Friday, April 18, 2008

You find out who your friends are

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free throwaway lines for you . . .

1. Wonder if Pistons fans are aware that Kevin Garnett's good buddy Chauncey Billups advised him, when KG was uncertain if Boston was the right fit, that accepting a deal here would be a wise career move, in part because it would be "easier to win." You have to give Billups credit for being a loyal friend, though should the Celtics bounce the Pistons from the postseason, I wouldn't blame Detroit fans for questioning his loyalty to them.

2. Sure, I admit it. I've hopped aboard the Bruins' playoff bandwagon much in the same way noted college hoops aficionado Bill Simmons suddenly thinks he's some sage combination of Jay Bilas and Pat Forde every March. So take my opinion on this with a whole shaker of salt, but from my mildly informed perspective, it seems like Claude Julien has handled his team brilliantly in this series. Consider: After a gruesome Game 1, he decides his team's only chance of making this a series is to emphasize smart aggression and discipline, so he sits talented softie Phil Kessel. That strategy works for the most part and the Bruins scrap to make it a series, yet they struggle to put the puck in the net, so Julien brings back a clearly motivated Kessel for Game 5. Not only does Kessel (who looks like a young Gary Busey) score a goal, but he tries to do all the little things that he usually avoids. Pretty astute coaching and knowledge of your personnel, I'd say.

3. One more Bruins item: Got a kick out of watching the Montreal "faithful" stream out of Le Ribbit Centre Thursday night after the Bruins took a two-goal lead with about 10 minutes remaining. Who knew those little towels they like to wave were actually white flags? In that sense, the Canadiens fans reminded me quite a bit of Yankees fans, except with a much better command of English.

4. Just can't imagine the Falcons will spend that No. 3 overall pick on BC quarterback Matt Ryan. They've already had Joey Harrington once.

5. Manny's turning Mike Mussina into his personal batting-practice pitcher while crushing the ball like he's 28 again. Papi's hitting like he's possessed by the ghost of Calvin Pickering (until last night, thank goodness). And strangely enough, both developments have left me with the same thought: Man, we've been so lucky to watch these two phenomenal hitters do their thing all these years. Savor it while it lasts, because, damn, is it ever going to be a bummer when it ends.

6. Having seen him quite a few times for the Sea Dogs last season, I can say with confidence that defensively, Jed Lowrie will never be an everyday major league shortstop. His range is Jeterian, and his arm isn't all that accurate. But the kid's going to be a good hitter for a middle infielder - it wouldn't shock me if he duplicated Mark Loretta's career - and it is barely an exaggeration to say he's helped the Sox more in his first week here than shortstop incumbent Julio Lugo has in a year-plus.

7. Though you, me, Todd McShay, and especially Mel Kiper have no idea what they are going to do, the hunch here is that the Patriots will spend the No. 7 pick on one of the recent graduates of Jacked And Pumped University - linebacker Keith Rivers or defensive lineman Sedrick Ellis. I just can't see them taking a cornerback in that spot. (And with that said, watch, they'll take a cornerback in that spot.)

8. Of all the wonderful developments with the Celtics this season, one of the most satisfying is the emergence of Leon Powe as a tough, reliable, and remarkably efficient force off the bench. My only question is this: What took so long, Doc? I never understood why Powe couldn't get significant minutes on last season's flame-engulfed zeppelin of a basketball team.

9. I don't think I laughed more than once or twice during the first 20 minutes of "The Office" Thursday, and I have to admit, I caught myself wondering whether this uneven fourth season is a sign that the show has lost its way, that it would never be as hilarious and heartwarming as it was in its outstanding second and third seasons. But damned if the writers didn't redeem themselves entirely in the final 10 minutes. Not only was the Jim/Pam twist brilliant in that it restored the pleasant tension that has been missing since they got together, but it was also nice to see Kevin step out of his usual role as a caricature. Consider my faith restored that this show will find greatness again by season's end.

10. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

This is easily my favorite Onion item since . . . well, since the last column by Jim Anchower, probably. The strange thing is, Williams actually looked like he was encased in cement his last few seasons in center field.

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Just a quick note to let you know I'll be loading all the Random Baseball Cards and other silly trinkets into the U-Haul and heading over to for good this Tuesday. Yep, the move is officially official, officially. I'll post a link here that will point you toward TATB's new home, and of course I hope all of you will check out the new neighborhood. - CF

Sunday, April 13, 2008

TATB Live: Sox-Yankees

Yup, I'm here. Joining me are the Baseball Prospectus, the Baseball America Prospect handbook, the Bill James handbook, a matching pair of Shipyard IPAs, and my already bored wife, who between sighs mentions she would much rather be watching something called "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" on, I'm assuming, Lifetime. Fortunately, I have removed the batteries from the remote. I predict she'll catch on to my scam sometime around the fifth inning. (Oh, okay, she's actually being sweet enough to DVR the ridiculous thing. The best marriages are based on compromise, my children. Sincerely, Dr. Phil.)

Anyway, baseball. The big news of the night so far: No Papi. Tito Francona wisely gave his frustrated, .070-hitting designated hitter a much-needed night off, and that tells you all you need to know about the value of Sox-Yankees games in April. I have a feeling both Papi and Derek Jeter (who has not played in this series due to a dislocated girdle . . . er, strained quad) would be in the lineup tonight if this were August.

One other pregame observation: As a reader pointed out in the comments on the last post, this is huge one for Dice-K, at least as far as April ballgames go. He's had two terrific starts in a row, aggressively challenging hitters and pitching with what seems to be increased confidence - Gammons just mentioned that he looks "comfortable in his second act," an articulate way of putting it - but we all know this Yankees' lineup is traditionally relentless and disciplined. And Matsuzaka certainly had his troubles with them last year, posting a 6.12 ERA in four starts while walking 13 batters in 25 innings. Is he up for the task? I'm hopeful considering how he pitched in his last start against Detroit, but we'll know for sure in about three hours. Maybe four. Hell, with these teams, probably six.

All right, the game's underway, and I'm already falling behind here. Hopefully we won't say the same thing about Dice-K too often tonight.

Two walks (Damon, Abreu) in the first three batters. Not what we had in mind there, Mr. Matsuzaka. Didn't you read the intro? Fortunately, A-Rod is already in his mid-autumn form, and obligingly rolls Dice-K's first pitch to Kevin Youkilis, who starts the 5-4-3 double play. It's amazing how A-Rod can justifiably be considered the best player in the game, and yet fans of the Yankees' opponent don't mind seeing him at the plate in big situations. I mean, he hit 54 homers last year. More than a few of them must have been meaningful, right?

Jon Miller tells us that Yankees starter Phil Hughes (who I am convinced will be a legitimate No. 1 starter, someone who will still be winning in the majors when Joba Chamberlain has a scar on his elbow and Chris Farley's midsection) grew up a Red Sox fan. I knew there was a reason I kind of like the kid.

Jacoby Ellsbury works a walk, bolts for second, and zips over to third when Jose Molina's throw sails wide into center field. There's no doubt he's an absolutely electric athlete who makes things happen on the bases. I'm just not convinced - yet - that he's a disciplined enough hitter to make it to first base with any consistency. I'll admit it: I still think Coco Crisp is a better option in center field for this season. I imagine all of my Pink Hatted readers will cancel their subscriptions now.

Hughes whiffs Dustin Pedroia on a 3-2 count, then walks J.D. Drew, batting in the No. 3 spot while Papi takes his mental health break. Hughes is doing what we worried Dice-K would, struggling with his command and racking up a high pitch count in the early going. For all of Hughes's talent, it's easy to forget he's only 21, three years younger than Clay Buchholz.

Heeeere's Manny with runners at the corners. Care to walk him now, Girardi? (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

Nope. And Manny makes the Yankees pay yet again, roping one over Robinson Cano's head to score Ellbury, and it's 1-0, Sox. Jon Miller tells us that's Manny's 154th career RBI against the Yankees. Someone needs to get that statistic to that washed-out clown Mike Adams immediately.

Make that 2-0, thanks to a Youkilis sacrifice fly. Just another little thing he does well. He had five sac flies last year and 11 in '06.

Sean Casey rockets a ground-rule double into the rightfield seats (Miller calls it an "automatic double"), and I'm officially convinced that Casey (a.k.a. The Nicest Guy In Baseball!) is not the second coming of J.T. Snow. He's been absolutely terrific filling in since Mike Lowell got hurt.

Hughes crosses up Molina, the baseball ends up at the backstop, and Manny saunters home for a 3-0 Sox lead. Miller reminds us that Hughes is the youngest Yankee pitcher to start a game at Fenway since this guy:

Hughes finally escapes the inning, but not after throwing 39 pitches. According to my abacus, he's on pace for a 351-pitch, complete-game, 27-0 loss. Hope it happens for him.

Dice-K walks Hideki Matsui to lead off the inning. Exactly what you're supposed to do with a 3-0 lead. Geez.

After falling behind 3-1 to Jorge Posada, Dice-K battles back and gets him to foul out to Jason Varitek. Encouraging. By the way, Posada is DHing again tonight because of a "dead" throwing arm. As far as I'm concerned, the thing could be severed, and he'd still scare the hell out of me with runners on base.

My apologies for the sarcasm after the Matsui walk; it's an easy, breezy inning for Dice-K, who gets Giambi to pop to Ellsbury in left, the retires the next batter on a fielder's choice.

Crisp leads off by dropping a bunt down the third base line. A-Rod, who is distracted while applying his rouge, recovers to field the ball, but Crisp beats his throw by the edge of a cleat. To be honest, I thought he was out.

One out later, and Crisp on third, Ellsbury hits a little popup to shallow left. Temporary Yankees shortstop Alberto Gonzalez races back and makes a running catch. Jeter immediately bursts into tears. "But that's my signature play!," wails the captain. Just wait 'til Gonzalez breaks out the fist pump. There will be blood.

Joe Morgan, who isn't annoying me as much as usual tonight, probably because I'm distracted by this thing, says that Ellsbury has trouble with the inside fastball. The cold truth hits me hard: Oh, my God. I agree with Joe Morgan. Please, don't let Ken Tremendous know about this.

After retiring Gonzalez on a smooth defensive play by Julio Lugo, Dice-K walks Damon for the second time tonight. That's his fourth walk in 2.3 innings. Miller notes he's not pitching to contact. Sigh.

After Damon swipes second, Dice-K battles back from yet another 3-1 count to get the dangerous Robinson Cano to popup. The radar gun readings on his fastball tonight aren't great - 90, 91, 92 - but Cano was late on three straight heaters. The point here is twofold: 1) Dice-K seems to have better late movement on his fastball this season than he did at any point a year ago. 2) He needs to throw the damn thing earlier in the count rather than messing around with the soft stuff all the time.

Well, the Yankees get one back, thanks to an Abreu wall scraper that plates Damon, making it 3-1, Sox. Fortunately, A-Rod is next, and he graciously pops to Casey in foul ground to stall the threat.

By the way, I can't tell if Casey is a good defensive first baseman or not. I know he used to be, but he's had some awkward moments with the glove so far.

Gammons pops in with a rehash of the teams' offseason flirtation with Johan Santana. I always thought he'd end up in the Bronx, so I considered it a Sox victory when he was swapped to the other New York ballclub instead. And for the record, I'm still not convinced he's the pitcher he was two years ago; he gave up a home run to Gabe Kapler yesterday, for heaven's sake.

Drew leads off the Sox half with a walk. Someone mentioned in the comments on the last post that he's my "whipping boy." Not true. Lugo's my whipping boy. Drew's my scourge. Get it straight. Actually, to be completely honest, I've really enjoyed watching Drew hit this season - he makes it look so easy when he's locked in, something we didn't get to see last season right up until he dug in for his fateful at-bat against Fausto Carmona. I believe he's capable of a big year, and that he has the talent to justify the contract the Red Sox gave him. I still don't get what they ever saw in Lugo, however, and that's the difference.

Just saw a couple of Sox fans wearing t-shirts that said, "L.M.B. Yankees." I'm not sure if I should be proud or not when I say I broke the code in about .00094 seconds.

Manny singles, Youkilis singles to score Drew, and Mighty Casey singles to score Manny as Damon's "throw" trickles without purpose through the infield. (C'mon, I know I'm not the only one who snickered.) It's 5-1, Sox, and Hughes's night is done. For the record, 19-year-old Jose Rijo's first start at Fenway didn't go much better, and he turned out to be an outstanding pitcher.

Ross Ohlendorf in for Hughes. This kid has a good arm, but after he retires Crisp on a grounder Giambi (whose range has improved since he got the giant hypodermic needle surgically removed from his $*$), he bounced one past Molina as Youkilis cruises home. Make it 6-1, and I'm beginning to think this game will end about this time tomorrow night.

RBI single for Ellsbury. 7-1, Sox. Hughes's final line: 2 innings, 6 hits, 7 runs, 6 earned, 3 walks, 3 Ks. His ERA this season: A nice, even 9.00. Gruesome. Still think he's better long-term than Joba the Midge Whisperer, though.

Morgan seems annoyed that Papi isn't in the lineup. You know this never would have happened on the World Champion 1975 Cincinnati Reds. "Let me tell you, Jon, Tony Perez never missed an inning, even after he lost an arm to gangrene and was stricken with polio! Did I mention we won the World Series that year? They called us the Big Red Machine, Jon. I was the MVP . . . "

Crisp misjudges a fly ball by Matsui. I haven't seen him do that since '06, when his GPS was occasionally faulty. I still don't understand how he improved by so much defensively in just one season. I imagine it must be credited to his work ethic or his improved familiarity with Fenway.

Dice-K doesn't seem particularly interested in making this easy. Sure, Crisp cost him one out, but a walk to Giambi and a Molina RBI double make it 7-2, and Gonzalez follows with a nine-pitch at-bat that culminates with an RBI single to center. It's 7-3 and on the verge of being a ballgame again, and Dice-K is back to nibbling against mediocre hitters. Maddening.

Gonzalez has played well in this serious - that was a classic Jeter at-bat he just put together - but the kid is not, as Morgan suggests, a very good hitter. Nor will he be a star, as Morgan says Jason Giambi predicted. Here is Baseball Prospectus's take on him:

His glove will inspire someone to give him a shot at some point. His bat is off of the Rey Sanchez shelf - better than Tony Pena Jr.'s, but that's all.

I'm willing to bet a Tony Pena Sr. rookie card (book value: 75 cents) that BP is a better predictor of Gonzalez's future than noted superscout Giambi is.

Dice-K gets out of it, but not before allowing another run on a Damon sac fly, scoring Molina, who makes it home safely despite running like he's carrying his brothers on his back. It's 7-4, good guys, and it should not be this close.

Drew just shook his head in disagreement after being called out on strikes. That might be the most infuriated I've ever seen him. Look out, water cooler! (Seriously, for the most part I prefer that approach to the faux rage that the previous No. 7 for the Sox would exhibit whenever the man was keeping him down.)

Just when I was about to praise the relentlessness of the Sox offense, Varitek kills a bases-loaded, no-out situation with a dinky 4-6-3 double play. But man, does he ever hustle back to the dugout to put his gear on! (Sorry. The booze makes me extra snarky.)

Dice-K gets Abreu looking. I'm a believer in making the pitchers work and the value of a high OBP, but sometimes Abreu looks like he's not particularly interested in swinging. There's a point where patience becomes passivity.

Morgan thinks they'll leave Dice-K in for five innings so he can get the win. That's the first truly ridiculous thing I've heard him say tonight, but he still hasn't matched the idiocy of McCarver yesterday, who claimed that Varitek getting thrown out at second by 10 yards was a good baserunning play. I think my brain is hemorraging from trying to solve that one.

Dice-K's at 112 pitches through 4 2/3ds. God, he's excruciating. He teases us by breezing through Abreu and A-Rod for the first two outs, but then walks Matsui (his sixth of the night), and Posada ropes a single to left. Here's Giambi as the tying run . . .

. . . and Crisp hauls in his laser. Exhale. I think I'm sweating as profusely as Giambi right now. He must go through a dozen shirts a day.

So, think Dice-K (116 pitches) has another inning left in him? With Papelbon unavailable and Okajima also due for a day of rest, they might need to try to push him through another inning or two. At least you know that he'd just as soon stay out there for 150 pitches.

Just peeked over for the Bruins score. Glad to see they got one. I'm obviously no Gallery God - I think the last time I mentioned them on this blog was when Joe Thornton was traded - but I do follow them and I've been impressed by how they get they most out of very limited talent this season. Julien seems to know what he's doing.

Okay, back to the regularly scheduled programming, the Sox go 1-2-3 in their half, and frankly, at this point, I'm fine with that.

David Aardsma in for Dice-K. I'm encouraged by him, though I have a general distrust for unproven power arms with mediocre command. (I'm talking about you, Blaine Neal.)

Jon Miller mentions that Aardsma replaced Hank Aaron as the first name in the Baseball Encylopedia. C'mon, you knew he couldn't resist.

Aardsma gets Molina to ground out, but walks Gonzalez and Damon back to back. Ugh. Just throw strikes, Meat. That's now a Mantei-like six in six innings for Aardsma this season, and the Yankees have eight walks tonight. Their patience - or the Sox pitchers' lack of command - is keeping them in this game.

Abreu. Can of corn to left. Only the Pink Hats thought it was gone. Of course, I'm now biting my nails and perspiring like the entire Giambi family, including the legendarily super-sweaty Momma G. (Okay, I made that up. But it could be true. Jason got his glandular woes from someone.)

Pedroia hits a rope off the wall, but hesitates slightly around first, and Matsui's crappy throw is just good enough to get him at second. Somewhere, Tim McCarver nods in approval and says to his male nurse, "Now that's great baserunning, son. Can I have my Ovaltine now?"

Gammons tells us Pedroia's hands are the same size as his. I'm not sure what that means, but I fear it's teetering on Too Much Information.

Drew and Manny go quietly against LaTroy Hawkins, and A-Rod is due to leadoff the seventh for New York. This is the perfect time for him to hit a home run - down three with no one on base.

I'll admit it - I loved the story of the buried Ortiz jersey in the foundation of the new Yankees stadium. You know Hank Steinbrenner would have done everything but fire nuclear missiles at the site if his minions couldn't find the damn thing. If Dr. Steinberg still worked his schmaltz for the Sox, the construction worker who buried the shirt would have thrown out the first pitch tonight.

Aardsma gets A-Rod to fly to right. Huh. I thought this was his moment. Matsui and Posada also go feebly, with a smooth scoop by Casey ending the inning, and that's just what the doctor ordered. Damn, these Sox-Yankees games are a grind. Where's Greg Maddux when you need him?

Sox go in order. Cool with me. Let's get this win in the books and get out of here.

Oh, Lord, no . . . a Timlin sighting. Shouldn't have counted my victories before they've hatched.

And wouldn't you know it, Giambi takes him deep for the second time in three days, and it's 7-5, Sox. I probably should have learned my lesson about writing off Timlin last year . . . but the guy is 42 years old, and I think John Farrell has better stuff at this point. Are we sure Okajima can't get a couple outs?

Molina, who has been a complete pain-in-the-Steinbrenner in this series, singles, and pinch hitter Melky Cabrera follows with another hit. Get Timlin out of there, Tito. He's fooling no one but you.

Javier Lopez, in to face Damon. Just when I was about to look up his numbers against lefties last year - I don't recall them being good - he breaks Damon's bat and Pedroia makes a savvy tag-and-throw double play to lower our blood pressure a bit. A job well done on all counts.

For what it's worth, lefties hit .293 with an .810 OPS against Lopez last season. Righties? .176/.565. He is not a lefty specialist, despite the funky motion and repertoire of slop.

And whaddaya know: Lopez gets Cano to ground out to Pedroia, thus holding lefties to a .000 average and .000 OPS in this particular game. That's why Tito makes the big bucks while I sit on a couch typing 5,000 words of nonsense for four hours. I'm humbled, not that I had far to go.

Just saw the commercial for the "Walk Hard" DVD. Yup, this should get me through the rest of the night.

Crisp greets Kyle Farnsworth with a scorched single to center. Hmmm. The book said Crisp could crush anyone's fastball during his two productive offensive seasons in Cleveland, but we really have seen him do it since he broke his finger early in the '06 season. Is this, a hard single off one of the hardest throwers in the league, a cause for optimism, a sign that he's going to be a productive hitter again? Here's hoping.

I'm not fond of the term "manufactured run," but that's exactly what Crisp just did with this sequence: Single, steal, advance to third on a fly to right by Lugo, score on a sacrifice fly by Ellsbury. Very impressive, and with the heart of the Yankees order coming up in the ninth, it's a crucial run to make it 8-5.

Man, Posada can't throw - literally. Pedroia just swiped second without drawing anything but a hangdog look. Girardi might be a better option to catch at this point, but I give Posada credit for going in there after Molina came out of the game last inning. It's a selfless thing to do for sure.

Drew flies to left, and thank God, we go to the . . .

Lopez departs after getting Abreu thanks to a nice backhand play on a short hop by Lugo, and let the record show he retired all three lefties he faced. Of course, Miller raves about how effective Lopez has been against lefties through many years, which makes me wonder if he's ever even heard of That's the kind of nonsense I expect out of Morgan.

Delcarmen smokes A-Rod, and then you remember why Varitek says he has the second-best stuff on the staff after Beckett, the usual closer included.

Delcarmen wraps up his second big-league save, getting Matsui to ground to Tiny Hands Pedroia to end it. Papelbon couldn't have done it any better.

The final word: Sure, Dice-K pitched like he did last postseason, earning the win while inspiring little faith, but any time you can get a win over the Yankees without using Papi or Papelbon, it has to be considered a successful night. And extra kudos to Aardsma, Lopez (one of the all-time great lefty specialists, in my humble opinion), and Delcarmen, who performed ably while allowing Papelbon and Okajima to get a little relief themselves.

Just one thing left to do:

"G'night, Joe."

"I played for the Big Red Machine! My armpits are very warm!"

Sox-Yanks live blog tonight????

Possibly. Check back in later if you're one of the seven readers interested in such a thing . . .

Update, 3:52: I'm in. See you around 8 for four hours of Joe Morgan's unique brand of stupidity.

Paps, Papi, and the rest

A few scattered notes on Saturday's Sox-Yanks rain dance . . .

I'm officially worried about .070-hitting David Ortiz. Not so much about his slump, which seems to grow deeper and more hideous by the day, but about what might be causing it. I cringe when I read he's hobbling around the postgame locker room with a Pedroia-sized icepack on his surgically repaired knee, and it's as logical as it is terrifying to wonder if he's hurt. While I don't put much stock in the theory that aching knees are preventing him from going into his familiar crouch at the plate - even in good times, Papi fiddles with his stance - it's obvious that something is preventing him from getting comfortable at the plate, and it's damn disconcerting to watch him struggle this way. I just hope it's something one well-timed 450-foot home run can cure, and not something that requires a prolonged visit to the disabled list . . . I'm sure I wasn't the only one who fretted about the burden on Jonathan Papelbon's right shoulder while watching him warm up three times before he even threw a pitch today. But while the circumstances weren't exactly ideal, the result - a three-pitch strikeout of Alex Rodriguez with two outs and the tying run on second in the eighth inning - couldn't have been more impressive. Usually you don't see A-Rod look that overmatched until October . . . It's a good thing Lucchino had the Coke bottles taken to the redemption center, because Manny's home run might have shattered them. He really does look like his old self, doesn't he? (Somewhere, Mike Mussina takes a swig of his Zima and nods in agreement) . . . Though the scouting reports tell us he's a Rey Sanchez-type - slick glove, salami bat - Yankees temporary shortstop Alberto Gonzalez has been better than adequate at the plate in this series, and from what I have seen of him defensively, his reputation is justified. Which, by my accounting, makes Captain Jetes the third-best defensive shortstop on the Yankees' roster . . . Two very encouraging pitching developments: Josh Beckett, who had a lost spring due to back and hip injuries, looked like his ace self, allowing just one questionable infield hit through the first five innings. He ran out of gas a little bit in the seventh, but that brings us to the other good sign: an effective, overpowering, one-batter performance from Manny Delcarmen, who relieved Beckett with two outs in the inning and blew away Jose Molina. The more I see of this Sox bullpen, the more convinced I become that Delcarmen is the key to, well, everything . . . This was the kind of game the Sox used to lose to the Yankees. The Yankees would scratch and claw for a few runs against Boston's ace (Pedro in those days), the Sox would make some noisy outs with little to show for it against one of the Yankees' lesser starters (and make no mistake, that's what Mussina is these days - he has nothing), and then New York would steal the win with some timely hitting and/or a fortuitous break in the late innings. I don't know about you, but I like the endings much better these days . . . It's kind of weird without Joe Torre, isn't it? Though I have to admit, it was nice to be able to watch a ballgame without the usual shots of him mining his nostrils for treasure . . . I'm thinking Girardi walks Manny the next time, though pitching to him with first base open is exactly the kind of move you'd expect from a manager who has drawn comparisons to Buck Showalter for all the wrong reasons.

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As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Framingham Lou has quickly become the best thing about the Big Show. I know, that sounds like it should be filed under "Damning With Faint Praise," but in his new co-host role the former Sox utilityman and Nomar concierge is funny, frank, willing to share an inside-baseball anecdote or two, and clearly has a future in the media game if he wants one.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Nine innings: 04.08.08

Playing nine innings while hoping Terry Cashman is banned from the premises today . . .

1. Might as well get used to it: Until the Red Sox, 3-4 and slumbering at the bottom of the AL East, start playing up to their capabilities and string a few wins together, we're going to continue hearing about the effects of the trip to Japan. I'm not saying that's how it should be: Really, it's impossible to tell whether their uninspired performance in Toronto this weekend was due to the lingering hangover from all the travel, or the fact that they ran into a pretty damn good opponent, one that has had their number lately. But I will be disappointed if the excuses and gripes come from within the Red Sox clubhouse; the last thing we want is for someone on this accountable team to pull a Mussina and use the whole thing as a chronic excuse for lousy play. While we've heard a couple of mild complaints from Papi, Mike Lowell, and Jonathan Papelbon, I hope the rest of the team leaves the why-me melodrama to the WEEI banshees and mimics Dustin Pedroia's typically blunt take on the whole thing: "Yeah, we had to go to Japan and yeah, we had a 19-day road trip, but that’s the schedule, we have to accept it, no excuses. We played like (expletive) for three games and got our (butt) kicked, how’s that?” Yes, the trip was an ill-conceived money grab. Yes, the abbreviated spring training put their starting pitchers at a disadvantage. Yes, the schedule is hellacious. They have plenty of excuses within their grasp. But this team is rich with talent and has a roster full of experienced professionals, and they have too much going for them to ever have to reach for them.

2. I'm not one of those contrarian dopes who picked the Blue Jays to win the AL East; I still think that when all the innings are accounted for come October, Toronto will end up in its usual spot in third place behind the two superpowers in the division. But after watching them rake the field with the Sox in a three-game sweep over the weekend, I have to admit that the Jays have the potential to be a summer-long aggravation, and if everything falls right, a legitimate contender for a playoff spot. They probably have more "ifs" than the Sox and Yankees do - if A.J. Burnett pitches up to his talent level, if Vernon Wells bounces back, if B.J. Ryan's elbow is sound, if Scott Rolen can stay off the operating table - but it's apparent to me now that J.P. (Sure, I'll Give You A Quote) Ricciardi has put together a pretty damn good baseball team north of the border.

3. Judging by a couple of threads on SoSH (this is the milder one), it appears I was the last remaining human being in New England who had any use for Kyle Snyder. Honestly, I don't get the venom. He was fine for what he was - an 11th or 12th man who knew his role, handled it at least adequately (3.81 ERA, 124 ERA+ a season ago), and had an odd knack for the Three True Outcomes (32 walks, 41 strikeouts, and 7 home runs in 54.3 innings last season). I'm not convinced Julian Tavarez is a better or more useful pitcher, and while David Aardsma and Bryan Corey may prove to be upgrades, there's also a reasonable chance that they will be worse. Snyder will get a big league job, and he deserves one.

4. I'm trying to give Julio Lugo the benefit of the doubt in his sophomore season with the Red Sox. Really, I am. But then he spends the first seven games of the season strangling the bat into sawdust, then makes three careless errors in a Sunday's ugly loss to the Blue Jays, and again I catch myself wondering just what it was that made the front office so fascinated with this guy. Oh, well. At least J.D. Drew looks his second season in Boston will be a major improvement over his first. It appears to me he's swinging the bat better now that he did at any point last season prior to his fateful at-bat against Fausto Carmona.

5. Jacoby Ellsbury is playing center field exactly the way Coco Crisp did during his first season in Boston: Erratically, particularly when in comes to the routes he takes in pursuit of the ball, yet with such incredible speed that he can often outrun his mistakes. One of the pleasant surprises of last season was Crisp's staggering improvement defensively. Hopefully, Ellsbury can make similar leap over the course of this season, because right now he is an undeniable downgrade over his predecessor/temporary platoon partner.

6. Quick non-baseball thoughts: Dick Vitale is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, but Dennis Johnson isn't? I guess we're not supposed to take the thing seriously . . . We finally saw Friday why NBA scouts have mixed feelings about UCLA freshman Kevin Love. Yes, he has a creative offensive game, and maybe he really does throw the best outlet pass since Bill Walton. But he struggled mightily against that blockhead Joey Dorsey and Memphis's rubber-armed defense, both in getting open and getting his shot off, and unless he gets serious about his physical conditioning, the scouts who are skeptical of him might be proven right . . . The Pat Riley who Bob Ryan knew way back when seems much more appealing that the slicked-back egomaniac who has a knack for distancing himself from his basketball team whenever things start to go wrong . . . Love the Pats' signing of Victor Hobson. There's plenty of room for a young, experienced linebacker who is familiar with the system . . . There are no real sleepers in fantasy baseball anymore, but one player I really like who isn't getting much notice is Cleveland's Franklin Gutierrez. He's off to a slow start, but he had 13 homers in 271 at-bats a season ago, and without a mummified Trot Nixon around to take away playing time, he'll get more of an opportunity this season . . . Yeah, I'm psyched about the Office's return Thursday, though after watching a couple of last week's Season 4 repeats, I'm still concerned that the new Jim/Pam dynamic has irreparably changed the show. Their longing for each other gave the show a heart in the midst of the Michael/Dwight silliness, and while I have faith in the writers, I just don't know how they can fill that void.

7. Today's gem from the Sports Illustrated vault: Steve Wulf's enjoyable (if slightly patronizing) feature on my beloved Maine Guides during 1984, their hugely successful first season of existence. Hard to believe they were gone to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre just five years later. I'm still bitter.

8. Quick programming note: Looks like TATB's official move to, originally scheduled for today, is on hold for another week. The new template isn't quite good to go - for one thing, I still need my wife to photoshop a picture for my mugshot, and as you might expect that's a hell of a challenging and time-consuming task - so you'll still find me in the blogspot neighborhood for a few more days. Anyway, I suppose it's appropriate that I should hit the 500-post milestone (this sucker is No. 498) here before we board this place up. I'll keep you posted. And again, the invitation remains open to stop by and say hi to TATB on Facebook. It's always cool to see who's actually reading this thing.

9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Larry Wolfe? He was no Butch Hobson. Hell, he wasn't even Jack Brohamer.

(Wolfe brought to you per reader request. Even I'd forgotten about him.)

Saturday, April 05, 2008


Well, at least they got the cover right.

That was my reaction after taking an impromptu spin through the 2002 Baseball America Prospect Handbook the other night while avoiding any real work in my home office. The cover boy, as you might have noticed, happens to be the Red Sox' starting pitcher this afternoon. Josh Beckett* not only was rated the top prospect in the Marlins' system, but he was also the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.

* - Stealing a Pozterisk yet again, here are two snippets from Beckett's writeup that jumped out at me:

1. "[Beckett] had a serious scare with two tours on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis in 2000. Offseason tests diagnosed two tears in his labrum, fraying in his rotator cuff, biceps tendinitis, and an impingement. Dr. James Andrews advised against surgery. Beckett worked hard to rehabilitate his shoulder in the winter, and came out firing." I think we now know why the Sox were terrified of his MRI before trading for him.

2. "He has a maturity beyond his years, easily trading barbs with older players, writers, and club officials and always looking people in the eye. He's good, knows he's good, and never would think of shrinking from his apparent destiny." Sure sounds like Beckett to me.

Anyway, back on point . . . you don't need a copy of Beckett's baseball resume to know he has justified every word of hype that preceded him to the majors. But check out these names that were ranked in the top 25 of one writer's top 100 prospects list:

Joe Borchard. Ryan Anderson. Nick Neugebauer. Corwin Malone. Dennis Tankersley. Ty Howington. Wilson Betemit.

Betemit, a former hotshot Braves farmhand, is the most successful big leaguer from that crew of who's-hes? and never-weres. He currently serves as A-Rod's rarely utilized stunt double in the Bronx.

Now, I don't mean to bust on Baseball America. I've been a faithful reader of their magazine since I was in college, I own every Prospect Handbook since 2002, and I genuinely respect the work they do and the insight they impart. It's because of their hard work that we fans (and nitwit bloggers) can be informed of the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the likes of Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury (and Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson and . . . ) before they ever set cleat in Fenway.

It's just that I have this theory about evaluating and ranking baseball prospects, and while it is rather rudimentary and probably even obvious, I do believe it's the whole truth:

I think it's fairly easy to spot the superstars-to-be, the Becketts, Miguel Cabreras, and Joe Mauers, but forecasting the future for anyone other than the truly elite is a feat not even the most sharp-eyed scout, adept numbers-cruncher, or clued-in Baseball America columnist can accomplish with any consistency. And that's before you factor in injuries, which seem to derail a couple of top pitching prospects for every one that makes it. In other words: There's just no foolproof way of knowing how good a 20-year-old kid will be at baseball when he's 25. It's a virtually impossible pursuit.

All of that considered, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of individual teams' Top 30 prospect lists from that 2002 Handbook. After all, six years later, we should have a pretty accurate picture of how things panned out . . . or, in most cases, didn't pan out. In parentheses is the player's rating within his own organization. I'll probably add a few more teams in the coming days - it's not like we can pass up the chance to remind Yankees fans that 3B/QB Drew Henson was once their Next Big Thing. (Snicker.)

As for today's offerings . . . enjoy, my fellow nerds:

RHP Bobby Jenks (2), RHP John Lackey (3), RHP Francisco Rodriguez (6), RHP Johan Santana (9)

Flops: LHP Joe Torres (5), 3B Dallas McPherson (12)

. . . and those lingering somewhere in between: 1B Casey Kotchman (1), RHP Chris Bootcheck (4), OF Nathan Haynes (8), C Jeff Mathis (10), Derrick Turnbow (13), RHP Scot Shields (22)

Six years later: Yes, "Johan" Santana is actually Ervin Santana (explanation here). The Angels' version is obviously the lesser of the two Santanas, but despite a maddening inconsistency that often forces manager Mike Scioscia to take solace in the comforting embrace of the buffet table, he does possess the ability to be a top-of-the-rotation starter . . . Pretty impressive collection of arms, though Jenks and Turnbow had to go elsewhere to find success . . . I didn't categorize Kotchman as a bust since injuries and illness have prevented him from living up to his talent. He's been effecctive when healthy and could still have Sean Casey's career with any luck.

Kevin Youkilis (29)

RHP Seung Song (1), 3B Tony Blanco (2), RHP Rene Miniel (3), Juan Diaz (12), Steve Lomasney (16), Dernell Stenson (19), Sunny Kim (22)

. . . and those lingering somewhere in between: Manny Delcarmen (4), Freddy Sanchez (6), Frank Francisco (10), Kelly Shoppach (20), Juan Pena (21)

Six years later:
They've come a long way, baby . . . This was the season before Theo Epstein took over as GM, and the organization was pretty damn far from being "a player development machine" . . . How about that big three? Song never threw a pitch in the majors (though he did bring Cliff Floyd in trade), Blanco, who had a cannon arm and not much else in the way of tools, had a cup of coffee with the Nationals, and Miniel washed out in Double A . . . It's easy to forget Delcarmen has been in the system so long. I still think of him as a developing player . . . This is about the time Youkilis first caught Billy Beane's eye, posting a .512 on-base percentage in the NY-Penn League. The guy is almost entirely a self-made player . . . Too bad the Sox had to give up Shoppach in the Crisp/Marte deal. He'd be the perfect backup catcher for this team . . . The one that got away: Sanchez has a .311 career average. He's the player people such as Remy think David Eckstein is . . . Rest in peace, Dernell. I think you would have made it.

RHP Mark Prior (1), RHP Carlos Zambrano (6), LHP Dontrelle Willis (21)

Flops: 1B Hee Seop Choi (3), 3B David Kelton (4), 2B Bobby Hill (5), RHP Ben Christenson (8), SS Luis Montanez (10)

. . . and those lingering somewhere in between:
RHP Juan Cruz (2), SS Ronny Cedeno (17), RHP Todd Wellemeyer (18), SS Ryan Theriot (24)

Six years later:
Prior is little more than a cautionary tale now, another arm chewed up and spit out by Dusty Baker, so it's easy to forget he had established himself as legitimate ace by the time he was 22. Check out his '03 numbers: 18-6, 2.43 ERA (the league average was 4.33), and 178 ERA+ . . . Willis never pitched in the bigs for the Cubs: He was dealt to the Marlins in March, 2002, along with everyone's favorite lunatic Julian Tavarez for Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca . . . By the way, Willis's most similar pitcher through age 25: Steve Avery. Does. Not. Bode. Well. . . . The fascinating kid is Kelton, who looked every part the phenom and who the Prospect Guide notes "was on pace to bat .300-30-100 in Double A at age 21 when he (hurt his hand)." It must have been some injury, because he never saw a day in the majors and was out of baseball at 26.

C Victor Martinez (6)

Flops: 3B Corey Smith (1), OF Alex Escobar (2), RHP Dan Denham (4), RHP Tim Drew (12)

. . . and those lingering somewhere in between:
RHP David Riske (7), LHP Brian Tallet (8), LHP Billy Traber (9), OF Willy Taveras (11), SS John McDonald (14), OF Ryan Church (15), SS John Peralta (19), C Josh Bard (21), SS Maicer Izturis (22).

Six years later: Smith's actually the player who piqued my curiosity in the first place. The Prospect Handbook said of the Indians' 2001 first round pick, "Smith gets rave reviews for his makeup and work ethic. He is, plain and simple, a baseball player." Yet the stats suggest he had at least one glaring flaw: He whiffed 149 times in Single A. As it turns out, it was a flaw he couldn't overcome. He played just five games above Double A and spent last season with the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League . . . I believe you now know John Peralta as Jhonny . . . Escobar was the centerpiece of the Mets' trade for Roberto Alomar, but a severe knee injury, among other ailments, prevented him from living up to his talent . . . Martinez is the best-hitting catcher in the game and someone I never expect the Red Sox to get out . . . Tim Drew was drafted with the 28th pick in the '97 draft - 26 picks after the Phillies chose his brother, J.D.

3B Garrett Atkins (3), OF Matt Holliday (11), OF Brad Hawpe (27)

RHP Chin-Hui Tsao (1), RHP Ryan Kibler (4), RHP Jason Young (5), OF Rene Reyes (7), RHP Ching-Lung Lo (9)

. . . and those lingering somewhere in between: RHP Aaron Cook (2), DH Jack Cust (6), RHP Jason Jennings (8), 2B Jason Nix (10), LHP Brian Fuentes (18)

Six years later: More proof that rating prospects can be an embarrasing endeavor: Holliday and Hawpe, who combined for 65 homers for the NL champs last season, were ranked below fellow outfielder Reyes, and Choo Freeman rated higher than Hawpe . . . In his eighth season of pro ball, Nix is finally breaking through this season, succeeding Kaz Matsui as the Rockies' second baseman . . . Not surprisingly, there's high rate of washouts among their top pitching prospects. Only the sinkerballer Cook and Jennings have had any success in the majors. Coors Field devours its young . . . Tsao, the top prospect, had Tommy John surgery and a torn labrum in his shoulder, but he's still kicking around and is currently in the Royals' system . . . Cust could have put up some sick offensive numbers in Colorado, but he's a DH in the same sense that Sam Horn was. He shouldn't even bother owning a glove.

Beckett (1), 3B Miguel Cabrera (2), 1B Adrian Gonzalez (4)

Flops: RHP Allen Baxter (5), OF Abraham Nunez (6), RHP Blaine Neal (8), 1B Jason Stokes (11), OF Chip Ambres (13)

. . . and those lingering somewhere in between: RHP Denny Bautista (3), RHP Claudio Vargas (7), SS Josh Wilson (9), 2B Pablo Ozuna (12), RHP Jason Grilli (25)

Six years later: One of the two or three best pitchers in the game and one of the top two or three hitters? Now that's a rich farm system . . . Sheesh, Gonzalez, a former No. 1 overall selection who has turned out to be a truly outstanding hitter, would have been the top prospect in most systems . . . Bautista, who was mentored by his cousin Pedro Martinez, hasn't put it all together in trials with Baltimore, Kansas City and Colorado, but he made the Tigers out of camp this season and at age 27, there's still hope . . . Baxter had a series of arm problems and hasn't made it above Double A, but he's still pitching in the Florida system . . . Neal might be one of my most despised Red Sox of the past 10 years . . . Stokes was the Marlins' hitter last spring who claimed Daisuke Matsuzaka struck him out with a gyroball . . . Ambres, a toolsy sort who never quite mastered the subtleties of baseball, was the player the Sox dealt to Kansas City for Tony Graffanino in '05.

SS Jose Reyes (2), 3B David Wright (5)

Flops: RHP Pat Strange (3), RHP Jae Weong Seo (4), RHP Satoru Komiyama (6), RHP Grant Roberts (7)

. . . and those lingering somewhere in between: RHP Aaron Heilman (1), RHP Tyler Yates (8), C Jason Phillips (17), LHP Lenny DiNardo (20), OF Angel Pagan (23)

Six years later: Reyes? Wright? Whatever happened to those guys? . . . Actually, it's a tribute to BA that they were both ranked in the top five since they had just 193 games of pro experience between them at the time . . . Hard to believe Heilman was ranked so high. He's always had good breaking stuff and command, but has never had a blazing fastball that's usually a prerequisite for a premier pitching prospect . . . Strange got into 11 games with the Mets over parts of two seasons, but has seen the big leagues since '03 . . . Roberts was once the Mets' top prospect but, um, burned out.

And that seems like an appropriate place to sign off . . .

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A brief tribute to Matt Stairs

My perception of Matt Stairs through the years? A fat guy who could hit a little. A better version of Morgan Burkhart. I doubt he'd take either of those comments as compliments.

But as I was poking around for some Blue Jays info a day or so ago, I happened upon his page and quickly came to this somewhat surprising realization: Stairs has had a remarkable and distinctive big league career. Judging my the numbers, he's much more accomplished than you - or at least I - ever realized.

Now, I suppose he's easily underestimated by dopes like me in part because he's ringer for the guy who took your recyclables this morning. He's built like a Heineken Keg Can and is probably familiar with the concept. He looks exactly like what you'd think a high school hockey coach in Bangor, Maine, would look like - which, coincidentally, is precisely what he happens to be in the offseason.

But he's much more impressive on the back of his baseball card than on the front. He's hit at least 10 homers every year since '96, and at least 16 nine times. He's tied with Jesse Barfield, Rick Monday, Alfonso Soriano, and Cecil Cooper for 200th place on the all-time home run list with 241. His lifetime OPS+ is 120, four points lower than Jeff Kent's and two lower than Derek Jeter's.

He's had a hell of a career by most any measure, and you have to wonder how much more impressive it would be if he'd caught a break sooner. Stairs debuted with 30 at-bats for the Expos in '92, bounced back and forth a few times, was a transient member of the Duquette Taxi Squad for the '95 Red Sox (he hit .261 in 88 at-bats), and has played for 10 teams along the way, even spending a game at second base for the '01 Cubs. I'm assuming he made Jeter look rangy.

His breakthrough came at age 29 when he hit 27 homers for the '97 A's. Two years later, he bashed 38 homers for that wild '99 Oakland club, and I'm guessing not even Billy Beane figured he'd outlast a certain 23-year-old teammate with a No. 1-pick pedigree who whacked 27 homers of his own that season. Where have you gone, Ben Grieve?

Stairs turned 40 in February, and he's signed through next season with the Jays, which means he has a great shot at spending at least a part of 17 seasons in the big leagues. Given that he hit 21 homers with a 138 OPS+ last season, hell, he may not be on his last contract.

I hope he lasts another five years, and I'll be following him with interest now that I recognize the truth: Still and always, late start and all, Matt Stairs is a supremely capable big league hitter. Even if some of us didn't always notice.

TATB elsewhere

Just a quick link to a recent informal chat about the AL East with my much smarter friends at And for the record, I still think Justin Verlander, not Josh Beckett, is the favorite for the AL Cy Young. Beckett's the most likely candidate from the division (though Toronto's Dustin McGowan is a hell of a compelling sleeper) but in the Analysts piece I make it sound like I think he's the frontrunner to win the thing. Not so; it's Verlander, as I wrote here the other day. Hey, I never said I had a way with words . . .

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Season's greetings

A few thoughts on the new season while kind of missing the late, not particularly great Fox column . . .

Player you'll regret not taking with your first-round pick in fantasy: Hanley Ramirez, who is no longer that skinny kid who tailed Manny, Papi, and Edgar Renteria like a puppy in spring training three years ago. At age 24, he's now built like an NFL safety, and I wouldn't be stunned if his stats this season actually surpass those of last season's monstrous breakthrough (.332 average, 212 hits, 29 homers, 125 runs, 51 steals, 145 OPS+). He's that good.

Most likely to pay a career-altering visit to Dr. James Andrews: Albert Pujols, whose damaged elbow is apparently a porcelain remnant from the Scott Williamson Collection. It's noble of him to try to play through the injury, but the hunch here is that he'll shut it down sometime around July once the punchless Cardinals are hopelessly out of it. Honorable mention: The Rays' Scott Kazmir. Maybe the Rays are just being cautious, but this "elbow strain" sure seems to be taking a long time to heal.

One reason Joe Posnanski will enjoy writing about this baseball season even more than usual: The Royals are going to be better than most so-called experts think, and may even finish ahead of the Twins in the AL Central. Joakim Soria will emerge as a bona fide relief ace, Zack Greinke, finally at peace with the great expectations, will blossom, Billy Butler will stake his claim as one of the best young hitters in the AL, and Alex Gordon will justify last year's hype. Dayton Moore, formerly John Schuerholz's personal Smithers in Atlanta, is building this franchise on the Braves' model . . . and with little fanfare he's doing a swell job.

Two baseball writers (other than Poz) who have become must-reads: Jonah Keri, who writes with an easy affection for baseball and is doing his damndest to keep the spirit of the Expos alive at; and Keith Law, a former member of the Toronto Blue Jays front office who is still pissed J.P. Ricciardi took someone named Ricky Romero over Troy Tulowitzki in the '05 draft.

Most likely to be found dead in a hotel room with a needle stuck in his dumb #*^: Best-selling author Jose Canseco. And the suspects will be aplenty. (Man, I can't stop re-reading that Pat Jordan masterpiece/evisceration on Deadspin.)

Roy Halladay, No. 2 starter: Because Dustin McGowan, who had a 3.67 ERA in the second half last season, will take over the ace role from the former Cy Young winner, whose K-rate these days is less than impressive (partially by design, but still) and who hasn't won more than 16 games since '03.

And the awards go to . . .: AL MVP: All logic says to go with A-Rod, who will be aiming to win the prize for the third time in five season in pinstripes. If there's any justice, however, Papi, with his five top-five finishes in five seasons, will get his due one of these years. AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, who takes no-hit stuff to the mound every fifth day and who should lead the league in run support for the second year in a row. NL MVP: Mark Teixeira, who will parlay a monster year with the Braves into huge pile of Old Man Steinbrenner's loot. NL Cy Young: The great Mr. Santana, which means WEEI listeners will be forced to spend the summer listening the banshees yowl "Why can't we get guys like that?" God help us, it's already starting.

The standings: AL East champion: It's my new tradition to pick the Yankees solely for reverse jinx purposes, but let's just say I like this Sox team a lot, provided, of course, that Josh Beckett makes approximately 30 starts. The trendy Jays? Third place, at least until Ricciardi starts returning my calls. And the Rays are intriguing, but they're a year away from being a legitimate contender. James Shields (184 Ks, 36 walks in '07) is a budding ace, and you can tell how good Evan Longoria is by how pissed his teammates were when he was sent to Triple A. AL Central champion: Cleveland. Detroit should thump out around 1,000 runs, but the Indians' pitching is vastly superior. AL West champion: Seattle. This is the year King Felix lives up to the nickname, and Eric Bedard makes a hell of a No. 2. AL wild card: Boston. You know my game. NL East champion: New York. Philly doesn't have the pitching. NL Central champion: Chicago. Here's hoping Kerry Wood, recast as a closer, survives the season with a healthy right arm. One of the game's most talented pitchers is long deserving of some good luck. NL West champion: Colorado. Am I the only one who doesn't think it was a fluke? NL wild card: Los Angeles. Hat tip to Joe Torre for playing the kids. He's making Grady Little look like a fool again.

Best player on a hideous team: I suppose it could be Hanley, though I don't think Marlins are that bad - not Baltimore bad, anyway. So let's go with the Orioles' Nick Markakis, who hit .325 with 14 homers and 61 RBIs in the second half and appears poised to become one of the elite offensive players in the AL, despite the sludge that surrounds him in the lineup.

Most in need of a B-12 shot: Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada, who looks like he's been on the Pudge Rodriguez diet and has the defensive range of a cement-encased Jeter.

Sox pitcher most likely to cause the few remaining brown hairs on my head to turn gray: Jon Lester, who could be Chuck Finley reincarnated (minus the loony ex-wife) if only he would trust his repertoire. (Ed. Note: Dice-K's candidacy for this "honor" took a major hit with last night's masterpiece.)

The best young pitcher in the AL this season won't be Clay Buchholz or Bugs Chamberlain: It will be the Yankees' Philip Hughes, who will win well into double digits while emerging as the No. 2 starter the Bombers desperately need behind Chien-Ming Wang. The Twins are going to long regret not getting this polished 21-year-old righthander in a deal for Santana when they apparently had the chance.

The 1962 Mets, reincarnated? The San Francisco Giants, who have Bengie Molina (103 homers in 3,418 career at-bats) batting cleanup and who had 36-year-olds Rich Aurilia, Ray Durham, and Dave Roberts in their Opening Day lineup, along with Randy Winn (34) and Molina (33). If you're going to be brutal, shouldn't you at least be young? Two other questions: Will Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain combine to go 8-33 with a 2.95 ERA? And
how does Brian Sabean keep his job?

The J.D. Drew suck-it-up-and-play-you-wimp award: To J.D. Drew. Suck it up and play. You wimp.

Written proof that the Legend of Bo isn't some myth embellished through the years by 30-something pre-geezers like me: In this week's gem from the Sports Illustrated vault, here is a fun piece some guy named Gammons wrote in 1989 about the genuine awe Bo inspired in other big leaguers. My favorite part:

Jackson's one-on-one confrontations with pitchers are already legend. On May 11, Jackson struck out four times against the Rangers' Nolan Ryan. "It was really fun," said Ryan afterward. "By the last couple of times up, he was on almost every pitch, so with a lead in the ninth, I just reared back and threw as hard as I could, and he swung as hard as he could. I wonder what would have happened if he'd made contact." Ryan found out 12 days later. Jackson struck out in his first two at bats. Third time up, Ryan brushed Bo back, then sent him reeling on the next pitch with a 95-mph zinger over Jackson's head. Bo, popping his bubble gum all the while, wandered out of the box and stared at Ryan, then finally stepped back in. Ryan came in with a fastball. Jackson fouled it off. Ryan challenged him again. The ball landed high in the centerfield bleachers, 461 feet away, the longest at Arlington Stadium since they started measuring there. "They'd better get a new tape measure," said Bo.

They'd better get a new tape measure. What a great line. I've said it before and I'll say it again: If you didn't see Bo in his two-sport heyday, you missed one of the most enjoyable shows in sports history. Too bad it had such a short run, though I suppose that enhances the legend in the end.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

As a 27-year-old rookie for the 1978 Red Sox, Wright went 8-4 with a 3.57 ERA in 116 innings. The next year he had 5.09 ERA in 23 innings, and after June 6, 1979, he never threw a pitch in the majors again. Any of you semi-old timers know what happened? An arm injury? Or was he a junkballing fluke? I ask only because until recently I forgot about Wright's surprising, relevant role with the doomed '78 club, and remembering him while poking around baseball-reference piqued my curiosity about what became of him.