Friday, October 31, 2008

Redskins vs. Steelers

We might have an idea of how good Washington really is after this game. They will also get a chance to make a statement in front of a national audience on Monday night. The Steelers are a solid team with a fine defense. The Washington offense, especially Jason Campbell, will have to be patient and pick the right moments to take shots down the field. The 'Skins must also take advantage of the fact that the Steelers are unwilling or unable to protect Ben Roethlisberger. He also has "Kurt Warner Syndrome." In other words, he holds onto the ball too long to the detriment of the team. If Washington can force him into mistakes, they will win the game.

Prediction: Redskins 17, Steelers 13

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Phillies Win It

No, I am not going to create some homophone in my headline using the letters "Ph". There were only 3 1/2 innings to play and the thing still took until 10pm. Oh well, I'm glad I was able to see the end. It was perfect actually, an hour and twenty minutes of excitement. Phillies take the lead, Rays tie it, Phillies take the lead back, Rays get tying run on base, Lidge shuts the door. It was a concentrated dose of baseball fun.

Now that it's over, is it time to start talking Sox and Yanks hotstove topics yet?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

NFL Top 10

    Here's what you've been waiting for kids. Dan's first installment of the NFL Top 10. I have also included a special weekly feature at the end of the post. Enjoy.

    1. Titans (7-0): This team has a nastiness that I like and a great O-line. I think they need find an offensive focal point. Chris Johnson perhaps.

    2. Giants (6-1): I've never seen a team so deep with offensive play makers. They showed they can win a slugfest as well by beating Pittsburgh last weekend.

    3. Patriots (5-2): You just can't count them out... ever. If you can't be the '07 Pats, then be the '01 Pats. They won it all, if you remember.

    4. Redskins (6-2): The league's #1 rushing offense + no interceptions for Jason Campbell= Wins. Beware the second half swoon, 'Skins fans.

    5. Steelers (5-2): They win when Big Ben plays well. So why can't they protect their best commodity? If Ben can't stay upright, they will be in trouble. He's partially to blame for not getting rid of the football.

    6. Panthers (6-2): John Fox always gets this team to play tough. They will not be an easy out.

    7. Bills (5-2): Yeah, I know they just lost to the Dolphins, but I'm not going to down grade for a close divisional loss. They're young and talented. Will they have enough to get past New England? B-squared likes to eat young and talented for breakfast.

    8. Bears (4-3): The D is back and Rex is on the bench. How did they miss the fact that Kyle Orton is actually kind of good?

    9. Buccaneers (5-3): They're in the playoff race as of now, but I don't like them very much. There's something about John Gruden I don't like. Maybe it's his face.

    10. Cowboys (5-3): I don't know why, but here they are. I feel like things will get better when Tony Romo gets back (namely my fantasy team).

    What the hell is up with....? Media coverage of the Jets. They complain that the Jets should have blown out the Raiders and the Chiefs in consecutive weeks because they're so much better. They lost to the Raiders in OT and barely beat the Chiefs. This is all I heard on New York radio on Sunday. Has it ever occurred to you that the Jets may be closer to the level of Oakland and KC than they are to the playoffs? They stink and so does Brett Favre. I like Favre as much as the next guy, but he's had it. Thanks to the media market we're in I get to watch his slow, torturous decline every Sunday until the Rapture.

    You're Suspended!

    Baseball did the right thing by suspending last night's game and making sure that at least 9 innings are played. Their only problem is that this needs to be made a rule for all post-season games, that the game must be at least 9 innings, probably even if one team is up 10-0.

    This is a huge advantage for the Rays. They don't have to deal with Cole Hamels anymore. It's also a huge advantage for me. I might actually be able to watch the end of the game after it resumes. Tell me, what is wrong with starting these games at 7:00 or 7:30 instead of 8:00? Pushing up the start just half an hour would be really helpful for me.

    Monday, October 27, 2008

    Oh yeah, The World Series

    I must admit, I thought the Phillies were done after going 0-for-1000 with RISP. I figured they would win two starts by Cole Hamels, but lose the series in six. I thought the Rays with their hot pitching would shut the Phillies down. Every team that wins the World Series rides hot pitching to the championship, often on the backs of guys you never heard of.

    Now, after last nights game, the Phils bats are raking and out for blood. That spells doom, I'm afraid, for the upstart Rays. I'm not sure what Tampa's problem is. Perhaps they expelled too much energy holding off the Red Sox.

    The Phillies are about to end another sports futility streak. This time it's not just for a team, but a city. Granted, it's not as long a streak as the White Sox, Red Sox, or Cubs (like I had to say that). The city of Philadelphia hasn't had a pro sports champion since the '82-'83 76ers. Philly fans are just as ruthless and demanding as ones from Boston and New York but without the rings. Well, good for them.

    In football news: I will reveal my first Top Ten Power Rankings before the end of the week. Stay tuned. They're bound to be better than Dr. Z's.

    Thursday, October 23, 2008

    Just Show Me The Game

    Fox is just ridiculous, as if I have to tell you. In addition to the indignity of having to listen to Tim McCarver every broadcast, we had to sit through several minutes of a bloated tribute to baseball before the start of game one of the World Series. Fox's montage of baseball moments lamely attempted to connect baseball events with world news and political events. All the while John McCain and Barack Obama recited quotes from historical figures on the subject of the games.

    Zeus knows that talk about sports is often hyperbolic. We place way too much importance on the outcome of games and the events on a ballfield. Do we need Fox to rub our noses in folklore and veiled callings to patriotism on top of it?

    I'm going to start a network called The Just Games Network. In other words, there are no pre- or post-game shows, no theme song, no celebrities, no Garth Brooks half-time show. The broadcast will start about thirty seconds before first pitch or kickoff. There will be one mild mannered play-by-play guy or gal in the booth.

    It was a pretty good Game 1 though, wasn't it?

    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    Red Sox season is Finished

    The Red Sox season ended on Sunday and in my mind, the baseball season is over. This happens every year to me, once the Sox lose I couldn’t care less who wins the World Series.

    The Sox had a great year, and if they had been healthy the last month of the season maybe things would have ended differently. However, the Rays played well, and deserve to be in the World Series. David Price is the real deal. Joe Maddon used him perfectly as his ace in the hole in Game 7. Price is a hard thrower the Sox saw ONCE all year in Game Two. They didn’t have a chance against the left-handed stud.

    This year the Sox saw some young stars shine, with Lester’s No-hitter, Pedroia’s MVP candidate year, and Jed Lowrie with multiple walk-off hits during a pennant race. The future looks bright for these young players. The Sox also saw some stars fade, Varitek batting around .200 and Timlin and Wakefield throwing batting practice pitches in ACTUAL playoff games.

    Next year, the AL East will have 3 teams win 90 games and the other two will be over 75 wins. Everyone is ready to spend and the Rays seem to always have young talent ready to go. I read that a scout said the Rays have 10 guys, I repeat 10 GUYS, who could pitch in a major league rotation next year. That is two full 5 man rotations. Unbelievable.

    Look forward to the off-season the Red Sox are solid in every facet of the game; starting pitching, bullpen, hitting, and defense. GM Theo Epstein, should improve in some of these areas to ensure the Red Sox are still a contender next year in the ultra-competitive AL East.

    I heard D-Lowe is interested in returning to Boston. I think the Red Sox would welcome him with open arms, unless the Yankees over pay for him. Also, I love Mark Teixeira. Unfortunately, the Sox have no where to put the All-Star 1st Baseman. Mike Lowell has limited trade value because of his hip, his age, and his contract. It seems unlikely the Sox would trade him, but stranger things have happened. They should trade Julio Lugo for an infield rake and 3 baseballs. I would sign Varitek if the price is low and no more than 2 years. Unlike the Yankees, the Sox are lucky V-Tek was awful this year, unlike Posada last year. V-Tek will have limited options, as a 36 year old catcher who batted .220 this year and did squadouce in the playoffs. I hope Jason will see reason and sign a 2 year deal to help the Sox transition someone to the everyday catcher, similar to what Girardi did with Posada in the late '90s.

    Like Dan I am already looking forward to next year. I can’t wait to see Lars Anderson and Michael Bowden, the continued development of Justin Masterson, and the renaissance of Clay Buchholz.

    One more thing, PEDROIA for MVP.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    Red Sox Season Review

    The season ended with some disappointment after Boston's comeback in the ALCS fell short. If I'm honest with myself, I can say that the Sox had no business getting the series to a Game 7 after being so thoroughly dominated by the Rays in the first part of the series. At least the final game at Fenway for the year was thrilling win with some historical significance. The last image the fans got on the field was of the Red Sox celebrating.

    This is a very good team. In spite of the injuries, losing Manny, and the inconsistent pitching down the stretch, the Red Sox still won 95 games in the toughest division in baseball. As Dennis said in his comment on the previous post, it's only going to get tougher. While those youngsters are still ineligible for free agency, the Rays are stacked.

    The Red Sox need only make minor adjustments in the offseason. They will shuffle around the bullpen in search of that magic middle reliever that doesn't really exist (all teams do that). I'm not certain if they will agressively go after any big name free agents, namely Mark Teixeira. They will test the waters though. I don't believe that they are going to break the bank for CC Sabathia, but they will try to bolster the starting pitching. Clay Buchholtz is still a question mark, and Jon Lester, while he had a great season, pitched more innings than he ever has by far. He may slide back a little bit next season. I wonder if their just going to keep picking up that $4 million option on Wakefield until he drops dead.

    The biggest question and the question no one wants to ask is, what are they going to do with Jason Varitek? His value to the Red Sox is well documented. I'm sure he would love to retire in Boston. However, his production at the plate has gone from a nice bonus, to passable, to a down right liability. He is swinging like a rusty gate these days. Is Kevin Cash the answer? I don't know. The thing is, if they get rid of Varitek, who will they get instead? All catchers are pretty much the same: 0.250 Avg., 0.310 OBP, 10 HRs if you're lucky. That is unless you're Joe Mauer.

    Overall, I see good things for the Sox next season. They will need a little luck and need to stay away from injuries to make another World Series run. It will be an intriguing offseason. I almost can't wait for April.

    Note: After the World Series is over, look for our weekly football columns. Joe will continue to make his picks, Peter will be writing about the top performers each week, and I will put together the most accurate power rankings you've ever seen. The interdivisional rivalries get more intense as we argue about Joe's Giants, Pete's Eagles, and my Redskins.

    Monday, October 20, 2008

    "I got a fever and the only perscription is more cowbell!"

    Count me among the many disbelievers who didn't think the Rays stood a chance after that Game 5 debacle. But yet again the Rays proved that they are a team to be reckoned with on the big stage.

    First and foremost; that was a great baseball game. Both starters were great and while the Rays provided some timely hitting the Sox provided the tightrope walking moments late in the game. Jon Lester had more left in the tank than I thought he would after he topped his career innings high by more than 50. Everyone knows it already but Lester is pretty damn good. Moving forward I think he is easily the ace of that staff.

    On the other side is Matt Garza. Garza always seemed to me like he would be one of those pitchers who would never harness their ability due to their lack of mental fortitude, but he certainly showed that he is the one who deserves the moniker "Big Game" and not his teammate James Shields. (On a side note, how can you even give that nickname to someone who plays for Tampa Bay? Apparently he earned the name in single-A ball which is absurd. You can't hand out a nickname like that until someone does something in October.)

    I didn't think the Rays would pull it out last night. It didn't seem like they would ever regain their footing after that ridiculous collapse in game five but I am glad I was wrong. Many will complain that most Rays fans are bandwagon fans but what team doesn't?

    During the '90s the Yankees were carrying a lot of extra weight and now the ranks of Red Sox Nation are a little more bloated than they were ten years ago. Winning is what gets the fans in the seats and you can't get on the Rays fans until next season when the team can't draw 20,000 fans to a game in July against the A's.

    For right now though, there is a World Series to be played and I can now watch it in peace with the Red Sox out. I like both teams and the series should be pretty competitive. The Rays have the deeper rotation but the Phillies lineup is better. Not by much but it is. The Phillies also have a better bullpen. I know, the Rays bullpen is the reason they are where they are but we all saw what happened in Game 5 when Joe Madden had no one to stop the bleeding late in the game. If Madden is smart then he needs to use David Price as the closer. He'll be their ace in a few years but right now Madden needs to learn something from Tony La Russa and Adam Wainwright and use Price as the closer.

    Prediction: Rays in six. They have the starters, they have the bats and if they use him like they should then they have Price to close. Hamels could steal one for the Phillies early and then Philly might get to Sonnanstine for one more. After that there wont be much the Phillies can do to stop this magical season of the Rays.

    Sunday, October 19, 2008

    Joba, What an Idiot

    As if news in Yankeeland wasn't bad enough, now we have to listen to crap about Joba Chamberlain being a drunk. It's amazing how dumb some of these young athletes are. He's just lucky he didn't hurt anybody.

    Sox vs. Rays Game 6

    First we had the Bloody Sock Game. Now will the Torn Oblique Game go down in history as well?
    Josh Beckett fought his way through five innings, and although he allowed two home runs, this time they were solo shots, limiting the damage. The most surprising development in this game had to be Jason Varitek's home run that gave the Red Sox the lead. That had to be satisfying considering the Captain's well documented struggles at the plate.

    What is remarkable about this comeback by the Sox as opposed to the comebacks in 2004 and 2007 was that the Sox didn't look like they had a prayer. In '04 Boston brought the tying run to the plate in the 9th in each of the first two games before being blown out in game three. Last year's series against the Indians was competitive until the Sox destroyed Cleveland in games five through seven. This year, aside from game one, Boston was severely outclassed by Tampa. Let's hope game seven delivers some drama, if nothing else.

    Saturday, October 18, 2008

    NFL Picks

    Here are the weekend NFL picks: Buffalo, Chicago -1, Tennessee -8.5, Pittsburgh -8.5, Dallas -7, Baltimore +3, NY Giants -6.5, New Orleans, Detroit +6, NY Jets -5, Indianapolis -2, Washington -2.5, Seattle +8.5, New England +2.5.

    Big night for the Sox. Let's hope Josh can give us 6 innings and the bats continue where they left off late Thursday night.

    Friday, October 17, 2008

    Sox Vs. Rays Game 5: WTF

    I have to admit to you all, even though it was potentially the last time I would see my beloved Sox this season, I couldn't bear to watch with Boston down 5-0 to Tampa. I turned off the game and watched a movie with my wife (George Lopez: Why You Crying, very funny). I woke up this morning and was flabbergasted by the results.

    J.D. Drew amazes me. He always seems to have a solid regular season, plays good defense, but misses 20-30 games due to injury. In the playoffs, he has been invaluable for the Sox, Mr. Clutch in fact. Remeber his grand slam in the ALCS last season? It's almost inexplicable to me.

    By the way, both Boston and Tampa have outfielders who go by initials that don't correspond to their given names. J.D. Drew was born David Jonathan. Shouldn't he be D.J.? B.J. Upton was born Melvin Emanuel. B.J. stands for Bossman Junior, a tribute to his dad.

    It was curious that Tampa started Scott Kazmir instead of James Shields, although that was not the problem last night. It was their heretofore unhittable bullpen that finally had a bad outing. Tampa must have a little fear creeping into their minds that they woke up a sleeping giant. All history aside, we know that Boston has a dangerous lineup and the confidence of being world champs. Who knows? After all is said and done Tampa will probably win a very pedestrian 5-3 game on Saturday. My advice if the Sox want to win; stop pitching to B.J. Upton. I'm still waiting for someone to throw a brush back pitch or something. He is practically standing on home plate and just turning on everything.

    I just keep thinking of all of those Sox fans who left early, in their cars, stuck in traffic, with the radio on. What will they say to their grand kids about this game? I turned the TV off, sure. But I never would've left the game early after paying several hundred bucks to be there.

    Historical Note: Much has been made of the Red Sox 0-3 and 1-3 comebacks in 2004 and 2007 respectively. But people fail to mention that the Red Sox also came back from 1-3 vs. the Angels in the 1986 ALCS as well.

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    Game 4: The end is near for the Sox

    If game three was ugly, game four was fugly. The Sox just look gassed. Their pitchers are tired. Papi and Varitek look old. It just hasn't come together for them in this series. Going into it, I wasn't going to be surprised if the Rays won. But I did expect a competitive series where each team would have to fight for each run and each out. Instead we got the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals.

    Is there any way that Dice-K can replicate his game one performance and keep the Sox going for one more game? Some how I doubt it. The Rays are younger, hungrier, faster, and just plain better. Just to prolong the agony he'll probably keep Boston in the game while the bullpen blows it late.

    B.J. Upton, in spite of his inexplicable base running gaffe in game two, should probably be the MVP. He's been the Rays most dangerous hitter throughout and has tracked down every single ball hit to the outfield. It's almost like he could play the whole outfield by himself. He makes the spectacular look routine, seldom diving at balls because he just plain has the wheels to get to every fly ball. God I hate him. Hey B.J., when you want a real contract, come see the Red Sox.

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    Sox in Trouble

    Now I'm not trying to gloat here (don't worry I am still taking pleasure in the anxiety of Sox fans) but the Red Sox look like they are in a world of trouble. Don't get me wrong, they can definitely still dig themselves out of this hole and make a run at the Rays - we've seen it happen before.

    This time though, things are different. This is a Red Sox team that is hurting. Papi has only one wrist, Beckett has no velocity, Drew's back is as stiff as a board, Mike Lowell has no hip and even the always reliable Jon Lester has began to show signs that he is human after jumping from 183 total innings last year to 230 this year.

    The other big thing you've probably already heard is that this team has no Manny Ramirez and people are right to point it out. This lineup is not nearly as intimidating without Manny. Even Papi is feeling it. Sure he is hurt, but pitchers don't have to fear pitching around him as much. Kevin Youkilis has been great as his protector since Manny left, but he just can't get out of Manny's shadow. If you think I'm being hard on Youk look at his line this series: .429/.429/.786. Those are very good numbers, especially considering how well the Rays staff has pitched this series (with the glaring exception of Scott Kazmir). Now you may not have seen what Manny has done to Philly this series since you're trying to forget Manny like an ex-girlfriend, but here is his line: .500/.667/.917.

    Those numbers are simply inhuman. The most telling stat Manny has is six walks to zero for Youk. Six walks in four games means you're pretty damn intimidating. 

    Aside from Manny being on the other side of the continent, the Sox are also looking at two big reasons that they should be worried. The first is that unlike last year against Cleveland, they don't have home field advantage. Games six and seven will be played to the irritating din of cowbells in the Trop. Florida hasn't been kind to the Nation this year and things could get ugly down there.

    Second is Josh Beckett. He is simply not the same pitcher as last year and it looks very unlikely that he will be anytime soon. Without him Boston needs to consider the idea of moving Jon Lester up one start to game six to either save them for a game seven or to polish off the Rays.

    Tonight will give us a better idea of how in trouble the Red Sox are. Wakefield has been great against the Rays during his long career but he hasn't been able to handle them this year. His record against the 2008 Rays is 0-2 with a ERA sitting at a rather bloated 5.87. 

    This could get messy pretty fast.

    Monday, October 13, 2008

    Game 3: Rays Rout Sox

    Damn, that was ugly. I don't think anyone was expecting what just happened tonight. At this point we all know that the Rays belong here. But of all of the games, this one figured to be competitive. Lester just didn't have it tonight, and Matt Garza did. I do have several complaints however. I will not make any excuses for the Sox poor play. These are just a few of things about game three that annoyed me.

    What was up with the home plate umpire's strike zone? It was a wide strike zone, which is fine. It was just all over the place. Jason Varitek looked at a called strike that almost hit him in the shoulder during one at bat. The Rays had to deal with the same strike zone so I'm not blaming the umpire for the loss. It was just unbelievably bad officiating.

    Jacoby Ellsbury looks terrible. Where is the guy from last year's playoffs blistering hits into the gap?

    Why didn't the Sox try and do something to change the tone of the game? If B.J. Upton is killing you, throw at him. I'm not advocating hurting the guy, but he's way to comfortable in the batters box. Why not have Jacoby Ellsbury lay down a bunt or something to break Garza's rhythm?

    Speaking of Garza, is there a more irritating player to watch than him? All baseball players fidget and have their idiosyncrasies. But I for one can't stand his glove flapping before every pitch or the non-stop spitting. You can actually see him scrape the loogey off of his tongue with his teeth before every expectoration. C'mon, dude. That's freakin' gross.

    One inconsequential thought related to Dodgers/Phillies: what the hell has Manny Ramirez started chewing on since he moved to LA? It appears to be a red and blue mouth piece or perhaps wax lips. He better be careful he doesn't choke on it. You know Jeff Kent won't rush to give him the Heimlich.

    Sunday, October 12, 2008

    Game 2: Sox vs. Rays

    If you told anyone before the start of this series that game 1 would be the pitchers' duel and game 2 would be the five hour home run-fest, they probably wouldn't have believed you. The Sox have Scott Kazmir figured out finally. He hasn't pitched well against Boston all season. The Rays took advantage of a weakened Josh Beckett. I'm not surprised. Don't look for any post season heroics from him in his compromised state.

    Over all, the first two games against Tampa were a success. Boston, who gained the split they were after, will have their most reliable arm on the mound in Jon Lester when they go back to Fenway. Dustin Pedroia emphatically came out of his playoff slump hitting two home runs. Prior to that he was hitting .095 in the post-season. It's mildly disappointing that the Sox couldn't come up with the win last night, but considering all the trouble they've had at the Trop this year, a split is fine.

    The Rays have shown that they're capable of winning at Fenway this season. However, I still like the Sox chances now that home field belongs to them. We know that Lester can handle playoff pressure. I wonder if Matt Garza of Tampa can do the same in game three. The White Sox bludgeoned him for 7 hits and 5 runs in 6 innings his last time out.

    Saturday, October 11, 2008

    Red Sox think playoffs are too easy

    It has just been reported that Mike Timlin will be added to the Red Sox roster and infielder Gil Velazquez will be dropped in his stead.

    Gee Terry, I didn't know you wanted to go on vacation that bad. You should have said something before the playoffs started.

    Typical Matsuzaka

    Daisuke Matsuzaka was his normal self last night. He started the game by walking the bases loaded before wiggling out of a jam. The whole night he was practically unhittable and aside from his walk total he was brilliant.

    I still think that at some point all his walks will catch up with him, but I doubt it will be this year. Tonight Josh Beckett is on the mound against Sox killer Scott Kazmir. Hopefully Kazmir digs deep, back to his former days when the Red Sox couldn't touch his filthy slider. This year he has been far from dominant against them, posting an ERA of 9.00 in four starts against the Sox. Beckett could still have a fragile oblique and the Rays will be ready to redeem themselves after last night when they left six men on base and struck out 11 times.

    In the senior circuit the Phillies knocked off Joe Torre and the Dodgers for the second straight game. You know its not your night when you let the pitcher go 3-3 against you with three RBI and two runs scored.

    Torre has been in this spot before and I don't think you can count out him or the Dodgers just yet. Manny is still jacking home runs and Hiroki Kuroda can dominate any game. Plus Jaime Moyer is a good guy to have in your regular season rotation but he leaves a lot to be desired in a playoff rotation.

    Game 2 was crucial for the Dodgers. They probably weren't going to win any game that Cole Hamels pitched in but they could have easily won any game that wasn't pitched by him. Chad Billingsley laying an egg in Game 2 was a big letdown for Torre. Still they are very much in the series as they head back to LA.

    Friday, October 10, 2008

    Weekend Picks

    I am running a half-marathon this weekend so here are my week 6 picks. 22-19-3 on the season.
    Baltimore +1, New Orleans-7, Minnesota -10.5,  Cincinnati +7, Tampa Bay +3.5, Atlanta +4, Washington -13.5, Houston -2, Denver -3.5, Philadelphia -4, Green Bay -4, Dallas -4, New England +2.5, New York Giants -7.5. 

    Also two bonus picks for two huge college football games: Oklahoma -6.5 over Texas and LSU +6.5 over Florida.

    Thursday, October 9, 2008

    ALCS/NLCS Predictions

    I picked 3 of 4 of the divison series winners so I thought I would continue the trend with the CS starting tonight.

    Phillies vs. Dodgers: If Manny doesn't get the Pujols treatment in this series then the Phillies deserve to lose. Before Manny got to LA the Dodgers were an AVERAGE team. So if I am the Phillies, I like my chances. Philly has a more balanced line-up than the Cubs with Utley, J-Roll Howard, Burell. It is safe to say they will score more runs than the "tight as a drum Cubs" did last week. Cole Hamels is probably the 2nd best pitcher left in the playoffs and wins 2 games for the Phils. Brett Myers will be great one game and awful in another. And Jaime Moyer or Joe Blanton will somehow win a game. Lidge worries me a little, but I think the Phils score enough runs in 2 games to take the pressure off the bullpen. Unfortunately, Fox won't get its dream matchup of Manny, Nomar, D-Lowe and Torre returning to Boston. Phillies in 6.

    Red Sox vs. Rays: This series should be a whopper. I won't be surprised no matter who wins. They Sox have the edge with their line-up, closer, ace, and experience. The Rays have defense, middle relief, homefield advantage, and the confidence of youth playing with house money. I won't get into the match-ups blah blah blah because these teams know exactly what they are up against. It comes down to execution and psychology. Some say the Rays don't need experience, but we haven't seen the Rays face a whole lot of adversity. Let's see what happens when they are down 3-1 or 2-0 and have to win in Fenway. I am not saying that will happen, but if it does, it could be a problem. The Sox just need to split the first two. Also, the Rays have home-field and they are great at the Trop because everything is fast and they are a fast team. They are baseball's version of "the greatest show on turf". But can someone please notice that the Trop will be 40% Sox fans because those blue hairs from Boston love those Florida tax breaks. With the rotations set and "Jon Lester I beat Cancer" (that is officially his new legal name) on the hill I somehow see a Sox VICTORY, but I am not biased at all. Sox in 7.

    ALCS Rotation

    The Sox have set their rotation for the ALCS, which starts tomorrow evening. They will begin with Daisuke Matsuzaka followed by Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. Presumably Francona made this decision because he wants Beckett to start a potential game seven. That's not a bad idea, I suppose, given his well known playoff track record. But in my opinion, you have to throw history out the window. Lester has been the ace this season. I think you have to set him up to go in game seven if necessary.

    All three starters have good stats against the Rays. They have a combined 6-1 record and each has an ERA of 3.00 or less. Lester is 3-0 with a minuscule 0.90 ERA, another reason perhaps you would want him to start game seven. I know he's young, but he was money in the playoffs last season and pitched brilliantly in the World Series clincher.

    Tim Wakefield will pitch game four. His stats against Tampa are much less impressive than the other pitchers I've mentioned; 0-2, 5.87 ERA. Wakefield has always been a streaky pitcher. He can look like a Hall of Famer then ready for retirement in back-to-back starts. Francona should have a short leash on him and have Paul Byrd ready to go if Wakefield's knuckle ball ain't dancing.

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008

    Sox vs. Rays: The Final Battle

    You know a team has arrived when it can win in the playoffs after not playing very well. That's what the Red Sox did to Angels. I doubt that Boston can be as sloppy and still win against the Rays. Other than Jon Lester, the Sox starting pitching has been mediocre. The bullpen picked them up in this divisional series, but I would hardly call them reliable. Recent history has shown that the team with the hottest bullpen is the one that wins the World Series. J.P. Howell and Grant Balfour of Tampa Bay really concern me going into this next series.

    Thank Moses for Jon Lester. Without him, the Sox would be home already. He refuses to be scored on in the playoffs. He's becoming one of the premiere left-handers in the game.

    The Red Sox experience does count for something; although, I've never given experience as much value as most people. Boston can hope that now the stage is bigger and the lights brighter that the Rays will finally start to feel some pressure. I doubt it though. Tampa Bay is on a mission. They're young, talented, and loose. I make them the favorites to win the World Series at this point. If the Sox expect to beat the Rays, they will need to get contributions from everyone like they did against the Angels.

    The Angels took 8 of 9 from the Sox, and the Sox still won in the playoffs. The Rays took 4 0f 6 from the Sox down the stretch. We'll see if Boston can overcome a season long nemesis again.

    Monday, October 6, 2008

    Angel Comback Sets Up Lester-Lackey Rematch

    I did not expect the Red Sox to sweep this series, but last night's game was very disappointing, especially the way that Beckett pitched and allowed the Angels to come back. I was watching in the 10th and was so hoping that the Sox would beat K-Rod again. They loaded the bases to no avail. I feel good about Lester going tonight. It will probably be another low scoring duel with Lackey matching up again on the other side.

    Beckett pitched ok, I guess. I just think he is too banged up to be the dominant ace he has been in playoffs past. I hope he can dig deep and keep the Sox in games when he's out there. My expectations have been lowered. On the bright side, the bull pen, which has been another season long problem, held the Angels scoreless until Javier Lopez got in the game. Papelbon looks like he's out of whatever funk he's been in. He looks ready to pitch two more innings tonight if necessary, but I'm sure Francona will avoid that if he can.

    I just don't want the Sox to squander this opportunity after winning the first two games in Anaheim. The road has been Boston's Achilles heel all season. Taking those first two games was a big deal for them. It's time for the Sox to do what they have done all year and take care of business at Fenway.

    Sunday, October 5, 2008

    Picks and Playoff Baseball

    I had a bye last week, so I didn't make any picks. Here are my week 5 picks: Houston +3, Tennessee -2.5, Miami +7, Carolina -9.5, Washington +6.5, Chicago -3.5, New York Giants -7, Denver -3, San Francisco +3, Buffalo +1.5, Dallas -16.5, Jacksonville -4.5, Minnesota +3, Atlanta +3.5. On the season I am 16-13-2.

    As for baseball, the Sox have been playing well and I expect Beckett to take care of business tonight. He has not pitched since September 22 so he has had plenty of rest. The Sox are great at home and everything points to them winning the series tonight.

    The Cubs were eliminated by the Dodgers last night losing 3-1. The Cubs looked awful all week in every aspect of the game, pitching, fielding and hitting. It was clear the pressure got to them before the Dodgers did and the fans in Chicago will have to wait at least one more year.

    Saturday, October 4, 2008

    Was Manny being Manny his fault?

    It is a beast of an article but if you have some time check out Bill Simmons' article about the end of Manny in Boston. He has a lot of interesting thoughts about who was to blame for the divorce.

    Angels in free fall

    I hate the Angels. It's hard not to hate a team that always beats your team. Especially when they suck, but it seems like they always get up to play you and no one else. They Angels beat on everyone including the Yankees, but they yet again proved me wrong by showing their habitual inability to man-up and beat the Red Sox.

    Not only did K-Rod fail to break this Sox curse that has plagued the Angels since 1986, but he also showed why he will never be one of the all-time great closers of the game. It's the same as Trevor Hoffman; he just can't get it done when it counts the most. 62 regular season saves mean jack and they are more meaningless when you have thrown fewer innings than times you have appeared in games. Closers who have trouble in the postseason tend to be the ones who have had to save the most games in the regular season.

    Just look at Mariano Rivera. The two times he cracked 50 saves in the regular season he had blown saves in important games in the postseason. Hoffman had the same problem. In 1998 he saved 53 games and was demolished by the Yankees in the World Series. Dennis Eckersley had 51 saves in 1992 and was knocked around by the Blue Jays in the '92 ALCS. In three innings of work he gave up eight hits and had an ERA of 6.00.

    Huge work loads in the regular season translate to postseason failure. In K-Rod's case we know that he also fails when his work load is normal so perhaps he just can't handle the spotlight now that he is a seasoned veteran and he doesn't have the ignorance of youth to fall back on like in 2002.

    It looks like this series is over now, but game three is a very important game for the Sox. Josh Beckett will be throwing, and his performance will be of great interest to Red Sox Nation. How deep the Sox get into the postseason will rest heavily on Beckett's weak oblique. Game 3's performance will go a long way in easing or inflaming the nerves of Sox fans.

    Thursday, October 2, 2008

    Lester is a Beast

    John Lester continued his excellent season last night going seven innings and giving up one run. Lackey matched him until the sixth when Jason Bay hit a two run blast to put the Sox up 2-1. As Lester continues to mature, Jason Bay continues to answer questions as to whether he can handle the pressure in Boston. His inexperience in big spots due to floundering in the black hole that is Pittsburgh was the biggest reservation about his trade to Boston. From the his first game, Bay has passed every test. He did it again in his first playoff game.

    Another good sign for Boston is the performance by Jacoby Ellsbury last night. Jacoby had a good season, leading the AL in stolen bases, and his glove in the outfield has been invaluable at all three positions. At times, he didn't get on base enough though. Some how last night, he continued where he left off in the World Series, going 3-for-5 and stealing two bases.

    In other games, did anyone else see that ridiculous homerun by Manny Ramirez last night. He chased a pitch around his ankles about a mile out of the strike zone and golfed it to dead centerfield. I'm still glad that Manny is gone, but I'm not a hater. That homer was just sick.

    Random Thought: Does anyone else think that Al Davis resembles the bad guys from the Dark Crystal? The skeksies, I think they were called.

    Wednesday, October 1, 2008

    Playoff Predictions

    Red Sox vs. Angels: Though Beckett won't appear until Game 3, I still like the Sox starting pitching. Lester is the next Andy Pettitte and Dice-K will take advantage of a free-swinging Angels lineup. Also, if Beckett can't go, I think Yankee fans remember Paul Byrd is no chump in the playoffs. K-Rod is not as lights out as he would like to think he is and is one huge home run away from falling apart. The Sox just need one game in LA and should take two in Fenway. Sox in four.

    Rays vs. White Sox: The White Sox live and die by the homer. (i.e. play-in game Jim Thome homer, 1-0 win.) Plus I think the Sox left it all on the field in the last three games. Though the Rays are young, they will play loose and the pitching will continue to be solid. The bullpen has been shaky, but if they score some runs should be ok. If they can get some fans to the Trop this series could be over quickly. Rays in three.

    Phillies vs. Brewers: Sabathia can't pitch every game and the rest of the pitching staff is hurt or is just bad. The Phillies have a killer lineup and decent pitching. Brad Lidge has been great this year and lucky for him, Albert Pujols is at home waiting for his MVP award. CC wins one game. Phillies in four.

    Cubs vs. Dodgers: In a stunning turn of events, Manny Ramirez sees exactly 300 straight balls in this series. There is NO WAY Sweet Lou lets Manny beat the Cubs. I think Manny might start to miss the protection he got in the Red Sox lineup. Cubs continue to hit and mash their way to the NLCS. The pressure won't catch up with them in the first round. Cubs in five.

    A Good Writer

    Here is a great article about Shea Stadium. Its a shame all the working class fans will be priced out at Citi Field and the New Yankee Stadium. I heard the over/under for a $20 beer is 18 months.