Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mo, How the Mighty Have Fallen..

It's 6-3 in the 8th inning. The Yankees have absolutely controlled the game. A-Rod hits two off of Schilling. The bullpen (specifically, the greatest closer of all time) is rested and ready to go.

A half hour later, I'm hearing the Standells' "Dirty Water" over the Fenway loudspeakers as Hideki Okajima strikes out Kevin Thompson to end the game, as the Sox win 7-6?


I'll admit that the Sox put up a great inning against Mighty Mo that included some great at-bats, specifically by Jason Varitek (a guy I mentioned in my blog last night kills the Yankees... kills)

But a four-run lead vanishing? That's unreal.

Here's a few thoughts:

  • Mo is still Mo - but not the 1997 Mo that would saw bats like a lumberjack and end games in a matter of 30 seconds. He's not as dominant as Papelbon or as devastating as K-Rod at this point. He still is, though, a lights-out closer when used properly.
  • On that note, Mariano hasn't pitched in four days - the last time being when he gave up a game-ending walk-off HR to Marco Scutaro. Give the guy some work! His struggle locating his cutter and two-seam are directly related to his lack of work. If he was in there more, he'd have been fine last night. I'm not saying overuse him, but he needs to be out there to not only regain confidence, but also hit his stride. It's like claiming that a great hitter (let's say Derek Jeter) will get out of a slump by limiting his ABs to two or three a week. Pitchers work very similar. Get him out there!
  • Torre, for the second straight game, mismanaged the bullpen. Plain and simple. I'd have kept Pettitte out there to finish the 7th, but I'll let him slide on that one. Proctor looked good - and I would have definitely kept him in. As for Vizcaino, I'm not sure I would've let him stay in the game - especially since Bruney and Farnsworth are better pitchers with more big game experience/power and ready to go.
  • From now on, no more two inning saves for Mo. I'm sorry. It'd have to be game 7 for me to even consider it. He's still dominant and I'll never be nervous with him at the plate, but inheriting two base runners against a team with a lot of momentum and some good hitters coming up is just not the right thing to do.
  • HUGE mistake of the night: A bit overlooked due to the bullpen woes, Torre pinch ran for Giambi with Kevin Thompson as the Yanks are up 4 runs. On the very next pitch, Thompson gets out on a fielder's choice to second that even Michael Johnson couldn't have beat out. Down one? Fine. Up one? Sure. UP FOUR? Why? What's the point? We really need that fifth? I was pissed at the move from the start (an omen, I guess).
  • As for the last out of the night, you guessed it - Kevin Thompson. His presence allowed Okajima to throw A-Rod crappier pitches, one of which he swung at, and get the last out with Abreu stranded at first. Giambi may have gotten out, but it likely would've been a battle of an at-bat with Giambi's eye, as well as a possible win with Giambi's flair for the dramatic (fourth in active MLB players with most HRs in the ninth or extra innings). Ouch.

Anywho, that's life. Vonnegut would say "so it goes". All in all, a great game, and I have to tip my cap to the Sox for getting good ABs against Mo and hanging in there. Crisp and Cora didn't crush the ball or get good wood on the pitch, but they were in the right spots. A nice confidence boost for a few struggling players and this Red Sox team in general.

As for today, Jeff Karstens takes the hill against Josh Beckett. Needless to say, I'll be having 2003 WS nightmare flashbacks all afternoon if he dominates us, which seems likely the way things went last night.

With two rookies going up against two of the AL's best after that debacle last night - I can only think of one thing:

Does anyone know Roger's cell phone number?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Breakin' it Down for the Fight at Fenway

A position-by-position look at the Bombers and the Sawx.

  • Catcher - Jason Varitek BOS vs. Jorge Posada - Posada is a far better hitter and off to a great start this season. Yet, while I'm tempted to give it to him, it's clear that Varitek's absence last summer coincided with the Sox demise. Besides being a veteran presence and a great defensive catcher, he does an unbelievable job studying hitters and calling a great game. It's the most underrated part of baseball. And he always seems to do well against the Yanks. CALL: TOSS UP
  • First Base - Kevin Youkilis vs. Josh Phelps - Phelps is nice, but only a serviceable player at best. He's got some pop, I'll admit, but he's in there because he's a better fielder than Giambi and because Douggie can't really hit. Youkilis is an on-base machine that can frustrate pitchers. CALL: SOX
  • Second Base - Dustin Pedroia vs. Robinson Cano - It's not even close. Robbie Cano is the premier second baseman in the American League, whereas Pedroia is a stopgap kind of guy with minor upside. As far as I'm concerned, Cano will probably be the AL's second baseman in the All-Star game for the next decade. Props here to the guy that nearly won the batting title at the ripe age of 24 in only his second years in the bigs. CALL: YANKS
  • Shortstop - Julio Lugo vs. Derek Jeter - You're kidding, right? CALL: YANKS
  • Third Base - Mike Lowell vs. Alex Rodriguez - (See Shortstop) CALL: YANKS
  • Left Field - Manny Ramirez vs. Melky Cabrera I'd say that this one was close if Hideki was healthy, but that's simply not the case. With Manny just starting to heat up, it's anyone's guess as to the kind of weekend he'll have. My gut says he's wreak havoc on the youngsters on Saturday afternoon and Sunday night. A great hitter to watch. CALL: SOX
  • Center Field - Coco Crisp, BOS vs. Johnny Damon - Coco's a far better defensive outfield, since Damon's arm is similar to that of a 13-year old girl or myself. Damon, however, still has some nice range, is familiar with the grounds in Boston, and can hit better righty than the Mr. Kellogs over there, who is hitting a paltry .167 coming off of his outstanding .263, 36 RBI season. CALL: YANKS
  • Right Field - J.D. Drew vs. Bobby Abreu - Probably the closest position battle of them all. J.D. Drew is an over hyped player, but when healthy he can be a key asset and a dangerous hitter. He's got plus power and a solid batting average already in 2007. As for our RF, Abreu is a solid player that works counts, fields his position well, and always seems to get on base. It's a tough one, but Bobby's experiences last year against Boston and his superior OPS gives him the edge, but it's as close to a tie as you can get. EDGE: YANKS.
  • Starting Pitching - OK, you've got me. Our pitching is a mess. This can be summarized in one sentence: "After Andy Pettitte, the Yankees will start Jeff Karstens and Chase Wright in Fenway". Yikes. I think they can surprise some people, but it's certainly far from the trio of Beckett, Schilling, and Dice-K. EDGE: SOX, but talk to me in June when Wang and Moose are back and Roger Clemens and Phil Hughes are in the rotation!
  • Bullpen - A tough one. I like the trio of Timlin, Donnelly, and Romero leading to Paps, even though my roomie is scared to death of J.C. Romero. As for the Bombers, I'm a fan of the Bruney, Proctor, Vizcaino, and Farnsworth quartet leading to Mo, even though Proctor is erratic and Vizcaino blew it for us yesterday. CALL: TOSS-UP
  • Closer - I can't even go there. It's too painful for me to admit Papelbon is better. He is. But, I can't admit that. Mo's track record and my Yankee heart prevent me from doing so. CALL: NO COMMENT
  • OVERALL : We'll find out, won't we? (My guy says Boston this weekend, Yanks next weekend when Wang and Matsui return)

So, now you're set for the games. I'll be back tomorrow for a little post-game action and preview of Saturday's match-up.

- Keith Connors

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Let the Games Begin....

Yanks, Sox Renew the Rivalry
An in-depth look at what makes baseball so great - and what I think heading into Series #1

So it's April 19th. I'm getting ready for a weekend that includes partying, Archie Moore wings, hopefully a game or two of 'ruit (as my roomie would call it), and baseball.

Not just any baseball, Yankees and Red Sox.

Sufficed to say, it's not just any game.

I have so many things to say, that I don't really know where to begin. I've been waiting for this for such a long time. Last season, by the time we arrived to Fairfield, the Sawx were starting Javy Lopez behind the plate and looked more like the Sox we swept in the '99 ALCS than the team that stood toe-to-toe with us in '03 and '04.

5 straight at Fenway? It seemed just too easy.

As for the Fairfield campus, Sox fans were already turning the calender to 2006 and didn't care at all about that one series we had while we were here. Yankees fan (NEVER one to rub it in) let them know about it, but realized how boring our ride to the World Series would be without playing our buddies from Beantown.

Unfortunately, the hopes of another ring we're derailed.

And now, both of us are in the same spot: starting from scratch, trying to get back to the promised land.

So the world will watch Friday night as the two teams battle it out. Here's what's running through my head going into the lion's den.

  • Fenway is scary. I don't like it at all. Believe it or not, I actually like watching games at Fenway more than in the Bronx for some reason. It sort of reminds me of that scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Connery turns to his son at the German camp and says, "Son, we're pilgrims in an unholy place". That's what Fenway is. It's everything against what I root for. Wins there are just so much sweeter. Most Yankee fans would agree, I think.
  • On the topic of Fenway, the reason it scares me is that it's an offensive playground. Throwing Jeff Karstens and Chase Wright out to the Sox lineup does not enthuse me. I don't think either are bad pitchers, just very young, very raw, and are being asked to do a lot. It's a tall order for a veteran.
  • As long as we're on the "raw, not yet ready for the majors players," Joel Piniero said he can't wait "to rip the Yankees heads off" for the fans. JOEL PINIERO? You've gotta be kidding. I'm pretty sure that you'd be pitching in Triple A for Durham telling stories to the kids about how it used to be in "the show" if it wasn't for Theo Epstein liking your WHIP like the stat nerd he is and giving you a deal. By the end of the weekend, if he's used at all, he's be Joel Pinata.
  • Schilling's blog - I'll be honest, I'm a fan. I wish more players did it. A very opinionated guy, but I like that about him. And he's a gamer. I'm expecting a great outing out of him tomorrow night. He always comes up big.
  • I'm thinking a big weekend on the way for Manny. He homered on Thursday and is finally starting to heat up. Not that that scares me - he's always done well against us. I just think that he'll be the feared hitter this weekend. Other than Ortiz, of course.
  • The player I'll be watching for the Sawx is J.D. Drew. He's had a nice start statistically and thus far has proved worth the investment. In a big spot, though, I'm still not convinced. He's never played with this kind of pressure - regardless of his experiences with the Cardinals. Nothing is like this. Especially when you're a controversial signing brought in specifically to beat the Yankees. It's not like L.A. when people don't care and show up in the 4th. At Fenway, they'll remember that 1-2 pitch you took in the 4th on April 20th in the 8th with two men on that lost them a chance to win. Welcome to Boston.
  • We NEED A-Rod. He's been absolutely on fire thus far - especially after his ridiculous walk-off against the Tribe. He's better than anybody on the Sox, by far. Probably MLB, too. Keep Ortiz. Keep Manny. Keep Pujols, Howard, Reyes. I'll take A-Rod and take my chances. Especially now that he's clutch.
  • Speaking of clutch, I've got my eye on two Yankees that have yet to really come through yet: 1) Andy Pettitte - probably the only good match-up we get in terms of starting pitching all weekend, Andy goes mono e mono (that's right, I brought out the Latin for this game) with blogger Curt Schilling. If that doesn't sound like an October game, I don't know what does. He's been okay this year, not yet fantastic. Pettitte's big game persona will shine this weekend. Just a gut feeling. That being said, Curt is just as good of a gamer. Odds are Sox could pull out a win just as easy. I'm just waiting on Andy to finally show his stripes. 2) Jeter - Jeter haunts the Red Sox. He always does something that completely changes the course of the games/series/year. Expecting anything less is just dumb. If Jeter's up against Papelbon with the game on the line, I'll be fine. On the verge on a heart attack, but fine.
  • Mo vs. Papelbon? I love Paps, he's a great kid with a good stare and a live arm. There's not much not to like. I would like to add though that the Yankees, a patient team with a great team OPS, got a good look at him last season. As if that's not enough, Papelbon has a history of arm problems and has pitched for two consecutive games. I like our chances.
  • Mo's money. I'm fine with him. He got his one blown save out of the way. We'll be fine. He's rested. Am I trying to convince myself? Who knows anymore. I think his days of getting owned by Boston are over. This is a different Red Sox team. OK, I need to stop talking now.
  • Karstens and Wright had a great spring - I like both kids. It's just a tall order. I'm not expecting much from Karstens, who fresh of a stint on the DL and definitely not ready for a team as good as Boston. I'm thinking a loss on Saturday is more than 50% likely.
  • As for Chase, I like him a lot. I think he's got potential to be a great big leaguer. Especially good poise and athleticism. I'm thinking that they found a gem in this kid. Reminds me a little of a Jamie Moyer. Anyway, don't be shocked to see him throw well on Sunday. If not for two shaky innings in his first taste of the big leagues that resulted in a handful of walks - it would've been a gem.
  • Dice-K - I know, I know. We're expected to roll over and bow down to this giant of Japan. In all honesty, he doesn't scare me a bit. So he strikes out a lot of guys. Great. I watched the game against Seattle (SEATTLE! THE MARINERS! They have been good since I was a sperm! Maybe longer!) worked a great inning, made him sweat, and beat him. I think he'll be a bit over hyped for this game and he'll probably make a few mistakes. A very underrated part of this too is the Yanks' patient and OPS. Dice-K strikes out people on guys making mistakes a.k.a. swinging at balls a.k.a. inexperience and impatient. When he's facing Damon, Jeter, Abreu, and Giambi - all workers and great eyes - it won't be easy. I think he gets beat.
  • BOTTOM LINE: Pettitte and Jeter help us on Friday to a 3-2 win. Mo gets the save. The Sox blow us out (we'll say 9-3) on Saturday as Beckett goes 8 and Donnelly finishes it up. On Sunday, Wright goes 7 and shocks the world be out pitching Dice-K and giving us a series win, 4-2.

Start up the grill (70 all weekend.) Let's do this.

Oh yeah, and tune up Sinatra.

- Keith Connors