Monday, June 13, 2005

Baby Steps

Apparently the missing piece to the Red Sox season is Doug Mirabelli. The guy's out for a couple of weeks and the pitching staff implodes. Mirabelli's return also coincides with Manny hitting his first homer since late May. Hmmm. Very interesting. Of course, the real test will come with Alan Embree makes his next start. If he can get two people out in an inning without giving up more than three runs, then it's official, Mirabelli is this season's rally monkey. But more on the pitching later...

... On the first pitch of the game Johnny Damon hit a soft liner to left. LF Jason Dubois made a diving catch, but it was one of those diving catches that was a result of being really slow and getting a Millar-like jump on the ball. Dubois (did anyone else think that every time Jon Millar said "Jason Dubois" it sounded like he was saying "Joe, your boys", so that I often caught myself double-taking when I thought I heard, "Joe, your boys are running around all over left field?") proved as much in the middle innings when Damon again hit what looked to be like a routine fly ball only to have Dubois trip himself into a Damon double. It should only be a matter of time before the Red Sox trade for this guy and platoon him with Millar.

... Speaking of Millar, I have to give the guy credit, he's had a couple of multi-hit games on the road trip and he's only played a couple of times. And he didn't even make an error during last night's game. Between his resurgence and Bellhorn's new-found ability to play defense, the right side of the Red Sox's infield could quickly become one of the best in the organization.

... Am I the only guy who thinks Youkilis should play more? Kevin hit his first bomb last night and he went on to have two more hits. Before Olerud arrived, I would've been quite content to see Youkilis play first base every day. I mean, if you can play third base, first base is pretty straightforward. Now that Olerud's with the team, Youkilis' role isn't quite so clear. Mueller's been playing pretty well of late and despite what I've seen and read, I'm not sure Youkilis can play second base. So, barring injury, it looks like he'll have to wait another year before getting a chance to play everyday. Whatever, it was good to see him in the game last night.

... One more thing about Jason "your boys" Dubois: What the hell was he doing in the ninth on Jay Payton's home run? The ball barely cleared the wall -- by about 60 feet -- and Dubois was acting like it would be an out somewhere near the warning track. Usually, outfielders either (a) turn around, run to the wall and see if they'll have a play, or (b) not move (see Barry Bonds). Dubois did neither. Instead, he took a few steps back, to the edge of the track, looked up like he was about to catch the ball, and then dropped his head and Payton’s homer landed about 50 feet behind him. It was actually funny, because (a) dekes don't really work if you fooled your opponent (and your fans) into thinking a bad thing was about to happen only to have a good thing happen, and (b) maybe he thought it was really a pop fly he could make a play on, which would explain Damon's double earlier in the game.

... Sometime during the early innings, Wakefield, with Millar on second and Mirabelli on first, got a hit to short right field. Dale Sveum held up Millar at third, and 1B Derek Lee (the cutoff man), picked Mirabelli off of second. I remember thinking at the time that I really couldn't get mad at Mirabelli since that was the first time he's made a bone-headed play all season. In fact, I went ahead and chalked that mistake up to Dale Sveum. I mean, why not? What's the difference between being blamed for 95% of the baserunning miscues and 95.1%? I figure not much. Now, if Sveum had sent Millar on that play Burnitz would have thrown him out by 85 feet, so it's basically a lose-lose for Sveum. Free Wendall Kim (Just kidding. I think)!

Speaking of Wakefield, thank god that guy pitched well. If he had struggled, the Red Sox would have David Wells as their go-to starter (who, incidentally, might want to think about doing some of that civil war reenacting as a chubby Abe Lincoln; just throwing out stuff here).

... In Sunday's Boston Herald, there was an interesting story about how frustrated and bewildered Theo Epstein is with the ineptness of the pitching staff.
"This is difficult to fix, to be honest with you," a calm and controlled Theo Epstein said yesterday at Wrigley Field, where the spiraling Red Sox lost, 7-6, to the Chicago Cubs [stats, schedule]. "So many people are performing below our expectations and below our projections that this isn't easy to fix. If this is the best that this pitching staff can pitch, then I really miscalculated and it's time for changes.

"This is my fault. The guys have to play better or we've got to make some changes. I think we've allowed something like (77) runs in our last 10 losses. We're out of games. It's time for changes. Soon."
Hmmm. 77 runs in 10 losses. I'm not a GM or a SABR-nerd, but I don't think that's good. On the upside, I'm glad to hear that Epstein isn't against making changes. He did go on to say that it's important to "stick with the guys that got you here," but at some point, you've got to cut your losses (which is something, if given the opportunity, that I feel like Francona would never do; you get the impression if the decision was ultimately up to him, Millar would play ever day right next to Bellhorn; I digress).

And the funny thing is, that as much as I lambaste Millar, and Francona for playing Millar, he's so far down the list of "current big problems that need fixing immediately." Millar's struggles are easily correctible: John Olerud. Alan Embree's problems are not: Matt Mantei, John Halama. Those are not the names you want to hear following, "And now warming up in the bullpen..." In fact, the PA announcer might as well say something like, "And now warming up to take the loss is ..." It's at least accurate.

Amazingly, despite having a team that ranks near the bottom of the AL in ERA (I think they're ahead of KC and some other awful team), the Sox are three games out of first place. What I'm about to say next makes me ashamed of myself, but here goes. I agree with something Joe Morgan said (now waiting for roof to collapse on my head since Armageddon is surely upon us): the wild card's not coming out of the AL East this year. That's not necessarily earth-shattering news, but for Joe Morgan, it's like solving Fermat's Last Theorem (speaking of Morgan ... After hearing him last night, I'm convinced, that in addition to testing players for drugs, we should also extend that courtesy to commentators. Just a thought).

So, as of mid-June, the Sox are three games out of first and have one of the worst pitching staffs in the league. If Theo can shore up the bullpen, this thing could turn around in a hurry. I hope.