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2004 Red Sox Notes

October 28, 2004

Last night in St. Louis, the Red Sox made possible a moment that many Sox fans thought would never arrive. The holy grail of baseball is finally in the hands of Boston's favorite team after an arduous 86 year quest. Just three outs away from a humiliating sweep at the hands of the Yankees eleven days ago, the Red Sox stormed back with the most improbable and amazing comeback in baseball history. It is often said that baseball is a game of inches and that was never truer than in the ninth inning of Game 4 against the Yankees. Had Dave Roberts been thrown out at second base attempting to steal (and he nearly was), none of this would have happened. During the remainder of Game 4 and in the following two days, the Red Sox would survive several more close shaves. Since winning Game 6 in New York, the Red Sox have been dominant. The Cardinals nearly stole Game 1 of the World Series thanks to Boston's horrific defense. Still, this was one of the most dominant World Series performances in recent memory. Here are the most interesting numbers:

The real beauty of the past eleven days lies in the fact that the Red Sox were able to exorcise both of their demons in one season - beating the Yankees and winning the World Series. Accomplishing one of those two things would have been spectacular, but accomplishing both exactly one week apart is baseball utopia. In some ways, beating the Yankees was more important. I never take it well when the Red Sox lose, but losing to the Yankees in the postseason is a special kind of misery. It's not so much that the Yankees have beaten the Sox but that they never really earn it. In 1978, it was "Lucky" Dent's homer that made the difference. In 1999, it was bad umpiring and what must have been a series record for cheap hits by the Yankees. In 2003, it was of course the idiocy of Grady Little. There is also the fact the Yankees have finished first with the Sox second in the AL East in each of the past seven seasons. The Sox finished within six games of first place in four of those years and likely would have won the division three or four times if their payroll was anywhere close to New York's. When Curt Schilling came out in Game 1 throwing 87 mile per hour batting practice fastballs because of his bad ankle, it looked like the Yankees would win another series that they didn't deserve. By the third inning of Game 1, I was a bundle of rage. This time, the baseball gods didn't let the Yankees off the hook. Four years without a title doesn't seem like a long time, but for George Steinbrenner it is.

Before the season started, many thought that this would be Boston's year specifically because they finally had the pitching to win it all. Fans pinned their hopes on a terrific top three in the rotation combined with a top notch closer. During the season, Curt Schilling was brilliant but his injured ankle seemed to be catching up to him late in the season. Pedro Martinez struggled in September and Derek Lowe struggled all season. Keith Foulke also had bad stretches. In the end, it was the pitching - mainly those four guys - that was the key for the Red Sox. Over the final eight games, Lowe, Martinez and Schilling gave the Sox seven starts that ranged from solid to spectacular. Foulke shut the door in most of those wins.

Part of the reason that the Red Sox have failed in the World Series is the competition. In 1967, the Sox lost three times to Bob Gibson, the most dominant pitcher of his time. In 1975, the Sox lost to the Big Red Machine, the decade's best club. In 1986, it was the 108-win Mets that squeezed by the Sox. On the rare occasions that the Red Sox made it to the Series, they faced off against a juggernaut, never a team like the '84 Padres or the '97 Marlins. This year, it seemed to be more of the same with the 105-win Cardinals. This year's foe, the Cardinals certainly had the offense, defense and bullpen to match with the '67 Cards, the '75 Reds and the '86 Mets, but the starting pitching didn't quite compare. It may not have mattered though. As well as the Sox were playing they may have defeated any team from the past 40 years.

I have to give the American League umpires a lot of credit for getting together and reversing the two bad calls in Game 6 against the Yankees. It is shocking that the left field umpire failed to see Bellhorn's homer clear the fence. It was understandable that the first base umpire did not see A-Rod's karate chop on Arroyo later in the game. In the past, umpires would never reverse the original call even if the other five umpires knew that the original call was incorrect. Horrendous calls have been a major part of Yankee playoff success over the past 25 years, from Reggie Jackson purposely getting in the way of a thrown ball against the Dodgers in the '78 World Series to Jeffrey Maier's quick glove work that gave the Yankees the '96 pennant to the string of god-awful calls that handed the '99 ALCS to New York. Had the umpires of today retained the stubbornness of umpires of the past, Bellhorn's hit would have been a double, Alex Rodriguez's karate chop on Arroyo would have been rewarded and the Yankees might be on their way to yet another title that they didn't earn.

I have gone back and forth this season on whether or not I was happy that A-Rod did not become a member of the Red Sox. After watching the ALCS, I no longer have any doubts. First of all, Rodriguez's girlish karate chop to Arroyo's glove was one of the most cowardly plays that I have ever seen on a baseball diamond. Even worse was A-Rod's reaction when he was called out. He threw his arms in the air as if he couldn't believe the umpires had the nerve to call him out. I can only guess that A-Rod is filled with such overwhelming arrogance that in his mind, he should have been allowed to chop the ball out of an opponent's glove and get away with it. He showed his true colors on that play and I couldn't be happier that he is not a member of the Red Sox. Secondly, he simply didn't perform in the clutch in the playoffs. Sure, A-Rod was great when the Yankees were up by ten runs in Game 3, but when New York needed big hits this season, it was usually Sheffield, not Rodriguez, that came through.

It's impossible to argue that the Wild Card is not a good thing if you are a Red Sox fan. Thanks to the Wild Card, fans have been treated to scintillating Red Sox-Yankees seven-game playoff series' in back to back seasons. It's also fortunate because without the Wild Card, 2004 would have been Boston's ninth consecutive year without a playoff appearance.

Not only will this year's championship put an end to the Curse of the Bambino talk, but it should put an end to Yankee fan gloating (the key word is should). Losing a series after being ahead three games to none and having a lead in the ninth inning of Game 4 is a far bigger "choke" than surrendering the 14 game lead in the standings in 1978, losing the two run lead in the 1986 Series or giving up the three run lead in Game 7 of last year's ALCS. The Red Sox were the better team, but the Yankees did in fact choke. Furthermore, having a $200 million payroll and not winning the World Series should be more humiliating than anything the Red Sox have ever done. I have been saying for the past two years that the Yankees are an inferior organization to the Red Sox and now there is indisputable evidence that I am right.

With the Red Sox victory over the Cardinals, Boston-area teams have now defeated St. Louis teams in the finals in each of the four major pro sports. The Patriots beat the Rams for their first Superbowl title in 2002, Bobby Orr's legendary goal completed the Bruins sweep of the Blues in 1970, and the Celtics won their first of 16 championships in 1957 when they defeated the St. Louis Hawks.

Speaking of cities, Boston (I'm counting the Patriots as Boston) became the first city since Pittsburgh to win the Superbowl and World Series in the same calendar year. The Steelers and Pirates each won titles in 1979.

Since 1999, the Red Sox are 11-2 in games in which they could have been elimimated from the playoffs. Facing elimination, they won the final three games in both the 1999 (Cleveland) and 2003 (Oakland) AL Division Series. They lost Game 5 to the Yankees in 1999 and were eliminated. They won Game 6 against the Yankees last year before losing Game 7. They of course won all four games with their backs to the wall in this year's ALCS. The Sox are now 5-1 since '99 in Games in which they could clinch a series. They only loss came in Game 7 of last year's ALCS. Not bad for a team that supposedly chokes in the clutch.

The death of the young girl in Kenmore Square following Game 7 against the Yankees put a damper on the greatest victory in Sox history. I watched the celebration/riot on TV just hoping that no one would be seriously injured. The vast majority of the people in Kenmore Square celebrated peacefully and did nothing wrong. Unfortunately, the behavior of many others was sickening. The dastardly acts included lighting fires, breaking windows, throwing trash cans, jumping on moving cars and throwing bricks at police. It looked more like Fallujah than Boston. I was furious when the media described the rioters as "fans" of the Red Sox. These people were not Red Sox fans. No true Red Sox fan would celebrate the franchise's biggest win by commiting acts of such anger. Obviously, alcohol also played a large role. I am quite sure that no true Red Sox fan would be drunk during the team's biggest game in two decades. Anyone who was drunk during Game 7 can, under no circumstances, be described as a true Red Sox fan. The real fans wanted to remember this game for the rest of their lives. The drunks probably woke up the next day wondering who won. I also hope that the Boston Police are not held responsible for the girl's tragic death. The scumbags that were tossing trash cans, lighting fires and throwing objects at police are responsible. I hope that some of these lowlifes were caught on tape. I hope that the courts are willing to send them to jail. The college students who rioted should be expelled. A young girl is dead because of their actions and I hope they remember that for the rest of their miserable lives.

October 4, 2004

Thank god for the Wild Card. Many fans are not fond of the three division, one wild card format but Boston Red Sox fans should not be among them. The Sox have finished second to the New York Monees seven years in a row but have grabbed the Wild Card in four of those seasons. Twice during that time they have advanced to ALCS. 2004 marks the eighth time in 19 seasons that the Sox have reached the postseason. Prior to 1986, the Sox had only reached the postseason twice in 39 years. As was the case in 1986, the Sox will open the playoffs against the Anaheim Angels (they were called the California Angels back then). The Red Sox have played in ten series since 1986 and have lost seven of them (1-0 against California, 0-1 against the Mets, 1-2 against Oakland, 1-2 against Cleveland and 0-2 against the Yankees). The Sox are 18-33 in playoff games since 1986 thanks to a surreal 1-18 stretch between the Game 6 in 1986 and Game 2 of the Cleveland series in 1999. The Sox are 1-9 in Game 2's and are 4-2 in Game 5's during that time.

This appears to be the most balanced postseason in recent memory. In my humble opinion, I'd say that no team has a better than 15% chance to win the World Series nor less than a 10% chance to win (well, maybe the Dodgers). The Cardinals deserve to be the favorites but Chris Carpenter's injury takes away much of their advantage. The Sox and Astros will not have the advantage of home field in either of the first two rounds, but they have probably been the best teams in their respective leagues over the past six weeks. The Dodgers are probably the weakest of the eight playoff teams but Eric Gagne is a weapon that no other team possesses. The Twins are the least talented overall, but they have the best of the Game 1 starters. I wouldn't be shocked to any of the eight teams win it all. Well, except for the Red Sox, but that would be a different kind of shock.

Here's a brief overview of each first round series:

Red Sox vs Angels: The good news for the Sox is that they avoided Johan Santana, at least in the first round. The bad news is that they have to travel across the country once, if not twice this week. I like the Sox in this series for one reason, Curt Schilling. Schilling is the perfect guy to have on the mound to start a series and to pitch a decisive game on the road should we get to a Game 5 (by the way, he was 2-0 against Anaheim this season). Jarrod Washburn had an ERA of 6.10 against the Sox this year. Games 2, 3 and 4 are a little scary. Pedro Martinez appears to have run out of gas and Tim Wakefield has been wildly inconsistent. Bronson Arroyo has been excellent (8-2 with a 3.60 in his last 20 starts) but playoff pressure is not the same thing as regular season pressure. Vladimir Guerrero was devastating in September (.371 with 10 homers) and will probably take home the AL MVP. He terrorized the Sox with a 4-for-4, 2 HR, 9 RBI game on June 2nd but the Sox kept him in check otherwise. I like Schilling to win Games 1 and 5 and for the Sox to pick up one of two in Fenway.
Prediction: Red Sox in 5

Twins vs Yankees: There is nothing scarier in this postseason than the though of facing Johan Santana twice in a five game series. All Santana has done is go 13-0 with a 1.18 ERA since the All Star break. Opposing batters hit .154 against him over that time and his strikeout to walk ratio was nearly 6:1. The Twins also have a top-notch closer in Joe Nathan (44/47 saves and a 1.62 ERA) so the it will not be that easy for the Yankees to win games in the ninth inning (do they win any other way?). As for the Yankees, their rotation is in such disarray that Jon Lieber will start in Game 2. The good news for the Bombers is that the Twins lineup is very underwhelming. No Twin hit more than 25 homers, had more than 37 doubles or drove in more than 81 runs. I think Santana will win two low-scoring games and like the Sox, Minnesota will win one of the three games that their ace does not pitch.
Prediction: Twins in 5

Astros vs Braves: Back in April I picked the Houston Astros to win the World Series. [LINK]. By mid-August, the Astros had fallen nearly out of contention (they were a 60-1 bet to win the World Series in Vegas at that time) and my prediction, like so many others I have made, looked like a bomb. Since then, the Astros have rocketed (pun intended) from oblivion to a playoff team and a serious contender to win the World Series. Andy Pettitte didn't work out, but Roger Clemens has gained a second wind (4-0, 2.57 ERA in September) and workhorse Roy Oswalt is a 20 game winner. Brad Lidge stepped into the closers role after Houston traded Octavio Dotel and he has responded with 28 saves in 30 chances. Carlos Beltran joins Bagwell, Biggio, Berkman and Kent in a lineup that is aging but still very potent. The Braves, of course, won their division again after being written off for about the fifth year in a row. Atlanta has four solid, though unspectacular starters, each with between 13 and 15 wins, between 8 and 9 losses and an ERA of between 3.28 and 4.28. Offensively, the Braves lost some clout with the loss of Gary Sheffield and Javy Lopez but offset some of that lost offense with J.D. Drew, who hit .305 with 31 homers and 93 RBIs. The Astros have never won a playoff series. I think this is the year that streak will end.
Prediction: Astros in 4

Dodgers vs Cardinals: The Dodgers proved last week that they are a resilient team. In seven games last week, the Dodgers trailed going into the ninth inning in six of those games (they trailed by two runs going into the eighth inning in the other game). St. Louis closer Jason Isringhausen did blow seven saves in 54 chances this season but the Cardinals bullpen is not nearly as likely to wilt as the god-awful Colorado and San Francisco bullpens. Adrian Beltre has had a spectacular season (.334, 48 HR, 121 RBI) and Eric Gagne is the best relief pitcher since Dennis Eckersley in the late 1980s but no other Dodger should really scare the Cardinals. The loss of Chris Carpenter in the first round hurts the Redbirds but the rest of the rotation is solid. Offensively, the Cardinals are frightening. Rolen, Pujols and Edmonds combined for 122 homers, 344 runs and 358 RBIs and each batted over .300. Then there's Edgar Renteria and Larry Walker. Jeff Weaver is starting Game 2 for the Dodgers. That's all you need to know about the Dodgers chances.
Prediction: Cardinals in 3

Red Sox September Statistics

August 1, 2004

Nomar Traded to the Cubs

One piece of good news for the Red Sox is that the schedule will lighten considerably in August. Seven of the last ten series of three games or more the Sox have played have been against teams that would be in the playoffs based on today's standings (and one of the other three was a four game series in Anaheim). Of the next 26 games on the schedule, 20 will be played against teams currently below .500. The other six will be against the Chicago White Sox whose ownership, as usual, is throwing in the towel in the middle of the pennant race (more on the Loiaza trade below). In September, the schedule will get tougher so the Red Sox desperately need to take advantage of the August schedule.

Though I was very happy that the Yankees did not get Randy Johnson, it was disheartening to hear that yet another organization made a charitable donation to the Yankees. This time it was the Chicago White Sox who handed the Yankees a Cy Young caliber pitcher in Esteban Loaiza for a #5 starter in Jose Contreras. In my estimation, the White Sox should be renamed the Frenchmen because no one in baseball surrenders at midseason quite as well as they do. Since the beginning of 2003, Loaiza is 30-14 and has pitched 367 innings. Contreras has won all of 15 games in his career and this year his ERA has ballooned to 5.65. It is infuriating that so many teams are eager to hand their star players to the Yankees. Since the end of the last year, the Yankees have acquired Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez and Esteban Loaiza for Jeff Weaver, Nick Johnson, Randy Choate, Juan Rivera and Jose Contreras. Brown, Vazquez and Loaiza combined for 48 wins last year with an average ERA of 2.84. I'd love to know what kind of mind control device Brian Cashman is using to get opposing teams to give up Cy Young starters for garbage. And I didn't even mention the Rangers paying 35% of A-Rod's salary.

It continues to astound me how the Braves and A's continue to put winning teams on the field even as star players leave for larger contracts. I thought that this season might be the beginning of the end for the Braves dynasty, but as usual Bobby Cox has his team in position to win another division title despite losing Greg Maddux, Gary Sheffield and Javy Lopez (Sheffield and Lopez combined for 82 homers and 242 RBI in 2003). The A's are an even more amazing story. Oakland, already suffering from a tiny budget, lost one of the best offensive players in the game in Miguel Tejada and their closer Keith Foulke. Barry Zito isn't having a good season, yet the Athletics are in first place on August 1st. Billy Beane's ability to put winning baseball teams on the field given that budget is nothing short of miraculous.

Trade Deadline Winners and Losers

The Big Winners Other Winners The Big Losers

April 1, 2004

Despite the A-Rod debacle and injuries to Trot Nixon and Nomar Garciaparra, Red Sox fans have reason to be optimistic heading into the 2004 campaign. Both the AL East and the American League will be more competitive this season, but three key additions (Schilling, Reese and Foulke) should make the Sox a better team than the one that came within five outs of the World Series last year. On Sunday night in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Red Sox will begin the 2004 campaign against the new-look Orioles. The home opener will be Friday afternoon against the Blue Jays.

The Good News:

The Rotation -- With the addition of Curt Schilling, the Red Sox should have (health permitting), one of the top rotations in baseball this season. Schilling will fill the slot between Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield and Byung-Hyun Kim. The following table shows each Sox starter's average W-L record over the past three years (based on 32 starts per season) and their best seasons between 2001 and 2003. Please note that the averages are based only on starts.

Sox Rotation (2001-2003 Averages and Best)
Name Avg W-L* Avg ERA Best W-L Best ERA
Martinez 17-5 2.27 20-4 2.22
Schilling 18-7 3.03 23-7 2.98
Lowe 18-7 3.40 21-8 2.58
Wakefield 12-9 3.76 11-5 2.81
Top 4 65-28 3.12 75-24 2.65

* per 32 starts

The Bullpen -- The Yankees, not the Red Sox, won the American League East crown last season for one reason only - the Red Sox bullpen. The Red Sox started the season with a closer-by-committee mindset and it took exactly one game for the experiment to fail. Brandon Lyon pitched fairly well in the closer's role during the first couple months of the season, but he eventually had problems holding leads as did everyone else the Red Sox tossed on the mound in the late innings. Mike Timlin was the only member of the Sox bullpen who threw consistently well last season. During the playoffs, Timlin and Scott Williamson were both nearly unhittable (a fact that escaped Grady Little in Game Seven against the Yankees). This season, the Sox have added Keith Foulke (96 saves in 107 opps (90%) and an ERA of 2.42 over the past three years) to serve as the team's closer. Timlin, Williamson and Alan Embree will be a formidable set-up team. Talented righthander Bronson Arroyo is also expected to contribute.

The Defense -- The Red Sox have made only one change to their defensive set but that move should have a big impact this season. Slick-fielding Pokey Reese will take over for Todd Walker at second base in 2004 (once Nomar is healthy). Though Reese will not come close to matching Walker's offensive pop, he will be a major upgrade defensively. Reese will help the Red Sox infield convert more double plays and he will turn many of those slow groundball singles past Todd Walker in 2003 to outs in 2004.

The Spring Positives -- David McCarty has been the biggest Grapefruit League surprise for the Red Sox. McCarty is batting .396 with 7 homers and 17 RBIs this Spring. Cesar Crespo has also been impressive, batting .373 with 22 hits. David Ortiz has picked up where he left off last season. He's smashed 7 homeruns in the Spring while batting .327. Lowe, Schilling and Williamson have all pitched extremely well in the preseason.

The Bad News:

Injuries -- Trot Nixon will begin the 2004 season on the disabled list. The Sox rightfielder is suffering from back problems and will be out until May. Nomar Garciaparra will miss at least the first three weeks of the season because of an injured right Achilles' tendon. This is exactly what the Sox did not need.

The Spring Disappointments -- Jason Varitek has not been a very good spring offensively. The Sox All Star catcher is batting only .179 with 2 RBIs. Mark Bellhorn has been disappointing. The Red Sox are hoping that the native Bostonian will regain his 2002 stroke (27 homers). During Spring Training, Bellhorn has looked more like the player of 2003 that batted .221 with 2 HRs in 99 games. The Blue Jays shelled Pedro in his final Spring start yesterday but that shouldn't be of much concern for Sox fans. Neither Timlin (9.82 ERA in 11 IP) nor Foulke (12.14 in 6 IP) have been successful in the preseason but high ERAs in the Spring are usually not predictive of how a pitcher will perform at the start of the season.

The Competition -- The Yankee acquisitions of Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez will more or less offset the losses of Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. The signings of Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon will give the Yankees a set-up team very comparable to the Sox duo of Timlin and Williamson. The addition of Gary Sheffield elevated the Yankee offense to a level more or less on par with the Sox. With these moves only, the Sox and Yankees would have been evenly matched in 2004. Then came A-Rod. With Alex Rodriguez in the fold, the Yankees vaulted themselves (using a big stack of money) into the position of favorites to win the American League pennant. I am fearful that Yankees won't stop with Vazquez, Brown, Gordon, Quantrill, Sheffield and A-Rod. Jose Vidro is playing out the string in Montreal and I'm sure that George Steinbrenner will want to put an All Star in the one position where he doesn't already have one (second base). If Brown breaks down, George will be there with the money to replace him with another Cy Young caliber pitcher. The Yankees have clearly positioned themselves to buy yet another championship. The Orioles, who gave the Sox fits last season, have also improved dramatically with the additions of Javy Lopez, Miguel Tejada and Rafael Palmeiro. They also resigned Sidney Ponson after renting him to the Giants for a couple of months. The Angels will be a serious threat to both the Sox and Yankees for AL supremacy. The Halos, just one year removed from a championship, added two solid pitchers to the rotation (Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar) and the best all-around player in the game (Vlad Guerrero). If they can stay healthy, they are a threat to win their second World Series title in three years.

My Predictions:

AL East: Yankees -- I don't think the Sox can hold up against the 200 million dollar men for 162 games, especially given the fact the Steinbrenner can and probably will add more All Star caliber players before the trading deadline. There is a better than average chance that clubhouse cancers Kevin Brown and Gary Sheffield will cause strife within the Yankee family, especially with all of the other inflated egos, but the stunning talent level should be enough to enable the Yanks to overcome those problems should they arise. The Sox will grab the Wild Card (see below), the Orioles will continue to improve, the Blue Jays, as usual, will challenge for a while then fade away in the late summer and the D-Rays will turn the corner but still finish a distant fifth.

AL Central: Twins -- The AL Central, or Comedy Central as many like to call it, should be a fairly entertaining three-team race between the Twins, White Sox and Royals. The White Sox will fall a few pegs without Colon and I feel that the Royals, though an up-and-coming club, played a bit over their heads last season. The Twins have the most talent, the best pitching and are a proven winner. The Indians have some great young talent and could be competitive in this weak division. The Tigers will improve their win total by about 20 but will remain at the bottom of the weakest division in baseball.

AL West: Angels -- I expect the Angels to bounce back from a weak 2003 season to win the AL West in 2004. As I mentioned above, the Angels have added several key players to a team already loaded with talent. The new players, coupled with better health should put the Angels in the 93 to 96 win range this season. The Mariners have been getting weaker each year and did not make the strong moves in the offseason like their chief AL rivals New York, Boston and Anaheim. I cannot imagine that the A's will continue to win like they have over the past three seasons without Miguel Tejada, Jose Guillen and Keith Foulke. If the A's win close to 100 games again this year, no one will be able to deny that Billy Beane is a genius. The Rangers have made a mockery of baseball. Not only did they give away one of the greatest players of all time, but they will pay a third of his salary for the next seven years and financially support the richest club in baseball. I wish Tom Hicks and his pitiful organization luck in securing the #1 pick in the 2005 Amateur Draft.

Wildcard: Red Sox -- The Red Sox should grab a spot in the playoffs if they can remain relatively healthy (they aren't off to a great start in that category). The Orioles are probably a year away from being true playoff contenders. The Blue Jays are unlikely to get the same kind of year from Halladay, which they will need to be in Wild Card contention. The AL Central will not compete for a Wild Card spot and the A's will have a hard time scoring enough runs to be in the Wild Card hunt. The second place team among the Mariners and Angels should be the Red Sox strongest competition for the Wild Card in 2004.

NL East: Phillies -- Like the Red Sox, the Phillies owe many of their losses in 2004 to the bullpen. This year, they have solved that problem by trading for former Astros closer Billy Wagner. The Phillies lineup isn't exactly scary but Thome should carry the offense. The Braves will of course be in the mix, but the losses of Sheffield, Maddux and Lopez may finally put an end to the Tomahawk Choppers NL East dynasty. The Marlins have a bright future but they overachieved a bit in 2004 and the losses of Derrek Lee and Pudge Rodriguez will be too much to overcome. The Expos will continue to play valiantly but the talent gap will catch up to them. The Mets can only get better. Of course, that's what I said about the Mets last year.

NL Central: Cubs -- The Cubs have made all the right moves in the offseason. They added veteran Greg Maddux to the best starting rotation in baseball. They added some punch to the lineup with Derrek Lee and will have Corey Patterson back from injury. They improved in the bullpen with LaTroy Hawkins. I'm sure for the Cub fans, the season cannot start soon enough. The Astros will secure the Wild Card (see below) and the Cardinals will be in the mix despite not making any major moves. The Pirates, Brewers and Reds will battle for fourth place and try not to lose more than 100 games.

NL West: Padres -- I need to go out on a limb with at least one of my picks so I will predict that the San Diego Padres will win the NL West. The Padres would have been better in 2004 simply by being healthier (Phil Nevin and Trevor Hoffman missed most or all of last season) and more experienced (talented starters Brian Lawrence, Jake Peavy and Adam Eaton will have another year under their belts). The Padres will have Brian Giles for an entire season and David Wells and Sterling Hitchcock should provide veteran leadership to the young pitching staff. Ramon Hernandez will add stability behind the plate. The Padres will benefit from the fact that the Dodgers seem to have all but given up on winning. The Giants will be the favorite to win the NL West but I feel that they have peaked and may take a couple of steps back this season, especially with the Barry Bonds steroids controversy looming. The D-backs and Rockies both have some talent and should be competitive. This is a division where the first place and fifth place teams may only be separated by 10-15 games in the standings by the end of the year.

NL Wild Card: Astros -- The Astros will be an interesting team to watch this season. The additions of Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens to a rotation that already included Tim Redding, Wade Miller and Roy Oswalt will give Houston a staff that can be mentioned along with the Yankees, Red Sox, A's, and Cubs as one of the best in baseball. Octavio Dotel should be able to fill Billy Wagner's closer role and with Berkman, Biggio, Bagwell, Hidalgo, Ensberg and Kent in the lineup, the Astros will have no problems scoring runs, especially in the Juice Box.

World Series: Astros over the Angels -- Picking the Red Sox to win the Series would be bad luck and no self-respecting Sox fan would ever pick the Yankees to win it all. The Twins have little chance in the playoffs so that leaves the Angels as my pick to win the American League pennant. I think that the Cubs and Astros will battle in the NLCS with the Astros winning in seven games. This time, Cubs fans will not be able to blame Steve Bartman. The Astros will then top the Angels in seven games. To ensure that Boston fans suffer even when the Sox are not involved, Roger Clemens will win Game Seven, 1-0, thanks to a homerun by Jeff Bagwell.

MVP: Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome -- Now that he has left Baseball Siberia, Guerrero should finally get the recognition that he so richly deserves. With Erstad batting in front of him and Anderson and Glaus following him in the lineup, Vlad should drive in 120 runs and score 120 runs. If the Phillies win the division as I have predicted, it will probably be because of Jim Thome. Thome must carry the Phils offense on his back if they are to slide past the Braves and Marlins in the top-heavy NL East.

Cy Young: Curt Schilling and Carlos Zambrano -- With a great offense, a solid group of set-up men and a top-notch closer, Curt Schilling could win 25 games in 2004. Unlike Pedro Martinez, who has become a seven-inning starter, Schilling will pitch into the 8th and 9th innings which means that he will give himself a chance for more decisions. The strikeouts won't hurt his cause either. I was going to select Mark Prior as my NL Cy Young winner but since he is injured, I will go with another young, talented Cub, Carlos Zambrano. The 22-year-old Zambrano showed flashes of brilliance last season but he was still learning to pitch. I expect that 2004 will be his breakout season.

Rookie of the Year: Joe Mauer (Twins) and Khalil Greene (Padres) -- 20-year-old Joe Mauer should play a key role for the Twins this season. The 2003 Minor League Player of the Year will make the jump from AA to the Twins starting lineup. Mauer batted .341 last year in the minors and is a defensive standout. He's batting .321 thus far in Spring Training. Khalil Green appears to have won the starting shortstop job in San Diego. The 24-year-old should give the Padres defensive stability and some offensive production. Greene is batting .345 with a team-leading 16 RBI this Spring.

February 16, 2004

I canít say that I was overly surprised when I first heard the news that Alex Rodriguez would be heading to the New York Yankees. When the Red Sox failed to acquire Rodriguez late in 2003, I feared that he would soon be a Yankee, not because George Steinbrenner necessarily wanted or needed the MVP, but because the Yankee boss couldnít allow the Red Sox to acquire him. Last year, the Yankees threw their money at Jose Contreras so that the Sox couldnít sign him and then put themselves in the middle of a three-way trade that resulted in Bartolo Colon Ė a potential Red Sox target Ė heading to Chicago. George Steinbrenner is a very arrogant man but he is also very insecure. Both traits cause him to spend money wildly. Big George wants to win badly, but knows that at the present time the Yankee organization is inferior to organizations like the Red Sox, Twins, Angels, Aís, Mariners, Braves, Marlins, Astros, Cubs and Giants. To win a championship, the Yankees must not only spend more than anyone else, but much more than anyone else.

The strange thing is that after hearing the terms of the A-Rod trade, I was more angered with Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks than with George Steinbrenner. I canít fault Hicks for trading Rodriguez to the Yankees. I am, however, furious that Hicks: (a) demanded so little in return and (b) will actually be paying for $67 million of the amount remaining on Rodriguezís contract. On average, the Yankees will pay A-Rod about $16 million per year with the Rangers picking up the other $10 million per season. I would love to know when the Yankees became worthy of financial charity. From the Red Sox perspective, the numbers simply do not add up. The Rangers turned down the Red Sox offer of Manny Ramirez for Rodriguez, a move that would have saved Texas a total of $82 million. The trade with the Yankees will save the Rangers $106 million. However, if Texas keeps Soriano for the same five years that they would have had Ramirez at say $8 million per year, the Rangers will save only $74 million. In other words, the Rangers will be paying $8 million more in total for a player that is not nearly as good as Manny Ramirez. The Red Sox negotiated with the Rangers for two months, made fair offers and the Rangers barely budged. When the Yankees called, the Rangers caved in on a lopsided deal in a mere four days.

This news comes on the heels of other unfair Yankee deals for Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown. All told, New York acquired the best shortstop in history (at least he used to be a shortstop) and two of the top five pitchers (ERA-wise) in the National League for Alfonso Soriano (a talented player, but a strikeout artist with no glove), Nick Johnson (mediocrity personified) and Jeff Weaver (addition by subtraction). I would think that the other Major League Baseball owners would be furious with George Steinbrenner for making a mockery of the game with his overspending. Every time George opens his wallet, salaries around the league increase and the other clubs see their chances to win a championship fade. Yet just the opposite appears to be true. The rest of the league seems more than willing to hand the Yankees their All Stars for 30 cents on the dollar. The fans of all of those teams should be furious. It is just plain bizarre. Does Steinbrenner possess some kind of X-files episode mind control? Does he have a library of incriminating photos of upper management personnel from around the league that he uses to blackmail the other teams? There must be an explanation.

ďI hate you with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns.Ē
-Diane Chambers to Sam Malone on Cheers

This one of my all-time favorite lines from among the many great ones uttered by Cheers characters over the years. One of the reasons that I like this quote so much is that it so accurately reflects my feelings toward the New York Yankees. At least I thought that it did. After the A-Rod trade, Iím not sure that a thousands suns is nearly enough. The Yankee recipe for irritating Red Sox fans is quite simple: one part arrogance, two parts luck and ten parts money. Unlike many of Bostonís other natural rivals - the Lakers, 76ers and Montreal Canadiens Ė the Yankees inspire far greater hatred from Boston sports fans because they rarely earn their success. They usually buy it. When they arenít buying it, they are relying on dumb luck to get by (Bucky Dentís homerun in 1978, Jeffrey Maierís quick glove in 1996, one break after another coupled with some friendly umpiring in the 1999 ALCS). To be fair, I have to give credit to the Yankees for their impressive run in 1998. They deserved that one, high payroll or not. Their success since then has been all about the benjamins.

The Yankees have always been at a great financial advantage over their competition. The trade of Babe Ruth to New York, a move which ignited the Yankee dynasty, occurred because of money. The Yankees had plenty of it and Red Sox ownership needed a quick financial fix. Through the years, the Yankees could always afford the best talent and took advantage of poorer clubs on a regular basis. In the mid 1970ís, free agency was established and the Yankees had the most money to spend. They immediately won two world championships. In the 1980ís, club payrolls equalized and the Yankees became very average. By the late 1990ís, payroll discrepancies were growing out of control and so the Yankees were able to win a few more pennants. With even marginal payroll equity, the Mariners and Aís would have been winning the AL pennants since 1999. Have the Yankees been a solid organization over the years? Sure. Would they have won even half of those 26 championships without the benefit of their great finances? No way.

It comes as no surprise that New Englanders harbor a deep and growing resentment for the New York Yankees. What is more of a surprise is how rapidly Yankee-hating is expanding across America. I was shocked when I opened Sports Illustrated a couple of weeks ago and read that George Steinbrenner was voted ďEnemy of the StateĒ in Michigan. The New England states I expected, but Michigan? The Tigers arenít even in the same division as the Yankees anymore. Fans in every baseball city, even those in the National League, share a universal disdain for the Yankees. Yankee fans would argue that this is only because they have been winning. This is simply not true. America does not hate the Patriots, the Lakers, the Spurs or the Red Wings. The Yankees are hated because they win by outspending everyone. Most of the Yankee players are decent guys but the owner is a boorish fool who rubs his money in the noses of baseball fans who root for the other 29 clubs.

Yankee fans should be ashamed of what their team has done, but Iím quite sure they will continue to gloat. Yankee fans remind me of a C-student from a rich family who gets accepted by an Ivy League college because his father makes a huge donation that helps the school build a new library. The C-student then spends the rest of his life bragging about his status as an Ivy League graduate while mocking the A-students who were not accepted for admission to the college.

I canít help but be angry at both the Major League Baseball Playerís Association and the owners for allowing the Yankee greed to grow out of control. Both sides seem determined to ruin baseball. The MLBPA and the owners had two opportunities to implement a salary cap (after the 1994 work stoppage and at the end of 2002 when the new collective bargaining agreement was negotiated). The players got everything they wanted in 1995 and nearly everything that they wanted in 2002. The luxury tax may lighten George Steinbrennerís wallet, but it helps the Yankees tremendously. The luxury tax will probably benefit teams at the bottom of the payroll food chain as tax money is redistributed, but it has also widened the gap between the Yankees and the second tier teams because those teams are afraid to pass the luxury tax threshold while the Yankees have no qualms about barreling right through it. Baseballís luxury tax is a dream come true for Yankee fans.

The Rangers, Yankees and the Major League Baseball Playerís Association should all be ashamed of themselves for what has transpired over the last three months. They are all at fault for taking the game to an even more ridiculous level than before. Still, their misdeeds do not absolve the Red Sox management team from serious blame in this matter. Though it was silly not to agree to the restructuring that Rodriguez wanted, the Playerís Union did make some concessions. A-Rod was willing to surrender his own money to reduce some of the burden on the Red Sox and appease his greedy owner. All that was left was for John Henry and Company to commit an extra $2 million per year to make this deal happen. Not only would this bring the best shortstop to ever play the game to Boston, but would pave the way for Magglio Ordonez as well. It seemed too good to be true. Sadly for Red Sox fans, when it seems too good to be true, it always is. In many ways, I respect the Red Sox for not caving in to Hicks' ludicrous demands. He was saving $82 million in the deal and that should have been enough. However, the Red Sox had gone past the point of no return. They had offended Nomar Garciaparra and raised the hopes of Red Sox Nation. They surely knew that George Steinbrenner would now come after Rodriguez. They had to make the deal. Now Sox fans may have to suffer because ownership would not pony up $2 million per year. John Henry showed Sox fans that he is not completely committed to winning a World Series. Heís clearly not a money-grubbing miser like Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, but heís no Bob Kraft either.

From a Red Sox fans perspective, the one person that I cannot fault is Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod wanted to play in Boston and was willing to take a substantial pay cut to do it. I now despise Alex Rodriguez because he is a Yankee, not because he accepted this trade. Rangers fans should be furious with Rodriguez who accepted a role as team captain while continuing to force his way out of town.

Does the A-Rod trade mean that the Yankees have the World Series wrapped up? Not exactly. New Yorkís advantage (thanks to the money) is overwhelming but the Red Sox have improved greatly as well. So have the Angels, Astros and Cubs. The Red Sox should be a much more well-balanced team in 2004. Grady Little is gone. Curt Schilling is a gigantic upgrade over John Burkett in the rotation. Keith Foulke should save some of those 8-10 games that the Sox bullpen blew last season. Pokey Reese will turn many of those slow groundball singles past Todd Walker in 2003 into outs in 2004. The Sox will have Scott Williamson for an entire season. The only player of consequence that the Sox lost was Todd Walker, a defensive liability. I donít expect any major problems in the clubhouse resulting from the A-Rod trade talks. Nomar is a professional in every sense of the word. He will not let the A-Rod situation hamper his play. Manny Ramirezís effort and commitment is always a concern. Manny now knows that he will not be heading to the Yankees or Rangers, so my hope is that he will refocus himself and become the hitter that he was in Cleveland. With the contracts of Nomar, Pedro, Lowe, Ortiz and Varitek set to expire at the end of season, the Red Sox could be in trouble in the long run, but there is every reason to be optimistic in 2004. This will be an uphill climb but if we win it, the victory will be that much sweeter. The Magical Mystery Tour starts for real on April 4th in Baltimore.

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