Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Won, and Oh...

The Sox came out of the gate strong yesterday, breaking an unfortunate streak of five consecutive opening day losses with a sold win against a Texas Rangers team that simply cannot pitch. A team that plays in a ballpark that was designed for only two things:

1) Proximity to maximum possible number of strip clubs
2) Hitters

One game is obviously far too early to make a judgment, but it smells a little bit like those pundits who argued that Kevin Millwood wasn't the answer may have been right. At least he's not Chan Ho Park.

On the other hand, the once-and-future-king Curt Schilling looked really tough on the mound in his first real start since fully rehabbing his much-storied Frankenankle. He showed good velocity (depending on who you listen to, he was in the mid-90s on the heater) and location, and refrained from striking anyone in the skull. You have to be pleased.

The Red Sox internet community is agog with wonder at the one-two combination of Crisp and Loretta. Crisp continues to impress with his speed, if not his mathematics, and Loretta is proving that last year's downturn was simply injury-related. By the time pitchers get to Big Papi and Manny they'll have already had a pretty rough time of it. Coco also has shown flashes of brilliance in the field, although it's too early to assess his long term performance there. I suppose one could make the argument that it's far easier to play center when you know that you have to get to every single ball you possibly can. I am certain it never crosses his mind that either Nixon or Manny will be tracking down balls to the gap, or even in many cases to right or left field.

Offensive question mark (in the movie of his life he was to be played by Frank Gorshin until Frank's untimely death) Mike Lowell went yard yesterday and appears to be gaining confidence at the plate. Count me among those who think he can regain some semblance of his former hitting ability. I don't think we'll see him in his prime, or producing at a $9M a year clip, but he will produce. I like him on this team; I think it's a good fit.

Youks continues to refuse to hit, and has vowed that he will not hit again until people stop referring to him as the "Greek God of Walks". He has stated on numerous occasions that he does not like the moniker, partly because he is not Greek, but more importantly because it hurts his feelings and sometimes makes him cry. Nevertheless, with a (in my opinion) perfectly capable JT Snow behind him and a Korean behemoth waiting in the wings to eat Fenway Park, he needs to step it up.

AGon was a pleasant surprise yesterday, going the other way for a couple of hits. I assume this approach is the brainchild of Papa Jack in an effort to help him see the ball a bit better, and prevent him from winning his "pulled balls" contest with Lowell. If it continues I think we'll see his performance at the plate improve overall (not saying much). His defense continues to sparkle, although his baserunning leaves a wee bit to be desired, per yesterday's gaffe.

Foulke did not look good but was quoted as saying he was working on his fastball given the comfortable lead, and just wasn't spotting it well. The jury is still out on Foulke, but thus far its still looking like "12 Angry Men". Papelbon mowed through his inning in 13 pitches, and has the make-up of a guy who will breathe down Foulkie's neck as the season gets warm.

For the most part the team performed as designed, and that is a great sign. The pieces have looked pretty good in the abstract, but we want to see how they fit together, and the early returns are encouraging. Time will tell, but this team looks to be built to contend.


Leaving the Sox for a bit, I will share some thoughts on the debacle that was the Yanks - Os game last night. First off, no one should be surprised. Zito's ERA was 6.60 last April and 6.83 the April before that. Those numbers are so staggeringly bad I don't even have to look any deeper. His ERA against the MFYs for 2005 was 7.59, for 2004 it was 5.79 (in an odd juxtaposition). As a team the Spanks are hitting over .300 against Barry over the past two seasons. There is, in fact, not one shred of evidence available to mankind that states that Barry Zito would not get annihiliated last night. And lo! He got annihilated.

In spite of the utter lack of surprise with which I greeted this outcome, this was still a brutal game to watch. Oakland's recent history of rolling over against the Yankees is really starting to piss me off. They were 2-7 against the MFYs last season. This trend continues. The worst part of it is you can actually see them losing the game while they're playing it, in their body language and facial expressions. With Tejada gone the team lacks an offensive leader. I think they're hoping Frank Thomas will be that guy, and he made some strides last night by taking Johnson deep, but this is why you simply cannot bet on the As to win anything. They have no fire at the plate.

Pitching and defense wins championships is all well and good, but that assumes you can score runs against good teams, and they don't; not consistently. They averaged fewer than 4 runs per game last year against the Yanks, Angels, and Cleveland, and exactly 4 runs a game against Minnesota. They averaged 5.7 runs per game agains the Sox, but scored 35 of their 58 runs in two games (of 10) in which the Sox pitching went in the crapper. The aberration last year was against Chicago AL, where they went 7-2 and averaged almost 6 runs per game. Overall, I would describe that as a "nice to have". Maybe Billy feels they can keep other teams to three runs a game with shocking consistency. I'm not a believer.

On the other side of the diamond you have the most hate-able Yankee team in my lifetime. Let's take a look at this roster full of gems:
  • Randy Johnson: An absolute piece of shit, probably the worst human being in the Bigs.
  • Gary Sheffield: Well, he's a proven cheater, holds his own front office hostage by refusing to hustle when he wants a trade or refusing to hustle if he is traded, and hates everyone, even his own teammates. Oh, yeah, and he assaults fans. A career criminal.
  • Jason Giambi: More pathetic than hate-able, but a proven cheater whose every MLB accomplishment is tainted. Has never taken an at-bat naturally.
  • A-Rod: No one on earth likes this guy. Cheated on national television, got caught, and was unrepentent, because he's better than you. Just ask him - he's better than you.
  • Indian Name "Throws Like Girl": Johnny Damon has earned his turncoat stripes, and people frown on that. They start frowning about 2 seconds after you claim that you were being "disrespected" for $10 Mil a year. According to that math, 99.9999% of all Americans are living in a constant state of disrespect.
  • Jorge Posada: This is probably just me, because he looks like an effeminate dashboard troll. Still, that is not that likeable.
Basically Jeter and Williams are the only two guys on that team for whom it's possible to feel any empathy. Fruitbat (Rivera) seems like a decent guy but he is utterly devoid of personality. Mussina is a cypher. Cano is an unknown. The pitching staff after Johnson and Mussina are temps. When you think of the 2006 New York Yankees, you think "douchebags". The problem with this is that naturally, if you're a Yankees fan, you've gotta defend these guys. This creates an untenable situation in terms of relating to the outside world, because the message being sent to everyone is "we don't care about you, we don't care about fair play, we don't care about baseball - we just care about winning". This is not good for anybody. This is the exact same attitude the US is perceived as having to the rest of the world, and look how well we're doing!

At any rate, one of the reasons I'm happy with the 2006 Sox is that this squad's focus on professionalism over Idiocy. Even I was sick of the Idiots and their media presence. I want this team to play baseball. I want them to win, but mostly I want them to play good baseball, and represent Boston in a manner I can be proud of. I think this team (Wells scares me a little) will focus on those things, and I think this is a team that Boston fans will remember fondly, World Championship or not. It's a little easier to enjoy the games now, isn't it? For that I will always thank the Idiots. I just won't miss them.

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