Archive | October 2016

There Goes Papi

I’ve been attending and watching sporting events for almost my whole life. I’ve had almost every emotion possible. I’ve been at ease watching my team annihilate the opposition, dejected when my team stinks, shocked by heartbreaking losses, tense in close and meaningful games, and thrilled by exciting victories late. The one emotion I haven’t had before is being sad. I’ve been dejected, but I’ve never had a sense of true sadness while at a game in my life. That was, until last night at Fenway Park. 

I waited until the first inning started to buy tickets, knowing that they would drop like a rock, and picked up seats for fairly cheap. After that, I went with my friend, another life long Sox fan, and off we went to the tense atmosphere of playoff baseball in Fenway Park. We knew the potential for the Red Sox to stage a stellar series comeback, given their history in the 2000’s. We also knew that if they lost, the last active player from our youths would retire and our childhood sport fandom would in essence be over. 

Sure enough, the Red Sox found themselves down two in the bottom of the 8th inning with a runner on base, two out, and David Ortiz up to hit. Naturally, we felt pretty good about it. And then Cleveland pitched around him with an unintentional intentional walk. Hanley Ramirez singled in a run, and then Ortiz was taken out for a pinch runner. He left to upraorus applause and adulation. Unfortunately, he was denied a proper happy ending. The Red Sox failed to tie the game in the eighth and got two more runners on in the 9th and failed to score then. When the game ended, I had this crushed feeling of, “It’s over. The season, the chance for a championship, the fun times at the ballpark, but especially the career of a legend. It’s all gone.”

At that moment, I sat down in my seat and was the saddest I’ve ever been at any game I’ve ever gone to. I filled out my scorebook with what had happened, and looked around the ballpark. There were so many people standing in shock. They all knew, as I did, that we would never watch David Amèrico Ortiz Arias step to the batters box ever again for the Boston Red Sox. We didn’t want it to end. We stood and waited. We chanted at the top of our lungs: “We Want Papi!” And “Thank you Papi!” and best of all “We’re Not Leaving!”. We waited for what felt like an eternity. 

And then a tall, looming figure stepped out of the Red Sox dugout and took the field. The Fenway Park sound guys played this music from The Natural, and every person there watched this legend as tears filled every eye in the yard. Surrounded by reporters, he looked around the park with tears in his eyes. He didn’t care about the people taking pictures a few feet away from them, he wasn’t there for them. He walked out to the pitchers mound to say thank you to the people in the stands. He tipped his cap to us, and we cheered and yelled “Thank you David!” until we just couldn’t speak or make anymore noise. We all knew what this man did for the Red Sox, the region, and ourselves. We could do nothing, but applaud the efforts and heart of this champion. And then he stepped off the mound and off the field, back through the dugout and into the clubhouse to remove his equipment for the final time. 

I’ve been following the Red Sox since 2003, a diehard fan since 2005, and a Boston area resident since 2012. In that time, David Ortiz went from a mediocre left handed hitter to productive hitter on a record setting offense to postseason folk hero to legendary slugger worthy of record alongside the greatest to ever play the game. I grew up watching him play every single day for six months of my year every year from 2003 on. I was 8 when he took over the DH spot from Jeremy Giambi. I’m now 22 and I’m watching the last of my childhood baseball heroes walk away. And when David walked out and tipped his cap to us, I cried. I’ve never shed a tear at a game before. But that was the end of my childhood baseball fandom, and I was so sad to watch it end. 

As I’ve explained before, David Ortiz is the most important Red Sox player ever. Not the best, but the most important. He took the Red Sox from being a team that would be just good enough to entertain and just bad enough to fail spectacularly in the biggest game of the season to being a champion. The 2004 World Series is the most important trophey in the history of all Boston sports without any hesitation. And David Ortiz was at the heart of it. When we cheered David, we were thanking him for his efforts on the field and his transformation of the organization we root for. He turned us into winners. And I mean that line quite literally. 

Athletes can only do so much to directly impact our day to day lives. They play a game and entertain people. They aren’t doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers, or anything that directly helps a city in that manner. Any impact that can be is up to the person watching the game and athlete in question. Athletes can inspire fans and make them realize their own potential. They see the exploits on the field and think: “If they can handle all this pressure of all these expectations and perform like that, then I can handle my issues and do it the way they do.” 

Watching the Red Sox from 1919 to 2003 was to expect failure. You follow a team for so long and see so many failures while that guy (in this case the Yankees) gets every break and does so well, and it rubs off on your psyche. When David showed up and played with his swagger and championship mindset, he changed the Sox from fearing the big moment and the Yankees to wanting that pressure. That rubbed off on the fan base too. It rubbed off on me. I looked at Ortiz as an inspirational figure for my youth, looking to his triumphs for inspiration to deal with personal struggles and problems. He gave me the confidence to handle my issues with a championship swagger and attitude. I’ll always have him to personally thank for that. And me tipping my cap to him was my way of saying thank you. I’m sure I’m not the only person with that sense of gratitude or impact given by him. 

Thank you David Ortiz, champion, hero, and Boston Red Sox legend. You’ve changed a city, a team, a fan base, and filled our lives with so much joy. One standing ovation from all of us Red Sox fans would not be enough to thank you for all that you’ve done. But it’s all we could give you last night. Thank you. We will miss you, and love what you gave us forever. 

Division Series Previews and Predictions

After two outstanding Wild Card games over the last few days, the Baseball Postseason is ready to get started tonight! We have eight teams starting the division series in both the American and National League over the next two days, and this is when the best baseball is played. Let’s take a look at each series and see what I think will happen! And for the record, I’m not going to predict more than just the Division Series. We’ll start with the American League. 

Toronto Blue Jays vs Texas Rangers- Rangers in 5

This is the series I look at with the most excitement. After last year’s matchup between these two teams, capped by this Jose Bautista homer and bat flip, and the bad blood spilling over into a regular season match early this year, I am excited for this matchup! There is bad blood, animosity, and something that baseball has missed for a long time: menace. There’s a sense of competition that the sport desperately needs in the postseason, and I am excited for that. There also are talented baseball players on both teams, so we should get good play in addition to the competition. Both teams have strong lineups, good to well above average starting rotations, and shakey bullpens so I see that as a close matchup.

The Blue Jays lineup can make minced meat out of the best pitching in baseball. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Troy Tulowitski are all able to hit homers off any pitcher in any ballpark, let alone band boxes in Texas and Toronto that will lead to more offense. Their defense is also capable, with the fifth best fielding percentage in the AL. Russell Martin is an underrated defensive catcher, and their starting rotation is talented, if a bit unproven. They have the AL’s ERA leader in Aaron Sanchez, who is coming off a masterful performance in Fenway Park against the best offense in baseball, in which he held the Red Sox to one run over seven innings. Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, and JA Happ are also talented pitchers who will hold their own. Toronto’s weakness comes in the form of their bullpen. They have only a 4.40 ERA and despite holding the Orioles offense to only 2 runs in the wild card game, there is no clear closer or obvious stopper in the Jays bullpen. Roberto Osuna is questionable for game 1, and that will mess with the bullpen big time. 

Texas can match the Canadian offense. Adrian Beltre continues to make a Hall of Fame case for himself after a .300, 30 homer, 104 RBI season at 37 years old. Elvis Andrus hit .302, Rougned Odor provides some punch (no pun intended), and Ian Desmond is a capable all around hitter. After Prince Fielder retired, the Rangers picked up Carlos Beltran, a playoff tested future Hall of Famer to bolster the offense, and he has done just that. Unfortunately, the defense is only pedestrian, with the 9th best defense in the American League. Their starting rotation on paper is also only pedestrian without the names of the pitchers being considered. Cole Hammels and Yu Darvish are talented pitchers with huge name recognition, but age, attrition, and injury have slowed them down. Hammels has the lowest ERA on the team at 3.32, and Darvish is just getting back to full strength after Tommy John surgery, pitching in only 17 games this season. But these guys, along with Colby Lewis and Derek Holland, are skilled players with postseason experience that will show up against Toronto. The reason I’m picking Texas in this series is the bullpen. The teams are even in all positions except the closer. Osuna isn’t ready to play this series right now, while Sam Dyson (2.43 ERA, 38 saves) is ready to go for Texas. I think the Rangers have a slightly better bullpen and will scrape by the Blue Jays in 5. 

Boston Red Sox vs Cleveland Indians- Red Sox in 4

As a Red Sox fan, after the last week of the season, I am quite nervous for this series. I don’t have a ton of faith in the Red Sox bullpen and I don’t want to face Terry Francona’s team giving up home field advantage. That all being said, I’ll put my fandom and fears aside and try to be objective about this series. 

Boston comes in with the best offense in baseball. Mookie Bette, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz all have cases to be MVP this season, while Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Hanley Ramirez all provide stronger bats than most can offer. Cleveland is no slouch offensively, but they lack the diversity of weapons that Boston has. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are the two .300 hitters on the team, and Mike Napoli has given a spark of power, but the Indian’s offense is ultimately a far cry from what Boston can bring. 

Boston also carries a talented pitching staff. Rick Porcello is a viable Cy Young candidate, and David Price picked up his play later in the year. Clay Buccholz and Eduardo Rodriguez are wild cards but if they come up strong, they can put Boston over the top. The rotation is shortened after the absurdly stupid decision to have All Star Steven Wright run the bases in Los Angeles on August 5th which resulted in his shoulder injury. He could return to the team for the ALCS, but he can’t help the team against Cleveland. The Indians carry a pitching stud in Corey Kluber, but he is injured and so is the rest of the starting rotation. Kluber is starting game 2 after a late season quad injury, and game 1 starter Trevor Bauer isn’t a pitching ace. Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco are also injured, and will not play in the series. Cleveland’s starting rotation is not in good shape. The bullpens are more comparable, but the injured Indians starting rotation will be their downfall. Kluber will win his start in Cleveland, but Boston’s offensive depth will take on the rotation and win the series in four games. 

Now onto the National League. 

Chicago Cubs vs San Francisco Giants, Cubs in 5

By leaps and bounds, this is the hardest series for me to predict. On one hand, the Chicago Cubs are the most talented team in baseball, have the NL MVP in Kris Bryant, one of the best pitchers in Jake Arrieta, a bevy of young talent, championship veteran guile in players like Jon Lester, John Lackey, and David Ross. On the other hand, it’s the Cubs. This is the most cursed team in baseball facing the team that turns into a golden team in even year Octobers, the San Francisco Giants. More so than the stigma of “It’s the Cubs”, these teams match up extremely well. 

Chicago clearly has the better lineup from top to bottom, but the Giants still have weapons in Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, and Brandon Crawford. They don’t have the power of the Cubs, but they can make the Cubs rotation work and throw a ton of pitches. The real matchup is in the starting rotations. Madison Bumbgarner, the best postseason pitcher throwing right now, won’t start until game 3, but Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija are capable pitchers and can make life difficult for Chicago. The Cubs will have to face a difficult rotation, and Chicago’s bullpen will have to hold up better than the Mets’ bullpen did last night. With Aroldis Chapman in the closers spot, they can shut down the Giants in the 9th. If the Cubs are to win, the Cubs MUST win both games 1 and 2 in Chicago and the bullpen must be better than the Giants. 

I see this series as a toss up. The Giants have a winning culture and attitude that the Cubs have not proven to have and they have the pieces to take down the Cubs. The Cubs have talent and the burden of expectation from baseball fans and the longest suffering fan base in all of sports. If the Cubs are to win a championship, they must win games 1 and 2 at home. 

Washington Nationals vs Los Angeles Dodgers- Nationals in 4

This series is simultaneously interesting and boring for me. These teams are talented and Fun to watch in the regular season. However, they are horribly disappointing in the postseason. The Dodgers were supposed to beat the Cardinals in the 2013 NLCS and 2014 NLDS, the Mets in the 2015 NLDS behind the performance of Clayton Keyshawn, Justin Turner, Yasiel Paige, and others, but lost every single series, never reaching their postseason potential. The Nationals are just as disappointing, with a lost championship in 2014 and missing the playoffs last year. I expect both teams to eventually fold, if not in this series then later in the month. But I will still watch and see which of these “Next Year’s Champions” will continue to tease their fans. 

Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner, and Corey Seager lead a potent lineup against the Nationals and Howie Kendrick, Josh Reddick, and Yasiel Puig look to improve on disappointing regular seasons and help the team get a boost. For DC, Daniel Murphy takes his .347 average into the postseason with the intent of another trip to the Fall Classic. Wilson Ramos also hit .300 and is the other well performing hitter for DC. Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, two long standing DC hitters, had very disappointing seasons and look to step up in October. Harper’s season was especially disappointing. The reigning NL MVP went from hitting .330 to only .243 this season and he struggled to get into any kind of rhythm this season. If anything, the fact that Washington won 95 games this season with Harper performing so poorly is reason for more confidence. Imagine how well they’d play if Harper picked up his average.

These starting rotations are both top heavy. Clayton Keyshawn and Max Scherzer are the undisputed aces, but the rotations beyond those two are a little short. Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strausburg both have talent but have been inconsistent this year in the nation’s capitol. Kenta Madea and Scott Kazmir have some good innings in them, but they are secondary to Kershaw and not quite ace level. The Dodgers have a decided advantage in their bullpen. Washington released their closer, Jonathan Paplebon, before the signing deadline in the middle of the season, and have given Shawn Kelly the closing job. He and the rest of the Nationals Bullpen has plenty to prove. LA has a bona fide closer in Kelley Jansen, sporting a 1.83 ERA and 47 Saves. The rest of the bullpen is more dependable as welll. However, because of slightly better pitching, and the potential for Bryce Harper to break loose, I’m picking Washington to win the series. 

So there are my predictions. Onto the playoffs! 

 

Big Papi: The Most Important Red Sox Player Ever

In late 1996, the Seattle Mariners sent David Arias to Minnesota as the player to be named later in a transaction for Dave Hollins. When he arrived with the Twins, he told them that he preferred to be called David Ortiz, not David Arias. While playing in New Britain, Connecticut with the Rock Cats, Ortiz had marginal success but also suffered plenty of injuries. His years ended in 1998 and 2001 with wrist injuries. When he was called up to Minnesota, he had an on going knee problem. Even his best season in Minnesota, 2002, was marred by consistent knee ailments. He hit 20 home runs and drove in 75 runs in 2002, not a bad year, but not enough for Minnesota to keep him. After failing to trade him, the Twins released him. Ortiz was out of a job and desperately wanted another chance to prove himself, and got help from a fellow Dominican. 

Pedro Martinez was coming off another masterful year with the Red Sox and always was supportive of his countrymen. He put in a good word with the new management of the Red Sox, and in January 2003, Ortiz was picked up for a song. He was behind first baseman Kevin Millar and DH Jeremy Giambi on the depth chart and did not play much. He rarely pinch hit and was a forgotten member of the 2003 roster early that year. When Giambi struggled, manager Grady Little benched him and started Ortiz. The Red Sox have not looked back since. 

With the Red Sox slated to start their postseason run in Cleveland on Thursday, David Ortiz is ready for his last month of service to the organization that gave him a chance to perform. In his 14 seasons since arriving, he has given Boston more clutch baseball moments than any other player, become the face of the franchise, changed the culture of the team. He has become the most important player in the history of the Red Sox. Yes, more important than Ted Williams, Carl Yasztremski, Jim Rice, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, all of them. Not the best, but the most important. 

Ted Williams is the greatest hitter in the history of the Red Sox and possibly all of baseball. Ortiz does not surpass Williams as a total hitter despite having more home runs. Williams has a career average of .344, the highest career on base percentage ever at .482, and would’ve had 600 homers easily had he not lost much of his prime to service in World War II and the Korean War. Carl Yastzremski is the best two way player in Red Sox history and his 1967 campaign is the best individual performance put on at Fenway Park. He cleared 3,000 hits, and singlehandedly lifted the Sox into the 1967 World Series with both his triple crown effort at the plate and his seven Gold Glove awards. As a designated hitter, Ortiz doesn’t have a chance to make a defensive impact, thus losing a dimension to his game. He did play 1st base for some games, namely in inter-league games and the World Series. But Yaz has him in terms of total impact on the game. 

So why is Ortiz the most important player in Sox history? Because he changed the Red Sox organization from the American League’s Charlie Brown franchise into winners. Williams, for all his greatness, hit .200 with no extra base hits in his only trip to the Fall Classic in 1946. He never got another chance because of the failures of his organization, but he could not lift his team to a championship level. Yaz was similar. He performed better in the Fall Classic than Williams did, hitting .400 in 1967 and .310 in 1975, but he could not get his team over the hump and win a championship. Nor could Jim Rice, Wade Boggs, Jimmie Foxx, Bobby Doerr, Dwight Evans, or any other player in the organization from 1919 on.

By the time 2004 rolled around, the Red Sox were expected to be talented and face the Yankees in the postseason and lose in some painful way. That seemed to be certain after the soul crushing loss in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS and all but confirmed with the Yankees up 3 games to none in the 2004 ALCS with a lead in the 9th and Mariano Rivera on the hill. Then Boston tied the game in the 9th. Then Ortiz hit a homer in the 12th inning to win the game. He had driven in four of the six runs the Red Sox scored that night. He then drove in three of the five runs in game 5, including an 8th inning opposite field homer in the 8th and a walk off single in the 14th. The Sox then won games 6 and 7 in Yankee Stadium, punctuated by another Ortiz homer. Big Papi was voted the MVP of the series, and Boston celebrated Ortiz as the face of the greatest comeback in the history of baseball, maybe the greatest series ever played in the history of the sport. The Sox went on to sweep St. Louis in the World Series and break the Curse of the Bambino. 

The 2004 World Series is the most important and celebrated trophy in Boston’s long and storied history. David Ortiz was the biggest offensive reason for the Red Sox’s triumph. And after that epic performance, Ortiz kept his performance up. He set a new record for homers in a season with 54 in 2006, finished his regular season career 17 all time in home runs, ahead of players like Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Frank Thomas, Mickey Mantle, and Mel Ott, and lifted his team to the post season eight times in his career. The Sox won the World Series in 2007, with Ortiz in the middle of the lineup and performing well, and in 2013, with Ortiz taking the role as vocal and visual leader of the franchise after his famous “This is our F-$&:!# City” speech and a legendary performance in the World Series. He hit .688 in the series with an OPS (On Base percentage plus Slugging percentage) of 1.948. He has turned the expectations of the Red Sox fans from wondering what version of Shakesperean tragedy they’ll watch that night to how many rings they’ll be able to put on their fingers. He’s not the greatest player in the history of the franchise, but he has transformed the Red Sox from a losing organization into a winning one. 

I believe a similar point can be made for the Celtics. In terms of talent and all around output, Larry Bird is the best player in the history of the Celtics. He had the shooting touch, could rebound, pass, run the break, and did all of this with an assassins mindset and appearing to be un-athletic and not capable to the untrained eye. However, in terms of importance to the culture of the franchise, Bill Russell is unquestionably the most important Celtic ever. He was the defensive hub of 11 championships, a feat that has never and will never be matched. Larry was easily a better scorer and offensive player than Russell, and was no slouch defensively. Bird was, in total, the better basketball player, but Russell set the culture of the Celtics as a championship organization. Similarly, Williams and Yaz are the best players in the history of the Sox. However, Ortiz has defined the culture of the Red Sox as a championship contender since his arrival in 2003 and his legendary performance in 2004. 

Now Ortiz is in his final run. I have watched him for my whole life and was at Fenway on Sunday for the final game of the regular season. The pregame ceremony was a joyous celebration of all that Ortiz had brought to the city and the organization. He is the embodiment of the Red Sox run of recent success. And he will be the focal point of the Red Sox lineup this postseason. I’ll be watching as the postseason begins in Cleveland on Thursday at 4!