Friday, May 18, 2007

A few brief observations on the AL East...

The Sawx...
Julian Tavarez gave the Red Sox only his second quality start of the season and it came against a tough Detroit Tigers team - 7 innings pitched, one earned run. A few more of these and he might preserve his job as the fifth starter.

Hideki Okajima is on his way right now to making a serious run at the Rookie of the Year award. Yesterday he had a hold in the early game, and then saved the late game. He hasn't given up a run since his first appearance of the season.

With a ten game lead in the win column over the rest of the AL East, right now the Sox biggest enemy could be themselves. Currently the Sox have a .700 winning percentage and a 9.5 game lead over the second place Yankees. If complacency seeps into the heads of some of these guys, they set themselves on cruise control, that could be very dangerous to their large lead.

That said, the Sox have mounted their assault on the rest of the AL East with their staring outfield looking like this at the plate - Manny Ramirez (.248), Coco Crisp (.233), JD Drew (.250). What happens when Ramirez and Drew get hot?

Da Bahmahs...
The Yankees braintrust announces the signing of baseball's oldest pitcher during a game to give the team a shot in the arm. Over the last ten games they are 4-6. Wonder what would have happened without that shot in the arm.

Clemens hasn't joined the team, Joe Torre and GM Brian Cashman have assured the press that there will be no problems regarding Clemens' special treatment in the locker room, yet reliever Kyle Farnsworth has already complained publicly about the fact that Clemens won't really be part of the team, because he will just be coming in on his days to pitch.

This is a team that's not out of it yet, it is still early. But that's not the sort of thing that inspires a person to believe the team is going on a run at the Sox anytime soon.

On top of that, the Yankees have a tough enough stretch over the next ten days that they could feasibly be 14 games back by June 1 if they don't get their act together.

The Devil Rays are in the details...
This team is showing some talent and determination. What they aren't showing, a quarter of the way through the season, is the pitching needed to make a legitimate run at the post-season. To be fair, neither are the Yankees, Blue Jays, or Orioles.

If ownership has the cajones and pockets to keep this team together, in another year or two, with maybe one quality veteran in the rotation, they might be a contender for the wild-card. If one or two of the young arms in the rotation gets hot, they might have an outside shot this year, although I would be surprised.

Everybody's talkin' about the bird...
And the word is disappointment. Blue Jays GM JP Ricciardi assembled a line-up that was supposed to compete with the Sox and Yanks. A quarter of the way into the season it appears that his plan was about halfway successful - At 18-22, the team is just under .500, and a half-game behind the Yanks.

To be fair to Ricciardi, his team has dealt with injuries in the same way the Yankees have - which is to say that both teams had little depth behind the people who have been injured, and that lack of depth has taken its toll on both teams.

From the bottom looking up...
Former Braves pitching guru and current manager Sam Perlazzo currently has a staff with a 4.46 ERA. Closer Chris Ray who was practically unhittable last season already has three losses and is sporting a 4.34 ERA over his 18 plus innings.

While still in the thick of the pack in the AL East (only one game behind the second place Yankees), a cellar finish is not out of the question for a team that started the season with high hopes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ale and athletics...

As the Maryland Columnist for the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, I attended this past weekend's Maryland Brewer's Spring Fest at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick, MD. Seeing as Harry Grove is home to the Baltimore Orioles' class A affiliate Frederick Keys, the entire time I was there I was constantly reminded of the long-standing relationship between the professional athletics and alcohol industries. Incidentally, yes, that is me. To my left (just out of the shot) is the owner of Red Brick Station, a brew-pub in Whitemarsh, just outside of Baltimore (further to the left are people lounging in the bleachers, enjoying the live music - the stage was set up at home plate).

I want to comment on this only because of an off-season controversy wherein MLB granted Daisuke Matsuzaka permission to wear his new Red Sox jersey in an ad for Asahi Beer that had a number of people in an uproar in the United States...also due to the recent death of a Cardinals pitcher, whom I won't bring up again.

As you might be able to tell, I don't mind imbibing on occasion. I actively seek out good beer. I like the fact that my local minor league park also serves beers from both of the area's brew pubs, and I like to have a beer while watching the Sox or Pats play.

That said, I also believe that there are too many people that take it too far at the games. Believe it or not, I will go to Yankee Stadium in full Red Sox regalia (have done it, last time was for a Derek Lowe playoff loss in 2003) before I would go to the Linc in Philly for a Pats-Eagles game. It's one thing to go to a game and cheer for your team, and even engage in a little bit of banter with fans of the opponents - it's another when families from other areas show up and the children are harassed, cursed at, and sometimes spit on by home-town fans who were drunk at tail-gating parties hours before the game started (this happens all too often, and Philly is not the only place I have read about this happening).

There was a time when that was Foxboro, before the Krafts decided they needed to make the stadium family friendly.

I don't think the cessation of the service of beer is necessarily the answer, and would rather not see that happen. What I would like to see happen is more common sense being applied by fans. This could be a lot to ask from a group whose most intellectual argument on why their team is superior to an opponent is often comprised of the term, "(insert opponent name here) suck!"

The following, sometimes sobering, numbers were compiled from other sources by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (admittedly, a group trying to impose greater limits on alcohol advertising, particularly during sporting events) -

• Alcohol producers spent $991 million on television advertising in 2002 – 60% of that was on sports programming
• Alcohol producers spent $596 million advertising on sports programming in 2002, an increase of more than 22% over 2001
• In 2001 and 2002, Budweiser and Bud Light spent more than 87% of their combined television advertising budgets on sports programming
• Non-beer brands increased spending on sports programs significantly from 2001 to 2002: distilled spirits sports TV spending increased 168%; alcopops increased 138%
• Beer marketers spent $58 million in 2002 for 6,251 ads in college sports programs
• In 2002, alcohol advertising represented 5.3% of all advertising dollars on college sports, compared to only 2.0% of all advertising on television
• In 2002, beer producers spent $27 million advertising on the NCAA basketball tournament, which had as many alcohol ads (939) as the Super Bowl, World Series, College Bowl Games and NFL Monday Night Football combined (925)
• Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light and Budweiser accounted for 58% of college sports advertising dollars by the alcoholic-beverage industry in 2002

Pardon my French, but that's a shit-load of money.

So, next time you're at the park, drink smart. If you know you're an unpleasant drunk, don't drink at all. And if you're gonna drink heavy, make sure you have a designated driver...and not the one Steve McNair used.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More quick hits...

From the Big Apple...
From the New York Daily News' Mike Lupica talking with Yankees GM Brian Cashman - "We're better than our record," Cashman said, and then added, "I know that's easy to say. But we've got a lot of season left to prove it."

From a one time New York icon - Bill Parcells used to say "You are what your record says you are."

If the season ended today, the Yankees would be a losing team. No more. No less. Just a losing team. They wouldn't be better than that, they wouldn't be worse - they would just be 17-19.

There is time for that to change, but the Bronx Bombers have dug themselves a deep hole to get out of.

Pink Floyd...
The arbitration hearing that Floyd Landis has been preparing for got underway yesterday at Pepperdine University. While the opening day was filled with bad blood and contentious statements/sentiment, Landis took the time to meet with the press and express his confidence in his case.

As I have said before, I am presuming neither guilt nor innocence in this case, however, I am interested in hearing USADA's explanations in regards to utilizing a lab that has had historic problems in handling its specimens and following properly established testing procedures. I'm also interested in hearing the scientific reasoning on how Landis' epitestosterone levels could have such a dramatic spike for only one day.

I have a feeling that either way that the arbitrator rules, there might be some reform in how the system is handled in the future.

Wait until next week...
That's what officials involved in Pacman Jones' appeal of his season long suspension are saying about when the ruling on the appeal will be made public. I'm anxious to see if Goodell sticks to his guns, or if he shortens the suspension.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Some thoughts on sports in the aftermath of a brewfest...

Getting some distance...
Trying to resist the feeling that is starting that it could be a pretty special season in the Back Bay this year. Boston's six run ninth, the Mother's Day Massacre of the Baltimore Orioles had that sort of magic feel that the Patriots had during the Super Bowl run when Troy Brown was playing nickel for them.

36 games into the season and the Red Sox have the best winning percentage in the majors. Arch-nemesis Yankees? Right now they're tenth overall in the 14-team American League, beating out only Tampa Bay, Toronto, Texas, and Kansas City.

The Sox? They're doing their damage even with five regulars batting below .260 - Julio Lugo (.259), JD Drew (.257), Manny Ramirez (.250), Dustin Pedroia (.247), and Coco Crisp (.221).

The only two negatives from the weekend - Josh Beckett missing out on getting his eighth straight win, and Beckett possibly missing his next start due to a cut on one of the fingers of his throwing hand.

Ricky Williams is done. Even if he gets reinstated, who is going to take a chance on a 30+ running back with a pot habit?

A matter of time...
If Julian Tavarez keeps pitching like he has, it's only a matter of time before they replace him with Jon Lester. Tavarez has been the week link in what has otherwise been the best rotation in baseball. The Sox fifth starter has had only one start in which he has lasted at least six innings and gave up less than three earned runs.

The result, a 1-4 record with a 6.60 ERA. The next worst amongst the starters - Daisuke Matsuzaka with a 4-2 record and a 4.80 ERA. The others, Tim Wakefield (4-3, 1.79), Curt Schilling (4-1, 3.63), Beckett (7-0, 2.66). Total - Sox starters account for 20 wins and 10 losses. Tavarez accounts for 40 percent of the losses and less than 10 percent of the wins.

Even the bullpen is 5-1, accounting for 40 percent of the Sox total 25 wins. I have a hunch the leash Tavarez is on is getting shorter.