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Friday, March 23, 2007

And thus it begins......

Leave it to the Red Sox to create regular season controversy in Spring Training. While the Sox play out the string on its Grapefruit League schedule, they had the "onions" as Bill Raftery would say, to name young flame-thrower Jonathan Papelbon closer. Again. I still haven't decided where I stand on this precarious subject so I'll lay it all out for you the reader.

Going into the season, the Sox as usual have huge expectations (although these are mostly deserved). Boston has the starting pitching and the bats to compete with anybody. The one major weakness? A off-season and spring training long search to find someone, anyone to be the closer. The names of Joel Piniero (too crappy), Mike Timlin (too old) and Brandon Donnelly (not his normal role) have all been leaked as possible closers. The problem is that none of these guys is cut out to be a closer at this point in his respective career, on a World Series contending team no less. It all would be simple if Papelbon hadn't gotten hurt in a meaningless September 1st game vs. the Blue Jays last Fall.

Papelbon's pitching shoulder came out of its socket, due to overuse. I'm no WebMD but I think that be bad. All he did in his rookie year was save 35 games, be named an AL all-star and sure up the closer position from a disgruntled and disinterested Keith Foulke. From the first week of the season (when he assumed the role) until late Summer (when the Sox completely folded), you could make a very could argument that Paps was the top closer in the league. He had 75 strikeouts in 68.1 innings, had an absurd ERA of 0.92 and generally just blew guys away. He relied mostly on a upper 90's fastball but also mixed in a dirty changeup and slider to keep hitters honest. You had complete faith in him, just a few months into his first full league in the Majors. The injury however, changed everything. We don't want him to become the next Eric Gagne (circa 2005-2006). All Winter we were told how he was going to be turned into a starter (what he was coming up through the minors) which would cause less stress on that golden right arm. Also, he'd be rounding out a rotation of Schilling, Beckett, some guy named Dice-K and Wakefield. Not bad. Only problem was that between all the cash Boston spent on Julio Lugo (dry heave), J.D. Drew (I just puked in my mouth) and to talk to Dice-K, they forgot that we had no closer. Short of rounding up bums in Boston, the Sox did everything to figure this out in a Walmart-style fashion. Unfortunately, even in Spring Training (when you're playing Double A and Triple A guys that won't sniff the big leagues), the formidable trio of closers all failed.

Many will say/have said that going to Papelbon means the Sox are pushing the panic button. While that is true in a sense, it's an extremely tough call to make. I think that a dominant closer is more important than a good starter (and let's face it, Paps would only be a #3 this year). Look at Mariano Rivera. Was anyone more important to the Yankees dynasty of the late 90's and early Millenium? Having a lights out closer is huge. Using recent history as an example, the Sox used a closer by committee (bullshit) method which famously imploded in the 2003 playoffs (with a big assist going to manager Grady Little's complete stupidity). In 2004 with Keith Foulke at the end of games, the Red Sox won the World Series. Coincidence? Probably not. The last two World Series champs used younger, more unknown guys-Bobby Jenks of the White Sox and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals-to close but they similarly got the job done. You have to ride the hot hand. Who knows what to expect from Papelbon? He showed last year many flashes of utter dominance. He's coming off a major pitching injury though. With him, the Sox can get to the promised land. Without him? Yikes.
All I know is that baseball is starting a week from Sunday and I can't wait.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Welcome to Massholeland

Let me start off by saying that I'm honored to have been selected as a blogger for this prestigious East Coast Bias blog group. I'm a 23-year old lifelong resident of New England, who grew up and currently resides in Beverly, MA. I graduated from Providence College in May 2006.
But enough about me personally, I'd like to use this forum to shed some further light into what it means to be a true Boston fan. Sure New York and Philadelphia each get a bad rap for fan-bases (which are both totally justified) but I think one group is currently very misunderstood, the Massholes from Massholeland. Or New Englanders as you outsiders would like to catergorize us.
As I recently came to realize, for the younger generations (teenagers to late-20 somethings) being a Boston fan has been a mostly beautiful thing. The Pats won three Super Bowls in four years and the Sox finally won a World Series in 2004. The only sense of the torture and hell that our parents and older relatives had to live with are the currently listless franchises known as the Celtics and Bruins. Both had their moment in the sun (the Celts from the 60's-to mid-90's and the Bruins in the 70's) but they've each fallen on hard times in recent memory. The fact that the NBA is a terribly flawed product and the NHL is completely irrelevant are topics for another day and time. What it boils down to is we've been spoiled. The Pats have been a DYNASTY and the Sox have spent the dough to match everyone (even the dreaded Yankees) meaning they've consistently fielded good but rarely great teams. If you're in said age-range, you can't help that you struck the local sports lottery and have witnessed great sucess in recent memory. I just hope that everyone enjoys it. As the Celts and the Bruins-to a much lesser degree-have shown us, you can go from the top draw in the city to a team that you can find FREE tickets for on Craig's List (true story).
A corrolary to the great teams has been the standard bandwagon fans. And while I'd like to make some snide remark about how great a fan I am, I feel like you can't let stuff like that get to you too much. Nothing brings people together like sports and it doesn't bother me too much when people jump aboard later than others. With that being said, bandwagon fans should take some of The Rock's (circa 1999) advice: "know your roll and shut you're damn mouth." If you're wearing the Dice-K t-shirt, cheering when Ortiz hits a pop-up (which you're convinced is a home-run off the bat) or have a brand-new Sox hat (the rule is only one new one every two seasons minimum) then you should probably reevaluate who you are and what you're doing with your life.