Joe Torre: Secret Agent of the Boston Red Sox

June 25th, 2007 → 12:04 am @

This weekend’s games showed why, for the remainder of the season, the Sox should worry about almost anyone before New York. While Francona continued to manage brilliantly down in San Diego — I almost jumped for joy when I saw Beckett go back out for the eighth this afternoon — Joe Torre continued the ritualized abuse he’s been heaping on the Yankee bullpen for years, guaranteeing that, should the Yanks somehow make the playoffs, they’ll have almost no arms to lead them to battle. (I’ve always said that it was Torre, along with Schilling, Ortiz, and Foulke, that played the biggest role in the ’04 ALCS: had he not rode Tom Gordon that year like a cheap whore, Flash might have had an ounce or two of gas left in the tank in the eighth inning of Game 4.) The CW storyline coming out of this weekend will be how, once again, the Yankees’ bullpen failed when the game was on the line. But the CW is wrong. The story here is how Torre’s mismanagement is already crippling New York.

There are so many places to start this discussion, it’s hard to know where to begin. There’s Torre’s use of Mariano for five outs on Friday, the second time Genius Joe has pulled that move after swearing up and down in spring training he’d never use Mo for more than one inning. There’s his ass-backwards bullpen management last night, which pretty much guaranteed the Giants would break their eight-game losing streak. And there was tonight’s emergency relief appearance by Clemens (I’m just sure that’s what he signed up for), the first time in 22 years Roger’s come out of the bullpen.

But instead of harping on any of that, let’s just look at some numbers. The first one is IP so far this season; the second what that’s projected to over the full year.

Proctor, 41, 92 (Last year Proctor led all relievers in IP with 102.)
Vizcaino, 37, 81.2 (Pretty much in line with his career averages.)
Farnsworth, 32, 70.2 (Since becomming a reliever in 2000, he’s topped 80 IP only once, in 2001.)
Bruney, 32, 70.2 (His career average is 32.2.)
Myers, 29.2, 65.2 (The last time he topped 50 IPs was in 1998.)

Then there’s the Sox.

Okajima, 36.2, 80.1 (No MLB comps.)
Piniero, 30, 65.2 (He averaged more than 180 IP during his years as a starter.)
Papelbon, 27.1, 59.2 (He was shut down after 68 IP last year.)

I guess Torre figures that now that Dusty Baker’s no longer on the bench, someone needs to wrack up those pitcher abuse points

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Joe Torre & Yankees

Dice-K’s mediocre Saturday start…and this week’s readings

June 18th, 2007 → 12:16 pm @

Quick thoughts on this weekend’s Giants series, of which I attended games two and three:

* Saturday was most definitely not Dice-K’s best game of the season; it was, however, an illustration of one of my favorite themes: the need to consider process vs. results. At points he had trouble locating his curve; he went to three balls a number of times; and only threw seven frames of zeros because of a gift-wrapped strike zone. The sixth inning, in particular, was a classic example of what we’ve seen when Matsuzaka struggles: with Bonds up third, he walked a batter and gave up a hard single before K-ing Barry. Another hard hit liner by one of the Flying Molina Brothers was, fortunately, aimed directly at short. After that gift, Dice-K hit Nate Schierholtz — who has now amassed a total of 41 big league at bats — loading the bases. He then proceeded to walk in a run in a 1-0 game…or would have, anyway, if home plate umpire Charlie Reliford had had his eyes checked before the game. That’s not to say I didn’t like what I saw…but this game might have been a blowout had the Sox been playing an AL team.

* Terry Francona finally seems to have realized that you never want to pitch Mike Timlin in any game in which the Sox are winning or losing by less than five runs. (I pray I’m right on this one…)

* Manny’s two home runs were great to see, but even better was the authority with which he was swinging the bat. He was back to the showing off perhaps the most beautiful swing in the game. Historically, when he finds that swing, he doesn’t lose it for a while. Ortiz, on the other hand, still looks like he’s swinging from his heels too much, and he’s also beginning to look over anxious. Yesterday’s two ground-rule doubles were great, don’t get me wrong…but they weren’t the kind of majestic drives we’ve come to expect from Papi.
* JDD continues to miss badly on some pitches, but the balls he is hitting, he’s hit squarely and with authority. All season I’ve been a guy who’s preached patience with Drew; you don’t put up the kind of track record he does and suddenly forget how to play ball. Coco looks much more confident at the plate too, and he continues to play good-to-great center field. (Lugo is a whole other story; he looked desperate and confused.)

* Following Murray Chass’s logic, the fact that the Sox gained a game on the Yankees this weekend means they’ll end the season 35 games up. That, of course, won’t happen. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to think Boston’s lead will stay within the 5-9 game range through September, but it’s also not out of the realm of possibility to think it’s going to get much tighter down the line. Both of these teams are good. New York’s not half as bad as they were playing in May, and Boston’s not the historically great outfit their record indicated. If both teams stay healthy, it’s going to be an interesting — and hopefully fun — summer.


Want to hear me talk about all of this, and more? (And whatever else you want to know?) This is your lucky week: I have a series of readings/signings/q&a’s in Boston this week: tomorrow night (at the Boston Public Library, 6pm), Wednesday lunch hour (12:30, downtown Borders), Thursday night (Winchester’s Bookends, 7 pm), and Friday night (Porter Square Books, 7 pm). Don’t miss out.

Post Categories: Daisuke Matsuzaka & J.D. Drew & Manny Ramirez & Mike Timlin & Oblique references to the Byrds & Yankees

Putting it all into perspective…

June 14th, 2007 → 10:55 am @

Several readers have written in to ask me why I haven’t used Tuesday’s typically ill-informed Murray Chass column as an excuse to take some more swings at my favorite punching bag. The story, “A Chance of Yankee Thunder at Boston,” posited that the Yankees could overtake the Sox before the All-Star break: “At the rate at which the Yankees are slashing into Boston’s lead in the American League East, they will pass the Red Sox in the standings by July 4.” To give you a bit of perspective of just how stupid a comment like this is, the Yankees were cutting into the Sox’s lead during a stretch in which they were undefeated and the Sox were playing below .500. That’s like saying after a night after a Devil Rays victory that Tampa should be projected to win every single game from there on out.

But logic has never been Murray’s strong point…and, indeed, after dropping another game at Fenway last night, even the natives are getting restless. The Sox are 5-7 in May, while the Yankees are 10-2, and are winners of eight straight. That seemingly impregnable 14.5 games is at 8.5 games; a hearty figure that would be cause for celebration any other season but now seems like reason enough to start gnawing those fingernails. And, indeed, expect to see plenty of stories (and hear plenty of the-end-is-nigh segments on the radio) in the days to come. (An aside: how is it that sportswriters are never forced to explain why they proclaim a team invincible and deeply flawed within a period of several weeks…when nothing has changed except for the vagaries of a long season? But I digress.)

So here’s a short list of reasons not to worry…

* Just as Okajima was not going to finish the season with a .0001 ERA, the Yankees pitchers are not going to keep on performing this consistently well. I remain convinced that Clemens is a #3 AL starter, and nothing in his first start made me think any differently. Pettitte has been pitching above his level, and I’d expect Mussina to resemble the 5-inning mediocrity much more than I’d expect him to keep on looking like an ace, as he did last night.
* There are several trends that are unlikely to be sustained. Posada isn’t going to end the season looking like Ted Williams (just as Alex Cora wasn’t going to hit .400 all year…and Pedroia wasn’t going to end up at .200). Manny isn’t going to end the year having remade himself as a singles hitter. And JDD — who’s been among the MLB power leaders for the last half-decade — isn’t going to look this anemic all year, either. (By the same token, I’m assuming Abreu has actually turned a corner.)

* Even Boston’s pitching staff falters a bit — and they will — the rotation looks to be strong and deep enough to end the year pretty near the top of the heap.

* Even the worst teams go on tears. Three years ago, the Devil Rays won 12 in a row. (Granted, 11 of those were against the AAAA-NL, but still.) The Yankees are better than they looked for the first third of the season; they’re not this good. Their rotation is too old; too many key players are scuffed up (Damon) or about to enter exile (Giambi). The next three-and-a-half months aren’t going to be a cakewalk. But this isn’t going to be 1978 all over again, either.

So gnaw those fingernails. Just don’t reserve a spot on the Tobin. You’re much more likely to need to keep October free…


Want to hear me discuss this, and much, much more? Head down to NYC’s Professor Thoms tonight, where I’ll be reading, talking, signing books, and encouraging copious consumption of alcohol in the hopes that that’ll spur book sales…

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Feeding the Monster Readings & Red Sox & Red Sox Fans & Yankees

When it rains, it pours…diarrhea

June 3rd, 2007 → 10:30 pm @

Yup – I’m still trying to recover from my move, but I’m glad yesterday’s game at least showed that I didn’t jinx the Sox with this post. (I know: as I write this it’s 4-0 Yankees in the top of the fifth. But let’s not forget about yesterday.)

A couple of comments, though, are in order. For anyone who didn’t actually see yesterday’s game, it’s hard to communicate how brutally inept the Yankees were in the seventh inning. Every team will have a couple of these innings, and when things are going along more or less as normal, that’s fine. But things are not going along more or less as normal…and it had to hurt for New York to throw away this game. Just for fun, let’s recap the mistakes, step by step. We’ll put the score in bold, followed by how many outs there should have been and how many runs should have scored in itals.

1. Joe Torre continues to ride his relievers harder than…well, this is a family blog, so let’s leave it at that. In any case, he leaves Scott Proctor in the game after Proctor gets three straight outs in the eighth. The chances of Scott Proctor getting through two consecutive innings unscathed is about equal to the chance of A-Rod and Jeter starting a men’s group together.
2. Bobby Abreu, taking a page from A-Rod’s “how to look manly on the field” manual, pulls up short on Ortiz’s imminently catchable ball to deep right. One out.
3. After an IBB to Manny, Proctor walks Youk on four pitches. This came as a surprise to absolutely no one…except, of course, for Joe Torre. Bases loaded, none out.
4. Robinson Cano flubs the throw to second on what should be a tailor made double-play ball from Mike Lowell. Cap’n Intangibles, intent on proving he’s a hero, forces a wild throw to first. Instead of bases loaded and one run in, there are two runs in, runners on second and third. Two runs, one out, no runs, three outs (if Abreu had caught Ortiz’s ball, and depending on what Manny had done); one run, two outs (if Cano had thrown on target), one run, one out (if Jeter had held on to the ball).
5. Tek gets and IBB, followed by another Cap’n I error on a WMP grounder. No runs, four outs or one run, three outs regardless of whether or not Cano had helped turn the DP earlier because of this ball’s DP potential.
6. Coco singles to shallow center on a ball that appeared as if it might be caught. With Jason “Speed Demon” Varitek hanging close to second, Melky Cabrera has a relatively easy force-out at third…except A-Rod seems to have noticed a hot blond over by first base and drifts over behind the mound, leaving no one to field a throw. In any case, Lowell scores, and Torre, who actually looked like he was falling asleep earlier in the afternoon, is revived from his siesta and pulls Proctor from the game. Three runs, one out, no runs, five outs or one run, four outs.
7. After a Julio sac fly, Dustin “I Will Cut You” Pedroia singles in WMP. Five runs, two out, no runs, six outs or one run, five outs
8. David Ortiz, long a black hole in the Sox’s lineup, grounds out to end the inning. Five runs, three out, no runs, seven outs or one run, six outs.

Phew. That’s a rough inning. My point, of course, isn’t to gloat; it’s to illustrate that when you’re in a shitstorm, everything smells crappy. The Sox have a long and not-so-glorious history of creating their own problems. That’s exactly what they haven’t been doing this year…and it’s exactly what the Yankees have been doing. It must feel veritably Sisyphusian over their in the Bronx. And with all that, really, who was surprised that Roger was scratched from his first start of the year?

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Joe Torre & Red Sox & Yankees

No, the Red Sox did not pound me in to an euphoric stupor (And: thoughts on the Yankees)

May 30th, 2007 → 5:09 pm @

There’ve been a couple of things going on:

1. I moved this weekend.
2. The place I moved into came with all of the previous owner’s crap.
3. I can be superstitious. (Look what happened to Wake in his next two starts after I posted this piece.)

That said, not even I am so self-centered to think that the Sox’s 14.5 lead over the Yankees could be affected by little ol’ me. (Think about this: the Sox could lose eight straight games, and the Yankees could win eight straight cames, and the lead would still be 6.5 games. Yes, that is definitely incredible.)

I’m also not sure what to add about this recent run. I fully expect the Sox to return back to earth, but even then I think their place in this world will be pretty lofty. It could be a very fun year.

I am, however, willing to weigh in on the Yankees. The last five games have shown a number of good reasons why the Yankees, while undoubtedly playing below their true talent level at the moment, may be in for a world of pain from here on out. Without further ado:

1. Joe Torre’s stupefyingly stupid bullpen management has finally come crashing down on his shoulders. I’m on record as saying that Torre, along with Schill and Papi, deserves credit for the 2004 ALCS: if Torre hadn’t ridden Tom Gordon into the ground, he might have been able to do something besides throw batting practice when the season was on the line. This year, with everything going to hell, Torre’s been even worse than usual. (Anyone wonder what would happen if you combined Dusty Baker and Torre? Just asking.) He very likely cost the Yankees two games this past weekend alone: when he yanked a cruising Mike Mussina in favor of a tanked Scott Proctor, who proceeded to cough up a double and three consecutive walks…two of which brought in a run; and when when he yanked Tyler Clippard after 76 pitches, a move which simultaneously continued to drive the bullpen into the ground and moved the game quickly out of reach.

2. The team’s reaction to said bullpen management is bubbling up. After Clippard (who looks like he’s, at most, a sophomore in high school) was pulled, even he thought it okay to knock Torre to the press: “I never really had a terrible inning. I never got in a bad rut. I was very, very surprised. You’re a starter and your team is in the game. Yeah, I want the ball.” Mr. Clippard, welcome to the Bronx. And this is just a couple of week’s after Proctor joked that his four-game suspension was the only way he was going to get any rest. “They can wear me out pretty heavy before that,” he said, while waiting for his appeal to go through. Indeed they can. Just look at last weekend for the results.

3. The impending arrival of Roger “Mercenary” Clemens. Several weeks back — when the Yankees looked like they were scuffling as opposed to imploding — Kyle Farnsworth got all uppity about Clemens’ “family” clause. I’m with Farnsworth on this one: when you’re paying a guy more than any player in the history of the game, it’s not too much to ask that he actually, you know, show up. Before the Clemens signing, most everyone on the team gave lip service to the notion that whatever Clemens did wasn’t going to bother them. That might have even been true…if the team had been winning. That’s no longer the case. And if Clemens has a shitty start (or three), you can bet sure as Manny will end the year with somewhere between 30 and 40 HRs that something is going to go down in that clubhouse.

Anyway, there you have it. Now don’t blame me if the Sox don’t win every game for the rest of the season…

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Joe Torre & Red Sox & Yankees

A-Rod is a gutless punk, no. 8261

May 23rd, 2007 → 9:17 am @

In the eighth inning of last night’s Julian Tavarez-led 7-3 win over fast-fading Mike Mussina and the Yankees, New York launched a mini rally against Hideki Okajima. With the bases loaded and one out, Jorge Posada hit a grounder to third. A-Rod, running from first, slid directly into the bag; at the last minute he seemed to realize that, since baseball is a team sport, he was supposed to try to break up an inning-ending double play. So what did he do? In his trademark, peculiarly feminine style of being aggressive, he flailed out his elbow. And hit Dustin Pedroia in the crotch.

I haven’t played baseball since Little League, but even I know the correct way to break up a DP is to slide to the left of the bag in an attempt to take out the second baseman’s (or the SS’s) legs while he’s making a throw; as long as you can reach the bag with your right arm and you’re more or less in the basepath, this is totally kosher. It’s not kosher to flail around like a beached mackerel and elbow someone in the cup.

A-Rod’s chicken-shit play was, weirdly, lauded by Paul O’Neill and John Flaherty, two of the Yankees’ TV commentators; since I’ve avoided watching too many games on YES, I’d forgotten just how bad the two of them are. Michael Kay, to his credit, more or less called out A-Rod…or at least agreed that Dustin had a grievance. In the end, obviously, it didn’t matter. Pedroia was fine, and only casualty was Darkman’s scoreless-inning streak. But it served as yet one more reminder — as if anyone needs one — as to why Slappy McBlue Lips is such an easy guy to hate: He actually deserves it.

EDIT: After I put this up, I came across this article in today’s Daily News in which Pedroia is quoted about the incident: “He went in late and kind of threw an elbow. A little cheap, but no big deal….He’s the one who slid in like that. Some people play like that and some people slide in, good, clean slide. I think he probably got a little carried away. It happens.” Pedroia then made clear that at least he knew the correct way to get down and dirty: “I have to turn two against the Yankees 19 times a year. I know now that when he’s coming in, my arm slot gets dropped to the floor. That’s it. No big deal.” I really do love that little guy…

Post Categories: A-Rod & Dustin Pedroia & Red Sox & Yankees

Looking ahead, looking behind: the outfield’s noodle bats and the gold-dust sprinkled Sox

May 18th, 2007 → 9:39 am @

These next six days will be interesting ones for the Sox. Tonight — god and the weather providing — will mark the beginning of this year’s interleague play; last year, you’ll remember, the collective National League pretenders gave RSN the false impression that the team was one of baseball’s elites. It’s unrealistic to expect the Sox to duplicate 2006’s 16-2 performance…but I’m not sure anyone would be surprised if they did. Especially with the roll the team’s on right now. In the last five days, the Sox took full advantage of Sam “Brain Fart” Perlozzo’s missteps for a Mother’s Day Massacre that is not likely ever to be repeated, and swept the first-place Tigers — er, make that formerly first-place Tigers — in a doubleheader despite the fact that in the night game, J.D. Drew was out of commission, Papi was on the bench, and Schilling looked as if he was serving up batting practice. The Sox are 12-4 in May. Seven of those victories have been by a margin of one or two runs. There haven’t been any giveaways. Life is good.

But there’s no reason to focus on May alone: the Sox, at 28-12, have two fewer losses than any other team in baseball and four more wins that any other AL team. This, despite the fact that the team’s starting outfielders are collectively batting .244 with 11 home runs (seven players have hit 11 or more) and 48 RBIs…and that Manny, JDD, and Coco all trail Dustin “Rudy” Pedroia in batting average (.253) and OBP (.356). Oh, and despite the fact that, a quarter of the way into the season, Manny projects to finish the year with the lowest home run total (24), the second lowest RBI total (100), and the lowest hit total (148) of his career.

But back to these next six days. The Yankees (who’ll throw out their 11th starter of the year) are facing a pair of the Mets’ lefties this weekend. The Bronx Bumblers are 3-7 versus southpaws thus far in 2007, and the Mets are on the tail end of a week that was as blessed as Boston’s, with two wholly improbable walk-offs versus the Cubs in the past three days. (Yesterday’s was the result of a five-run ninth in a game most of New York’s biggest bats started on the bench.) It’s not a stretch to think the Sox could pick up another two games on the Yankees by the middle of next week…which would put 11.5 games up.

Indeed, why not? The Sox do seem to be sprinkled with gold dust these days…but baseball is an unfair game good luck can turn bad right quick, especially because the Yankees, as epically sucky as they’ve been, aren’t likely to keep on getting this many bad breaks day after day. With Beckett headed to the DL, Schilling coming off of two sub-par starts, and Tavarez being relied on to turn in a solid start every five days, a bad couple of weeks isn’t out of the question. It’ll happen at some point.The team will weather it just fine. And the fans and the media should, too. Everyone agree? Good.

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Interleague play & Manny Ramirez & Offense & Red Sox & Winning streaks & Yankees