These are strange days for your Boston Schizophrenic Sox. One day they are getting swept by the lowly Orioles . . . the next they look like world-beaters against the Anaheim Close To Los Angeles In California Near Baja Angels. One day (actually, most lately) Big Papi looks more lost than Kate and Sawyer . . . the next he’s swatting home runs again. One day, arms like Beckett and Lackey are getting worked over like a fat hooker in Bangkok . . . the next they look like the guys the Sox expected when they threw truckloads of money at them this spring.
There’s no telling what you’ll get when they step onto the field.
The only thing that’s for sure is it is a long, long season. Over the past 15 years, the Red Sox have won a lot of April championships . . . just two of which translated into World Series rings. We know they have a greating starting rotation. The bullpen arms will most likely come around. And they should score more runs with that lineup. Maybe not a ton . . . but more than they’re getting now. As the season progresses, they’ll be in the hunt. We know the Yankees will be there, too. The big question looming — the monster in the closet — is: Just how good are these Tampa Bay Rays?
God, I hate this team.
Just days ago, the Sox were coming out of Tampa Bay having taken 2 of 3 at the Trop, putting the final nail in the coffin of the 2009 Devil Rays, and heading to Chicago to face a shell of a White Sox team that had waved the white flag of defeat at the August waiver trade deadline. Things looked great.
After dropping 3 of 4 to that team, things once again look bad.
The 2009 version of the Boston Red Sox seems like a heartless squad. They can’t get any traction; can’t go on any run. They’re like a ship without a rudder, floating aimlessly through the season.
Who knows why. Maybe Theo has too many emotionless robots like J.D. Drew and not enough idiots. Maybe this team doesn’t know how to be a dynasty or favorite. In years like 1999, 2003 and 2004, the Red Sox were underdogs battling 86 years of bad history. Nobody expected them to win. There’s a certain joy in being an underdog. Now, they are supposed to win. Maybe it’s just not as fun.
Whatever the reason, this is an immensely frustrating team that has so far sucked the joy out of the 2009 baseball season. Hopefully, they’re saving it for October . . . if they get that far.
God, I hate this team.
Yeah, we’re on a three-game losing streak and are now tied with the Yanks. Push the panic button, right?
Right. But not because of that.
The Yankees are going to the playoffs, people. Despite a dismal start to their year, despite having A-Rod miss more than a month and then be terrible for another month, despite injuries to Wang and hot and cold performances by Burnett and Sabathia, and despite dropping ALL eight of their games to your Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees still find themselves tied for first place here in late-July. Even if they don’t make a blockbuster move come the trade deadline (which they very well might), they should still be plenty good enough the rest of the way to make the playoffs, and probably win the division.
And I don’t have a problem with that.
The Red Sox are built for a strong run come October. But they need to get there first. The way things look, two teams from the AL East are bound for October, and it’s pretty much a given this year that one of those teams will probably be the Yankees.
Unfortunately, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (you’ll always be the Devil Rays to me) are coming on strong. Despite having a disastrous beginning to the season, the Rays have clawed their way back into contention and now sit a mere 4-and-a-half games back of the Sox and Yanks. That’s a gap that can be made up in mid-September, forgot about late-July. They’ve had players like Navarro and Upton injured and struggling in the first half. And they’ve had pitchers struggle. Struggles that likely won’t continue so poorly throughout the second half.
Meanwhile, even though the Sox may still lay claim to being the best team in the American League (which also means in baseball), they are starting to show signs of cracking. You can’t help but worry that they could end up in October like they were last year, banged-up and out of gas.
Lowell has already taken a trip to the DL. How confident are you his hip won’t send him back there again? Wakefield won 11 games in the first half. There is no chance of him continuing that kind of success. Brad Penny has a history of terrible second-halves. And while John Smoltz has showed signs of brilliance, he’s also showed signs of being a guy who isn’t the same anymore. Varitek also had a great first-half. But it’s not realistic to think he won’t wear-down unless they get him more help come the trade deadline. We might not see anything worthwhile from Matsuzaka the rest of the year. And if you think Papi is fully back to being Papi again and all is right with the world and he won’t breakdown, well, I’m not convinced.
Forget the Yankees, I’m scared those young Devil Rays might be coming to get us.
Early in the season, when teams and players are very hot or very cold, I often say “Wait and see where they are come Memorial Day.” Now here we are, at the end of May, and we can finally take a look at who are real players this year, and who are pretenders. So here are some of my thoughts on the year so far:
–Goodbye, Toronto. Thanks for playing.
–You have to be happy with where the Sox are considering Papi’s woes and that their starting pitching has yet to click.
–I hate to say it, but Papi looks done. Consider that this slump extends well back into last season. This happens a lot in baseball. You just hoped it wouldn’t happen to such a pivotal great in Sox history.
–I don’t know what’s more surprising: That the Devil Rays are four games under .500, or that the Orioles are only four games under .500. Actually, yeah I do. The more surprising one is the Orioles.
–The Tigers are winning the Central. But what’s up with the Indians? They just can’t put it together. Eric Wedge, meet the unemployment line.
–The Rangers are good, but not that good. They benefit from a weak division. And, yeah, I am saying the Angels are weak.
–Stick a fork in Matt Holliday. He’s done.
–Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria would own the title of Team Owner I’d Most Like To Hit With A Shovel . . . if Mark Cuban wasn’t so damn annoying.
–The Cardinals won’t be near the top of their division come September.
–Ha ha ha ha. The Cubs are .500 and more than 4 games out! Ha ha ha ha ha . . .
–The Dodgers own the game’s best record by nearly 6 games . . . and they are probably only about the sixth best team in the game. They should send thank-you notes to all those Four-A teams that make up the rest of their division.
It’s that time of year when the season is just around the corner and all us baseball fans start playing Nostradamus. And, yeah, maybe the Mariners didn’t win the AL West last year (not even close), and, yeah, I didn’t really see the Devil Rays going all the way to the Series. But who did? The way I see it, though, is I’m so due. So I’ll start my predictions with our home division, and perhaps the most exciting in baseball, the AL East.
1. Red Sox
3. Devil Rays
4. Blue Jays
Go ahead. Let the calls of “Homer!” begin. I can take it. But, really, can one be considered a “homer” if they’re right?? I picked the Sox two years ago, and they won it all. I picked them again last year, and they were one win (despite a boatload of injuries) from going back to the Series. I’m much too vain to pick them if they are going nowhere.
How can you not like this team? They have the most depth everywhere in all of baseball. And depth is what wins championships. They already had a very good bullpen, and with additions like Saito and Ramirez — plus their herd of awesome young pitching prospects — they now have a great bullpen. You have to like Ellsbury leading off after a full year under his belt. And JD Drew and Rocco Baldelli are both gigantic injury risks, but if you put the two of them together, that platoon could be a hell of a rightfielder.
Sure, they have questions. Among them: How will Lester’s arm recover after last year’s heavy load? Which Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka will we get? Will Papi and Lowell bounce back? But even if they have injuries, they have such depth in their lineup they can weather the storm. And their starting pitching is the deepest in all of baseball.
Sure, the Yankees added Sabathia and Burnett to their rotation, and they get back a healthy Wang (giggle, giggle), but they still have more questions and less depth than the Sox. Sabathia has a lot of innings on that arm from the last two seasons. Will Burnett be able to make more than 20 starts (lot o’ doubt, here)? How will they handle not having A-Rod to start the season, and what will they get out of him when he returns. And take a look at that lineup — outside of Teixeira, they have a lot of aging, declining vets (Damon, Matsui, Jeter, Posada), whiffers (Nick “The Whiffer” Swisher), and underperformers (Cano and Cabrera). And, with that bullpen, how do they expect to get to Rivera, who could get old anytime now. With all of this, I wonder why I didn’t pick them to finish third.
But there’s just something about the Rays this season I don’t like. On paper, they are awesome. They have a deep lineup of young superstars. And they have a deep starting rotation that was incredible last season, and will at some point get even better when they add David Price. Given all of that, they should finish ahead of the Yanks, and be neck-and-neck with the Sox.
It won’t happen.
Their rotation is stocked with young guys all of whom never before have endured the workload they endured last season. You have to think more than one arm is likely to take a step back, at least for this year. Their bullpen was somehow strong last year, but I still don’t like it. And history isn’t on their side. How many teams have we seen come out of nowhere to make a huge splash one season, only to be mediocre the next. The Indians in 2005-06. The Tigers of 2006-07. The White Sox of 2005-06. The Indians of 2007-08. The Rockies of 2007-08. It is just such a common occurence for a team to take a step back, safe money has to be on the Rays doing the same.
But then again, I could be wrong. It has happened once or twice before.
(More predictions to come soon.)
SI baseball writer Tom Verducci recently wrote an article speculating on what teams in 2009 could be like last year’s Rays — from losers to winners. While I usually like Verducci’s work, this one was a clunker. His picks? The Tigers, A’s, Braves and Orioles.
For three of them, he’s not really going out on a limb. Would anybody be really surprised if the Tigers, Athletics or Braves contended this year? Nobody who follows baseball, even moderately. The Tigers underperformed last year, but they are still stocked with talent. The A’s are always contenders, and were last year until Billy Beane kicked the legs out from under his team and dealt Harden and Blanton. And the Braves are always a possibility, especially now that they’ve revamped their pitching staff. No news here, Tom.
And the Orioles!? To give Verducci credit, he does say they have no shot at making the playoffs in the division. They do have some talent, but I don’t think their pitching can even make them moderately good this year. Maybe I’m missing something.
But there are a lot of longshots — true longshots — that do have a very good chance at contending this season.
Rangers – For years the Rangers have struggled behind the Angels and Athletics, and occassionally the Mariners. Given the AL West is more attainable now that the Angels have taken a step back this winter, the Rangers could make a move. They have the thunder in their offense. But, like always, their pitching is a big question. If they stock up on some bargain pitchers — ala Ben Sheets and Pedro Martinez, they could take the division.
Mariners – Yes, the Mariners were terrible — Holy Terrible — last season. And given they’ve dealt players like JJ Putz, they look like they have no intention of contending this season. But they could end up with maybe the best 1-2 punch in baseball with Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard in their rotation. If those two pitch how they are supposed to, that alone can make anyone a contender, especially in the wide-open AL West. On top of that, they still have Ichiro at the top of the lineup generating runs.
Pirates – A longtime loser who I’ve picked to surprise for years. Eventually, I’ll be right. And it could certainly be this season. More often than not, the reason a team like the Rays come out of nowhere to be a contender is their pitching comes together. Besides last year’s Rays, check out the 2002 Angels, the 2003 Marlins, the 2005 White Sox, 2006 Tigers and 2007 Rockies. The pitching staff on all these teams suddenly gelled and put together a winner. The Pirates’ front four of Ian Snell, Tom Gorzellany, Paul Maholm and Zack Duke are all young and all have boatloads of talent. Snell and Gorzellany took steps back last season, but could be ready to have big bounce-back years. And with the NL Central rather mediocre, they could pad their record and grab the Wild Card with a finish behind the Cubs. And they have been a team linked to Pedro.
Rockies – Again, its about pitching. And this team has some. Quite frankly, I was shocked they dealt Matt Holliday. This is a good team. They had a bad season last year, with a few guys having off years and injuries. They were a lot like the 2006 Indians. But people forget that after a disasterous first half, they were clawing back into the race by late-August last year. This division is wide open. Tulowitski will be back for a full year. And Ubaldo Jimenez is ready to become one of the best arms in the game. Him along with the talented Jeff Francis (and a resurgent Josh Fogg) could carry this team to a division title. (If they kept Holliday, they’d have it in a walk,.)
Giants – Again, a team with pitching that plays in a weak division. With Linecum, Cain and now Randy Johnson, they have the pitching. If they sign one of the big bats still out there, they can contend.
Marlins – Maybe they can’t be considered losers. They had a good year last year, despite injuries. Still, is anyone really giving them a chance to compete with the Phillies and Mets? Not many, but I am. They have some excellent hitters with guys like Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez. But, like the Pirates, their pitching goes four talented young arms deep. If those arms stay healthy, they will have a deeper, better rotation than either the Phillies or Mets.
Let’s take a break for a moment from bemoaning the evilness of the Yankee purse and their ability to sign Sabathia, Burnett, Teixeira, and possibly more in a single offseason, and instead take a look at some of their vulnerabilities; weaknesses that aren’t going to just go away.
There’s currently an army of bloggers and columnists proclaiming you can’t just give the Yankees the championship right now, because anything can happen. And those people are right. However, right now I will just give the Yankees the division title. This is a team that won 89 games last season despite being plagued by injuries and marching out a starting rotation built on ductape. Now give that team the best young hitter in the game in Mark Teixeira, the stuff of CC Sabathia and a semi-healthy AJ Burnett, and the return of Chen-Mien Wang (sp?), and they should easily win an additional 10 games this season. That will mean a division title for New York, and it’ll set up an interesting Wild Card battle for the Red Sox with an ever-improving Tampa Bay team – a team adding David Price to their rotation, featuring the improving bats of BJ Upton and Evan Longoria, and remember their ace Scott Kazmir was sub-par last season. It should all make for an interesting 2009.
But while the Yankees look imposing and should certainly capture the division crown, even on paper they have deep flaws that could expose them to failure come October.
- Derek Jeter. Before I bash Jeter, let me first say I think he is a hell of a player. Jeter has “it”; he has that same competitive fire and passion that guys like Larry Bird and Lance Armstrong have; that willingness to go all out and come up big when it counts most. We’ve seen it in his legendary play against the A’s; we saw it when he went into the stands to make a catch against the Sox (the same game Nomar sat pouting on the bench). But despite that, Jeter has always been overrated. He has passion; but even in his prime his numbers weren’t overly impressive compared to second-tier shortstops, and his defense was average. Now he’s going to be 35 this season — an ancient age for shortstops. His defense is already a liability. When offensively-gifted shortstops get old, they usually get moved to thirdbase or firstbase. But with ARod and Teixeira in place for the next decade, Jeter won’t be moving to those spots. And you don’t want an aged former shortstop suddenly trying to run around the outfield. The Yanks are stuck with Jeter at short, and that could be a problem for years to come.
- Jorge Posada. Prior to last season, I said Posada’s new contract was a bad deal of monumental proportions. Thanks, Jorge, for proving me right in 2008. Anticipate him being dead weight the rest of that contract too. Take away his suspiciously-good 2007 contract-year campaign, and Posada has never been an exceedingly great hitter. And his catching abilities have many Yankee pitchers grumbling. By this mid-season, it will be apparent to Cashman and diehard Yank fans they need to address the catching issue. Don’t be surprised if they get in on Saltalamacchia or other young prospect discussions. But until then, we’ll watch Jorge drag the Yanks down.
- Crowded Outfield. To fill their three outfield positions and the DH spot, the Yanks have Matsui, Damon, Swisher, Cabrera and Nady. Matsui and Damon are both years passed their prime, have seen their numbers drop, and have been recently plagued by injuries. Maybe Matsui can bounce back, but given his age and injuries, expect him to drop off. At this point in his career, Damon is a shell of himself. Speed was his game, and now it is gone, making him slower on the basepaths and a liability on defense. Nady is good. But Swisher and his .220 average make Dave Kingman look like Rod Carew. (Although, with Swisher being cut from my fantasy baseball team, expect him to have a career year in 2009.) Cabrera is a wildcard — a moderately-talented player with the personal makeup the Yanks are desperate to ship out of town. In the outfield/DH department, both the Sox and Rays have the advantage over The Bombers.
- Starting Pitching. Despite signing Sabathia and Burnett, the dependability of the Yankee starting pitching staff is far from a sure thing. While I’ve often said that, given his size and number of innings pitched, Sabathia will eventually break down, that probably won’t happen this year. It could, but anyone could get injured. And its a safer bet to expect Sabathia to be Sabathia in 2009. That being said, its also a safe bet to expect Burnett to get injured and log under 25 starts. And,even when healthy, Burnett is touchable. Wang is good, but isn’t a top-tier starting pitcher. And while he’s been great at times, he’s also gone through stretches of being very vulnerable. Even if they are all healthy, the Yankee Top 3 aren’t any better than the Top 3 pitchers for the Sox or Rays. After that, the young arms of Chamberlain, Kennedy and Hughes are a wildcard. They all have talent, but given the way the Yankees have mismanaged their development into the bigs, there’s no way to know how they’ll react this season.
Y’know, the more I think about it, maybe it is too early to give the Yanks the division crown.