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.