At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Monday, August 28, 2006

Survivor, AL East: Outspend, Outlast, Outplay

The Boston Red Sox lost another winnable game last night in Seattle, and after nearly two months of such nonsense, it’s clear that the team just can’t continue to contend. The recent rash of injuries has been just too costly to overcome in terms of player performance and player replacement. But what’s particularly frustrating is that the Yankees were similarly decimated earlier in the year, but they headed north in the standings while we headed south, now apparently for the winter.

There’s no real secret to why this is so, and that secret really is nothing new: the Yankees can buy depth when they need it, and we can’t. So while they get Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to fill in for their injured players, we get Javy Lopez and Kyle Snyder to fill in for ours. Sure, a timely hit or three and we’d be a lot closer to first place than we now are to third. But those hits didn’t come, and even if they had, there are real questions about whether the pitching would have held the leads anyway.

The truth is that, financially speaking, the Yankees are in a class by themselves, and while knucklehead sportsradio callers believe Sox principal owner John Henry can and should spend like his famous counterpart in New York, he’s simply not going to. As a businessperson, I can respect his decision not to take on the enormous payrolls nor to accept the significant losses that the Yankees do. And as a sports fan, I can love it when the Yankees don’t win a World Series or even go far in the playoffs. But as a Sox fan, I can’t stand to watch our team plummet while their team progresses.

Can’t we just vote them off the island?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Red Sox Seal the Deal: Welcome to Next Year!

OK, so the Yankees just embarrassed the Red Sox by sweeping five games at Fenway Park, and now stand 6½ games in front of the Olde Towne Team. But that’s all right, you console yourself; they’re only 4 games behind the White Sox for the wild card, and once NixWakeItek gets back, they’ll make up that little ground for sure. Heck, if they get really hot, they could even still pass the Yankees before it’s all over!

Well, not so fast. First, there’s a team standing between our Sox and theirs (the Twins, by name), and it’s far more difficult to pass two teams in the standings than just one since both have to sustain losing streaks if we’re to gain meaningful ground. Second, even if the Yankees play improbably poorly the rest of the way – say they go 20-19 over their remaining 39 games – the BoSox would have to play impossibly well over that same span – specifically, 26-12 – to have any chance at all of winning the division. (See the sixth point in Tom Verducci’s online column at Sports Illustrated today for the gory details.)

So root all you can, hope all you want, pray to whatever talismans you have handy, but the simple fact is that the Red Sox’s fate is probably now sealed. The recent rash of injuries forced the team’s youngsters into service at least a half-season earlier than planned, and their inexperience – coupled with some veterans’ surprising ineffectiveness – unfortunately proved costly. About the only thing keeping the club from falling as far as third place is the Blue Jays’ apparent penchant for clubhouse explosions – having already run Shea Hillenbrand out of town, manager John Gibbons yesterday took on challenger Ted Lilly and apparently lost – but with only 3½ games now separating the two teams, even this remains to be seen.

The trick now is for the Sox to get positioned for next season without appearing to have given up on this one. To his credit, GM Theo Epstein made it fairly clear in his remarks yesterday (see yesterday’s article on that this, in fact, is his plan, so he’s at least being up front with anyone who is actually listening. This being the case, it shouldn’t come as a shock to learn that David Wells was put on waivers; if anything, the surprise is that he cleared both leagues and now can be traded to anyone who wants him (see last night’s article on Whether there’s actually a deal in the works or Theo is simply keeping his options open also remains to be seen. But don’t be stunned if a deal is done and the Sox receive prospects, not established players, in return.

Fans of the old Brooklyn Dodgers used to cry, “Wait ’til next year!’ after failing to knock off the rival Yankees. Today, let’s go them one better and announce “Welcome to next year!” What’s the worst that can happen?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Clinging to Cape League Memories While BoSox Season Slides

As the news from Fenway continues to disappoint (“Can’t anybody here play this game?” – Casey Stengel), let’s continue to celebrate this year’s Cape League season and stay in our “happy place” for just a little while longer …

Nice to Meet You!
- Mike Bordick, one-time member of the Y-D Red Sox who played 14 years in the big leagues and has given back to his Cape League team to the point where a plaque hangs in his honor at Red Wilson Field in Yarmouth.

- Jeffrey Maier, current assistant to Peter Gammons who as a 12-year-old in 1999 famously gave Derek Jeter an ALCS home run against the Orioles by reaching over the Yankee Stadium fence and deflecting the ball into the stands.

- Andrew Wirtanen, fellow keeper of a baseball blog, purveyor of a kind review of my Cape League book, and poster of a fun video clip capturing the Y-D Red Sox’s winning moment.

- Joe Abarr, Y-D’s bullpen catcher, who attends the University of Rhode Island and went out of his way to delight my children with his easy banter and ready smile. You go, Joe! (That’s him to my left, below.)

Steve Weissman and Joe Abarr

Great Baseball Names to Know
Name / CCBL Team / College
Alden Carrithers / Y-D / UC/Santa Barbara
Diallo Fon / Wareham / Vanderbilt
Charlie Furbush / Hyannis St. / Joseph’s (ME)
Ryan Gotcher / Wareham / Arkansas-Little Rock
Shooter Hunt / Falmouth / Virginia
Buster Posey / Y-D / Florida State
Colt Sedbrook / Brewster / Arizona
Justin Smoak / Cotuit / South Carolina
Beamer Weems / Wareham / Baylor

The Reason for the Season
Y-D pitching star Terry Doyle (Boston College) and bullpen catcher Joe Abarr pose with the Cape League championship trophy at the Y-D victory party, held at the Riverway Restaurant in South Yarmouth after the penultimate game.

Terry Doyle and Joe Abarr with the Cape League Championship Trophy

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Chain Reactions Shaping Remainder of BoSox Season

That the Boston Red Sox have been struggling lately has been well documented, and by my observation, their circumstances are unlikely to improve any time soon. The hand they are now playing was dealt to them some six weeks ago, when they began losing key hitters and pitchers to injury (e.g., Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, Keith Foulke, Tim Wakefield, David Wells). The result was a series of chain reactions that is affecting them now and will shape the rest of their season.

(A) At The Plate And On The Mound

Injuries to Key Hitters and Pitchers -> Fewer Runs Scored/More Runs Given Up -> Shorter Stints by Starters -> Greater Reliance on the Bullpen -> Tired Staff à Unbalanced Roster (13 pitchers = only 3 players on the bench) -> Fewer Runs Scored/More Runs Given Up [repeat]

It’s a vicious cycle that likely won’t end without the return of at least some of the walking wounded (step one: Wells pitched decently last night and last time) and the addition of a few quality replacements (if any can be found).

(B) At the Trading Table

Injuries to Key Hitters and Pitchers -> Greater Reliance on Minor League Talent -> Fewer Bargaining Chips to Include in Deals -> Less Likelihood of Landing Impact Players

This isn’t to say that Eric Hinske and Carlos Pena won’t be useful additions, and that Javy Lopez, Jason Johnson, and Kyle Snyder won’t contribute before the year is out. But they’re placeholders at best, and except for the fact that rosters can be expanded starting September 1, they likely would be out of a job once their front-line counterparts return to action.

(C) At the Trading Deadline

Injuries to Key Hitters and Pitchers -> Interruption of a Deal (or Deals) in the Works -> No Significant Roster Changes

This one is purely speculation on my part, but I believe GM Theo Epstein was pursuing a deal involving Trot Nixon that would have bolstered the team’s playoff prospects in the same way the midseason moves of ’04 did. But when Nixon got hurt right at the trading deadline, the deal died, and the clock ran out.

Why do I think this? Because it makes too much sense not to be true. Consider: (1) Nixon becomes a free agent at the end of the year and, had he remained healthy, probably would have asked for more money and years than the Sox would be willing to give him. So the team might as well get something for him as nothing. (2) The presence of Wily Mo Pena on the roster means the Sox already have a successor on the scene. (3) Nixon was performing well enough to attract some interest from a fringe or non-contending club, especially if he were bundled with a minor leaguer or two, and maybe some cash. (4) Epstein has demonstrated he isn’t averse to making deals in such circumstances.

That's the world according to me. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Y-D Red Sox Win Cape League Crown in Spectacular Fashion

The Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox this weekend won their second Cape Cod Baseball League championship in three years, and they did it in the spectacular fashion that is so typical of the Cape League. Consider the following:

- The team lost one of its pitching stars right away when lefty Matt Meyer (Boston College) signed with Cleveland and began his pro career.

- It started the season 8-11 and seemed to be going nowhere.

- It then won nine straight and went from worst to first in its division.

- It set a league record for wins in July (20). Along the way, righty Terry Doyle (also Boston College) threw a no-hitter against Chatham.

- It finished the regular season with the league’s best record, overtaking at the very end the Cotuit Kettleers, who had dominated all season long.

- It defeated the Brewster Whitecaps twice in a row after losing the first game of the first playoff round.

- It defeated the Wareham Gatemen twice in a row after losing the first game of the final playoff round.

One of the great things about the Cape League is that the season is so short (44 games) that there isn’t really time for teams to fall so far out of contention that a well-timed winning streak can’t put them over the top. The problem is that the pitching is so good, and so many hitters have such trouble adjusting to the wood bat, that few trailing teams actually ever string together enough wins to do them any good. Consequently, it usually is fairly clear by mid-July which teams have a shot at the playoffs and which teams don’t.

- This team broke the mold.

- This team went 18-5 after its mediocre start.

- This team had players who exhibited none of the “big leaguing” that can destroy a club’s chemistry.

- This team generated a buzz in the local community that was unusual even for the closely-knit towns of Cape Cod.

- This team attracted a reported 8,200+ people to its final game, a crowd said to be larger than any other ever to attend a Cape League event. (One happy fan went home with a record-shattering $3,500 from the 50-50 raffle, a fund-raising contest in which the winner takes home half the pot. Can't do THAT at Fenway Park!)

This team was something special. Congratulations to those who played on it, coached it, volunteered behind the scenes, and were part of the energy and excitement on Sunday.

See you next summer!