September 25, 2008

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LONGSHOTS: Observations on baseball in 2008
by Dave Long

With baseball’s regular season drawing to a close, here are a few observations about what I think was a pretty interesting year.

Even though he makes you crazy when you’re watching him pitch, I’m on the Dice-K bandwagon. While it remains to be seen how he’ll fare with all the walks against the good teams in the playoffs, I know two things. He’s great at getting himself out of a jam. And while he does put a lot of people on base, it’s not ’cause they’re hitting him. He gave up just 124 hits in his first 163.2 innings and his ERA is 2.8, which are both excellent. So to summarize, I’ll steal lines from Bob Ryan and Bill Belichick: while “it didn’t feel like” 18-2, sometimes 18-2 “is what it is.”

And if you are wondering who should be the Red Sox’s fourth starter in the playoffs, Paul Byrd or Tim Wakefield, does it help to know that as I write this on Monday, of the six times Wakefield has pitched against teams still alive in the playoff race, the Sox are 0-6 and his ERA is 6.67? Plus, starting him sends Jason Varitek to the bench in lieu of Kevin Cash.

This is how it goes for closers sometimes. A year ago Brad (out on the) Lidge was demoted by Houston after having trouble getting anyone out when it counted. This year, he’s in Philly and 40 for 40 in save opportunities.

The 40 saves is tied for second best in the NL, with former Londonderry beach boy Brian Wilson, who’s had an interesting year with the dreadful Giants, getting all those saves and a spot on the All-Star team despite an ERA of 4.33.

If anyone needs further evidence beyond Roger Clemens’ foolish testimony before Congress how much steroids were part of baseball not too long ago, look at the home run leaders. It looks like that ’70s show. Only Ryan Howard with 46 is over 40 and with 38 Adam Dunn is the only other one likely to do it.

Although Manny is another possibility, as his combined Boston-L.A. total is 36. He left Boston hitting .299, with 20 home runs and 68 RBI on July 30. Six weeks later his season totals are .331, 36 homers and 117 RBI. That means he’s nearly matched his first four months in six weeks.

Most galling about those stats is that he’s going to do a lot better financially than he would have with those Boston numbers, even though Scott Boras ain’t getting him the $100 million he promised. Still, it means thanks to baseball economics his disgraceful dogging it is going to get him a lot more money.

Still it’s a toss-up for me who I want to see the Sox play in the series if they get there — Manny and the Dodgers or the Cubs for the all-time karma series as the Cubs try and win it for the first time in 100 years.

Speaking of crazy baseball economics, J.D. Drew is going to play less than 140 games for the seventh time in his 10-year career. I say that, because with that kind of track record, why would anyone give a guy with his injury history a five-year deal of any kind, let alone one for $15 million per?

The common thread between those two examples? Boras played the Red Sox front office like a fiddle in springing one from town and bringing the other here for big money as agent for both players.

And one more thing on this: when the Sox go looking for the bopper they still need to replace Manny, I think Drew is going to be the odd man out. Jason Bay is exactly the fifth hitter Theo expected Drew to be when he signed him. Of course, no one will take J.D. off their hands at what he’s making, so expect another Renteria-like “we’ll pay part of his contract” scenario.

Back to the Phillies’ Howard for a second. With 46 homers and 141 RBI, if he makes it to 50 and 150 with a big pennant race finishing week, will anyone have ever had a quieter huge season than that?

Is it me or did the Miguel Cabrera come out of nowhere to win the AL home run title? It’s like a baseball version of when you’re cruising down the highway and glance into the rear view mirror and there’s a Statie right behind, who was nowhere in sight the last time you glanced back.

And speaking of the disappointing Tigers. After all the pre-season hype following deals for Gary Sheffield, Edgar (I hate the AL) Renteria, Dontrell Willis and Cabrera, they are runaway winners of the That’s Why They Play The Games Award.

Josh Hamilton of Texas must still be tired from taking all those swings in his classic home run derby performance at the All-Star break. He had 95 RBI going into the All-Star game and just 29 since, as his surreal lead in the RBI race has melted to being in third place with 124 behind Cabrera and Justin Morneau — who is picking up more mentions in the MVP chatter.

Speaking of the MVP. I love the year captain-in-waiting Dustin Pedroia has had, but Kevin Youkilis is the Red Sox MVP. While you could make a strong case on his production alone, the real kicker is his versatility. A lot has been made of the novelty of seeing a guy Pedroia’s size hitting clean-up (and producing there). But Youk batted up and down the line-up until needed to step into Manny’s vacated clean-up spot and with Mike Lowell hurt all year he seamlessly moved over to third, then back and forth between first and third as the situation dictated. He even played left and right a few times. He essentially is the Troy Brown of the Red Sox and in a year where they’ve been hit by a rash of injuries and Manny’s defection, they’d have been dead without him.

Kudos to Jacoby Ellsbury for his versatility as well, by making spectacular plays in all three outfield positions while still having yet to make his first error in 170 or so big-league games.

And finally, if the Mets and Brewers both miss the playoffs — which seems unlikely — which is the bigger choke? The team that blew the big lead, then panicked by firing its manager with 12 games left, as the Brewers did? Or the team that seemingly was in control of the division race and let it slip away in the final two weeks, for a second year in a row? I say the latter — and not just because I’m what Kramer might call an anti-Metsite!

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billy’s Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.


9/18/2008 If I were a QB, a DB, a stat geek or a soccer mom ...

9/11/2008 After disaster Brady's bunch won't pass on season
9/4/2008 Pats start off with high expectation and some concerns
8/28/2008 A race to the finish to take all month long
8/21/2008 National news items of interest for local folks
8/14/2008 A little of this and that from the good side of sports pile
8/7/2008 Manny happy returns from the Evil Empire
7/31/2008 Manny being Manny - the sequel Part XXXII
7/24/2008 Open the mail bag for some Red Sox questions
7/17/2008 Hall-worthy or not the latest question on Schilling
7/10/2008 Baseball season has actually started
7/03/2008 UL editorial in denial — stop the presses
6/26/2008 Boston turnaround makes NBA green with envy
6/19/2008 Letters from the NBA finals
6/12/2008 A Father's Day letter to dad
6/5/2008 Twenty-one and six are the lucky numbers for the Cs
5/29/2008 Sometimes a bat is just a bat
5/22/2008 Some questions for folks right up there in the front row
5/15/2008 Numbers don't add up to supposed Fenway
5/8/2008 Cavalier attitude nearly derails first meeting with LeBron
5/1/2008 I'm so old,I remember ...
4/24/2008 Sox Line-ups, Celtics and ESPN investigations are in the mail bag
4/17/2008 Show me the way to that All-Star Game
4/10/2008 For C'ing a great time ahead as playoffs arrive this spring
4/3/2008 Bill James and the stats for 2008 — Take Two
3/27/2008 Drowning in the NCAA office pool
3/20/2008 Whether forecast is right or not is the question
3/13/2008 Comment sparks wonder over just what I did
3/6/2008 New hires, new trades in pro sports
2/28/2008 Celtics issues far from black and white in the early days
2/21/2008 Congressional ineptitude muscles in on steroid hearings
2/14/2008 Basketball rounds into form under the cover of Pats football
2/7/2008 A giant win leaves Patriots fans feeling blue
1/31/2008 Foxboro lads earn pats on the back, and old Celtics mystique makes sense
1/24/2008 Mail bag asks about Rice, the hall and wild-eyed liberals
1/17/2008 Peyton manning the fort back home as Pats take on Chargers
1/10/2008 Grumpy old Dolphins are lost at sea on this one
1/3/2008 The primary concern is getting a clear picture
12/27/2007 The annual sports awards close out 2007
12/20/2007 Holiday gifts for the deserving and not so deserving
12/13/2007 Jets land in Foxboro as pat go number 14
12/06/2007 To include or not to include Ellsbury — that is the questione
11/29/2007 Yanked from the sports pages in the Big Apple
11/22/2007 Here's what I'm thankful for at Thanksgiving
11/15/2007 Waiting game leads to a series of random thoughts
11/8/2007 OK — it's week nine and I'm ready to talk
11/1/2007 Finally a little shut-eye for a sleep deprived nation
10/25/2007 A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
10/18/2007 Time to go to the mailbag
10/112007 Who'd more popular, Patriots or Red Sox
10/4/2007 IA weekend chock full of nuts, chokes and great moments
9/27/2007 I hate to say I told you so...
9/20/2007 Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
7/12/2007 Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 M’s for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did

02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Hero’s death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation

Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat

Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe

Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat