Monday, May 02, 2005

Eight Things I Learned This Weekend

Busy weekend, so I unfortunately lost my record of 48 straight days with a post. Maybe it’s good luck after all. The Sox, currently treading water without the help of Boomer and Schill, went into Texas and took the last two. Sure, we avoided another Foulke collapse, Billy M having to play second base and no Tito and his Big Wad of Chew, but they survived. The offense has to keep putting up these runs with Jeremi Gonzalez and John Halama pitching the next two days. This might get ugly, folks.

Eight things I learned this weekend…

1. Everyone needs to be patient with Keith Foulke. This season has been a roller coaster ride for every Red Sox fan once this man shows his face out of the bullpen, it’s like you already know this is going to get interesting. That’s just the type of closer he is, I guess. If his curve and change are dropping, running in on hitters and moving all over the zone, nobody can touch him. But he tends to go on these streaks, making games interesting, just holding on, or sometimes even blowing it altogether. Well, Keith, it needs to stop right now. Seriously, enough with the drama. I can see May being an outstanding month for Extraordinary Foulke.

2. Kevin Youkilis is the real deal. Just watching him rip pitch after pitch on Saturday night gave me the willies. A team this rich, with tons of money to spend on high-quality players, could have taken the high road (like the Yankees) and screwed over their farm system. But no, Theo and Company are looking at top prospects such as Hanley Ramirez, .413 hitting Kelly Shoppach and much more out of steaming hot AA Portland for the future. Youk is just the first. This guy has an outstanding eye at the plate and when he gets a good pitch- BAM! Maybe playing Billy over at second for the long term is not such a bad idea.

3. The biggest surprise of April is Johnny Damon’s bat. Through all of his book signing and tours around the world, honeymoons, marriages and appearances in People magazine, I figured he’d enter the season on a downward angle. Sort of stoned from all this attention and fame. The lesson always: I’m an idiot (get it, ha). Johnny comes into this series with Detroit hitting a blistering .356, 16 ribbies and his first homer on Saturday night, part of a back-to-back job with Mr. Trot. He’s scored 17 runs, stole four bases, and is really, REALLY helping my fantasy team. Definitely the Red Sox MVP in April.

4. The signing of John Olerud is a threat to Kevin Millar. It’s been an interesting five months for Kevin Millar. Following the Jack Daniels incident and the possibility of the Sox brass choosing Dougy over him to play first base, Millah dug in deep and got in the best shape of his life. He was quoted on as saying he “does pushups just to keep the night going by.” He gets the job, manages to hit the same amount of home runs for the Red Sox as me in April, and now learns that a healthy John Olerud may take his place at first base. Do I think Olerud will be any more than a backup? No. But, if Millar doesn’t start driving in some runs and continues to put up 0 for 10 slumps, he better watch his back.

5. Matt Clement needs to develop some control. That’s the bottom line with this guy: When Matt Clement throws the ball over the plate, he’s practically untouchable. His sinker is impossible to make contact with when located properly. In the first couple innings vs. Texas on Sunday, Clement walked a grand total of five batters and got out of huge jams both times, only surrendering two runs. In the latter innings, his control was there and the Rangers looked clueless. Once this guy develops consistent control, I’m ready to call him the #2 starter.

6. Bronson Arroyo is always improving. Even with his funky delivery and dork-type attitude, Bronson Arroyo knows how to pitch. If you think about it, he’s improved from the minute he arrived in Boston. He started off the sixth or seventh starter coming over in a trade, just barely making the roster and primarily used in junk games. Then, he became the fifth starter and gradually got better as the year dragged along. After Game 3 against the Angels, everyone had a clear faith in this kid for years to come. That faith is now at an all-time high. He has turned into a dependable and reliable starter for this club.

7. The Yankees are in all sorts of trouble. I know, it’s barely May, and of course they’ll turn it around. But there are so many gaping holes in this roster, I can’t believe this team has a 200 million dollar payroll. Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon blow game after game while Mariano Rivera is practically rotting in the bullpen. Actually, yesterday it was Stanton who rolled over. Kevin Brown is washed up. Jaret Wright is a surgery waiting to happen. Posada, Giambi and even Matsui continue to struggle mightily. I’m not saying this as a belligerent Red Sox fan who despises the Yankees, I’m saying this as a baseball fan. I guess George will just have to reach into his wallet even further, but even that hasn’t worked recently.

8. Peter Gammons and I both agree that Miguel Tejada is the MVP (hey, it rhymes).

Peter Gammons article (, May 1):

There are several factors that have gone into the Orioles' best start since they held down first place for the entire season in 1997, not to mention proving that this is the best home for Sammy Sosa.

Baltimore's offense leads the majors in runs scored, mainly because the top third of its order is unrivaled: Brian Roberts (.465 on-base percentage, 1.182 OPS and eight home runs), Melvin Mora (.376 OBP and .952 OPS) and Miguel Tejada (.417 OBP, 1.154 OPS and nine homers). Pitching coach Ray Miller has done a marvelous job teaching the art of changing speeds to Erik Bedard, Rodrigo Lopez and Bruce Chen, while young right-hander Daniel Cabrera continues to learn. The O's bullpen has stopped the bleeding, with closer B.J. Ryan (21 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings pitched), Jorge Julio (one earned run allowed in 12 2/3 innings pitched) and the surprising Todd Williams (one earned run allowed in 12 innings pitched).

But the players point to one man as the main reason for the club's turnaround. "There's no doubt in my mind that Miggy [Tejada] is the best player in the game," Roberts says. "Start with his position. He's by far the best at a [the] middle-infield skill position. Then, if you watched us every day, you'd see [Tejada's] RBI are not a fluke. He has an uncanny ability to knock in runs.
Then, most of all, there's his energy. He is always up, pushing everyone and making the entire team better."

"I've never been around anyone like him," B.J. Surhoff says of Tejada.

"I played with Pete Rose and coached Kirby Puckett," Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley says, "and Miggy is just like them. He is the best player in the game, hands-down. Like Rose and Puckett, he puts it out there every day, and they are those rare players off whom teammates feed. You can crunch every number you want, you can't put a premium on the energy one player can bring to an entire team. This franchise changed the day he arrived."

Adds a Red Sox official: "We watched him from the stands during BP. And we could not believe his energy, his enthusiasm, and how teammates feed off him. He is special."

Not to mention durable. "If some kid comes to the park to see me," Tejada says, "I had better be on the field." In the last five years (2001-2005, as of May 1), Tejada had played in 548 games, most of any player, and his 500 RBI rank third behind Albert Pujols' 504 and Alex Rodriguez's 501.

My April Awards (Red Sox in italics):
MVP: Miguel Tejada, Orioles Johnny Damon
AL Cy Young: Jon Garland, White Sox Tim Wakefield
NL Cy Young: Roger Clemens, Astros
Most Improved: Jamie Moyer, Mariners Bronson Arroyo
Disappointment: Barry Zito, A’s Edgar Renteria


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