Tagged: Justin Masterson

Skeptics and True Believers

Skepticism and analysis surround every team as the second week of the season comes to an end. I guess I’m here to join the party–mainly for analysis, not for skepticism. It’s easy to analyze halfway through the season, but only two weeks into the season seems a little rash, doesn’t it? Is it appropriate to analyze, criticize, and skepticize (yes, made up word) already? I don’t know the answer, but I think it’s appropriate to offer some analysis because the Red Sox have made some easily preventable mistakes that have led to run scoring. And even though it’s early on, there are some serious, and unfortunately controversial issues that need to be addressed. It may be the beginning of the season, but every game counts. These games count as much as they do in September. Each game is of vital importance as each team tries to avoid the obstacles on the road to the postseason. I don’t agree with those who say, “It’s the beginning of the season, they’re just adjusting.” That’s what Spring Training is for. Ideally, teams should work out their kinks during Spring Training. Inevitably, obstacles will arise during the regular season, so I’m here to try and work those out. 

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Let’s tackle the obvious topic first: David Ortiz. I think he has felt under pressure to perform since the first game of the season. Because of the dismal numbers he put up last season, all reporters ever asked him about during the Spring was his rebound. It is easy to tell how insecure about this situation he is. He snapped at reporters the second day of the season; he got ejected from a game for arguing about a strike; and it is easy to spot the frustrated grimace on his face each time he strikes out. I don’t blame him for feeling pressure, but I’m surprised about how much it’s getting to him. 
I won’t ignore the few hits that he has gotten: some have been solid contact, but others were pure luck. He even picked up the golden sombrero one game where he struck out four times: that’s the problem. He strikes out, and for the most time, he strikes out looking. I’m no hitting guru, so I’m not here to talk mechanics. The fact of the matter is that having him in our lineup is ineffective, and at times, detrimental. So why does Terry Francona put him in the lineup day after day? I think that part of it comes from seniority. Maybe Terry Francona thinks that maybe Big Papi is just going to get out of his funk because of what he has done in the past. But this is the third year in a row that this has been going on. As much as it pains me to say this, he is done. 
I’m sure it will be tough to sit him, but it is necessary. It is important to put the best lineup out there, and putting Big Papi in there does not get the job done. I like the idea of platooning Mike Lowell and Jeremy Hermida at that spot. Hermida has proved himself to be a fantastic pickup coming off the bench for Jacoby Ellsbury while he is injured. I can see him hitting a lot of doubles off the Green Monster. 
Issue number two: The Bullpen. 

Last year, the bullpen was considered our strongest asset. This year, it has been one of the weakest. I don’t think that the loss of Takashi Saito or Billy Wagner really affects that; however, the loss of Justin Masterson does. I’m sure you all know exactly what I’m going to say. Bring up Michael Bowden! We need a long-term middle relief pitcher; especially if our starters are done after the fifth inning because they throw 30 pitches in an inning or two. The Red Sox obviously expect to use him as a middle reliever, so what I don’t understand is why they’re still treating him as a starter in Pawtucket. I think that for a pitcher to be completely effective, they have to know their role (no matter how good they are). Just look how good Justin Masterson is doing with Cleveland now that they have explicitly deemed him a starter. I have no doubt that Bowden has the ability to flourish in either role, but he will be more effective once they tell him what his role actually is so that he doesn’t have to keep switching. 
Ramon Ramirez has been struggling so far, so I really hope that he finds his stuff because he was the unsung hero of last year. Manny Delcarmen still struggles to be consistent, but he has the ability to go multiple innings, which is important. I prefer him over Scott Atchinson anyway. I think that Robert Manuel, now pitching in Pawtucket, could be really effective in the bullpen if he was given a chance.
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I know Daniel Bard is very good, but the Red Sox need to use him a little more sparingly. The poor guy has been used so much already this season. He has a wicked slider, but I’d like to see him add a changeup to his repertoire because the radar gun is almost always 90 mph or above, and having that speed constantly will almost surely lead to giving up more home runs. 
My final issue with the bullpen includes Victor Martinez as well. When it comes to Jonathan Papelbon, all he ever calls are fastballs. Papelbon also has a slider and a changeup in his arsenal, so I think that it’s important that he incorporates those as well to avoid meltdowns. I’m sure you all remember his most infamous blown save, and all Victor Martinez called was fastball, after, fastball, after fastball. 
Issue Number 3: Throwing people out
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Neither Victor Martinez nor Jason Varitek have the ability to throw runners out, and every team knows it. Victor obviously needs to work on his mechanics considering all of his throws are high and to the right. This could create a serious problem. First of all, because the runners can steal so easily, the possibility of inning ending double plays are eliminated, which means that our pitchers will have to work longer, and that we might have to use our bullpen earlier. 
Also, pitching from the stretch is a tough thing for lots of pitchers. I especially noticed that with Clay Buchholz during the Spring, and even he has admitted that it’s something he needs to work on. The pitchers obviously don’t want the runners to steal, so they might feel added pressure to get the ball to the plate quicker. This situation could have disastrous consequences. It is important that the pitchers don’t think about anything but hitting their spots. 
If this becomes a serious problem, the Red Sox do have some catching talent in the minors (with arms) in both Mark Wagner and Luis Exposito. Luis is definitely someone to get excited about, but he still needs some seasoning. Mark Wagner, on the other hand, is in Pawtucket, and I think he is ready to go. 
Issue Number 4: Leaving runners on
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Some bats have been quiet (Big Papi), some have been loud (Dustin Pedroia), but the Red Sox have left so many runners on, but I think there is an easy solution that Terry Francona hasn’t seen yet because he is an American League manager: small ball. 
Because the Red Sox focused on improving defense during the offseason, they aren’t full of the 30-40 HR power bats. However, that’s not to say that they aren’t offensively sophisticated. They have the ability to score a lot of runs this season, but it won’t come from lots of long balls. Rarely, if ever, do you see the Red Sox lay down a solid bunt. Perhaps the Red Sox wouldn’t leave as many runners on if they started sacrificially advancing runners more often. I LOVE this kind of baseball; I find it to be the most exciting, and I think that it is a method that the Red Sox must begin to incorporate. 
Those are the biggest issues that I see so far. The defense hasn’t been as spotless as expected, but I think that these acquisitions will pay off in the long run (despite some costly errors early on). Perhaps they’re still adjusting the the eccentricities of Fenway. It’s the big errors that stand out, not the rest of the times that they make the often spectacular play. The last issue I notice (though it hasn’t made much of a signifiant impact) is that sometimes, Adrian Beltre simply swings at terrible pitches. He has been hitting really well thus far though, so I’m not complaining yet. 
Amidst all of my criticisms and analyses, I do have some praise (some of which I have already mentioned): 
-Dustin Pedroia is off to a monstrous start. Contrary to popular belief, he can hit the high inside fastball! 
-Jeremy Hermida has been an extremely valuable asset off the bench. I think he will flourish in Fenway Park. 
-Daniel Bard has been a workhorse. 
-Josh Beckett’s 75 mph curveball his a thing of beauty. I’m so glad we signed him to a 4 year deal. 
-Jacoby Ellsbury was really catching on fire before that unfortunate collision between him and Beltre that has sidelined him since. I really hope that he heals soon, because I really like having him in the leadoff spot. 
I may be skeptical, but I’m a true believer in this Red Sox squad. 
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One more thing before I settle down to watch the final game of what has been a frustrating series against the Rays so far. Ubaldo Jimenez threw the first no-hitter of the 2010 MLB season, and the first in Rockies history. Thanks to the twittersphere, I was clued in, and I was able to watch the final three outs of the bottom of the ninth inning. Of course, MLBTV froze up right as Brian McCann hit the ball to second, but I heard it, and that’s just as special. He has been compared to Pedro Martinez, and considering the velocity he had on his fastball so late into the game (and after so many pitches), I have no doubt. As I watched the bottom of the ninth inning, I could feel my heart beating quicker with each out, and my hands shaking  more and more before each pitch was thrown. 
April 17th was an incredible day to be a baseball fan. Tim Lincecum had three hits and three RBIs. The Pirates walked off for the second game in a row thanks to Garrett Jones. The Mets vs Cardinals game went into the 20th inning. The Mets scored both of their runs on sacrifice flies. And Ubaldo Jimenez stunned the Braves lineup. This is what we live for 

2010 Projects & Contract Extensions

Well, a week of spring training has gone by without my physical presence at a Grapefruit League game (now spiritually, that’s another story). Luckily, hope is not lost; in fact,hope is never lost in spring training because of Alexander Pope’s immortal words: “hope springs eternal”. Everyone thinks they have a shot of making the playoffs, and everyone does. You never know what could happen throughout the course of the season. The most unlikely of heroes could emerge and carry his team to the playoffs. Spring Training is where it all begins. 

After 12 straight, agonizing weeks of school, I am on spring break. I have baseball to thank for my survival. Its return late February has been therapeutic among the daunting tasks of being a second semester junior. From a research paper to building a bridge to taking the SAT to starting to think about where I want to go to college: I’ve had a lot on my plate. 
Going to a baseball game almost every weekend in March has been a big help. As many of you have probably guessed, spring training is my favorite time of year. I know that statistically, the games are worthless, but they mean the world to me. It may be a different atmosphere than the regular season, but that’s another reason why I love it. It is so much more intimate and laid-back. I can trespass without severe legal consequences, and I can get closer to the players than I ever could during the regular season. Perhaps my favorite part is that I can watch the present players and the players of the future at the same time. I have to say, right now, my heart is with the prospects. I feel like I can relate to them a bit more. They want to make it to the big leagues; I want to make it to the big leagues of sports journalism and broadcasting. 
As some of you know, I make a list of projects every year during Spring Training. These projects are the guys who have impressed me the most throughout Spring Training. I have been doing this since the 2008 season. Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson were my first projects. I have made some minor refinements to the program though. Originally, the projects were limited to the guys whom I thought would make a significant impact on the team during that specific season. Well, as I have become more enthralled with spring training, I have realized that some of these guys might not make a significant impact until the next year or the year after that. Sometimes the Red Sox just don’t have the spots available for these guys yet; sometimes they just need more development in the minors. In other words, I am going to divide up my projects into sections. 
Being my project is a very special honor, and I highly recommend that you choose a project or two yourself. Not to mention the fact that they love the fact that they’re my projects, especially once I tell them how venerable the program is. 
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Projects who will significantly impact the Red Sox in 2010: 
1. Michael Bowden 
2. Dustin Richardson
3. Josh Reddick
4. Aaron Bates
I think Bowden and Richardson could both serve huge roles in the bullpen. As of right now, the Red Sox are set on finding another lefty specialist for their bullpen, but none of the candidates have performed promisingly. Why do we (or anybody for that matter) need a lefty specialist? How about just a specialist: a guy who can simply get outs? What’s the difference if the batter is a lefty or a righty? It doesn’t matter for guys like Jonathan Papelbon or Daniel Bard. Bard doesn’t discriminate! He blows 100 mph by lefties and righties alike! In other words, I don’t think the Red Sox should be wasting their time looking for a lefty specialist. They should be looking for a solid relief pitcher who can simply get batters out. As of right now, I think Scott Atchinson can fill that role the best. Bowden and Richardson still need some seasoning in the minors (especially Richardson since he didn’t get a lot of spring training action because of a fatigued left quad). In the long run, my intuition says Bowden and Richardson. 
Josh Reddick has had a fantastic spring to say the least. I would be crazy if I didn’t make him my project! The Red Sox already have four outfielders in Ellsbury, Cameron, Drew, and Hermida, but injuries are inevitable. Mark my words: the first guy to get a call-up for an outfield spot will be Josh Reddick. 
Aaron Bates worked hard in the winter leagues, and has had a pretty solid spring as well. He even had a few short stints in the bigs last season. The Red Sox have a lot of options when it comes to first base in Youkilis, Victor Martinez, and Lowell. If there is ever an opening for a first baseman, Aaron Bates should get the call. 
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Projects who will be September Call-Ups in 2010
1. Kyle Weiland
2. Ryan Kalish
3. Lars Anderson 
4. Felix Doubront
5. Junichi Tazawa
6. Luis Exposito
7. Jose Iglesias
8. Anthony Rizzo
I think that Weiland will take a path similar to Richardson’s last year: he will come up and impress when rosters are expanded in September, and then will make a significant impact in the 2011 season. Ryan Kalish will take a path similar to Reddick’s. Doubront and Tazawa will take a path similar to Michael Bowden’s. Anderson needs to build up his confidence and have a nice comeback year. Easier said than done, right? I have confidence in him though. 
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Projects to keep your eyes on
1. Casey Kelly
2. Kris Johnson
3. Jeremy Hazelbaker
4. Nate Spears 
The only reason I don’t mention Casey Kelly in the September call-ups portion is that I really think we need to take it slowly with him. Remember this is his first full year as a pitcher. I’m sure he is going to blow everyone away in Portland; I’m just especially hesitant with pitchers because I think the transition from the minors to the majors is the biggest for them, and it’s so tough mentally too. I feel like the organization rushed Buchholz, and he was just not mentally ready yet. I suppose this is why they’re taking it slow with Bowden now. 
Buchholz was brought up as a September call-up in 2007 and threw a no-hitter. Unfortunately, he was in for a bit of a reality check the next year when he struggled the first half of the 2008 season after after making the rotation out of Spring Training. Bowden made his major league debut in August of 2008, but he saw more a
ction last year as a September call-up. He also had a bit of a rude awakening (and I say rude because he was thrown into the bullpen–a totally different mentality–after being raised as a starter). Now, he’s trying to regain his confidence. He will be the first guy to be called up when the Red Sox need an emergency starter or another arm in the bullpen. 
Obviously, Casey Kelly’s confidence is going to be shattered at some point. It happens to everybody. It happened to Bard last year, it’s going to happen to Richardson, Weiland, Johnson, Doubront, and the rest of them. All I’m saying is that the Red Sox need to be cautious with these guys and not rush them along too quickly. 
I’ve seen Kris Johnson both start and relieve a game, so I would like to see what he is going to do in Pawtucket before I move him any further in the project program. 
I have really liked what I’ve seen so far in Nate Spears. I feel like he could be what Nick Green was to the team last year. I understand that the Red Sox picked up Frandsen from the Giants because he’s a utility infielder and Jed Lowrie has mono and Bill Hall hasn’t been all that impressive in the infield. I think Spears is perfectly capable though. 
Hazelbaker is very young, but expect him to be a non-roster invitee next year! 
*The only reason Ryan Westmoreland is not on this list is because I think that it is important for him to simply recover before he even thinks about baseball. Like I’ve said before, he will always have my support; I just want him to get better right now. There is no timetable for his return yet. The most anybody knows is that the surgery was as successful as it could have been… it’s just a long road to recovery. If anybody can do it, he can. 
The Red Sox have had a pretty uneventful spring. No big roster battles like last year at shortstop, or the battle between Jeff Bailey and Chris Carter for the last bench spot. By the way, both Carter and Bailey are having fantastic springs for the Diamondbacks and Mets, respectively. The biggest thing in my opinion is the potential contract extension with Josh Beckett. 
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Long story short: he was offered four years (money figures are unknown as of right now). I don’t know what to think of him being offered only four years. Look at some of the recent contract offers to pitchers: Dice-K, the phenom turned health liability from Japan, was given six years before he had even thrown a pitch in Major League Baseball (granted he was very successful in Japanese pro-ball). Lackey, arguably the best free agent pitcher on the market was given five years. 
Beckett, the 2007 ALCS MVP and should-have-been Cy Young award winner has given a lot to the Red Sox. Inconsistent at times, but a workhorse overall. That being said, only four years?? This is a contract extension, not an entirely new contract (that would result from free agency). Thus, it does not include the 2010 season, so technically the Red Sox would have him for five more years, but ever since Burnett signed with the Yankees for five years, that seems to have become the standard for pitchers. Just look at King Felix and Justin Verlander: both guys signed five year contract extensions if I am not mistaken. Beckett is 30 years old; he’s still a very young guy with a lot to offer. If the Red Sox mess up negotiations with him, we all know that he is going to end up in pinstripes, and that is the last thing we want to see. 
Beckett is a key component to the future. If the Red Sox can pull this off, this is what our rotation could look like in two years or less: 
1. Josh Beckett
2. Jon Lester
3. John Lackey
4. Clay Buchholz
5. Casey Kelly
Intimidating right? Look, all I’m saying is to give Beckett what he deserves, and I think that he deserves five years. It’s kind of a similar situation with choosing the Opening Day (or in this case, night) starter: you give it to the guy who has paid his dues for the team. Josh Becket is starting opening night because he has earned the honor. Similarly, he deserves the standard “five-year contract extension” because he has earned it from paying his dues. He is going to pitch his heart out in this contract year, so I sincerely hope that the Red Sox can secure him before free agency starts. 
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A similar situation applies to Victor Martinez. Joe Mauer signed that 8-year $184 million deal with the Twins earlier this week. Much as I would have loved to have Mauer in a Red Sox uniform, I have to say that I’m really happy that he is staying with the Twins. He is their hometown hero. That’s what baseball should be about: playing where your heart is, not going for the money. 
Martinez will be a free agent after this season, and he is still relatively young as well (31, I believe). I think that a two to four year extension for V-Mart would be very nice. He doesn’t even have to catch all of those years. Martinez could move to first (with Youk moving to third) and Luis Exposito could catch. Martinez is one of the few good hitting catchers out there, so he is definitely a valuable asset to have in the coming years. 
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Much as I love spring training, opening day/night is the holiest holiday in baseball. I obviously cannot go to school on Monday, that would be sacrilege! I’m so excited for the regular season to start; the end of spring training is just bittersweet for me. I should be getting back to you guys sometime on Saturday with my stories from Thursday and Friday. 

Hindsight (Biases)

During my sophomore year, I tried to make connections between baseball with some of my classes to help myself understand it better. As my junior year starts up, I’ll try to do the same. I have a feeling that physics will relate a lot more to baseball than chemistry did (but then again, what does chemistry relate to that is of any importance at all?), and I already have a way that psychology can relate to our perspectives on the game. Though I’m sure Emily is a lot more qualified to talk about that than I am. 

As the season progresses, many of us have come to realize that many of our offseason acquisitions have not performed in the way that we expected them too. It may be easy to point fingers at our brilliant general manager, Theo Epstein, but before any of us do any such thing, I think it is important to experiment with empathy, travel back in time a bit, and use our imaginations. 
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You are now sitting in Theo Epstein’s office, sipping some Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and constantly making phone calls with agents. It’s late December, and you are reflecting over the 2008 season, and looking at areas where you can improve. Clay Buchholz was not quite ready for the 2008 season, so it is evident that the Red Sox need a fifth starter. It is certainly wise to consider the options of signing a high profile free agent such as CC Sabathia or AJ Burnett, but would such an acquisition truly be necessary with aces already in Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Dice-K (remember, we have no idea yet that Dice-K’s season would look nothing like 2008’s 18-3 record). 
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Let me go on a quick tangent on Dice-K before I make any significant phone calls. On paper, his 18-3 record looks stellar, a Cy Young contender if you didn’t look at how many innings he pitched per game. Dice-K got really lucky during the 2008 season. He had a knack for loading the bases with no outs, and getting out of it unscathed. In other words, he got really lucky. Sure the Red Sox may have won most of the time, but it is inefficient to have your starter go only five or six innings because he racks up his pitch count early on. Not to mention it puts a massive strain on the bullpen. I think that Dice-K’s case is very similar to the “downfall” that Brad Lidge is experiencing in Philadelphia. I’m not trying to take away any credibility from his perfect season, but I think that it is a valid comparison. 
Back to the phone calls. Considering the Red Sox have four quality starters, it is unnecessary to sign a high profile free agent. It would be more wise to sign a “low risk” acquisition in a veteran pitcher that could guarantee a lot of success. The problem with signing high profile free agents is their massive contracts. What if they don’t perform? What if AJ Burnett continues his injury woes, and he can’t pitch effectively? 
This is why I like incentive contracts so much. Too bad they are mainly used with these low risk acquisitions, and when I think of these, I tend to think of veteran players who are coming back from injuries or bad seasons who are looking for another chance. Obviously, signing them is a gamble, but it could turn out to be very beneficial. And regardless of their contributions on the field, I think that their contributions equate that or even surpass it. Having a veteran voice in the clubhouse for the younger players to talk to is always an advantage. 
In psychology, we learned a bit about ‘hindsight biases’, which basically means that when we look back on events, many of the consequences seem much more obvious than they actually were at the time. Think about who we signed. 
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John Smoltz is obviously a Hall of Fame pitcher, who had a great twenty year career with the Atlanta Braves. Unfortunately, his stint with the Red Sox did not work out, but was it really a bad signing? No. Would I have done it? Yes. Another thing to remember about this deal was that it was very similar to the deal that Curt Schilling signed for 2008. Neither of them worked out, but the incentives for signing them were valid. Plus, if Randy Johnson is still pitching, why can’t they? 
Another offseason acquisition that didn’t work out: Brad Penny. The same theory applied when signing him, but his history isn’t as convincing. However, it was only but 2007 that he came in second for the NL Cy Young. His 2008 season was anything but spectacular, but given an incentive laden contract, there is the opportunity for success. And if they incentives aren’t met? No big deal in the big picture. Penny was released, and both he and the Red Sox are moving on. 
Some have been disappointed with Rocco Baldelli also because he has spent a considerable amount of time on the Disabled List. Granted it’s a bit disappointing, but it’s not like we expected him to play every single day because we were well aware of his channelopathy disorder. The reason for acquiring him was so that he could be a valuable player coming off the bench. 
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In other words, I just think that these offseason acquisitions are very justifiable even if they didn’t work out. But now instead of looking at the offseason acquisitions, I’d like to look at our most recent acquisition: Billy Wagner. 
This trade reminded me a lot of the Eric Gagne one of 2007, a trade that I absolutely hated because I didn’t want to part with Kason Gabbard (luckily, we have him back now). However, I am much more open to this Billy Wagner acquisition because our bullpen band could really use an extra hand, the chorus is sounding a little shabby. 
Oh, and the bullpen could use some help too. After Justin Masterson left, it kind of threw off the bullpen in my opinion. We were calling a bunch of guys up from Pawtucket who simply weren’t ready yet. I think that this acquisition solidifies the bullpen and gives us a more definite notion of an eighth inning set up man. In a way, it will be redefining everyone’s role. 
I am very excited for September call ups–I am very anxious to see who will be up. I am really hoping that Michael Bowden gets another chance. I really don’t think that we can judge him on that poor outing against the Yankees. I am also very interested to see what is going to go on with who will be catching Tim Wakefield, because I think that Victor Martinez did a very solid job the other night. And if V-Mart can do the job, what use is George Kottaras? 

Post Trade Deadline Analyses

I think that I have realized something about myself during the summers, and perhaps you all have too: I don’t have too much time to blog during summer vacation. I am fortunate enough to do a lot during the summers, and whether I’m at camp, or on a family vacation, I don’t have good quality time to compose a thoughtful blog, so I apologize for that. 

I wish I had been a more active blogger during the trade deadline, and the days following it, but I was in Maine, removed from electronics and mlb.tv and just appreciating nature. However, there was a radio that was available, and every night we would sit in the living room and listen to the Red Sox. It was such a different perspective for me, because I have always been provided with the luxury of watching baseball on TV, on a computer, or my favorite location: in person. I really loved listening to it on the radio, it was a different way of seeing… or maybe hearing baseball. 
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So the trade deadline came and went, and if you remember my last entry (which was quite a while ago), I thought that it would be best if the Red Sox had just quietly backed out of the trade deadline, and make do with what they have. Retrospectively, the trades that were made, most importantly the Victor Martinez one, was quite necessary. I had said that shortstop and catcher were our weakest positions, and we have vastly improved that situation (mainly the catcher one). 
The problem for me was that I was very hesitant to give away any of our star prospects, but all-star catchers like Victor Martinez don’t come cheap. In order to improve a weaker aspect of the team, we had to take from probably our strongest aspect of the team: the bullpen. It was hard to part with Justin Masterson because I saw so much potential in him, but I think that in order for a team to be good, they need to be proportional. 
The Red Sox had a stellar, almost impeccable bullpen, but the offense was slumping and not scoring runs. A bullpen cannot be effective if it does not have runs to protect. Thus, the Red Sox were disproportional in that sense. Without Justin Masterson, our bullpen is without a doubt weakened. Masterson was a guy that could go many innings when our starters didn’t do their jobs; he could thrive in the starting rotation as well. Is our bullpen still legitimate? Absolutely. Is our starting rotation still legitimate? Absolutely. Is our offense improved? Yes, and that is exactly what we needed. 
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That expression: “We hardly knew ya” can seriously apply to the Adam LaRoche situation, but I am satisfied with the solid defensive abilities of Casey Kotchman. It seems that the Red Sox have an abundance of first basemen now considering that Victor Martinez is a man of may occupations and can play first base. This makes Terry Francona’s job as a manager a bit more difficult, and the lineup is not as predictable as it used to be. It means that some players’ playing time will be less, and not everyone may be happy with that. Guys like Kevin Youkilis pout when they have the day off, and he’d rather play left field than sit on the bench. As a baseball fan, I think you have to love that mentality that a player wants to help his team every single day, even if you don’t like Kevin Youkilis’ personality. 
I think that one of the biggest questions the Red Sox face will come when Tim Wakefield returns from the disabled list. I have not fully educated myself on Victor Martinez’s capabilities, but I am wondering if he is educated in the art of catching a knuckleball. I am not a very big George Kottaras fan because for me, his only use is the fact that he can catch Tim Wakefield (and not that well), and his offensive abilities are mediocre at best. If Victor Martinez can catch a knuckleball, then I think George Kottaras is no longer needed. 
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I like the acquisition of Alex Gonzalez as a defensive shortstop since Jed Lowrie is on the disabled list. It’s funny how there have been a turn of events since the start of the season: the Red Sox went from having three shortstops to one. It’s nice to see Gonzalez back in a Red Sox uniform since he was a wonderful defensive shortstop in 2006. A question that will come soon is: What will be the next move when Jed Lowrie returns? 
Going back to the pitching situation, I found out that John Smoltz was designated for assignment while I was on my trip. I have a lot of respect for John Smoltz, and what he has done over the course of his career. It is unfortunate that he didn’t do what the Red Sox hoped he would. I think that the acquisition during the offseason was a very wise one. It was very similar to what the Red Sox hoped Curt Schilling would have done in 2008. Unfortunately, neither of them worked out, but the incentives for signing them were obvious. 
I haven’t forgotten about Dice-K either, and the comments that he issued about the Red Sox pitching procedures. I don’t think that he was right, but I’m going to go for a little empathy here. He was phenomenal when he was in Japan, and he was very good his first two years with the Red Sox. There is obviously some gray areas when it comes to training. Dice-K has his way, and the Red Sox have their way. Dice-K should have trained better for the 2009 season, the World Baseball Classic was not the way to go because technically, that is the true World Series, and it has a playoff atmosphere. Dice-K didn’t have the more lax spring training that others went through. He went from the 2008 playoffs to pre-season 2009 playoffs. I think that he has to accept responsibility for that, and conform (for now) to what the Red Sox want him to do. 
By the way, while I was on my trip I was lucky enough to have some baseball experiences. I have some analyses on the Portland Sea Dogs to share with you, and some great pictures from the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Back, yet not at peace.

There is only one time of year, and one place on Earth that I can deal with being separated from nightly Boston Red Sox games, and the continuous MLB Network. That place was, as I explained in my previous (and by previous, I mean a month ago) post, California. Although the state itself does not constitute my isolation (considering the fact that there are five baseball teams in that state, I would hope not) the summer program that I attended to did. 

As usual, it surpassed my expectations, and being isolated from the incessant updates of pop culture, baseball, and oh yes, world events is actually a nice change. I have mentioned before that I live in a baseball bubble, but for me this program is a utopian bubble. It is the only place that I can truly be myself, and people accept me for it. Granted at Fenway Park, I am undoubtedly accepted as a Red Sox fan, but it is nice to be accepted in a place where not everyone is a Red Sox fan, or a baseball fan for that matter. 
My friends actually wanted to listen to me talk about the Red Sox and baseball, even if they had no previous knowledge of it whatsoever. One of the best friends that I made there, Caroline, did not even know what a grand slam was before we had our little talk. By the end of our two, short weeks together, she was throwing pennies from the year 1986 on the ground because they are cursed. 
This made me truly happy that I could bring a smile to someone’s face just by talking about baseball. It made me realize even more that this is exactly what I want to do with my life. While I would love to convert everyone into a Red Sox fan, I think it is more important to appreciate the beauty of baseball. 
She truly appreciated that passion that I have for it, and she told me she wished “she could love anything as much as I love baseball”. I hope that others will be able to see this when they talk to me. 
Considering I have been gone for a month, I have missed out on a lot. As I was leaving, Dice-K was on his way out of the rotation, and I was trying to come up with a creative injury for his trip to the DL. 
I remember getting updated about John Smoltz’s first start, I was on my way to dinner at Lagunita (the cafeteria at Stanford). I knew he was starting against the Nationals, which is a very nice team to start against for that transition period (from the minors to the majors) considering the Nationals remind me of a minor league team. I was notified that the score was 9-1, Nationals. 
My first thought was, “Have the Nationals even scored nine runs in a game before?” I actually wasn’t angry with Smoltz. I understand the whole need for an adjustment period after talking to my good friend Michael. Even though he is a 20+ year veteran, I was really delving into my empathetic side. 
For his next few starts, I was probably too busy reading about cultural relativism, how altruism and morality don’t exist, or maybe some form of ekphrasis. One of the first games that I watched upon my return was the opening game of the series against the Rangers. 
Our lack of an offense was cruising along nicely for a while, before John Smoltz decided to give up three home runs in one inning, which is quite the rarity for someone of his stature. I was already experiencing separation anxiety/book camp withdrawal, so this did not add to my chipper mood. 
I screamed at my computer screen for the first time in about a month, and yielded more profane tweets than ever before. Generally, I don’t question Terry Francona’s moves, but I thought Smoltz was taken out a little late. I was quite happy to be reunited with Justin Masterson though. I think he was holding a small grudge against my absence considering his ERA was near 5.00. 
The offense seemed to be fine in my absence, I don’t know why they’re acting up now. Big Papi really resurged, and if I need to close my eyes while he is at-bat, then I’ll do it. I’m sad to see that Jason Bay’s average has plummeted, and that Drew and Varitek are in slumps. 
I found it interesting that when Jeff Bailey went on the DL, that Aaron Bates was called up instead of Chris Carter. Aaron Bates is an imminent project of mine, and like Josh Reddick, he is an automatic project for next Spring. Believe me I saw the potential his first two nights in Triple-A Pawtucket. I am just a bit perplexed as to why we are bringing someone up to the Majors who has just barely adjusted to Triple-A. As I said before, when he came up, he had a Triple-A swing with a Double-A eye. I think Chris Carter needs to be given another chance, but I would advise everyone to keep their eye on Bates. 
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Speaking of projects, I have to tell you all how thrilled I am to see Buchholz back on the Red Sox for an extended period of time. I was very pleased to see that his first performance this year went well. I know his numbers imply that he has been tearing up Triple-A but he, like Jon Lester, is one of those guys that needs to focus on every single pitch, not the final outcome. He needs to not get frustrated by his mistakes too. If he gives up a home run, fine, but just move on. I think that Ramon Ramirez does a great job of doing that. However, I do not expect Buchholz to be performing perfectly. He is still very well entitled to that adjustment period. 

Flares (Flair?) for the Dramatic

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The minute that my exam finished, I was so happy. The main reason being that I could finally get back to watching baseball. The fact that the Red Sox won the night before my exam, and the night of, really helps seal the deal for me. I mean, besides the fact that I forgot to mention the cotton gin in my DBQ (about the expansion of slavery), I think I did fine. 

Plus, the Sox finally won a series against the Rays. That took long enough. In a way, I miss the days where we could walk all over them, but in another sense, I do like the rivalry… a lot. Jason Varitek has been getting some nice, key hits, and it’s not like I need to mention Mr. Clutch-hitter (Jason Bay). You know, I’m sure he did this in Pittsburgh all the time, but with the whole media attention thing, I guess it went unnoticed. 
I’m still calling a home run every time Big Papi comes to bat, but each game he goes without one just represents how special the first one will be. I know he wants it, and I know it’s on his mind all the time, so I think he needs a sports psychologist. Calling Emily… 
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The Red Sox also did what they finally needed to do–letting Javier Lopez go. That guy has given me heart attacks ever since he came to the Red Sox, and this year it has gotten even worse. Every time he came in this year, it was basically saying, ‘We concede to you,’. Whether it be the various errors that result in walk-off wins, or maybe just blowing leads, it was time to go. 
This is the best thing the Red Sox have done since reacquiring Kason Gabbard (yeah, they do good things often). The bullpen is basically impeccable now. I am confident with everyone in there, even though Papelbon has been having a bit of a “flair for the dramatic” lately. Okay, I just lied… I’m not AS comfortable with Hunter Jones (maybe because I didn’t see him much during spring training), but he’s done alright. 
I was happy that the Sox brought up Daniel Bard. You guys should have seen him in spring training. He has a 100 mph fastball and posted a 0.00 ERA during spring training, and his stats aren’t half bad down in Triple AAA Pawtucket either. Speaking of which, I’m planning on visiting the PawSox this summer. I cannot wait. 
I didn’t even drink coffee to keep myself up for the West Coast game last night. I had taken a two hour nap (and thus, avoided homework) and was pretty much ready to go. Justin Masterson was all over the place, but his quote was so funny “A ball here, a ball there, a strike every once and a while”. So his control was a bit off, but he did manage to only give up two runs. 
I really thought that I was in for it when the Red Sox tied it at 3. I was hoping it wouldn’t be too late of a night, because I was still pretty tired. Luckily, Jason Varitek came through with a single, and Pap was to come in to close the ninth. 
This one was not as dramatic as the Mother’s Day save where he put two men on (who then advanced to second and third) and then struck the next three guys out. It was pretty epic. This one ended in a less dramatic fashion, but with the same results. 
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And a special shout out to Dom Dimaggio who passed away not so long ago. He was probably one of the most underrated players ever, but when your brother is Joe Dimaggio and your teammate is Ted Williams, what can you expect? I love the fact that he was called the “little professor” on the team. Dustin Pedroia kind of reminds me of him (or his build at least). Dom also holds the longest hitting streak in Red Sox history at 34 games. 
The Other 29 Teams that I keep up with 
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Ryan Zimmerman and his hitting streak, that’s gotta be great for the miserable Nats (no offense). But in all honesty, I don’t think he’ll catch Dimaggio. That record is going to last a long time. 
The ERAs under one? Zack Grienke and Johan Santana? I have basically awarded the Cy Young to the two of them already. And by the way, I’m not concerned with the lackluster performances that some of the Red Sox starters have been having because honestly, it’s pretty much been limited to one inning. 
If I remember correctly, Jon Lester started out (2-3) last season as well. And then he turned into “one of the best left handed pitchers in the game). 
And I would be remiss if I did not mention Albert Pujols. I think that he has the potential to win the Triple Crown. But how cool would it be if a Red Sox won it? Not because they’re my favorite team, but because the last person to win it was a Red Sox, in 1967…. Mr. Carl Yastrzemski. By the way, I think Yastrzemski should be a spelling bee word, it’s impossible to spell. 

Almost, Almost, Almost

‘Almost’ seems to sum up the first nine games that the Red Sox played. Except for the two blowout games that Jon Lester just happened to pitch in, the Red Sox came within striking distance in almost every game (and by that I mean we were down by two runs or less). Those games are the frustrating ones. 

That was a pretty tough road trip, and I don’t think the late night West Coast games were much fun for anyone (except for Oakland). If I’m tired watching West Coast games, I can’t imagine how the players must be… they actually have to do stuff. 
‘Almost Game’ #1
I was ready for the second West Coast game of the series. I had finished my homework, and I was in the process of drinking my two cups of coffee. For those of you who made comments about drinking coffee on my last post, I’m somewhat addicted myself. I know, it’s bad, it stunts my growth. Maybe that explains Pedroia’s lack of height. 
The top of the first made me happy. I thought that maybe our offense had finally woken up. The Red Sox finally stringed together a bunch of hits in the first inning to score three runs, and normally, run support works pretty well for Dice-K. 
Not that night. It was one thing when the game was tied. ‘Okay, back to 0-0’ I thought, deflated. Then Dice-K gave up two MORE runs. Five runs. In one inning. I no longer felt deflated, I felt dejected. 45 pitches in one inning– that’s basically how many Wakefield had after five innings the day after. 
I was scared too, because I wasn’t fully trusting our offense yet. In the games before that night’s, we would score a run in the first, and then leave absolutely everyone on. At least we tied the game back up in the top of the fifth thanks to more hits strung together. 
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That wasn’t my favorite part of the story. My favorite part was the bullpen, especially Justin Masterson. Thank God he continued to train like a starter throughout the offseason, and during Spring Training. Whosever idea that was, you are brilliant. This man oozes versatility, and I dream about it. Of course, when he came in, I proceeded to ask um… myself: WHERE THE HELL DID DICE-K GO??? And after him, another six shutout inning by that bullpen that everyone has been talking about: the best one in baseball. 
It stayed tied for… a while. The three hour mark passed. ‘Oh crap’ I thought, ‘This is going to be a long night,’. 
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I won’t lie to you though, I did fall asleep from the bottom of the ninth to the top of the tenth. I missed Okajima’s 1-2-3 ninth. But I did wake up for Dustin Pedroia’s incredible catch in the bottom of the tenth. It woke me up. 2 AM passed, and that meant less than four hours of sleep, and I like sleeping. 
Again, I won’t lie to you. Javier Lopez makes me nervous when he’s in without anyone on base. He loaded up the bases. I don’t think I could feel my anxiety though, my exhaustion was overwhelming. There are two outs though, so I’m feeling kind of good. 
Then, a sharp grounder that bounces into the air… but my Dustin is charginggggg andddd safe. The A’s won. I stayed up until 2:30 AM to watch the Red Sox lose. 
I could barely get up the next morning, and I probably couldn’t walk in a straight line either. My friend, Kathleen (the other Red Sox fan) and I just shook our heads when we saw each other. We went over to other benches (in the area that my friends and I hang out) to go sleep. 
My other friends came over, and started talking. I told them to ‘go away’ because I needed sleep, and I proceeded to sleep every opportunity that I got. 
Almost Game #2
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Wednesday’s game was perfect timing– it was on a day that I had early dismissal, so I got home in time to see the first pitch. It’s not like I don’t get nervous when Wakefield pitches– like I’ve said, he’s either really on, or really off. Yesterday, he was REALLY on, and so was our offense. 
I noticed “it” after four innings. We had a comfortable two run lead thanks to Mike Lowell’s two run homer, and Wakefield was cruising. I looked at the score: zero hits for the A’s. 
My thoughts would not shut up. I wanted them to so badly, but they just wouldn’t. Mike Lowell made an error in the fifth that would have ruined the perfect game, which Wakefield would have had going into the 8th inning had it not been for that error. 
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The Sox even got more insurance runs in the 8th because we went through our entire lineup. I like doing that, and I hope we do it again soon. I was a very happy camper, even though I was ridiculously tired. At the beginning of the 8th inning, Don Orsillo finally talks about it. 
‘Wakefield has allowed no hits to A’s hitters through seven.’
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‘Why would you say that?’ I asked him through my computer. I know he’s an announcer, and maybe he has to… but aren’t we all ridiculously superstitious? Maybe I would be a crappy announcer, then. I would not even mention hits if I noticed it, and I would threaten my partner if they even thought about it. 
I had MLB Network on mute too, and I see a ‘Special Report’, so naturally, I turned it up. Just guess what they talked about: 
‘History may be in the process of being made over in Oakland…’
TURN IT OFF! My father and I both scream at the same time. I fumble with the remote and change the channel, only to have it go to the same thing but not in HD. I finally just turn the TV off. 
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Kurt Suzuki got the hit, and he is the one that reached on the error too. You know how Jane mentions kidnapping players over in her blog? I want to kidnap Kurt Suzuki, and I wouldn’t mind kidnapping
Travis Buck either (the guy with the walk off hit). 
There were some remarkable defensive plays during that game though. Jacoby Ellsbury had two beautiful catches in the outfield where he bounced gracefully off the wall each time. Nick Green also had an incredible catch to rob Jack Cust (?) of a hit. 
I saw MIke Lowell in the dugout in the top of the ninth semi-joking with Wakefield about that error, and I could see that he was basically saying,
“I was thinking about that error, and how it could have ruined a perfect game. I was also thinking about how Elizabeth Dreeson would have come and killed me,”
I took a three hour nap after that– caught up on my sleep, and I needed it!