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2003 Red Sox Notes

October 18, 2003

It is Saturday afternoon and I should be preparing to watch the Red Sox first World Series game in 17 years. For me, it was more than half a lifetime ago when the Sox and Mets battled for seven games in the Fall of 1986. I had waited patiently for all those years and it was time for another chance to watch the Bosox in the Fall Classic. Unfortunately, Grady Little robbed me of that opportunity. In 1986, there were many Sox that contributed to the Game Six meltdown against the Mets – Manager John McNamara, Bill Buckner, Calvin Schiraldi, Bob Stanley, Rich Gedman. The offense scored only three runs and Roger Clemens may or may not have taken himself out the game because of a blister. On Thursday night, nearly every Sox player did his job. Pedro had essentially beaten the Yankees. He pitched brilliantly and gutted his way through a rough seventh inning in which he was clearly losing it. The offense whacked three homers and roughed up Roger Clemens. Timlin and Embree continued to get the job done, pitching 1 2/3 innings of hitless relief. The defense played well with the possible exception of Trot Nixon’s unfortunate path to Derek Jeter’s shot in the eighth inning. Still, that was a tough play. The only major gaffe by the players was their inability to push across run number five in the fourth inning despite having a runner on third and no outs. This loss falls on the shoulders of one man - Grady Little. Little as in “little” sense, “little” managing ability and “little” clue about the limitations of his number one starter. Leaving an exhausted Pedro in the game for four consecutive Yankee hits in the eighth inning was possibly the worst managing in postseason baseball history. Even Johnny Mac’s unwillingness to remove Bill Buckner from the field in the bottom of the tenth in Game Six in 1986 does not compare.

It was obvious to me and probably most Red Sox fans that Pedro Martinez was losing it in the seventh inning of Game Seven. Jorge Posada hit a ball hard for an out, Jason Giambi belted a long homerun and Karim “Groundskeeper Beater” Garcia hit a hard single. I wondered if Pedro should be taken out when Soriano came to the plate as the go-ahead run. I decided that Pedro should stay in the game to face Soriano because he had fanned the Yankee second baseman three times already. This, however, would surely be his last batter of the night. Pedro whiffed Soriano and the Sox dodged the first dangerous situation since the first inning. David Ortiz homered in the top of the eighth to give Boston a three run lead, which may have kept Pedro in the game. Martinez came out for the eighth which didn’t seem like a terrible move. Let him pitch until he allows a baserunner, I thought. Embree and Timlin will be ready if that happens. After getting Johnson to pop out, Jeter hit a shot to deep right for a double. No sign of Grady. This isn’t good. Bernie Williams follows that up with a hard single driving in Jeter. If giving up a hard hit ball to Bernie Williams isn’t a sign that a pitcher is done, I don’t know what is. Here comes Grady to get Pedro one batter too late. But, Grady leaves the mound without Pedro. Hideki Matsui, a lefthanded batter who had the key hit against Pedro in Game Three is coming up to the plate. Pedro was running out of gas an inning ago. Matsui is the tying run and the right field fence is about 310 feet away. Alan Embree is ready. This can’t be happening. Matsui smashes a ball to right field for a double. Still no Grady. Did he fall asleep in the dugout? Up steps Jorge Posada. Pedro actually finds the strength to throw some decent pitches to Posada but then comes the all-to-familiar lucky Yankee hit. This time it is a weak pop-up to center that lands between three fielders. It wouldn’t be the postseason without the Yankees getting a lucky break … or five. Lucky or not, it doesn’t excuse Grady Little. Embree finally arrives, followed by Timlin, and the Sox survive the inning tied. Unfortunately, Mariano Rivera is coming into the game and he’ll probably be there for three innings.

The Sox nearly won the game twice against Rivera. First in the ninth inning when Todd Walker’s flare to right nearly got over Soriano to drive in Damian Jackson with the go-ahead run. The Sox nearly took a one-run lead again in the tenth inning when David Ortiz missed a homer to leftfield by about ten feet. After Rivera pitched his third inning in the eleventh, there was a glimmer of hope. He'd be leaving the game and the Sox had the top of the order coming up in the twelfth innning. If only they can survive the bottom of the eleventh they will be in decent shape, I thought. Aaron Boone ended those hopes quickly.

Having suffered with this team for 25 years, I never felt confident that the Red Sox would win the game even when the score was 4-0. My first bad feeling came in the fourth inning when the Sox, already ahead 4-0, had runners on first and third and no outs. A fifth run might take the Yankees out of it completely, but Varitek whiffed and Damon hit into a double play (I don’t even want to think about how rare that is). That one run floated out there like a missed extra point in football. Somehow I knew it would cost us the game. I thought about the past and wondered how big the lead would have to be for me to really be confident that the Sox were going to win. I decided that number was 12. Things looked much better when Pedro barely survived the seventh inning and David Ortiz added insurance in the eighth. During the season, a three run lead with this bullpen was tenuous. But the way that Embree, Timlin and Williamson had pitched in the playoffs, three runs seemed like a lock. They could even go to Derek Lowe. The Red Sox failed to win the American League East because of their bullpen. The irony is that they lost this game because they did not utilize the bullpen. Mike Timlin was in a zone for two weeks. He had been throwing like Orel Hershiser circa 1988, yet somehow Grady didn’t trust him to start the eighth inning.

I think that the next time the Sox find themselves in a winner-take-all playoff game, they should purposely let the other team take the lead. The Sox led the Reds 3-0 in Game Seven of the 1975 Series. They led the Yankees 2-0 in the 1978 one game AL East playoff. They even took a 3-0 lead against the Mets in Game Seven in 1986.

I can’t possibly see how Grady Little keeps his job. His moves all season were questionable. His moves in the Oakland series were dreadful. His moves in the eighth inning of Game Seven border on “time for an investigation” territory. Was some New York mobster holding Grady’s family hostage? I don’t know how else to explain it. The fans will never forgive him. I wonder how the players feel? I have to believe that they too feel that Grady cost them a trip to the Series.

Grady did the biggest disservice to Pedro Martinez by not taking him out of the game. Pedro had beaten New York. The moronic Mayor of New York City criticized Pedro publicly for defending himself against Don Zimmer as if Zimmer has nothing to do with it. Yankee fans ripped Pedro and waved “Kill Pedro” signs at Yankee Stadium. Apparent mind-reader Joe Torre jumped all over Pedro, saying that he was sure that Pedro threw at Karim Garcia’s head on Saturday. The Yankee hypocrites apparently forgot about or decided to ignore the proclivities of a certain Mr. Clemens. I could almost hear Mike Piazza saying “Are you kidding me?” Pedro could have beaten these jackals. The Yankees certainly didn’t beat him. He whipped them for seven innings. Pedro took the high road and defended Grady for not removing him from the game. Pedro might be the only one who does.

It seems silly to talk about curses but every time this happens, it makes me wonder. It’s not just the big ones like 1978, 1986 and 2003. There’s something bizarre in nearly every Sox postseason appearance.

Losing any series to the Yankees is agony, but this one was particularly painful because the Florida Marlins were waiting on the other side. The Marlins are a good ballclub, but they are not Bob Gibson and the 1967 Cardinals, the 1975 Big Red Machine or the 108-win 1986 Mets. Those were the Red Sox last three World Series opponents. They are also arguably the three toughest National League Champions of the past 40 years.

A little extra anxiety about the Red Sox came over me when the Cubs lost the three run lead in Game Six of the NLCS. After Monday’s Sox victory, a piece of me felt that there might be some destiny that was about to bring the Cubs and Sox together for an epic battle to end at least one Curse. Instead, the Cubs and Red Sox both lost in excruciating and bizarre fashion. I guess that is the real destiny. The similarities are eerie: both teams had three runs leads in the eighth inning with a chance to win the pennant; both teams were five outs away with no one on base; and both teams had their aces on the mound (though at least one ace’s tank was on “E”). But of course, both teams lost. Everyone outside of the baseball fans in New York and Florida (in other words, baseball fans in New York) wanted to see a Cubs-Red Sox World Series. Instead, we will be treated to the New York Monees against the Florida Fanless Fish. Absolutely sickening. I would rather bathe my eyes in lemon juice than watch this year’s World Series.

Red Sox fans will hear plenty of grief from Yankee supporters. Don’t listen to any of it. The Yankees have succeeded in recent years for one reason: a gargantuan payroll. If anyone thinks for one minute that the Yankees would even be in playoffs without their escalating payroll, they are either dumb or in a state of complete denial. I will be the first to admit that the Yankees earned their 1998 Championship. They would have won the Series that season with or without George’s limitless funding. Since then, their success has been all about the benjamins. The Yankee payroll now stands at $180 million. The Sox spent about $105 million. Oakland, a team that would have beaten both the Red Sox and Yankees with a healthy Mark Mulder, spent only $50 million in 2003. The Yankee gluttony knows no bounds and I am disgusted with Major League Baseball for not implementing a salary cap when they had the chance. The luxury tax only helps the Yankees. The luxury tax paid by the Yankees should help the very small market teams to be a little more competitive but the second tier teams (Boston, the Mets, LA, Atlanta, Arizona) will fall even further behind the Yankees because those teams cannot afford to pay the luxury tax. For those clubs, there is a salary cap. I think some fans may abandon baseball permanently if the Yankees sign Vladimir Guerrero this winter.

Pedro showed in Game Seven why he is not a $20 million per year pitcher. He is a seven inning, 100-pitch starter. Each season he spends a little more time on the disabled list, loses a mile per hour on his fastball and loses his effectiveness a little bit earlier in each game. He’s still a great pitcher but the deterioration is there, albeit at a slow rate. This winter’s contract negotiations will be interesting. Theo Epstein absolutely cannot offer Pedro a guaranteed extension longer than two or three years. I cannot imagine that Pedro will still be an effective starter by 2007. I’ve been wondering if Martinez may eventually become a closer. No matter how good he is, you can’t keep someone in the rotation that tires after 80 pitches. I’m guessing that is where we are headed with Pedro within a couple of years.

I was in Fort Myers on February 28th when the Sox played their second exhibition game. Little (no pun intended) did I know how it would all end nearly seven months later. Right now I feel like I never want to see another baseball game as long as I live. But, I have felt this way before and somehow the winter eases the pain. I’m sure I’ll be back in 2004, cautiously optimistic but prepared for yet another emotional beating. That is what being a Boston Red Sox fan is all about.


October 13, 2003

THE 2003 ALCS IDIOT LIST

10
Ed “Pony Tail Guy” Hillel


In case you don’t know who I’m talking about, Ed Hillel was the man who was interviewed by FOX in the Yankee Stadium bleachers on Wednesday claiming that Todd Walker’s homerun off the foul pole (or some guy’s hand, depending on who you ask) was going to be a foul ball. I hate to call Ed (the possible brother of Len Tukwilla, driftwood sculptor) an idiot because he provided me with so much amusement in Game One, but the fact that he made a fool of himself on national television gets him the #10 spot on this list. I’m sure Ed doesn’t mind since he was a celebrity for a day on Thursday. Hope to see you at Game Six, buddy.

9
George Steinbrenner


During the ALCS I learned that Steinbrenner wanted to go after David Ortiz during the off-season last winter. Steinbrenner already had former MVP Jason Giambi and Nick Johnson, but apparently wanted Ortiz (a 20 HR, 75 RBI guy in 2002) as well. I guess he wanted to use Ortiz as a pinch hitter. The Yankee gluttony knows no bounds. As everyone outside of New York knows, their success is all about the benjamins.

8
The FOX Broadcast Team


Tim McCarver is a Yankee shill. The coverage from FOX is sickeningly anti-Boston and pro-New York. The FOX team turned every situation into the fault of the Red Sox and jumped to conclusions about Zimmer and the Fenway groundskeeper. It’s sad that of the three people in the booth, the most unbiased is the guy whose brother plays for the Yankees. Let’s add to that idiocy the endless shots of Ben and J-Lo during Game 3. Simply painful.

7
Yankees President Randy Levine


Levine criticized the Red Sox for their lack of security at Fenway Park and called the atmosphere “lawless.” This is the most classic case of the pot calling the kettle black that I have ever heard. Earth to Randy, your team plays in Yankee Stadium, a place that is legendary for poor fan behavior. Yankee fans are chastised at Fenway Park, but opposing fans are lucky to get out of Yankee Stadium with their lives. What’s next? Will Levine start criticizing the Sox for their high payroll?

6
Don Zimmer


I cannot imagine what was going through Don Zimmer’s mind when he charged Pedro on Saturday. He looked like a crazed rhino that had escaped from the zoo. I have to say that Zimmer showed some guts (though no brains) when he went after Martinez. Zimmer also won some points when he apologized during a press conference. I wish some of the other morons involved in Saturday’s events would step up to the plate and take some responsibility for their misdeeds. Now if only Zimmer would apologize for blowing a 14 ½ game lead in 1978.

5
Jeff Nelson


We still don’t know who threw the first punch in the skirmish between Jeff Nelson and now famous Fenway groundskeeper Paul Williams, but the fact that Nelson got into it in the first place is incredible. The Yankees are trying to win a series and Nellie is more concerned with a guy waving a towel and cheering for his team in his own ballpark. If Williams was a problem, Nelson could have easily alerted security. Initial reports are that Nelson kicked Williams. It is hard to believe that a grown man would use his feet in a fight, but baseball players are notorious wimps so who knows.

4
Manny Ramirez


I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been disgusted with Manny Ramirez over the past six weeks. From his ESPN interview where he proclaimed his desire to play for the Yankees, the sore throat that kept him from pinch hitting in the ninth inning of a crucial game, the showboating in the Oakland series (especially his 8th inning single in Game 4 where he seemed to care very little about what was going on in front of him despite the fact that he was the go-ahead run). Add to that his inane overreaction to Clemens high (and nowhere near inside) pitch on Saturday that caused the benches to clear. This is not the first time that Manny has shouted at a pitcher on a ball that wasn’t even close to him. Sox fans would be delighted if Ramirez showed half as much intensity running to first base as he did threatening Roger Clemens.

3
Pedro Martinez


I’ve always said that there is a lot to like about Pedro on the mound and very little to like about Pedro off the mound. Pedro is an arrogant primadonna, a drama queen and one who is extremely preoccupied with his contract. He has been labeled as a headhunter in the past. The “head” part, I believe, has been unfair, but he’s definitely a hunter. He has drilled many a batter in the back in retaliation even when it was doubtful that the opposing pitcher hit the Sox batter on purpose. Pedro throws hard and he throws inside. That means that a lot of batters will be hit and players in this era whine whenever a pitch comes within two feet of them so thus the “headhunter” reputation. Many of those who defended Pedro on the same grounds will have a hard time making that argument in the future. Pedro deserves criticism for the pitch that almost hit Garcia (even Garcia knew it didn’t hit him). Was Pedro trying to hit Garcia? Probably. Was he trying to throw at his head? Probably not. Did he put his own frustration ahead of the team? Absolutely. My real disgust with Pedro occurred when he pointed to his head while screaming into the Yankees dugout. That act was disgraceful and was surely going to cause hysteria at some point. Martinez could have handled the Zimmer fiasco better as well, but it is very difficult to pin that one on Pedro (as most New Yorkers have done). For all Pedro knew, Zimmer could have been going after his pitching arm. Pedro had little time to react and his move on Zimmer, though more forceful than necessary, was defensive.

2
Karim Garcia


During Game Four, FOX’s cellphone poll asked who was most to blame for Saturday’s events: Pedro, Manny, Zimmer or Clemens. As we all knew, Pedro received the most votes by a landslide (it was a stupid question). The funny part is that the biggest culprit was not even one of the choices. Karim Garcia, more than anyone, caused tensions to escalate on Saturday. Garcia had every right to bark at Pedro for throwing near his head. That is expected. The real problem occurred when Garcia ran past second base before sliding on a double play in an attempt to take out Todd Walker’s knees. If you tell me that this was a clean play, I think your brain is leaking. An argument ensued as the fat little pig oinked his way back to the dugout. Had Garcia’s dirty play on Walker not occurred tensions may have remained in check. At some point, a Sox batter would have received a retaliatory fastball in the back and that may have been the end of it. Garcia followed this up with a sprint to the bullpen to whack away at a Fenway groundskeeper who was already subdued by security. Garcia surely had no idea how it all started, but decided to go in swinging. I’m not sure about Nelson, but I hope Garcia is charged.

1
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg


On Sunday, Bloomberg claimed that Pedro Martinez should have been arrested for pushing a hard-charging Don Zimmer to the ground during the 4th inning melee. Bloomberg stated that “You just cannot assault people, even if it's on a baseball field.” Bloomberg apparently isn’t concerned with the fact that Zimmer was the aggressor and attempted to punch Pedro. I guess if I’m ever in New York City and an elderly man tries to punch me, I’m supposed to stand there and let him do it. Bloomberg makes it sound like Zim was walking along and minding his own business when Pedro jumped out from behind some bushes and attacked him. Though Zimmer and the players mentioned above cannot be excused for their actions, at least those things happened in the heat of battle. Bloomberg had a day to think about his words and still went on record with his insane comments. And people say that Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t fit for politics.

Surprisingly not on the list:

October 7, 2003

Times are strange. The Red Sox actually won three close games in a row to come all the way back from a two games to none deficit to beat the Athletics in five games. Four of those games were worthy of ESPN Classic status. The question now is: does this Red Sox team possess some magic or is this just another way to allow the Yankees to beat Boston again and multiply the pain for Sox fans? I, for one, would much rather not even make it to the playoffs than lose to the Yankees in the ALCS. But, winning this series would be the greatest moment in Red Sox history. It’s great to have that chance.

The Red Sox managed to win this series in spite of Grady Little. First, he put Damian Jackson in as a defensive replacement for Todd Walker in the 6th inning. THE SIXTH INNING! I don’t think I have ever seen a manager take a player out for defensive purposes in the sixth inning. Plus, it’s not like Damian Jackson is Roberto Alomar. He has more range than Walker, but scares me even more. This move set the stage for Damon’s injury. Not that I can directly blame Grady Little for a freak injury, but in a weird way his bad managing caused it. After making the right moves in the 8th inning, Little made the ultimate boneheaded move by removing Timlin from the game after pitching to only one batter in the 8th. Williamson has been pitching very well, but threw 28 pitches on Sunday and has a propensity for walking batters. Most of the offensive damage done by Oakland in the series was the result of walks. Timlin walks a batter about once every nine innings and had the fresher arm yet Grady took him out. It made no sense. In the ninth, Oakland had runners at second and third and one out with sinkerballer Derek Lowe on the mound. Clearly, the right move was to walk the bases loaded. The advantages: (1) With a force out at home plate the infield can play close to normal depth (2) It sets up the double play on a hard hit ground ball and (3) It sets up a play at home on a slow ground ball. The disadvantage: a walk will tie the game. The choice is clear, yet Grady pulled the infield in and pitched to the next batter even though a weak grounder through the drawn-in infield would have won the series for Oakland. Thankfully, Derek Lowe saved Grady’s tail with some of the nastiest pitches I have ever seen.

I know he was the key reason why the Sox won the game last night but I really hope that Manny Ramirez is not in a Red Sox uniform next season. After his ground ball single in the 8th inning of Game 4 (his third hit in four games), Manny trotted to first base, pointing to his dugout, not paying any attention to what was going on in front of him despite the fact that he was the go-ahead run. Luckily, it all worked out thanks to David Ortiz. Last night, Manny obnoxiously stood at home plate admiring his three-run homer. It should be mentioned that the ball did not clear the wall by that much. Had it hit the wall, Manny would have had a 360-foot single. Throughout the series Manny has been all smiles in the dugout after each failure at the plate. This coming from the same guy that couldn’t pinch hit because of a sore throat and declared that it was his dream to play for the Yankees. Part of the fault goes to Red Sox upper management, Grady Little and the Red Sox veterans for not putting a stop to Ramirez’s antics.

The Hypocrite of the Year Award goes to Miguel Tejada. The A’s shortstop was reportedly furious because of a gesture made by Derek Lowe after the final out in Game 5. Tejada claimed that the gesture was obscene and mentioned that the teams had families in the stands. Does Tejada not realize that he repeatedly screamed obscenities from the batter’s box and the dugout following his numerous strikeouts during the series? Lowe deserves criticism for that gesture, but it certainly shouldn’t come from Tejada.

I also could not believe the comments made by A’s General Manager Billy Beane following the Game 5 loss. Beane told reporters that the A’s wouldn’t have lost the series if they had another $50 million to spend on payroll (the Sox payroll is $50 million higher than Oakland’s). I wholeheartedly agree with Beane. If payrolls were even close to balanced, Oakland would probably have two or three pennants over the past four years and New York would have one pennant in the past ten years, rather than five. Still, Beane is sending the wrong message to his team by making these comments. The A’s made several silly mistakes in Game 3. They had every chance to win and didn’t. The GM should not allow his team to fall back on excuses even if they are legitimate. It is also ironic that Beane would complain about payroll disparity since he had an opportunity to take the Red Sox job last winter. I wonder if Beane likes running the A’s because he will always be able to blame a low payroll when his team loses. If he had taken the Sox job, he would have opened himself up to criticism – and plenty of it.

In the strange world of the Major League Baseball playoffs, nothing is stranger than the success of the Red Sox bullpen over the past four games. Between Game 2 and Game 5, the Sox bullpen pitched 11 2/3 innings, gave up 4 hits, 3 walks (all in the ninth inning of Game 5) and 0 runs. Mike Timlin retired all 13 batters he faced in the series. On the other hand, most of that success came from starters (Wake and Lowe), Timlin, Embree and Williamson. The Sox will need contributions from more than three members of the pen to beat the Yankees.

This season has been strangely reminiscent of 1999. That year, the Yankees clinched the American League East in the final week of the season. The Red Sox found themselves down two games to none to Cleveland in the ALDS before surging back to win in five. In 1999, Pedro won Game 5 of the ALDS on the road, though he came out of the bullpen to do it that time. Ironically, the 1999 Sox came back in round one because of their bats while the 2003 offensively-potent Sox came back because of pitching. The 1999 American League Championship Series also began in New York and featured a Pedro-Clemens matchup in Game 3 at Fenway. The Yanks won that series in five thanks to the most amazing run of luck I have even seen in Games 1 and 2 and horrendous defense by the Sox in Games 4 and 5. Let’s hope history does not repeat itself in that respect.

Two players in this year’s playoffs that Theo Epstein should be talking to over the winter are A’s closer Keith Foulke and Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo. Both are free agents after this season. Yes, Foulke blew the series save on Sunday, but to be fair the three hits he surrendered were all against MVP candidates. Foulke saved 43 of 48 games this year and had an ERA of 2.08. He has very good control (2 BB per 9 innings) and can pitch more than one inning. Castillo is a very good fielder and can run “wicked” fast. For some reason, he was caught stealing 19 of 40 times this season after stealing 48 in 63 tries in 2002. He batted .314 in 2003 and would be great in the Sox #2 spot in the lineup.

The Sox are often criticized for losing in the World Series, but to be fair they have lost each of their last four World Series’ in seven games and each time they played a great team. In 1946, they played a Cardinals team that was 98-58 (the equivalent of a 102 win season in a 162-game schedule). In 1967, the Sox lost to a 101-60 Cardinals team that won three times in the Series with the unhittable Bob Gibson. In 1975, it was the 108-54 Cincinnati Big Red Machine. The 1986 Mets also won 108 games. Many would argue that the ’67 Cards with Gibson, the ’75 Reds and the ’86 Mets are three best National League Champs of the past 40 years. Though the Marlins and Cubs are good baseball teams, the Sox will not be forced to play one of history’s great teams in the Series should they beat the Yankees.


PLAYOFF RANKINGS

The following are my rankings of the eight Major League Baseball playoff teams in five distinct categories - hitting, starting rotation, bullpen, defense and intangibles.

Hitting (MLB runs scored rank in parentheses)

  1. Boston (1): To say that the Red Sox offense is explosive is an understatement. The Sox lineup boasts seven players with 19 or more home runs, eight players with 80 or more RBIs and four .300 hitters. The team batted .289 this season, hit 238 home runs and broke the major league record for extra base hits in one season. The 2003 Sox had a higher slugging percentage than the '27 Yankees. Even the Sox #9 hitter, Jason Varitek, hit 25 homers and drove in 85 runs. Pitching and defense wins championships, but it doesn’t hurt to have one of the most potent lineups in major league history.

  2. Atlanta (2): The Braves are known for their pitching, but this year it was the Braves offense that received most of the attention. Gary Sheffield (.329, 39 HR, 131 RBI), Chipper Jones (.303, 27 HR, 106 RBI) and Javy Lopez (.327, 43 HR, 109 RBI) all had MVP-caliber seasons. Those three, along with Andruw Jones (.275, 36 HR, 116 RBI) give the Braves the most potent mid-lineup in baseball. Second basemen Marcus Giles is the fourth Braves regular with a .300 or better average.

  3. New York (4): Make no mistake, the Yankees lineup is dangerous. Three Bronx Bombers drove in more than 100 runs (Matsui, Giambi, Posada) though only one batted higher than .300 (Derek Jeter). The Yankees could certainly use a little more production from Aaron Boone (.247 as a Yankee) and Jason Giambi (.228 with 34 RBIs in the second half). Alfonso Soriano is always a threat (37 HR). The Yankees can also hurt you with their legs. The were ninth in baseball in stolen bases with 98.

  4. Minnesota (9): The Minnesota Twins finished 5th in major league baseball in batting average and 9th in runs scored. They have no big slugger to rely on like most of the other playoff teams so they use their speed to manufacture runs. Torii Hunter is the only Twin with more than 20 homers (26) and 75 RBIs (101). It should also be noted that Hunter batted only .249 this season. Four Minnesota regulars batted .300 or better (Shannon Stewart, AJ Pierzynski, Jacque Jones and Doug Mientkiewicz). There is clearly a large gap between the top three and bottom five offensive teams in the playoffs.

  5. Florida (16): The Florida Marlins received a second dose of good news this week when Mike Lowell returned to the lineup after missing a month with a broken left hand. If Lowell can contribute in the Playoffs, the Marlins chances of advancing will skyrocket. Lowell had 32 HR and 105 RBI before his injury. Other than Lowell, speed is the Florida Marlins greatest weapon. The Fish stole a major league leading 149 bases in 2003, 53 more than any other team in the playoffs. Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo give the Marlins the best 1-2 punch among postseason contenders. Each player batted over .300 and together they swiped 85 bases (64 by Pierre). Derrek Lee smashed 31 homers and drove in 91 and Jeff Conine could also prove to be a great addition. He’s batted only .241 as a Marlin but came up with some huge homeruns last week against the Phillies.

  6. Chicago (20): It looked like the Cubs were finished when Corey Patterson suffered a season-ending injury in early July, but the Cubs went out and acquired Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton and Randall Simon to fill in the gaps. Lofton has been the biggest surprise, batting .327, scoring 38 runs and stealing 12 bases in 54 games as a Cub. Getting a big series or two out of Moises Alou (22 HR, 91 RBI) will be important for the Cubs, but nothing will matter more than the play of Sammy Sosa. As Sosa goes, so go the Cubs. In spite of injuries and the corked bat incident, Sosa managed to blast 40 homers and drive in more than 100 runs for the sixth year in a row. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez also has a knack for hitting game-winning homers at Wrigley.

  7. Oakland (14): Oakland’s hitting was anemic for most of the season. The A’s batted only .255 as a team (6th worst in baseball) but were in the middle of the pack in runs scored and homeruns. Outside of Miguel Tejada, the A’s lineup doesn’t scare anyone except the Tigers. Despite a slow start, Tejada batted .278 with 27 HR and 106 RBI. Like Tejada, Eric Chavez picked it up in the second half and batted .282 with 29 HR and 101 RBI for the season. Erubiel Durazo batted only .257 but his patience at the plate is an asset. He walked 100 times this season.

  8. San Francisco (17): The Giants had only one regular with an average higher than .300, only one player with more than 20 homeruns, only one player who scored 90 or more runs and one player with 80 RBIs or more. In all four cases, it was the same player – Barry Bonds. The San Francisco offense is not very imposing as evidenced by the fact that Bonds was walked an amazing 28% of his at bats in 2003. The Giants second biggest threat is Marquis Grissom who hit 20 homers and drove in 79 while batting .300. Despite having Bonds in the lineup, the Giants were in the bottom half of the league in runs scored and batting average. Opponents pitched around Bonds all season and they will have no problem continuing that trend in the postseason.

Starting Rotation (starter's ERA in parentheses)

  1. Chicago (3.70): The one club that was not able to set their rotation they way they wanted was the Cubs. They did, however, benefit from clinching on Saturday. That enabled Dusty Baker to save Kerry Wood, who was scheduled to pitch Sunday, for Game One against the Braves. The Cubs best hurler, Mark Prior pitched Saturday and thus will be forced to wait until Game Three for his first postseason start. Prior has been unstoppable since returning from injury in early August. Since then he is 10-1 with an ERA of 1.52. Overall, Prior was 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA. Carlos Zambrano, who will start in Game Two, and Kerry Wood finished with ERAs of 3.11 and 3.20, respectively. If Dusty goes with a four-man rotation Matt Clement (13-12, 4.22) would likely get the call in Game Four.

  2. New York (4.04): Right behind the Cubs are the Yankees, whose top four starters each won at least 64% of their starts and had ERAs of less than 4.25. David Wells is probably the best #4 starter among the playoff teams and has plenty of postseason experience, not unlike his counterparts. How deep is the Yankees rotation? Roger Clemens (17-9, 3.91) will start in Game Three.

  3. Atlanta (4.16): The faces have changed but the Braves rotation remains one of the best in baseball. The Braves top three of Russ Ortiz, Greg Maddux and Mike Hampton combined for 50 wins and each has a solid ERA between 3.80 and 4.00. This is not the unhittable Braves rotation of the past, but with their offense, they don’t need to be.

  4. Oakland (3.59): Oakland’s rotation might be considered the best in baseball if not for the injury to Mark Mulder. Tim Hudson (16-7, 2.70 ERA) has been brilliant all season and will be a formidable foe for Pedro Martinez in Game One of the ALDS. Barry Zito has not quite lived up to his Cy Young performance of last season, but still finished with 14 wins and a 3.22 ERA. He has pitched very well in September (3-1, 2.60). Another lefty, Ted Lilly will replace Mulder as the A’s #3 starter in the playoffs. After a terrible first half, Lilly has been brilliant. He’s 7-3 since the break and was 4-0 with a 0.40 ERA in September (not including Sunday's meaningless game at Seattle where Lilly gave up 5 runs).

  5. San Francisco (3.85): San Francisco may have the best #1 starter in the National League in Jason Schmidt whose 17-5 record and 2.34 ERA could earn him second place in the NL Cy Young award (Eric Gagne is a lock). Sidney Ponson is only 3-6 since coming over from Baltimore, but that is not entirely his fault as his 3.71 ERA will attest. Lefty Kirk Rueter is 10-5 overall and was 3-0 with 3.67 ERA in September. Twenty-one year old righthander Jerome Williams (7-5, 3.30) is scheduled to pitch in Game Four.

  6. Florida (3.93): The Florida Marlins are also expected to go with a four-man rotation in the first round of the playoffs. The Marlins with go with the hot hand of Josh Beckett (3-1 with a 2.08 ERA in September) in Game One. He'll be followed by Brad Penny (14-10, 4.13), Mark Redman (14-9, 3.59) and Dontrelle Willis (13-6, 3.41). Willis has struggled (4-5, 4.91 since the All Star break) after his remarkable start to the season, but seemed to regain his mojo down the stretch.

  7. Boston (4.30): The month away from the mound at midseason may have been the best thing to happen to Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox this season. This is the sharpest that Pedro has been at this time of the year since 1998. Clearly, the Red Sox cannot make a run for the pennant if Pedro does not bring his best stuff to the playoffs. After a tough start, Derek Lowe has turned things around and looks like the bona fide #2 starter that he was last season. Lowe ended the year 17-7 and has a 2.97 ERA over his last nine starts. Grady Little will use Lowe in Game Three of the Division Series because he has pitched so well at Fenway. Tim Wakefield will start Game Two. Wake has pitched very well in September (2.15 ERA) after a shaky August. John "Bad First Inning" Burkett will probably get the call in Game Four if the Red Sox are ahead in the series. Otherwise, it will be Pedro on three days rest.

  8. Minnesota (4.70): It looks like Johan Santana (12-3, 3.07) will be Ron Gardenhire's choice to start Game One against the Yankees with Brad Radke and Kyle Lohse taking the mound in Games Two and Three. It could be Santana or lefty Kenny Rogers in Game Four. The bad news for Twins fans is that Kyle Lohse, Brad Radke and Kenny Rogers each had ERA’s above 4.50 this season. The good news is that Lohse was 8-2 with an ERA of 3.70 over the last two months, Kenny Rogers was 5-3 with a 3.25 ERA over the same period and Radke was 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in September. I have rated the Twins last among playoff rotations based on their overall season performance, but there is no question that this group could be tough in the postseason.

Bullpen (bullpen ERA in parentheses)

  1. Oakland (3.60): Unlike many closers of today, Keith Foulke is a guy who is capable of pitching more than one inning. Foulke accomplished this feat 15 times this season on his way to a 9-1 record and 43 saves in 48 chances. Foulke also gave up 10 homeruns this season which could be important as he faces a Red Sox lineup that hit 238 dingers in 2003. Chad Bradford and lefty Ricardo Rincon did a great job setting up Foulke.

  2. Minnesota (3.73): The Twins have a very reliable closer in lefthander “Everyday” Eddie Guardado, who saved 41 in 45 chances, and a solid set-up man in Latroy Hawkins, who had an impressive 1.86 ERA in 74 appearances. JC Romero has had a bad season, but pitched well during the final four weeks of the season.

  3. San Francisco (3.49): Tim Worrell has hardly been automatic this season in the closer role. Worrell has blown 7 of 45 save chances and the Giants lost four of those games. His 2.87 ERA is high for a closer. Take away the closer role and the Giants probably have the best bullpen among playoff teams. They have a dependable group including Joe Nathan, Felix Rodriquez and lefty Scott Eyre.

  4. New York (4.04): The Yankee bullpen was as shaky as Boston’s for most of the season but they seem to have regained some consistency over the past month. Mariano Rivera had major problems in August, but saved nine games without giving up an earned run in September. Lefthander Chris Hammond has been excellent since the All Star break though Jeff Nelson and Gabe White have struggled.

  5. Atlanta (4.01): John Smoltz had nearly as good a season as Eric Gagne. The former starter saved 45 of 49 games and had a minuscule 1.12 ERA this season. His health status remains a concern for Braves fans. Smoltz was sidelined with tendinitis in his right elbow and has pitched only four times since August. Lefty Ray King, Roberto Hernandez, Kevin Gryboski and Trey Hodges have all had problems at times for Atlanta. Lefty Kent Mercker proved to be an excellent midseason acquisition. He has a 1.06 ERA in 17 innings in his third tour of duty with the Braves.

  6. Chicago (4.15): Joe Borowski came out of nowhere to become the Cubs closer in 2003 after Antonio Alfonseca was injured early in the season. Borowski saved 33 in 37 chances with a 2.63 ERA. Alfonseca has struggled all season (5.83 ERA), but the Cubs have the benefit of two solid lefties in Mark Guthrie (2.81 ERA) and Mike Remlinger as well as righty Kyle Farnsworth.

  7. Florida (4.32): The Florida Marlins have something that no other playoff team does – two closers. Braden Looper held the closer role for most of the season, but blew back to back saves in mid-September. Since then, veteran Ugueth Urbina has been closing games for Manager Jack McKeon. Uggie has been excellent since joining the Marlins with a 1.41 ERA and has four saves in the past week. Chad Fox has also been an excellent late season acquisition (2.13 ERA) after being released by the Red Sox (D'oh!).

  8. Boston (4.83): The Red Sox bullpen has been in a word, atrocious. The faces have changed over the course of the season, but the results - or should I say, lack of results - have been similar. The Scott’s – Williamson and Sauerbeck – haven’t been able to get anyone out since joining the Sox. Sauerbeck has not been able to find the strike zone, walking 18 in 16 2/3 innings in a Boston uniform. The good news is that Byung-Hyun Kim has not allowed an earned run since August 30th. Unfortunately, his problems against the Yankees are well-documented. Red Sox starters are not exactly workhorses so the bullpen will be tested in the playoffs. If they cannot turn things around, the Sox will be golfing soon.

Defense (fielding percentage rank in parentheses)

  1. Minnesota (5): Two-time gold glover Torii Hunter is a one-man highlight reel in centerfield. Hunter is so good that fans are shocked when he doesn't make the spectacular catch. Hunter is not the only Twin that is among the league's best. Doug Mientkiewicz has won a gold glove at first base. Cristian Guzman has fought injuries but remains near the top of the league in fielding percentage as does third baseman Corey Koskie. The Twins are a team that almost never hurts itself with poor defense and will often save a game with their gloves.

  2. Florida (3): The Marlins have played excellent defensive at nearly every position. Catcher Ivan Rodriquez may be a bit past his prime but he remains one of the best in the game and forces would-be base stealers to think twice before testing him. The double-play combination of Luis Castillo and Alex Gonzalez (one of two Alex Gonzalez's playing shortstop in the NL playoffs) is one of the best among the postseason contenders. Third baseman Mike Lowell was first in the NL in fielding percentage and participated in 27 double plays despite missing a month. Centerfielder Juan Pierre and Rightfielder Juan Encarnacion combined for only three errors all season.

  3. San Francisco (4): The Giants are a steady defensive team with a pretty good outfield. Eight-time gold glove winner Barry Bonds continues to play great defense in left, leading the NL in fielding percentage. Jose Cruz Jr has become one of the best defensive rightfielders in the game. He was second in the majors in both fielding percentage and outfield assists. Centerfielder Marquis Grissom is a four-time gold glover (1993 to 1996) but was last among qualified centerfielders in fielding percentage thanks to eight errors. Catcher Benito Santiago threw out only 19% of basestealers in 2003. Only the Phillies Mike Lieberthal was worse.

  4. Oakland (12): The A's Eric Chavez may be on his way to his third consecutive gold glove at third base, Ramon Hernandez has become a very solid catcher and Miguel Tejada will regularly turn base hits into outs, though he has made 21 errors. The A's are a team that won't necessarily help or hurt themselves in the field. They typically play steady defense and support their great pitching well.

  5. Chicago (16): The Cubs have improved defensively since the early part of the season, but no one will confuse this club with the Mariners or Twins. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez is the club's biggest defensive liability as he led the majors with 33 errors. The Cubs have a very good defense up the middle. Catcher Damian Miller threw out 39% of baserunners attempting to steal and made only three errors, shortstop Alex Gonzalez led the National League with a .984 fielding percentage (10 errors) and Mark Grudzielanek proved to be a good addition at second base. Kenny Lofton remains a gifted centerfielder at age 36.

  6. Boston (19): I'm not sure that the Red Sox have a single player that could be considered well above average defensively. Johnny Damon makes an error about once every two years, but his lack of arm strength is an invitation for baserunners to go from first to third on just about every single to center. In fact, the Red Sox may have the weakest outfield throwing arms of any team in baseball. Todd Walker's range is questionable at second base and he's made some costly errors. Jason Varitek is a solid catcher but he has thrown out only 27% of would-be base stealers. Nomar Garciaparra made 20 errors this season, but only 12 since May 5th.

  7. New York (23): The Yankee defense has been very suspect over the past three years. Derek Jeter ranks second worst in the majors among qualified shortstops in fielding percentage. Alfonso Soriano collected the fourth most errors among second basemen with 19. Jorge Posada threw out only 28% of runners attempting to steal. Bernie Williams has won four gold gloves but isn’t the same player he once was. Put it all together and you have a team that is very weak up the middle.

  8. Atlanta (24): The Braves have one of the best, if not the best, centerfielder in the business in reigning five-time gold glove winner Andruw Jones. Take away Jones (and Greg Maddux) and the Braves are a mess defensively. The team's 121 errors were the fourth worst in major league baseball. Shortstop Rafael Furcal has very good range, but was second in the league with 31 errors. The Braves are below average at every position on the diamond except for centerfield.

Intangibles

  1. New York: The Yankees have experience and confidence. They have a manager who has won it all four times. Unfortunately for Yankee fans, they also have an owner who may fire everyone if they don’t deliver another ring. The Yanks will also have home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

  2. Florida: The Florida Marlins should feel like they have nothing to lose in the 2003 playoffs. They were dead and buried before Jack McKeon took over in May and now they are playoff bound. In other words, they are playing with the house’s money. The Fish have been playing and winning meaningful games for several weeks. The games last week against the Phillies were, for all intents and purposes, playoff games. Having Mike Lowell back in the lineup should give Florida a tremendous spark. On the down side, the Marlins will not have home field advantage in any series, no matter how things play out.

  3. Chicago: Though most fans expected that the Cubs would improve in 2003, I don't think many anticipated a 20-game turnaround and a Division Title. I suspect that the fans expectations will remain subdued which will take a lot of the pressure away from the Cubs. On the other hand, the North-siders have a very young pitching staff with very little postseason experience which always carries the possibility of disaster. The unbelievable Wrigley crowd will give the Cubs a tremendous boost, especially if they can take one of two in Atlanta. Like the Marlins, the Cubs have been in a tight battle for a playoff spot all season. The important games of the past week should have the Cubs well-prepared for the postseason.

  4. Atlanta: Despite winning 12 consecutive division titles, the Braves are considered a failure by some since they have only won one World Series over that time. They have also failed to reach the Series the past three years. The pressure will be on Bobby Cox and his team but home field in the first two series will help the cause.

  5. San Francisco: The Giants should feel very confident heading into the playoffs. It takes 11 wins to take home the title and the Giants won 10 last year. They may be forced to confront those demons should they again get within one game (actually two innings) of winning it all this year. Like the Braves, the Giants playoff spot was assured a long time ago and there is always the danger that the team may have lost its competitive edge after a month of meaningless games.

  6. Oakland: Oakland has a giant monkey on their back having lost three consecutive years in the first round of the playoffs. They have been knocked out by the Yankees twice and the Twins once. If they beat the Sox, they will have a chance for revenge against one of those two teams. The A's are not a very good road team so they should be rooting for the Twins in round one.

  7. Minnesota: The Twins may claim that they want to play the Yankees but deep down, I’m sure they would rather avoid the pinstripes. The Twins are 0-13 against the Bronx Bombers over the past two years. Game One is always critical but in the case of the Twins, it means everything. They need to believe that they can beat the Yankees and if they lose Game One, those doubts may be stronger than ever.

  8. Boston: Red Sox supporters better hope that the Sox players don’t put as much stock in the Curse of the Bambino as the fans. Curse of not, eighty five years of failure can put great pressure on a team. The Sox are also below .500 against lefthanded starters. They could face lefties in three of five games against Oakland and might face lefties in as many of four of seven games should they play New York in the ALCS. Not having home field in the AL playoffs will hurt as well, especially for the Sox who have a team batting average that is 53 points better at Fenway than on the road.

The Totals (like in golf, the lower scores are the best)

1. New York: 17
2. Chicago: 21
3. Atlanta: 22
3. Florida: 22
3. Oakland: 22
3. Minnesota: 22
7. San Francisco: 24
8. Boston: 30

As the numbers indicate, this is one of the most evenly-balanced playoffs in recent memory. The Yankees probably deserve the #1 spot given that they are the only team among the eight that has won a World Series in the past five years. The Cubs came in second mainly because of their great starting rotation. The Red Sox are a distant eighth and probably should be because pitching and defense wins championships and the other teams have a better combination of both. It is hard to slug your way through three rounds against tough competition. On the plus side, the Sox have the starting pitcher who is most capable of dominating the postseason. Game One of the best-of-five Division Series is always crucial, but this year that is especially true. The Red Sox will be in an almost impossible situation if Pedro loses Game One in Oakland. The Twins have lost 13 in a row to the Yankees and a 14th loss in Game One may irreparably damage their confidence. The young Marlins and Cubs will have a difficult time beating the Giants/Braves three times in four games so they could both use a win in Game One. If they can, it will be the Giants and Braves that will feel the most pressure going into Game Two. I truly believe that all eight of these teams are very capable of winning the World Series (though my mind cannot grasp a Red Sox championship). By the same token, all of these teams have weaknesses and could very well be swept in the first round. I'll go out on a limb and predict that the A's will defeat the Marlins in the World Series in six games. We'll call it Small Market Madness.


August 28, 2003

There is a point in every baseball season where, as Red Sox fans, we are forced to come to the realization that “it is not our year.” The team’s misfortune, whether it be of their own doing of not, simply becomes too much to overcome. Sometimes the reality sets in before the All Star break. Usually it happens in late August or September. It can even happen in the tenth inning of Game Six of the World Series. For me, the reality set in last Tuesday after the Red Sox bullpen blew a late inning, two-run lead to the A’s for the second night in a row in the most important series of the year. On Monday, the Sox were cruising behind Derek Lowe’s best start of the year. But Lowe developed a blister that forced him to leave the game after six innings and only 78 pitches. Sauerbeck and Williamson were pressed into action early and couldn’t hold the lead. The A’s won the game 3-2 despite getting only three hits the whole night. On Tuesday, the Sox banged out 17 hits (and had 24 total baserunners), but lost 8-6 when Byung-Hyun Kim couldn’t hold a two-run eighth inning lead. Kim had been brilliant in the closer’s role since joining the Sox, but his magic disappeared when the Sox needed it most. The Sox gave up three hits on Monday - and lost. They had 17 hits on Tuesday – and lost. Only the Sox are capable of “accomplishing” something like that. Meanwhile, the Yankees (or as I like to call them the Luckees) continue to win by accident. On Saturday, the Yankees won because of a baserunning blunder by the Orioles in the ninth inning as Jack Cust stumbled a few feet away from an uncovered home plate (the would-be tying run). On Tuesday, the Royals bailed out a suddenly ultra-hittable Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning when Carlos Beltran wasn’t paying attention to the runner in front of him and was caught scrambling back to second base. The Yankees gave up 17 hits and won on the same night that the Red Sox had 17 hits and lost. Hollywood couldn’t dream up this stuff. I don’t have the supporting data, but I would be very surprised if the Sox have won two games because of ninth inning opponent baserunning mistakes in the last 85 years. It happened to the Yankees twice in four days.

Though exciting and memorable, this season has also been extremely frustrating for Red Sox fans. The two games against Oakland were just the tip of the iceberg. There was the game against Florida where the Sox bullpen blew a seven-run lead in the eighth inning; the game against Philadelphia where the Sox bullpen managed to blow saves three times in the same game in an extra-inning loss; the game against New York where Soriano’s fingertip kept a Sox hit from reaching the outfield and bringing in the go-ahead run in the ninth. I could go on and on. In spite of all this anquish, the Sox are actually in good shape to make the playoffs. They are tied with Seattle in the Wild Card race (one game behind Oakland) and the Yankees are just four games ahead of the Sox with six games remaining between the two teams. For this reason, I will put aside my sense of impending doom and look at the American League race analytically.

The Schedule: The Yankees have a slightly easier remaining schedule than the Red Sox mainly because of their three remaining games with the hopeless Tigers. New York also has four games left with Toronto, who the Sox will not play again. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have one game with the Phillies, three with Cleveland and will play one additional game against the White Sox (Boston plays them five more times, New York only four). The Mariners and A’s have schedules similar in difficulty to the Red Sox. Like the Sox and Yankees, they play each other six times. They each play Anaheim and Texas a total of 13 times and Baltimore and Tampa another ten times. The toughest part of Boston’s schedule is the next nine games as they play the Yankees six times, the White Sox twice and the Phillies once. At the same time, the M’s and A’s play Batimore and Tampa Bay. The next week and a half will be an opportunity for the West Coast teams to move ahead in the race. If they cannot, the advantage shifts back to the Red Sox.

The Yankees: You won’t hear it on television or read about it on the radio, but the Yankees are simply not that good. They have the best top four pitchers in the American League, but two of those guys are 40 years old and one of them is fighting a bad back. Fifth starter Jeff Weaver has been bashed around all season and has now been replaced by Jose Contreras. The Yankee bullpen has been nearly as bad as Boston’s for most of the season. New York’s one giant advantage had been the closer spot but Mariano Rivera has been blowing saves on a regular basis and when he’s isn’t blowing saves, it’s because opponents are bailing him out with baserunning faux pas. New York’s lineup pales in comparison to Boston’s. The Sox team average is 24 points higher (.292 vs .268) and the Sox have scored 90 more runs than the so-called Bronx Bombers. The Sox even have a better fielding team than the Yanks (84 errors vs 91). Unfortunately, New York has the biggest advantage of all: a four game lead. The Sox will probably need to win at least 4 of 6 head-to-head with New York to have a chance to erase that margin. Winning the American League East is crucial even if the team that finishes second manages to grab the Wild Card because in that case the AL East winner would get the pleasure of home field against the winner of the American League Central (aka Comedy Central) while the Wild Card team would play the AL West winner (Seattle or Oakland) without home field advantage.

The Athletics: It is hard to imagine that a team with such a scant payroll can keep winning 95 games per year. The Oakland organization has been so much better than New York’s the past five years that it’s scary. Unfortunately for A’s fans (all 15 of them), the payroll discrepancies have been too much to overcome. It appeared that this year might be different before Mark “Agent” Mulder went down with a stress fracture that could end his season. This is great news for the Sox, but you can’t help but feel bad for the A’s who have lost in the first round of the playoffs three years in a row.

The Mariners: On paper, the Mariners appear to be the best all around team in the American League. Their hitting isn’t on par with the Red Sox, but it is as good as New York’s and significantly better than Oakland’s. Ichiro, Boone and Martinez are all hitters that no one wants to face with the game on the line and Olerud and Cameron can hurt you as well. Seattle’s starting rotation is not quite on the level with New York or Oakland, but if Freddy Garcia continues to pitch to his potential they aren’t far behind. With a healthy Kazuhiro Sasaki, the Seattle bullpen is easily the best among the four contenders, even with the ludicrous Nelson for Benitez trade. Seattle’s defense is also head and shoulders above the other contenders. It amazes me that with all their talent the Mariners have lost more than half of their games in the second half and have let the lead in the American League West slip away. Clearly, the Red Sox made a statement by winning 5 of 7 in their recent battles with the M’s.

Observations from Seattle: I had the pleasure of visiting Seattle for the first time two weekends ago when the Red Sox were in town. Seattle is a great city and Safeco Field is the best new stadium I’ve been to. I was sitting 12 rows behind home plate for Pedro’s start on Saturday. It wasn’t vintage Pedro, but it was a great performance nonetheless. I was thoroughly impressed with the Seattle crowd as well. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house and the crowd was truly into the game. They seem to be very supportive of the team despite the organization’s marginal interest in winning (they cannot be excused for letting Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr and Alex Rodriguez leave). I arrived at the game in time to see Red Sox batting practice and was amazed by the number of people in the ballpark a full 90 minutes before game time. I’d venture to say that there were more people in the stands at Safeco an hour before game time than there normally are at Dodger Stadium in the second inning. It is hard to believe that Seattle nearly lost its team to another city less than a decade ago. I have added Seattle to my review of ballparks that I have visited. Please click HERE to see my updated list.

Speaking of ballparks, what is the deal with guys who take off their shirts at the ballgame? Note to knuckleheads: the ballpark is not the beach. Watching a baseball game is not shirts against skins basketball, nor is it a rap video. You are not Marky Mark and your friends are clearly not the Funky Bunch. Safeco Field is not your living room. I realize that there are chairs and televisions, but you idiots must realize that you are not in your house. At one point I may have made an exception for guys that paint their chests with large letters that combine to form a word (for example, five shirtless guys spelling out N-O-M-A-R) but even that was old and tired twenty years ago. Please do us all a favor and put your shirts back on.

Third Quarter Grades: This is how I would grade the Sox regulars since the All Star break:


May 16, 2003

The Red Sox have now completed one quarter of the season and although there have been a few heartbreaking losses and a couple of ominous signs, the Sox are in a decent position through 40 games. Boston's 26-14 record puts them only one game behind the Yankees, who looked unbeatable over the first two weeks of the season. The Sox are on pace for 105 wins by season's end, though this mark should be taken with a grain of salt because they have not yet played any games against the league's best three teams - New York, Seattle and Oakland. Derek Lowe and the bullpen are a concern, but the offense has been potent despite the fact that Johnny Damon, Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez have not hit to their capabilities as of yet. Here is a breakdown of the good news and concerns through 40 games:

The Good News:

Casey Fossum and Shea Hillenbrand

Theo Epstein gained my respect early in his tenure by resisting the temptation to trade Fossum and Hillenbrand. During my 25 years as a Red Sox fan, the philosophy of Sox Upper Management has always been to trade away young talent for aging veterans that can provide immediate help. Though some of these moves have helped the Sox in the short run, the long term impact on the Boston farm system has been disastrous. Most new General Managers have the tendency to look for instant gratification by way of proven veterans. The pressure is on to win right away, but Epstein has kept his cool and now both Fossum and Hillenbrand are paying large dividends. Hillenbrand has 30 RBI's and is batting .341 with runners in scoring position. He is also improving defensively. Shea has committed just two errors this season (he booted 23 last year). Casey Fossum is 4-1 and the Red Sox have won 7 of the 8 times he has taken the mound in 2003.

Patience at the Plate

Though I don't have opponent pitch statistics, it appears that the Sox have been a more patient team at the plate this season. Shea Hillenbrand is learning to be more selective, Nomar has been nearly impossible to strike out and Kevin Millar, needless to say, is a monumental improvement over the frustrating Jose Offerman. Bill Mueller has been a pleasure to watch as has often battled opposing hurlers for ten or more pitches, many times ending up with a base-hit. The increased discipline is helping the Red Sox "manufacture" more runs than they did last season.

Winning Close Games

For as long as I can remember, the Red Sox have been the foremost authority on losing one-run games. At one point last season, the Red Sox were 5-21 in one-run contests. By season's end, they were 13-23 in one-run affairs yet still managed to win 93 games. Had they been .500 in those games, they would have won 98 games and taken the Wild Card instead of Anaheim and the Monkey never would have rallied. Despite a shaky bullpen, the Sox are 10-3 in one-run contests this year, which is one of the main reasons why they are just one game behind New York.

The Runnin' Red Sox

I never thought I would see the day that the Red Sox would rank third in the American League in stolen bases. In fact, to see the Sox anywhere but last in the league in steals is a shock. Johnny Damon continues to steal at a solid pace and Damian Jackson has given the Red Sox their first legitimate pinch-running stolen base threat in ages. Even Manny has a stolen base to his credit.

The Double Factory

The Sox haven't shown the kind of homerun power that the Yankees and Rangers possess, but they have been doubling opposing pitchers to death this season. Mueller and Hillenbrand each have 15 doubles and Damon, Garciaparra and Ramirez are all in double-figures in two-baggers as well. In most cases, two doubles in a game will get you more runs that one homer.


The Concerns:

Derek Lowe

I don't think anyone expected Derek Lowe to repeat his near Cy Young performance of last season, but we also didn't expect the big righthander to struggle as much as he has in the early going. Strangely, Lowe has been spectacular at Fenway (2-0 with an 0.95 ERA) but can't get anyone out on the road (1-3, 11.57 ERA). At least part of the reason for Lowe's failures on the road has been that the sinker ball specialist has pitched three times on artificial turf. Still, there is no excuse for an 11.57 ERA away from home. Lowe was great in 2000 and 2002, but had some problems in 2001. Let's hope that this isn't some kind of odd-numbered year curse.

The Bullpen

After a horrendous start, the Sox bullpen has been very effective the past couple of weeks. The addition of veteran Robert Person should help stabilize the pen. Brandon Lyon has been excellent as the closer, but I'm not sure that the Red Sox will feel comfortable with a 23-year-old who has only pitched 144 career innings closing games in September and October. There is also good news in the fact that Alan Embree seems to be regaining his velocity. The Sox cannot win without a bona fide lefty out of the bullpen and Embree is the only option right now.

First Base

David Ortiz and Jason Giambi have failed to live up to even Brian Daubach expectations at first base. The Red Sox offense isn't in bad shape but first base is a power position and you hate to stick with a combo that is batting in the low .200's with five homers. David Ortiz, who has hit a combined 38 homeruns in 715 at bats over the past two seasons has only one round-tripper this year. When the season started, I wondered if the Royals might part with 29-year-old Mike Sweeney by midseason, figuring that they would be about 50 games out of first place by then. Now that the Royals appear to be a contender, acquiring Sweeney is very unlikely.


The Notes:

The Trot Nixon Enigma

For years, Sox fans have been waiting for Trot Nixon to have the breakout season that everyone has been expecting since he was drafted 7th overall by the Sox in 1993. In 2001 and 2002, Trot bulked up his production, averaging 26 homers and 91 RBIs. Unfortunately, his average fell to .256 last season after a .239 second half. Of course, he drove in 57 runs after the All Star Game. This year, Trot has rattled off a .321 average, but has only 3 homers and 11 extra base hits. It always seems like you get batting average or power from Trot, never both at the same time. Moreover, Trot continues to struggle against lefthanders as he is batting only .160 in limited at bats against southpaws. Nixon is a .212 career hitter against lefthanders.

Green Monster Seats

I love the Green Monster seats. Unlike the hideous coke bottles, the Monster seats seem to fit in well with the character of the ballpark. If the team can earn some extra money in the process, that's even better. It amuses me that so many observers complained about the seats. I can appreciate that people are interested in maintaining the historical character of the park, but mourning the passing of a giant net is just plain silly.

The Eck

I love Dennis Eckersley's commentary on the NESN Red Sox postgame show, but someone needs to convince the Eck to get a new look. Hey Dennis, The Eck from 1978 called and he wants his hairstyle back.

The Yankees

For the other top teams in the American League, finishing ahead of the Yankees in the regular season will be a tall order mainly because of New York's 4th and 5th starters. The top three starters for each of the potential American League playoff teams can stand toe to toe with the Yankees, but with starters 4/5 the Yankees have a distinct advantage. The Yankees can follow Mussina, Clemens and Petitte with David Wells and Jeff Weaver. The other teams counter with John Burkett and Casey Fossum (Red Sox), Ryan Franklin and Gil Meche (Mariners), John Halama and Ted Lilly (A's), John Lackey and Aaron Sele (Angels) and Kenny Rogers and Kyle Lohse (Twins). The good news is that in postseason play the rotations can shrink to three starters and New York's advantage disappears. The rest of the league is also happy to see that Jeff Weaver is still struggling. Nothing personal, Jeff.

Crazy Carl Everett

Can we please stop with the "Carl Everett is misunderstood / Carl Everett is a great guy" nonsense. We heard this when Carl was with the Mets, with Houston and with Boston. There is a reason why a guy with talents as great as Everett continues to be traded for players of lesser value. Texas may be happy now, but it is only a matter of time before Carl once again turns into baseball's version of the Incredible Hulk.

The Luxury Tax

It is far too early to make judgements about the impact of the new luxury tax / increased revenue sharing system on major league baseball, but here is what I expect:




Red Sox Notes
2007 Red Sox Notes
2005-2006 Red Sox Notes
2004 Red Sox Notes