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 email@example.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.