May 28, 2009


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LONGSHOTS: First-place Sox are making the grade
by Dave Long

Not that it matters, but I’m probably not like most baseball fans around here. Baseball’s a warm-weather thing to me. Thus I’m not into the renewal-of-life thing that many rhapsodize about as opening day approaches, which I barely even notice.

That’s been especially true the past couple of years as the Bruins and Celtics have become viable again. Following their playoff battles is much more interesting than watching cold-weather or dome baseball that is only going on in the first week of April because the owners are trying to squeeze every last cent out of the game even when the product suffers. Plus seeing a manager like Joe Maddon and his players wearing baseball hats with earmuffs sewn into them as they did at Fenway Park in the season opener and the World Series just doesn’t compute.

That doesn’t mean I don’t know the collective ERA of the Sox starters is higher than Timothy Leary in his prime or that David Ortiz leads Wily Mo Pena in their personal 2009 homer battle. It just means I don’t enjoy watching until it’s warm — which I’d like to blame on Bud Selig, but this started long before he took the job.

The good news is after the first glorious-weather week of the spring, the baseball season has arrived for me. And it happened to coincide with the conclusion of the season’s first quarter. So as I was catching up with those who’ve been with it since opening day here’s what I found:

The Good: Given they’re in first place as this is being written, there are many things that fit here. At the top of the list is the sensational job by the bullpen, which has five regulars and seven guys overall (counting Michael Bowden and Jonathan Van Every) with ERAs below 3.00. Ramon Ramirez has been dazzling in going 4-1 with a 0.79 earned run average. Also in this category is Jason Bay, who reminds me of a latter-day Tony Conigliaro. The lanky righty’s stroke is perfectly suited for Fenway, as Tony C’s was back in the day. His 13 homers and 44 RBI at the turn project to a better-than-Manny-ever-did 52 and 176. Wow!

The Bad: The starting pitching. Thank goodness for ageless Tim Wakefield or this would be in the ugly category. While he may not stay that way all year, in going 6-2 he’s been the only consistent starter and that has been big. Shortstop defense goes here too. The combined 12 errors by Nick Green and Julio Lugo project to 48 and that’s only acceptable if it’s 1929 and they’re replacing Joe Cronin the year the Hall of Famer made an astonishing 62 errors in 143 games with the Senators.

The Ugly: I hate to say it, but it’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room — the struggles of David Ortiz. As I write this he’s hitting .195 with one homer and 18 RBI. Ugh.

Questions answered: The two biggest coming in were what Jason Varitek would do at the plate and how Mike Lowell would respond after hip surgery. So far so good, although Varitek’s .248 average, surprising eight homers and 20 RBI are close to the .281, 3 and 16 he had on May 24 during his 2008 train wreck, so he’s not out of the woods yet. As for Lowell, his 8/32 power numbers aren’t too far off from the 9/37 he had on the same date during his 2007 career year. I’m convinced on Lowell.

Taken for Granted: There’s been little chatter over Dustin Pedroia hitting .329 and being on pace to score 140 runs and hit 56 doubles. Guess that happens if you’re rookie of the year and MVP in back-to-back years. Though he did have 28 RBI at this time last year to 2009’s 15 and he’s got just one homer after hitting 17 last year. And then there is Kevin Youkilis, who has turned out to be much better than I ever thought he would be. Billy Beane got it right about him.

Improvements needed: Getting Ramirez from KC justified trading Coco Crisp (hitting .234, 3 HRs and 14 RBI). However, Jacoby Ellsbury’s improvement makes it even better. He’s hit better to start, as evidenced by his .297 average and 19-game hitting streak. And he’s had some exciting moments like scoring from second on a wild pitch and stealing home in the same series sweep of the Yanks. Still his .322 on base percentage is 110 points lower than AL leader Victor Martinez and his 23 runs scored in the lead-off spot lags behind Pedroia’s 34.

Biggest on-field issue: What to do about Ortiz and the three hole. How long before you move him out? And if it comes to this, how long before you say we need a new DH?

Biggest off-field issue: Hey, Theo — Jason Bay’s become what you expected J.D. Drew to be — right? And with the Ortiz struggles possibly permanent shouldn’t you get the free-agent-to-be left fielder signed NOW!!

Injured list: Given the injury history and age of several key guys, this is what I thought could derail the season. And with Kevin Youkilis, Dice-K, John Smoltz, Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie and Mark Kotsay having already been on the DL, they’re ahead of my over-under. But their depth (and the minor league system’s as well) is admirable. Especially the pitching, which is further enhanced by the versatility of Justin Masterson, who my friend Charley Cannon accurately likened to the 1978 Bob Stanley for his ability to start, spot start, long relieve and be an eight-inning guy.

Good Stuff Still to Come: Most interesting is probably Smoltz being on the horizon. A healthy, productive Smoltz deepens the rotation and provides a proven clutch performer for when the games count most. 

Trade bait: A healthy Smoltz probably makes Brad Penny expendable, especially with Clay Buchholz blowing people away in AAA. And thanks to the economy, this will be the biggest salary dump year ever. Thus there could be some very interesting names popping up as the deadline looms. Penny won’t bring a three hitter or a shortstop, but along with the young talent in the minors he could figure in a blockbuster to get either if Theo is of a mind to do that.

Prayer that won’t be answered: A deal with cash-strapped Florida that would send Penny, Lowrie, Bowden and one more good young player, not named Buchholz, Daniel Bard or Lars Anderson, for Hanley Ramirez to play short and bat third.

First-quarter grade: A balancing act. On the downside the starting pitching gets a D, the shortstop an F, as does Ortiz. But the relief pitching has been tremendous and despite Papi’s struggles they’re scoring 5.5 runs, on pace to hit close to 200 homers and project to win 98-100 games. So B+.

Dave Long can be reached at He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.

5/21/2009 NBA rivalries have no rival in other team sports

5/14/2009 Lying from baseball's Pinocchio prompts questions
5/7/2009 Celtics bull their way into round two — finally!
4/30/2009 Tanked from the headlines, the Fenway series yanks it back
4/23/2009 Draft winds blow NFL teams to make interesting decisions
4/16/2009 Spring cleaning of a cluttered sports mind
4/9/2009 Red Sox Nation springs back to life
4/2/2009 Climbing sports Mt. Rushmore
3/26/2009 Mount Rushmore offerings and other spring thoughts
3/19/2009 B-Ball, Coach B and Baseball in the mailbag today
3/12/2009 Great talent a rush but not all it's cracked up to be
3/5/2009 In Bill we still trust?
2/26/2009 A mountain over this molehill
2/19/2009 Steroids muscle in on game's strength
2/12/2009 Bonner bombs away on Cs in garden party homecoming
2/5/2009 Nation's angst ends as V-Tek says what the heck and rejoins flock
1/29/2009 Super Bowl Sunday brings to mind past and present
1/22/2009 The elusive quality of greatness is the topic of the day
1/15/2009 Spring cleaning of the sports mind a little early
1/8/2009 Will hall have Rice on the menu come July
1/1/2009 Predictions and wants for the year ahead
12/25/2008 A look in the rear view mirror at 2008
12/18/2008 The Pats' playoff run and new Yankees contracts make big news
12/11/2008 Random thoughts and associations
12/4/2008 Pats should consider options when it comes to Cassel and Brady
11/27/2008 Putting the thanks in Thanksgiving
11/20/2008 News of the week has people talking
11/13/2008 Cassel's in the clouds compared to early expectations11/6/2008 Mail bag delivers some interesting questiont10/30/2008"Yankees Suck" - like mentality fuels political discontent10/23/2008 No ray of hope as season closes in Tampa Bay
10/16/2008 Going to the nines a thing of the past
10/9/2008 C-eeing some interesting stories unfold this week
10/2/2008 "How come?" is the main question of the day
9/25/2008 Observations on baseball in 2008
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