Talkin Sox with Dan

Where baseball fans gather for commonsensical, opinionated Red Sox banter.

Archive for the tag “Derek Jeter”

Red Sox, Yankees, and the Importance of Pitching

Photo via bostonglobe.com

Have the Yankees gotten outstanding performances from throwaways like Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, and Lyle Overbay? Absolutely.

But that doesn’t tell the real story behind their surprising 30-23 start to the season–a season where the shiny toys like Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez have spent most, if not all of their time, collecting dust on the shelf. Hell, even their band-aid third baseman, Kevin Youkilis, has spent quite some time on the disabled list (he’s made just 72 plate appearances).

It’s much more fun to talk about Hafner and Crew, but in reality, it has been the Yankees’ pitching that has stepped up in the absence of so much offensive firepower. C.C. Sabathia has been reasonably good. Hiroki Kuroda who is roughly 100-years old has been stellar as the Yanks’ early season ace, and their bullpen, especially the backend, has been quite effective with David Robertson and the ageless Mariano Rivera serving as the anchors.

Unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox have hit relatively well in 2013. Heading into the weekend, the Red Sox league Major League Baseball in runs scored at 274. The Yankees? 218. The Twins have plated more runs than the Bronx Bombers, while playing in two less games.

The Yankees, despite lacking the usual amount of thump in their lineup, have been able to win a bunch of games because of their pitching. They are tied for second in the American League with the Tigers in team ERA at 3.66. That’s pretty darn good. And the Red Sox are right there with their rivals. A team ERA of 3.79 in the AL East is nothing to be ashamed of.

These two teams meet this weekend for the first time since Opening Day. The Red Sox in first. The Yankees in second. They’ve won a combined 63 games, and it is due in large part to guys like Sabathia, Kuroda, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz. It’s fitting that all four of them are scheduled to pitch over the next three nights.

It should be fun.

Appreciating a Good Start

Photo courtesy of huffingtonpost.com

“Every aspect of the game we’re playing well. We’re running the bases well, swinging the bats, pitching well. It’s a positive start for us.” – Shane Victorino

It’s hard not to agree with the new right fielder. The Yankees lineup is depleted. We get it. But hey, the Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and the rest of the Red Sox aren’t responsible for making the schedule. They’re responsible for playing the games.

And so far, they are winning them.

It’s sort of too bad that most Red Sox fans don’t allocate as much energy towards celebrating when their team does well as they do when they play poorly. The Red Sox simply could not afford to start the season playing the same terrible brand of baseball that fans have come to expect during the initial part of the year. The 2012 Red Sox spent so much time digging themselves out of holes — whether it was a three or four-run decifict at the beginning of a game or a 1-5 start to the season — that when they finally got their metaphorical head barely above water, there wasn’t enough in the tank to sustain it. As a team, they needed to stop reacting to a punch. They needed to punch first.

So far, this year’s version of the Old Town Team has answered the call, and we should be very happy with that. But there is still a sense of pessimism because the Yankees’ lineup is watered down. I get that. The Bronx Bombers are beat up. Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson are cogs in a machine that is used to cranking out crooked numbers night in and night out. Without them, the Yankees lack muscle.

But that’s not the Red Sox’ problem. I can’t imagine Joe Girardi and his boys felt bad any of the times they beat up on the Sox last season on their way to churning out 95 wins in an extremely competitive AL East. They saw a fractured, oft-injured Red Sox team as an opportunity, not an asterisk. This year’s Red Sox should feel the same way about the early season version of the 2013 Yankees.

So it is perfectly fine to feel good about your team. They’ve won a couple of ballgames. Be happy. You’re not a fanboy. You’re not getting ahead of yourself. The Red Sox have games on their schedule. They have to play them, regardless of who is (or is not) in the opposite dugout.

Just Say No

You sure? Do you really want this?

Because I don’t. And when the pen is about to meet paper — when ink makes things irreversible — you’re not going want Josh Hamilton on the Red Sox. If you have the money to purchase a new, reliable vehicle with all of the bells and whistles, what’s the point of going out and buying a fancy used car? Sure, she’s good to look at, parked in the driveway — but once you put her on the road, she breaks down. Hamilton — simply put — is a poor investment.

But man, he is fun to watch.

Hamilton gave me goosebumps in 2008 when he slugged 28 majestic long balls in the first round of the Home Run Derby at Old Yankee Stadium. I’ve see him do his work in person. And I’m pretty sure the ball he hit at Fenway this past April jusssssst landed. He is great.

I really mean that. The man has that Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax sort of greatness about him. It’s appointment viewing. It’s Pedro Martinez every fifth day. Your bathroom breaks revolve around when guys like Hamilton are due to hit. And yet, there is something about him that brings him closer to us as fans that most professional athletes do not have.

Hamilton is critically flawed. He is an addict. He has battled both drugs and alcohol. He’s open about it. The big left handed hitter looks like an NFL tight end. He is 6’4″ and weighs the best part of 250 pounds. Hamilton is larger than life.

But he is uniquely human.

Can you relate to Derek Jeter? I don’t know about you, but I have no idea what it’s like to win multiple World Series titles. I have no clue what it’s like to date stars like Mariah Carey or Minka Kelly. I wish I had an idea of what it is like to have a well-deserved squeaky-clean image.

But I don’t. And neither does Hamilton. I’m willing to bet you don’t either.

It’s not to say that guys like Jeter don’t have their issues–they do, trust me. They’re human too. But with Hamilton, it’s different. It just is. And that’s what makes him so incredibly likable. We root for him because we see ourselves in him. Sure, it may not be drugs or alcohol — but it’s something. Maybe it’s cigarettes or junk food. Maybe it’s gambling. I don’t know. But it’s something. We’re not all a gang of Jeter’s.

At the same time, Hamilton is best observed from afar, admired from a distance. He will be 32-years old in May. If his agent has any intelligence whatsoever, he will demand a five-year pact, at least. No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. Security is vital for this man, for what he has been through, for what is likely to come.

Over the course of the next five seasons, on average, I want Hamilton to play 150 games, slug 35 home runs, get on-base at a .375 clip, drive in 120 runs, play stellar defense, but most of all, stay clean.

But I don’t trust him to do that. And the last thing the Red Sox need is an expensive, difficult to maintain vehicle with high mileage. No matter how pretty it looks.

This is Only the Beginning

Bobby Valentine has taken the Red Sox, Fort Myers, Jet Blue Park, and the month of February by storm. Sparring through the media with former Sox manager and current ESPN analyst Terry Francona, jabs at Derek Jeter over a play that happened over a decade ago, compliments to Jason Varitek for placing his catcher’s mitt into the middle of Alex Rodriguez‘s face almost eights years ago, and receiving blame for Carl Crawford‘s recent setback regarding his rehabilitation from wrist surgery. I’m out of breath.

It’s amazing what can unfold in a matter of weeks.

Despite all of the seemingly unwanted turmoil, it has actually been smooth sailing for the new Red Sox skipper. So far. Larry Lucchino Ben Cherington looks like a genius for hiring Valentine. So far. The media has taken quite a liking to Valentine. So far. Players, including the oft-irritated David Ortiz, have given their stamps of approval for the new manager. Fans of the Old Towne Team who generally possess a well-deserved affinity towards Francona (two World Championships will do that sorta thing) have also reluctantly nodded in the direction of Valentine.

So far.

As Talkin Sox With Dan discussed almost exactly one month ago, I firmly believe that if Francona had to be sent packing (and he did), Valentine was the best choice. It is natural to juxtapose Francona and Valentine, and after the way 2011 ended, it is super-easy to draw the conclusion that Valentine’s methods are better. However, I do not believe that is necessarily the case.

Are Francona and Valentine different? Certainly. Valentine is like a parent who is always around, always trying to make their son or daughter the best possible person he or she can be on that given day. Sure, that parent can be irritating, sometimes even annoying, but in the back of your mind, you know that he or she has only the best intentions. Francona was more like a caring parent who just wasn’t constantly checking with their kid. He trusted his children to be respectful and responsible without having to be constantly reminded of exactly what that meant.

Are Valentine’s methods better than Francona’s? I’m not sure. Francona’s philosophy relied upon being ready and healthy for the end of the season and, presumably, postseason play. If that meant applying less pressure to the throttle early in the season, so be it. It was the ends that mattered most, not the means. For Valentine, the ends still matter, but he is determined to change the means by which their achieved. More hands-on, more fundamentals, more work. However, it is less about Francona and Valentine and more about the buttons they push.

For eight seasons, Francona applied pressure to the same set of buttons. For seven and half seasons, the buttons worked. Late last season, the players stopped responding, and when that happens, change is necessary. Valentine represents that change.

As of today, Valentine seems like the perfect medicine for a Red Sox team that had grown complacent. He is an active teacher. He enjoys the spotlight. He can work a crowd. The guy will be working on Yawkey Way, but he belongs on Broadway.

So what does this all mean?

It means that I hope the fans who have fallen in love at first sight with all that is Bobby V this spring know what the expect this summer. He will shake things up. Baseball fans are a lot like its participants. They like routine. They cling to it. Valentine does not believe in a set lineup. Kevin Youkilis leading off? Probably not something I would do, but Valentine might. Daniel Bard getting the ball on Opening Day in Detroit? It is not out of the realm of possibility. Change is certainly on the horizon.

Just like it did with Francona, there will come a time when Valentine’s message grows stale, when the buttons he is used to pressing cease to work. I know what I’m getting myself into by advocating for Valentine. There will be more than one instance this summer when the guy leaves me at a loss for words, bewildered by whatever decision he has made on or off the field. This season, let’s make a concerted effort to not juxtapose Valentine with his predecessor. Let’s give him the season to show his mettle.

I am a believer in Valentine.

So far.

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