The Red Sox Aren’t Good

Nava high 5s

Daniel Nava has led the Red Sox’s surprise start this season, but can he and the Hometown Heroes keep it up?

…Yet.

If you’ve paid any attention to America’s Past Time in the first month of the season, you’ll know that the Red Sox not only lead the American League East, they also have the best record in the American League and, even further, all of baseball. At 18-7, the Red Sox have already tied their own club record for most wins in April. A 19th win today would produce the best start the team has ever had in over 100 years of existence. After the misery that has followed this team like a black cloud follows Eeyore, this is no small accomplishment.

In the past three Aprils, the Red Sox haven’t managed more than 11 wins in any season, going 11-11 (2012), 11-14 (2011), and 11-12 (2010)

It took the team until May 17th to get to 18 wins in 2012, May 13th to get there in 2011, and May 11th in 2010.

This season is a bit different. Pitching, shaky at best for the past several seasons – especially in the early going – has been much better overall. A solid bullpen has formed in former uber prospect turned Tommy John recoveree Junichi Tazawa, journeyman set-up guy in Koji Uehara, and the rejuvenated and finally healthy Andrew Bailey closing games for the Red Sox.

The starting pitchers have been even better, as Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have both re-found their inner ace in April, going 9-0 in 10 starts and giving up only 13 runs collectively. Ryan Dempster has been a nice surprise, as many considered him maybe a 4th starter as the 35-year-old has historically struggled in the American League. He owns a 3.30 era through 30 innings and five starts this season, while also striking out 43 batters. The only Red Sox pitcher to ever strike out more batters through 5 games to start the season was Pedro Martinez in 1998. He finished second in Cy Young Award voting that year. Red Sox pitchers as a whole have struck out 248 batters in April, a Major League record.

Further, the team has scored the third most runs in the American League, allowed the third fewest in the AL, have the third best era in the AL, and lead Major League Baseball with a +40 run differential.

They’ve led or tied the Division every single day in April. Again, a Red Sox record.

So how could I possibly sit here and say the team isn’t good? It’s easy: I’m a Red Sox fan.

I’ve seen the good. I was poisoned by 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008. I was pseudo-shocked by 2009, convinced until the bitter end 2010 was “the year” again despite all the injuries derailing the season, I believed the 2011 Red Sox could be the best team ever, and that 2012 would leave them bouncing back into happiness. I supported Bobby Valentine for a solid 3 and a half months, roughly 31/4 months longer than anyone else. I know what it’s like to be over confident, absolutely sure of your team, full of Blind Obedience to a team you love so dearly.

What I’m saying is, it’s easy to be fooled, especially growing up in the era of Red Sox Lore that I did.

I love this Red Sox team. I think they could have the best personality since 2004, I’ve said it since Spring Training, and will hopefully carry us charismatically all summer long and well into October. But I won’t be fooled…yet.

Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Ryan Dempster have pitched well in the first month of the season. Lots of pitchers have pitched well for a month over the long history of this league, and lots of hitters struggle in the early going. These three in particular have a lot to prove.

The bull pen doesn’t have really anything to prove outside of Joel Hanrahan, but again, it’s a long season.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has started roughly as many games as David Ross, which is probably bad for both. Ross thrives in limited action, but the 35-year-old will struggle as the season progresses. Salty is just an enigma no matter what happens – he slumps too much when playing every day, can’t hit a watermelon if he doesn’t, and is too lost inside his own head to figure either situation out.

Mike Napoli, while mashing 28 hits and driving in 27 runs in April ( more than his previous two Aprils combined 26 total – 12 in ’11, 14 in ’12), isn’t a sure thing. He’s got the ultimate Fenway Swing, but you’ve got to think a lot of his home runs were helped by the warm air in Texas and Los Angeles. And really, there’s a reason the team changed a 3-year, $39 million deal to a 1-year, $5 million deal. When is his hip going to break down?

David Ortiz has raked since rejoining the team, batting an even .500, slugging at .912, and sporting an overall otherwordly 1.425 OPS with 3 home runs, 8 extra base hits, and 2 walks. He’s also 37 years old, coming off a season in which he missed just under 50% of the games because he ruptured his achilles, and he and his wife are getting a divorce.

Mike Carp is leading the team in batting at .455 (outside of Ortiz in limited play), and Daniel Nava has 4 home runs and a .310 average, which is really, really awesome and has Dan Duquette writhing in jealousy in Baltimore, but does anyone think this will pan out over 162 games?

Stephen Drew has hardly hit the ball, although he’s been good in the games he has. He’s in a contract year, trying to re-establish himself with his 1-year, $9 million tender (think Adrian Beltre circa 2010). He could be an offensive juggernaut and a terrific signing that will inevitably leave via free agency. He’s also Stephen Drew, so he could spend 4 months on the D.L. and show everyone why he’s the kid brother of J.D. Nancy Drew.

Will Middlebrooks, hitting a measly .202, is a stubborn young kid currently not willing to change anything in his approach and only swinging for the fences.

Bottomline: there’s a lot of questions. These Red Sox look great right now. The team is guaranteed to finish April with the best record in baseball. But they were also projected to be better than the 1927 Yankees in 2011 and blew a ginormous lead in September in one of the most epic collapses in MLB history. They were also supposed to lose to the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS when they trailed 3 games to 0.

Confused? Me too. Think you know anything about this team yet? Think again. Only time will tell, and so far we’ve only had 30 days and 25 games to say anything, which is to say the Red Sox haven’t really said anything at all.

Stay tuned

 

Readers can follow Pat on Twitter at @PatBradleyUSCHO

Why I Love Sports: The Day The Terrorists Lost

Sports is usually our escape. Our getaway. Our sanctuary.

Monday in Boston, it was our crime scene. Just after the four hour mark of the Boston Marathon, two bombs went off at the finish line, killing at least 3 people and injuring hundreds others.

The Bruins and Celtics both canceled their games, and the Red Sox were on their way out of town. In a season where there is often 3 Boston teams playing on any given night, there were none. And that was okay. Sports took a backseat to life in our neck of the world, as we tried to piece together what had happened hours before. What followed, however, is a reminder of why we love sports in the first place. The games are our comfort, their events a distraction. We hate other teams and players so we don’t hate our own, and we rally around one cause that brings us together so passionately.

Despite the hated rivalries across professional sports that Boston maintains, sometimes events and people transcend sports. Yesterday’s tragedy at the Boston Marathon is one such instance. Several teams, athletes and news outlets have taken to different forms of media to express their sympathy and prayers to the city of Boston and all those affected by it’s rivalries. Below is a montage of just some of the outpouring of love and respect the sporting world has shown us in our time of need.

Probably the coolest, most touching gesture of them all: late Tuesday afternoon the Yankees tweeted “We stand united with Boston” with a picture

A touching display outside Yankee Stadium from typically hated rivals

A touching display outside Yankee Stadium from typically hated rivals

The team later announced that they would play “Sweet Caroline,” a song that is a staple of Fenway Park at every game, after the third inning following a moment of silence before the game. Here’s video from the Yankees Network of the stadium during the song.

Yankees fans also came out to the ballpark in support of Boston

Scenes like this were not uncommon Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium

Scenes like this were not uncommon Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium

The acts of kindness didn’t go unnoticed

Neil Diamond

thanks ny

The Yankees weren’t the only ones showing their support though. Across the NBA, NHL, and MLB, Moments of Silence were observed before most games. Across baseball, the Marlins, Cubs, Reds, A’s, Indians, Yankees and Braves all played Sweet Caroline at some point during their games. The University of South Carolina, Jackie Bradley Jr.’s old stomping grounds, played the song during their game as well. The Brewers played the theme song to “Cheers!” a  famous TV show about a Boston bar.

The Montreal Canadiens, the biggest rivals of the Boston Bruins, were one of the teams to salute Boston with a moment of silence and a Twitter shout out.

Canadiens Tweets

In Chicago at the Blackhawks game, a moment of silence was held. Right at the end, a fan somewhere yelled “we love you, Boston!” and the crowd erupted in cheers that continued straight through the National Anthem. Typically a silent event, Chicago fans decided to cheer through the powerful rendition of the Anthem just like fans were cheering at the finish line of the Boston Marathon when the bombs went off.

Today’s edition of the Chicago Tribune paid tribute to Boston as well, saying “We are Chicago” with the five major Boston sports logos underneath.

The cover of the Sports section of the Chicago Tribune

The cover of the Sports section of the Chicago Tribune

In Philadelphia, Phillies closer and former Red Sox pitcher Jonathan Papelbon expressed his sorrow and disbelief over the situation. Papelbon used to live in a building right above where one of the bombs went off.

“I used to live right above where one of the bombs went off,” Papelbon said. “It’s kind of surreal. I don’t know man, it’s crazy. It’s hard to even think about.

“I lived right above Abe and Louie’s,” he said referring to a steakhouse in the area. “It’s sad, man.”

Papelbon wasn’t the only Phillie to respond to the situation. Outfielder Ben Revere wrote the words “PRAY For Boston” on a piece of tape that he placed on his glove. Then, he made the catch of the year.

A touching display from Ben Revere followed by the catch of the year

A touching display from Ben Revere followed by the catch of the year

Everyone’s support endured.

Torey Smith tweets

Ravens Wide Receiver Torey Smith

NBA superstar and Celtic arch-nemesis LeBron James

NBA superstar and Celtic arch-nemesis LeBron James

Carmelo tweet

Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony

cory Schneider

Vancouver Canucks and former Boston College goalie Cory Schneider

Jets tweet

The New York Jets

MWP

Lakers Forward and longtime Celtics rival

Kobe Tweet

Lakers Superstar Kobe Bryant Tweeted out a picture from Instagram, shown below

Kobe Instagram

And then in Cleveland, a touching display of welcome and support from the city, highlighted by this card from one of  Cleveland’s little tikes.

inside dugout

from our city to yours

Will Middlebrooks, the Red Sox Third Baseman, summed it up best, shown below in an infographic from Comcast Sports Net New England

CSN Middlebrooks Tweet

The Red Sox themselves had their own tribute in the dugout, a jersey with the words “Boston Strong” and the numbers “617”, Boston’s area code, on the back.

Boston Strong Jersey

April 15th, 2013 will never be forgotten in Boston. The acts of the terrorists who planted the bombs have tragically changed our lives forever. But this week will not be remembered as the time that Boston fell.

This will be remembered as the day our city came together and saved each other.

This will be remembered as the day the good guys won.

The day the terrorists lost.

Welcome to Boston.

Sports Illustrated cover

  yanks buds

Hug those you hold dear. Don’t forget to say I love you. Never give up, never back down, and always Keep the Faith.

Pray for those who lost their lives, pray for those who were hurt, and pray for the city of Boston.

May God have mercy on us all and hold us in his graces through this difficult time.

Thanks, America. We love you too.

#BostonStrong

The Dwightmare Begins

The Dwightmare is seemingly over now that Superman has landed in Lakerville, but this may be the worst best thing that has ever happened to basketball

And So It Begins

I love the game of basketball, more so than almost anything else in this world. If it were a religion, the court would be my own personal Mecca. It’s a place I feel at home, can forget about the world and work out my frustrations. It’s the first sport I ever played, my first love. The first season I played, I tripped over my own feet more times than I scored (which for those of you keeping score at home was 2 points the entire season). I remember that basket, the tears that I quickly tried to hide as seemingly everyone in the gym cheered for the poor, chubby kid who ran around like a chicken with his head cut off, and the opposing coach sticking his hand out for a high five. That summer I worked tirelessly on one specific shot – a dribbling left to right semi-hook shot that looked more like I was throwing a shot put than shooting a basketball – because it was the best way I could beat anyone. Late that following season, I hit that very shot to win a game in the playoffs. I practiced and practiced and practiced and when I was done, I practiced some more. I watched YouTube videos and every game or special I could get my hands on. I started growing and was fed the fact that all the doctors predicted I would be 6’4″. I never grew taller than 5’10”, where I stand today, but always felt like I was a monster on the court. I played the best game of my life in an 8th grade tournament when I and started with and played through a concussion and pneumonia, scoring 14 points and sinking two free throws (something I was particularly bad at back then) that iced the game. When I was fourteen, I boldly proclaimed that if I played Michael Jordan in his prime one-on-one, I would win. Even bolder? I  truly believed it.

I proceeded to get cut from my high school team and go to every possible Varsity game to support the team over the next four years. I went nuts with one of the craziest fan bases ever as a sophomore when we won the Massachusetts State Championship just months after one of the seniors on the team died in a tragic car accident. I was the Head Manager of the team the following season as a junior and relished in the opportunity to just help the team in any way I could. As a senior, I took charge and stood front row with my best friends, leading the nationally recognized crowd to become the Greatest High School Fan Section in America as once again we took home the State Title. I am first and foremost a lover of the game of basketball.

As a lover of the game, when I heard about Dwight Howard heading to the Lakers I practically started drooling. Another Super Team to challenge the likes of LeBron, Wade, Bosh and the Defending NBA Champion Miami Heat? A team already featuring the greatest player since Jordan in Kobe Bryant and second in league history with 16 NBA Championships? This couldn’t get much better. The Lakers made big moves earlier this offseason when they added 2-time MVP point guard Steve Nash, an up-tempo point guard the Lakers haven’t seen the likes of in over a decade, and wily veteran forward Antawn Jamison who provides a huge offensive and defensive punch off the bench. The Lakers, two years removed from going to 3 straight NBA Finals and winning the latter 2 of those, have looked old. Now, they pull off a trade in which they keep star power forward Pau Gasol, become much younger, can run with the  Miami Heat and defending Western Conference Champion Oklahoma City Thunder, can slow the game down in the half court with a phenomenal high post/low post duo of Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard that neither Miami nor OKC can match, and have found the heir to the throne as King of Lakerland in Dwight Howard. As if that’s not enough, check out this stat, courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info:

Watch out, NBA

To a fan of the game who just loves good competition, this can’t get any better. However, I’m not just a fan of the game. I’m a diehard Boston Celtics fan and, to put it simply, I’m pissed. As far as my eyes can see (and the further I look, the greener the tint gets) this could be the worst thing the league has ever seen.

The Problem

We’ll start with this texting exchange I had with a friend this morning in the aftermath of the Howard deal:

Her: “But seriously, F*** the Lakers”

Me: “Currently [hate/want to screw them over] more than the Yankees”

Her: “Agreed. But it’ll be okay, don’t worry”

Me: “If by ‘okay’ you mean Kevin Durant (my absolute favorite player) not winning a title for at least 3 more years, OKC probably semi-blowing up their team because of financial issue by then and Durant possibly NEVER winning a title, the Lakers pulling ANOTHER 3 peat, tying the Celtics for most NBA Championships EVER this year (17), passing us the year after, Kobe tying Michael [Jordan] with six rings and then passing him, Michael committing suicide at a young age after attempting another comeback in his 50s with the Bobcats and failing miserably (maybe a stretch, but still), then Kobe challenging Bill Russell for the most rings EVER when all is said and done, then yeah, everything will be okay and I have nothing to worry about.”

Her: “Oh my”

Houston, we have a problem. This isn’t just bad, this is Independence Day-esque bad, with no Will Smith in sight. As a Celtics fan, this is the epitome of all evils: The Lakers win, win again, and in the process of winning, trump you as the greatest franchise in NBA History. Think about that for a minute….This. CAN’T. HAPPEN!!! Dwight didn’t want to be there. He didn’t! And now, suddenly, he pushed for this trade to LA? Hold on…this smells fishy and oddly familiar to another recent event of my sports past:

In the winter following the 2003 Boston Red Sox’s devastating Grady-Left-Pedro-In-Too-Long Game 7 ALCS loss to the Yankees in which Aaron F@!$ing Boone hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the eleventh off poor Tim Wakefield, I found new levels of hate, the likes of which my almost-12-year-old self had never known. The Red Sox were in on the hunt for SS Alex Rodriguez when suddenly, Yankee 3B Aaron Boone, owner of 99% of all the hatred and heartbreak I had ever known, blew out his knee in a pickup basketball game, prompting the Yankees to go out and trade for Rodriguez, one of the best players in the game. The rich just got richer. Later that offseason, Larry Lucchino, Red Sox President and CEO, reiterated his feelings about the Yankees, once again calling them “The Evil Empire”.

What about this story reminds me of this whole D12 shebang? I hated Aaron Boone on two separate occasions: once for ruining the Red Sox World Series dreams, the next for getting hurt and luring the Yankees to go out and get A-Rod. Picture this 2012 Howard debacle as the Hollywood reboot, with the Lakers starring as the Yankees, Dwight Howard starring as Alex Rodriguez, and Dwight’s back starring as Aaron Boone. That’s right, I’m blaming his back. Howard’s back single-handedly elimanted the best chance of kicking the Miami Heat out of the playoffs before they faced the Celtics, scared me for 3 months leading up to the Olympics about how Team USA would respond without their starting center, and caused him to need surgery in which he was rehabbing at a facility in LA all summer which in turn (as Bill Simmons points out here), has most likely led to his realizing that being a superstar in Los Angeles playing for one of the most popular teams in the world alongside one of the most popular and best players in the world really couldn’t be all that bad. So the Lakers, realizing Howard would come to his senses, waited without panicking and slowly managed to go from a trade that would have forced them to absorb a bad contract (Hedo Turkoglu’s), trade their All Star Center (Andrew Bynun), trade their perennial All Star power foward (Pau Gasol) and trade multiple draft picks, to simply trading Bynum and one future, first-round, lottery-protected draft pick. I can just picture Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Owner Jerry Buss sitting in a lavish room on the phone with Rob Hennigan, new General Manager of the Orlando Magic, force choking him, and saying something malicious like “I have you now!” while they steal another All-Time NBA Great to be. The Lakers are the basketball equivalent of The Evil Empire, only much, much smarter. Making matters worse? Hennigan is from Worcester. A Massachusetts native. The guy is a CELTICS fan!  Dear God, I’m pissed.

The Solution

Sam Presti, GM of the Oklahoma City Thunder, is one of the smartest men in basketball. He drafts well, trades well, takes low risk-high reward moves and almost always seems to end up with a win-win situation. He is also the man who pulled the trigger on the trade that landed Kendrick Perkins in blue and orange, much to the horrific dismay of every Celtic fan worldwide. Sam Presti is not a dumb man, but in the wake of the Thunder’s NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat this past June, some people are questioning whether or not the Perkins trade was one of his best. Perkins has battled injuries the last few years, some believe his skills are declining and, this combined with his salary (owed $25M over the next 3 seasons), has many people in OKC’s circles crying “uncle” on Perk’s contract. Personally, I think Scott Brooks coached terribly the past two playoffs and didn’t utilize what he had in Perkins. To be fair, Kendrick doesn’t exactly fit into the run-and-gun, high-octane offense of the Thunder. But to be more fair, the Miami Heat are the best in the business at doing just that, have the greatest player on Earth, and simply beat the Thunder at their own game. Still, many think the money could be better spent elsewhere. Bleacher Report had this to say about the situation:

“Here’s the catch, though: Oklahoma City may be forced to amnesty Perkins this offseason.

Why?

Well, think about it. The Thunder have to make commitments to James Harden and Serge Ibaka for the future, and they have already signed Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to lucrative long-term deals.

It’s going to be extremely difficult for Oklahoma City to lock up one of Harden and Ibaka, and then when you throw Perkins’ contract into the mix? It just makes for a very messy situation for GM Sam Presti, and his hand may be forced here when it comes to Perkins.”

Sam Presti is not a dumb man, but if he thinks he can improve his team by using the Amnesty Clause on Perkins’ contract and spending that money elsewhere, he will. Suddenly, in a world where I never thought I’d see the Big Mean Green Machine back in a C’s uniform ever again, I have a vision. It’s Kendrick’s cell phone buzzing. He just received a text from his best friend, Celtic’s point guard Rajon Rondo. It’s a picture message, with the following words underneath:

“You’re gonna like the way you look…”

Then Kendrick’s phone rings. He answers and hears Kevin Garnett on the other line.

“I guarantee it”, says Garnett, and then hangs up.

And BAM! Just like that Perk comes frolicking through meadows and receives a police escort back to the Garden where his old teammates are waiting with open arms for the press conference re-introducing Perk as a Celtic. Yes, I’m telling you Kendrick Perkins is the key to solving every single aforementioned NBA crisis. Don’t believe me?

Let’s just put it this way: if Dwight Howard were Jesus, Perkins would be the anti-Christ. However, now that Howard is a Laker, I see him as more of a demon. Therefore, Kendrick Perkins qualifies as John Constantine, a demon hunter whose sole purpose on Earth is to send demons back to the nether regions. Kendrick Perkins is the Chosen One.

…wait. Did I really just compare Kendrick Perkins to Keanu Reeves?

(::Gets on knees, begins reciting Act of Contrition:: “Bless me Father for I have sinned…”)

Actually, yes I did, and it makes sense. The Matrix (starring Keanu Reeves) was awesome and Constantine (also starring Keanu Reeves) was an entertaining thriller (it got 3.5 out of 5 stars!), then all of a sudden Keanu disappeared and now no one likes him or thinks he is worth anything. Sound familiar? Keep in mind that at the time of Perkins’ trade from the Celtics, he was widely considered the second best center in the league (next in line only to Howard), despite his offensive deficiencies and coming off a torn ACL in his knee. He was also one of the defensive anchors of the Celtics’ record setting defenses. Still not buying it? Please refer to the following:

  • Games 6 and 7, 2010 NBA Finals. Perkins blows out knee with Celtics up 3-2, Lakers win Title.
  • February 2011, Celtics finally healthy are on their way to another championship,get Perkins back from injury. Perkins gets traded, Celtics lose in 2nd Round to Miami Heat.
  • Games 6 and 7, 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. Celtics up 3-2. Big man Chris Bosh returns to Miami lineup, moving Garnett outside the paint allowing LeBron to have one of the single greatest playoff games ever in game 6, Celtics lose in 7.

By my count, that’s THREE banners that are not hanging from the rafters in Boston. Three banners we would have had with Kendrick Perkins in the lineup. If Kendrick Perkins comes back to Boston with this already retooled lineup, we’ll be seeing a Celtics-Lakers Finals for a few years to come. The Celtics will almost certainly win at least once more if they get Perk back. Besides, if the Lakers want to win and pass the Celtics in Championships, shouldn’t they have to go through us to do so? Now that would be entertaining basketball.

The irony in all of this? Danny Ainge traded Kendrick Perkins in the first place because he firmly believed he could convince Dwight Howard to come to Boston. Now, he’s in Los Angeles.

God, I hate the Lakers.