Miller Hardly Thrills In His Fenway Debut

Not since February 26, when Sox prospect Kyle Weiland was given the ball to face Northeastern, has a Boston starter faced a softer lineup than the one Andrew Miller faced last night. So it figured that Miller would be able to dazzle in his Fenway debut. Maybe ring up eight over seven innings. Make a couple of AAAA players look foolish. Perhaps scatter five hits and a couple of runs.

No matter the competition, a performance like that would have stoked the partisans and instantly turned Miller into an “option.” Big arm. Sharp hook. Sneaky change. “This guy is the real deal,” would have been the theme heard on today’s radio shows.

Unfortunately, Miller’s performance last night didn’t quite fit this narrative. Up against a PUNY lineup, Miller was only able to get 17 outs and not before he gave up seven hits, three walks and three runs. That line translates into a game score of 46, which is really more like a 36 when you discount it for the quality of the completion. And “36,” according to my baseball dictionary, is synonymous with neither “option” or “real deal.”

Look, it is only one game so it is hardly fair to label the Miller “experiment” a failure just yet. And in Miller’s defense, he did show a pretty nasty “swing and miss” hook. But I expected more from Miller against the Pacific Coast League Padres. The same Padres who are last in the NL in scoring, last in hitting and last in slugging.

That Miller wasn’t able to dominate that lineup is hardly enough evidence needed to convict Miller of a crime. But it is a piece of evidence that leads to further questioning. And if subsequent starts against Pittsburgh and Houston don’t produce better results, it seems like Miller won’t be an “option” when the schedule rolls back to the AL time zone.

And just in case you think I am making too big a deal about the Padres incompetence, this is all you really need to know. The Red Sox were so unimpressed with tonight’s competition that they decided to give Josh Beckett the night off. The thinking being that the club can throw just about anyone out there and probably pick up a win. Now the club is saying that Beckett has “the shits” but do you really think Montezuma’s Revenge would have led the Sox to scratch Beckett 20 hours before a start against New York or Tampa?

Obviously, the big loser here is Beckett who might have easily thrown another one-hitter tonight, thus lengthening his slim lead in that Cy Young race. But those are the breaks and into the void steps Alfredo Aceves, the Sox number eight starter coming out of Spring Training. His credentials as a competent “fill-in” need little cementing but the bet here is he will do just fine as Beckett’s fill-in. I can’t say the same about Miller next weekend in Pittsburgh.

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Adrian Gonzalez is Channeling his 1979 Freddy Lynn

As  Adrian Gonzalez was going nuts on Friday night, I began to wonder how his season was stacking up against some of the great Red Sox offensive seasons in history. Obviously, he isn’t in Teddy Ballgame’s league. But with an OPS of 1007, and something closer to 1100 since April 23, Gonzalez is laying the foundation for something Herculean.

But as I was doing some research, I stumbled upon a season that caught me by surprise. Obviously, Yaz had a few monsters. So too have Manny and Ortiz. Rice’s 1978 is a benchmark to measure righties in the non-steroid era. And Boggs had an absolute killer in 1987. But tucked into all of that was an absolute Laser Show from Freddy Lynn in 1979.

As a big Lynn-kid growing up, I have always remembered Freddy’s 79 as a big one but my memory does not do it justice. Check out this montage:

* Lynn’s slash line that year was .333/.423/.637. He led the league in EACH of those categories.

* You can do the math, but Lynn’s OPS that year was 1059 and his OPS+ was 176. Again, he led the league in both categories.

* He slammed 39 bombs and roped 42 doubles. Those totals were good for second and third in the AL.

* On top of all that, Lynn led the league in a bunch of sabre-shit like “wins added,” “runs created” and “all-around studliness.”

If someone were to throw up a season like that today, in a Sabre-centric world, he would walk away with the MVP at year’s end. Well, guess where Lynn finished that year? Try fourth, buried behind Don Baylor, Ken Singleton and George Brett.  Now Brett had a decent sabre-case but the only reason the other two guys were in the conversation was because they played on division winners and put up big RBI numbers. With RBIs having been marginalized as a relevant stat in recent years, I am confident that if you re-held the 1979 vote today, Fred Lynn probably has a second MVP in his trophy case.

That brings us back to Gonzo who is loudly moving in Lynn’s direction. He may not lead the league across the board,but  he he tops the AL in hitting and is third in OBP and Slugging. On top of that, he leads the AL in hits, doubles, total bases and RBI. Add it all up and Gonzonkulous looks like he leads the AL MVP pack by about a length as we approach the half-mile pole. There is still a lot of race to go, but the Mexican Masher is having a Lynn-like year and if it continues, you can bet your ass he won’t be finishing fourth in this year’s MVP race.

[Last note on Lynn … how did the Red Sox trade Lynn a year removed from this onslaught. I realized he got dinged up in 1980 but to deal someone who won the sabre Triple Crown a year earlier for Joe Rudi and Frank Tanana seems a bit tortured.]

 

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The Bruins Rise Again!

This SI cover, from 1977, used to be a part of a 16 square foot collage that hung in my room, right over there at 2474 La Condesa Drive. I’m not entirely sure why, but I loved that cover and gave it a prominent spot in my evolving tribute to Boston Sports.

Now  I was not even eight years old when that SI came in the mail box. And it had only been eighteen months since I had adopted the Red Sox. But in the meantime, I had scooped up the Celts and tied myself to the Pats. So by April of 1977, all I was missing was the Bruins. That all changed when I got my hands on that SI.

Now hockey has never been a passion of mine. I’ll admit that. But it was never because I didn’t’ like the game. Instead, it was because it wasn’t that easy to get into a sport when you live in Southern California, your team is in Boston and there is absolutely no coverage available. Sure, my dad stepped up every year and took me to see the Bruins when they came to town. And I would track the Bs through boxscores, stat tables, and 50 word blurbs in the LA Times. But that was the extent of my commitment early on.

But being a “Boston” fan in the eighties, I would step up my commitment each April when the playoffs rolled around. And while I never made big investments in the Bs and therefore was never despondent over a playoff exit, I did have some skin in the game. The one exception was 1983 when I thought Pete Peters was going to lead the Bs to the Cup and was pretty upset when the Islanders squashed that plan. Continue reading

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Monday Will Be Miller Time At Fenway

“He’s obviously a huge part of the Organization and he is going to stay that way.” Terry Francona, 5/15/11

So who is Francona talking about? Jon Lester? Adrian Gonzalez? Did Jacoby just ink an extension? Nope, Sir Tito’s line was used this afternoon to describe none other than Andrew Miller, a guy the Red Sox signed on December 16th to a minor league deal. And the award for the most generous use of the word “huge” goes to …….. Terry Francona for his June 15th Andrew Miller Commercial.

So this is the story … Andrew Miller has been throwing great at Pawtucket. Andrew Miller had a June 15th opt-out in his contract. And the Red Sox knew he was a goner if they didn’t promote him so guess what … the Boston Red Sox will now move forward with a six-man starting rotation.

According to the Globe’s Pete Abraham, it looks like Tim Wakefield will stay in the rotation and throw Sunday. Miller will then go on Monday against San Diego, meaning Beckett and the rest of the staff will all be pushed back a day. From there, who knows what will happen but if I had to guess and assuming Miller throws well on Monday against San Diego’s challenged offense, I would say the Sox will stick with six guys for another turn and then do some tinkering after the off day on June 27. Continue reading

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SI’s Jon Heyman Sparks Red Sox To Big Comeback Win

The start was pushed back 210 minutes. The team was facing a late-night flight. Some self-satisfaction had to have seeped in from winning the first two games of a three-game series in the Bronx. They’d be facing a top-shelf starting pitcher. No Pedroia. And an EARLY two-run deficit. Add it all up and last night’s contest, much like a Sunday-night affair in Detroit two weeks ago, had all the makings of a game that the Sox would dump in the mailbox.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the post office. Josh Beckett settled down. Josh Beckett threw up a bunch of zeros. Sports Illustrated columnist Jon Heyman put a jinx on the Yankees when he went gaga for CC. David Ortiz got another hit off a lefty. Nick Swisher fell down. Mike Cameron dialed back his clock six years and scalded a game-tying double. Jason Varitek kept things rolling. Jacoby Ellsbury continued to cause damage. Gonzo and Youkilis added some insurance. And David Ortiz gave David Robertson a lesson in “payback.”

When all the smoke had cleared, the Sox led the East by two games, Heyman had established himself as one of the sport’s best contra-indicators and the Sox had chalked up a win that will certainly be one of the regular season’s ten best.

Four weeks from now, last night will be remembered for two things. First, the “rally.” And second, the “beaning,” as in CC Sabathia’s decision to stick David Ortiz in the hip with a 97 MPH fastball. Yankee fans have long been clamoring for such justice and the mutts finally got their wish. That the pitch was more likely 94 (NY uses a super hot gun) and Ortiz smiled as he walked down to first probably left some wanting more but at this point, it would seem like the case on Ortiz is closed. And if the past is any indication, I would expect the cicadas to show up again before a Yankee hurler takes another shot at Ortiz.

While those will be the two lasting impressions from last night, I would like to shed light on a couple of things worth mentioning.

First, Josh Beckett was excellent once again. And importantly, he has now stuffed the Yankees three times and in each instance, CC was the opposing pitcher. “Three” is sufficient to establish a trend and at this point, it is safe to say that Beckett has put his recent troubles against the Yankees to rest. He had been dominant against the Bombers this season and that is certainly not something that anyone expected when the season started. Coming off two middling starts, it was nice to see Beckett snap back last night.

But it might have all gone for naught if Heyman hadn’t opened his big mouth at 12:30 last night. I say that because the Sox were floundering at the time, heading into the seventh, on the short end of a 2-0 score. But Heyman then tweeted:

#yankees might as well just add the 3 yrs and $69 mil to cc’s deal now. #optout#nobrainer#capncrunch

Well, over the next fifteen minutes, the Sox reached the summit of Mount Sabbathia, planted their flag, destroyed CC’s line and left the big guy 0-3 against the Sox this season. No doubt, Heyman’s tweet came at the absolute intra-night high for CC’s stock and the pundit is now left owning a $69M extension that probably trades in the gray market for no more than $60. Nice trade Johnny Jizz! And by the way JJ, are you available in the future if the Sox need to mount a comeback against a Price or Ogando?

Having dispensed with that …. Just a few more thoughts on the Sox sweep of the Yanks this week.

  • First off, that gun in NY is really frigging hot. You knew that was the case on Tuesday when Papelbon was ringing up 97s and Bard was clocking 100s but we saw a lot more of it last night with CC at 97 and Beckett at 96. Sorry Charlie, that gun just isn’t telling the truth.
  • Michael Kay and Mike Francesca .. you guys embarrass yourself with your David Ortiz sob stories. I know it plays to the mutts on Staten island but guys, don’t you have any self-respect as “sports” fans? Or better yet … broadcasters?
  • Jacoby Ellsbury was ridiculous this series. Two more weeks of this and he will be named an all-star.
  • Wasn’t Robinson Cano supposed to have a batting title by now?
  • And wasn’t Frank Cervelli supposed to be back in Trenton by now? On nights that he starts, he is in the conversation as the worst starter in the American League.
  • The average AL  OPS for a catcher is .679. The combined OPS of Varitek and Salty is now .688. Granted, a team like the Sox should probably aim for more outperformance than that but given where the Sox were in April, the black hole at catcher is now catching some light.  And with Russ Martin sliding and now hurt, the Sox decision to place a few chips behind Salty is no longer looking that bad.
  • Justin Chamberlain …… we’ll see you in 2013.

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The Future of David Ortiz

Heading into the 2011 season, it looked like the Sox would have somewhere between $50-55M coming off the books at the end of the year. And most of it was dead money that presumably could be replaced on the cheap.

There was $14M for Drew, $12M for Papelbon, $7M for Cameron and another $6M for Scutaro. By excising these contracts from the rolls, the Sox would have plenty in the tank to pay a big escalator to Adrian Gonzalez, bring in a reliever and still have something left over to increase the dividend paid to ownership. Oh yeah, there was also another $12.5M being paid to the DH and most assumed that could be halved going forward.

Think again. Because the thought of David Ortiz taking a pay cut next year seems about as plausible right now as Anthony Weiner someday becoming Mayor of NYC.

I know, I know … DH’s don’t make $12M a year anymore.  Um, they do when they outslug their positional brethren by 200 basis points. And does $12M seem outlandish for a guy whose OPS is 250 basis points higher than the league average for DHs? Continue reading

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Loving The Major League Baseball Draft

The major league baseball draft is clearly the ugly step-child of the three major league drafts but I have a soft spot in my heart for the event. In fact, I love it. So much so that I thought I would take a few moments to share the objects of my affection …….

* I love that there is so much groupthink amongst the “scouts” and any selection made outside of the box is immediately hailed as idiotic. Clearly, darts are thrown poorly on the first night of the baseball draft but I think it’s funny that people who are relying on second, third and fourth hand reports for their info suddenly feel equipped to rip teams that have had fifteen scouts on this job since January (and before).  Teams screw up … NO DOUBT. But let’s let history and not Baseball America be the judge. (Or course, I am exempt from that when discussing the Yankees because  … well, just because.)

* That said …. I love Keith Law. He is amusing and I think he puts in enough work so his opinion should count for something. Mind you, I was careful to say “something” and not “everything.” Plus, every year, he fellates the Red Sox scouting department and I love that this pisses off those who both bow to Law and hate the Sox.  Continue reading

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