Monday, July 18, 2005

Team picture

Ninety games, 50 wins, 40 losses, a precarious half-game lead in the AL East standings, and countless lost opportunities to put a canyon between themselves and the suddenly lively Yankees.

And there you have the most relevant numbers regarding your limping, laboring, but still first-place and defending World Champion Boston Red Sox.

Now here's TATB's Kinda-Sorta Midseason Review on the players that produced them . . .

PITCHERS
Bronson Arroyo 7-5, 4.14 ERA: A slight disappointment, since I was certain he'd win 14-16 games this season. I wouldn't be bummed if the Sox swapped him in a package for A.J. Burnett - the flaky but ultra-competitive Marlins righthander would be a perfect fit with the livin'-hard, playin'-harder Sox. This may sound contradictory after the last sentence, but giving Arroyo's ubiquitous guitar the Pete Townshend treatment might not be a bad idea, either. Less strummin', more strikes, dude.

Chad Bradford 1/3d of an inning: The sorta-submariner and co-star of "Moneyball" will help if he's healthy. (Yeah, thought-provoking insight, I know. Hey, he's pitched a third of an inning. Cut me some slack here.)


Matt Clement 10-3, 4.21 ERA: Not sure if it's a good thing or bad, but The Count is starting to remind me of one of his predecessors in the Sox rotation: Yup, Derek Lowe. He's tall, goofy, gifted at basketball, has sensational stuff that he doesn't completely trust for some reason, and seems like a normal, likeable, completely level-headed human being, which sometimes isn't the best thing to be when you're trying to slip a slider past Gary Sheffield in front of 35,000 screaming lunatics. Clement has been knocked around a little bit lately, and I'm curious to see if he can repeat his stellar first-half, or will fall off down the stretch like he did a season ago in Chicago. His need for reassurance is one more reason I'm glad Jason Varitek is on our side.

Alan Embree 7.71 ERA: He got one of the two most memorable outs in Red Sox history, and you and Ruben Sierra know exactly the one I mean. Strangely enough, I can't recall Embree getting anyone out since. Whatever he did in 2001 with the Padres to morph from a journeyman mediocrity who'd had two good seasons in seven into a smoke-throwing bullpen stalwart at age 31 . . . well, he needs to do it again. Whatever it was.

Keith Foulke 6.23 ERA, 15 misleading saves: At least he got a free truck.

Jeremi Gonzalez 5.53 ERA: Kept the Sox in the game Saturday in relief of Clement, has sneaky breaking stuff, and the bullpen could do worse for a long reliever. In fact, it has . . .

John Halama 5.91 ERA: John Trautwein. Mike Trujillo. Stephen Hawking. The girl who got her arm bitten off by a shark. The drummer for Def Leppard. And off the top of my noggin, there you have five people I'd rather see coming stumbling out of the bullpen than this meatball specialist. Dump him and call up Jon Papelbon already, Theo. The kid can only be better, and he'll likely be a lot better.

Wade Miller 2-3, 5.03 ERA: The inconsistency that has plagued Miller is typical of a pitcher coming off surgery. The catch is, he actually didn't have surgery on the frayed rotator cuff that cost him much of last season in Houston, and you have to wonder if consistency is possible considering how often his complex mechanics wreak havoc with his sometimes-dazzling stuff. In other words, he could win 8 more games this season, or he could end up a patient of Dr. Jobe. Your guess is as good as mine.


Mike Myers 2.60 ERA: The second player on his Similarity Comparison on baseball-reference.com? Tony Fossas. I think that says it all.


Curt Schilling 1-3, 8.24 ERA: Maybe this closing thing will work out splendidly. Maybe he'll find his way back to the head of the rotation in time for the stretch run. But the more I see him hobbling around and struggling to crank it up to 90 mph on the radar gun, the more I think he sacrificed the twilight of his career last fall in order to fulfill our baseball dreams.

Mike Timlin 1.61 ERA: The last man standing in the Sox's charred remains of a bullpen, Francona has to be very careful that he doesn't turn the 38-year-old war horse into Paul Quantrill, 2005.

Tim Wakefield 8-8, 4.12 ERA: Live by the knuckleball, die by the knuckleball. You can appreciate him, admire him, root for him, think he's swell and groovy, but you can never, ever completely trust him.

David Wells 7-5, 4.73: At things stand right now, Boomer gets the ball in Game 1 of a playoff series. Not exactly a reassuring thought, is it?

CATCHERS
Doug Mirabelli .217, 4 homers : The best backup catcher (and worst baserunner?) in the game, it seems he hits a home run just about every time he plays. Which, in case that arrogant fool Joe Morgan still hasn't figured it out, is when Tim Wakefield pitches.

Jason Varitek .301, 13 homers, 39 RBI: Worth. Every. Bleepin'. Penny.

INFIELDERS
Mark Bellhorn .216, 7 homers, 109 strikeouts: He sprained his thumb last night, and while it may be cold and cruel to say it, an injury could be a blessing for all involved. He's clearly pressing, particularly at Fenway, and he simply has not hit the baseball with any consistency all season. I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt - his defense, particularly at turning the double play, is stellar, and his postseason performance buys him a lot of goodwill in this corner. But those benefits have just about run out. Frankly, he could use a break, and we could use a break from him. Who knows, the Sox may now be forced to find out if they have something special in Dustin Pedroia (or Hanley Ramirez, who, curiously enough, has played second at Portland the last few nights.) Unless Pedroia (or Ramirez) reveals himself to be Arquimedez Pozo in disguise, he can't be much worse.



Alex Cora .198, no bleepin' chance: Are we sure Ramon Vazquez didn't just change his name? There's no logical reason why he was allowed to bat with the bases loaded down two runs in the ninth against Mariano Rivera, and I don't want to hear the excuse that the Sox wouldn't have had anyone to play second base. I'd rather see John Olerud trying to make the pivot than watch this guy at the plate in a crucial situation.

Kevin Millar .274, 4 homers, 33 RBI: You know that oh-so-condescending argument a couple of WEEI's baseball experts like to make, the one that says Millar (and Bellhorn, to an extent) can't possibly be hurting the Sox since they are leading the league in runs? Have you ever paused to think how utterly stupid that viewpoint is? Of course Millar is hurting the Sox. He's killing them, for heaven's sake. Just think about it for a moment. If they had a typically productive first baseman in the lineup - I'm not talking Derrek Lee here, just one who could produce more than four freakin' home runs while batting in the sweet sixth spot behind Manny, Ortiz and Nixon - maybe a few 5-3 losses would be 6-5 victories, a 10-8 heartbreaker a 11-10 thriller instead. Maybe if they had a No. 6 hitter who slugged better than .300 on the road and had more than zero-zip-nada home runs against lefthanded pitching, that half-game lead would be a five- or six- or seven-game lead, and we wouldn't be sweating out the next two-and-a-half months. And it's not like Millar is here to do anything else but hit. He plays first base and runs the bases like a drunken hippo, and while he is undeniably a good guy in the clubhouse (at least when his own name is on the lineup card), his disingenuous suggestion that the Sox need him around to babysit Manny reeks of desperation and even blackmail. He's had more than his share of chances this season, and he's swung and missed at every single one of them. I've seen enough of Cowboy Out. Oh, how I hope that Millar/Abe Alvarez/Manny Delcarmen-for-Adam Dunn rumor is true.

Bill Mueller .281, 4 homers, 36 RBI : Probably the most universally liked Sox regular among the fans, he plays a mean third base, hits in the clutch, and, unlike Damon, Millar and the despicable Jay Payton, keeps his mouth zipped about this being the last year of his contract. Even with the capable Kevin Youkilis waiting down I-95, it'll be a sad day when this guy is no longer a member of the Red Sox.

John Olerud .315:The Swing may not be as quick as it was during those heady days when he made a run at .400, but it's just as picturesque. He's too rickety to play every day, but the glove is still golden, and he's more than useful if used cautiously. If only the Sox had a league-average righty to platoon him with at first.

Edgar Renteria .272, 6 homers, 33 RBI: The errors (a major-league leading 17) are an aberration; the .332 on-base percentage and his production numbers are only slightly below with his career norms. Even if the defense sharpens up and the late summer brings a few clutch hits, this is not a $10 million-a-year player.

OUTFIELDERS



Johnny Damon .342, 4 homers, 44 RBI, 125 hits, 68 runs scored, 29-game hitting streak: He's only halfway to Joe D., and yet I'm already anticipating Johnny D.'s press conference that late August night when he hits in his 57th straight game: "Well, you know, uh, Mr. DiMaggio was just, uh, an awesome player, and, you know, he, uh, played for the Yankees I think, and, uh, I'll cut my sweet hair if I play for the Yankees next year, and uh, his hit streak was unbelievable and, well, you know, he, uh, married Marilyn Monroe, who was like, uh, an awesomely smokin' hot chick, and, well, you know chicks dig me so we have something to talk about if we ever meet, and uh, I hate Schilling's freakin' guts, and well, it's really awesome. You know."

Gabe Kapler .153 in Japan: Cue John Sebastian: Well the names have all changed since you hung around/But those dreams have remained and they've turned around/Who'd have thought they'd lead ya/Back here where we need ya/Yeah we tease him a lot cause we got him on the spot/Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back, welcome back/Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

Welcome back, indeed. There's always a place for One Of The 25 here, particularly one who appreciated it as much as Kapler did.

Trot Nixon .295, 11 homers, 50 RBI: Steady as always at the plate, he's quietly having his typical season. He'll make a few spectacular defensive plays, mix in a few staggeringly boneheaded plays, and rub enough dirt on his hat to remind his fans more of the former than the latter.

Manny Ramirez .278, 24 homers, 84 RBI: One of the elite righthanded hitters in baseball, still, now, and until further notice. Agreed, Mr. Gammons?

Adam Stern A hit, a steal: He supposedly can scoot, and rumor is he has a missile launcher for an arm, and hell, they must like something about him, since he's on the roster at the expense of someone (read: Youkilis) who might actually help win ballgames this year. It seems appropriate to note here that when Stern got his first career hit against the Yankees Friday, Derek Jeter waved off pitcher Scott Proctor's request for the ball and was aware of the moment enough to toss Stern's keepsake into the Sox dugout. It was nice to see Captain Jetes using his intangibles for good instead of evil for once.

DESIGNATED HITTER
David Ortiz .307, 23 homers, 83 RBI: I've said it before, and I'll surely say it again. Theo's decision to sign Papi was the most important transaction in franchise history. Why the Yankees - and any other team, for that matter - still pitch to him with the game's outcome hanging in the balance boggles my mind.

* * *

As for Today's Completely Random Baseball Card(s):



The Al Leiter on the right was once traded for a washed-up Jesse Barfield, has offered more insight during his postseason guest analyst gigs than Tim McCarver and Joe Morgan ever have and ever will, and walked into Fenway off the street to emasculate the Red Sox last night. The Al Leiter on the left is really named Steve George. He probably sells pharmaceuticals or works at a car wash or something.

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