inning. Embree isn't good at this and Myers is good at nothing else. And finally, if you need to replace Williamson's strikeout potential in the late innings (which I feel you do), there is one guy in the organization who has a career 9.85 K's per 9 innings. That's right, Byung-Hyun Kim. His last start in Pawtucket: 5 IP, 1 run. No one else is even curious if he can help in short relief? He'd avoid the pressure of closing and you could pick spots against mostly righthanders, who he eats for breakfast. Not even worth a look? For 5 million bucks?

~Illness: Boston Can't Muster a Wild Card Lead

~Symptom: For as long as Boston has been out of the division, and believe me, they're out of the division, they have been unable to make a move on the 4th playoff spot. We've mentioned it before, but last year serves as a great example for this one. What killed Seattle in '03 was their August and September schedule. It seemed like every time they were going to turn the corner, they had another difficult Western rival to face. The Mariners had a playoff-quality club (93 wins), but were held back by closing up against good teams, including their last 9 against Oakland and Anaheim. This same predicament is faced by the Angels and Rangers here in '04. Frankly, I think Anaheim has a better club than Boston at the moment, but their schedule might keep them from realizing it. Look at the Red Sox future, there are TWO SERIES, for the REST OF THE YEAR, that pose a problem: Oakland in Oakland, and New York at the Babe's. Everything else is either at home or against a crummy team. That doesn't mean they'll steam roll through contests against the Angels or Texas just because they're at the Fens, but I'd have to say they are more likely to win those series than their opponent. And games against the White Sox, Blue Jays, and D-Rays just don't bother me. Sorry. I keep telling you to look at the schedule. Are you doing it? Seriously, do it.
~Prescription: Win the games you're supposed to. Big whoop. Man, doctoring is easy.

~Illness: The Red Sox Can't Run the Bases

~Symptom: A ridiculous amount of runners thrown out, including two at home in the same inning on Thursday afternoon. They are the rare combination of slow and stupid, and the last thing any big ball team should do is turn runners in scoring position into outs.
~Prescription: Fire Dale Sveum. Right now. He's terrible at his job, and his job isn't that hard to begin with. If only Mike Cubbage were available. Oh wait, he is, we fired him 5 months ago. Honestly though, The Ninth is not the sort to frequently call for dismissals and removals, as most of that is reactionary nonsense, but this guy is a mess. He's bad at Fenway, he's bad on the road. He has plenty of conviction, so he's happy to make the same mistake over and over. There are tons of able coaches available, and you run no risk of upseting your players by tossing him. In fact, they've probably lost total confidence in his madly waiving arm already. It's a no lose. Hopefully his replacement will realize that slow runners with bad instincts are usually not good bets to send to an extra base. With less than two outs. And the game on the line. I mean, come on Dale.

~Illness: Boston Can't Put A Win Streak Together

~Symptom: They've been one loss, two wins, two losses, one win all season. It's incredibly frustrating.
~Prescription: You're a pessimistic bastard. They've won 5 of their last 6, and 7 of their last 10. That's a win streak, you sourpuss. Relax and have some fun. It's just starting to get good.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Where Do We Go From Here?

First off, I'd like to thank all the folks who were still regularly visiting during The Ninth's posting hiatus of the last week or so. While I've been padding my acting resume (loyal (ahem) Bravo viewers will soon be greeted by a heavy dose of The Ninth in person), the Red Sox have been so utterly uninspiring that it's been hard to write. Come to think of it, that's happened a lot this year. It's nice to see though that readers are interested enough to check in even on a down swing. Thanks dude. Since we last spoke Nomar is a Cub, GP is a Celtic, and the Sox are still a .500-since-May baseball team. Deck the halls. In any case, let's do some catching up.

  • Nomar: This has been so over-reported, I am hesitant to even bring it up. But I already typed the title, so what the heck. Here's the thing, what Theo said was true. If there has been one area that has consistently prevented Boston from winning this season, it's been the defense. Statistically, in pitching and on offense, the Sox are at or near the top of the league in most categories, but it hasn't turned into W's. They have allowed more unearned runs than any other team in baseball however. So instead of waiting for luck to improve or fielders to return to their norms, Epstein got aggressive and made a change. Sure he could've gotten an outfielder and an arm and called it a day, but he took a chance and trusted his instincts. That's bold and ambitious, and it's the kind of thing we want from our GM. Here's my problem: he didn't get enough. Do you realize that the Red Sox gave up the best player AND the best prospect in the deal? How does that happen? If you send off the superstar, you get loaded with young studs in return. Or, if you relinquish your top ranked outfield prospect, which Matt Murton was, you get a veteran gem back. Those are the rules on July 31st. But somehow, Boston managed to give both and get back neither. Can someone explain that? Look, I understand that Nomar is a free agent, and that scares teams off. And with all the dirty dealings since he's departed, it's clear that his health and attitude were questionable. Also hurts the trade value. Fine. But how much? His clubhouse negativity would not and has not carried over to Chicago, so that's not an issue. It was clear that Cabrera would be part of the package, and he's a free agent too - so doesn't that even that problem out as well? Meintkiewicz and Cabrera for Nomar straight up, ok - but how did we end up throwing in Murton too? He was one of our best youngsters, and we just chucked him in. With a Hall of Fame shortstop -- for what could easily be two months of Cabrera and a season or so of a platoon first baseman. Right now, that seems uneven.

  • The Glove: This is a great move. Unfortunately, I don't really have much to say about it that Bill Simmons hasn't already said, so look there first. My only concern is this: Gary Payton is not a fast-break point guard. Never has been really. And if there is one thing that his stay in Los Angeles proved, it's that he's somewhat unwilling to adapt to new systems. And by somewhat, I mean monumentally. But he did still average 14.9 ppg. Of course it was a pissy, childish, temper tantrum, don't look at me like that or I'll tell my agent 14.9, but it was 14.9 nonetheless. And that would be the highest total the C's have gotten from point since David Wesley in 1996. That's certainly worth looking into. And it may very well be that Boston regrets having GP on their team next season, but they sent away three players that they certainly would've regretted having, so what's the risk?

  • The State of the Red Sox: Monday night was a mess. The Ninth has long comforted himself with the notion that all Boston must do is win when Pedro and Schilling start, then get one lousy victory from their other three pitchers to play .600 baseball. Playoff city. But now they seem to have trouble doing that. Curt really can't be losing at home against Tampa, and no one knows it better than him. This club is getting dangerously close to losing their fans, and that's sad. How many of your buddies have said in the last week, "you know, I just don't think they're gonna do it this year, I'm gonna stop watching"? It hurts to hear, doesn't it? You wonder why you can't stop watching. Doesn't really seem fair that they can just drop it like that. You make a deal with yourself that if they lose a couple more series, you'll toss in the non-existent towel. And hey, I'm with you. If it wasn't for the tidy little check I pull down from this website every week, I would've given up long ago (may not be true). But one thing that keeps me watching, and should be keeping you too: Labor Day, 2003. That's when last year's club turned it around, September bleepin' 1st. Trot Nixon's grand slam in Philadelphia, right after the Manny Ramirez Puttin on the Ritz Yankee series. Remember? And that was three weeks later than now. Hard to believe. So we know that if they stay close they can do it. But do they have the talent anymore? I gotta say, I'd feel a hole lot better about this if Trot Nixon was healthy.
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    Tuesday, August 03, 2004

    Quick Laugh

    If you enjoy Will Ferrell and things that are funny, you will enjoy this.

    Trust me.