Tuesday, September 30

Sox v. Angels: Defense/Coaching Preview

(had to include this pic....look at Petey...money)....

To round out the Sox-Angels preview, ITM now turns to the defensive and managerial side of the game. As we have all seen in past playoffs, both defensive play and decisive managerial tactics have had significant impacts on October baseball....


Red Sox:
Overall the Sox were 3rd in the AL with a fielding percentage of .986, but lets look at it a little closer at that.....

We all know and love Tek for one thing...his approach to the game (and for the rumor that he could be keeping Heidi Watney up at night)....when considering his game preparation and plate blocking ability, he is always considered one of the best defensive catchers in the game.

On the right side of the infield the Sox boast one of the best defensive and offensive combinations in baseball. Dustin Pedrioa may not have the best range of MLB second baseman's (might have to give Alexi Ramirez the nod for that), he makes just about every play he gets to. Plus he can spin the double play with the best of them. Youk, we all know how solid he has been at first base, setting the consecutive errorless game streak record....let's just hope he's always playing first instead of jumping to third because of a Lowell injury.

The left side may not be as impressive as the right, but Jed Lowrie has yet to make an error in 48 games at short. The liability lies in Mike Lowell's hip. He took some grounders today and it was noted that his later movement was limited. I expect the Angels to test him early with bunts down the third base line.

The outfield is centered around Jacoby Ellsbury's speed in center field. He makes amazing plays look routine. Jason Bay in left is above average in all aspects of fielding...while JD Drew will have the same RSN concerns as Lowell. If he's healthy, he's above average in right, but with Kotsay out there, I'm a little more concerned.

The Angels were 5th in the AL this year, making 5 more errors than the Sox. Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis split the catching duties, but both are above average defenders....they don't have the same reputation as Tek, but they are more than serviceable.

On the right side, Tex is a gold glover at first, very comparable to Youk for the Angels. At second, Howie Kendrick is a confident young player who only made 4 errors in 446 total chances.

On the left side, Eric Aybar will be playing short. He has good range, and can plan second and the corner outfield spots as well. He has made 18 errors this season....which sounds like a lot until you think about Rent-a-Wreck who made like 60. Chone Figgins will be manning the hot corner(I still think someone needs a slap for naming their kid Chone). He is another player who can play multiple positions but has had his occasional struggles at third. I somehow doubt Papi will be dropping a bunt down his line in the event of a shift however.

When looking at the Halos' outfield you have to first look at the cannon of an arm that is Vlad. I was at a spring training game a few years back and saw him throw a seed from the warning track to nail a runner at the plate...it remains the best throw I've ever seen. That said, he's been so banged up in the past that he looks like he's 40 running after balls in the gap. Overall their outfield lacks the speed the Sox have, but don't exactly have the "Manny hole" Boston once had.

Edge: Evens


I'm sorry, call me a homer, but I see an advantage for the Sox here. Sure Scioscia has been here before too, but he has had a cakewalk in LA compared to what Tito has to deal with on a daily basis in Boston (not just media, I'm talking injuries, personalities etc). Mikey likes to push the game, test team defense, and use a lot of hit and runs. Tito may be more of a "swing away" manager, but he knows how to handle late game substitutions well and you can't argue with the two rings on his hand.

So what Scioscia learned Spanish to communicate with his Latino players, some of whom refuse to learn English (looking at you Vlad)?. That doesn't make him a great manager.....it does get him the respect of his Latino players though.....ITM note: Scioscia already speaks Italian, so learning Spanish wasn't extremely difficult when you consider how close the languages are....it's like being spotted a 7 spot in the bottom 1st as a starting pitcher.

Slight edge to Boston

Game one can't get here fast enough...

Red Sox v. Angels--Lineup Preview

Things are certainly a lot different than last year. In '04, the talk was all about how the manufacturing that served the Angels well over a 160+ season couldn't cut it in the postseason. There, what you needed in addition to reliable starting pitching, was a team that could give you a few big innings. Being in close games night-in night-out was too stressful, too chancy to be the way to a World Series. The Angels needed some pop. They got it.

Since arriving midsummer, Mark Texeira is hotter than anyone in baseball except Manny. His OPS is at 1.081 and he's slugging .632. That's their pop. And the entire lineup has responded. Just as Manny seems to have sparked a young group of Dodgers, some guys who, after last season, we weren't sure had it anymore, have shown us they do. Vlad and and Garret, namely. Even Torri Hunter looked suspect at times, but for the season he's now brought his tally up to 153 hits (37 of them doubles) and 85 runs. Chone Figgins had a terible start to the season but has improved his numbers dramatically. Where before the Angels relied heavily on Figgins to get on and steal everytime, then get ready to get over on the bunt, then tag, all they're asking him now is to get on every once in a while and make a nice big sprint from first to home. Same goes for Howie Kendrick and Mike Napoli, who've filled roles nicely in this lineup. All in all, the Angels can put together big innings. Throughout the sweep in '07, this was maybe the Sox only fear, and now they've got to face it.

The Sox, on the other hand, are somwhat limping into the stretch. Lowell and Drew are obviously still question marks (at the time of post). Both players' troubles, however, seem to have a greater effect in the field, so it's possible they will be able to produce. On the bright side, several key players got or stayed hot in September. Jacoby hit .340 for the month and had 11 extra base hits, Pedroia was hitting .400 over the final week of the season, and Coco hit .375 with a .444 OBP to close out the season. Youk has been the lineup's rock. The newcomers have meshed well, though Bay's strikeouts and Lowrie's recent struggles continue to be a concern. Ortiz has concerned some people over the year, but most seem to think that in the crisp of autum, he'll be back in form. All in all, the Sox look strong up front, but with a lot of question marks after Youk.

The Sox can match the Angles on any given night, but now it's a matter of doing it without fail. Overall, the hitting edge goes to the Angels.

Red Sox vs Angels: Pitching Preview

Angels Manager Mike Scoisia called the Red Sox pitching the key to their success this year, and I'm inclined to agree with him. "If you look at their starting rotation and you look at their ability to close out and hold leads, that's the real heartbeat of that club." Scoisia said.

Since the Angels chose to have a day off between each game except games 3 and 4, each team has the option of only using 3 starting pitchers. When this format was announced I was expecting Josh Beckett to make 2 starts in this series if necessary, and given his career postseason stats, 6-2 with a 1.73 era, I felt pretty good about that. Now we know that baring any setbacks Beckett will pitch in Game 3, Jon Lester will pitch game 1.

Lester won 16 games for the Sox this year with an era of 3.21 making great strides as a starting pitcher this year, and the case can be made he was the Sox best pitcher. The Angels will counter with John Lacky in game 1. Historically the Sox have owned Lackey, in his career against the sox he is 3-6 with an era of 5.56. Lackey may have righted his ship this year at Fenway as he almost threw a no hitter before it was broken up by Dustin Pedroia in the 9th inning. Personally I like Lester in game 1, he's been there for us all season and the numbers back it up.

Game 2 the Sox start Dauiske Matsuazaka vs Ervin Santana. We all know Matsuzaka's problems, throwing too many pitches and walks, but he is 9-0 on the road this year with a 2.37 era. Santana had another solid year for the Angels winning 16 games, however he's never fared well in the playoffs, giving up 8 earned runs in less the 12 innings pitched.

Game 3, we should see Beckett. If he's healthy, which is a question, his past playoff performance says the Sox win. A team with Josh Beckett has never lost a post season series. Joe Saunders, who really came out of no where to have a great season will oppose Beckett in game 3. If Beckett can't go the Sox would counter with Tim Wakefield or Paul Byrd, my money is on Wake, hopefully we won't have to cross that bridge. If they first two games split, Beckett in game 3 could shift all the momentum to the Red Sox and Jon Lester in game 4.

If necessary, in games 4 and 5 we'll see the starters from games 1 and 2 again with game 5 being back in Anaheim. Tony Massarotti wrote yesterday that in games Lester and Matsuzaka started this year the Red Sox are a combined 45-17, and when Beckett started they were 13 and 14, a losing record. This isn't a dig on Beckett, it highlights the strength of the Sox starting rotation; when Lester and the Dice Man pitch the Sox win!

Moving on the Bullpens, both clubs have dynamite closers in Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod saved 62 games this year a new major league record, while Pap saved 41 games. Saves are possibly the most inflated stat in baseball, but it is important to have a guy able to close out the game in October. The days off between games is also beneficial to the closers as both Francona and Scoisia don't have to worry about over using their bullpens.

Watching Papelbon this September he didn't look as dominant; a buddy of mine told me he saw that Pap's opponents batting average against in Septemeber was +.300. However, I had Krod on my fantasy team this year (Championship team by the way) and I can tell you it was a rare night that he worked a perfect 9th. Everyone thinks as the guys as automatic, and for the most part they are, but consider this, the Sox have gotten to Krod in the playoffs before, Papelbon has never given up a run in the postseason.

If starting pitching doesn't decide this series the bullpens leading up the closers might. The Sox seem to have stabilized things between Masterson, Okajima and Delcarmen. Count on Delcarmen working the 6th and 7th innings if necessary, since Masterson moved to the bullpen Manny has a 1.60 era over 33-2/3 innings. Okajima and Masterson will serve as the bridge to Pap in the 9th. Masterson has struggled throwing strikes at times this year, although overall I would say moving him to the bullpen has been a success. Masterson had a great slider and sinker and Okajima has been much better down the stretch run, using his change up more effectively.

The Angels boast one of the better bullpens in baseball, with Scot Sheilds and and Jose Arrendondo anchoring the middle innings. Shields has been a horse for the Angels dating back to their first World Series run in 2002 and Arrendondo is a young kid who doesn't let many people on base, and when he does they don't often score. Arrendondo hasn't walked anyone this year and is sporting a 1.62 era, and he won 10 games out of the pen, not bad.

Overall I'd say the pitching match up is a wash in this series. If Beckett was making 2 starts I might give the edge to the Sox, however things look pretty even to me. So what will it come down to? As simplistic as it sounds and is, whoever pitchers better. If Matsuzaka goes 3 innings in his two starts and the Red Sox bullpen starts sinking like a German sub the Sox could be in some serious trouble. If Lackey and the other Angels starters go out and get rocked by the Sox as they have in the past all the rally monkeys in the world won't be able to stop the Red Sox from moving on to the American League Championship Series.

Check back later today for a breakdown of the lineups!

Monday, September 29

Lowell, JD Could be Back for Game One

Got your attention with the Jessica Alba picture didn't I?...we'll get to her later in the post.....

An associated press story broke tonight that both Mike Lowell and JD Drew could be back for Wednesday's game one of the ALDS against the Angels. Both took successful batting practice today with limited discomfort.

This is welcoming news for the Sox who continue to get hit with injuries like a Pedro fastball from 99' (come on, every batter he hit was on purpose and you know it). Josh Beckett appears to be on track for a game three start, but it is not sure how healthy he'll be for that start.

So while the Sox are not sure how healthy Lowell and JD will be, their names in the lineup alone forces the Angels to change their pitching strategy. David Ortiz publicly stated that he doesn't expect to see anything to hit in the playoffs (i.e., he's still in man love with Manny). Regardless, having Mike Lowell and JD Drew at 80 percent is better than having to shuffle Alex Cora, Mark Kotsay and Sean Casey into the lineup. If Boston can piece together a lineup and pitching rotation that is 80 percent of what it is fully capable of, they'll be in good shape.

Tito had a good quote today..."We've been able to win 95 games without everyone healthy"....imagine what this team can do if and when they get themselves some health.....but we're up against the clock. October baseball, nothing like it....... (still trying to decide if that's a better slogan than "there is only one October".....I'm pretty sure it's not, which is sad, but I'm thinking throw Jessica Alba up there and have her say it, and it's immediately better than that toolbox Dane Cook).

Sunday, September 28


In Terry Francona's post game press conference he said that Jon Lester will will start game 1, Matsuzaka will start game 2, and Josh Beckett will start game 3 back in Boston.

Beckett apparently strained his oblique muscle on Friday during an indoor bullpen session.

Francona said there were discussions about pitching Beckett in game 2, but they wanted to give him as much time as possible before his next start. Tito didn't seem too concerned about the situation, so I'll sleep easy tonight.

More on this as the story develops, but it looks minor at 11pm on Sunday night.

Also the times of the first two games against the Angels have been announced. Game 1 against the Angels will be on Wednesday at 10:07 p.m. Game 2 will be played Friday at 9:37 p.m. TBS is carrying both games.


Reports have yet to be confirmed, but there is reason for Tom Brady-like concern in Red Sox Nation. Reports are coming out that Boston's ace is suffering from an oblique injury that could be sideline him for the playoffs. It is thought that the injury occurred during a off day bullpen workout. Every four letter word in my vocabulary has been used while typing this post....this could have HUGE implications on any thoughts of Boston's attempt for back to back championships.

As details become available ITM will be on it....keep your fingers crossed and knock on some wood......


It's Hard to Shea Goodbye

Right off the bat I'm sorry Mets fans, I couldn't resist. The 2008 Major League Baseball regular season is over...almost.

Where else to start on the final day of the regular season then in New York. The Mets were eliminated from post season contention by the Florida Marlins on the last day of the season for the second straight year. The Mets bullpen did give up the lead, however you can't pin today's loss on them, the line up didn't give the bullpen an opportunity to blow the lead scoring only 2 runs in a 4-2 loss.

With the Mets loss, yes that's right, the Milwaukee Brewers are heading to the playoffs for the first time since 1982 as the Wild Card champs, they lost the World Series in 7 games to the St Louis Cardinals that year. For a little perspective, I wasn't even born yet the last time the Brew Crew played baseball in October, this has to be exciting for Milwaukee.

CC Sabathia, pitching on 3 days rest again, threw 9 incredible innings as the Brew Crew won 3-1. Ryan Braun hit a 2 run home run in the bottom of the 8th putting the Brewers in the playoffs. They had to wait a few minutes to celebrate as the Mets game finished up, however the champagne flowed and the fans cheered. When asked if he'd pitch on 3 days rest again in game 2 Sabathia answered, "No doubt".

The National League playoff picture is set in stone, the NL east champion Phillies will take on the Brewers, and the Cubs will take on the NL west champion Dodgers. In the American League we know the Red Sox will travel to Anaheim to take on the Angels. The Tampa Bay Rays still don't know who their opponent will be as the White Sox remain a half game behind the Twins. The White Sox will play the Detroit Tigers tomorrow, if they win they will play the Twins in a one game playoff on Tuesday to decide the AL Central champion.

ITM will cover all of the playoff series in October, however our main focus will be the Red Sox. Today the Angels announced their playoff rotation and as expected they will throw John Lackey in game 1, Ervin Santana in game 2, and surprise 17 game winner Joe Saunders in game 3. The Sox will throw Beckett in game 1 against Lackey, however it remains to be seen if Lester or Matsuzaka will start in game 2. Terry Francona and Theo Epstien will probably announced their playoff roster tomorrow, ITM will have full coverage.

Notes from Sunday.

Looks like Dustin Pedroia won't win the AL batting title. Dusty finished game 1 of the double header at .326 and is not in the starting line up for game 2 and Joe Mauer is currently at .330, however if Pedroia gets in the game tonight and Mauer and the twins have to play a 1 game with playoff the White Sox...who knows.

JD Drew was 0-2 in game 1 of the Sox/Yanks double header today before coming out, but he did look good in right field and the Sox expect him to play against the Angels in round 1 of the playoffs.

Check back tomorrow and Tuesday for updates about all the division series as well as predictions for the postseason.

Saturday, September 27

California Dreaming....

It's now official. The Boston Red Sox will once again square off against the Anaheim Angels in the ALDS this year. ITM will be here to cover all things October baseball. Personally, while I'd rather have home field advantage and face either the Whitesox or the Twins, I'm not shaking in my rain-soaked boots at the thought of going out West..... Especially when considering the choice the Angels have made when in comes to scheduling (see below).

Game 1: Wed., Oct. 1 @ Anaheim, TBS
Game 2: Fri., Oct. 3 @ Anaheim, TBS
Game 3: Sun, Oct. 5 @ Boston, TBS
Game 4: Mon., Oct. 6 @ Boston*, TBS
Game 5: Wed., Oct. 8 @ Anaheim*, TBS
*if necessary

The long and short of it is, the Angels have decided to take the "A" schedule, a choice they have the right to make as they hold the best record in the American League. The Angels are hoping the long schedule can keep them from having to send Jared Weaver to the mound while allowing Mike Scioscia the ability to have free reign over his bullpen. When looking at the numbers alone, the Sox and Halos have similar bullpen stats, but most agree the Angels hold a distinct advantage with greater consistency from middle relief to their record-setting closer. (ITM note: Anyone else completely sick of K-Rod thumping his chest, then pointing and staring up in the sky? Here's to hoping he's burnt out and the Sox rake him).

In my opinion, that is where the advantages of the long series end for the Angels. I was personally somewhat surprised by the Angels quick choice. This enables the Red Sox to carry 10 pitchers, which will undoubtedly allow them to substitute more efficiently off the bench (ITM note: this is especially important given the recent injuries). The biggest advantage for the Sox comes in the starting pitching. The long schedule lets the Sox use three starters (including Beckett and Lester twice if need be....on normal rest). That said, as good as the Angels have been this season, I don't think many expect this to be an easy series either way.

Mike Lowell's status for the playoffs remains unclear. Boston's ability to trot out a deep lineup will go a long way to putting pressure on the Halos starting pitching and bullpen. JD Drew is expected to be in the lineup for the playoffs, but I don't think anyone is ready to give that a 100 percent guarantee.

Luckily the Sox have a few hitters that are currently very hot, Jacoby and Youkilis especially. There are mulitple players in this lineup that can carry us through a short five game series, but the ultimate factor will be starting pitching.....and I like our 1,2,3 over just about any other team in the show this October.

Go Sox.

Bigger Concerns after Loss

Not a whole lot to be said about the Sox 19-8 loss to the Yankees. The Sox pulled several starters---including Dice-K---after the rain delay stretched over two hours. They promptly got crushed. That means the Rays have officially won the AL East, a line that up until a few weeks ago, I never foresaw writing. But more on that in another post.

The real story coming out of Friday night was Mike Lowell. Lowell was pulled after only one at bat with soreness in his back. Reports after the game were absolutely disheartening. Lowell was taking seriously questions as to whether he should even be on the roster for the ALDS. Francona was similarly treating it as an open question. Lowell's regular season is done, and the Sox seem to think this could be a serious problem in the playoffs.

So that's the story to watch coming out of this game. The Angels picked the Wednesday-Friday series, so the Sox might have a little bit more flexibility as to the roster, but let's just hope that after a doctor's visit today, Lowell is a bit more optimistic about his spot on that roster.

There were a couple bright spots. Jacoby stayed hot. Very hot. He went 4 for 5 last night with a lead-off home run. He seems poised to peak at just the right time. And two Sox got their first major league hits, so congrats Gil Velasquez and George Kottaras. Best of luck at the Show, fellas.

That's it for the wrap-up, but check back in over the weekend as ITM starts prepping for the Playoffs. (Cue Dane Cook, "There's only one...", holy crap, who hired Dane Cook this year? Seriously?)

Thursday, September 25

Lester Looks Sharp, Sox Win.

The Red Sox AL East hopes are still alive after at 6-1 win tonight against the Indians. The Rays did their part losing to the Tigers earlier in the day. Each team has 3 games left and for the Sox to finish in first they have to win out, and the Rays would have to lose their last 3. The Sox play the Yankees to close the season and the Rays finish up against the Tigers.

Jon Lester looked great tonight in his last start before the playoffs. Lester went 6 innings, giving up 2 hits and striking out 4 to improve his record to 16-6 on the year. I was thinking back to when Johan Santana was on the market and the Sox were willing to give up Ellsbury and Bucholz, but when the Twins asked for Lester the Sox said no way. Needless to say, Lester has been nothing short of a stud this season for the Red Sox. He is 16-6 with a 3.21 era if that has been updated correctly after the game.

The Sox bullpen also took another big step. Okajima, Masterson and Papelbon pitched 3 perfect innings to close out the game. If the Sox can get their bullpen in line for the playoffs Tito won't have to be worry about his starters going deep into games, which was a key to last years championship run.

At the plate tonight Ellsbury stayed hot going 2-4 with 2 runs at the top of the order, and Jed Lowrie snapped out of his mini slump also going 2-4 with 2 runs. Kevin Youkilis added his 28th round tripper of the year, count on him getting some MVP consideration along with Pedroia.

ITM notes from the game:

David Ortiz had the night off, and probably tomorrow too as the Sox announced Mike Lowell will DH tomorrow.

Drew had the night off as well, draw your own conclusions.

Alex Cora took a fastball off the thigh for the second straight night and left the game, probably just a bruise, DON'T RUB IT!

NL playoff chase updates:

The Dodgers clinched the with the Diamondbacks losing 12-3 today, and the Mets silenced their critics coming back to win 7-6 tonight. The Brewers and Pirates are tied 1-1 in the 10th inning, Milwaukee has to win to keep pace with the Mets.

Down the Stretch They Come...

The Rays, Red Sox, Angels, and Cubs have all clinched playoff spots, everything else will be decided this weekend. The Red Sox look like they will be the Wild Card team in the 2008 playoffs. With the Rays magic number at 1 a win or a Sox lose will clinch the American League East. Although I'll tune in to the game tonight it won't mean a heck of a lot, so I thought we'd take some time to check out some of the other playoff races around baseball this weekend.

The American League Central remains very close; the White Sox have a .5 game lead against the surprising Twins. The two teams play each other again tonight in Minnesota as the Twins go for the sweep and first place. In the off season when the Twins lost Tori Hunter to free agency and traded Johan Santana I don't think anyone thought they would be competitive in the AL Central, but here we are going into the final weekend. The Twins play the Royals this weekend and the White Sox play the Indians. Whoever wins tonight's match up will be in the driver’s seat, but this division is really up for grabs. Expect all hands to be on deck with starters coming out of the bullpen and pitching on short rest. Personally, I'm routing for the Twins, I like the underdog I guess.

American League playoff match-ups look like they'll shake out like this:

Red Sox vs Angels
Rays vs Twins/White Sox

Over in the National League the playoff picture is about as clear as the sky in Beijing, granted they cleaned things up for the Olympics, but you get the analogy.

In the NL East the fighting Phillies are up a game and a half over the Mets. I'm routing for the Phillies for two reasons; one I enjoy seeing the sports fans of New York experiencing pain, probably related to the Superbowl, but I'm still not talking about that. Secondly, if the Phillies win the east it will hopefully be with the help of Ryan Howard's big bat, huge fantasy implications for this guy. The Phillies have the night off and play the Nationals this weekend. The Mets will continue to torture their fans tonight as they play the Cubs at home, and then host the Marlins this weekend. If anyone caught the Mets meltdown last night it was tremendous. The score was tied in the bottom of the ninth and the Mets had a runner on third with no outs, needless to say there he stayed and the Cubs went on to win in extra innings. ESPN had one shot of a fan yelling at Mets relief pitcher Luis Ayala after walking off the mound in the 10th after giving up 3 runs. I couldn't tell if he was upset at Ayala and the Mets bullpen(surely they are so terrible we have to call it something else) or he was just reacting to the fact that the Knicks season was right around the corner. I don't really have anything against the Mets, it's just fun to watch them implode in September. If they blow it this weekend expect the fans to get an early start on tearing down Shea Stadium.

The Cubbies have clinched the NL Central and best record, all that remains to be decided is who they will play in October and if they will have to make up a game with the Astros on Monday in Houston.

The Red Sox west coast farm team, the Dodgers, look like they have the NL west wrapped up as the Diamondbacks, affectionately called the Snakes, are fading away. A Dodgers win tonight or a Snakes loss and the Dodgers win the west. If the Diamondbacks come back and win it, I'll say John McCain wins the election this November, if the Dodgers triumph it's Obama all the way! Gooo Dodgers!

The NL Wild Card is where all the action will be this weekend. The Mets and Brewers are tied and the Astros are hanging on 3.5 games out. The Brew Crew play Pittsburgh tonight and have 3 with the Cubs this weekend who have absolutely owned them this year. CC Sabathia has started the last 17 games for the Brewers, ok no he hasn’t but his last 2 starts have been on 3 days rest and he'll probably do so again on Sunday. Although each start has been impressive, I'll be surprised if his arm doesn't fall off during warm ups on Sunday. The Brewers have to go for it all with Sabathia and Sheets heading to free agency after the season.

Again, nothing personal Met fans, but I'm pulling for the Brew Crew. It would be nice for their fans to see some October baseball for the first time since...the internet doesn't go back that far. Word out of Chicago is the Cubs would like to play the Mets in the first round because of their weak bullpen (candy strippers?). Don't expect the Cubs to run their starters out there for 9 innings against the Brewers to accomplish this, and besides, beggars can't be choosers.

So if the Phillies win the east, the Dodgers win west, and the Brewers get the Wild Card we are looking at:

Dodgers vs Cubs
Brewers vs Phillies.

If the Mets when the Wild Card.

Mets vs Cubs
Dodgers vs Phillies.

If the Mets win the East, the Dodgers win the west, and the Brewers win the Wild Card.

Dodgers vs Cubs
Brewers vs Mets

And if the Phillies win the Wild Card

Phillies vs Cubs
Mets vs Dodgers.

There are a few scenarios I didn't cover, and if you're still reading you are probably thankful. The Astros and Diamondbacks could get in the playoffs, but then again the Mets bullpen could figure it out this weekend, and for comedy sake I really hope this does not happen.

Whatever happens this weekend it should be an extremely entertaining weekend for baseball fans. No matter who you are routing for this weekend enjoy the games and we'll see you in the playoffs.

Wednesday, September 24

Sally Drew Plays, Sox Rally in 8th for 93rd Win

In an effort to provide complete transparency....work here in NYC is killing me, but ITM writer Joe Murph and I got together for dinner tonight to discuss all things Red Sox and Inside the Monster.

Keep in mind, I've known Joe since we were 4, I hadn't seen him for months and I had plans to ask him to be in my wedding tonight.....as soon as I saw him in my hotel lobby he had a weird look on his face, before I even got a hello he said.. "guess who's in the lineup tonight??" Knowing Joe and his irrational love for John Olerud (don't ask), I immediately responded with the one time Sox first basemen......I knew it was serious when that response didn't even get a "don't kid about Orlerud" look from Joe......"Sally Drew" he said, and I almost feel off my crutches.....

I had heard Drew was feeling better and took BP yesterday, but my honest opinion was that his back would tighten up and he'd be questionable for the ALDS. Sally D proved me wrong though, he played, and looked relatively healthy in right field while going 1 for 2 at the plate and running well down the line. I was impressed, that is until I heard Tito's reasoning behind rushing Sally D back. He essentially said he didn't want him to get hurt this weekend and thus lose him for the playoffs, almost as if Tito was fully expecting to see the trainer rubbing Sally D's back come the 2nd inning. He managed to get through 3 innings before being removed for a pinch runner. Apparently Sally D proved a lot of us wrong tonight.

Anyways, back to the game, the Sox jumped out to an early 4-0 lead by pounding Fausto "there is nothing worse than wasted talent" Carmona. Pedroia ripped his 54th double of the year for the Red Sox, which puts him 3rd on Boston's all time list. Next up is Nomar with 55 in second. Pedroia continued to "steal" the show later in the game when he swiped his 20th base of the season (in 21 attempts...who says he's slow?......well everyone besides him I guess). Also of note is that Petey now has 210 hits this year, which ties him for 5th on Boston's all time list along side Wade Boggs....Dusty is likely to finish in 3rd come season end.

Paul Byrd did not make a good case for why he should be the 4th starter in the playoffs as he went 5 innings, giving up 4 runs on 11 hits. While Wakefield certainly didn't look strong in his last start either, he fared better than Bryd and had chances to get out of jams. However, keep in mind Wake has the second-worst playoff ERA of all-time with pitchers who have thrown at least 40 innings......throw that in the "concerning" file for the playoffs.

The Sox took a 4-4 tie into the 8th when Kotsay doubled home Van Every to give them a 5-4 lead. A lead Manny Delcarmen would keep in the 9th, as he earned his second save of the year.

With the win the Sox keep their slim hopes of winning the AL East alive, the Rays game however just went final in an 11-6 victory over the lifeless O's (they were down 6-2). Their magic number for the East is now 1. Amazing.

Tuesday, September 23

Enjoying a Great Night in Style....and Then Moving On

I am currently spending the week surrounded by men with machine guns, ten block long brigades and blocked off roads.....no I'm not in the Middle East, I'm in New York City on business and right in the chaotic mix that is the UN General Assembly. What the hell does this have to do with ITM and baseball?...Everything. I'm in the heart of enemy territory as the Red Sox clinched a playoff birth for the 5th time in the last 6 years.....and thus shutting the door on any Yankee hope of not playing golf this October.....sounds like a perfect time to be in New York to me. (See Tim Murphy's game-clinching wrap up below)

I asked my manager if I could wear a Red Sox hat along with my business attire in the office today...turns out that's not "building a good client relationship"....whatever, but either way, I'll be wearing it to and from the office in the streets. This is the first time the Yankees have not made the playoffs in what seems like my entire life (over half of it in all seriousness though), so I'll be taking advantage of striking up baseball conversation with anyone who will listen to me this week. I won't be rubbing it in, I won't laugh or point since it is their last year in their storied stadium...I'm just going to bring it up and discuss it as much as possible...call it a gentle reminder, or sinister ways, I don't care.

Clearly, as a team, the Sox have a lot ahead of them, the second season starts soon, and that is much more important and difficult than the first. While winning the East has been surprisingly difficult this year as a result of a team not from New York has been weird, Boston will certainly take the wild card to get into "the dance". RSN should act like we've been here before, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't take a moment to reflect on all the craziness and injuries this club has gone through in 2008, strike up conversation with some depressed New Yorkers, and then move on......now I'm off to the office lunch room to see if anyone wants to chat....

Sox Clinch Playoff Spot

It never gets old does it; grown men wearing goggles showering each other in beer and champagne. No this isn't an episode of the Road Rules vs Real World Challenge, the Boston Red Sox have clinched their 5th playoff spot in the last 6 years. Now that the whispering of the Yankees not being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention has ended the Sox campaign to defend their World Series can begin.

The Sox took it to probable Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, scoring 5 runs on 9 hits in Lee's 7 innings of work tonight. Lee had won 11 straight games, dating back to July. Kevin Youkilis hit a two run home run and Dustin Pedroia had a two run double that tied the game in the bottom of the 5th. Jason Bay put the sox ahead 5-4 with a single scoring Dusty from second.

The Bullpen was shaky, loading the bases in the 7th and 8th innings. Okajima was able to bail out Delcarmen in the 7th, and in the process is returning to last seasons form with another solid outing. Masterson continued to struggle throwing strikes, however Papelbon came in for a 4 out save, his 41st of the year.

NESN covered the the post game celebration as players poured champagne and beer over one another in the locker room. Highlight of the celebration had to be Heidi Watney getting drenched during the celebration, things then spilled back out onto the field where some fans waited around for the players to come back out. Jonathon Papelbon rewarded some lucky fans as he gave out 1st, 2nd and 3rd base. I'm not sure those fans really deserved such a gift, hopefully we don't see those on ebay in the next couple hours.

The Sox still have a shot at the division however the Rays still control their destiny; at the very least the Sox will get the Wild Card and will head out west to play the Angels. The main goal is now to get everyone on the roster healthy, except maybe Lugo, and line up their pitching staff for the playoffs. JD Drew and Mike Lowell have been out with injuries and it will be important for the Sox to get these guys back in the lineup for October baseball.

One final thought; Jonathon Papelbon is not right in the head, and I like it.

ITM Notes from the game:

The Red Sox are retiring Johnny Pesky's number 6 this weekend.

Jed Lowrie continues to struggle at the plate, he was 0-4, although he did have several foul tips.

Johnny Bench took in the game tonight and Heidi Watney interviewed him...he's a very weird guy. Look for that interview on youtube.

Remy offered some dynamite analysis of the Red Sox defense in the bottom of the 7th. Ellsbury and Cora made key plays that didn't result in outs, but prevented base runners from moving up and potentially scoring later in the inning.

All furniture store commercials are just terrible, especially Bob and his 'no gimmicks' gimmick. I don't know if this is a northeast phenomenon or furniture stores across the country just make awful commercials. Perhaps some of our out of market fans can comment on this...

Congratulations to the Red Sox.

Monday, September 22

More Magic to Look Forward To

That's the upside of the evening. Why finish the job tonight when you can enjoy the anticipation of a playoff clinch for another day?

Josh Beckett took the loss, throwing six innings, giving up seven hits and four earned runs. You can't call it a setback, but it was something of a stall in his progress towards postseason form. Lopez, Masterson, and Okajima provided scoreless relief and seem to be establishing themselves as the playoff triumvirate leading into Papelbon.

Ellsbury had another productive night, going 2 for 5 and scoring two runs. According to the Globe, he thinks he's figured out his swing and has made adjustments that have him feeling pretty confident going into the stretch. And another player building up some steam, David Ortiz, popped another one out of the park tonight, a solo shot to add to his double. The rest of the offense was a 3 for 4 from good ol' Youk. But with two outs and the winning run on second, Jed Lowrie waved at a fastball high and outside, and that was that. One of many chances squandered.

The Yankees are off after the festivities last night. (Also, there are some reports that the ceremony was such a hit, they may just send actors instead of real Yankees to Fenway at the end of the week.) That means that there'll be no playoff celebrations tonight.

The Sox certainly had the ticket held out in front of them, but couldn't punch it. Not tonight. And I suspect that I'm going to bed tonight with a little Mark Twain ringing in my ears, coming by way of Yankee Stadium, "Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated." We're not gonna see the Sox get swept and the Yankees come into Fenway pushing their own broom, right? Right? All you Sox fans from the pre-'04 days (not the pinkhatters Amanda in Tampa Bay so rightfully disdains) will understand why I can't sleep with a Magic 1 hanging over my head.

Sunday, September 21

Goodbye, my brother

That's right, Sox fans, ITM is covering the last game at Yankees Stadium, live from New York. And not just because of the lucky two-birds-in-one-stone scenario Sox fans are pulling for tonight. ITM, for all the vitriol it spits at the Yankees from time to time, can give respect where respect is due. It was a great Stadium, engrained on the national consciousness in an undeniable way. Personally, I doubt that there's any Sox fan who can say he didn't see some movie when he was a kid where his NY contemporaries were playing stickball under clothesline rainbows and the Italian guys leaning on the fire escapes in their shirt sleeves and wished, just a little, that he'd grown up in 1950's New York. But maybe that's just me...On with the show.

First, let me just note right up front that based on many conversations this week, there was an overwhelming wish from Yankees fans that the last game had been against the Sox. They'd have liked even more if the game mattered, but that's another story. I guess at least this way, the Stadium's center stage.

Now for some of the stranger things about the Yankees pre-game ceremony:

The ceremony was certainly lacking in some ways. Two big ones come to mind: Joe Torre and Roger Clemens. The latter is understandable, but the former strikes me as just classless. Of course, I'll be willing to retract that if, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn it, Torre requested to be left out because he's with another active team. Kevin Millar would have had no qualms.

They had actors portraying the great-Yankee deceased. That was truly weird and indescribably lame. There's plenty good about the last night at Yankee Stadium, so I shouldn't dwell, but really, this was stupid.

Also absent, Steinbrenner. Is this a Castro thing or something?

On to the game...

Pettitte reaches a big milestone. Congrats to him. Boy it feels good to be big about all this. To not feel obliged to mention that some of those Ks were HGH'd.

If no more balls leave the park, Jose Molina is going to have the last ever homerun in Yankee Stadium. Seriously. Damon would have been one thing, but Molina? Unacceptable. Great. Depends on whether you're watching this as a tragedy or a comedy. (Note that there's been a couple reports saying Damon is trying to acquire the Stadium's foul poles, for what purpose, I don't know).

Every time Derek Jeter gets up, you can just feel the entire city willing him to hit a home run. People really, really want him to be the last one. And they want it a walk off. Too much to ask? Going into the 7th, Molina is 3 for 3. Jeter is 0 for 4. He'll get one more shot, at least. (Ed. note - an 0-for. Too bad, really, but still, he's got more than anybody there, so I guess it doesn't much matter.)

Rivera's coming in for the 9th. This was a foregone conclusion, apparently, but still nice to see. He and Jeter are definitely the fan favorites tonight. (On a side note, who thinks Chamberlin's gonna be starting next year? Can Rivera hold up? I'll admit last year I thought he was washed up, and he certainly proved me wrong.) Rivera gets a clean 9th. Appropriate enough.

That's a wrap for the night. Goodbye to the Stadium, and I'm sure there'll be more Yankees thoughts forecoming at some point. But hopefully after another day we can just treat them as a fond memory and focus on the upcoming fall. Ah, sweet fall. Even sweeter when only Boston gets to enjoy it. Yankee Stadium goes out with a whimper.

Matsuzaka Magnificent in Red Sox Win

Daisuke Matsuzaka went 7 shut out innings as the Red Sox defeated the Blue Jays 3-0 in the rubber game of the series. With the win the Red Sox magic number is now 1 and they can clinch at least the Wild Card if the Yankees lose tonight in the final game in Yankee Stadium history.

Today's story was Dice K as he went 7 strong innings, allowing only 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out 6. Matsuzaka improved his record to 18-2 with the win and is sure to get some Cy Young consideration. It's a rough year to be up for the award with Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay having great seasons of their own.

Perhaps most important was Matsuzaka's ability to pitch economically and not run up a high pitch count early. Dice K threw 109 pitches over 7 innings which is something the Sox will need from him in October if they are going to have success.

David Ortiz hit his 22nd home run of the year and Jacoby Ellsbury was 3-4 with 2 runs scored. Ellsbury is returning to last Septembers form as he is currently on an 11 game hit streak.

Papelbon closed the door for his 40th save of the year; Okajima pitched a perfect 8th inning in relief.

Tampa Bay lost to the Twins 4-1, the sox are 1.5 games back, however they would need to finish 1 game ahead of the Rays since Tampa has the tie breaker. We'll wait to see if the Yankees win or lose tonight, but there's little question the Sox will make the playoffs this season. It's a question of when not if.

It's very ironic that the Yankees will not be playing in the post season in the final year of Yankee Stadium; a stadium that has seen 26 World Series titles and plenty of other October moments.

Saturday, September 20

The Doc Stumps the Sox, 6-3

Jon Lester never throws well against Toronto, especially away from Fenway Park. Lester struggled through the first two innings of the game, giving up 5 runs, which was enough for Roy Halladay to bring home the victory for the Jays. While Lester settled down nicely after the rough start (ultimately going 7 innings), he put the Sox in quite a hole by giving Halladay a 5 spot to work with. Halladay himself did not have his best stuff, and when Jason Bay (who was celebrating his 30th birthday) hit a tater in the 3rd to cut the score to 5-3, I thought we had a good chance to steal a victory. Doc and the Jays bullpen however quieted the Red Sox bats for the remainder of the game as Halladay went 6 innings (by far his shortest outing of the season against Boston). He recorded his 200th strike out of the season for the second time in his great career while moving to 19-11 with the win (Lester falls to 15-6 with the loss).

Marco "red sox killer" Scutaro continues to play well against the Red Sox....(does he play well against anyone else though???). I was pretty sure Scott Rolen was living in a van down by the river, but it turns out he still plays for the Jays and took Masterson deep in the 8th for an insurance run. The loss means the Red Sox magic number to clinch the wild card remains at 2, but they will be scoreboard watching as the Rays take on the Twins this evening. I did hear an ESPN highlight that said (in all seriousness) "Toronto's win pulls them within 7.5 of the Red Sox for the wild card"...dude...the Jays have 7 games left, the Red Sox 8...give me a break. The playoffs are in sight, we just need to get healthy and ready for the Angels.

ITM Notes:

-JD Drew had his back stiffen up on him last night while swinging....he will be reevaluated in Boston on Monday. It's time realize Mark Kotsay will be our starting right fielder in the playoffs.

-Jason Bay is a 30, 100 guy this year after today's performance (.288, 31, 100)...I don't care what Manny is doing out there in make believe land, that's pretty impressive (especially when you consider how "down" power numbers are this year league wide).

-Halladay has thrown a major league leading 237 innings this year...guy is a horse year in and year out, he needs to come to a real baseball town.

-Somehow, Jacoby Ellsbury has a 11 game hitting streak.

Friday, September 19

Magic Number 2...

The Red Sox magic number to clinch a playoff spot is now 2 after beating the Blue Jays last night 4-3. The Sox can clinch that playoff berth with a win, coupled with loses by the Twins and Yankees today. It's only a matter of time before the Sox clinch that playoff spot, but the earlier they can do it the better. Having a week to prepare for the playoffs and rest their starters will greatly increase their chances of going to another world series, regardless of who they have to play in the first round of the ALDS.

As far as last nights game, the bullpen did their job as Javier Lopez Manny Delcarmen and Hedeki Okajima pitched two scoreless innings bridging the gap to Papelbon who earned his 39th save last night.

The Sox hung tough with the Jays and their 18 game winner AJ Burnett all night long. Jason Varitek legged out a double play allowing Jason Bay to score putting the sox up 4-3. As mentioned, the bullpen did their job, as Manny Delcarmen picked up his first win of the year. Kevin Youkilis was 2-4 with a RBI and Sean Casey added two RBI of his own.

Jon Lester and Roy Halladay pitch today for their teams as the Red Sox look to wrap up at least a Wild Card birth, however the division isn't decided yet. Minnesota plays Tampa Bay at the Trop, and the Yankees are closing down Yankee Stadium against the O's this weekend.

ITM notes:

- Bartolo Colon has been suspended with out pay after leaving them team without permission. Apparently Colon was upset about being moved to the bullpen, which is comical because Colon spent at least half the season down at Triple A Pawtucket. Not sure what is going through his large head.

-Mike Lowell, out for 4 to 5 days due to inflammation in his hip. The Sox are hopeful rest will do the job, and clinching a playoff berth will allow them to rest him until game 1 of the ALDS.

-STILL no word on Drew. Sally.

-Paul Byrd received a letter from a former teammate saying he was tipping his pitches...not so much tonight as Byrd went 6 innings giving up 3 runs.

-PB has now faced the Blue Jays 5 out of his last 8 starts (8-2 since the all star break).

Schilling Rips Manny, Needs a Hobby

I must preface this post by saying……Curt Schilling, I love the guy, what he did for this franchise in 2004 is something I will never forget. Never. The blood-soaked sock is forever ingrained in my mind as one of; if not the best/gutsiest performances I’ve seen in my lifetime. (ITM note: that injury would have ended JD Drew’s career and Schilling pitched a gem through the pain)

That said, Schilling….get a hobby man. I know you’re bored with all the time in the world on your hands because of a major shoulder injury….but calling The Big Show while in your car to repeatedly throw Manny under the bus? Start a republican pitchers association or something….see how far that gets ya.

I understand, you didn’t get along, he was a terrible clubhouse guy, he was the most unreliable teammate you ever had, he kicked your dog…I know, I know. But the guy is 3,000 miles away on the left coast and is a month and a half removed from anything related to Boston. The respective sides have said their piece, Manny has “peace of mind” and both parties appear to be better off given the alternative option. Why do you continue to beat a dead horse? Making national media headlines about completely irrelevant items while your team is battling for playoff positioning and health….. “That’s a stupid idiot thing to say”.

If Manny wasn’t absolutely RAKING in LA LA land, would you have even called? (Merloni and Dauber are partly to blame for this as well, talk about feeding the fire). Can we finally put this Manny Ramirez garbage behind us and focus on the important items ahead of us?...we’ve got bigger and better things to concentrate on.

Thursday, September 18

Looking Ahead to October...

Barring an unbelievable collapse (Pre 2004 I would have to knock on wood after typing that, actually I'm going to knock on some anyway just to be safe) the Red Sox will be in the 2008 playoffs, probably as the Wild Card. They still have a shot at the division, but I don't expect they'll catch the Rays. The Rays are up 3 games in the lose column with 12 to play and the Sox have 10 games left, so its possible to win the division won't be their main focus. The main focus will be lining up the pitching staff for the playoffs and resting the starters when they can.

So for arguments sake lets say the Red Sox have to go go Anaheim and play the Angels in a best of five series. The casual baseball fan is freaking out about this because the Red Sox are 1-8 versus the Angels this year. "WE HAVE TO PLAY THE ANGELS, THEY KILLED US THIS YEAR!!! MOM, HAVE YOU SEEN MY PINK RED SOX HAT???" Sure, there's some reason to be concerned about that record but lets break this down shall we?

Game 1 the Red Sox will have Josh Beckett pitching, the Angels will probably throw John Lackey. I give the edge in game 1 to the Sox. Josh Beckett was put on this Earth to do one thing, pitch in October. The IT department here at work has thwarted my attempts to look up Beckett's' career postseason stats, however I assure you his numbers are well beyond impressive. If memory serves me correct Beckett is 6-2 with an era hovering around 1.50. If you saw Beckett's last start against Tampa Bay you know he is in post season form. Games 2 and 3 the Sox will throw Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka. I'm not predicting a sweep but I give the Sox the edge in starting pitching. If Lester and Dice K can go 6 or 7 innings and keep the Angels in check, say 3 runs or less, I think the Sox can win those games.

If Dice K goes out in Game 3 and throws 60 pitches in the first 3 innings we could be in some trouble. The Red Sox bullpen has been suspect on more then one occasion this year, and an early exit by the Dice Man could lead to trouble.

Game 4 I think the Red Sox will have a 2-1 series lead, and its anyones best guess who will start that game. Bartolo Colon, Paul Byrd, Tim Wakefield? It will all depend on who is healthy and who pitches the best in these last 10 games. I imagine 2 of the 3 will be on the playoff roster so if Wake gets hit hard early in game 4 Francona can give him the quick hook.

If the series goes to Game 5 Josh Beckett will take the hill again, and that's when the curtain closes on the Halos' season. Beckett will not lose game 5 if it goes that far. My Dad taught me two things; pitching wins in October and be nice to your sisters...pitching wins in October was the one that stuck.

This isn't Inside the Monsters' official playoff preview, but I think the Sox beat the Angels in 4 games and move on to play the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALCS (who would have thought anyone would ever have typed that sentence). The best part about sports predictions is you're usually wrong, but that is completely acceptable. If calculus was graded on a curve like that I wouldn't have had to do an extra year at college, but here I am, still unsure how to calculate the derivative of anything.

One thing I am sure of though, the Red Sox are going to playing baseball this October.

Wednesday, September 17

Rays Rake in Series Finale, Win 10-3

Tonight's match up was billed by many as the most important game of the season, one that would shape the AL East landscape as the season rounds out. Well, it may have indeed been exactly that, but it was sure over quickly. The Red Sox jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the 1st inning off a David Ortiz "no doubt about it" tater to right center, from there however, it was all down hill.

Tim Wakefield, who until recently had a flawless 9-0 record at the Trop, got lit up by a Rays lineup that was aggressive from the plate to the base paths tonight. Wake gave up three taters and only lasted 2 1/3rd innings, allowing 6 runs on 6 hits. Deveran Hansack came in to try to limit the damage long enough to keep the Sox in the game.....he managed to get one out.....one. The 30 year old (still can't believe he's "30") gave up two runs and the Red Sox were effectively out of the game for good after three innings. Luckily for the Sox, with the off day tomorrow, they had the luxury of being able to empty the bullpen without cause for concern. You know it's bad when the camera turns to the bullpen pitcher warming up and you don't have a clue who it is (sorry Chris Smith...I had no idea). The Ray's bullpen however?...allowed only one hit.....one. The Red Sox were able to win a total of one game out of nine in Tampa this season....one.

Going into the game, after looking at the lineup, I knew the Sox were in for trouble if Wakefield couldn't hold the Rays to 4 runs or less. Unfortunately I was right. Tonight's lineup, without Lowell, Drew, and Bay, simply wasn't deep enough to put together the big inning the Red Sox needed to get back into the game. The Rays made a statement early and often tonight, and the Red Sox could not respond (ITM note: their 8 and 9 hole hitters went back to back for god sake!). Not only could Boston not respond, but they helped the Rays by throwing the ball around the infield like my West Wareham little league team did so well back in 94'. I blame Tim Murphy's wrap-up post from last night where he noted the Sox were now the best fielding team in the league....figures.

The Sox are now 2 games back in the East on paper, but are essentially 3 games back since the Rays have the tiebreaker advantage. So with the biggest game of the season behind them, and the Rays now in charge of the AL East, the Red Sox need to worry about getting themselves ready and healthy for the playoffs. If that means they somehow manage to take the division, great, if not, that's fine with me too...so long as the Sox are in a better position to be successful in October than we are right now.

ITM game notes:

-It was a "sell out" for the Rays tonight, 36,048 strong. The 6th of the year. How can they count it as a sell out when they had 8,000 seats covered by tarps in the outfield??

-I don't want to get all fired up about it, but Mike Lowell went to see a specialist today for the torn Labrum in his hip.....someone should tell JD Drew to go see a specialist for the "I'm a big sally" injury he's currently suffering from.

-Performances like this make me wonder if we'll see Wakefield on the playoff roster...it may come down to him or Paul Byrd. Since it's Tito managing the team, my money is on Wake making it.

-Anyone else notice that Remy simply can not get Ruggiano's name right? Remdawg, you played with enough Italian-American players in your time that you should have this nailed.

-The Red Sox 2009 schedule is out....April 6th opener at Fenway...bring your winter hats.

-Lastly, if you didn't hear the "Curt in the car" call into WEEI this afternoon to talk/bash Manny, it's well worth the listen. Great stuff with Lou and Dauber on the show as well.

Tuesday, September 16

Beckett Cured?

A bright spot in a disappointing night for the Sox: Josh Beckett continues to approach postseason form. In three starts since making his peace-of-mind visit to Dr. Andrews, Beckett has given up only two-earned runs and struck out 21. His innings are more efficient,his curve is nasty, and his fast ball has that late whipsnap movement.

Which raises the question, how do I get an appointment with the good doctor?

As it turns out, we mere mortals could in fact visit arguably the most famous sports surgeon out there. According to CNNMoney.com and Fortune Magazine, 75% of Andrews's clientele are normal, albeit wealthy, individuals willing to schlep down to Birmingham, Alabama.And there are plenty of schleppers. The city of Birmingham apparently rides Dr. Andrews white coattails to the tune of $15m annually in the form of hotel, restaurant and shopping from high-rolling clients.CNNMoney even has a local hotelier complaining that the Saudi Royal family, clients of Andrews, take up so many floors and monopolize so many of the maids with their $100 tips that, "[s]ometimes we can't get the dang hotel cleaned."

Faithful Inside the Monster readers will know that your editor-in-chief recently tore his achilles and is currently sidelined from all sports activities. I say we pool together some money and get him down to Birmingham. Put him back on the field and help boost the Alabama economy, whose other big tourist destination is the place where they send and sell the world's unclaimed airline baggage.Seriously. Two birds, one stone, Inside the Monster reporting from Alabama.

Rays 'Walk-off' Into First Place

A young Tampa Bay Rays team re-gained sole possession of first place in the American League East tonight. Going into tonight's game one of the questions being discussed was how would the Rays respond to the surging Red Sox and the pressure of the playoff push down the stretch; however none of that seems to be bothering this team.

Dioner Navarro singled to deep center with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th off Justin Masterson to give the Rays the 2-1 win. Last nights game was was a slug fest with the Red Sox hitting 6 home runs while beating the Rays 13-5. Tonight the pitchers stepped up. Josh Beckett threw 8 brilliant innings of 3 hit ball giving up a lone home run to Carlos Pena while striking out 7. Perhaps equally impressive was Andy Sonnanstine for the Rays as he kept the Sox bats silent over 6 innings before handing the ball over to the bullpen.

Both teams played well enough to win, and in the end the Rays proved to Boston and maybe the rest of the baseball world that they are not going to crumble under the umbrella of inexperience in September. The rubber game of the series, and final match up of the season is Wednesday night; the Sox send Tim Wakefield to the hill as he opposes Matt Garza for the Ray's. Wakefield is 9-10 with a 3.92 era while Garza is 11-9 with a 3.62 era.

Despite the loss Red Sox fans can take some comfort in Josh Beckett's performance tonight. Although he picked up a no decision Beckett's command and velocity were very good, and his curve ball had really good break on it. Beckett has been on a pitch count since coming off the disabled list logging 95 pitches tonight. I believe that in Beckett's next start and into the playoffs we'll see him throw 110-120 pitches if need be.

ITM notes from the game:

-The Red Sox are the best fielding team in the American League, sporting a fielding percentage of .986. They've come a long way since the beginning of the year with Lugo at short.

-Bartolo Colon is apparently heading to the bullpen for the first time in his career as the Sox finish out the season.

-Mike Lowells' partially torn labrum in his right hip is looking like it will play a factor down the stretch. Lowell was pinch run for in the 9th inning after singling to left field. After making a running play in the 4th inning Lowell came up grimacing in pain, I wouldn't think he'd be in the line up tomorrow night, especially with the day off Thursday.

-Masterson has had better outings than tonight as he picks up the loss. A bit of bad luck with Barlet's bloop single and some control issues loaded the bases before Navarro won the game. His slider and sinker did have really good movement, ask Evan Longoria who looked foolish in his 9th inning at bat.

Theo Has a New Deal

Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein has a new contract according to owner John Henry, however details have not been released about the length of the deal, only that it goes beyond this season.

Epstein is regarded as one of the best GM's in baseball and is a large reason why the Red Sox have won 2 World Series in the last 4 years. Some of his more notable trades have brought Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling to town, as well as shipping Manny Ramirez out to sunny Los Angeles.

Dale "Send Him Home" Sveum

When I came home last night I had two things on my mind, the Sox vs Rays for first place and Monday Night Football. During a Sox commercial we flipped over to Monday Night Countdown (what a terrible pre-game show) and that's when I saw it on the bottom line; The Milwaukee Brewers had fired Manager Ned Yost and named third base coach Dale Sveum interim manager. After I stopped laughing I thought to myself, what in Gods name are they doing to the fans of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Firing Ned Yost was shocking to me for two reasons; first the Brewers fired their manager with 2 weeks left in the season while in a race for the Wild Card. Secondly, they think Dale Sveum is the right man to get them into the playoffs? I understand that Sveum is only the interim manager and the Brewers have lost 11 of their last 14 games, but axing the manager at this time of year is a risky move. Personally I hope it pays off for them, making the playoffs would be great for the franchise and fans. It might even knock headlines about Brett Farve below the fold for a day or two, but I doubt that.

Back to Sveum; a terrible third base coach is the equivalent of a past girlfriend all your buddies hated. Anytime you were going to hang out with her for the night all your friends groaned and gave you an unprecedented amount of crap for it until the day you finally split. Same thing can be said for Sveum, anytime there was a runner on 2nd and there was a base hit to the outfield you knew Dale was going to be waving the runner home like an out of control windmill (no not Wendell 'Windmill' Kim, that will have to be another post dedicated to third base coaches who will not be in the hall of fame). After the runner was thrown out at the plate everyone would turn to each other and ask "why would he ever send that guy?"

No one remembers the third base coach when the runner is safe at the plate, however when he's out the camera immediately pans up the third base line to the coach looking like he's filming a Southwest Airlines commercial; want to get away?

Who knows, maybe bringing Sveum into the dugout and far, far, far away from third base will provide the boost the Brew Crew need to get into the playoffs. I'm not saying he'll be a bad manager, I'm just saying he was a really bad third base coach. It's hard to name a good third base coach; however everyone remembers the terrible ones; just like all of your buddies remember that terrible girlfriend who made your life hell for 6 months.

Monday, September 15

New Additions to ITM

With the playoffs around the corner and due to the increased popularity (and therefore demands) of Inside the Monster, I've brought in two new contributors to the site. If you've been checking out the blog at all you've probably already seen a lot of Joe and Tim's thoughts and comments...but now you'll get to hear a lot more from them.

I'll let them introduce themselves in greater detail, but rest assured that they are just as wrapped up in the Boston Red Sox and baseball as I am. It is my hope that they will give a fresh and differentiated look to the site and its analysis.

We'll be splitting the heavy posting responsibilities over the next month or two.....feel free to give them hell, I sure will.

Go Sox.

Sox Jump Out Early Against Kazmir

The Red Sox have gotten to Scott Kazmir early...and often. Thanks to home runs from David Ortiz and Mike Lowell, the Sox have opened up a 4-0 lead against the AL East leading Rays. While Dice-K hasn't exactly looked sharp either, he is just doing what he does best....throwing a lot of pitches and getting himself out of jams. Neither pitchers seem comfortable and so far the officiating seems inconsistent....I expect both items to sure up as the series progresses.

This should be a fantastic series, one with boat loads of playoff implications. Even if you're not a fan of either team, you gotta be excited for this three game set.Game on.

Sunday, September 14

Lester Outpitches Halladay, Sox Within One of the Rays

Mr. Lester, thank you. Thank you for being the most consistent starter in our rotation this year. Thanks for exceeding every one's expectations this year by being 15-5 with a 3.15 era and 144 k's. Thanks for battling with Roy Halladay toe to toe and winning....and oh yeah, thanks for beating cancer too.

The Red Sox closed to within one game of the Rays (who lost to the Yanks) in the AL East after their 4-3 win at Fenway this afternoon. Boston closed out a 4 game series against the hottest team in baseball by taking 3 of 4, I'm pretty happy about that. How they will once again enter into a big series with the Rays with the chance to come out of it in the AL East lead.

Coco Crisp continued his hot streak by driving in two runs, and David Ortiz showcased his speed with a triple in the 8th, which resulted in an insurance run that was very much needed. Cinco Ocho worked the 9th and was far from sharp, almost giving up the lead, but nailed it down in time to preserve the victory. It was his 38th save of the season, but probably his 38th best of the year. But hey, at this point, a win is a win, and they'll take everyone they can get as the Sox continue to scoreboard watch.

ITM Notes:

-Jacoby stole his 48th base of the season today.

-It appears that JD Drew will not be back until after the Rays series...but that is more my gut feeling than anything else.

-I think it's safe to say Toronto is no longer "in" the wild card race.

-I can't wait to start the magic number watch...can't do it yet, just a little too early, but it's like being 6 years old and having the "Christmas countdown".

Saturday, September 13

Bartolo to Save the Day....?

After a rough game one lost, the Red Sox are looking to the big man, Bartolo Colon to avoid a double header sweep. Colon hasn't pitched since June, 16th, since then he's struggled with a lower back strain. The el guapo nuevo was 4-2 in six starts with the Sox before going on the DL, while sporting a 4.10 ERA. Keep your fingers crossed for a quality start tonight.

I really don't want to post about game 1's 8-1 loss, but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised by Devern Hansack. The 30 year old pitcher threw 3 hitless innings in what amounted to insignificant baseball, but it was 3 hitless innings nonetheless....just trying to look at the bright side of a dark afternoon game.

ITM Note: Hansack is 30??...I was ready to write "the 23 or 24 year old Hansack" but when I decided to look him up I had to check two different sources to be sure....turns out he is indeed 30. I'm so used to every Sox arm out of the minors being a 25 year old or younger major league ready stud....but hey, we'll take whatever arms we can at this point.

Friday, September 12

Wakefield Throws a Gem Against the Jays at Soggy Fenway

I was "this close" to throwing Wakefield under the bus in my post describing the series earlier today. "This close" (just so you know, I'm putting about an inch worth of distance between my thumb and my index finger right now). Wake was coming off a terrible outing, but for some reason I couldn't do it, not to the veteran, not to the guy who has been left off post season rosters, not to the guy who "stays in the game" with just for men hair color...I just couldn't do it. Tonight he was "this close" to making ITM look real dumb, "this close".

Wakefield was dominate through 8 innings of work in a rain-soaked Fenway Park tonight. In a game that, under normal circumstances would not have even been played, Wakefield gave the Red Sox exactly what they needed, a deep, painless outing in route to an important win. The knuckleballer gave up only 3 hits, struck out four and retired the last 13 batters in a row to hold a hot Toronto lineup scoreless (the Jays were batting .315 in the month of September as a team coming into the game). Manny Delcarmen closed the door to a 7-0 victory with a 1-2-3 9th. It was the Red Sox 15th shutout of the year, the most in the Majors.

The Red Sox banged out 7 runs on 8 hits in what was a close game until a 5 run 8th inning. It was nice to see Jed Lowrie break out of his mini slump, going 2 for 2 with 2 runs scored and 2 rbi. I was beginning to get concerned that pitchers had begun to "figure him out" but he's bounced back well lately. David Ortiz hit a 2 run double to right and Kevin Cash hit a 3 run homer to round out the Red Sox scoring.

The story of the night however remains the pitching. Since the Red Sox have 3 more games to play in 36 hours, Wakefield's performance becomes that much more significant. Thanks Wake, I'm sorry for almost tossing you under the ITM bus. The thought will never even cross my mind again.....unless you get shelled in your next start....then maybe I'll give you 2 inches of clearance.

ITM notes:

- The Sox are now 2 games behind the Rays who were rained out in New York....which ends up helping the Sox since they themselves have a double header tomorrow.

- JD Drew received an injection into a sore spot in his back, but also got the bad news that his grandmother had passed. He has left the team to be with his family and will likely be back with the team for the Tampa series.

- Doubleheader tomorrow.....game on.

The Big Series Keep Coming....Insert Toronto

The playoff-like series continue, and don't look now, but the Toronto Bluejays may be the toughest of them all. The Sox have struggled all year with the Bluejays (4-7) but more importantly, have whiffed against nearly all the good pitching staffs they've faced (keep in mind, the Bluejays, Rays and Angels have the top three pitching staffs in the AL....we're a combined 12-23 against those teams). This series has seems to have a lot of commonalities with what Boston is likely to see in the playoffs; great pitching balanced with good hitting and a team that always keeps its opponents on their toes (see the Angels). Cito Gaston has turned this team around, they've won 11 of their last 12 but still sit 7 games out of the wild card in the loss column. That said, Toronto has 7 games left with the Red Sox (4 at Fenway, 3 in Toronto), so they are not yet completely out of the picture.

The Red Sox have the opportunity to do two things in the four game series. They can show that their lineup is good enough to hit good pitching in the playoffs, and they can lock up the wildcard while inching closer to the Rays in the East (the Rays have a series against the 4th place Yanks). Not to go back in time, but the Red Sox dropped the ball last series against the Rays. They had the chance, with all pitching match ups in their favor, to close the gap and send a message. They didn't. The Bluejays however don't make things any easier.

A key component will be getting JD Drew back.....if JD decides he still wants to play baseball and not take up horse-raising in Georgia (what?). JD was expected back in the series finale against the Rays but his back tightened up yet again. There is no word yet if he'll be in the lineup tonight. The Sox will need all the bats they can get in their lineup this weekend. This will not be an easy series, it may be too little too late for Toronto, who seem to be king of the insignificant victories lately, but this is important for the Sox.

Series Match ups:

Tim Wakefield (8-10, 4.11 era)


David Purcey (3-5, 5.23 era) * Keep in mind that he blanked the Rays for 7 innings in his last start.

DOUBLEHEADER Saturday (gotta love doubleheaders)
Game one
Paul Byrd (4-1, 3.82 era) *Numbers are since joining the Sox.....you're welcome Paul.


AJ Burnett (17-10, 4.31 era)

Game two
The return of Bartolo Colon (4-2, 4.09 era)


Jesse Litch (11-8, 3.70)

Jon Lester (14-5, 3.23 era)


Roy Halladay (18-10, 2.77 era)

and oh....once we're through with this series, we travel to Tampa for 3.....keep the faith, go sox.

Wednesday, September 10

Sox End Up on Losing End of 14 Inning Affair (why am I still up?)

After splitting the first two games it was almost fitting that the Rays and Sox remained knotted at 1 until the 14th inning. It is WAY too late for me to post much about the game, but here are some sleep-deprived thoughts....Much like last night, the Rays had their share of chances, but the Sox were able to get out of jams (thank you Masterson, Delcarmen etc). The bullpen went 7 2/3rds innings without giving up a run, which, at least from my standpoint, should be MORE than enough to win. Ultimately however, it was the Bay state's own Carlos Pena who hit a 3 run shot in the 14th, Percival nailed down the save, and the Rays exit Boston taking two out of three.

Josh Beckett was the key story going into the game, and regardless of the outcome, should still be the number one topic. The long and short of it is....He's back. It's early, but at least initially there were no negative health issues with Beckett's 84 pitches in 6 innings give up one run and striking out 7 at Fenway tonight...last night...whatever it was. So the Red Sox may be 1.5 games out of the AL East, but this is the true story. Going into the playoffs (knock on wood), the Sox appear to have their ace back.

Overall it was a well played game by two teams that will likely battle for first the rest of the way. To be honest, I was quite surprised by the Red Sox fan who interfered with Mike Lowell's fly ball in the 2nd. I assume this man is from the Boston area and a fan....they WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? If the Sox were in the field, ok, but you should know better. That crap may fly in Pittsburgh, but not here. If I was standing next to him I would have tackled him to the ground before letting him touch the ball in the field of play, I hope someone at least threw a slice of pizza at him (I can't get enough of this clip, I watch it over and over again and can't stop laughing....it's an instant classic...Youtube has taken it off their site so this is the only place I could find a decent video).

Ok, off my soapbox. Despite the outcome, the endgame is the Red Sox are playing good baseball and have their ace back and healthy (or at least close to 100 percent).

....work is going to hate me tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 9

Oh What Could've Been...

I was close to starting my post for tonight's game early....I had plans of using "The Red Sox Steal One and Take Control of the AL East"....glad I didn't get that far. Tonight's game had all the makings of a demoralizing loss for the Rays, one that would send the young team to second place for good. Jason Bay pulverized a pitch over the left field wall in the bottom of the 8th to put the Sox up 4-3. There was a curtain call, there were multiple calls by me yelling to brothers, friends, fiances etc. This was going to be one of those nights where I was so excited it took an extra hour or two to get to sleep. I assumed a morally defeated Rays team to go down 1,2,3 in the 9th against the best closer in the game. Well the Rays made an ass out of all of us.

Dice-K was far from effective tonight, going only 5 innings, walking 4 and giving up 8 hits. This was one of those frustrating outings by Dice-K that keeps him outside of the serious Cy-Young candidates. Oddly enough, our middle relief held up (Lopez, Delcarmen, Oki), but our all-world closer gives up three hits and two runs, including a home run by Dan Johnson (who??...exactly). Perhaps there really is karma surrounding all of New England after I relayed NESN's great Papelpon stat on last night's post (I'm kidding of course....kinda). His 5th blown save of the season came on a night when he was throwing a majority of fastballs and was not able to control his splitter.

The Rays continue to look like they're ready to crumble, but somehow stave it off and find someone it their lineup to provide a spark. Tomorrow's game now becomes much more important....not from an overall playoff standpoint, we're almost a lock, but for the division, home field advantage, and the possibility to play the Whitesox instead of the Angels standpoint.

It could have been a great one, one of the handful of games during the season that you point to as defining and memorable. It could have been the Red Sox going for the sweep tomorrow with their ace on the mound. It could have been Boston in first....the Rays in second...and the Yankees in fourth. It could have and should have, but that doesn't mean that ultimately, it won't.

Monday, September 8

Lester Dominates Rays, Sox Now Only a Half Game Back

On a night that the Red Sox broke the record for consecutive sellouts, Jon Lester threw 119 pitches and dominated a struggling Rays team as the Red Sox won 3-0 to gain yet another game on the Rays in the AL East. Between the surging Sox and the struggling Rays, Boston has gained 5 games in the last 7 days to close their deficit to only one half game....the closest they've been to first place in two months.

While I'm a little concerned about Lester's pitch count, the game was still very much in question and lets face it, the guy is a horse. The big lefthander appears to be getting stronger as the season goes on. He is now 9-1 at home with a 2.37 era at Fenway. He's been the Sox anchor and has set the tone for the series. Boston now sends Dice-K and Josh Beckett to the mound in their effort to regain the AL East lead.

The Sox got to Edwin Jackson early, scoring three runs in the first via a David Ortiz rbi double, Youk's rbi single and a crushed solo tater to center field from Jason Bay (he now has 28 for the year).....and it's a good thing they did as Jackson settled in and rendered them scoreless for the rest of his outing. Coco Crisp continued his surprisingly productive play, going 3 for 3 and extending his hitting streak to 10 games. Covelli hit .305 in August and is hitting .529 in the month of September...pushing his average up to .291 for the year....a number I never thought I'd see from Crisp. Good for him.

We all know you don't have to win the division to have success in the playoffs, but it sure looks like the Sox are poised to take home the AL East crown. They are winning and playing well at the right time of the season and have a favorable schedule down the stretch.

ITM Notes:
-Can we finally stick a fork in the Yanks, it has bothered me how much press they continued to get over the past few weeks while sitting 11 games out of the division and 7 out of the wild card. It's safe to say let's not talk about them again this year.

-NESN just showcased a great stat....Jonathon Papelpon has the lowest ERA in major league history for pitchers with a minimum of 200 innings pitched. The closest pitcher was from the early 1900's. In fact, the most recent pitcher in the top 5 was from 1917...safe to say this guy is special.

Go Sox.

Pregame ntoes and lineups

An interesting change in the Red Sox lineup has Mark Kotsay batting leadoff instead of Jacoby Ellsbury. Tito admitted that it basically came down to the fact that he did not want Kotsay to sit for the entire series and noted that Jacoby had a little tightness in his quad over the weekend (nothing to worry about). Tito could have taken out Coco for Jacoby's presence but let's be honest, Coco is ripping the ball (plus .400 since the middle of August). Read that last sentence again and then move on......weird huh?

In other news, the Red Sox have decided to shut down Michael Bowdin for the year (again, not bad news here either, he's healthy). He was close to reaching his pitch limit and they want him to focus on strength and conditioning this fall and winter in preparation for next year. ITM note: Why can my job do that for me?????

Anyways, here are the lineups for tonight's big game against the Rays (as I type that I realize that I'm not kidding about the significance of the game and its still freaks me out a little)

Red Sox
1. Mark Kotsay, RF

2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B

3. David Ortiz, DH

4. Kevin Youkilis, 1B

5. Jason Bay, LF

6. Mike Lowell, 3B

7. Jed Lowrie, SS

8. Jason Varitek, C

9. Coco Crisp, CF

-- Jon Lester, SP

1. Akinori Iwamura, 2B

2. B.J. Upton, CF

3. Carlos Pena, 1B

4. Rocco Baldelli, DH

5. Willy Aybar, 3B

6. Dioner Navarro, C

7. Jason Bartlett, SS

8. Gabe Gross, CF

9. Fernando Perez, RF

--Edwin Jackson, SP

Weekend update

I took the weekend off from blogging to spend some time with friends out on Martha's Vineyard. I figured I could get away from the city, lay low on the island and take in a great weekend for Boston sports. Here are some of the highlights of the weekend:

-To get this over with, Tom Brady got hurt, bad. We all were hoping for the best, and I instantly turned into Doctor Vicino calling it a sprained knee. Boy I wish I was right. Turns out Doogie Howser does have something on me.

-Back to baseball, the Red Sox took two out of three from Texas. They have won 14 out of their last 18 games and are playing surprisingly good baseball while still recovering from injuries.

-Josh Beckett is back, and while he was on a strict 70 pitch count, he threw 5 innings of 07' Beckett-like baseball. Allowing only 4 hits on not giving up a run.

-Paul "old school" Byrd is now 4-1 in a Red Sox uniform after blanking the Rangers through 6 2/3 innings. Great pick up Theo, I'm giving you the "guys approval nod" right now.

-Mike Lowell came back and went 3-5 in his first game since hurting his oblique. He sat out yesterday's game but will likely be back for tonight's opener against the Rays.

-Ahh the Rays, finally things appear to be catching up with them. They were swept by Toronto (who have won 8 straight) and are now only 1.5 games in front of the Sox in the AL East. Just as soon as they had us all convinced they were legit, we're all questioning them again.

-The one side of bad news for the Sox. David Ortiz. Yes he hit a homerun for the first time in 70 at bats....but his wrist "still isn't right". While this is concerning, up to this point he has been able to play through the pain and the Sox are playing their best baseball without him being at 100%. It is likely that his wrist will only heal with a prolonged period of rest (the off season). Until then, expect him to be at 80 % or so.

Last note:
Thank god for the Red Sox. When I got back to the city last night and heard that my prognosis on Tom Brady was way off my stomach sank. Gillette stadium was the site where I ruptured my Achilles in June (and I'm still on crutches) and now it's taken Tom Brady's season away from him as well. When I was told it was a ruptured Achilles my first response was "so I'm out for the season!" The doctor just looked at me funny and shook it off. Somehow I think Tom Brady's season is slightly more important. Thank god for the Sox.
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