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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

49 Wins, 38 Losses

The Boston Red Sox are 49-38 at the All-Star Break. That happens to be - with one extra win - the same record as last year's World Series winning team, which pulled into the Midsummer Classic at 48-38. Even better, that 49-38, good only for second place (7 behind the Yankees) last season, leads the suddenly claustrophobic AL East thusfar in 2005. The Yankees are 2.5 games behind, and they still trail Baltimore by half game. Even better news: 49-38 also reflects exactly their split of games at Fenway and road games. 49 of their first 87 contests have been away from Boston, where they have been only 25-24. Of the remaining 75 games, 43 will be at Fenway, where the Sox are a much more impressive 24-14. Sox opponents will be hearing more "Tessie," more "Sweet Caroline," and more "Dirty Water" from here on out.

Before all that, though, this is a good time to take stock. We'll start with the bad stuff and get to the good stuff later.

The bullpen, a key part of the team's success in 2004, has been a fiasco this season. Keith Foulke and Alan Embree, along with new acquisition Matt Mantei, have been awful. Mike Timlin's 1.69 ERA looks good superficially, but he has a horrendous record with allowing inherited runners to score and the league is hitting .272 against him. (He has surrendered only 1 dinger this year, so it's not all bad.) Situational lefty Mike Myers has been the best of the bunch, not that that's saying all that much. The marginal scrubs and pitching prospects brought in to help have been marginal scrubs and pitching prospects who didn't look anywhere near ready for prime time. The good news is that it's hard to picture the bullpen getting any worse than they are now; the bad news is that it's hard to picture them getting all that much better either. Foulke and Mantei are on the DL, Timlin and Embree have a lot of mileage on them, and John Halama and Jeremi Gonzalez are castoffs from the Devil Rays. I'm not sold on the Curt Schilling-to-the-bullpen idea but I suppose it can't hurt too bad. That they are 49-38 with this motley crew (hmm..maybe Vince Neil could outpitch a couple of these guys) is pretty astounding. Sox fans will recall that the bullpen was a disaster early in 2003 but turned into a strength late and into the playoffs, so there is some hope. Bullpen performance is notably volatile.

The starters have been up and down. Schilling has been mostly absent and his few contributions were anything but. David Wells (6-5, 5.00 ERA) and Tim Wakefield (8-7, 4.05) have been on the roller coaster; their stats don't look great but each has contributed more in terms of quality starts than the stat lines suggest. Bronson Arroyo, expected to be banished to the relief corps in Spring Training, has been generally solid (7-5, 4.02) - he's tamed much of his wildness, has gone deep into some games, and has been their best starter other than Matt Clement, who has done about as much (10-2, 3.85) as one could have reasonably expected from him on his way to a deserved All-Star selection. On the one hand, Wade Miller (2-3, 5.03) has been something of a disappointment; on the other hand, I wasn't even sure he'd pitching at all until this point of the season. One of them may end up getting bumped for Schilling's return before long; Arroyo is the most talked about, but Miller has been the least impressive of the five overall. Wells and Miller would be hard to banish to the bullpen at this point, which is why the paths of least resistance of sending Wakefield or Arroyo to relief are being discussed.

But an offense that has scored 473 runs can atone for a lot of the sins of the pitching staff. Their lineup is nearly half the starting American League All-Star team, and none of them are undeserving of the honor. Manny Ramirez started out a little slowly but rebounded a bit to 275/361/949 to go with 22 home runs and a league-leading 80 RBI. David Ortiz has equalled his breakout 2004 with a 2005 statistical line of 314/396/585 to go with 21 dingers and 75 driven in. Johnny Damon has a 25-game hit streak going while hitting 343/386/473 - fewer walks and a bit less power than last season, but just as effective. Jason Varitek has 13 homers and a 301/367/525 line that exceeds even the optimistic projections for his 2005 season. Trot Nixon's been no slouch at 296/377/484, and he's even hitting lefties reasonably well, which had been the biggest knock on in prior years. Bill Mueller has contributed a solid 285/389/406 and Kevin Youkilis has filled in for him and others admirably well; before long Youks will get his chance to shine in a starting role, methinks.

Not everything has gone quite so well; Kevin Millar's 262/342/368 (a first basemen with a 368 SLG?!) suggest that his run may be over, though John Olerud has filled in for him nicely at times. Mark Bellhorn's offensive contributions are underrated - he walks at a good clip and has considerable doubles power - but you can only be so effective hitting .221 with a league-leading 102 whiffs. Edgar Renteria has been something of a disappointment with his 272/327/387 line, which consisted of a pair of hot streaks in May surrounded by his looking utterly lost at the plate; even worse, he's batted with men on base more times than anyone else in the lineup and is therefore bouncing into twin killings at an alarming rate. His defense has been good though, and he's shown enough hitting talent in his career that he'll be hitting better before long.

All in all, this is a great offense, and with an aging pitching staff with more question marks than Matthew Lesko's suit, it needs to be.

The next test for the team comes right after the All-Star game; four games at Fenway against the Yankees. Dropping 3 of 4 at Camden Yards last weekend (for the third year in a row, the Orioles seem determined to hand the AL East to the Yankees) means that the Sox could find themselves mired in third place if they get swept. With each crisis comes an opportunity though; they have the chance to put another nail in the New York postseason coffin. I remain confident the Orioles will eventually go away if left to their own devices as their vulnerabilities in their lineup and starting pitching will sink them and that any chance the Blue Jays had of staying in the hunt got sidelined with their ace Roy Halladay.

There's more competition than ever for the Wild Card; everyone but the Royals, Devil Rays, and Mariners can call themselves playoff contenders now. The Twins are going to have a hard time catching the White Sox but have a similar record to the teams vyying for the AL East, and the Indians aren't far behind them. Texas is very much in the mix, just like last year and Oakland is coming on strong after limping out of the gate. Unlike last year, though, Detroit and Toronto are clinging to playoff aspirations at this juncture. Overall, there's less margin for error than in the last two seasons, when the Sox were able to fall back on the Wild Card. They were good enough to beat the Yankees (but didn't) last year, and they are good enough this year; the difference is that that's probably going to be a pre-requsitite for October play in 2005, just like it was before 1995 (incidentally, the last time the Sox found themselves in first place at the break.) The AL East has all but gotten used to getting two playoff spots, something they may not get this time around.

It'll be a bumpy ride, but I still think these Sox have what it takes to try and make another run at following up last year's storybook finish with a sequel featuring the same happy ending.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Space Between

I went to my second Dave Matthews Band concert this past evening.

The band, as usual, was amazing, consisting of an assortment of astonishingly talented musicians.

They broke out a surprise cover of the Zombies' "Time of the Season," that sounded terrific, and had intense jam sessions on "Lie In Our Graves" and "Crush" that prominently featured some jaw-dropping violin playing. Other highlights were a sped up and amped up "Don't Drink The Water," a slightly revved up but still appropriately mellow "#34" (instrumental) as well a spirited rendition of their latest radio staple, "American Baby." They played a lot of stuff from the new album, which I have yet to digest fully and I'm still not crazy about thusfar.

My brother, a veteran DMB watcher (53 concerts under his belt), was cool to the overall setlist but, hey, the seats were good, the beer was cold, and the band sounded as good as ever. Not much more you can ask for a rock concert. Plus, lots of eye candy whatever your gender or sexual preference.

The ampitheater, which is now called Tweeter Center but will always be Great Woods to me, has terrific acoustics and facilities but is in the middle of nowhere and not exactly easily accessible despite being near the junction of two interstates. (If that sounds exactly like Gillette Stadium, where the Pats play, well, it's because they are right near each other, on opposite sides of Interstate 95.) Great Woods has a very poorly designed parking lot; only one way out and a system that seems to encourage and exacerbate traffic snarls. I'd hate to see what happened if a riot ever broke out there. It took nearly as long to leave the show as it did to drive from Mansfield to Worcester once out of the aforementioned lot.

Friday, July 08, 2005


I'm blogging here from the overcast Cape Cod shoreline on a lazy afternoon. It's quiet here and the darkness at night is like no darkness one could find back in the DC Metro area.

The rain has stopped for now, and I just got back from a walk out in the mist. I've grown to hate walking around during or after a rainstorm, but today was somehow different.

It might just be that I'm not at work, not going to work or coming from work. That's probably it.

This post is also notable for being the first one done on my new laptop computer, which, in honor of Strong Bad, has been given the name "Lappy."

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The London Underground Is Not A Political Movement

By now, you've probably heard about the horrific bomb attacks on London's subway and bus systems that are almost certainly the result of terrorist activity. In fact, an Islamist group linked to al-Qaida has claimed responsibility.

It's hard to come up for commentary regarding an event like this without coming across as either being dismissive, as trying to exploit them to make some political point, or a little of both. It's safe to assume that there will be a lot of electrons flying as a result of these attacks; it's not safe to assume much of anything else.

I suppose it's something of a banal observation to note that this type of act doesn't make things better for anyone anywhere. At a personal level, I find it useful to periodically ask myself what I can do to help - even in some barely detectable, almost microscopic way - reduce or remove what I might think causes atrocities and tragedies like the one I heard about this morning in London.

Of course, at the same time, I'm glad I'm driving to my vacation destination up north rather than using the air traffic system today.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Sweet Land of Subsidy

I'm a bit behind the curve on my blog writing, but I just have to eventually weigh in on anything where politics and baseball intersect.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), who is thankfully not my Representative in Congress, made some outrageous remarks regarding the prospective ownership of the Washington Nationals, ans was joined by Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY.) They
were both rightly taken to task for doing so
by Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins.

These two sentences are the crux of the outrage:

Isn't it strange that rival bidder Fred Malek, the head of the Washington Baseball club, just happens to be a very big GOP fundraiser? And isn't it strange that, in a telephone interview, Davis went out of his way to praise Malek's bid?

Davis doesn't bother to hide his agenda. He says straight out that baseball needs to cultivate some good will on Capitol Hill at the moment, given the steroid investigations, and that selling the team to billionaire Soros, a critic of President Bush and a massive financial supporter of liberal causes, would anger him.

As for the "convicted criminal" who would "tarnish the name of MLB owners"... well, he's spoken up for Watergate figure Fred Malek, not to mention that while Soros was convicted of insider trading (in France), Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is a convicted criminal in this country. If the concern is "foreign" ownership of the National Pastime, well, Soros' stake in the bid by local businessman Jonathan Ledecky is probably smaller than the one Japaense video-game giant Nintendo holds in the Seattle Mariners. As for tarnishing the name of Major League Baseball owners, well you can write your own punchline. It can involve one or more of the following: convicted criminal, serial manager firer, and all around jackass George Steinbrenner; double-dealing Marlins owner (and former Expos owner) Jeffrey Loria, wannabe-Nazi former Reds owner Marge Schott; tobacco fund-looting, franchise-blocking Orioles owner Peter Angelos; former Dodgers sort-of-owner and all around purveyor of trash television and questionable journalism Rupert Murdoch; and super-sleazy former Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga.

Note also that Davis and Sweeney are not just any two random Republicans or even two random Republican elected officials; they both happen to be Republican Congressmen who sit on a committee with a lot of power over what DC does with its money.

The odd thing is that "Let him pay for it," the attitude expressed by Rep. Sweeney is my attitude as well, no matter whether "him" is George Soros or Fred Malek or anyone else. I would prefer that District taxpayers (being a former District taxpayer myself) not have to pay for this stadium. But not because the owner happens to be someone that a couple of GOP Congresscritters happen not to like. That way lies kleptocracy.

As far as anyone knows, Davis and Sweeney were all in favor of public subsidies - from someone else's tax dollars to boot - for the Nationals' stadium until it was made known that George Soros was a potential beneficiary. My guess is that there are people on the other side who would think in the exact same terms if we were talking about a major Republican party benefactor. In my mind it all emphasizes some of the dangers of crony capitalism or any form of corporate welfare.

It's all of a piece of how arrogant and power-drunk the current Republican majority in Congress has gotten. This same principle is behind the "K Street Project" that Tom DeLay and company are trying to use to push associations into only hiring Republicans.
Only a decade ago, this crowd swept into office on a reformist message; I suspected it was a sham the whole time, and they didn't take long to prove me right. It took the Democratic majority in Congress four decades to get as ossified as they were by the time they were tossed in 1994, and they got nowhere near this.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Independence Day

I'm here in the office - due mostly to my vacation next weekend - but I'll be out and about celebrating America's 229th birthday later on this afternoon.

I'm afraid I'm a little short on inspirational patriotic speech today; blame it on the DC bar application I worked on until the wee hours late last night, or the fact that my air conditioning wasn't working yesterday.

In other news, Answer Guy is exactly halfway to another birthday.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Plame Blame Name Game (Part 2)

The latest buzz out there on the rumor mill suggests that the Valerie Plame leak came, according to veteran journalist Lawrence O'Donnell, not from some low-level flunky from Cheney's office, but from the man known widely as "Bush's Brain."

I wrote about this story way back in October of 2003, and it's been simmering on the back burner of Beltway blather ever since.

I'm not getting my hopes up that this is what will take down the Republican "dirty tricks" operation. But the irony that someone who has been so quick to hurl accusations about Democrats motivations after the 9/11 attacks would stoop to exposing a covert CIA operative for raw partisan political purposes, or, even worse, a personal vendetta.

It'd make for terrific political drama anyway.

Friday, July 01, 2005

1-2-3, Red Light

As of today, there is no more red light video enforcement by camera in Virginia.

Like a lot of other things in this state, it was a matter of rural legislators delighting in preventing Northern Virginia (and in this case Virginia Beach as well) from trying to do something to improve their local community by discouraging drivers from running red lights.

I'll probably derive some marginal benefit from this, it also means that there will be no speeding cameras - which I don't favor.

Apocalypse Now

This is sure to be an interesting development, and by "interesting" I mean in terms of the old Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times."

Justice O'Connor is retiring.

The imminent retirement of Chief Justice Rehnquist has given rise to speculation about replacement Justices, but this O'Connor retirement ups the ante since O'Connor is as often as not the swing vote on this Court.

Unfortunately, this is probably a pretty good summary of exactly how things are going to turn out.

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