Archive for the ‘Major League Baseball’ Category

Homer_at_the_Bat_(Promo_Picture)

 

 

By Phil Bausk

Few things have helped shape my own life more than baseball and The Simpsons. Speak to anyone who has had one conversation with me and after they sift through the horrifying jokes and flatulence references, they will realize that I had navigated the conversation about either baseball or The Simpsons. Though five year-old Phil wasn’t really sure what was going on when the infamous “Homer at the Bat,” episode aired, 12 year-old Phil had a much better grasp of its concept when he saw a syndicated rerun of the 22 minute masterpiece.

If you are unfamiliar with the episode then I will give you a little bit of a background to familiarize you with the next few hundred words of ramblings. Homer and his coworkers begin another season of company softball for the Nuclear Power Plant. Now normally, the team is pretty awful even with the extremely athletic Carl Carlson and the always pensive Lenny Leonard. This year, however Homer has a secret weapon, a bat that was made from wood from a tree that was blessed with a bolt of lightning. Homer goes onto to lead the team to the finals against the Shelbyville Power Plant. Mr. Burns, the plants owner, makes a wager with the Shelbyville plant owner of $1 million on the championship game. In order to assure his victory, Mr. Burns wants to acquire top tier talent. Once finding out that all of his childhood heroes have been dead for decades, he decides to USC-style recruit some of the early 90’s most popular and most talented players. At the end of the day, 8 of the 9 players have to miss the game for some odd reasons, and Homer pinch hits for the MLB all-world talent Darryl Strawberry (whose nickname should really be Mr. Plow). Homer, after hours of groin scratching, gets hit by a pitch and wins the game, as his team carries his limp and motionless body to first base in celebration.

The players Mr. Burns recruited were as follows: Wade Boggs, Darryl Strawberry, Roger Clemens, Don Mattingly, Steve Sax, Ken Griffey Jr., Jose Canseco, Ozzie Smith, and finally Mike Scioscia. Jonah Keri, Grantland.com’s most active baseball contributor, wrote an article about the modern day “Springfield Nine” and their possible replacements.  This is a concept I have been toying with for quite some time and I figured now was the best time to write something with my own opinion of who would be the modern day “Springfield Nine”, only the starters, and why they would ultimately miss the big game.

Pitcher: Justin Verlander

He is the best pitcher in the game, much like Clemens was at the time of this episode. Verlander was seen during softball practice, blowing a hole through Homer’s Wonderbat, much like Clemens did. This would also make for a great Simpsons cameo for Kate Upton, which would put her 2nd behind Marge as the sexiest yellow cartoon character. Verlander is at the elementary school the day before the game speaking to the kids about vapor lock and its dangers when he runs into Edna Krabappel. Edna convinces (or forces) Verlander back to her motel apartment where he is handcuffed to her bed. Unfortunately, Edna leaves to for a late night rendezvous with Principal Skinner and Verlander is stuck there for the duration of the game.

Catcher: Joe Mauer

This one is pretty easy for me. Mauer, being one of the more commercialized baseball players because of his hometown boy looks and his easy going nature, would be cast as Dr. Tad Winslow on the hit soap opera “It Never Ends” immediately upon his entering of Springfield.  On the day of the game, Mauer confesses to his Mr. Burns his love of the theater and that the only reason he hasn’t moved out of Minnesota was for its underground theatrical network. Mauer leaves and spends the next 20 years of his life in the daytime limelight.

1st Base: Miguel Cabrera

Miggy, who has recently said to have been sober for quite some time, runs into a surly Barney Gumble at the Pawn-Shop, trying to get extra beer money for whatever he’s found on the sidewalks of Springfield. With his multi-million dollar contract, Miggy offers to buy Barney a drink, as he has been down on his luck as well. Upon entering Moe’s, he buys Barney a beer and Moe asks Miggy what he is having. Miggy declines, leading to Moe whipping out his infamous shotgun, ordering him to order a drink, or leave in a body bag. After one sip, Miggy goes on a Barney type bender, ending up back at Comerica Park in the trunk of a 2006 Honda Odyssey. Perhaps Miggy should listen to some of Homer’s smartest remarks.

2nd Base: Robinson Cano

With a haunting past that none of us known about, Robbie Cano manages to finally meet his maker. At channel 6 for an interview, Cano runs into bumblebee man. They exchange shifty eyed glances and we are flashed back to the Dominican Republic. Bumblebee man was romantically involved with Cano’s mother, and left her to pursue his career in television in the US. Since then, Cano has promised to avenge his mother’s broken heart and accepted this offer from Mr. Burns solely to deal with bumblebee man. They get into a tussle that ends up with Cano defeating bumblebee man and quickly fleeing the country back to the DR.

Shortstop: Derek Jeter

Keri and I agree here. It has to be DJ. The question is, how does Derek miss the game? He never misses games unless he is brutally injured in one fashion. I think he follows the route that Mike Scioscia took in his go around in Springfield. DJ would obviously love to be a part of the power plant’s every day team. But unlike Scioscia, he wouldn’t be lethargic in his work ethic and accidentally get radiation poisoning. I see more of a Frank Grimes ending for DJ. After a week or so of working with Homer, he would begin to lose his mind and compare him to a real life Jason Giambi! One day, Jeter snaps and ends up eating a spoonful of toxic waste, which only Homer can handle drums of, and the next scene pants to his tombstone. Homer obviously buys a hotdog at the funeral and gets a t-shirt from the inevitable t-shirt cannon salute.

3rd Base: David Wright

Wright couldn’t just let the NYY boys have all of the fun! He is known in real life for his easy going ways and being one of the least controversial athletes in sports. However, once he gets to Springfield, he just lets loose! Wright meets Snake and they find that they are kindred spirits. They rob the Kwik-E-Mart together but their attempt is thwarted by Apu’s uncanny ability to take a gunshot. After being hit with lasers by both Snake and Wright, Apu manages to put some pop rocks in a can of buzz cola ala Homer at the candy convention and sacrifices part of his store to save it. After the rubble is cleared, Wright appears alright and heads to practice. After arriving, he listens to Mr. Burns’s speech and realizes he has gone deaf! This leads to Wright chasing a pop up into the open street where is mowed down by a truck driving Hans Moleman.

Left Field: Ryan Braun

With all of the bad press swirling around his not too over sized head, Braun agrees to play for the power plant, hoping to gain a bit of positive PR, and also to show he can hit a softball 600 feet while “not” on steroids. Unfortunately, Mr. Burns may be all for cheating, but makes sure he screens all of his players for drugs because it seems like one of those unbalanced things that he would do in a scenario like this. He chastises Braun for failing his test, who claims he just had too many poppy seed bagels (Jewish joke) and is clean. Two weeks later we find Braun back in the majors, on his way to another 50 home run season, void of any punishment, just like real life.

Center Field: Adam Jones

The Google machine, as Montgomery calls it, is how he came across Adam Jones. However, he was expecting Pacman to show up and constantly questions why Adam Jones looks like a human and isn’t devouring the competition like a bunch of blinking ghosts. Every practice it was another Pacman reference and that infuriated Jones. Before the game he quits, slamming his glove in disgust saying he’d rather play for Peter Angelos (Mattingly reference) and as he leaves he makes the classic Pacman chomping noise and swallows up an entire bundle of cherries STILL ATTACHED TO THE VINE.

Right Field: Manny Ramirez

Now I know this one is a bit dated, but who else could take Homer’s place in the lineup and be the modern day Darryl Strawberry, with nothing but a positive attitude and the quintessential teammate qualities. Manny shows up to practice early, hustles more than anyone, somehow manage to pass his drug test, and hit a ton of homers in the actual championship game. He plays in Homer’s spot until the last inning when he comes up with the bases loaded. The Shelbyville power plant brings in a sinkerball softball pitcher and Burns decides that Homer gives them a better chance of NOT hitting into a double play, which may actually be true. Instead, Homer still gets hit by the pitch, rolled over by one of his co workers so they can touch home plate, and carried off the field a lifeless, numb hero.

 

By Phil Bausk

Football is a game of inches, Basketball is a game of egos, Hockey is a game of white people, and Baseball is a game of numbers. No sport’s outcome is determined by statistics as much as America’s past time is, and men (though not many) like Bill James have sculpted Hall of Fame careers out of analyzing the numbers over and over, transforming the game into what it has become today.

While I am not expert at Sabermetrics, nor am I relatively competent when it comes to them, I find that through my years of watching, playing, and obsessing over baseball, I have concocted some decent forecasts about how a season might unfold. During this time of sports limbo, where professional basketball and hockey reign supreme, at least until the Big East Tournament starts,  baseball fans and restless football fans are filling their brains with the countless Spring Training articles, hoping that this year will be the year their team makes it to October.

I was at work today when someone sent me an outrageous GChat telling me that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had come back to wrestling. While his life changing movies, such as The Tooth Fairy and Doom, led me to become the man I am today, I was more excited to see him back inside a WWE (World Wildlife Fund should be extinct at this point) ring. In addition, this past week’s episode of Glee was titled “Comebacks,” as Rachel Berry, Will Schuster, and Sue Sylvester all were attempting to makes separate comebacks in their personal lives. Now, I understand if no one really knows what I just said, and if you don’t, read this piece I wrote earlier this year, and perhaps your life will become that much better since watching Glee, as mine has  exponentially improved.

This inspired me to make somewhat of a comeback of my own. While I have made predictions in the last year or so in conversations with friends and such, I have never put these predictions down on paper, or the World Wide Web. This year it will start with the upcoming MLB season, running through each division, giving you the order of which the teams will finish, the All-Division team by position, and which three prospects that will make the biggest impact this season with the big league club. Due to the fact that most people I know are New York Mets fans and can always use some sort of an emotional pick me up, I will start this year’s set of predictions with the distorted mess that is the National League East.

National League East 2011 Projected Finish

1. Philadelphia Phillies

2. Atlanta Braves

3. New York Mets

4. Florida Marlins

5. Washington Nationals

NL East All-Division Team

C: Brian McCann, ATL

1B: Ryan Howard, PHI

2B: Chase Utley, PHI

SS: Hanley Ramirez, FLA

3B: Ryan Zimmerman, WSH

OF: Jason Bay, NYM, Jason Heyward, ATL, Mike Stanton, FLA

SP: Josh Johnson, FLA, Roy Halladay, PHI, Cliff Lee, PHI, Tommy Hanson, ATL, Johan Santana NYM

RP: Drew Storen, WSH, Francisco Rodriguez NYM,  Ryan Madson PHI

3 Impact Prospects: Logan Morrison FLA, Dominic Brown PHI, Jenry Mejia NYM

A lot has happened in this division in the past few months. Cliff Lee spurned the Yankees and the Rangers, and decided to rejoin the Phillies, a team that didn’t really need his “talents.” Lee makes the Phillies rotation almost unbeatable in a playoff series, though I think Roy Oswalt is going to be in for a tough season. However, the trio of Halladay, Lee, and  Cole Hamels will be enough to stifle the bats of the NL East, and most of the entire National League. Their offense, though not as explosive as they were a couple years ago, will score enough runs to win around 95 games, and take home the NL East crown.

However, while many are handing the NL East to the Phillies before opening day, I do think they will be in for a dogfight with the always consistent Atlanta Braves. The Braves sport a very respectable rotation and a well rounded lineup, though questions in the bullpen may ultimately derail their season. The New York Mets are the most intriguing team in this division.

We have a fair assessment of how the Phillies and Braves  respective season’s will shake out, but the Mets season can go any which way. Johan Santana is coming off surgery, Jose Reyes is in a contract year and trying to fight the injury bug, David Wright is a male model, Carlos Beltran doesn’t want to keep getting yelled at on the 7 train, the new stadium is a treasure trove for child molesters, Mike Pelfrey’s bipolar disorder on the field could lead to interesting antics off the  field, and K-Rod can choke someone out on 2nd base and no one would be surprised. Though I do think Jason Bay will have a really solid season at the plate, I do not think everything will pan out for the Mets this season, and if all of that young talent in Florida meshes well, the Mets could be fighting off the Nationals for the cellar in the division.

Speaking of those Marlins, it seems as if they are in the same spot every single year, almost like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” only without Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You, Babe” on repeat on the stadium’s sound system. Young outfielders Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison will provide some quality production, as well as some highlight reel plays to amuse the 400 season ticket holders down in South Beach. Josh Johnson returns from a Josh Beckettesque back injury, and if healthy, I think he will be the best pitcher in the division. An added bonus for the Marlins would be if The Akron Scammer shows up to any games. I am sure his entourage alone can fill up the seats behind Home Plate, but Lebron isn’t the kind of guy to create any distractions away from the game, so he”ll probably just watch the  Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals from his couch in June. I wonder if Jim Gray will be invited to watch with him.

That leaves us with the Washington Nationals. They spend over a hundred million dollars to bring in a plus 30 year old outfielder in Jayson Werth. It was a good decision on Werth’s side, and a necessary act of desperation on the Nats side. Werth will get his numbers, and muddle through Washington until Stephen Strasburg is healthy and Bryce Harper hits puberty. Werth may be 34 at that point, but who cares, they took baseball out of Canada, and brought it back to D.C. That has to count for something right?

By Phil Bausk

It’s funny how things have changed in such a short period of  time. I remember in high school, back when cell phones were thick enough to see in your front jeans pocket, scribbling in my notebook about both the Yankees and the Red Sox. I would constantly compare their lineups, pitching staffs, and managers just to make class go by quicker (It also gave the teacher a bit of shock value, as they thought I may have been taking notes, not a chance).

Nowadays I am part of the corporate world (barely). I have to wear pants outdoors,  I get the stink-eye from people when I jump into a ball pit full of children, and can no longer have someone cut up my food for me. But perhaps the biggest change for me is now I can share my opinions on the Yanks and Sox with the general public from the comfort of my bathroom. In life, things change in the blink of an eye and free agency in baseball is no different. Many moves were made, or not made, by both teams this winter and it has greatly affected where each team stands in the American League East.

The Yankees just went out and made a key signing in the form of RP Rafael Soriano. While they may have overpaid for him, it was a smart decision by the Yankees brass to help upgrade their roster, and add another pitcher to help the game get to Mariano Rivera. I am going to look at each rosters position by position, and give an edge to which team is better prepared at those spots for the upcoming 2011 season. (Warning: ARod will be called gay in this article)

Catcher: NYY Russell Martin/Francisco Cervelli, BOS Jarrod Saltalamaachia/Jason Varitek

This is clearly neither of the team’s strong points. The Yanks went out and signed Martin late in the off-season, as they didn’t want to rush prodigy Jesus Montero up to the big leagues, and feared that incumbent Catcher Jorge Posada’s days behind the plate were done (Yeah, like 3 years ago).  Martin and Cervelli provide the Yanks with a little offense from this position, but both are very good in terms of handling runners and pitching staffs. If Martin can return to his 2008 form, the Yanks will have one of the better steals from this off-season.  Salty and ‘Tek, on the other hand, are two of the worst at handling opposing teams’ runners. Well, maybe you’d think they could contribute on the offensive end. Unfortunately for Red Sox nation, both Satly and ‘Tek wil be lucky to hit a combined .230 this season, and perhaps Theo will be searching for a new catcher come July 31st.

Advantage: Yankees

1st Base: NYY Mark Teixeira, BOS Adrian Gonzalez/Lars Anderson

The first match-up between these two teams that involves two studs. Both Tex and AGonz bring so much to their respective teams. Gold glove defense, middle of the lineup power, and boring post game interviews are part of what these two men can do for a squad. AGonz has been trapped in a hitter’s version of Tron; No one wants to be there but you have to, and at some point you wonder if death is a better option than staying. Petco Park hurt AGonz’s potential production and Fenway will do wonders for his gorgeous stroke. Tex had a rough 2010 for himself, but I have faith he will bounce back in the New Yankee Stadium, where I think Jason Tyner could poke one out.

Advantage: Even

2nd Base: NYY Robinson Cano, BOS Dustin Pedroia

Perhaps the toughest match-up to gauge between these two teams. Cano is a more talented player, blessed with more size, a stronger arm, and bigger lips, while Pedroia plays with grit, tenacity, and youth sized pants. Pedroia was getting hot last year right before his freak foot injury, and was on pace to finish with career highs in HR’s and RBI’s. Cano had a great season, leading a Yankees team that had struggles offensively from some of its most important players. Each year this match up goes back and forth, and while Cano is more talented, I don’t think he means as much to the Red Sox as much as Pedroia does. Pedroia is one of the team leaders, not just by example, but also vocally in the clubhouse and in the dugout. It’s hard to find a player like that, and sometimes you pay that player way too much just to keep him around a bit longer, but we’ll get to that later.

Advantage: Even

Shortstop: NYY Derek Jeter/Eduardo Nunez, BOS Marco Scutaro/Jed Lowrie

I guess we got to my point a bit sooner than expected. Jeter, the Yankees captain and team leader, was resigned after much hullabaloo this winter. He got more money than he deserved, but less money than he wanted. From a production standpoint, Jeter doesn’t bring so much to the table. He can perhaps still hit .300, but with very little power, less speed, and the same defensive range I have in softball. My main concern for Jeter is that this is his 16th season in the major leagues. At what point does he have to take some time off? The man can’t possibly play 157 games again  this year right? That’s nearly unheard of in this day and age. With the exception of 2003, Jeter hasn’t played less than 148 games in a season. But he brings that emotional spark that Pedroia brings to the Red Sox, which is something you just can’t replace. On the flip side, the Red Sox finally have some production out of their shortstop position, the first time since 2004 (Julio Lugo crotch grabs of 2007 are not on Baseball-Reference.com and that is a crime against humanity). Scutaro brings stability with his great batter’s eye, and short “please make contact” swing. He had similar numbers to Jeter last year on both sides of the ball. Lowrie is the big difference here. He has been one of the Sawx top prospects for a while, but struggled with a wrist injury and then a cause of Mono. He came back last year and by the time he was at full strength was crushing the ball. He destroyed lefties last year and will get a chance to play this season. I think the depth with him and Scutaro, as well as the ability to platoon them, gives Terry Francona more versatility in his lineup, something he uses better than most managers in the majors.

Advantage: Slight Edge Red Sox

3rd Base: NYY Alex Rodriguez/Ramiro Pena, BOS Kevin Youkilis

A great example of a star on the rise, and a star on the decline, meeting somewhere right in the middle. ARod’s production has dipped in recent years. Injury concerns, as well as a media circus only men like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Brett Favre can understand, have deterred ARod from his previous MVP numbers. However, as much as I hate to admit it, ARod is still one of the most talented players in baseball. He has a cannon for an arm, he still runs like a horse, and according to Kate Hudson, is still into men (I had to). ARod just has a stigma that he will carry with him for the rest of his career. Yankees fans don’t like him, baseball fans don’t like him, and the general public sees him as an arrogant liar, who needs to seek some sort of therapy. Youkilis is beloved by his Red Sox fans, though Manny Ramirez may say otherwise. He doesn’t have the raw ability that ARod has, but plays as hard as anyone in the league. He was on pace for a monster season before a thumb injury sidelined him for the last 60 games. I love Youk, but his ceiling doesn’t compare to ARod’s and over the course of a full season, both players are going to play significant roles for their clubs.

Advantage: Slight Edge Yankees

Left Field: NYY Brett Gardner/Kevin Russo, BOS Carl Crawford/Darnell McDonald

This is where the match-ups get a bit tricky. Brett Gardner had a solid season for the Yankees last year, providing excellent defense, and contributing offensively from the lower end of the lineup. Many of his critics believe he got lucky last year, and that his  Batting average for balls in play (BABIP) will drop, taking his average and on-base percentage along with it. The Red Sox made quite the splash with Carl Crawford this off-season. He will no longer have to bat lead-off like he did in Tampa,  and will be in a much better lineup and ballpark suited for his abilities. Crawford will most likely repeat his career averages, with perhaps a spike in average and other related categories. I expect McDonald to play against some lefties, but he will not cut into Crawford’s playing time enough for it to make a difference.

Advantage: Red Sox

Center field NYY Curtis Granderson/Greg Golson, BOS Jacoby Ellsbury/Mike Cameron

When the Yankees traded for Granderson last year, I thought to myself, well, he’s not very good, good for him though to get out of Detroit, and that was it. Anytime a CF can hit under .250, and still inflate his stats in the last two weeks of the regular season…. I’m not really sure where I’m going with this but you get the idea. Granderson is not a very good player, but he is serviceable and will sneakily make a lot of money in his career. His backup, Golson, actually showed flashes of being a mini-Granderson, though he shouldn’t take hitting advice from his mentor. With a lefty on the mound, Granderson is just as valuable as Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard in “Just Wright.” You see that he’s there and all you can wonder is why.

The Red Sox counter with some questions of their own. Ellsbury missed 90% of last year with a rib injury. Early reports are that he feels better than ever and that the ribs will not pose any problems. However, with a player who plays as recklessly as Ellsbury, there is always the chance of re-injury. Still only 27, Ellsbury has two very productive seasons in 2008 and 2009, and was one of the key factors in the Sox winning the World Series in 2007. I have faith that he is healthy and will play 70% to 80% of the team’s games this year, with Cameron platooning against some lefties. Both outfields cover a lot of ground, though Granderson has a slight edge on the defensive side of the ball. However, Granderson has just too many flaws on the offensive end to consider him as a real threat in an otherwise potent lineup.

Advantage: Slight Edge Red Sox

Right Field: NYY Nick Swisher/Colin Curtis, BOS JD Drew/Ryan Kalish

Nick Swisher has cut a nice niche into Yanks fan’s hearts, while also becoming one of Red Sox’s fans least favorite Yankees, but I guess the two go hand in hand don’t they? Swisher had a career year last year, and he should be finish the season with numbers in between last year’s and the year before. The only problem with the Yankees this year is their lack of depth, and as you can see by the backup outfielders, they have none. If someone were to go down then the Yankees would be in trouble. Swisher is a very durable player, especially in his time with the Yanks. On the other side, you have the fragile Mr. JD Drew. Drew hasn’t played over 140 games in any of the last 3 seasons, but gives the same per game production he has since he was signed. He is in the last year of his contract and I am sure that will motivate him somewhat, but it probably won’t lead to any Adrian Beltre type offers. Kalish is a very solid backup and is going to get some at-bats this season. However, both Drew and Kalish are streaky players and unless Francona manages it perfectly, there will be dry spells from the right field position.

Advantage: Yankees

Designated Hitter: NYY Jorge Posada, BOS David Ortiz

Two years ago, there may have been no player in baseball whose game was deteriorating as much as David Ortiz’s was. He went through the motions, dealt with the vicious Boston media, and turned his 2008 season around to a point where the media wasn’t asking for his head. 2009 started in a similar fashion. Talks of him and Mike Lowell platooning at the DH spot arose and Ortiz wasn’t feeling it. He went on to finish the 2009 season with 32 HR and 102 RBI, as well as a respectable .270 avg. The key for Papi is that he is still getting walked. He finished with an on-base percentage over .100 points better than his average. Pitchers still respect him and I am sure some fear his daunting, Mo Vaughn like stroke. Jorge Posada on the other hand, not so much. Over the last 3 seasons, Posada has dealt with several nagging injuries, something catchers are very much accustomed to. With the signing or Martin, Posada will get to relax more this year and just focus on his offense. While I do not expect him to repeat the awful numbers he posted last year, It is hard to imagine him matching Big Papi in terms of power numbers, the staple of the DH spot in the AL East.

Advantage: Red Sox

Starting Rotations: NYY CC Sabathia/AJ Burnett/Phil Hughes/Ivan Nova/Sergio Mitre, BOS Jon Lester/Clay Buchholz/Josh Beckett/John Lackey/Diasuke Matsuzaka

Without the help of Andy Pettitte, the Yankees starting rotation looks extremely weak. After CC, there isn’t much to write home about. Hughes has a lot of upside, but struggled last year with better lineups and more innings on him. He strikes out a good number of hitters per inning, and doesn’t walk many. He is primed for a breakout season, and will have to solidify himself as the team’s number 2 pitcher behind CC. AJ Burnett seems to be on the opposite end of the spectrum. He has been in the league for quite some time now, and even with his great arm and great stuff he just doesn’t appear to get it. The Yanks will need to throw him out there 33 times this year because they have no one else they can throw out there instead. Unless he turns it around big time, I expect him to be out of New York and perhaps sent to New Jersey as punishment. Ivan Nova is the other key to the Yanks rotation. They need to get 180 innings out of the youngster, and they need to be quality innings. He showed flashes last season but is still very raw. Think of him as a Clay Buchholz type 2 years ago. Mitre just needs to stay healthy and then get ready to move to the bullpen once the Yankees make some sort of move.

The Red Sox also have question marks in their rotation, though certainly not at the top of it. Lester is an ace, and will be a Cy Young candidate for a large portion of his career. Buchholz is on his way there as well. He spent last off-season working on trusting his fastball, locating it better and forcing hitters to put the ball in play. He has such good stuff that hitters tend to hit the ball off the end of the bat, or get jammed with ease. In addition, both Lester and Buchholz can walk the street of Boston and bang any loud-mouthed, drunk college student who just left at BU hockey game. Dice-K will give the Red Sox what they expect out of him; 140-170 innings, an ERA ranging from4-5, and countless minutes of watching him shake his flat, Japanese butt. Even if he gets hurt, Tim Wakefield can replace his production in a heartbeat, solidifying the 5th starter role.

The real questions come from the two men in the middle, Lackey and Beckett. Lackey finished the season relatively strong, and according toe former pitching coach, and current Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell, Lackey needed an adjustment period to the AL East, as it is a different beast than what he was used to. I don’t expect great things out of Lackey, but I think he will fill the role as the 4th starter better than most others in the American League. Beckett is a bit more tricky to figure out. He had a solid 2009, despite back troubles, but those same troubles, along with other ailments, ruined his 2010 season. Word is he is feeling great this off-season and will be back to his old form. For some reason, I highly doubt that, but I see him and Lackey finishing the year with similar numbers. Either way, it’s better than Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova right?

Advantage: Red Sox

Bullpen: NYY Mariano Rivera/Rafael Soriano/Joba Chamberlain/David Robertson/Boone Logan/Pedro Feliciano/Damaso Marte, BOS Jonathan Papelbon/Daniel Bard/Bobby Jenks/Dan Wheeler/Hideki Okajima/Scott Atchison/Matt Albers

The Yankees have the best closer of all-time in Rivera. There is no argument there from me, or any other member of Red Sox nation. They just signed Soriano, which was huge because Joba has been very inconsistent in his recent return to being Mo’s setup man. Logan and Feliciano offer solid matchups for lefties, while Robertson will provide much needed depth to the pen. This is one of the strengths of the Yankees team. There aren’t many question marks and you really know what you are going to get out of this group.

I wish I could say the same about the Sawx. Papelbon is coming off one of the worst years of his career, and he is likely done in Boston at some point this season or next. Bard is an animal. He is perhaps the 2nd best reliever in baseball behind Rivera, and he will take that closer role if Papelbon fails to deliver. Theo did a great job in adding depth to the pen. Wheeler and Jenks are both pitcher who should benefit from pitching in Fenway, as Jenks fly ball rate is around average, and Wheeler is a ground ball pitcher. These two points of these teams shouldn’t be a glaring weakness unless something goes horribly wrong with the closers, which is obviously more likely on the Red Sox side of things.

Advantage: Yankees

Now normally I would go off on a tangent about how great Terry Francona is at managing a baseball game and a team and how inept Joe Girardi is at buying paper towels at Super Stop & Shop (I’ve witnessed this). However, I will save that for another day. It appears to be a pretty equal contest, though I believe the Red Sox starting pitching will heavily out-produce whatever 5 guys the Yankees end up throwing out there. Both of  these teams will make the playoffs, as Tampa is selling off its parts again, and the rest of the American League is appearing to be very weak. I look forward to them meeting in the ALCS this season, even though it may take 4-5 years off of my life. Either way its been a good run, and as a proud member of Red Sox nation, I am looking forward to a season full of agony, triumph, and the eventual David Ortiz wiener pics.

By Donny Goldin

As i prepared to take out my contact lenses before bed on Monday night, an ESPN news alert flashed across the bottom of my computer screen. It immediately caught my eye. Could I possibly be reading this right? Did anyone see this coming?

The top Free Agent on the open market was not resigning with the Texas Rangers, and he wasn’t taking the over sized check that the Yankees were offering. Clifton Phifer Lee had taken less money and less years to rejoin a team whose fans often force themselves to vomit on little children. Lee’s signing sent shock waves around the league, but its impact was mainly felt throughout the NL East.

As a passionate Met fan I wondered, could this possibly be the worst thing that has happened to our fan base since Rick Peterson claimed that he could fix Victor Zambrano in ten minutes? Since Bernard Gilkey and Butch Huskey chants rang throughout the walls of Shea Stadium? Maybe it was watching Yadier Molina saunter around the bases during Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, though I think Carlos Beltran staring at strike 3 to end it may have given me an ulcer.

Lee going to the Phillies gives them a stranglehold on this division for the next few years, giving Mets fans like myself much more reason to start following Hockey (Goooooo Rangers!!!). This begs the questions, can anyone in the NL East actually beat this Phillies team? Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Carlos Ruiz. This sounds more like a team I would have drafted in my ultra-competitive 4-team fantasy baseball league back in the 5th grade. Thank G-d for Jayson Werth’s departure, or the Phils might have had the National League locked up this year.

As Met fans, where do we go from here? How do we react? Do we go towards a complete rebuilding mode and trade away our cornerstone players to build for future teams? Do we give up the next 3 years, root for the rest of the National League, and start sending letters to Fred Wilpon to use some of that extra “Madoff” cash he didn’t really lose? Or do we look to surround our clubhouse with quality ballplayers who play the game right, and don’t worry about money or manly women? I would opt for the latter.

The Mets still have a solid group on the offensive side of the ball. Franchise players David Wright and Jose Reyes give the Mets an extremely impressive left side of the infield. Angel Pagan is proving to be one of those late bloomers, as a player who relies on fundamentals and instinct. Young hitters such as Ike Davis and Justin Thole will provide the Mets with some depth in their lineup, something they have lacked due to injuries over the past few seasons. Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay will have to do a better job of driving in runs, but they do have the track record to succeed over the course of a full season.

Unfortunately for the Mets, their starting pitching lacks any depth. I am pretty sure John Mayer’s dating resume is a lot deeper than the pitcher selection Manager Terry Collins will get to chose from. If there is one area the Mets should spend their money, it is here. Do not trade Jose Reyes for pitching depth, and do not mortgage whatever is left of the farm system to fill out the rotation. Sign veterans and players such as Brandon Webb, who is in that high risk, high reward category. There is no need to dismantle a team that isn’t too far removed from its last playoff appearance.

Every year, the Minnesota Twins grab, or either contend for, a playoff spot in the American League. Most of their big contracts are homegrown players they resigned to keep their team intact. The Mets should pay attention to what’s going on in the Twin Cities. If there is one thing that the Minnesota Twins have taught me over the years, it’s that winning baseball is not always about putting together a team of overpaid All-Stars. It is about doing all the little things right and playing fundamentally sound baseball.

Unless you’re the Baltimore Orioles. Then you just stink.

By Phil Bausk

The Cliff Lee sweepstakes are over and the winners turned out to be a bit of a shocker. Late last night, it was reported that Lee signed a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, expected to be worth in the area of $120 mil. over 5 years, leaving a lot of money on the table by rejecting the offers of both the New York Yankees, and the Texas Rangers.

Lee helped lead the Phillies to the World Series in 2009, and then was traded to the Seattle Mariners because, ironically, the Phillies couldn’t afford to give him an extension. They couldn’t give him that extension because they had too much money on the team payroll, including SP Joe Blanton and his hefty contract. They then resigned Blanton to an extension worth $24 mil. over 3 years, and have been shopping him all off-season. Either way, with or without Blanton, the Phillies were able to steal Lee away from the Yanks and Rangers, and solidify their place as a top contender for the World Series crown.

When do you see this from athletes? How often do you see someone leave about $30 mil. on the table to go play for a stacked team, a city with an overrated fan base, and a star player already firmly entrenched as the team leader? Sounds familiar right?

While obviously you can’t really compare Cliff Lee to the Akron Scammer, there are some parallels here. Lee dangled his sexy package (not literally) of talent, competitiveness, and leadership in front of the Rangers and the Yankees, only to go take less money to play for a better team alongside Roy Halladay, who some consider to be the best pitcher in baseball.  It was believed that he was going to pick the Rangers or the Yankees, and at the last moment, shifted gears and turned the Phillies into a powerhouse.

With a rotation of Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, the Phillies will give opposing lineups more headaches than Percy Harvin gets on a day to day basis. Lee is no longer the main guy, and while he will be scrutinized by the media, he will not be ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the Phillies this season.

Does anyone else see this as a little bit of a cop out? (Side note: Watched Cop Out with Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan and all I can think about is how much money Bruce Willis got for doing that movie. The scary thing is I think Tracy Morgan got paid more…) Lee shied away from the pressure that comes with pitching in NY. Even with CC Sabathia as the staff ace, Lee would be under more scrutiny than any other Yankee not named Jeter this upcoming season. It is understandable why he wouldn’t want to play for the Yankees, as a lot of players do not like to deal with that sort of pressure everyday (Just ask Javier Vazquez).

I wonder though, Why not go back to Texas? It is right in his backyard, as he resides in Arkansas, and he helped carry a historically, mediocre franchise all the way to the World Series. Is it me, or did everyone on the Rangers look like they were having a blast last year? Did Josh Hamilton replace nights of doing Heroine in a Wendy’s bathroom with coming up with hand gestures for everyday baseball plays? Were players more excited to put up their famous “claw,” rather then spend a weekend smashing through University of Texas freshmen? What could have possible been so awful  there that Lee wouldn’t take MORE money to go back there and dominate the AL West for a few more seasons?

Deep down, I think Cliff Lee knew what he was going to do all along. His “decision” didn’t change everyday. He didn’t feel bad leaving the Rangers and their fans. He did exactly what was best for him. Go to a team that’s already a contender, and play second fiddle to a future Hall of Famer. Why not just say this from the beginning? Why string along all of the fans for this long, just to crush their spirits in the end?

Athletes love all of this attention. Whether it be Cliff Lee or LBJ, when the world is focused on them, they don’t want to give up that spotlight. Athletes are a rare group of people who can garner so much attention without even performing their jobs, and the worst part about that is that they all know this. This type of decision leaves a large percentage of fans with a poor taste in their mouths, and a different perception of said athlete.

Is Cliff Lee going to attract the same amount of negative press that the Akron Scammer did? No, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lee doesn’t get any bad press. It’s not like he even used the Yanks and the Rangers to get more money out of Philly. He just teased both teams management and fan bases and ultimately flipped them the bird by announcing his decision to go to the Phillies.

Either way, the New York baseball world took a bit of a hit last nigh twith this announcement. The Yankees will now go into the season with a “rotation” of CC, AJ “Me and Lackey could buy the Rays” Burnett, Phil Hughes, Ian Nova, and an undecided fifth starter. This is a very unimpressive group and I am sure Yankee fans are trying to convince themselves that Nova is going to be the second coming of Jose Contreras ( You know, before he turned 52).

The New York Mets now must face the fact that they may not win a division title in the next few years. While hopes for Mets fans weren’t especially high for this season, there is little reason to believe that they could overcome the Phillies and take home the NL East crown. Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins have a lot of work to do to try and catch Pat Gillick and the Philles, and something tells me that the new Mets duo isn’t up to the task.

Ultimately, Lee gives the Phillies the best chance to win, and Gillick and the rest of the Phillies front office should be applauded. Lee will not be characterized as a villain, and I don’t think we will be seeing any “What should I do?” commercials out of him anytime soon. Who knows, maybe this was all just a ploy for Lee to get on an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” after he saw Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on it. Either way, Lee, and other athletes who do the same thing, should be reprimanded somehow for their actions. This idea may be a pipe dream, but as a fan, I do not like where this trend is taking the already poor Free Agency process.

Here is a link to a piece by Ian O’Connor expressing a similar displeasure with Cliff Lee’s decision.

By Ari Sirner

By the end of the movie Mars Attacks, the aliens have dismembered Pierce Brosnan and Sara Jessica Parker, destroyed the Las Vegas strip, and eviscerated Congress with their otherworldly laser guns. At the conclusion of this masterpiece, when it’s discovered that yodeling folk music is the kryptonite for the aliens’ evil plan to take over Earth, the creatures from Mars are finally defeated. Afterward, there is a symbolic moment where a deer, a flock of birds, and a triumphant Tom Jones emerge from hibernation, signaling, “It’s safe to come out now.”

Mets fans, it’s safe to come out now. The Omar Minaya years have been tough for all of us, but Sandy Alderson is our yodeler! Few general managers have spent more while accomplishing less than Minaya, who gave. $25 million to Luis Castillo,. $36 million to Oliver Perez,. $53 million to Pedro Martinez,. $66 million to Jason Bay and last and certainly not least, $119 million to Carlos Beltran. He also traded away the Padres current stud closer Heath Bell for a half-eaten kudos bar. Lastly, while it wasn’t with the Mets, Minaya is responsible for perhaps the worst baseball trade in the history of the sport when he swapped Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips for Bartolo Colon. I understand the Expos were being threatened with contraction, but he couldn’t get a little more for that package? You get the point.

Minaya had six seasons at the helm, all with the Mets in the top 5 in payroll, and only  had one playoff appearance to show for it. That isn’t just bad, it’s downright pathetic. Even more of a sham is he managed to deflect so much of that negative attention on Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel. I saw Willie Randolph at the Giants game this past Sunday, and surprisingly I didn’t want to yell obscenities or throw a chair at him. My instinct, which obviously I didn’t act on, was to give him a hug and say “I’m sorry.”

As you can tell, Minaya was given the bank and then some. According to multiple sources, Sandy Alderson has about $5 million dollars to spend in player acquisitions this off-season. In Omar Minaya’s market, that buys you a fraction of a Luis Castillo season.

The primary purpose of this article is not to bash Minaya (although he just made it too easy), but to implore Mets fans like myself to show restraint and have a little bit of patience with Sandy Alderson. He graduated from Harvard Law School, served with the Marines in Vietnam, and has brought success with him wherever he has worked in baseball for nearly 30 years. What’s not to like?

I know the acquisition of D.J. Carrasco and Ronny Paulino don’t exactly have the same gusto as Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, or Jayson Werth, but Alderson’s hands are tied. If you want to be mad at anyone, blame the Wilpons.

Sandy may not be a Hall of Fame executive, but he is certainly no Omar Minaya. There’s nowhere to go but up. There’s a poker expression used as a metaphor for hope called, “a chip and a chair”. Please join me in giving an effusive message of support to the chip, D.J. Carrasco, the chair, Ronny Paulino, and to the 2011 New York Mets.

By Phil Bausk

It’s almost like watching a really awful horror movie. You are watching this poor 18 year old girl, aimlessly wandering around either an abandoned hotel or a decrepit amusement park. She knows she has absolutely no reason to be there, but yet finds herself walking deeper and deeper into the darkness. You know she’s screwed, the rest of the audience knows she’s screwed, but she still has hope that shes is going to find her douchey boyfriend, who has already been brutally murdered by the villain, and get out without a scratch on her pretty little self. She turns around and BAM! That’s the end of her character’s stint on screen, and most likely, her career as an actress.

It was reported late last night that the Boston Red Sox had agreed to a deal with All World OF Carl Crawford on a 7 year, $142 million contract, stealing him away at the last second from the LA Angels of Anaheim. Crawford gives the Red Sox a lineup that one usually sees in video games, fantasy baseball lineups, or a classic Simpson’s episode.

I know it’s only December, and there is a lot more players to be signed or traded for, but at this point, the New York Yankees have to be worried. They are the aforementioned teenager, who looks oh so good prancing around the movie screen for 2 hours, acting like the pompous homecoming queen, completely oblivious of her inevitable fate. The Red Sox signing of Crawford could be that fateful machete swing that decapitates the Yankees, and elevates the Sawx as the best team in the American League East.

I work in Manhattan every day and I do the same commute every morning. Every man in their late 20’s or early to mid 30’s was talking about this signing. Specifically, a man on the M15 bus was talking to his colleague about what this signing meant to Yankee fans. His voice was soft, as if he was worried that speaking louder may lead to him breaking down emotionally on the bus at 8:30 in the morning. He had a faint look in his eyes, almost like he was a little lost, wondering if the worst was over, or if there was going to be more bad news to make his life a little more stressful.

I have been there before. I was there 2 years ago when the Yankees signed the trio of CC Sabathia (Who I saw at the Knicks game last night. He really as put on some weight since the end of the regular season. I think I may scout out all of the Casual Male XL stores in Manhattan to find him and throw Twinkies at him so he can come into Spring Training a lean 345 lbs.), Mark Teixeira, and AJ Burnett. I complained, I bickered with Yankee fans, and I even believed the 2009 season was over before it had even started. There was little the Red Sox could do to counter punch the Yanks in this one-sided bout.

This year there is a difference. The difference is a 32 year old south paw by the name of Clifford Phifer Lee, who is the Jade Monkey of this year’s Free Agent class. He is one of the top 3 pitchers in baseball, and is expected to cash in on his recent years of success with a massive contract. When I hear the words massive contract, I only think of one team, the New York Yankees (I am sorry but even after the Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez extensions the Yankees payroll will be $40 mil bigger than the Red Sox payroll).

If the Yankees do not sign Mr. Phifer, this off-season will have been a major disappointment. Lee is the small revolver the 18 year old drama queen finds on those rare occasions to shoot the crazed murderer. He is the police arriving at the exact moment before the killer is able to deliver his final blow. Lee is the douchey boyfriend whose pulse the killer forgets to check, as he stabs the murderer in the back, ultimately saving the day, and getting the girl a contract for a second movie. The Yankees front office has to do whatever it takes to bring Lee on board, otherwise the fans will feel neglected, and it will appear as though the Jeter Saga was the main focus of the off-season, when the acquisition of Lee should have been the focal point.

This arms race in the AL East is getting out of control. “The bar,” one American League GM said early Thursday morning, “keeps getting raised. Crazy.” Year after year, the Yankees and the Red Sox keep going back and forth, signing up every Free Agent under the sun. It’s like the a 3rd World War, as New York and Boston are the super powers going back and forth, while teams such as Tampa Bay are the small, sovereign states who take most of the abuse and have the most ruins to clean up afterward. At some point it is going to get out of hand and Major League Baseball is going to have to regulate it somehow.

Until then, I get to enjoy the Red Sox spending spree for now, watching a team prepare itself for the 2011 season with nothing less  than a championship on its mind. Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein knows what he is doing, and has garnered the trust of the members of Red Sox Nation. He is our Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who we will follow into battle against the likes of Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who plays the role of  either Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, or Emperor Hirohito (You can choose depending on how much you despise him).

But for right now, the Red Sox are making the Yankees and their fans sweat buckets out there on the streets of New York. Will Cashman come through and sign Cliff Lee, saving the Yankees from their masked murderer? Or will another team swoop in and sign Lee, leaving the Yankees to meet their demise. One things for sure, either the Yankees will be starring in the sequel with another World Series ring, or looking for work as a waitress at The Cheesecake Factory.