Sunday, March 31, 2013

John Lackey's Comeback is Almost Complete

You read it here first.  John Lackey will lead the Boston Red Sox to the 2013 American League Playoffs.  That's right.  John Lackey.  He of the 5.40 ERA in Spring Training this year.  He of the bum right arm who was shelved for 2012.  He of the 26-23 record for the Red Sox since joining as a highly touted free agent signing after the 2009 season.  That John Lackey. 

The Red Sox have a slew of new players this year - Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, one of the Drew brothers.  In fact, only 5 players remain from that moribund 2009 team that was swept by Lackey's Angels in the ALDS.  But the most important piece of the puzzle is and will continue to be the mysterious John Lackey.  Pegged to be either the 4th or 5th Starter for the Red Sox in 2013, Lackey has the ability, if he regains the form from his stellar 2007 season, to be the most valuable Pitcher in the Red Sox organization.

And that's where my review starts...John Lackey winning 15 games as a Number 4 starter.  I figure that the Red Sox will need to win 92 games to make the playoffs in 2013.  And to achieve that, Lackey is going to have to win 15 of those games.  For every game fewer that Lackey wins this year, the Red Sox will win 3 games fewer.  Now I get it.  It has to be within reason and not a direct correlation.  So if Lackey wins just 10 games or fewer, the Red Sox will win 77 games and finish below .500 for the second consecutive year.

How about that spectacle while you're sitting in those $100 box seats - a second straight losing season?

Now if Lackey wins 15 games or more?  The Red Sox are going to the Playoffs.  It might be that questionable one game playoff that began in 2012, or it might be as the Number 1 seed after winning the AL East.  Rest assured, the Red Sox will go to the playoffs if Lackey wins 15 games or more.

How do I know? 

Pitching.  Lester, Buchholz and Dempster are all projected to win 15 games this year.  Based on his Spring Training performance, Jon Lester is looking at the prospect of winning 20 games.  No team has ever had 4 15-game winners and failed to make the playoffs.  OK, I'm lying about that statistic, but you get my point.  The relievers, led by Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, might be one of the strongest groups in the league.

Stars Realign.  Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia are coming off of subpar seasons.  Pedroia is poised to pick up where he left off in 2011.  Ellsbury might be one of those Brady Anderson types after his break out 2011 season (if you know what I mean), but he is in a contract year, and he seems like the kind of guy who will put up monster numbers in the hopes of garnering a massive multiyear contract in 2014.

Character Guys.  The Red Sox, after the double debacle of "Chicken and Beer" and "Bobby Valentine," have figured out that bringing in solid chemistry team-first guys is good for the club.  In fact, the Red Sox would be smart to duplicate the success of the 1996-2000 Yankees, who built a team of blue collar workers around a small core of good to great players.  Scott Brosius was a decent player.  Not great, but he fit in great for that Yankees' club.  Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli both fit that profile.

AL Least.  Believe it or not, the AL East is weak this year.  The Yankees are old and hurting, using two Red Sox cast offs as their corner infielders for the foreseeable future, a 43 year old closer and an ace that has never turned down seconds or thirds at the Dinner Table.  The Blue Jays are relying on one hit wonder RA Dickey and oft-injured Jose Reyes to lead them to the playoffs.  The Rays have no hitting to match their solid rotation.  The Orioles will fail to win more than 75 games.  On paper, the AL East looks strong, but in actuality, is dancing on the head of a pin.  I can see the Red Sox squeezing out a Division title, honestly.

But the key remains Lackey.  If the Red Sox don't have a reliable 4th starter, they are going to be pounded in every 3 and 4 game series at least once.  That starts to wear down a team during a long season.  John Lackey will either catapult the Red Sox to the top of the league (if he's healthy and serviceable) or will lead to long lines at the Beer parlors that Lackey knows so well on Yawkey Way and Brookline Avenue (if he duplicates his 2011 campaign).

Prediction.  Lackey wins those 15 games.  The Red Sox win 93 games and make the Playoffs as one of the the AL Wild Card.  Play Ball!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

We'll Miss Mayor Menino in Boston

Today is the day that Mayor Menino has been dreading for almost 20 years.  His decision to not seek re-election for another term as Boston's Mayor.

A lot of good things have happened in Boston since Mayor Tom Menino became mayor of Boston back in 1993.  The Convention came to Town in 2004.  Major construction projects and urban renewal projects were proposed and approved.  But most importantly, Mayor Menino will be remembered for completely butchering the names of sports figures in Boston.  I mean, the guy was so unaware that I question whether he ever played sports in school.

Let's take a look at some of the most controversial ones.

1.  Jason Varitek did not "Split the Uprights."  Back in 2001-02, The New England Patriots became the darling of the Boston Sports Scene.  Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady took a moribund franchise and transformed it into the most profitable and one of the most valuable franchises in all of sports.  Some of the most iconic videos from that 2001 season was Adam Vinitieri's winning field goals in both the Snow Bowl and in the Super Bowl.  In 2010, with a crowd of hundreds in the audience, Mayor Menino thought that Jason Varitek actually kicked those field goals.  I note that neither the Patriots nor the Red Sox have won their respective championships since this infamous blunder.

2.  Weckler and Grabowski.  Apparently believing that Tom Brady can throw to anyone and be successful, the Honorable Mayor Menino believed that Wes Weckler and Rob Grabowski would help Brady to victory in the 2012 playoffs.  It was a heated rivalry.  And the 2011-12 season was no exception.  The Ravens and Baltimore's erstwhile Mayor were talking some smack before the 2011-12 AFC Championship.  Menino, in an attempt at throwing back in their face, challenged Baltimore with his notorious line about the the great Patriots' receiving core - the aforementioned Weckler and Grabowski.  Note:  I can't remember, this might have been before the Broncos playoff game too.

3.  Gonk and Wilcock.  In an effort to out do himself, Menino again took to the airwaves to discuss the Patriots' team.  Again in a fight with the Ravens, Mayor Menino ripped off a couple of excellent zingers at Baltimore.  He espoused the virtues this time of Gonk and Wilcock. Seriously, he screwed up Gronkowski's name again, twice in one year?  More importantly, how does one interpret Gronk's nickname as Gonk?

4.  KJ and Hondo.  In perhaps the blogosphere's most notorious example of name bungling, Mayor Menino was championing the Celtics run toward another Championship run.  But instead of KG and Rajon Rondo leading the charge this year, Mayor Menino believed that Danny Ainge picked up a couple of new players, nicknamed KJ and Hondo.  These guys weren't going to help the Celtics, Mayor" I said to noone in particular when I read this back in June 2012.  At least he had the good sense to use his Twitter feed to make light of the whole situation.

Good luck, Mayor.  We'll miss you.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

2013 NCAA Brackets for Life and Death

It took a lot of cajoling to get us to this point.  The brackets for this year's 2013 NCAA Championship was shaping up to be interesting, and I wanted to play in one that didn't involve home equity loans and escrow accounts (if that were legal, which it isn't).  As a result, I decided to resurrect the great Bracket challenge.  JMR, LC, C, G and DLG would all fill out bracket pools and the winner would pocket 20 bucks.  Both boys were reticent to even participate since it was taking away from their video game time, but I was able to finally convince them with threats of going to bed.  Family time has never been so sweet.

The Rules

This is easy.  First Round wins would be 1 point.  Second Round wins would be 2 points.  Sweet Sixteen wins would count for 4 points and Elite 8 wins would result in 8 points.  Final Four wins would be 16 points.  And if you picked the winner?  32 points!

Because this year's NCAA season didn't really have a consensus #1 team, all #1 seeds were shaky at best.  The two seeds were even shakier.  Given this, I thought that upsets would be plentiful (Gonzaga a 1 seed??  Yikes.).  To emphasize this, every time an upset was picked, double the points would be awarded.  If you picked Duke to lose in its First Round Game against Albany like I did, you get 2 points instead of 1.  You pick Gonzaga to lose in the Second round like I did?  You get 4 points instead of 2.  Honestly, I believe that I am in the driver's seat.

But that's the way I always think.

The Picks

UConn ain't playing this year
JMR:  I picked a Final Four of Louisville, Wisconsin, Kansas and Miami.  I then picked Louisville to beat Miami in the Championship team.  Yes, I actually picked a Rick Pitino team to win it all.  Sue me.  I would have picked UConn to win it all, but they can't play with the big boys this year because they got in trouble with the principal.

C:  "I hate Duke."  That was all he said.  When his Mom asked him why he hated Duke, he didn't have a good answer, he just answered that everyone hated Duke.  That's my boy.  Anyway, his Final Four consisted of Louisville, Gonzaga, Kansas and Indiana (and Kansas beating Louisville in the Championship).  All 1 Seeds going to the Final Four?  I guess I won't end up in last place no matter what happens...

G:  "Gonzaga is 31-2, Dad.  I think they are going to win it all!"  Oh.  Maybe I'm going to finish in the middle of the pack at worst.  His picks?  Louisville, Gonzaga, Kansas and Indiana with Gonzaga winning it all.  This is going to be easier than I thought.  Yes!

DLG and LC:  Wow.  I really have a chance to win this year.  With Mom permitting DLG to make the first round picks, a couple of interesting teams came out of the woodwork.  When I asked DLG what her strategy was in picking teams, she replied "I picked the team that I thought was tougher."  Their Final Four teams?  Louisville, Kansas State, Florida and UNLV (and KSU beating UNLV in the Championship).  UNLV?  Obviously a Mom pick since that pick was straight out of 1990.  Jerry Tarkanian is biting his towel nodding is head.

The Predictions

Based on my careful studying of the teams, I now believe that I am going to win the whole thing. C will come in second (by default).  G and DLG will fight it out for the basement and first overall pick in next year's rookie draft.

Follow us to see who wins the Great 2013 Brackets Challenge.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

2013 World Baseball Classic Signals the Spring

Usually you hear a March meet up between the Americans and the Canadians and you think, is this an Olympics year?  Are we seeing some sort of Hockey Summit?  No, not this year.  This year is the Third Installment of the World Baseball Classic.  Where many pundits and general managers hate the WBC because it throw players into intense baseball early in March (Think Daisuke Matsuzaka's herculean effort in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, which earned him the most wasteful contracts in the history of the Boston Red Sox), I enjoy it because Spring Training is too long and drawn out.  I see if the boys want to watch.  They look at me befuddled.  They don't want to watch Spring Training baseball.  No it's more obscure than that.

Now the rules are a little different in the WBC, mostly to ensure that managers don't go crazy with their pitchers at the expense of  the teams that need them during the regular season.  The pitch count rules remind one of little league, but that's OK.  65 pitches maximum, 50 pitches requires 4 days rest and so on.  I wouldn't want a pitcher getting hurt for this.  Question:  why isn't this played in a warm location AFTER the season?  The mercy rules are also quaint.  I guess these guys have to be treated like 10 year olds? 

But this game is an elimination game.  Both the United States and Canadians are 1-1 in Pool play and the winner will move on to San Diego.  This is about as intense as baseball is intended to be in early March.

Joey Votto and Justin Morneau are on the Canadian Team?  I had to go onto Baseball Reference to double check and yes, they are both Canadians.  Who knew?

Second Inning.  After an uneventful 1st inning, the Americans put runners on 1st and 3rd in the second inning.  After a terrible contact play decision by David Wright, the Americans fail to score. To make matters worse, the Canadians light U.S. pitcher Derek Holland up with a double and then a long two run homer by Michael Saunders.  The Americans don't actually record an out until Pete Orr grounds out to third base.  Canada leads after 2 innings, 2-0.

Fourth Inning.  After an error and a sacrifice fly, the Americans tie the score up at 2.  Chants of USA start to ring around the stadium.  Wherever they're playing.

Sixth Inning.  As the crowd gets anxious (remember if the United States loses, they finish last in their pool), Team Canada scores the go ahead run on a dinky single by Adam Loewen.  The Canadians are winning 3-2.

Eighth Inning.  ADAM JONES!  With runners going from First and Second, Jones screams a line drive into the Left Field gap for a 4-3 lead!  The crowd shows signs of life for the first time all game.  So what if the centerfielder took a bad route to the ball.  The Americans add an insurance run to take a 5-3 lead in the top of the 8th.  Good thing since the Canadians score a run in the bottom of the inning to cut the score to 5-4.  A real nailbiter.  It's about this time that I would start to count pitches.

Ninth Inning.  The Americans break it open with 4 runs in the top  of the inning, highlighted by a three run double by Eric Hosmer.  As the Canadians go down quietly in the bottom of the Ninth, I yell down to the boys that the United States was moving on in the second round after winning Pool B.

"What's the World Baseball Classic?" C asks me.