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The new ‘Killer Bs.’ And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords

e8ec8ab8a39705da6c6bcb54c7e664ccIf you are a baseball fan and were born before, say, 1990, the nickname “Killer Bs” should create a distinct image in your mind.

Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and a revolving door of players made up Houston Astros’ trio of “Killer Bs” from the late-90s and early 2000s. I’m not sure why everyone felt the need to always group Biggio and Bagwell with a third alliterative surname, but that’s how it was done. I guess three bees are so much more intimidating than a measly duo of bees. I can’t say since one actual bee is enough to send this phobic man into a catatonic state.

In the ’90s, Derek Bell or Sean Berry played the role of the third man. (I think Bill Spires even snuck in there for a bit too). At the turn of the millennium, Lance Berkman fit right in. Carlos Beltran was part of the band for a few incredible weeks in 2004. But Chris Burke was never included. I don’t know what the makers of that poster were thinking. Also, the nickname shouldn’t have an apostrophe. But I digress.

Together, Biggio, Bagwell and the other guy were the “Killer Bs.”

That time has passed, and the nickname’s legacy remains pretty much in tact, at least in baseball. The Pittsburgh Steelers are using it to describe Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and, when he’s not suspended, Martavis Bryant. Honestly, the usage there makes more sense on the surface considering the Steelers’ uniform color scheme.

But it’s time for baseball to dust it off and get it to catch on across the country en masse with Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. 

Too soon? Yeah. Collectively, they have fewer than 4,000 MLB at-bats between them. Bradley looked like an overrated prospect prior to 2016, and Betts has just one full season under his belt. Biggio is a Hall of Famer, Bagwell should be one, and both were established studs by the time they were tagged with the moniker 20 years ago.

But baseball should be doing whatever it can to market its young stars — Bradley Jr. is the elder at 26; Betts and Bogaerts are 23 — and three all-around quality ballplayers in a big, diehard baseball market seems like a perfect opportunity. I know baseball is strongest at the local level; its low national ratings are commonly overrated when discussing the sport’s well-being. That doesn’t mean baseball should just ignore attempts to get fans everywhere interested in particular players. Why not make Betts, Bogaerts and Bradley Jr. poster children?

Bradley Jr. was already a spotlight player in May as his hitting streak was the top story around the league — whenever Clayton Kershaw wasn’t pitching. And when Bradley’s streak stopped at 29 games, Betts took over the lead by hitting basically every ball he saw out of the park. In the span of seven at-bats on Tuesday and Wednesday, Betts hit five home runs. Meanwhile, Bogaerts entered tonight leading Major League Baseball in hits and batting average. That’s all.

Sell that burgeoning talent, that youth, and the excitement those three create on the diamond, package it with a gimmick that ties eras together and see what happens. And yes, the fact that all three are not white should make this an even more important matter to the powers that be.

At the very least, wait a year, let David Ortiz have the going-away party he deserves and then plaster these guys all over any media outlet you have. I trust that none of them fall into a horrendous slump that sees them benched or flown back to the minors. In the near future, they may even be batting back-t0-back-to-back in the Red Sox’s order. Plus, Boston is their baseball home, so the “Killer Bs” will be playing in the “B-hive?” OK, that’s a little ridiculous. Or a lot ridiculous.

I think a committed, multi-player nationwide campaign would be fun. I’m a Yankees fan, and I have loved watching Betts, Bogaerts and Bradley Jr. this year. I think everyone outside of Boston and who doesn’t pay for the MLB Extra Innings package would love them as well. Baseball should expose them to the hilt and keep alive the charm of the “Killer Bs” nickname.

Sunday was all about crazy comebacks in baseball

April 24, 2016 Leave a comment
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Movie, good. Baseball, better.

I saw “The Jungle Book” today. Very entertaining. Even with so many of today’s movies being overwhelmed by computer graphics, the CGI in this movie is outstanding. If there is a criticism, it’s that, other than the wolf pack and a couple others in the forest, there seems to be only one of each animal. One panther. One tiger. One snake. One bear. Forget about the one human boy among the wild; someone needs to investigate what befell so many of the species in this ecosystem.

But that’s all I did Sunday. Otherwise, I relaxed and watched some baseball. However, it’s difficult to relax when you are on the edge of your seat, and that’s where a handful of games put me. There were some wholeheartedly “good” games — Mets-Braves, Cardinals-Padres and Marlins-Giants were all tense late — but four games specifically turned this lazy Sunday into a crazy one.

Let’s start chronologically and with perhaps the wildest game of the bunch: Twins-Nationals. Stephen Strasburg was the story for the first seven innings. But in the eighth, he challenged Brian Dozier with one too many fastballs, and Dozier sent Strasburg’s 114th and final pitch way out for a three-run homer that gave Minnesota a 4-1 lead.

The Nats got two runs back in the bottom of the eighth. Then in the ninth, Dusty Baker made a brilliant managerial move: He sent Bryce Harper to the plate. What a strategy.

Harper had been given the day off, but in a one-run game, it was time for him to get involved.

Harper took a couple of hacks that made it known he wants to hit this ball into the Atlantic. I’m not sure why Kevin Jepsen gave him the chance — so what if you walk Bryce Harper? Throw it out of the zone, for goodness sake — but his low fastball wasn’t low enough. Unless you’re a Twins fan, click here to feel all the chills.

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2016 MLB predictions: divisions, awards, the whole kit ‘n’ caboodle

March 30, 2016 Leave a comment

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Now that I’ve published what I consider to be the possible high and low points for every team, let’s keep the guessing game going with a look into what will happen by the end of this season.

Because you know how good I am with predictions.

American League East

1. Toronto Blue Jays (No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs)
2. Boston Red Sox (4)
3. New York Yankees
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. Baltimore Orioles

Toronto’s offense is unmatched. But with Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada and a strong bullpen, the Jays are much more than a bunch of bats. The Red Sox so desperately want to make up for last year’s failure, and they will to a point. David Price cures a lot of ails, but how far that team goes really hinges on the well-being of Clay Buchholz and their aged stalwarts.

American League Central

1. Cleveland Indians (3)
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Kansas City Royals
4. Minnesota Twins
5. Chicago White Sox

I’m assuming Michael Brantley has no further problems with his repaired shoulder. That pitching staff should be the best in the division. Detroit should hit a ton, and its new bullpen looks nice. I have them just below Cleveland because I don’t trust Anibal Sanchez to stay healthy, and the starters behind him in the rotation are a mystery. And no, I will never learn my lesson about doubting the Royals. I’m a stubborn person, OK?

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Best-case/worst-case scenarios for every MLB team in 2016

March 28, 2016 Leave a comment

question-marks-300x300You know the adage that is hammered into every team preview column at this time of year: Hope springs eternal. That hope is then extinguished pretty early for some teams. Really, really early for others. But we should all be optimists in March.  So, here’s what I consider to be the best-case scenario for each team on the field this season.

However, I’m also a realist. “Winning the World Series” isn’t a down-to-earth possibility for everyone. Conversely, there is no chance that the Cubs — even the Cubs — will lose 100-plus games. Consider this list a sensible results spectrum for each team. “Sensible results spectrum” just doesn’t sound catchy as a title.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Best Case: All that action in December pays off as Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller head a staff with a good amount of complementary talent. Patrick Corbin more closely resembles his 2013 form. The offense remains potent, and 36-year-old Brad Ziegler follows up a solid 2015 by continuing to make hitters pound the ball into the dirt. A division crown is very possible, and a trip to the NLCS isn’t out of the question.

Worst Case: This is basically a repeat of the 2015 Padres: Winning the offseason doesn’t promise success over the summer. Miller has an understandable regression, turning the rotation into Greinke followed by a bunch of guys. The offense will still be productive, but the likes of David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas don’t do enough to support Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. Who knows if this will all mesh? If it doesn’t, third place is where they will land

Atlanta Braves

Best Case: For some teams, winning right now isn’t really what’s best for the club. The Braves are one such team. What’s best for them is seeing some of their young players (Ender Inciarte, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, etc.) provide hope for the future, a healthy Freddie Freeman, and a lot of losses so they can maximize their draft pool and couple Dansby Swanson with another No. 1 overall pick.

Worst Case: Freeman battles more injuries. Atlanta’s green pitchers get thoroughly battered around the league. Coming out to Turner Field only serves to remind fans how the Braves are technically deserting Atlanta and a relatively young ballpark to get their hands on some more sweet, sweet public money where a lot of rich white folks live. No hope.

Baltimore Orioles

Best Case: Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Matt Weiters, J.J. Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez. This team should lead the sport in home runs, so that’s cool. If the starting rotation can be league average collectively, the O’s can slide their way into a Wild Card spot.

Worst Case: The starting rotation is as much of a tire fire as many expect. That unit lost Wei-Yin Chen and basically replaced him with a Yovani Gallardo who is becoming more hittable. Weiters still can’t shake the injury bug. In the game’s deepest division and bereft of an arm they can depend on to stop a losing streak when the strikeout-happy bats are slumping, Baltimore could find itself in last place comfortably

Boston Red Sox

Best Case: What was supposed to be in 2015 comes to fruition in 2016. All of the vets are able to stay healthy. Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez endear themselves to Red Sox Nation. David Ortiz gets one more shot at October magic. The duo of David Price and Clay Buchholz dominate, and the back end of the bullpen with Craig Kimbrel is no longer a point of great consternation for the Sawx. This squad has World Series potential

Worst Case: Another huge letdown. Price remains great, but the rotation otherwise is a mess. Buchholz hardly makes it past 100 innings again. Carson Smith’s elbow injury subtracts a critical late-inning weapon. First base becomes Ramirez’s latest comical defensive venture. With Sandoval, people talk more about his fat than his bat. Father Time continues to wear on Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. Fourth place and another finish behind the Yankees.

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The Pablo Sandoval flab flap

February 24, 2016 Leave a comment

Annually, this is always a weird time for what’s considered baseball news. Signs of winter thawing into spring come as players begin to show up for spring training. The first official day of pitchers and catchers reporting is one of the most anticipated days on my sports calendar.

But in mid-to-late February, baseball is in that awkward, early prepubescent stage. It looks like something familiar, but it’s not fully formed. It’s still growing, shaping itself into what we know. It’s just guys throwing and jogging and stretching and hitting. But it’s a hell of a lot more than anything we’ve seen over the past four months, so it’s always a big freaking deal. Baseball is back! Even if it’s totally not! That excitement means baseball scribes need to start filling up those column inches and taking up more space on the Internet with increased haste.

That leaves the baseball public hearing about a variety of stories that create a lot of chatter but are really small potatoes in the big picture. And this season seems to have a wealth of such issues thus far.

The Marlins are going with a “no facial hair” policy. No beards, no mustaches and especially no sideburns. The article states that Don Mattingly is enforcing the rule, but I have a hard time believing it is his creation. He’s being good soldier in his first year as the Marlins’ head man, but I’m sure he privately rolls his eyes at this edict from team execs.

Chris Archer stresses the value of being earlier than early, which would be totally worthwhile if Tom Coughlin was managing the Rays. In this case, it reeks of false hustle.

Of course, we’ll be bombarded with tales of wacky spring training injuries. Those are nothing new and can sometimes be major in severity.

Yet, no story in the first week of spring training has led to the expulsion of more electronic ink and hot air than the shocking revelation that Pablo Sandoval is a fat guy.

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The most discussed photo in Boston since that really ugly courtroom sketch of Tom Brady. (credit: Jim Davis/Boston Globe)

You know what that looks like? Some have said that looks like a lazy player who doesn’t take his job seriously.

I think that looks like Pablo Sandoval.

It’s not a great look, but that is exactly what Pablo Sandoval looks like on the field. Portly, plump, pudgy, whatever you want to call him, that is and has been the Panda. He will never have a body that makes you reminisce about Gabe Kapler. While Sandoval has worked hard to lose weight in the past and has succeeded a couple of times, the extra chunk always found its way back onto Sandoval. Love it or hate it, Pablo and his spare tire will be life-long friends.

Obviously, everyone in Boston — the players, the management, the fans, the media — were aware of this fact when Sandoval signed his five-year, $95 million contract prior to last season. And it was cool as long as he hit.

He didn’t hit.

His 76 OPS+ was sixth from the bottom among qualified hitters. Sandoval was somehow even worse in the field, where his -16.9 UZR represented a career low by a mile and followed up a 2014 campaign in which he received fairly positive results on defense. Add it up and Sandoval, at least according to FanGraphs WAR (-2.0), was the worst player in Major League Baseball last season. He could have been even further in the red if he had not missed about 35 games.

If Pablo becomes a productive player again, his weight issues will be diminished. However, even with what you should call a “good” season from Sandoval, I don’t think he can win. To get back into the good graces of Red Sox Nation, Pablo probably needs to play like someone he’s not, someone like 2011 Pablo.

If 2015 represented the deepest that Sandoval’s slash line could sink — .245/.292/.366 with a .270 BAbip — 2011 represented more of what I’m sure Sox fans expected to see out of their third baseman. In that year, Sandoval slashed .315/.357/.552 with an unsustainable BAbip of .320. He hit 23 home runs in 117 games.

But take a look at Sandoval’s slashes from 2012-14, through his age 25-27 seasons:

2012: .283/.342/.447
2013: .278/.341/.417
2014: .279/.324/.415

Sandoval’s greatest home run total during this stretch was 16 HRs in 2014, but that was in 157 games. Excluding 2014, Sandoval hasn’t played in more than 141 games since 2010.

Furthermore, his BAbip in those seasons stabilized at right around .300. Why was he unable to sniff the 20-homer plateau again? Probably because Pablo’s HR/FB rate was 16 percent in 2011, the only season of his career in which that number reached double digits. In 2012-14, his HR/FB rate sat between 8.3 and 9.5 percent. 

His defense should improve — how could it get worse? — but at the plate, it’s pretty clear that Sandoval is a .270-.280 hitter who will contribute about 15 home runs while continuing to show his standard lack of discipline at the plate.

That’s not good enough for what the Red Sox are paying him. That’s not worth an average annual value of $19 million for the next four years. The fans want to see the Sandoval who was an offensive machine during the 2012 and 2014 postseasons.

Alas, beware the dangers of short sample size, because that’s just not who Pablo Sandoval is. He’s an above-average offensive player, but he’s not a great one. He should post better stats in 2016 than 2015, but he isn’t going to repeat his October exploits.

He’s also fat. This should not be news to anyone who’s been paying attention, but if Sandoval doesn’t improve upon last year in a really significant way, he should prepare himself for a season full of fat-shaming and blaming. If he fails to do that, it won’t be because Sandoval is generally overrated and was given a contract more befitting of a better player. Nope, it will be ALL about his conditioning. Because why look for other reasons when you’ve got this built-in narrative that you have been harping on since February? If you are reporting on the Red Sox and looking to explain what’s wrong with Pablo, it makes your job really easy.

Red Sox Score 16 Runs Without An Extra-Base Hit

The time for random baseball occurrences set against history has arrived!

If you have stumbled upon this blog in the past, you probably know that I have a fetish when it comes to the sorts of baseball oddities as mentioned in the title. Of the 48 baseball-related posts I wrote during last season, 37 of them were focused around quirky statistics for which I wanted to draw some sort of historical perspective.

Some of the numbers were important; some of them were just me digging way to deep to find something interesting about something that is completely not; some were completely meaningless.

Speaking of which, spring training numbers are meaningless, but hey, 16 runs without an extra-base hit? That seems (Miley Cyrus voice) pretty cool.

The Red Sox beat the Pirates, 16-6, with the help of 14 singles and 15 walks last night.

First of all, 15 walks?!

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A Battery In The Making Since 1883

August 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Timeliness? Obviously not a premier issue on this blog. That’s why I have no shame in writing about something that happened Saturday afternoon on a Wednesday night. Something like this:

Red Sox relief pitcher Craig Breslow came in during the eighth inning of Saturday’s game versus the Yankees. The catcher was Ryan Lavarnway.

Why is this significant? Because both players attended Yale University (Breslow graduated with a B.A. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry and was once named the smartest active athlete).

It was the first time that a Yale battery played in an MLB game since 1883, 16 years prior to the creation the American League.

Well, this just made FOX’s broadcasting team of Kenny Albert and Tim McCarver go giddy. Albert had been actively calling for the Red Sox to make this move just so he could empty his notebook. And there’s no doubt that it is pretty cool. I mean, 129 years is a long time. Only 19 Bulldogs have reached the majors since 1893. Ron Darling is the only other Yale alum to make it to that level in the last 45 years. Now you have two of them playing on the same team, in the same game, as pitcher and catcher?

Damn.

I would have paid more attention to things said about the Bresl0w-Lavarnway connection, but my mind was still numbed by some things McCarver said earlier in the game. I know I shouldn’t let such nonsense get to me because, yeah, it’s McCarver; what do I expect?

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