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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Torrents of Spring

Another baseball season is about to begin. I never thought in my lifetime that I would get to talk about the efforts of the Boston Red Sox to defend their World Series title. But heregoes...

Sadly, for those of us who are the sentimental type, the team looks quite different. Players who represented the core of the team for years - Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe - are now wearing other uniforms. Players like Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Dave Roberts, brought in for the stretch run, whose names will live forever in the lore of Red Sox Nation despite the brevity of their service to the team, have similarly moved on.

The most changes were made in the starting rotation. Miraculously, last season the Red Sox started the same five guys (Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Tim Wakefield, Derek Lowe, and Bronson Arroyo) all season, with only three other pitchers starting even a single game. Two of those five are now wearing other uniforms (Pedro's a Met, and Lowe a Dodger) and already injuries have begun to surface. The projected starting rotation reatined Schilling but had three new members - David Wells, Matt Clement and Wade Miller - with one of Wakefield or Arroyo going to the bullpen. However, Schilling isn't going to be ready for the season opener and it's tough to imagine him matching his 2004 campaign (21-6, 3.26) at any rate. Wade Miller is going to miss at least a large chunk of the season. He may or may not be in decline, but it may be tough to match Pedro Martinez' 217 innings of above-average (16-9, 3.90 ERA) pitching. Overall, there are valid concerns that an old pitching staff has only gotten older over the off-season, and with age usually comes increased susceptibility to injury.

However, there are some reasons not to be overly pessimistic. Matt Clement (9-13, 3.68 ERA in 2004) was, low win total notwithstanding, almost as good as Pedro last season (albeit not in a league with the DH) in most respects. Whatever Wells (12-8, 3.73) and Miller (7-7, 3.35) or their replacements do or don't do with their rotation spots, they can hardly be worse than Derek Lowe, postseason heroics notwithstanding, was for most of the season; he notched a 5.42 ERA (with copious amounts of unearned runs to boot) and a 1.61 WHIP in 2004 despite his 14 wins. Wakefield (12-10, 4.87) is aging but knuckleballers have tended to age well. Arroyo struggled early in 2004 but finished well (10-9, 4.03) and was arguably their best starter during the last couple months of the season.

The relief corps got the job done, especially down the stretch, and they are by and large intact going into 2005. Keith Foulke's off-speed stuff is as devastating as ever, and if B.H. Kim and especially Scott Williamson can contribute more, this
relief corps could be even better and perhaps balance some slacking by the starters.

I think this team will struggle to duplicate it's #3 rank in team ERA last season, even with some measure of improved defense over the people who played much of last year. I expect their pitching numbers to drop back a bit towards league average in runs allowed, but the offense what remains of the staff should be good enough for a postseason berth, especially considering the AL teams that took backward steps.

And that brings us to what is regarded as the best part of the team - the offense. They led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage (282/360/472) as well as runs scored. They figure to be about as strong with the bats as last year even given the declines resulting from aging, performances above established levels, or both.

C: I don't expect another year like the 296/390/482 the Sox got out of Jason Varitek, or Doug Mirabelli's 261/368/525 campaign, way out of line with the rest of his career. I do however expect another year of better-than-average production from the catcher's spot in the lineup. 'Tek's big 4-year contract is controversial in many circles, but it did help keep pitchers happy (Clement claims that the team assured him Varitek would be re-signed, which was part of his decision to come to Boston)and keeps fans (who had to watch all their other big-name free agents leave) happy.

1B: Kevin Millar (297/383/474) struggled early but turned on the jets late season; his hot streak was key to the team's late-summer surge. His defense wasn't (and isn't great) but didn't kill the team. David Ortiz put up better Range Factor numbers but was regarded by most as dreadful at first and so played DH most of the time. Doug Mientkiewicz (215/286/318) came aboard at the trade deadline and was used mainly as a spot starter, defensive replacement, and occassional pinch-hitter, and didn't do anything in a Sox uniform to merit being used more than that, and has moved on to join Pedro in Queens. David McCarty (258/327/404) started 25 games at this position last year. Millar is one of the club's better right-handed bats and remains relatively inexpensive, if a bit obnoxious with his constant camera-hogging. I'd expect vagguely similar numbers from 1B in 2005, maybe a slight downgrade due to age and marginally fewer contributions from Ortiz.

2B: Due to an injury to Nomar Garciaparra, Mark Bellhorn, who was signed as a backup, got to play second most of the year; the original plan was to play Pokey Reese alongside Nomar. While Bellhorn's defense was merely adequate, his deceptively productive hitting made him a valuable asset. His detractors focused on his batting average (a late season hot streak pushed it to .264) and his AL-leading 177 strikeouts that masked how productive he was as a hitter (17 home runs and a 817 OPS, very good for a readily available middle-infielder.) There's no reason to think he couldn't meet or exceed this performance across the board in 2005.

SS: The Red Sox effectively had three regulars at short last year. First was Pokey Reese, whose glove was an asset but whose bat (221/271/303) was a substantial liability. Then Nomar returned, and hit reasonably well with a bit less power than usual (321/367/500) but was clearly sub-par in the field for his 38 games. After "The Big Trade," Orlando Cabrera came aboard and provided what was for the Sox a happy medium in the field (slightly above average numbers defensively) and at the plate
(294/320/465, better than most had expected for him.) The less said about backup Cesar Crespo the better. Free agent Edgar Renteria managed, in an off year, 287/321/404 in an inferior hitters' park - he should be able to at least match the overall production the Sox obtained from this spot in the lineup last season, even better if his 2002 and 2003 campaigns are a better reflection of his true talent level. His contract was seen by some as too generous, but he's still on the right side of 30 and may pay off big, at least in 2005.

3B: Bill Mueller (283/365/446) got most of the playing time here, and he was adequate - no one expected him to win another batting crown. He had some injury trouble, so the club turned to rookie prospect Kevin Youkilis, who held his own (260/367/413) when pressed into service. (Bellhorn also logged some time at third.) Mueller's 2004 is well in line with career norms, so I expect about the same level of production in 2005.

LF: Left field is the province of superstar Manny Ramirez, who led the AL in OPS at 308/397/613. Millar occassionally started here to give Manny either a day off from the game or at least from fielding. Manny will turn 33, so there is some expectation of decline here, but either way he should remain one of the most potent bats in the game.

CF: Center was manned capably by Johnny Damon, who had a great offensive season (304/380/477) in the leadoff spot to go with 20 dingers, 19 steals, and the league's most memorable hair. Defensively, his arm is short for center but he still has enough wheels to cover a lot of real estate, important given some of his outfield mates. Damon was healthy all season - what few innings needed to be handed to someone else were handed to Gabe Kapler and Dave Roberts, who are now in Japan and San Diego respectively. The backup role will go to Jay Payton (more on him later). I don't expect another season like this from Damon; he'll be 32, the lower steals total may be sign of slowing down and his power numbers were the best of his career. I'm penciling in a modest reduction in production from CF in 2005, but he'll still be one of the better hitters at that position in the league.

RF: Right field was unsettled in 2004 thanks mostly to Trot Nixon's various and sundry injury problems. When Trot played he hit very well (315/377/510) but continued to struggle against left-handed pitching. Last year the lion's share of playing time in right went to Gabe Kapler (272/311/390), who was merely adequate in the field and at the plate. Kevin Millar also logged a good deal of time in right, which was, to put it midly, not exactly a salve for the collective nerves of Red Sox Nation. This season, Trot will likely be splitting time with right-handed Jay Payton, who put up 260/326/367 in a hitting-unfriendly environment in San Diego last year. (Payton will find his way into the lineup at other times spelling for Ramirez, Damon, or Millar.)
Overall, I expect more production from right field in 2005, thanks mostly to Nixon's return.

DH: Most of the time, MVP candidate David Ortiz (301/380/603) was the team's DH. This may not even represent the high end of possibilities for Ortiz, who is clearly a consummate hitter - he even hit lefties better in 2004. He'll be in the same role in 2005 - he'll play at first in NL parks or if there's an injury to Millar or something. I suppose I should ready myself for disappointment, but I'm going to pencil in a similar level of production in 2005.

On paper this team doesn't figure to be quite as good as the 2004 team that won 98 games. But this team is certainly good enough to win another World Series should they get the chance. At minimum they should make it back to the postseason.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

10

Ten related thoughts about the Terri Schiavo case I haven't been able to weave into a coherent narrative:

1. Terri Schiavo has been on a feeding tube for 15 years while her brain has been wasting away. The key phrase from this article summarizing the story so far follows:
Judge Greer accepted the testimony of doctors who said Ms. Schiavo, 41, is in a "persistent vegetative state," meaning damage to her cerebral cortex has made her incapable of emotion, memory or thought. Her husband, who was appointed guardian without objection from her parents upon her incapacitation, held onto the hope that Schiavo would recover for over three of those years. Claims that removing the feeding tube would "starve Terri to death" are disingenuous as it strongly implies that she would experience the pain and suffering one normally associates with extreme hunger, which would be absent in this case.

2. Congress passed emergency legislation granting federal courts jurisdiction over the Schiavo matter. And President Bush has signed it. If not in form, this certainly sounds in susbstance like a Bill of Attainder of the sort Congress is forbidden from passing; it appears designed to produce a specific desired result in a specific litigation, and admissions that "We are trying to save Terri Schiavo's life" and other such declarations seem to confirm that suspicion. There isn't a great deal of precedent regarding what constitutes a Bill of Attainder because seldom has Congress even considered doing something like this.

3. The federal courts aren't buying Congress' story thusfar. Congress will keep hunting for sympathetic judges. I can't imagine them actually finding one willing to endorse the dangerous precedent Congress wants to set here. Does Congress plan to regularly intervene in family disputes now?

4. If you don't want to be the next Terry Schiavo, make sure you have a Living Will to deal with these sorts of issues, no matter how young or healthy you may be at this moment. You just know that not a few members, Republicans and Democrats alike, of Congress voted for this "legislation" and ran off to fix their living wills so that, whatever happened, this spectacle wasn't going to happen to them or their family.

5. One exception might be those Republican members of Congress who are or were medical doctors, in which case they offered their diagnoses of Schiavo without even seeing her in person, largely on the basis of a 9-year old videotape. Sen. Frist in particular has destroyed whatever credibility his profession as a doctor should afford him; he pulled this stunt fresh off refusing to say that there is no evidence of transferring HIV through saliva or tears on a television gabfest a few weeks back. Not that lack of credentials has stopped Tom DeLay, who in addition to not having seen her and isn't even a doctor, from claiming that he could "see life in her."

6. The money to keep Terry Schiavo's feeding tube hooked up has come from the proceeds of a medical malpractice award. You know, one of those "frivolous" suits that the Republicans hate so much. It's quite possible that changes to malpractice law (whether already enacted or the additional ones sought by Republicans nationwide) might have precluded this lawsuit, especially considering the award was about $1,000,000, which exceeds caps proposed by some Republican malpractice reform proposals.

7. That internal memoranda about how Schiavo is being used as a political prop is not in any way surprising. Polling data suggesting that this ploy by Bush and the Congress isn't popular - opposed eve by a majority of people who describe themselves as "conservative," with self-described Evangelicals split down the middle on the issue, and opposed strongly by everyone else - is a little beside the point. The Bush people are betting that by 2006, 85% of the public will have forgotten all about Terri Schiavo and that most of the 15% who won't are the hardcore fundamentalist evangelical base. In taking the lead on this issue, Sen. Frist is trying to kiss up to this 15% since he's going to need their support to prevail in pivotal Republican primaries in 2008.

8. What is a little more surprising is that they would push this as aggressively as they have given Bush's past record on this issue. In 1999, Bush signed the Futile Care Law that gave hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient could not pay and there was no hope of revival, regardless of the wishes of the patient's family. And just last week we saw a child die because his feeding tube get removed pursuant to this state law. If one was the cynical sort, one could note that Wanda Husdon and her infant son are African-American and poor, in contrast to a middle-class white woman like Schiavo.

9. Just to be clear, I don't blame the Schindler family for this one bit. I'm certainly not going to tell them to "get over" the fact that she's gone and not coming back. Parents, after all, aren't supposed to have to bury their children. I blame the grandstanding politicians - the President and his brother, Congress and the Florida legislature - who just had to insert themselves into this matter and make a public spectacle out of one unfortunate family being torn apart. I also blame people who write contemptible garbage like this Cal Thomas column and the people responsible for this merchandising promotion.

10. "Culture of Life" (usually meant as a catch all for those who want to outlaw abortion, most stem cell research, cloning, and right-to-die policies) has now passed "Family Values" as my least-favorite Republican catch phrase. I'm at least willing to listen to arguments along these lines from people (like, say, the current Pope, assuming he's still alive) who walk the walk as well as talk the talk, even if I don't necessarily agree with them. However...if you either presided over a triple-digit number of executions in six years or cheered them, started or supported an unecessary war that has killed thousands of innocent people, and would rather see the public sector used to help corporate fat cats than poor children, I don't want to hear a word out of you about America or any other country having a "culture of life."

There.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Georgia Tech 80, George Washington 68

The Colonials came up a bit short. While Pops was more than a match for Georgia Tech's big men, the guards - Thompson in particular - couldn't hang with Jarrett Jack and company. The biggest problem was going 4-for-16 from the free throw line, which is nowhere near good enough for a NCAA tournament team. The defensive agressiveness for most of the game kept the Yellow Jackets on their heels and they stayed in it until they were buried for good by 12 unanswered Georgia Tech points following cutting the lead to a single point. The Colonials' perimeter shooting was off but this isn't normally a team that relies on the 3-pointer, the preferred weapon of many a Big Dance underdog.

There's always next year, since most of the important players have one more year left. The Atlantic 10 will be improved as they have their share of young, developing teams this season - I'm thinking especially of Fordham and Dayton - but the Colonials should be able to build on the experience of nearly taking a team that's not massively different from last year's national finalists to the brink.

Too bad they couldn't do what Bucknell and Vermont did, stunning the world and busting more than a few peoples' brackets by taking down, respectively, Kansas and Syracuse. Come to think of it, Connecticut, Florida, Wisconsin, and Louisville didn't exactly cruise into the next round either; it does seem that college basketball parity grows closer between the big guys and the better mid-major or even the best minor conference teams.

Friday, March 18, 2005

I Can't Drive 66

The demands to widen Interstate 66 in Arlington have grown louder again.

I fully expect this to happen someday, and I fully expect it will do not one bit of good. For one thing, no one's talking about widening the tunnel in Rosslyn that's currently four lanes, which is just going to create a bottleneck at a different point on the freeway - presumably because it would be prohibitively expensive to do so in this time of limited budgets. Even if they do spend that kind of money to make I-66 six or eight lanes all the way to the Roosevelt Bridge, commuters will just respond to it the same way they respond to all other freeway widenings - by increasing traffic to the point where people will be clamoring to widen it again.

Arlington County never wanted this freeway in the first place, but agreed to it because it was four lanes, (mostly) carpool only during rush hour, and without large trucks. The result was an expressway that didn't damage and divide the community in Arlington in a way that many urban freeways did and still do. That Arlington wasn't interested in serving primarily as Fairfax (and now Prince William and Loudoun as well) County's driveway was obvious. I'm sure this widening will be very popular in the respective, almost entirely outside-the-Beltway districts of Tom Davis and Frank Wolf, which is why they're leading the charge to have it built.

When you build a new highway, people will start using it to capacity and beyond; you can't really build your way out of traffic congestion. Northern Virginia seems to built their own mini-Los Angeles, except without the beaches and mountains. To the extent there is a solution to this quandry, it lies in providing better public transit along key corridors (I-66, Dulles Toll Road, US Route 1) and between the job clusters that do exist (e.g. Tyson's Corner, Reston) in the area to alleviate some of the car travel in those areas. It would also help if density were concentrated in areas of existing transit facilities and discouraged in more remote areas. This could help remove the economic incentives that fuel suburban sprawl development.

But this being Virginia, I expect they'll keep building in their usual fashion until they run out of real estate and people on the far side of Richmond are getting up at 4 A.M. to get to the Washington area.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

St. Patrick's Day, a day where anyone with even a drop a Irish blood (including Answer Guy) claims to be Irish. Heck, even people without a drop of Irish blood stakes a claim on St. Paddy's day.

On another subject, are the Notre Dame boosters going to shut up about not making the Big Dance now that they lost in the first round of the NIT to a Patriot League team? (Too bad Holy Cross couldn't either beat Bucknell or gotten an At-Large bid.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Ides of March

So much to report upon since I last updated these pages.

My grandmother passed away in the early morning hours of February 1. But I was able to say goodbye to her one last time, along with the rest of the immediate family. I gave a eulogy at the funeral, but I'm still looking for my notes that I used to give it, which some family members wanted to see.

Two weeks later, I'm still coming to grips with the fact that Grandma's not around anymore. This is the first time in my adult life I've had to deal with losing a close family member; I've been quite lucky in this regard.

The past couple of weeks have been spent working mostly. Once you fall off the blogging wagon, it's tough to get back on. For me, it's always the first post after an absence that's the hardest.

I need to blog about my new car (courtesy of my late grandmother, as it turns out) and about the George Washington Colonials in the Big Dance for the first time since 1999, and about the recent bakruptcy "reform" bill, and about the upcoming baseball (and fantasy baseball) season.

Beware the Ides of March. The Answer Guy Online is back.

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