Remember this game? I’m sure you do. It was Dice-K’s Fenway Park debut, so ESPN was televising it nationally. And King Felix stole the show and used it as a platform to announce his own arrival on the AL pitching scene. Even I was disappointed when J.D. Drew broke up the no-hitter–although with the low score, I immediately started thinking about how the Sox could still win once it happened. Last night, it looked like King Felix was finally going to get that no-hitter. But…I’m seriously sensing a pattern here. Seriously, note to all AL teams: Stop allowing Nelson Cruz to lead off innings. It never ends well for you. Congrats to King Felix on another great pitching performance, but it looks like the Year of the Pitcher II has finally run out of magic. Did you realize that August was the first calendar month this year without a no-hitter? And September’s half-over with none so far as well.
Elsewhere, Manny Ramirez finally hit another home run, his first XBH and first RBI in a White Sox uniform. The only question is, is this really a White Sox uniform? Ladies and gentlemen, your Chicago Green Sox!
I’ve been keeping busy with other sports–and some non-sports entertainment–over the offseason, so I’m not 100% dialed in to the goings-on of baseball, but nonetheless, it’s time to at least make an attempt at predicting things.
AL East: As per usual, the AL East is quite possibly the toughest in all of baseball, and will likely be the source of the Wild Card. Now, I know that I am not unbiased, but I believe the Red Sox will take the division due to the depth of their rotation. When it was announced that Daisuke Matsuzaka would miss the start of spring training due to injury, I wasn’t really worried, because for all that he cost to get, he’s basically the Sox’ number 4 now, behind Beckett/Lester/Lackey (arrange these three however you like, although that’s probably the order I’d put them), and they’ve got Buchholz and Wakefield behind that, so even without Dice-K, they’ve still got a solid 5-man rotation. The Yankees and Rays should both still be in the division race up until the final week, though, and either one could end up as the wild card–it comes down to the Yanks’ aging veterans vs. the Rays’ unproven youngsters, particularly where the rotations are concerned (although the Yanks also have some unproven youngsters at the tail end of the rotation). Baltimore, for some reason, is optimistic about this year, while Toronto is known to be in a rebuilding year, so I’ll say that the Jays finish in last place and the Orioles in fourth.
AL Central: Another three-team race. I’ll give the edge to the Tigers, but I wouldn’t give anyone in this division more than a 35% chance of reaching the playoffs–the Tigers, Twins, and White Sox are that close.
AL West: A definite mystery. The Angels have definitely taken a step back and fallen back to the pack, to the point that I’m pretty sure I heard one person on the radio call the West a three-team race between the A’s, Rangers, and Mariners at one point during the offseason. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, though–it’s still the Angels we’re talking about here. The Mariners definitely made great strides during the offseason, trading for Cliff Lee and signing Chone Figgins as a free agent, but I’m worried they still don’t have enough star power to make it last–I’m not even really sure who their 3-5 starters are, and the lineup is decidedly small-ball. Then again, who in this division really does have serious star power?
NL East: The Phillies are still the class of the NL and should be able to make it four straight division titles and three straight NL pennants, at which point the talking heads will start to wonder how long it will be until we can start calling them a dynasty (yes, even if they lose the World Series again–after all, the ’90s/early ’00s Braves were a dynasty despite only winning one World Series, weren’t they? Okay, maybe not.) The Braves are my favorites to finish second, and possibly earn the Wild Card. The Mets have improved over the offseason and could end up in third if they stay healthy, or they could land in fourth. The Nationals will likely finish last in the division again, but will probably pick no higher than fourth and possibly as low as eighth in the 2011 draft rather than the #1 spot they’ll have for the second year in a row in 2010.
NL Central: To be honest, I really haven’t followed the NL that closely. I know that the Pirates will be in last place again, and that the Astros still aren’t terribly good and seem most likely to land in fifth, and that Milwaukee is a far cry from their 2008 wild card berth, but that’s about it. The Cubs and the Cardinals should slug it out again, and, like almost every other year, I’m going to say that the Reds could make some noise. (Note that I make this prediction almost every year, although I think I skipped it last year, and it hasn’t actually come true since 2006, when they still finished in third but weren’t eliminated from the division race until the penultimate day of the season.)
NL West: If the Braves don’t win the Wild Card, expect it to come from this division. This may be a four-team race, as the Dodgers and Rockies, both postseason teams last year, should not have fallen off much, the Giants are still a team on the rise (again, see last year), and the Diamondbacks…well, I still have no clue why they faltered so much. They won the division in 2007 and were in the hunt late in 2008, and they made humongous upgrades in the ’08-’09 offseason…and inexplicably were a complete non-factor in 2009. I can only dismiss this as a fluke, and I think they’ll compete this year. Who will win this division? Your guess is as good as mine; all I’m willing to predict is that the Padres will finish in last place.
Playoffs: Like I said, I’m not really sure who most of the NL teams will be, and frankly I don’t really care because the Phillies are far better than anyone else in the league in my mind and will win the NL pennant. As for the AL, I’m going to predict Red Sox over Tigers and Rays over Mariners in round 1, followed by…Red Sox over Rays in the ALCS, and then…ooh, this is a tough one. They say pitching wins championships, and nobody has better pitching (if they’re healthy) than the Red Sox, which is why I picked them this far (yes, the Rays could also outhit the Red Sox, but their pitching, while good, is not good enough). But the Phillies rotation, while not as deep, is probably even stronger at the top, and their lineup is quite possibly the best in either league. Then again, you have to look beyond the simple skills and consider the matchups. For some reason, the Red Sox never really had much trouble with Halladay, which is odd because the Red Sox usually struggle with the Blue Jays, period. Lackey, while never terribly good against his new team regardless, was especially bad at Fenway, so if he ends up as the #3 and the AL wins the All-Star Game again, that’s all the better–and if the NL somehow pulls it out and the Sox pitch Lackey in Games 2 and 6, even better. So…it’ll be a close one, but I think the Red Sox can make it 3 titles in 7 years.
My last entry was called “Ready for history”. The Rays and Phillies haven’t disappointed. Well, okay, some of them have, but that’s a different story. It has come to my attention that people have been complaining about everything about this Series.
“People” need to shut up and pay attention to the game’s magnificent history.
As I write this, I sit in the cafeteria of my beloved Drew University in Madison, NJ, looking out a window that takes up an entire wall. It appears to be snowing. Par for the course, eh? Yes, the weather has been one of the “problems” with this series–Game 5 shouldn’t have even been started, it should’ve been postponed earlier (before the Rays tied it up), etc. Weather happens. Some of the best World Series ever have been affected by the weather. Weren’t there like three days or so in between the fifth and sixth games of the 1975 World Series, which is always listed among the top two in any list of the greatest World Series ever? The fact that the Phillies have essentially lost the advantage that they had by having Hamels on the mound just adds to the mythos of the game. On the one hand, if they win in spite of Mother Nature, it’s a great story. On the other, if the Rays gain the momentum from this and triumph, they’re truly a team of destiny, one that the Almighty himself intervened to aid. (It’s always a good Series when you can invoke the Lord’s name in describing it and not sound completely blasphemous.) Also in the weather department–Game 3, delayed by rain, getting record lows in ratings as a result. Quite a shame, as it was a great game–a walkoff, in fact. Being a college student, and with it being a weekend, I of course was tuned in until the end.
The snow isn’t falling as hard now as it was when I first started writing, but it’s definitely snow–the flakes have increased in size. Another complaint about this Series, ironically, is the exact opposite–Tropicana Field. Even after the Philadelphia rain has screwed around with everything, the suggestion that it would be easier in a dome has been met with criticism. It’s unnatural, they say. Feh! There are plenty of domes out there. The other member of the consensus top 2 thus far, which is the one more commonly chosen as number one, was played in part in a dome–1991, Braves vs. Twins. If weather is a factor, domes should be a factor as well. Every park is different, and they all have their quirks. Are Tropicana’s catwalks really a bigger factor than a 37-foot-high wall with a ladder attached to it, an indentation in the outfield side wall with a garage door, the shortest distance down the right-field line of any park in the country, an extremely low wall out in right-center, and “the Triangle”? I doubt it, but no one complains about Fenway. Its quirks are “charming”.
Snow’s finally stopping, I think. Another complaint, of course, is that the teams aren’t interesting. The Rays and Phillies have no history. Well, uh, yeah. The Rays are only in their eleventh season, and the first ten, they were horrible! This is of course where Unpleasable Fanbase really comes into play. If big-market teams like the Dodgers and Red Sox make the Series, people complain about being sick of them. If they don’t, people complain about how nobody wants to watch small-market teams. MAKE UP YOUR DAMN MINDS!!! And, of course, Tampa Bay may be small-market, but Philadelphia is probably a larger market than, say, Minneapolis or Atlanta were. Not to mention, the Braves and Twins hadn’t been very good the previous year. The Twins, though World Champions in 1987, had fallen to last place in the AL West in 1990. The Braves, meanwhile, had been bad for numerous years and had the worst record in the majors in 1990–much like the 2007 Rays. Or 2007 Devil Rays, as it were–I’ve finally gotten used to calling them “the Rays”. Please, don’t tell me this isn’t an amazing story.
Finally, there have been complaints about the officiating at large. Part of this stems from the decisions in last night’s game, which really weren’t the umpires’ to make, but also, there have been complaints about bad calls. This mars the Series how, exactly? Need I remind you that 1975 had its high-profile potentially Series-changing umpiring blunders as well–namely, an interference non-call on pinch-hitter Ed Armbrister in the tenth inning of Game 3, the difference between a runner on first and one out and runners on second and third with no outs. Seeing as how the sac fly that scored the game-ending run of that game was the second of the inning, it’s probably safe to say that the game would’ve at least reached the eleventh, even if the Reds may have still won it anyway. So, yeah, let the umps continue to do their thing. Let people complain. But the Rays will have shutdown David Price on the mound for the resumption of Game 5, and then they go back to Tampa for Game 6 with “Big Game James” Shields on the mound. Chances of it reaching seven games: Very favorable. Where this will rank among the lists of all-time greatest World Series ever? Depends on how those games turn out. It’ll definitely help if the Rays win it, and while Game 3’s walkoff was nice, 1975 had two extra-inning games, both walkoffs, and three other one-run games, including the clincher in which the Reds broke a 3-3 tie with a run in the top of the ninth, while 1991 saw three extra-inning games, all walkoff wins, and two other one-run games, one a ninth-inning walkoff, the other seeing the winning run score in the eighth. Game 1 was a one-run game, and Game 2 a two-run game, and Game 3 the walkoff. Game 5 is tied after 5.5. 1975 and 1991 each had an abberation, so Game 4 can be excused if need be. So if the Rays win close in each of the next three games–tightly pitched games, and it might help if neither team scores in this resumption until the eleventh or so–this worst-to-first story could dethrone 1991 (or 1975, to some, although the fact that these two are 1-2 in some order is almost unanimously accepted) as the Greatest World Series Ever.
Oh, and while the wind is still blowing, it appears that it’s not even raining anymore.
Ah, screw this “multiple entries” thing–I’m wrapping up pretty much the entire week here. This week’s been a raging disappointment on a baseball standpoint. Wednesday, in particular, was absolute hell. We had awesome seats, the Sox were beating the Rays, the out-of-town scoreboard showed the Yankees losing, bottom of the seventh in both locales…and then the eighth innings just refused to come. Manny Delcarmen faced three batters and retired none of them. The usually reliable Craig Hansen followed in kind. All told, six runs would cross the plate before it was over, turning a 4-1 lead into a 7-4 deficit. And through it all, the Yankees just kept scoring…and scoring…and scoring…a 7-6 deficit becoming a 15-7 lead, with three more runs scoring in the eighth. The Sox made a comeback for a bit, pushing one across in the eighth and another in the ninth, until, with one out and Mike Lowell on first…”The Coma” returned. Terry Francona made three indefensible decisions in a row. The first was not sending Casey up to pinch-hit for the slumping Varitek. The second was putting on the hit-and-run with a batter who’d been striking out a lot recently at the plate and a runner that doesn’t steal many bases on board. The third was, when the first hit-and-run attempt was fouled off, calling for the same play again. Lowell was caught stealing, Tek struck out, and we had to deal with waving brooms and even more f*cking COWBELL!!! My Boston readers, I implore you: Bring cowbells the next time the Rays come to Fenway, and make a point of ringing them at all the proper moments–and only at the proper moments! I can’t tell you how many times the Rays fans rung them at times other than those listed on the scoreboard at the start of the game. I think this is a proper form of payback for the Rays’ playing of Sweet Caroline at the end of each of the Tropicana sweeps. Speaking of music, they accidentally cut into the National Anthem on Wednesday, although this was probably not a horrible thing because the singer was. If your team has been tagged in this entry, then you were represented today–someone on today’s day trip was wearing your team’s apparel.
Oh, yeah, I completely forgot to update you on the excitement that is
to follow. It was a few days ago that I realized just how incredibly
fortunate I am. What before the season was thought to be just a nice
vacation and a chance to see the Sox without having to worry about
Fenway’s availability is turning into an absolutely incredible
experience. Let’s review the facts:
- The Rays are relevant this year. Seriously relevant. Looking like a playoff contender, relevant.
- The Red Sox and Rays had a serious brawl the last time they faced each other. Not a regular baseball brawl, but a real fight. Dirty, nasty fight. And this will be the first time they meet each other following the battle.
This is not going to be just another trip to see the Sox on the road.
This is going to be a trip into the heart of enemy territory, just like
all of those past trips to Yankee Stadium. There will likely be
hostilities. I’m going to enjoy this immensely. Of course, I always
enjoy my first trip to a stadium–this will be the fourth major league
stadium I’ll have seen a game at. I narrowly missed an opportunity to
see a game at Shea in 2005, and I doubt I’ll get a chance before they
move to the new stadium. Of course, once Yankee Stadium closes down,
I’ll have seen games at two defunct stadiums–I watched the Phillies
play at the Vet, against the equally defunct Montreal Expos–the same
franchise, if not necessarily the same team, that was visiting Camden
Yards on my trip to Baltimore. It rained. A lot. And just when it
looked like it was going to let up, it started up again. We ended up
leaving with the game tied after 8-1/2 innings, and went back to the
hotel–sadly, on foot. We got awfully wet. Two hours later, the game
resumed, and the Orioles quickly won it in the bottom of the ninth.
Then the storm resumed, and let me tell you, watching a thunderstorm
from 23 stories up is an amazing sight. The lightning is so pretty when
you can see the bolts from the start. I think the fact that there were
all of these buildings around only enhanced it, the beautiful harmony
of the natural and the man-made.
But you didn’t click on this to listen to me wax poetic about lightning, did you? Sorry, I’ll try to stick to baseball.