ALDS Playoffs Preview and Predictions – Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays

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Boston Red Sox (97-65) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (92-71)

Keys for the Red Sox: Score a lot of runs; don’t rely on their starting pitching; get the Rays’ starters pitch counts up and get into the bullpen; don’t let Farrell’s mistakes burn them.

The Red Sox led the American League in on-base percentage and runs scored. Much has been made of their “top-to-bottom” lineup, but a lot of their success was based on circumstance. Yes, they have guys who hit the ball out of the park and work the count in David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino. Yes, they have grinders and fiery players like Dustin Pedroia, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp. Yes, Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a big power year.

That said, the Red Sox took great advantage of teams with bad pitching. When they ran into teams with good pitching – teams that weren’t going to walk them and give up homers – they had trouble. The Rays aren’t going to walk them and give up homers.

The Red Sox starting pitching has been serviceable, but not superior. They have a starting rotation of a lot of impressive names who have also benefited from the Red Sox run-scoring lineup and solid defense.

The Rays’ starters have a tendency to run up high pitch counts. Manager Joe Maddon showed that he was willing to push his starters in the post-season with David Price’s complete game in the wild card tiebreaker. The Rays bullpen has been shaky and I certainly don’t trust Fernando Rodney. If the Red Sox can have a lead or keep the game close late, they’ll score on the Rays’ bullpen.

Farrell deserves immense credit for the Red Sox turnaround. It can’t be forgotten, though, that everything worked out right for them this year. Farrell still has his strategic missteps and in the post-season, they’re magnified.

Keys for the Rays: Get depth from their starters; keep the Red Sox off the bases and in the park; rely on Evan Longoria.

Maddon is deft at handling his bullpen, but it’s always better to not have to put the game in the hands of Rodney, Joel Peralta and the rest of the mix-and-match crew he has out there. Price pitched a complete game dancing through the proverbial raindrops against the Rangers. Matt Moore racks up high pitch counts by the middle-innings. Maddon will push them, but he won’t abuse them. If he has to remove them, then a bullpen-based game is to his disadvantage.

The Red Sox look for walks and pitches they can hit out of the park. If you don’t walk them and get the breaking ball over, they’re not going to be able to hit their homers with runners on base.

Longoria lives for the spotlight. He wants people to be talking about him on social media and over coffee the next morning. If he hits and the Rays pitch, they’re tough to beat.

What will happen:

As incredible as Koji Uehara has been as the Red Sox closer, his longball tendency concerns me. He’s never faced this kind of pressure before and all the strikeouts in the world aren’t going to help him if the home run ball bites him at an inopportune moment.

I don’t trust the Red Sox bullpen; I don’t trust their starting pitchers; and I don’t think they’re going to hit with the authority they did during the regular season, nor are they going to have the runners on base to put up crooked numbers.

The Rays are playing with a freewheeling abandon that comes from the top. Maddon is a superior strategic manager to Farrell and has greater experience in post-season games. Farrell will make a game-costing gaffe at some point in this series.

There’s a strange love-fest going on with the Red Sox outside their fanbase and I’m not sure why. There’s an idea that because they had a collapse in 2011 and a rotten year in 2012, that they’ve “earned” this season and it’s going to end in a championship.

The playoffs have a tendency to provide an electroshock rude awakening. Sort of like a sting from a ray.

PREDICTION: RAYS IN FIVE




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Does Mike Napoli Miss Mike Scioscia Yet?

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The notoriously contentious relationship between Mike Napoli and his former manager with the Angels Mike Scioscia was probably due to the manager expecting and demanding more from his catchers than Napoli understood. It wasn’t personal. With the deal between Napoli and the Red Sox in suspended animation and each side staking out their positions while showing no evidence of moving anytime soon, Napoli might be longing for those halcyon days when the main thing he had to worry about was whether Scioscia was going to yell at him for calling a curveball instead of a slider in the sixth inning of a July game against the Orioles.

Sciosica’s tough on his catchers. The Red Sox are tough on their prospective free agent signees.

This essence of the Red Sox-Napoli holding pattern stems from a problem the club saw with Napoli’s hip during his physical and it’s being reported that the club wants to shorten the 3-year, $39 million contract that was agreed to in early December to one year. It’s not a small thing and it presents more problems for Napoli than it does the Red Sox. At this late date, the Red Sox can still figure out another option for first base (Mike Morse, Justin Morneau or even taking a flier on Kyle Blanks) and already have three catchers with David Ross, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway able to provide defensive competence and pop. They don’t need Napoli as the final piece to a puzzle that’s already haphazardly constructed and not improved enough from the 69-93 monstrosity they were in 2012 to be considered viable contenders in 2013.

But Napoli needs the Red Sox.

Teams and player agents like to leak information prior to official, legally bound contracts so it’s harder to come undone. Once there’s an “agreement” there’s not an official agreement until the player has undergone his physical and both sides have signed the contract, but the deal is done…unless the club spots an issue and is prepared to use that issue to hold up or nix it. Generally it’s a formality, but with the Red Sox that’s not always the case.

The Red Sox deserve credit and blame for their behaviors in this vein. One one level, many clubs would blow off the concerns they may have found during the physical to spare themselves the embarrassment and aggravation of having to announce that the deal is off or trying to alter it and protect themselves. With Napoli, they’d move forward in spite of the hip problem and hope he stays healthy. On another level, that they’ve held up the finalization for over a month traps Napoli. When news of a signing leaks, both team and player, to an extent, are boxed in. Without the hip issue, the Red Sox would be beholden to signing Napoli regardless of possible second thoughts; Napoli wasn’t going to do better anywhere else.

Now Napoli’s in a cage and the Red Sox have the only key. With public knowledge of the hip problem, what team is going to give him more than the Red Sox newly rumored offer of one year? And forget the $39 million, which is probably more money that Napoli had realistically imagined he’d get in the first place. He’ll be lucky to get a guarantee of half that.

It’s late in the winter, pitchers and catchers report in a month and the hip problem is known leaving any executive vulnerable if Napoli is signed and gets hurt. I suppose a team hunting for offense and desperate to make a splash in an unusually tranquil winter (such as the Yankees) wouldn’t mind taking Napoli away from the Red Sox on a one-year contract. If the Red Sox are steadfast with their new offer and Napoli wants some vengeance on the Red Sox, that’s the way to do it and it would certainly enliven a Yankees fanbase that is growing angrier and angrier by the day. Aside from that, where can he go?

Teams like the Rangers that are looking at the situation objectively and might possibly have had interest in Napoli have filled his role cheaper with Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski. Other clubs like the Mariners and Orioles are destinations, but they’re not going to surpass the Red Sox renewed offer and does Napoli really want to go to Seattle?

Napoli has two choices in the staredown with the Red Sox: sign the reduced deal or talk to the Yankees and secure an offer before telling the Red Sox to take a hike. The fact is that he’s at the mercy of the Red Sox who’ve altered their template from systematically ripping a player and leaking his medical records on the way out the door (Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Bay) to doing it before he walks in the door.

Napoli’s caught in the bear trap and it’s up to him whether he’s willing to gnaw off his limb to escape. A year of captivity and sustenance is better than nothing and that appears to be what the Red Sox are banking on in their hardline stance with a player to whom they offered too much money and too many years to begin with.

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Larry Lucchino’s Letter to Red Sox Season Ticket Holders

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If Red Sox fans weren’t overly concerned about their club’s mediocre first half, clear lack of a coherent plan and inability of organizational factions to get on the same page, then the latest news should wake them up with the cold fear of a premonition of an oncoming natural disaster that they can neither avoid nor stop.

Team President/CEO Larry Lucchino sent the following letter to season ticket holders.

Dear Season Ticket Holder:

As we cross the midpoint of our 2012 season, we thank you for your loyal support thus far. We met many of you at our new spring home, JetBlue Park at Fenway South, and renewed more acquaintances as we opened the 100th Anniversary season at Fenway Park.  We sensed that the nostalgia touched you, and we hope to continue to celebrate this special anniversary from time to time throughout the year.

Our play on the field has at times tested the mettle of the faithful.  It could be maddening one day, enthralling the next day.  Along the way, we have seen our bullpen gel, young players emerge, and veterans lead.  We have watched the team coalesce into a close group.  Personalities are enhancing the chemistry, such as the cheerful Cody Ross, the friendly Mike Aviles, and the inspiring story of Daniel Nava.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia has shown power, in the clutch, worthy of an All-Star.  And as the talented Will Middlebrooks forced his way into the lineup, we bade farewell, with gratitude, to Kevin Youkilis, who helped us win two World Championships.

The one constant on the field has been our beloved Big Papi, David Ortiz.  How thrilled we were that our gregarious leader reached the 400-home run plateau in a career that we hope will forever be with the Red Sox.

The one constant off the field is that we have had a veritable All-Star Team on the disabled list.  As we begin the second half, we look forward to the return of the “varsity,” including Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Andrew Bailey, and the ever-dirty Dustin Pedroia.

While this infusion of such talent in late July may make other General Managers green with envy, you can be sure that Ben Cherington and his Baseball Operations Staff will approach the July 31 trading deadline with their tireless work ethic.  If someone can further help this club, and if the deal makes sense, we will be aggressive.  We want to play October Baseball this year.

Meanwhile, as you come to Fenway Park throughout this season, we hope you will come early—the secret to fully enjoying a sports venue.  Now “A Living Museum,” Fenway Park probably leads the league in bronze plaques and commemorative displays along the concourses.  Enjoy them at your leisure early, well before the escalation of excitement as game time approaches.  And as always, if you have reactions, suggestions, or ideas that will make the ballpark experience even better, we invite you to send them to fanfeedback@redsox.com.

By the way, if we’re in your neighborhood for a visit during “Acts of Kindness Month” this month, please come over and say hello.  We enjoy listening to you, and we enjoy talking baseball with you.  We’re your biggest fans.  So, on behalf of John Henry, Tom Werner, our partners, and our entire organization, we thank you again, and we look forward to seeing you at Fenway Park.

Keep the Faith,

Larry Lucchino

I’ll ignore the obvious laughlines like “cheerful Cody Ross,” “friendly Mike Aviles,” and “the return of the ‘varsity’”. What would concern me if I were a Red Sox fan is that Lucchino is sending a letter like this out in the first place and is implying that the Red Sox are going to be “aggressive” at the trading deadline in order to play October baseball this year.

There are times to be aggressive and there are times to hold one’s fire, wait and let things play out without chasing the past—a past that had the Red Sox in legitimate title contention for almost the entire decade of 2000 to 2011. I don’t see this letter as an organizational boss assuaging the concerns of an angry (and somewhat spoiled) fanbase. I see it as the man behind the scenes putting his voice out there in the public and pulling levers to make sure he’s having a significant influence in team construction.

This is a problem that’s been ongoing since the departure of Theo Epstein and will continue until owner John Henry steps in and lets someone—anyone—take charge as he did with Epstein. The letter is not baseball related and coincides with the series of decisions that were made last winter to try and patch over the issues that caused the self-destruction on and off the field of a club that, before the fact, was compared to the 1927 Yankees.

There’s no one in charge and willing to say, “I’m in charge.” Cherington’s certainly not running things because if he was, Bobby Valentine would not be the manager. And that’s not a defense of Cherington’s preferred choices because neither John Farrell nor Dale Sveum are lighting up the world with their baseball brilliance as the respective managers of the Blue Jays and Cubs.

Lucchino wanted Valentine, again, to have a “name” to replace Terry Francona and lay down the law that the lack of discipline that was blamed for the club’s demise last season wouldn’t happen again. Naturally Valentine has butted heads with the veterans and his almost immediate battle with Youkilis greased the skids for Youkilis’s departure from the team. Not that that’s a bad thing. Even though they gave him away, they probably should’ve traded Youkilis over the winter to shake things up before the inevitable happened with Valentine.

Lucchino sending out this letter to keep the season ticket holders happy is indicative of a fanbase that’s gotten so greedy that they’re blind to the reality that they’ve become mirror images of that which they despise more than anything: the Yankees. Do they need to be given assurances that the Red Sox are going to try and win? Wasn’t the breaking of The Curse in 2004 and another championship 3 years later enough to keep them happy for awhile? To maintain loyalty and, even if the team isn’t performing up to expectations and lofty payroll, ensure that the season ticket holders will keep their plans intact due to reciprocal appreciation?

Like him or not, Lucchino helmed the rise of the Red Sox and was a major part of turning Fenway Park into a rebuilt place to be where the tickets were hot rather than an aging and dilapidated relic with players, coaches, managers and front office people who only cared about themselves. If a lean year or two is necessary for the greater good and to prevent the whole thing from crashing to the ground, isn’t it worth it to accept that and say, “We’ll take an 81-81 season if it means we’ll be contending for a title in 2014 or 2015”?

Epstein was a check on Lucchino. Cherington can’t be that same check. Now there’s no one in command and no single voice to put a stop to a lunatic maneuver designed to steal the headlines for a week, perhaps help the club win 2 more games than they would have otherwise and wind up in the exact same position they would’ve been in had they been prudent and held onto whatever assets they surrendered to make that incremental and meaningless “improvement”.

As the head of the organization, Lucchino is addressing fan concerns and trying to please his customers, but the customer isn’t always right and because the fans want the Red Sox to do something drastic doesn’t mean it’s wise. There’s a difference between compromising within reason for the constituency and compromising for expediency and self-immolating in the process. If he’s going to try and make sure his word is proven true and Cherington and the baseball people are forced to do something they don’t want to do, it’s only going to make the current predicament worse. Except now it won’t be short-term, it will be long term, deep and that much harder to dig their way out of.

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The Red Sox Vault Is Closed

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After they spent big last winter to try and win in 2011, the Red Sox were seen to have filled all of their holes; built a run-scoring machine of a lineup; shored up their bullpen; and placed themselves in a position blow away the competition in both the regular season and the playoffs.

They didn’t.

The reasons for the downfall and collapse will be debated forever.

The likelihood is that one specific incident wasn’t the catalyst for the failure, but minute cracks that manifested themselves over time; cracks that were irreparable, exploitable and resulted in an embarrassing stumble and post-season bloodletting of departures, allocating of blame and alibis.

If the partings with Terry Francona and Theo Epstein weren’t enough, the Red Sox went in the opposite direction of what they’d done in the past by hiring Bobby Valentine as manager.

Valentine is decidedly not a middle-managing functionary in the Moneyball fashion who’s hired to implement front office edicts and do as he’s told for short money.

He’s going to let his feelings be known and do as he sees fit without relying on consensus and organizational planning to dictate which reliever he uses when, in writing the lineups or other on-field decisions.

In a similar vein, the Red Sox rampant spending is over.

They didn’t post a bid for Yu Darvish; they haven’t been mentioned as anything other than a historically wary “oh, them” option for the name free agents; and they’re making under-the-radar and cheap acquisitions to fill their holes.

They allowed Jonathan Papelbon to leave without a fight and have steered clear of the “name” closers.

They may be willing to sign a proven closer like Ryan Madson, but it’s not going to be for the $44 million he and his agent Scott Boras were requesting. He’ll be lucky to match Heath Bell’s $27 million over three-years from the Red Sox or anyone else.

The Red Sox have chosen a different route from the headline-grabbing Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez acquisitions of a year ago.

Mark Melancon is the newest addition to the bullpen via trade from the Astros for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.

They shunned a large expenditure on a DH as David Ortiz accepted their offer of salary arbitration.

They signed a competent partner catcher for Jarrod Saltalamacchia with Kelly Shoppach and a veteran utilityman Nick Punto to replace Lowrie.

Jason Varitek‘s and Tim Wakefield’s playing careers are done in Boston.

The vault is closed.

Rather than toss more money at their problems, the Red Sox are using a different strategy in hoping that Crawford rebounds; Clay Buchholz returns from injury; the bullpen survives without the intimidating closer (Madson or no Madson); and that Valentine is able to rein in a fractured and out-of-control clubhouse.

In years past, Epstein sought to build a team that would have a consistent pipeline of talent and operate under a need-based free agency/trade-style; as they grew more successful, the fan base, media and front office were unsatisfied with the peaks and valleys inherent with accepting down years as necessary to reasonably priced consistency and they became a carbon copy of their arch-enemies, the Yankees. As was the case with Mark Teixeira, it became a case of which team was going to pay more to get the quarry and anything short of a World Series win wasn’t good enough.

The Red Sox won the hot stove battle a year ago, but that didn’t equate into the expected regular season dominance and post-season glory.

Now they’ve stopped tossing money around and are going with cheaper alternatives and the hopes for a rebound of what’s already there.

Under new GM and Epstein protégé Ben Cherington, they’re refusing to spend wildly—which is what Epstein loathed doing in his early years running the team; this might be on orders from ownership and is preferable to the GM.

But they have spent and hired a different type of manager from their original template—that too is likely to have been done on orders from ownership; Cherington wouldn’t have hired Valentine if the choice were his and his alone.

It’s a mixture of old and new; it’s understandable; and it won’t work unless the highly paid players they already had do their jobs and Valentine is able to maintain a sense of discipline that disappeared under Francona.

Don’t expect splashy headlines this winter from the Red Sox because this is pretty much it.

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And Jose Reyes As Babe Ruth

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Judging from the reaction in fan and media circles, you’d think the Mets are running the risk of losing Babe Ruth rather than Jose Reyes and David Wright.

It’s grown stale.

The latest bit of journalism to catch my eye aren’t from the usual suspects in the New York media who are doing everything they can to paint the Mets as the epitome of the big market team whose ownership issues have forced small market behaviors.

No.

It’s Will Leitch in New York Magazine whose latest piece has inspired me to say the following: Will Leitch should stop writing about baseball.

At least until he learns something about it and can maintain some semblance of belief—backed up by intelligence—regarding the subject.

When a writer has me hearkening to the similar baseball-ignorant related ramblings of Stephen A. Smith, it’s time to step back and contemplate fresh tactics.

Previously, I thought Leitch simply had a Moneyball-fetish and truly didn’t comprehend what he was saying as he continually advocated the nonsensical book as the Holy Grail; that he believed everything in the mythical tome of Michael Lewis (coming to a theater near you in September). Now I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s an opportunist who’s using the issues hovering over the Mets as a hammer to brutalize a club that is trying get its act together.

From the fanboy perspective, I suppose Moneyball is a convenient set of tenets upon which to build oneself up as an “expert”. In the tradition of that atrocious film “Kick-Ass”, it’s the loser makes good, gets the pretty girl and becomes popular.

In other words, it’s a fantasy.

You see it repeatedly when the self-proclaimed baseball experts who haven’t any in-the-trenches, innate knowledge of the game make declarative statements of what they’d do were they running a club or functioning as part of a front office.

This is how you get the caller to Mike Francesa’s show who claimed he would’ve ordered Jorge Posada—a borderline Hall of Fame switch hitter—to bat left-handed against a left-handed pitcher because the numbers dictated that it was a good idea; how you find a Padres numbers cruncher with the abject failure to understand protocol as he suggested to then-manager Bruce Bochy that he bat pitcher Woody Williams second in the batting order.

And how no one is willing to get into a substantive debate about the subject, choosing instead to make comments from afar where they’re safe from retort by the object of their vitriol.

Leitch’s piece combines familiar Mets ridicule with profound negativity and a “they can’t win” sensibility.

It also exhibits a total lack of knowledge and memory of that which he’s advocated previously.

Not long ago, he wanted Billy Beane to come and take over the Mets ignoring what Beane truly is, not in the Moneyball sense, but in objective analysis.

Beane is a competent executive. No more, no less. His teams haven’t been good in recent years; he’s made some overtly stupid decisions; and has taken advantage of his fame without acknowledging the pitfalls of a “genius” and crafted perfection that never existed in the first place.

The Mets hired Sandy Alderson to run the club and he imported many of the characters and strategies from Moneyball—Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi among them.

Now, as the Mets tenuous financial situation is in the process of being untangled, there’s concern that they’re going to go the way of clubs like the Padres and Marlins who’ve repeatedly torn down the entire foundation of their franchises due to financial constraints.

They might trade Reyes or not even make an attempt to re-sign him; they could deal Wright; there are no impact free agents to be available in the coming years; they’re an exercise in dysfunction with no discernible strategy and few prospects both practically and metaphorically.

We’ve heard it all before.

The New York Mets will not crumble to the ground if Reyes and Wright are no longer the cornerstones of the franchise. They’re not the end-all, be-all of club existence. With the way the franchise is currently constituted, the Mets have to have everything on the table in terms of willingness to deal.

But here we are with Reyes playing brilliantly and placing a wrench in the theories of those who claim there’s no “evidence” of a contract-year bump; of course there’s a contract-year bump for certain players and Reyes is one of them. He wants to get paid and is doing everything he can towards that end.

Each sparkling defensive play; every stolen base; all the exciting triples into the Citi Field gap and Predator-style dreadlocks flying through the air complete with the Reyes smile that was so prominent in 2006, the media and fans pound the drums, blogosphere and social networks with entreaties as to how they want the Mets to ante up and prevent any possibility of the player entering his prime years playing in another uniform.

It would be a similar mistake to do anything desperate now as it was when the prior regimes made such ghastly and short-sighted errors such as the trading of Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano and the bidding-against-themselves signings of Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo.

In fact, it would be the exact opposite of why they hired Alderson; of doing what it was the likes of Leitch wanted them to do: find someone like Alderson, unbeholden to fan/media whims and acting in a way commensurate with his Marine-lawyer background to do what needed to be done for the good of the club without reverence to the past nor what would look good in the short-term.

So which is it?

If you examine similar clubs who’ve had financial catastrophes in the past, you come up with some interesting parallels.

The Red Sox were a joke before John Henry took over. Yes, they were good occasionally (like the Mets); yes, they spent money (like the Mets); and yes, they had a loyal and frustrated fan base that took a perverse and masochistic pride in their lot as a punching bag for the Yankees both literally and figuratively (like the Mets).

Spurned by the “genius” Beane—who’d agreed to take over the franchise after the 2002 season and backed out to remain in the comfort-zone of limited media exposure, fan obsession and expectations—they turned to young Theo Epstein who has presided over a model franchise since then.

The Rangers were a train wreck and financial nightmare as recently as last season. They made a decision in 2007 to trade a player the same age as Reyes is now (27)—Mark Teixeira—and laid the foundation for the pennant winning club of 2010 and rebuilt the franchise with the ridiculous haul of prospects they received from the Braves that included Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

You can’t say now what will work and what won’t; if a team comes to the Mets and makes an offer that would yield a substantial return for any player, they would be stupid not to think about it.

Alderson’s not stupid.

Indicative of a lack of baseball knowledge or the barest interest in accuracy is the comparison of the Mets to a small-market locale when Leitch writes the following:

But do the Mets want to be the sort of franchise that trades away its best players in their prime because of financial concerns? What are we, Minnesota?

Minnesota?

Which Minnesota is he referring to?

The Twins with their $113 million payroll? The same club that just lavished a contract worth $184 million on Joe Mauer?

Actually, with the way they flamed out in the playoffs last year—the year they were supposed to finally get past the Yankees—and the injury-ravaged, high-expectations, disaster they’ve been this year, you can compare the Twins to the Mets, not the other way around.

Leitch’s allegiance to the Moneyball model isn’t based on any deep-rooted understanding of the concept, but that it’s a book that he read and hasn’t the faintest clue as to how terribly the story was twisted to suit the ends of the author; in order to comprehend that, there must be a foundational baseball knowledge to start with.

Now I’m starting to see that Leitch’s baseball savvy is clearly more in line with the aforementioned Stephen A. Smith rather than someone with whom you could have a legitimate back-and-forth without having to explain these concepts to them like a college professor.

I don’t see Leitch’s column as slimy in a Joel Sherman sort of way, but it’s ignorant and tilted towards smarminess to attack the Mets.

At the end of the piece, Leitch writes: “And yet whichever path they choose, as any die-hard Mets fan knows, will probably be the wrong one.”

Perhaps taking that statement to heart considering his own goal in writing a hit-piece of this kind would serve him well. Get it right or quit writing about baseball altogether. Or at least present a case that isn’t dripping with sarcasm for its own sake.

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Darn Sox

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Suddenly, after a 2-10 start, not only are the Red Sox 24-20, but they’re ahead of the Yankees.

Despite all the assertions from the likes of Joel Sherman that the Yankees missed out on an opportunity to “separate” from the Red Sox at the start of the 3-game series last week, there was no chance of one team burying the other.

It’s May.

They’re both good teams. The Red Sox happen to be better and deeper, but the Yankees will play better than the dysfunctional, overpaid, slow and tired group they’ve appeared to be over the last week.

Altered states of belief are par for the course from Sherman, Mike Francesa and other Yankees fans/apologists/media members; it has little to do with reality.

The reality is this: the Red Sox were a large collection of well-compensated talent that needed time to grow accustomed to one another.

Was their atrocious start a byproduct of this?

Maybe.

Does it really matter?

The Red Sox are playing well now; they’re scoring and getting good pitching which was the intention when they made that flurry of big and expensive maneuvers to bolster their lineup and pitching staff.

What should be of great concern to the Yankees is that Carl Crawford and Dustin Pedroia haven’t heated up yet and will. For the Yankees, if he’s healthy, Alex Rodriguez is going to start bashing; so is Nick Swisher; but the same can’t be expected of Derek Jeter or Jorge Posada; in addition to their pitching woes, the Yankees are faced with the prospect of needing to look for a bat. And teams are not going to be lining up to help the Yankees.

What was ailing the Red Sox shouldn’t have been unexpected. There’s an article in the May issue of Fast Company that discusses the Miami Heat as they’ve navigated their way around having three superstars in their lineup on a team for whom anything less than a championship—then multiple championships—would be a disappointment.

There are obvious practical differences between basketball and baseball. In basketball, no one can function by himself in any way aside from at the foul line—it’s a team sport, period. Baseball is an individual sport in a team concept.

But that doesn’t diminish the relevance of and necessity for teamwide cohesiveness.

When there are such drastic changes made, there are bound to be upheavals. With a new first baseman (Adrian Gonzalez); a shift of Kevin Youkilis to third base; a new left fielder (Crawford); and a catcher in Jarrod Saltalamacchia with whom it’s taking a long time for the pitchers to grow comfortable in his calling of the games, there are many pieces of a complicated puzzle that have to fit together.

Pedroia is returning from injury; and Josh Beckett and John Lackey came into the season with question marks hovering over them. Beckett has silenced the critics; Lackey’s made them worse.

As long as a competent front office doesn’t panic, talent will win out most of the time as long as the talent is still there. There are circumstances in which this is not the case; it could be due to the aforementioned penchant to “do something” when leaving things alone is the best course of action; and there are situations of lax leadership and veteran players bagging the season at the first sign of struggle.

The Red Sox have proven they are not a team that quits. If the 2004 comeback from being down 3-0 in the ALCS wasn’t proof, last year’s injury-decimated squad that still somehow managed to win 89 games in the torturous American League East was a better example.

If you thought you’d seen the last of the Red Sox after that 2-10 start; that they were going to have “one of those seasons” in which grand expectations yielded a horrific result, then you’re a baseball-ignorant fool and you deserve your fate.

Sort of like Joel Sherman and Mike Francesa.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

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Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide. It’s good for your fantasy baseball activities and some of my predictions have been proven to be eeeeeerily accurate already.

We won’t discuss the stuff I’ve already gotten wrong. Accentuate the positives.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

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Early Season Oohs And Ahs

Books, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide

Let’s have a look at some of the early seasons positives and whether or not they’re real or a mirage.

The rampaging Indians:

Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin are a combined 7-0; the bullpen has been brilliant; Travis Hafner is healthy and killing the ball; Asdrubal Cabrera has 4 homers(!); and Grady Sizemore is looking like his old self returning from microfracture surgery.

All of these occurrences won’t continue.

Hafner’s inevitable health problems and the tricky nature of microfracture surgery for Sizemore will be counteracted—to a point—when Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana start to hit; but the Indians are still playing journeymen Orlando Cabrera and Jack Hannahan regularly; and Asdrubal Cabrera cannot keep up his hot start.

The pitching is the question. Masterson will return to earth; the bullpen won’t be as good as it has been; and they’ve beaten up on struggling/mediocre/poor teams.

A brigade of “Indians are contenders again” believers will gather steam, but they’re not contenders. At best they could hover around .500 all season and fade out towards the end. But that’s it.

Weaver and Haren is plenty good:

And Ervin Santana is underrated as well.

Who could possibly have thought that the Angels—with their top three starting pitchers and history of success—were going to recede into the Pacific Ocean and leave the AL West for the Rangers and still-overrated Athletics without a peep?

Jered Weaver is one of the best pitchers in baseball and is looking to get paid in the not-so-distant future (free agent after 2012; Scott Boras is his agent—do the math).

Dan Haren has been brilliant as well. Those who looked at the Angels off-season and scoffed because their acquisitions were limited to Vernon Wells (who’s going to hit), Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs, conveniently forgot that the Angels traded for Haren at mid-season 2010.

Joel Pineiro will be back soon and rookie Tyler Chatwood has been solid. Manager Mike Scioscia didn’t hesitate to make Jordan Walden the closer and Fernando Rodney is more comfortable as a set-up man.

Is anyone still laughing at the Angels? And will they admit how stupid they were (and still are) now?

I doubt it. I’ll be more than happy to point it out though. With enthusiasm.

Burying Josh Beckett and the Red Sox:

More partisan silliness.

Beckett was hurt last year. Now he’s not hurt. And he’s pitching brilliantly.

It was idiotic to think that a 31-year-old post-season hero with Beckett’s career history was “done” because of maladies that had nothing to do with his arm.

After their hideous start, the Red Sox have righted the ship and will be a run-scoring machine when Carl Crawford starts to hit. And he will start to hit.

On another note, it’s only a matter of time before Mike Cameron is playing center field regularly. The frustration with Jacoby Ellsbury is legitimate; I was never a fan and his power display is a mirage. He’s done nothing at the plate aside from his 4 homers; is mediocre defensively in center field; and the other players don’t seem to like him.

John Lackey will also have to be dealt with. Even though he pitched well against the anemic offense of the Oakland Athletics, his behavior and body language were both troubling. Nobody’s saying that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is Johnny Bench in terms of handling pitchers, but the open animosity between pitcher and catcher can’t go on. Lackey isn’t endearing himself to his teammates with his miserable attitude and it has to be handled from the inside. If that means Jason Varitek, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis have to corner and threaten him physically, so be it.

Later on today, I’ll post about the negatives so far in early 2011.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide. Many of my predictions have proven accurate already; the ones that haven’t will be. Most of them anyway.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

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