Should the Sox Re-Sign Beckett?

A new report on ESPN.com today indicates that the Red Sox are close to signing a 4-year deal with pitcher Josh Beckett. He is currently in the final year of his 2006 extension. The question is, is it worth it to re-sign him?

The first step to answering this question lies in his stats for the past 4 years. If we look at how he’s performed, we come across an interesting pattern: In even-numbered years, he has not performed nearly as well as he has in odd-numbered years. In his first year with the Sox, 2006, he had an ERA over 5.00. While he had 16 wins that season, he also had 11 losses, the most of any year with the Red Sox. He followed that up with a much more productive 2007. This was by far his best season, where he went 20-7 with an ERA in the low threes. This was also the year the Red Sox won the World Series and he was the ALCS MVP (as a part of a generally phenomenal postseason where he went 4-0 and had an ERA under 2.00). But then he took a step back in 2008, going just 12-10 with an ERA over 4.00 again (he also had an ERA over 8.50 for the playoffs that year). But he looked much stronger in 2009, going 17-6 with an ERA under 4.00 once again. While he was not as good in the postseason as 2007, he had a stronger performance than 2008 (5.40 ERA). The end conclusion is that Beckett has only been good for Boston about half of the time he has been here. The rest of the time he is still above average (remember, 16-11, 12-10 in 2006 and 2008 respectively), but he is not the dominant pitcher the Sox were hoping to get.

So if the Sox pick Beckett up for another 4 years beginning with the 2011 season, what are they really going to get? Beckett’s not at the point where age is really a factor yet, although by the end of the new contract he’ll be 35. So if we take into account the good-year bad-year deal, we should get decent seasons out of him when he’s 32 (2011) and 34 (2013), whereas the 2012 season will probably be average and the 2014 season may be a disaster. So in reality, the Sox are looking at $65-70 million (according to ESPN.com) for 2 strong years, an o.k. year, and a probably bad year from Josh Beckett.

Whether or not this is worth it depends a lot on what his role will be. Right now, he and Jon Lester are the co-aces of the team, with John Lackey in third and a battle between the likes of Daisuke, Wakefield, and Buchholz for the final two slots. As the seasons progress, we should see Lester continue to mature into a true ace and emerge as the #1 starter for the Sox. Wakefield will inevitably retire, and Buchholz will eventually get his shot and probably wind up as the #3 pitcher. Lackey will be #4, as he will be much older by this point, and the Sox will probably have someone new in the 5-slot, unless Daisuke figures out how to pitch again. So that leaves Josh Beckett firmly in the #2 position for the Red Sox. I think the money is a little much for a #2 pitcher at best who is only going to give you 2, maybe 3 years out of his 4 year deal. But then again, what superstar’s contract isn’t overblown? It’s just the nature of the game. Beckett has a history of gearing up for the big games, and you need that to pitch in Boston, where every game is a big game.

In the end, I say keep him. So few players come to Boston and flourish. Even if Beckett struggles in the even years, that still leaves two solid seasons where he is a legitimate Cy Young candidate and would be capable of helping the Sox get back to the World Series. Plus, if we don’t sign him, the Yankees probably will.

Red Sox Weekly Review, 3/22-3/28

Welcome back to my weekly recap of all things Spring Training for your Boston Red Sox. Without further adieu, let’s get right to it:

Red Sox versus Rays and Cardinals

Monday was another case of the split-squad blues for your Boston Red Sox. Half the squad took on the Tampa Bay Rays, while the other half took on the St. Louis Cardinals. Neither game went the Red Sox way, as they fell to Tampa, 11-9, and St. Louis, 13-8. The good news is that offense, the big question of this preseason, was not a problem for either of squad. Against St. Louis, they banged out 13 hits. They were actually winning this game going into the bottom of the eighth, when St. Louis scored seven runs against Ramon A. Ramirez and T.J. Large. The Sox could not come back from that with a mere three outs to work with, and fell. Offensive heroes of the game included Jeremy Hermida and Tug Hulett, who both had two hit games with RBIs. Against Tampa Bay, starter Boof Bonser continued to struggle through this Spring Training. He gave up five runs in just two innings of work. Overall, the Rays homered a whopping seven times off of Red Sox pitching. The Red Sox responded with 15 hits, but they could not get the scoring going until the seventh inning, at which point they were too far behind to come back. The only player of note offensively was Mike Cameron, who went 2-3 and is batting over .400 this preseason.

Red Sox versus Twins

Tuesday saw the Red Sox continue their battle for the Mayor’s Cup against the Minnesota Twins. Unfortunately, this game went the Twins’ way, as they beat the Red Sox, 7-2. Clay Buchholz continued to struggle this preseason, giving up five earned runs in less than two innings of work. Offensively, there were no notable performances. The Sox did not even get on the scoreboard until the eighth inning, scoring single runs then and in the ninth. Against a poor starting pitching performance, that’ll never be enough to get it done. The Sox will have to make a decision soon about whether or not to bring Buchholz to the majors for an extended period this year. At this point, he does not look ready to pitch in the majors, but he’ll never be ready unless management brings him up. His greatest value may be as trade bait to get a more established player. Let another team suffer the inevitable losses that his maturation into a major league pitcher will require.

Red Sox versus Pirates

On Wednesday the Red Sox faced off against the Pittsburgh Pirates. A combination of home runs and a strong starting pitching performance from Josh Beckett made a winning combination today, as the Red Sox beat the Pirates, 6-4. Beckett went five strong innings, allowing just one earned run while striking out nine. Beckett is finally looking like the pitcher we’re hoping for this season, it;s just a question of whether he’ll be able to pitch like this game in and game out. It’s an even-year season (2010), so the trend suggests he will not be able to (statistically, Beckett has been much stronger for the Sox during seasons that end in odd numbers). Offensively, there were home runs by Mike Cameron, Victor Martinez, and Bill Hall. It is also worth noting that while Josh Reddick only went 1-4, he is batting .400 for the preseason. Overall, this was a great way for the Sox to get back on the winning track. Good pitching and timely hitting will always make for a winning combination.

Red Sox versus Marlins

Thursday featured a battle between the Red Sox and the Florida Marlins. Continuing the trend of the previous game, the Sox got a good starting pitching performance which they combined with timely hitting from its stars. Tim Wakefield gave the Red Sox a quality start, going six innings while only giving up three earned runs. He is 3-1 this preseason with an ERA of 3.66. Frankly, he has earned a position in the starting rotation for the Red Sox, especially considering the inconsistency of SEVERAL of the other Red Sox starters. Offensively, Boston banged out twelve more hits. Offense has not turned out to be the problem everyone thought it was going to be. Multiple players had multiple hit games, including Jeremy Hermida (2-2 with an RBI) and Kevin Youkilis (2-4). All of this translated into a nifty 6-4 victory for the Red Sox. It is nice to see the Sox continuing to build momentum heading into the regular season. So far, most of the starters have answered the challenge of stretching themselves out and going deeper into games.

Red Sox versus Blue Jays

Friday saw a split squad take on the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite zero earned runs allowed by Boston pitching, the Red Sox found themselves down 2-0 going into the bottom of the ninth. However, timely hitting allowed the Red Sox to beat the Blue Jays, 3-2. The bottom of the ninth saw RBI singles from David Ortiz, Dusty Brown, and the game winner from Tug Hulett. The Red Sox are getting excellent production from bench players these days, and it should translate into pinch-hitting opportunities for players like Hulett, Reddick and Hermida. If they keep up this kind of production, they will be very useful in those situations.

Red Sox versus Orioles

Saturday featured a matchup against the Baltimore Orioles. Unfortunately, Boston hitting was completely flustered by strong Baltimore pitching and lost, 6-1. They could not even get on the scoreboard until the ninth inning, where they got an RBI from Tug Hulett (who else?). In terms of pitching, John Lackey looked very strong. He allowed just two earned runs in six innings of work. He did a good job keeping the Red Sox in the game, but unfortunately Alan Embree, making his 2010 debut, allowed an additional three earned runs to score. Currently, his ERA is over 40. He seems to be past his prime, and may be more of a liability than an advantage for Boston at this point. He should probably start in the minor leagues, as he probably can no longer handle the power of major league bats.

Red Sox versus Twins

The Red Sox wrapped things up Sunday with a dominating performance against the Minnesota Twins, winning 11-5. Clay Buchholz looked only alright in his starting role, getting into the fifth inning while allowing four earned runs. The big story of the day was the offensive explosion of the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox belted out 16 hits, including three-run home runs from both David Ortiz and Tug Hulett. Dustin Pedroia, showing no ill effects from his wrist injury, went 3-4. Victor Martinez went 4-5, and Kevin Youkilis went 4-4. Boston’s victory today wrapped up the “coveted” Mayor’s Cup, as the Red Sox won the preseason series against Minnesota.

The Week in Review

On paper, the Red Sox had just a so-so week. They remain a .500 ball club. But even in the losses there is much to look at and get excited about. John Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Tim Wakefield are all looking ready for the season to the beginning. The bench should feature some nifty hitters in Tug Hulett and Josh Reddick. And how about that offense? Even when they lose, the Red Sox are proving they can hit the ball both with power and for average. The question of whether or not they can score runs is quickly being answered. And if the relief staff can hold onto leads and keep opponent scoring to a minimum (the one negative trend we’ve been seeing this preseason), the bats should come alive more times than not and bring the Sox victory. As we prepare for the regular season at the end of next week, we look at the Red Sox and see a team that’s getting more and more complete with each game.

Celtics Dig Up Nuggets

The Celtics faced off against the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night at the TD Garden. The Celtics were playing the first game of a six-game homestand and were coming off a brief rest, whereas the Nuggets were playing their second game in two nights. This definitely showed, as the Nuggets struggled on defense and were unable to match the speed of the Boston Celtics. The Celtics built up a large lead in the first half, survived a third quarter surge from Denver, and won the game, 113-99.

The Celtics on Offense

The Celtics offense was clicking on all cylinders tonight, with balance being the key word. Five players scored in double figures, including 27 points from Paul Pierce and a triple-double from Rajon Rondo, whose 11 points complimented his 11 rebounds and 15 assists. The slowness of the Denver Nuggets defense allowed the Celtics to dominate in several other areas as well. They more than doubled the Nuggets in offensive rebounds (17-8, a rarity for the boys in green). They outscored Denver on the fast break, 19-16. And they dominated in the paint. Boston put up 58 points in the paint, as compared to Denver’s 28. Boston was able to consistently drive into the layup lanes. But where they would usually encounter resistance, forcing passes to the perimeter, they found none, just empty space. The results were numerous dunks, layups, offensive boards and put-backs. Denver could not keep Boston out of the paint at all. This also led to many free throws for Boston. While Denver went to the line more often (37 vs. 26), Boston was the far more accurate team, shooting over 80% from the free-throw line.

The Celtics on Defense

The Celtics were far better at hanging with the Nuggets than the reverse. Even when Boston would turn it over, they were fast enough to get back on defense. Through the whole game, Denver was only able to score four points off Boston turnovers, whereas Boston scored 28. With the exception of Carmelo Anthony (32 points), nobody on Denver had a strong shooting night. This was mostly due to the stinginess and the quickness of the Boston defense. Whereas Boston could cut easily to the basket, Denver never could. Anytime they would dribble inside there would be a green shirt or two ready to contest the shot. This led to five blocked shots and nine steals. While Denver was able to draw the foul most of the time, poor free-throw shooting nullified most of their drives, meaning that on most possessions they came away with one or zero points. That’s a quick way to lose to a team that you can’t stop in the paint. Even when Denver would kick out to the perimeter, Boston would just rotate its defense and contest the shot. This translated to just six made three-pointers for the Nuggets. Boston’s speed on defense made it impossible for Denver to sustain drives long enough to ever get back in the game, and they got no help on defense. All of this translated into a pretty dominating victory for Boston.

Starting on the Right Foot

This was an excellent way for the Celtics to start their homestand. They are playing much stronger at home now than they were mid-season. The bench (a solid 32 points tonight) is playing with more consistency as newer players find their place in the Celtics’ system. And the starters are starting to find their energy and rhythm again as their playing time is slightly shortened in preparation for the playoffs. The goal for the rest of the season will be consistent play. The Celtics want to move up in the standings so as to secure more of a home-court advantage, take on an easier team in the first round, and avoid facing Cleveland until the Eastern Conference Finals. Tonight they proved they can not only play with but also dominate playoff-caliber teams. The next challenge is to prove they can do it night-in and night-out.

Roller Derby… What’s it all About?

On Saturday some friends and I traveled out to the Shriner’s Auditorium in Wilmington to check out roller derby. Specifically, the Wicked Pissahs took on the Nutcrackers. The rules of roller derby are pretty simple. The jammers, marked by stars on their helmets, start behind the pack and then try to fight their way through. The first jammer through the pack becomes the leader, and then only she can score. This is done by passing members of the opposite team, for a total of five possible points per jam. Once the lead jammer makes it through, she has the option of going around again to try and score more or of just ending the jam and resetting (if she’s tired or if the other jammer is catching up). Penalties are called for a variety of illegal hits, including using the hands and bumping from behind.

The Pissahs won the match, mostly due to the speed of its jammers, who simply were too fast for the Nutcrackers to react to. The Nutcracker pack was repeatedly outmaneuvered and the Pissahs were consistently holding the lead jammer position. They racked up points fast and in bulk. The only real threat came at the start of the second half, when a string of Wicked Pissah penalties allowed the Nutcrackers to score without retaliation. The Pissahs (from Revere Beach, mascot is a seagull drinking beer) settled down though after that and got back to what they did best the whole game: skate fast and hard. There were some big hits in the pack, and it was good fun all around. The matches were a little too long would be my one real critique of the game. Maybe knock 5 minutes off each period and the intermission.

The question I kept asking myself, though, was “is this just disguised misogyny or is it empowerment?” I’m sure the answer would depend on who I ask. As no one would do this involuntarily, I’m certain that most of the women see it as an actual sport, requiring the same athletic skills that their male counterparts require in the sports that they play. And on one level, I think they’re absolutely right. The moves I saw them make, especially on roller skates, were very impressive. And you have to have strength along with dexterity to survive the bumping and jostling that rivals a hockey match (and has more than your average women’s hockey match). This game takes guts, and anyone is brave if they choose to do it. In this regard, it is most certainly is an act of empowerment.

But what about the fans? Are they there because they feel the kinship to their players of professional sports? Or are they there to watch women beat each other up? Because if it’s the latter, is this really all that different from, say, mud-fighting or jello-wrestling? I ask because I’m not sure, not because I’m trying to lead one way or another. There were some fans who were cheering along with their teams just like I would with the Sox or Celtics. But their were other fans jeering at the players, making fun, and just asking for the women to hit each other. But then again, how is that any different from hockey? Maybe it’s my own issues that prevent me from seeing this as just another sport to be watched and cheered for like any other. I’ll admit it, I was a little bored by the end of the match, and I didn’t stay for the second one (mostly due to prior commitments of the people I went with). In the end, all I know is that I would never want to take part in a sport like this. And if someone else wants to do it, more power to them. Whether or not it truly gives them power is up to them to decide, not me.

Red Sox Weekly Review, 3/15-3/21

Welcome back to your weekly review of all things Red Sox. This week featured another full slate of games for the Boston Red Sox, so without further ado, let’s get to it.

Boston vs. Baltimore

Boston’s week began Monday against the Baltimore Orioles. It was a rough day for Tim Wakefield, who allowed nine hits and five earned runs in less that 4 innings of work. The relievers fared only slightly better. Jonathan Papelbon continued his scoreless streak, whereas Hideki Okajima was scored upon for the first time. Offensively, David Ortiz homered for the first time this preseason, as did Josh Reddick, who is continuing his push to make the major league roster come April. He is currently batting .478. The end result? The Red Sox lost, 8-4.

Boston vs. Houston and Tampa Bay

Tuesday saw the Red Sox in split-squar action against the Astros and the Rays. Unfortunately, this splitting did nothing for either team. Houston beat Boston, 3-0, and Tampa Bay also defeated Boston, 7-0. There were no offensive pluses in the game against Houston, as Boston only recorded four total hits. Jon Lester looked good, allowing only one earned run in four innings of work. For the Tampa Bay game, the only positive to take away offensively was David Ortiz, who went 2-2 from the plate. Starting pitcher Felix Doubront looked good in his three innings of work, but the next two saw Boof Bonser give the lead away for good, and the rest of the relief pitchers were unable to do much better. There was little good that came out of Tuesday’s action, and we can only hope for better days than this.

Boston vs. New York (Mets)

Wednesday saw the Red Sox taking on the New York Mets. It was another amazing pitching performance from Boston, at least for the first seven innings. John Lackey continued his scoreless streak with four more perfect innings of pitching. Jonathan Papelbon followed up with a scoreless inning of his own, as did Hideki Okajima. The Mets finally broke through in the eighth, scoring four times off of Ramon S. Ramirez. The Red Sox, who did little of note at the plate besides another hit from David Ortiz, wound up losing this game, 4-2. Overall, we can think of this game as one of those standard spring training games where the starters put up a winning effort and the reserves and minor leaguers just can’t hold onto it. If Lackey, Papelbon and Okajima all go unscored upon, chances are the Red Sox will win the game every time.

Boston vs. Pittsburgh

Friday’s matchup featured the Boston Red Sox taking on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Josh Beckett, who has been dealing with health issues all preseason, looked like a pitcher behind in his preparations for opening day. He gave up six hits and four earned runs while striking out just one in 3.1 innings of work. Relief pitching didn’t do anything to help Beckett out, however, as a core of mostly reserve relievers allowed an additional four runs to the Pirates. At the plate, the Sox fared well, belting out 14 hits. The big offensive player was once again David Ortiz, who continued his hot streak with a home run and a second hit. Unfortunately, the Red Sox just couldn’t shut the flood gates of Pittsburgh scoring and wound up losing, 9-7.

Boston vs. Baltimore

Boston faced off against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday, looking for payback for their loss earlier in the week. And that’s exactly what they got on both sides. Offensively, the Red Sox got home runs out of both Kevin Youkilis and Marco Scutaro to power their six-run, 11 hit attack. Tim Wakefield bounced back from his earlier rough outing by allowing no runs over five solid innings of work. Age? What age? The O’s kept it close with decent relief pitching until eighth, when the Sox scored three times, putting the game out of reach. The Red Sox defeated the Orioles, 6-0.

Boston vs. Houston

This was another split squad game on Sunday, only the first half of the squad saw their game against Toronto canceled. Jon Lester pitched well, going into the sixth inning while only allowing three earned runs and striking out seven. What was odd about this game was the total implosion of Jonathan Papelbon, who allowed five earned runs while recording just one out. We can only hope this is was just a bad game, and not a sign of worse things to come. Offensively, the Sox actually out-hit Baltimore 12-11, with multiple players recording two and three-hit games (Box Score). If not for the pitching problems, the Sox would’ve likely won this game. Instead, they lost, 10-7.

Looking Back and Moving Forward

After going 5-1 last week, the Sox went 1-5 this week. They’re back to being just a .500 team. The odd thing about these losses is that there’s no pattern to them. Some days, the starting pitching failed to deliver. Other days it was the relief pitching. And in at least two games it was the lack of offense more than anything else that doomed the Sox. Split squad games always affect team chemistry, so maybe that explains this past week’s results better than anything else. The Red Sox simply were never all on the same page, and someone or other inevitably cost Boston each game it lost. As much as we want to over-analyze these results, we should remember that these are spring training games only, meant merely to help players get into shape in preparation for April. That’s when the fun really begins.

Pierce’s 29 Powers Celtics on St. Patrick’s Day

The Boston Celtics were feeling especially green Wednesday night at the TD Garden. Not only were they taking on the New York Knicks, who were coming off a two-game win streak, including a huge win at Dallas, but it was also St. Patrick’s day. The Celtics were coming off of a blowout of the Detroit Pistons. The Celtics did what they have done against most of the mediocre opponents they’ve faced all season: win. The Celtics built up a huge lead through three quarters, then rested their starters in preparation for their upcoming trip through Texas and Utah. The end result? The Celtics defeated the Knicks, 109-97. And the game wasn’t nearly as close as that, with Boston’s bench slacking off through most of the fourth quarter.

The Celtics on Offense

Two Celtics scored over twenty points on St. Patrick’s Day: Kevin Garnett (22) and Paul Pierce (29). The only other Celtic to hit double-digits was Marquis Daniels, who put up 10. The Celtics did most of their damage in the paint, putting up 56 points to the Knicks’ 44. In most other offensive categories, they were about even with the Knicks. New York put up eight three-pointers, Boston put up seven. Boston scored 21 fast break points, and New York scored 20. Both teams scored about even in points off of turnovers (23 vs. 25 in favor of New York), and the same goes for offensive rebounds (New York 14, Boston 12). So it all comes down to play in the paint. The Celtics were just stronger when it came to slashing to the hoop and scoring from within the free-throw line. The Knicks may have gotten a great performance from David Lee (29 points, 9 rebounds, 44 minutes on the court), but it wasn’t enough to counter the twin killing of KG and the Truth. The Celtics offense played big and stayed inside and it led to more scoring opportunities than the Knicks could counter with.

The Celtics on Defense

The strength of this game didn’t lie in the shooting for Boston (just over 50%), but rather in the defense, which is what you hope for with this team. The Celtics held the Knicks to under 42% shooting for the game and just over 30% shooting from beyond the arc. And despite the large number of rebounds available when two teams combine for 170 shots, Boston still out-rebounded New York 45-37, winning the defensive rebounds battle if not the offensive one. New York likes to shoot the trey, and Boston did a decent job contesting the shot. Considering New York shot from beyond the arc 26 times (Boston only tried 20 times), just 8 three-balls made is commendable. And the Celtics did a better job holding New York out of the layup lanes than vice versa. While the defense may have broken down in the fourth quarter, it’s understandable and forgivable considering the 21 point lead the Celtics had going into the final twelve minutes of the game.

Looking Ahead

This was a nice win for the Celtics, to be sure. They overpowered a weaker team in the New York Knicks and have done much in the last few home games to raise their home winning record. Whatever first-half home-court jitters they seemed to be suffering from seem to be going away. But now they have to go back on the road and take on much more talented teams in Houston, Dallas, and Utah. They can’t afford for the bench to play as lackadaisically as they did in the fourth quarter. If the bench (just 35 total points, and no on the positive side of the +/- differential except for Daniels) cannot play better, the age and lack of stamina of the Boston starters will make it difficult for them to win. The starters proved tonight they can dominate when they’re fresh. Now the bench has to step up and prove the same. And the team as a whole will have to prove it can win against good teams on the road with little rest.

Celtics Overpower Pistons

OK, so let’s look objectively at this game. There were many positives, certainly. First off, the Celtics won, 119-93. They led by double digits for over three-quarters of the game, and they survived a third-quarter surge from Detroit to reestablish their command and control of the game. Statistically, there was also a great deal to be proud of. Seven players scored in double-figures against the Pistons: every starter except for Rondo (who kind of had an off night, but that’s ok), plus Glen Davis, Michael Finley and Marquis Daniels, he with the diamond-studded shrunken head. The team dominated both in the paint (48 vs. 38 points) and on the perimeter (7 treys made, 62% shooting), and were better on fast breaks as well (21 vs. 12 points for the Pistons). Lastly, the Celtics for once won the rebounds battle and actually tied the opposing team for offensive boards with eight apiece. That’s huge for a team that doesn’t rebound well at all, especially when you consider that the Pistons lead the league in offensive rebounds. Defensively, the Celtics played very well (they held Detorit to under 50% shooting for the game) for about three quarters, then played their bench for most of the fourth to rest their starters. This meant that the much maligned bench actually wound up outscoring the starters, 61-58.

But let’s face reality here: the Pistons are terrible. They lack the speed and strength to compete with the big men of better teams, and they lack the coordination to really have a potent offense. They lead the league in offensive rebounds because they miss much more often than they hit baskets. Their big men are weak, the shooters are bad, and their offense on the whole is disjointed. Defensively, they’re slow to react to pick-and-rolls and don’t contest layups very well  (just four blocks all game). For gosh sakes, they don’t even have a true center. Jason Maxiell is a forward pretending to be a center, and it means real centers can just body him up and keep him out of the paint. Against good teams like the Celtics, Detroit will always get eaten alive. And that’s what happened tonight: they got outmatched on both sides of the court.

The question is: can the Celtics do this to good teams in the NBA, or just bad ones? They looked great last night, and they looked great Friday against the Pacers, but those are both mediocre teams at best. Look at their games against Milwaukee and Memphis and Cleveland. All are much stronger teams, and all of them beat Boston rather handily (ok, Milwaukee was a close game, but it was still a Celtics loss). Faced with this reality, it’s hard to look at last night’s victory against the Pistons and say definitively that this team is moving in the right direction. They’re still playing 50-50 basketball, winning every other game. And in the bad games, all of the trends I’ve discussed in the past- not defending the trey, turnovers, inconsistent bench play, rebnounding, etc.- are on full display. The Celtics must find a way to play this consistenly well game in and game out if they want to be considered elite competitors this year. Right now they sit in 4th place in the Eastern Conference. Unless they move up, their first round opponent will likely be Milwaukee. If we get the Celtics that played Indiana and Detroit, we’ll be fine. But if we get the Celtics that’s looked so bad against teams of Milwaukee’s caliber, we might be in trouble. And despite last night’s win, I still don’t know which we’ll get.

Spring Training Weekly Wrap Up, 3/8-3/14

Welcome to my brand new weekly review of the Boston Red Sox Spring Training. Each Sunday I’ll recap the previous week’s games, making sure you get all of the important details of each game. I’ll recap top hitters and top pitching performances from each and every game. So without further ado, here we go:

Red Sox vs. Cardinals

The week began with the Red Sox taking on the St. Louis Cardinals. Josh Beckett looked incredibly strong, going three innings without allowing a hit or a walk while striking out three. What followed was a dominating performance through the middle innings by the relief pitchers, until eventually some of the minor league relievers gave the lead away. All this did was set up the Red Sox for some timely hitting, as they put up five runs in the last two innings. The big heroes of the game were shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias, who hit a three-run home run in the eighth, giving Boston a temporary lead, and Josh Reddick, who drove in the tying run and scored the walk-off winning run in the ninth. The Red Sox won, 7-6.

Red Sox vs. Marlins

The Red Sox followed up this win with a much more conventional defeat of the Florida Marlins, 9-0. Tim Wakefield went three strong innings, giving up just two hits, no walks, and no runs. Offensively, the name of the game was scored early and often. The Red Sox put up runs in five of nine innings, including a 3-4 performance by Josh Reddick, who scored twice and drove in a run. Reddick is quietly making a push to be on the major-league bench for the Red Sox come Opening Day. Jeremy Hermida also had a two hit day.

Red Sox vs. Rays

Wednesday saw the Red Sox lose to Tampa Bay, 8-6. However, there were many positives to draw from this defeat. The Rays did three quarters of their damage in one inning, against pitcher Adam Mills, who will most assuredly not be on the major league roster come April. Jon Lester went two and two-thirds innings, giving up just an unearned run. And none of the major league relievers gave up earned runs either. Take away Mills’ performance and you have another dominating pitching performance from the Red Sox. At the plate, the big story was Jacoby Ellsbury, who went 2-3, hitting two home runs and driving in three runs. Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia each chipped in with two hits as well.

Red Sox vs. Mets

On Thursday Boston took on the New York Mets and won, 8-2. The Sox put up three runs in the first inning, then didn’t score until innings 6-8, where they put up five more runs. The big story of this game was John Lackey, who fired three more scoreless innings to add to his previous two. He has yet to be scored upon during this Spring Training. What we are quickly seeing is that Boston’s starting rotation is incredibly strong, as is its relievers. The question going into this regular season will be whether or not the rotation is strong enough to counter a potentially down offensive year from Boston’s hitters.

Red Sox vs. Pirates

After a postponement against St. Louis on Friday, the Red Sox spent Saturday taking on the Pittsburgh Pirates. While kept off the board through the first six innings, the Sox scored three in the seventh and wound up winning, 3-2. Many of the characteristics of the other games this week were on display for this game as well. The starter, this time Clay Buchholz, went three strong innings without giving up a run. The relief staff also did incredibly well, particularly Jonathan Papelbon, who sports a nifty little 0.00 ERA this preseason.

Red Sox vs. Twins

The battle for the Mayor’s Cup continued Sunday with another battle against the Spring Training rival Minnesota Twins. Boston did its damage in the fourth and fifth innings, putting up six runs, which was enough to win, 6-4. Most of the hitters we’ve seen all week were once again strong from the plate. Dustin Pedroia went 2-3 with a run scored and an RBI, and Kevin Youkilis matched him in production. Jeremy Hermida also went 2-3. The pitching staff did its job, although none of the pitchers are likely to be seen in the Majors when April comes around. The winning pitcher was Ramon A. Ramirez, who despite walking four batters was only to get away allowing just one earned run.

The Week in Review

Honestly, you can’t say too much about a week when your teams goes 5-1. The minor leaguers don’t look so hot yet, but the major leaguers look ready for the regular season (barring some time for the pitchers to stretch out their arms). Our starting rotation is going to be devastating this season. Our starting offense may be better than expected if we can get production like this out of Pedroia, Youkilis, and Ellsbury. And if Josh Reddick keeps up this pace he could be a menace on the bench. Check back next Sunday with all of the scores and all of the games from Ft. Myers. Until then!

Welcome Back Nomar!

ESPN announced today that Nomar Garciaparra has signed a one-day minor-league contract with the Boston Red Sox so he can retire in a Boston uniform. After that, he will join ESPN as a baseball analyst for “Baseball Tonight” and the occasional game itself. Quite honestly, I love stories like this. I still remember back to 2005 when Emmitt Smith signed a similar contract with the Dallas Cowboys. It shows that no matter where your career takes you, it is possible for a player to have such a profound experience on one team and with one fan-base that it stays with you throughout your entire career. Players want to play, but sometimes they also want to play in one particular place. In an age where athletes leave city after city chasing the next big contract, this is a heart-warming little story.

Nomar didn’t leave the Red Sox the way so many of our more famous athletes do. He didn’t jump to the Yankees for the biggest contract like Johnny Damon or make salary negotiations so complicated like Jason Bay did. He clearly wasn’t happy here in his final year (2004), but he sucked it up and dealt with it as best he could. I was fortunate to be at his 2004 return to Fenway. Some might remember this game as the one against Baltimore where Manny Ramirez intercepted a cutoff throw from Johnny Damon, enabling the Orioles hitter to score an inside-the-park home run. Nomar’s first at-bat was a truly magical experience, one that compliments well my first memory of him, which was of a home run he hit during a game I attended in high school (probably only my second or third Red Sox game ever to that point). In his return, he walked up to the plate and received a long-lasting standing ovation. He then proceeded to belt out a nifty little single. He would’ve added a double later in the game but the Baltimore left-fielder robbed him with a diving catch. In the end, it mattered little. Nomar was traded a month later and the Red Sox went on to win the World Series in large part due to the players we got by trading him.

When Nomar returned to Boston last season, he returned to a standing ovation that reduced him nearly to tears. It was touching, to say the least. Red Sox fans sometimes take heat for the way they turn on ex-players of theirs, and there is some merit to that. We hate Roger Clemens, especially those of us who don’t remember his time in Boston. We can’t stand Johnny Damon. And we booed Mark Bellhorn in his first return to Boston. But Nomar got a standing ovation. In some ways, Nomar Garciaparra was emblematic of the resurgence of the Red Sox. He peaked in the late 90s and early 200s. This was the same time that saw the acquisition of a young Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, and Derek Lowe. All of these player would factor into an era of Red Sox baseball that saw numerous playoff appearances and winning seasons. And at the heart of all of that was Nomar Garciaparra. For everything we got from him a decade ago, it will be nice to have him back with us, if only for one day.

Celtics Falter in Fourth Quarter Against Milwaukee

Tuesday night saw the Boston Celtics traveling to the Bradley Center to take on the Milwaukee Bucks. It was the debut game for new Celtic Michael Finley (five points in eight minutes of play). Both the Bucks and the Celtics had been playing well recently, and both were clearly in the playoff picture. One would expect a good game from two teams such as these, and that’s exactly what one got. There were double-digit ties and lead changes in this game, minimal turnovers (15 apiece), and some high energy defense. In the end the Bucks went on one run more than the Celtics did, however, and beat Boston, 86-84.

The Celtics on Offense

The big story of the night offensively was the Boston bench. They put up a combined 29 points, as compared to the mere 8 put up by the Milwaukee bench. The Boston starters had their fair share of stars as well. Rajon Rondo put up a pretty little 20 point game, while Kevin Garnett put up a double-double, scoring 14 while rebounding 10. It wasn’t as if energy was the problem for the Celtics against Milwaukee, at least not offensively. They outscored the Bucks on fast-break points 28-3, and it never seemed like they were really lagging behind. The problem lay more in the starters’ sluggish shooting. While Rondo and KG played fine, Paul Pierce really only got it going from the free-throw line (where the Celtics held a 19-10 advantage), and the other two starters never got started at all. When starting shooting goes cold, no matter how well the bench plays you’re going to lose.

The Celtics on Defense

The biggest critique of the Celtics defense was that they had no answer for Bucks center Andrew Bogut. Bogut led all scorers in the game with 25 points, and he had 17 rebounds to go with them. All night long the Celtics defense experimented with various double-teams and traps, but Bogut was just too big and strong. He was especially strong in situations where he was playing against a Boston bench player. In one particularly memorable play, he backed Glen Davis all the way to the ground, then turned around and dunked on him. Davis looked over-matched and over-powered against the larger, more experienced, and stronger Andrew Bogut.

The Game in Review

This was a preview of a potential first-round playoff match for the Celtics, and it did not go the Celtics’ way. They looked sluggish at the start of all four quarters, allowing Milwaukee to build momentum across each period. This slow-start habit of the Celtics is one they can ill afford if they want to go far in the playoffs. Milwaukee is about at the level of play the C’s should expect come the first round: high energy, some good shooting, quality defense. The Celtics were able to match the Bucks for three and a half quarters, but then the starters failed to hold it down for the win. It’s hard to look at this game and point to the one factor that killed the team. It would seem Boston’s biggest problem is just the chemistry of its starters. They’re still not playing like a seasoned, congealed unit, the way you would expect this late in the season. If they can’t start well and they can’t finish well, it doesn’t matter how well they play in the middle: they’re going to lose games. This match was a measuring stick game, allowing the team to gauge how ready it is for the playoffs. And the sad answer is that it’s not quite ready yet. Wednesday the Celtics return home to face Memphis, a team looking to move into playoff contention on Boston’s back. The starters will have to rally from this loss and rally quickly, or they may find themselves slipping further down the playoff ladder.