The Return of Josh Beckett

Last night Josh Beckett reminded me why I ultimately don’t care about Aaron Boone.  Last night Josh Beckett reminded me of how excited I was when I heard the Red Sox traded Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez for him and Mike Lowell.  Last night Josh Beckett reminded me that there is a reason he has two rings on his fingers.   Last night Josh Beckett reminded me why the Red Sox made it a priority to re-sign him to a 5 year $80 million extension.  And last night Josh Beckett reminded me why I affectionately named him Cy Beckett, much to the chagrin of some of my NTCF colleagues.

In case you haven’t gotten the picture, last night Josh Beckett was simply awesome.  He pitched 8 scoreless innings, allowing 2 hits and one walk, while striking out ten.  He kept the Yankees more off-balance than Miguel Cabrera during a field sobriety test.  Media and fans alike were worried about Beckett after his dismal season last year wondering if the Sox made a mistake signing the potential ace of the staff to a long-term deal.  Writers were claiming that Beckett didn’t have an out pitch and claiming that he was a thrower, not a pitcher.  Claiming that he needed Jason Varitek behind the plate in order to succeed.  While I realize Varitek was behind the plate last night, I believe if Pee Wee Herman was behind the plate, Beckett still would have been untouchable.

Doesn’t have an out pitch?  Beckett’s fastball topped out at 95 MPH.  He featured a disgusting back door curve ball that the Yankees had given up on, only to be punched out on.  His change-up reminded me of Saturday morning Bugs Bunny cartoons.  Josh Beckett was that damn good last night.

All in all last night was a meaningless April game where players are still shaking the rust off.  But last night was a very important start for Beckett.  This is a start unlike any other he has had in the past two seasons.  The fact that his dominance came against the Yankees, a team that usually bashes him, makes it all the more sweeter and important.  Going into last night, Red Sox fans were justifiably nervous about their team and namely their pitching staff.  The team was 1-7 and only had one starter go deeper than the fifth inning (Jon Lester vs the Indians).  The rest of the Sox pitching was getting smoked to the tune of an ERA north of 7.

Last night, Josh Beckett helped put Red Sox Nation at ease, if only for one night.  Make no doubt about it, this is only one start and the Red Sox aren’t asking for Beckett to be great every fifth day, just consistent.  Last night Josh Beckett reminded everyone that he is still a bad ass.  He reminded us that while Jon Lester may have the “ace” title, this is his staff and his team.

Fever Pitch…ing

Amazing! Shocking! Flabbergast-ing?(if thats a word)

All three words could be used when describing the Red Sox off-season moves. 

The Red Sox have no doubt put themselves in position to climb back atop the AL East and they did it in aggressive fashion. Theo and Co. wasted no time targeting the people they wanted, and did whatever it took in getting them.  There was a definite need in this lineup for some pop once Martinez and Beltre left or were assumed gone.  In come Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.  I don’t have to get into what these two bring to the lineup, that is not my focus.

I really want to look at the pitching of this team, because believe it or not, that is what they needed the most!

In case you don’t believe me, here are some offensive stats for the Red Sox last season. In the true spirit of “the rivalry” I will include the Yankees stats as well.

Rankings reflect both AL and NL:

Batting avg.- Boston 7th  NY- 8th

Slugging% – Boston- 2nd  NY- 4th

On Base%- Boston- 4th  NY- 1st

Stolen Bases- Boston- 25th  NY- 12th

HR-  Boston- 2nd  NY-3rd

Runs- Boston- 2nd  NY- 1st

To recap, Boston’s offensive numbers were just as good and in a lot of cases better than the Yankees. Stolen bases will improve with a healthy Jacoby and even though Crawford can’t run against Varitek anymore he can still face Jorge’s squirt gun for an arm. When you think of the players that contributed to these statistics it is even more impressive, Darnell McDonald and  Ryan Kalish are the first two that come to mind. With the injuries throughout the lineup this team will no doubt be able to repeat and exceed last seasons numbers.

Pitching last season was not as great. Here are the rankings for how the Red Sox staff, yes the Yankees too.

ERA- Boston- 22nd  NY- 15th

Complete Games- Boston- 22nd  NY- 24th

WHIP- Boston- 16th  NY- 11th

Wins- Boston 10th  NY- 3rd

Opposing Batting Avg- Boston 17th  NY-12th

K/BB Ratio- Boston 22nd  NY- 16th

As you can see, and I realize you didn’t need these stats to know that, the Red Sox pitching staff was the problem last year. I love what the front office did with the bullpen. Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler have been closers and have pitched in big situations before. To help with the middle innings Boston acquired Matt Albers who was 1st among relievers that pitched more than one inning in a game. Albers will eat up middle innings and believe it or not he pitched some quality innings for the Orioles last season, yes I know that sounds like an oxymoron. I am praying that another lefty arm comes into the fold, one not named Lenny Dinardo. Sorry Lenny but the only thing cool about you is that we are kind of eskimo brothers, TRUE STORY.

With Beckett and Lackey into their 30’s a strong bullpen will no doubt help to keep them healthy, especially in the early part of the season. I full anticipate a strong comeback from both veterans.  The further development or Lester and Buchholz will be the key to this whole team. Big statement but no truer words have been spoken.  If Beckett and Lackey return to form and these two young pitchers improve on last season, this rotation will return to a top-tier unit. The fifth spot of the rotation will likely go to Dice-K by default by I would personally like to see FDub, yes that is his new name, start the season in the rotation this year.

Red Sox Nation seems to be back to full force and the expectations could not be higher in Boston. I am asking Santa for a lefty reliever for Christmas, what are you asking for?

What Are You Doing at 7:00?

Keep that remote ready and prepare for one of the busiest Friday nights in Boston sports!  The Bruins are trying to sweep the Flyers in Philly tonight, the Red Sox begin a 3-game series vs the Yanks, and the Celtics take on the Cavs at home in a critical game 3 matchup.

When the Semifinal Round of the Stanley Cup Finals began, I was predicting the Bruins in 5.  The Flyers are trying to prove me wrong apparently, and with their last performance on home ice, they seem to be throwing in the towel.  I doubt that Philly will totally fold and they may get a gift if the Bruins decide to not show up and clinch it on home ice.  If I were Julien I would pray the latter not happen.

Playoff hockey requires such a heightened level of play and an intensity that drains a team.  A win tonight would allow the B’s to rest their players, rest in which they desperately need. 

With yet another forward out for the playoffs, a win here would no doubt help Marc Savard in getting his legs underneath him. David Krejci will certainly be missed, however this team has shown that it can pick up the slack when someone goes down, but why couldn’t it have been Wideman?  Granted Bouchere is no Ryan Miller, but the offense is executing much better in this series and Philly defense is, in my opinion, better than Buffalo’s, who hides behind its great shot blocker.  A loss tonight will in no way shape or form hurt Boston, but a win will be a tremendous advantage moving forward.

Will the real Josh Beckett please stand up? 

The Boston Red Sox have clawed their way back to .500.  They are going into a 3-game series vs the New York Yankees and are in position to make up some key games early in the season. 

Beckett will face off against Phil Hughes who has a sub 1.5 era this season.  As the “ace” of the staff, Beckett will need to put forth a solid effort and start this series on a good note.  The offense has been starting to come around and starting pitching needs to follow suit. 

Game one is, on paper, the best matchup from a starting pitching standpoint.  Sabathia squares off against Buckholtz, the most consistent starter to this point in the season, in game 2, and Burnett will face Jon Lester in game three.  If the Sox can keep the bats swinging in this series they have the opportunity to pick up a lot of games in the division. 

After this series they will host the Blue Jays, and will face the Yanks again in a 2-game series the following week. The Tampa Bay Rays series at the end of the month could be for first place and would give the Sox a chance to start the summer on a high note.

If I hear one more “elbow update” I might go mad! 

 Tonight’s game for the Celtics is a great opportunity to keep the momentum in this series.  The Celtics need to keep the pressure on the Cavs and they need to keep playing hard.  The key to the game 2 victory was rebounding.  The Celtics outrebounded the cavs 43-32.  The key to game three in my opinion is the truth!

Paul Pierce has not been performing at a high level in this series to put it lightly.  He needs to provide a little R&R to Rajon and Ray in game 3.  Paul is shooting 33% from the field and 27% from beyond the arch.  He has been careless with the ball and had some foul trouble last game.  His scoring and rebounding are down this series and a big time performance in game 3 could be just what tis team needs to take control of this series.

Look for Rasheed to get some more time in this game after his 7-8 shooting performance in game 2.  Sheed was able to pick up the slack last game, and if he can become a fraction of the player he was during Detroit’s playoff prowess, it would free up Ray Allen on the edge and provide more passing lanes so KG and Perk can go to work inside. 

I would really love to see the Celtics take after their coaches personality when he played for the Knicks.  If Lebron were playing in the 80’s against the Celtics or the Knicks, and especially the Pistons, you can bet he would be knocked down every time he came into the lane.  With the excessive whistles in Cleveland this was obviously not possible, but I would love to see James taste some parque’ tonight. 

My attention will most certainly be on the basketball game because the Bruins will eventually win this series and I will be able to watch the baseball game after the Celts’.  This is either going to be a great start to the weekend, or a bike ride with no seat.

Opening Day Thoughts

After a weekend in the sun and a laid back Easter Sunday, I’m here to give my thoughts on last night’s game, which was one of the better Opening Day’s in recent memory.

*Having Pedro throw out the first pitch was classic.  After seeing him deal in the postseason last year, I would not at all be opposed to him coming back to Boston mid-season.  While I doubt it’ll happen, I would love to see the best pitcher of my generation back on the hill at Fenway for one last go around.

*By now everyone has seen 5 year old Joshua Sacco deliver the Herb Brooks Miracle speech.  I watch the speech daily on Youtube because it gets me all pumped up for the day.  Hearing him yell Screw ‘Em and getting the team and fans fired up was truly awesome.

*Heidi Watney has still got it.

*Don’t tell Dustin Pedroia that it was only the first game of the season.  Seeing him fired up after every play and yelling in the dugout celebrating got me fired up as well.  There is no one better than Pedroia.

*It will take some getting use to seeing Jacoby Ellsbury in left field and also wearing number 2.

*How about the bottom of the lineup? Beltre, Cameron, and Scutaro all produced in huge spots.  Only Papi and Jacoby were without hits last night.

*An off night for Beckett, but he was rescued by the offense. He will bail out the offense many times this season, so it was good to see the offense produce.

*Girardi blew the game in my opinion.  There was no way CC should have came out for the 6th inning, he was clearly spent. That being said I was surprised to see how weak the Yankee pen was.  I mean Chan Ho Park? C’mon.

*I believe if Papi continues to look as bad as he did last night, it won’t be long before Francona has to platoon him with Lowell in the DH position.  Papi vs. righties and Lowell vs. lefties.

*Someone tell Neil Diamond that the “Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn” was a bit inappropriate for the circumstances.

*There is no doubt the Sox are again an exciting team and I look forward to the 2010 season!

Re-sign Beckett Now!

Two days ago a story broke across the Boston media outlets that the Red Sox have offered Josh Beckett a "lucrative" four year contract extension.  The news that the two sides are sitting down and trying to iron out a deal is exciting. The picture alone gets me pumped for baseball season to start and even more fired up that the Sox should lock up Cy Beckett for the next 5 years.   However, I remain skeptical about this.  In my humble opinion Theo Epstein very much likes to play games with his players.  He is cognizant of the strong fan base and the critical media in Boston.  He has become an expert at making "cover your ass" offers to his players that are good enough on paper, yet he knows they will not sign it.  He does this in an effort to keep the fans happy and the media at bay (no pun intended).   I have a strong problem with this.

See Josh Beckett is not Theo’s "guy."  Theo was not in office when the Red Sox traded Hanley Ramirez for Beckett.  This trade led to the 2007 World Series title for the Sox and Beckett was the hero.  It’s been widely speculated that Theo never wanted to part ways with the stud shortstop.  But Beckett brought his big game experience to Boston and the Fenway faithful embraced him as one of their own, a Yankee killer no less.

Theo already covered his bases this off season by signing John Lackey to a 5 year $80 million deal.  For some reason Theo won’t give the same 5 years to Beckett, who is a year younger than Lackey.  Theo’s strategy? Offer a Beckett a serviceable offer, when he rejects, he can say he did his best and always had Lackey to fall back on.  No Theo, not this time.

This off season the Red Sox brass has shifted their mindset to one of putting the best pitching and defense on the diamond they possibly can.  I believe that if they are going forth with this strategy they should stick with it and sign Beckett to the five year deal he wants.  This would give the Sox Lester, Beckett, and Lackey for five years as their 1-2-3.  They have an embarrassment of riches with Clay Buchholz and Dice-K being the ideal 4 and 5 (Both would be a 2 or a 3 on other teams). 

I have grown tired of seeing the Red Sox spend dead money. That is, money on people that aren’t even on their roster (See Lugo, Julio and Renteria, Edgar).  Spend the money on Beckett.  This is not a "Varitek" or "Lowell" situation.  What I mean by that is there actually are other teams out there that will pony up loads of cash for Josh Beckett.  There will be no "Boras-ian bidders" out there.  The Yankees would love to bring Beckett in behind CC Sabathia and in front of AJ Burnett.  Maybe for that reason alone the Sox should resign Beckett immediately.

Next off-season will feature a weak free agent pitching market.  They will not be able to replace Beckett for lesser money within that market.  Beckett is a proven bulldog on the mound.  Someone who has grown accustomed to pitching in the American League.  Despite being injured in the last two post seasons he still battled through 6 innings a game and was able to keep the Sox in the games he pitched.  He is still, in my opinion, among the best big game pitchers in baseball.

The Red Sox will regret not resigning Cy Beckett.  Give him the extra year.  Pitching is not easy to come by and when you have a stud in your lap you take care of him.  Give Cy Beckett what he rightfully deserves and keep the fan base happy and the team competitive for the next 5 years.