Red Sox Report – September 12, 2011

By Matt Noonan 

What’s going on with this team? Seriously, what’s up, Red Sox?

Over the past few weeks, Boston fans have watched their local-nine drop from first to second place, as well as lose series against the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays.

On Monday, general manager Theo Epstein made an appearance on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan show and stated the following:

As much as this seems like a massive problem, this is also a tremendous opportunity. We have a tremendous opportunity to respond for the second time in one regular season to a stretch of horrendous play with great opportunity ahead beyond that. If we can right the ship, and we will, not only will we be where we want to be at the end of the regular season, but we’re going to have great momentum heading into the postseason.”

Yet, despite Epstein’s optimistic outlook, he also has a team that’s lacking toughness and stability. In the past week, they were fortunate enough to secure one win, but lost both series to the Jays and Rays. Also, according to some sources, J.D. Drew has a broken finger, which isn’t great news, right?

On another note, the Sox pitching staff is a mess. They’re ailing, as well as hoping that Josh Beckett can return before the season concludes. ESPNBoston.com reported on Sunday evening that Beckett was scheduled to throw off the Fenway Park mound on Monday and could return to the rotation as soon as Thursday (9/15).

Currently, the Sox are trailing the Yankees in the American League East division by 3½ games, and are leading the Rays in the Wild Card by 3½. The Sox final home stand begins Tuesday, as they welcome the Jays, Rays and Orioles to town before finishing off their season on the road in New York and Baltimore.

Lindberg: Thoughts on the Sox

By Andy Lindberg 

The Red Sox weren’t aggressive this past week; they were dominant. Heading into Monday’s off day in the midst of a nine-game win streak, Boston is sitting pretty with the best record in the American League, a record previously scoffed at by the Boston fans in April. For the first time since 1912, the Red Sox have swept the Yankees twice in New York. This past week Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield, and Josh Beckett all put up wins against the Yankees. For Beckett, it was his third win in three starts against New York; all three seeing him beat down CC Sabathia. Beckett made one mistake in his Thursday outing, a 3-1 fastball that was a little too far over the plate which was mashed by Curtis Granderson for a two-run homer. However as has been the case this week, Boston exploded for seven runs in the seventh inning against the bombers to put them away.

The weekend Toronto series wasn’t even close. Coming off of a very late game Thursday, Boston entered Friday with many expecting them to lose because of how tired the team must have been.

Clay Buchholz said no.

In his best outing yet, Buchholz mastered the Jays’ offense to the tune of seven innings and one run allowed in a 5-1 Boston win. Buchholz’s back seemed to be better and hopefully it can stay loose the rest of the season. The next two games weren’t even a little close.

On Saturday Boston blasted Toronto 16-4, the most runs Boston has ever scored against the Jays. On Sunday the Red Sox put up a 14-1 victory that saw Jon Lester hit a 9-2 record, good for the most wins in the American League.

As has been the usual the past two weeks, the Boston offense has been outstanding, with the exception of J.D. Drew, who struck out four times on Sunday and is batting a mere .227 on the season.

But Drew’s woes can be overlooked when David Ortiz clearly thinks it’s 2006 again and Adrian Gonzalez keeps mashing. Shoot, even Jason Varitek whacked a three-run blast to right field in Saturday’s drubbing.

Upon trading for Gonzalez, Boston fans knew he was going to be good, but we did not know he would be just this good. If he is pitched away, he takes the ball to the opposite field for power. If pitchers come inside, Gonzalez will rip the ball down the line. There’s no clear way to get him out right now. How he isn’t the leading first base vote getter for the All-Star game right now is stupefying. Fans have once again proven their ineptitude at picking an All-Star squad, and that privilege must be taken away from them, especially because now the All-Star game decided home field in the World Series. The same can be said for Ortiz.  Ortiz is punishing left-handers this year by taking the ball to left field with power. He is catching up to the fastball and laying off of bad pitches he used to chase to start the previous two seasons. Dustin Pedroia is heating up again as well, raising his batting average from .247 to .261 all in this week.

This week Boston heads to Tampa Bay to open that series up on Tuesday, followed by a weekend series at Fenway against big Prince Fielder and the Milwaukee Brewers.

Lindberg: Thoughts on the Sox

By Andy Lindberg 

The Sox seemed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on Saturday, June 4 with a ninth inning debacle that saw the Oakland Athletics score four runs to tie the game.  The A’s took the lead in the 11th only to see Boston claw back with two outs in the bottom of the frame when Jacoby Ellsbury doubled in Jarrod Saltalamacchia for the tying run.

In the 14th inning came J.D. Drew, whose previous four at-bats saw him swing for the Golden Sombrero. Drew hit an 0-1 pitch sharply into right-center to score Carl Crawford from second and the game was won.

Saturday’s game was pretty much the week from Boston. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and in other games were forced to claw out of a hole in an effort to put up a W in the AL East standings.

Boston went [3-3] for the week, first getting swept by the White Sox, and then sweeping the Athletics. The offense looked terrific overall, but the pitching was suspect, especially from the bullpen. If it’s not a save situation, I would seriously reconsider putting Jonathan Papelbon on the mound. While he thrives in tight game scenarios, non-save situations actually seem to give him trouble.

This week saw the Red Sox lose Daisuke Matsuzaka and Rich Hill, both until late next year. In Matsuzaka’s case, maybe never again. One would be safe in assuming Matsuzaka never pitches in a Boston uniform again given the rehab he will go through. Not to mention by July of next season, the Red Sox will have a set rotation because they have to compete. Don’t be shocked if Boston makes a few moves for a capable #3-4-type starting pitcher in the near future.

This week also saw preliminary All-Star votes come out. Don’t even get me started on how stupid fans are because they should NOT be allowed to vote for All-Stars, plain and simple. There’s no reason Mark Teixeira should be leading over Adrian Gonzalez. There’s no reason Russell Martin should be leading over Alex Avila and there’s no reason Alex Rodriguez should be leading over Alberto Callaspo or even Adrian Beltre.

If you even TRY and tell me Derek Jeter should be leading over Asdrubal Cabrera at this point, I will mentally smack you in the face. The only Yankee who should be leading at his position is Robinson Cano, because the AL second base field isn’t as great as it has been in prior years. Cano to this point is the most well rounded second baseman statistically.

Now, I do not vote for All-Stars until voting is nearing its end to give the players time to accumulate more stats. However the stats right now once again show dozens of players getting the shaft. But I digress. Expect a podcast on this subject later this week.

Coming up Tuesday night, the Red Sox for once play against the Yankees during the week. History has shown Boston own the Yankees in the first seven to eight games played against them, so look for the Yankees to throw down now.

On Friday the Sox stay on the road against Jose Bautista and the Toronto Blue Jays, who have played the Sox tough in Toronto this season, but overall, it’s going to be a hard week for the local nine.

Rubin: Thoughts and Reflections on the Boston Bruins

Boston has rallied to win three games in a row against Montreal, but can they close out their opening round series on Tuesday?

By Dan Rubin 

I claim to be a hockey guy.  Anybody who knows me knows that I usually throw the stat out there that I’ve been calling hockey games for almost six seasons as a play-by-play or color commentator. I never played the game, but I’ve studied and digested it within an inch of its very fiber. I like to think, maybe even arrogantly sometimes, that I know the game of hockey.

But I hate the NHL playoffs. I hate them because they prove time and time again that all the stat crunching, highlight watching, and game-viewing I do means nothing.  I can’t predict anything about the playoffs, can’t figure anything out, and for the life of me, will never be able to understand why things happen.  It’s what makes the NHL the greatest and most frustrating sport on the planet.  It takes us so-called “experts” and proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we know nothing.

I had just finished saying, “Nathan Horton couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat in the clutch,” when he banged home the double-overtime winner on Saturday night.  If that’s not a perfect indicator of the playoffs, then I don’t know what is.

So what have I learned through the first five games about these Boston Bruins?

 Observation 1 – Would the Real Tomas Kaberle please stand up?

I know I’m not breaking any new ground when I say that Tomas Kaberle has been a major disappointment for the Bruins.  The Bruins acquired him thinking he’d produce on the same level as when he scored 10 points for Toronto in the 2002 playoffs.  They also thought they were getting a guy who scored 67 points in the 2005-2006 season, 58 points in 2006-2007, and 53 in 2007-2008.  He’s a guy they’ve coveted for a couple of years but couldn’t quite get.  I’m pretty sure the Bruins viewed Kaberle in the same way the Boston Red Sox viewed Adrian Gonzalez.  They saw his abilities and their current situation and immediately drooled at the prospect.

But Kaberle has just nine points in his 24 regular season games as a Bruin and he’s done legitimately nothing in the playoffs. He looks lost, uninterested and a lot like J.D. Drew out on the ice.

In Game 5, his inability to start a clear with a behind-the-net pass to Adam McQuaid resulted in Jeff Halpern’s goal. I don’t know what the problem is, but this is not a guy who should be on the third defensive pairing.  They got Kaberle to play alongside Zdeno Chara, to break up opposing defenses.  He hasn’t done that.  I’m not saying the Bruins don’t want to go back in time and not make this trade, but I think they doubt why they got him.  I know I am, and I have no idea how he got his two points.

Kaberle needs to have a solid output in Game 6 or the if-necessary Game 7 to help the Bruins advance.  Otherwise, he’s in danger of becoming just another player in line with the Eric Gagne’s of the world.

 Observation 2 – Brad Marchand and Tim Thomas are clearing mantle space for hardware

I don’t care how this makes me sound…

A couple of months ago, I was playing NHL 10 on the trusty PlayStation 3.  In that game, Brad Marchand is a minor league winger for the Providence Bruins.  By a rash of injuries, I had the option of calling him up to the big club or trying to sign Todd Bertuzzi.  I hate Bertuzzi to the point I won’t even sign him in a video game, so I called up Marchand and installed him as my second-line left wing.  Four games later, I had two hat tricks and like five more assists.

It’s not NASCAR, so you really can’t learn a lot from video games.  But I’m saying that I’m not shocked that Marchand is doing what he’s doing.  They should just hand him the Calder Trophy and get it over with.  I wouldn’t even have a ceremony in Las Vegas on NHL Network or anything.  Just give him the trophy.  Let him score his goal, then during the celebration just have Gary Bettman walk on the ice, say, “Here, this is yours” and walk off.  The guy’s a machine, and he scores at the right time.  At age 22, he has a 20-goal and 20-assist season this year.  He’s a game breaker, and if he continues to develop, he’s going to become the superstar the Bruins don’t have right now.  Seriously – every team has a player that just puts the puck in the net.  The Bruins have a couple of guys, but none are really mentioned in the same breath as the Steve Stamkos and Drew Doughty’s of the world.  Marchand, in a couple of years, could be that guy.

As for Thomas, he’s a different story.  Marchand is on the rise; Thomas is on the tail-end of his career.  But when they hand Marchand the Calder, they should bring the Vezina Trophy out there and rename it the Tim Thomas’s 2010-2011 season Trophy.  This is a team that without Thomas wouldn’t be a #3 seed threatening to get out of the first round.  He’s the best goalie in the world right now, and yes, I’m including Ryan Miller in that group.  I don’t think there’s a single goalie I’d take over Thomas, and this is a guy that should be on a decline.

Before coming to the Bruins at age 30, Thomas played exactly zero seasons of NHL hockey.  He fought his way up the ranks, starting out in the double-A equivalent ECHL before honing his craft in Finland.  Since coming to the Bruins, his save percentages have gone: .907, .917, .905, .921, .933, .915 (last year when he was hurt), and .938.  He’s had better save percentage numbers than Miller over that same stretch, save for last year’s injury-riddled season.

What’s more is that Thomas always, and I mean ALWAYS, makes the big save.  Last night, in overtime, gassed with fatigue, he made an acrobatic stop on a 2-on-1 odd-man rush.  You ever have those moments when you realize you’re winning a game?  That was it for me.  That was like when Ty Law ran back the interception for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVI against St. Louis.  Sometimes, you just know.  That moment – I knew the Bruins would win, I just wasn’t sure how.  Before the playoffs, the consensus was the Bruins could go as far as Thomas could lead them.  Right now, Thomas is making a case that it could be pretty far.

 Observation #3 – Norv Turner, Meet Claude Julien.  Claude, Meet Norv.

My biggest concern going into the playoffs was that the Bruins had one major weakness against every other team in the playoffs – coaching.  It’s no secret that I’m not a Claude Julien fan.  It’s actually no secret that I thought he should’ve been fired after last season’s playoff collapse.   And it’s no secret that I thought he bungled having Tyler Seguin on the roster to the point where a lot of fans and experts doubt the kid’s abilities at the current moment (really – many people I talk to say Seguin isn’t ready.  That’s because Julien had no idea how to use him and how to bring him along to get him playoff ready).

That’s still my biggest concern.  During Game 4 in Montreal, the Bruins called their timeout when the Habs took a 3-1 lead.  During that timeout, Claude said nothing.  I compared the look on his face to the one where Norv Turner calls a timeout and looks around in the huddle for the San Diego Chargers.  It’s the look that says, “Hey something bad is happening.  I’m not really sure what’s going on.  Think I can get an order for fries to go?  Where am I?  Who are all you people?”  It’s the look that says, “I have absolutely no idea what to do right now.”

Julien isn’t known for being a master motivator and he’s not known for being an offensive coach.  He’s known for coaching staunch defense and brutal hockey.  His teams are big, lumbering oafs that get easily knocked off by teams with speedy, athletic forwards.  He can be easily outcoached in that regard.  So I was very concerned when Boston drew a motivated Montreal team that is, well, speedy and athletic.

But this is where I’ll admit I really know nothing.  The playoffs aren’t as much about coaching as they are handling the players.  At this stage of the game, there is no such thing as a system or a play by design.  It’s about heart and grit.  It’s what’s making the Washington Capitals so good right now.  You don’t have to coach the team so much as keep them desired.  But where Washington is motivated by an insane head coach who is every bit as flashy as his star player (Bruce Boudreau and Alex Ovechkin are truly a match made in hockey heaven…or maybe hell.  I haven’t decided yet), the Bruins are self-motivating at this point.

After the timeout, Claude said nothing, and I think at this point, he doesn’t have to.  The Bruins are a team with players like Shawn Thornton, Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand.  They have guys who are gritty and hard-nosed.  They have guys in the locker room like Shane Hnidy might not play but get this team up in practice.  Coupled with the fact that this is a Montreal series, and the Bruins are actually playing with a ton of emotion.  Maybe it is coming from Claude, since we don’t really know what happens behind the curtain, but in this series, I don’t think he’s doing anything other than just putting the combinations on the ice.  And in this series, that’s all he needs to do.

If the Bruins advance, it might be different, and they may fall flat on their face.  But I think the players are motivating themselves and are cooking on all cylinders at this point.

 Observation #4 – The Mute button on my Remote Control is getting a Rolex for Easter.

Jack Edwards needs to go away.  I don’t care what anybody says or how much trouble I get in with boss-man Matt Noonan for saying this.  Jack is by far the worst hockey announcer I’ve ever listened to.

He’s unprofessional, unknowledgeable, and I think he’s just looking down at Wikipedia for a list of hockey terms.  He uses the term “dangle” for everything, even though it only refers to a simple toe drag.  Every rebound is “juicy,” which makes him the only person I’ve ever heard say that and being a “homer” is just boorish and stupid.  He’s not Johnny Most or Tommy Heinsohn and, more importantly, he’s just not good.  I’ve heard reports he’s a great guy, and I love that.  I love that a good guy got a break, but much like that “Boom goes the dynamite” guy, that doesn’t mean he deserves this job.

The Roman Hamrlik “GET UP” thing is just gross.  His constant belittling of the opponent and the referees is over the top, and anybody who actually knows something about hockey can’t enjoy this guy and be self-respecting.  I’ve talked with several hockey people – fans, coaches, other players.  They can’t stand him.  He’s not a hockey guy.  And the only fans that do like him are the same ones who buy the “French Canadiens French Kiss” T-shirt, then go get wasted at The Harp before going to the game.  Coincidentally, they’re also the ones who think it’s funny to chant “Yankees Suck” at a Bruins playoff game, and that’s just pathetic.

I don’t care how many people I just alienated, and I don’t care how many people are going to flood Noontime Sports with hate mail for that.  Jack Edwards – I broadcast hockey.  My family broadcasts hockey.  We do it particularly well, and I have samples for you to listen to (shameless self promo, I know) to back it up.  Honestly, go away.  Or just listen to Doc Emrick, who is the greatest hockey announcer around right now.  The guy makes me honored just to listen to him.  But please stop with this mindless drivel.

 Observation #5 – It Ain’t Over Yet

Game 6 is Tuesday in Montreal.  I’m thinking there’s going to be a Game 7 because this series owes the game of hockey, its fans, its pundits, and its tradition a seventh game.  I’d love the Bruins to end it, but I think it’s coming back to Boston.  And if nothing else, just remember that this is only the first round, and we still have a month of this to go before Lord Stanley finds a home.  Get your Maalox ready and strap in.  It’s going to be a wild ride.

Lindberg: Instances of Hate and Inept Fanhood in Boston Sport

By Andy Lindberg 

I’ve always been a keen observer on how fans interact with their own teams.  Philadelphia Eagles fans are belligerent and Phillies fans puke on children, New York Yankees fans don’t understand what happens if the team doesn’t make the playoffs, but Chicago Cubs fans don’t understand what happens if the Cubs do make the playoffs, and Pittsburgh Pirate fans like to feign sadness, but are secretly stoked their beer prices are among the lowest in professional sports.

Boston fans hate and hate stupidly without information and thinking.

I’m no prince, I’ve hated moronically before on my teams and I’m more than a little ashamed.  You can hear it on the phone calls to local radio stations, begging for releases and trades of players that have annoyed them the previous evening.  Fans begging for the next hot prospect or rookie to be given a shot when that prospect or rookie is nowhere near ready.  Fans living in the land of “what if?”

I have been raised a cynic. I am inherently designed to assume the worst.  The New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox squads of the ‘90’s taught me that.  Sox have the bases loaded with no outs?  Strand city.  Pats are inside the five, second and goal, down by four?  Sack lunch, followed by a fumble at the one.  Many confuse this for hate.  No, it’s not hate.  Active hating requires much more vehement anger and effort.  Being a cynic is just sitting back in acceptance until proven correct or, to my excitement, proven wrong.  I’m not calling for the running back that fumbled to be drawn and quartered.  Even Barry Sanders fumbled. In fact, he did it 41 times.  How are we to judge what is best for our teams without looking at a collective body of work?

Over the first decade of this millennium, I have slowly emerged from the cynical ashes and have emerged, for better or worse, as cautiously optimistic.  That is, I am just optimistic enough for it to aggravate me when one of my teams loses, but not optimistic enough for it to warrant hitting a bottle.

In the past decade I have seem my Patriots win three Super Bowl Championships, The Red Sox win two World Series titles, and the Alabama Crimson Tide run through the toughest conference in college football to win a National Championship.  I have also watched the Boston Celtics win an NBA title, even though the NBA is a joke and their disgusting attempts to get LeBron James and Kobe Bryant to play each other in an NBA Finals disturbs me as a casual viewer.

See?  That’s some NBA hate for you right there, in case you were wondering where the emergence to hatred begins.

But what is the point of actively throwing hate at your own teams?  It makes no sense.  I understand the Bruins have poor puck control, and that half the time J.D. Drew swings and misses like Nancy Drew, but as a group of Boston fans, we’re too quick to hate.  We seem to forget Drew’s $14million grand slam and the fact that he’s been remarkably similar to Trot Nixon, the man he replaced, in only half the time of Nixon’s tenure in Boston.  I understand it’s the paycheck that galls us as fans, but we’re not writing the checks, ownership is.  If you want to whine about how it’s your money that goes to these overpaid jock-scratchers, don’t go to the games.

I understand Tyler Seguin didn’t do what you wanted, but he’s a 19-year-old kid in his first year in professional hockey.  Throwing hate at him or Claude Julien doesn’t change the fact that working Seguin the way he was worked during the first year was probably best for the kid’s future in Black and Gold.

The one player who received more hate than any other player I can recall is former New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe.  Patriot fans gave Bledsoe a raw deal.  Without Bledsoe, there would be no New England Patriot franchise.  Literally, the Pats were on the verge of complete relocation if the team didn’t improve.  That pressure rested on the shoulders of Bledsoe, drafted by the team after a [2-14] campaign.  Bledsoe responded, leading his team to a Super Bowl in 1996 only to see his star running back Curtis Martin get signed to the Jets and lose his head coach in the process.

After the emergence of Tom Brady in 2001, the Patriots were flying high and had to play the Steelers in the AFC championship game.  Brady went down.  So Bledsoe, relegated to backup, came in and immediately tossed a touchdown pass to David Patten in the back of the end zone for a 14-3 halftime lead.  It was the only passing TD of the game and Bledsoe threw for 102 yards in relief.  Without Bledsoe coming in, the Patriots probably don’t win the game and the face of the franchise could have been altered to this day.

Boston fans, look at the big picture.  Before you throw hate around look at logical options.  The stud is not always available and in most cases, makes no sense to pursue them.  Instant gratification is not applicable more often than not.

Most importantly, you make the good fans of Boston who live and die with their teams and support them wholly look like douches.  I don’t like being given a bad name, and other real fans don’t either.

So don’t hate, appreciate.

And there’s nothing wrong with hating on the other team.  Common knowledge.