Can the Celtics “Beat L.A.”?

Hooray for the Boston Celtics. They’ve peaked at the ideal time. Paul Pierce is playing out of his mind. Rajon Rondo is the best player on the court. Ray Allen keeps coming up with clutch three-pointers. The Celtics have taken down some NBA superstars in Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard. But as hard as it is to believe, the Celtics have an even taller task ahead of them in defeating the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers combine many of the facets that made the Heat, Cavaliers, and Magic great. They have a singularly dynamic superstar in Kobe Bryant, just like the Heat and the Cavaliers had. But unlike those teams, who had superstars and nothing else, the Lakers also have Orlando’s height up front, making them a danger to score from a distance AND to rebound and score in the paint. What follows is a position by position analysis of each team and who I think has the advantage.

Center: The Celtics definitely have the defensive advantage in Kendrick Perkins vs. Andrew Bynum, but the Lakers may have a slight offensive edge. Still, Bynum has been incredibly streaky this postseason because he is still finding himself after his latest injury. Meanwhile, Perkins has been a model of consistency in terms of defense (when he is not on the bench for fouls or getting ejected for b.s. technicals). If he can keep cool, I think the Celtics have a minor advantage at this position. The Lakers are not as strong a three-point shooting team, so Perkins shouldn’t have to come out of the paint as often to help out with screens and pick-and-roll plays. This will free him up to bang bodies with Bynum and Lamar Odom, and I think the matchup favors us.

Power Forward: When he’s healthy, I will take Kevin Garnett over most power forwards in the game. The problem is, Garnett didn’t look healthy in his series against Orlando. He was slower, less intense on defense, and not able to jump as high as he used to. Now he has to cover Pau Gasol, a slashing power forward who can drive to the basket. So it comes down to a slightly hobbled, perimeter-shooting power forward against an attacking, rebounding power forward who’s looked good all postseason. In this case, the edge goes to the Lakers.

Small Forward: This position is pretty obvious. It’s Paul Pierce, who’s averaging over 19 points per game, vs. Ron Artest, who’s averaging 11.5. Paul Pierce is one of the keys to our offense (along with Rondo), whereas Artest is a defensive forward who’s a liability on offense (his last game against Phoenix excluded, his average drops to under 11). Paul Pierce has been battle tested by LeBron James, and covering Ron Artest should be a cakewalk by comparison. Now, Pierce sometimes covers Kobe Bryant. If this is the case, the matchup favors the Lakers. But then Artest will cover Ray Allen, and we have the advantage there.

Shooting Guard: Two words: Kobe Bryant. He is playing ungodly this postseason. And as much as I love Ray Allen, he can’t cover Kobe or out-shoot him. Kobe is one of those players that you can’t stop, you can only hope to contain. Hopefully, no one else on the Lakers finds their shooting form. If this happens, then Kobe can be double-teamed and the Celtics have a chance. If you’re adding Kobe to an already successful offense, you’re going to be awfully difficult to beat.

Point Guard: The Derek Fisher vs. Rajon Rondo argument is almost as one-sided as the Bryant-Allen one. Rajon Rondo, should the Celtics win the finals, will in all likelihood be the Finals MVP. As long as his muscles aren’t spasming, he should have no trouble getting around and defending Derek Fisher. He has the advantage of being the best player on the court most of the time (especially whenever the Lakers rest Bryant, which Rondo doesn’t really seem to need). If he can get the Celtics offense going, their defense should contain the Lakers enough to enable some victories.

Bench: It’s Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar vs. Rasheed Wallace, Glen Davis, and Tony Allen. Farmar is a bad defensive player who can shoot threes, whereas Allen is a plus defender who is not known for scoring. Let’s call this a wash, although I think Tony Allen will have more of an opportunity to impact games with his defense than Farmar will with his offense (he could annoy Kobe). Rasheed Wallace, when he’s on, is better than Lamar Odom. When he’s off, it’s probably a wash. And I love Glen Davis and don’t think very much of Sasha Vujacic. I think he can be confused and beaten on defense and contributes nothing offensively. Meanwhile, Davis can shoot from the perimeter, pick up rebounds on both sides of the court, and take charges. Glen Davis gives the Celtics’ bench a slight advantage.

Coach: Phil Jackson has way more rings, but Doc Rivers has one too, and he has lots of experience coaching this particular rotation of players in the playoffs. He draws up plays from timeout better than Jackson does, but Jackson is more efficient in his play-calling. I like Doc Rivers, and I think he’ll be motivated to enter his year-off (which I think he’ll take) on a high note, but the advantage goes to the Lakers.

So how does it all work out? The Celtics are better at center, small forward, point guard, and bench, but the Lakers are better at power forward, shooting guard (they get a +2 here since it’s Kobe Bryant), and coach. The final score: 4-4. Add to that the Celtics’ road success, and you have an almost completely even series, at least on paper. So it all comes down to guts and instinct. If the Lakers destroy Boston on the boards, they will probably win. If the Celtics can rebound with the Lakers and keep them out of the paint, they will probably win. So in the end I’ll go with the pattern we’ve seen the last few series from Boston and give my final prediction: Celtics in six. Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!

Lester, Bullpen, Combine to One-Hit Rays

The Boston Red Sox faced off against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday night at Tropicana Field. On the mound for the Red Sox was Jon Lester, who was coming off of a complete game, one earned run victory against the Minnesota Twins. Opposing him was Tampa Bay right-hander James Shields, who was coming off an impressive outing as well, giving up just three earned runs while pitching into the eighth inning against the New York Yankees.

This game had the makings of a pitcher’s duel, and that’s exactly what it turned out to be. Boston only put up four hits against James Shields’ eight innings of work. Fortunately, the Red Sox were able to sandwich two of those hits around one of Shields’ two walks and drive in the only scoring of the night. In the top of the third inning, J.D. Drew singled with two outs. Kevin Youkilis walked, and then David Ortiz doubled to drive them both in. Those runs would hold up, as Lester and the Red Sox bullpen were able to shut down and shut out the Rays hitters. There was also an interesting incident in the fifth where Tampa Bay’s centerfielder Carl Crawford and manager Joe Maddon were ejected for arguing balls and strikes. The final score: Boston 2, Tampa Bay 0. Jon Lester got the win, Shields the loss, and Jonathan Papelbon picked up his 11th save of the season.

The Red Sox at the Plate

The Red Sox couldn’t do too much with James Shields tonight. He pitched exceptionally well, retiring every batter he faced after allowing David Ortiz’s 2-RBI double (a streak of 16 hitters). Aside from Ortiz and Drew, the other two Red Sox with hits tonight were Marco Scutaro and Dustin Pedroia, both of who singled to start the game, but were later stranded. This was part of a bases-loaded first inning situation that was really one of only two innings in which the Sox had the opportunity to score multiple runs. The Sox offense did just enough to win this game for Jon Lester, but you really have to tip your cap to James Shields and the job he did against one of the most potent offenses in the MLB.

The Red Sox on the Mound

Jon Lester, while not quite as dominant as he was against Minnesota, was still equal to the task of dueling with James Shields. He pitched six innings of shut-out baseball, only allowing one hit while striking out nine. What kept him from going deeper into the game was his command, which came in and out throughout the game. He walked five batters in his six innings of work. However, as off as he occasionally was, he never let his command slip for more than a moment. The Rays were unable to combine these walks with any hits, and they never had more than one base runner per inning past the first (when the first two reached on walks but were stranded). Perhaps Lester’s performance could best be described as “effectively wild.”

The bullpen did an excellent finishing what Lester started. Manny Delcarmen and Daniel Bard both had perfect innings, and Jonathan Papelbon did not allow a hit (he did walk a batter) in recording his 11th save of the season. The bullpen is finally rounding into form, helped out by the string of strong starting pitching performances Boston has seen in the last week. When rested, the bullpen is proving itself to be more reliable than the numbers might otherwise indicate. As Boston inches back into the race for the playoffs (and the division), this will become ever more important.

Looking Ahead

The Red Sox have done an excellent job of coming into Tropicana Field, a ballpark in which historically they have not played well, and taking at least the series from the division-leading Rays. This road trip has proven to be very successful for the Red Sox. It might be exactly what they need to finally get themselves going and pull themselves out of the mediocrity with which they’ve played for most of the season. Tomorrow night the Red Sox go for the sweep. Doing so will require a strong starting pitching performance from John Lackey, the only Red Sox pitcher not a part of this current streak of strong Boston starts. He will face Matt Garza, who is 5-2 with an ERA under 2.50 (2.37). Lackey will have a tall task ahead of him in trying to out-pitch the Tampa Bay ace. Let’s hope he is up for the challenge.

Celtics Fall in Overtime; Series Heads Back to Orlando

The Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic faced off Monday night for Game Four in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics were leading the series 3-0 and were looking to close things out on home court and punch their ticket to the NBA Finals. The Magic were coming off of a blowout loss Saturday night at the TD Garden and needed a win to stay alive in the series. Orlando came out strong from the gate, pushing the tempo offensively whenever they could, opening up Dwight Howard (who finished with 32 points and 16 rebounds) for shots before the Boston defense could rotate and get back successfully. They took a four point lead into the half. They built up several leads of seven and ten points, but each time the Celtics would come back. The end of the game saw magnificent shooting from Ray Allen, whose late-game three-pointers kept the Celtics in the game through the final minutes of the fourth quarter and in overtime. In the end, however, cold shooting and some clutch Orlando three-pointers (and Dwight Howard) proved to be too much for the Celtics, and they lost, 96-92, in overtime.

The Celtics on Offense

Two things about tonight’s game are most indicative of how the offense seemed to change its strategy, and unsuccessfully at that. First off we have Rajon Rondo. The best point guard in the playoffs only had nine points and eight assists. This was a definite off-night for him, due in part to foul trouble that kept him off the court and forced Boston to use rotations that were not used to playing together. In all, the Celtics totaled just 19 assists, low for them (they had 23 Saturday night in their blowout victory). When the Celtics offense isn’t running through Rondo it can stagnate, and this is exactly what happened tonight during periods of the game. Shooting went cold, the Celtics stopped passing, and they missed shots or turned it over. When the Celtics are passing they are at their strongest. That they did not pass as well shows in the scoring figures for the game. Whereas Saturday night six players scored in double-digits, Monday night only three did: Kevin Garnett (who put up a quiet double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds), Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. Paul Pierce (32 points, 11 rebounds) played incredibly well for three quarters, but his shooting went cold in the fourth and overtime, which is when Ray Allen (22 points) took over for the Celtics. But one player can never win the game for the Celtics, it has to be a team effort. And tonight the team offense just wasn’t there.

The Celtics on Defense

Although their playing picked up throughout the game, the Celtics defense looked flat for periods of the game. They had trouble with Orlando screens and pick-and-roll plays, and it led to open looks for three-pointers and fouls that put Orlando on the free free-throw line 33 times (although this was not necessarily an advantage; they made only 20 of their shots). The big players, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, had strong nights (23 rebounds combined), but there was not enough team defense, just as there wasn’t enough team offense. Kendrick Perkins was virtually nonexistent during the game. While he has not been much of a presence offensively this whole postseason, he must do more defensively to contribute to this team. The Celtics got outscored in the paint 36-28, and they allowed 11 offensive rebounds. This allowed for too many second-chance opportunities for Dwight Howard, and he made them pay most of the time.

Going Back to Orlando

OK, this is not the time to panic, nor is it the time to get complacent. The Magic were down 3-o in the series. They HAD to have this game, and they went out and got it. But the Celtics took the best the Magic had to offer and were barely phased by it. The Celtics can beat the Magic. They’ve already done it in Orlando twice, so they should have no dip in their confidence levels. Still, they will need to recreate the urgency with which they played the first three games if they want to beat back the Magic. The Magic will come out just as strong or stronger in Game Five, and the Celtics must be ready. They cannot allow their offense to be flat, and they cannot get away from the offensive strategy that worked so well. Even if Rondo has another off night, they cannot get away from it. It’s very rare that Rondo gets into foul trouble, so it’s unlikely to happen again. The Celtics should use this game as fuel to fire them up. They do not want to come back to Boston up just one game.

Finally

Finally. Finally we got a series from the Red Sox we can be proud of. Finally we got two consecutive good starts from our starting pitchers. And not just good starts: great starts. Clay Buchholz pitched eight innings of two-run ball and Jon Lester pitched nine. Finally we are starting to see what management told us all season long: this team can be great.

And yet there were things I saw tonight that concerned me despite it all. Angel Sanchez may provide us with a right-handed bat off the bench that’s a little more spry than Mike Lowell, but he is no more the answer at shortstop than Marco Scutaro is. He made some of the plays tonight, including turning two nifty double plays, but he didn’t make all of them. His range is better than Scutaro’s, but only just. He also went 0-3. He gets some leeway, this being his first game in the majors this season and all, but we have to wonder if he is really the answer to the Sox’s problems. Now, he might still provide a better pinch-hitting option than Mike Lowell, who went 0-4 tonight and has an even shorter range of motion than Scutaro, Beltre or Sanchez. But on a team with as weak a bench as Boston’s, you have to wonder what exactly management’s thinking was when they called this guy up. Hopefully Scutaro’s “tennis elbow” injury heals up, because I don’t think Sanchez can be relied upon to contribute to this team offensively. Defense can only take you so far, and besides, his defense isn’t amazing, just good.

Thankfully, tonight we didn’t have to see Boston’s bullpen struggle through the later innings of play. Last night, we watched Daniel Bard just barely get by. With Lester’s complete game tonight and Buchholz’s solid performance last night, the bullpen is now nice and rested. They will be out of excuses if they blow any leads in the upcoming series with Philadelphia. The bullpen has by far been the weakest component of the Red Sox this year (second place: the combination of third base and shortstop), and this series did nothing to convince me that it has turned a corner. However, more consistent pitching performances like the ones we’ve gotten these last two games will go a long way towards minimizing our reliance on the bullpen, which will only lead to good things for the Red Sox.

During this series the Sox proved they can play with the better teams (the Twins are the AL Central division leaders). This is good, because they are about to go on a road trip where they will face some of the best teams in either league. Philadelphia is leading the NL East right now, and Tampa Bay has far and away the best record in baseball (they are the only team in either league with 30 wins already). The Sox will need to continue to do what we saw them do so well during this Minnesota series. They will need more quality starts from their pitchers and a solid combination of power and basic hitting on offense. But at least tonight we saw the heights this team is capable of reaching when they put it all together, and we’ve seen that, should they play enough games like this, they might be good enough to get to the playoffs and do so some damage come October. Finally.

Buchholz Rains on Twins’ Parade

The Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins faced off Wednesday night at Fenway Park. The game was played through a miserable semi-rain that constantly varied in intensity. The Red Sox were coming off of a disappointing road trip, where they went 2-3, although their most recent game WAS a come-from-behind victory over the New York Yankees. On the mound for the Red Sox was Clay Buchholz, while the Twins countered with Scott Baker. The game started off with a pitchers’ duel, as no one scored until the fourth inning, when reigning AL MVP Joe Mauer doubled in the game’s first run. The Red Sox struck back in the bottom of the inning, however, with David Ortiz hitting what replay would eventually show to be a two-run home run just over the red line on the Green Monster. The Red Sox put up a third run in the sixth inning on a series of singles. The Twins made it interesting in the ninth, scoring to bring things to within a run and putting two men on base, but in the end Daniel Bard was able to strand the two Twins baserunners and save the game. The final score: Boston 3, Minnesota 2. Buchholz got the win, Baker the loss, and Bard picked up his first save of 2010.

The Red Sox at the Plate

The big hitter for tonight was David Ortiz, who hit his eighth home run of the season and put the Red Sox ahead. While they would need Bill Hall’s sixth inning single to win the game, it was Ortiz who got the scoring started. He has seemingly found his hitting groove at last. Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre also had strong nights at the plate, each going 2-4 with a run scored. The Red Sox got good production from the middle part of their lineup and were able to score through a combination of basic hitting and power hitting. It’s this ability to score via multiple means that makes this offense as dynamic as it’s capable of being. When Jacoby Ellsbury finally returns to the lineup, the Red Sox will regain their speed at the top of the lineup. This will enable their offense to really play small-ball when necessary, giving them a third way to score and making their offense even more dangerous.

The Red Sox on the Mound

Clay Buchholz was excellent tonight. In 8+ innings of work he gave up just five hits and two earned runs, one of which was an inherited runner that Daniel Bard allowed to score. He struck out seven while walking just one batter. While his off-speed pitches weren’t always there (the weather may have had something to do with this), he had great command of his fastball. He did a fine job of keeping runners off the base path, and when they did get on base he was able to induce double-plays (two). He pitched methodically and efficiently, needing just 104 pitches to get into the ninth inning. He mixed his strikeouts with numerous ground outs (especially to second). Daniel Bard, meanwhile, allowed a runner to score, gave up a hit and walked a batter in an inning of work. While he recorded the save, there are far more efficient ways to go about doing so. If Bard is to become a reliable part of the Boston bullpen, he will need to pitch better than he did Wednesday night. Once again, the Red Sox bullpen came very close to giving a game away. Fortunately, tonight Bard bore down and forced the ground out necessary to win the game.

The Game in Context

This game is one of several now where we’ve seen great stuff from Clay Buchholz. He might finally be rounding into the pitcher we’ve been told he could be. Meanwhile, the bullpen is still shaky at best. The offense once again defied expectations, scoring enough to earn a win for a strong starting pitching performance. However, this is just one game. At the end of the day, the Red Sox are still just 21-20, 8.5 games out of first place. It was a good win Wednesday night. Let’s see if they can string a few more together.

Red Sox … WTF?

Thanks for the title, Dad! Anyway, so I just watched the Red Sox blow another game. Like the last one I watched (Saturday night vs. Detroit), the Red Sox were winning going into the late innings of the game. And once again, the Red Sox blew it. This time the blame lay with Jonathan Papelbon, who in one inning hit a batter and gave up three hits, including two two-run home runs. It was a frustrating night that could’ve been a huge pick-me-up for a team that’s struggled all season to win games. It was even a chance to gain a game on third-place Toronto (not to mention the Yankees) in an effort to get back into the hunt for the division. Instead, it was just another loss, setting a Red Sox team back a little further.

What’s so odd about this team is that it has defied all expectations, positive and negative, that were in place before the season:

1) The Red Sox were expected to struggle to score runs. Well, that really hasn’t been the problem this season. The Sox were third in the majors coming into this game in terms of team runs scored, and the nine they put up tonight can only move them up the ranks (on an interesting side note, the top four teams for that statistic are all AL East teams).

2) The Red Sox were expected to have one of the best starting rotations in baseball. This has not been the case either. Daisuke and Beckett have both struggled throughout the season. Buchholz is still a work in progress. And while Lackey and Lester were both pitching well, neither looked like aces when they faced off against the Tigers over the weekend.

3) The Red Sox were expected to win games through a strong defense that prevented runs from being scored. Well, as of right now the defense is merely fifth in the American League. What’s worse, there’s no flash to this defense. Scutaro makes the routine plays at shortstop, but he doesn’t have great range and I still get worried with his throwing style that he’s going to throw the ball away every time he sets up to throw. Meanwhile, Beltre has shown nothing of the gold glove-winning defense that we thought we’d get from him when we signed him. And tonight I watched our backup outfield fail to make every play they could possibly they make. They took bad routes, missed catchable balls, and even overran a few grounders. I can’t wait for our starters to return.

So there you have it. The Red Sox continue to struggle with consistency and they don’t do anything that they should on paper, good or bad. This may be why it’s so maddening to watch them night in and night out. And the bullpen is perhaps the biggest problem of all. There may not be a single reliable reliever in the entire Red Sox bullpen. Okajima is nothing like what he was when he was an All-Star back in 2007. Bard throws hard, but he’s also given up some key home runs in late-game situations. Papelbon had pitched well up until this loss, but the way he pitched this inning raises issues about his durability, considering he had the night off last night (although he DID have to throw multiple innings on Saturday). The rest of the bullpen is composed of inconsistent nobodies. With the starters struggling, the bullpen has to step it up. Wakefield provided some stability for the Sox tonight and at least saved the bullpen from getting overused. But overall the pitching for this season has been horrendous. The Sox currently sit in 26th place with a collective ERA of 4.83. So again I say… wtf?

The Celtics: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Yahoo! What a great Game Six from the Celtics! And I was there! I saw every dunk, every huge defensive play, every big three-pointer late in the game. I got to chant “New York Knicks” along with everyone else in an effort to thrown LeBron off his free-throw game (which we sort of did). And I got to witness one of the bigger upsets in recent NBA history. Most importantly, I learned a lot about how this team works when it’s at its best:

1) The best player on the court is Rajon Rondo. He is averaging a solid double-double throughout these playoffs, not to mention over two steals a game. He is turning into a playoff superhero. The Celtics will need him to continue his level of sustained execution if they want to beat the Magic.

2) Kevin Garnett is back. He is scoring over 17 points a game, has had four double-doubles himself, and is playing terrific defense. A healthy Kevin Garnett gives the Celtics a presence in the post that they lacked at times when he was out during the regular season. He also provides an incredible defensive resource for the Celtics to use to help contain players like Dwight Howard.

3) The defensive chemistry has finally been established. Despite the occasional offensive explosion we’ve seen these playoffs, most of the Celtics victories have come from defense, not offense. The Celtics are winning by holding opposing teams to under 92 points per game (91.7). While this is not as strong as the Magic’s points-allowed numbers (83.8), you have to take into account that:

a) The Celtics played three more games than the Magic have this postseason

b) The Magic never had to deal with scorers as prolific as LeBron James or Dwyane Wade

The Celtics will need to continue to play stifling and fast defense if they want to contain the Magic.

Looking to the Magic, the trick is going to be keep them out of the paint. The Celtics have favorable match-ups against the Magic at all positions except center. Kendrick Perkins is good, but Dwight Howard is better. Keeping constant pressure on him and forcing him to give the ball up to the perimeter shooters will be key to defeating them. Vince Carter is an inconsistent three-point shooter, and he is having only an o.k. postseason (16.9 ppg, as opposed to his counterpart Ray Allen, who is averaging 17.4). Put the ball in his hands and defend the three-ball well and you can defeat the Magic. At the other positions, the Celtics are superior. As I’ve already stated, Rajon Rondo may be the best point guard left in the playoffs. Kevin Garnett is playing much better than Rashard Lewis is. And Paul Pierce will have a field day with Matt Barnes after dealing with LeBron James for the last two weeks. Bob Ryan said that although the Cavaliers had the best player last series, Boston had the next best four. This is the same situation as with Orlando, however the gap in talent between Dwight Howard and Kendrick Perkins is not nearly as large as it was between LeBron James and Paul Pierce. Strong defense and a good, assist-laden offense will defeat the Magic, and the Celtics have some intangibles on their side. They haven’t been resting for a week (think the 2007 World Series if you want an idea of what too much rest does to a team against a veteran team that’s played at a regular clip). They just beat the best team in the NBA, giving them good momentum for the series. And the Magic don’t draw fouls in the same way the Cavaliers do (or shoot free throws as well), so foul-trouble shouldn’t derail certain players’ shooting rhythms as much it did during the Cavaliers series. I predict the Celtics win it in six. And if they can get past the Magic, there’s no reason they can’t win it all.

Mike Cameron’s Place in Boston’s Outfield

With center fielder Mike Cameron rehabbing successfully in Pawtucket, it won’t be long before Terry Francona deals with an important question: what to do with him regarding the Red Sox outfield. To be sure, he isn’t going to be taking J.D. Drew‘s place in right field; Drew is batting decently and, more importantly, is making too much money ($14 million this season) to be a bench player. However, that still leaves the following players on the active roster whom Cameron will have to contend with: Jonathan Van Every, Jeremy Hermida, Darnell McDonald, Bill Hall. Let’s begin by analyzing Mike Cameron before the collision that took him out of the majors.

Mike Cameron with the Red Sox

So far this season, Mike Cameron is batting a meager .233: better than some Red Sox, but nothing to write home about. He has no RBIs or home runs. He has walked five times and struck out eight times. The only promising thing about him is that of his seven hits, three have been for doubles, giving him a respectable OPS of .694. Given his $7.75 million contract this season, it is hard to look at Cameron’s season and see much to be excited about with regards to his return. However, he has shown a little bit of power, a little bit of speed, and a decent glove in center field. It remains to compare him with the other Red Sox outfielders and see how he stacks up.

Versus Jonathan Van Every

While Van Every has hit a home run this season, he has not played nearly as well as Cameron has, making this an obvious choice in Cameron’s favor. Van Every is currently batting .188, with as many strike outs as Cameron in nearly half the number of at-bats. He also has no extra-base hits beyond the one home run, giving him a worse OPS. All in all, Van Every is just a bench player whereas Mike Cameron is a starter. Van Every has already been designated for assignment once and will likely be so once again once the starting outfielders return to the majors.

Versus Jeremy Hermida

Jeremy Hermida presents a more interesting comparison, even though he is more of a left fielder than center fielder. He has a higher average (.240) which when combined with his four home runs (not to mention 19 total RBIs) gives him a higher OPS as well (.758). He has had, however, over twice the number of at-bats that Mike Cameron has had. While the Sox gain a little bit of pop going with Hermida over Cameron, they also get someone who is very prone to striking out, having already done so 21 times. Considering the kind of smallball offense the Red Sox have had to play this season, they can ill afford to use a player who so regularly fails to even move runners along when he comes to the plate. His salary being half of Cameron’s ($3.345 million) aside, it still seems like the smarter choice is to go with Cameron. However, for now it may be possible to play both of them.

Versus Darnell McDonald

Darnell McDonald became a fan favorite with some clutch home runs and RBIs early on in his stint with the Red Sox, but let’s not forget that he is at his core a minor league player. His batting average, .239, is only slightly better than Cameron’s, as is his OPS (.744). Much of this is due to the home runs he hit in his first couple of games with the Sox. Since then, he has not done nearly as much to produce for this offense. He has only 11 RBIs and, again, many of these came in his first few games. He also has twice as many strikeouts (17) as Cameron in approximately twice as many at-bats. He strikes me as a very similar hitter to Mike Cameron, but he is a worse center fielder. He is not as quick, and his defense is not nearly as strong. To get their money’s worth out of Mike Cameron, he really ought to take McDonald’s place in center field upon his return. McDonald seems to be quickly backsliding into a player not really good enough to play in the major leagues for an extended period of time.

Versus Bill Hall

This is another easy choice: Mike Cameron. In more at-bats, Hall has a lower batting average (.217) and OPS (.650) than Mike Cameron does. He has only hit one home run and only driven in four runs. He is slower and was never signed to be a starting outfielder for the Red Sox. He is a bench player getting extra playing time because of injuries to the outfield. When the starters return, you will probably only see him in pinch-running or pinch-hitting situations, and I’d be surprised to even see him in the latter situation all that much, given his offensive struggles this season.

Cameron’s Future

We see that Mike Cameron presents a better option than anyone other than maybe Jeremy Hermida for center field. And while Hermida can hit with a little more power than Cameron can, it is to the Red Sox’s advantage to use Cameron simply because of the salary differences between the two players. In the end, I think Mike Cameron will make a decent player for Boston. He lacks power, certainly, but he makes up for it with his defense and his speed. Given Hermida’s pop, he probably would be better used in a pinch-hitting capacity. He can come off the bench in later innings and provide a little bit of power to a ball club that at times has suffered from a lack of it. But as a starter he is not as fast, and he strikes out a lot. He may also backslide, same as Darnell McDonald. After all, there is a reason Florida finally gave up on him.

Patient Red Sox Walk Their Way to Victory

The Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays faced off Monday night at Fenway Park. The Red Sox were coming off a 9-3 defeat of the New York Yankees that, combined with a Tampa Bay Rays loss, saw Boston inch closer in the divisional race. Monday night they looked to continue in the right direction. On the mound for Boston was John Lackey, coming off a win against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Lackey faced off against Toronto righty Brandon Morrow, who came into the game with a 2-2 record. The Red Sox got off to a strong start, scoring two in the first. Lackey struggled in the second inning, however, giving up four runs on two walks and four hits, including two doubles, one of which was a controversial double by Alex Gonzalez that bounced off the top of the Green Monster and had to go to replay. Back came the Red Sox in the third, scoring four to take a two-run lead. They put up another run in the third, which proved to be the winning run. Jose Bautista made it a one-run game in the fifth with a two-run home run for the Blue Jays, but that would prove to be the last hit the Blue Jays put up. A strong finish by Lackey and a terrific three innings from the bullpen kept the Blue Jays off the bases for the rest of the game (excluding a walk in the eighth), and the Red Sox won, 7-6. Lackey got the win, Morrow the loss, and Jonathan Papelbon picked up his ninth save of the season.

Red Sox at the Plate

The best Boston player offensively tonight was Dustin Pedroia, who went 2-4 with a walk and 2 RBIs. Victor Martinez also had a strong night, driving in three while scoring a run. Marco Scutaro and Kevin Youkilis extended their personal hitting streaks to eight and nine games, respectively. While no one else had a strong hitting night, this game saw the patience we’ve come to expect from the Red Sox over the last few seasons. The Red Sox drew seven walks against Blue Jays pitching and did an excellent job of building up pitch counts. They forced Brandon Morrow out of the game after less than two innings of work. This patient approach at the plate allowed for longer innings and forced pitchers to go from the stretch. This led to eight Boston hits. Patience like that will help overcome slower offensive nights and are a great way to extend innings and build up pitch counts. All it takes is the occasional well-timed hit and you can do a lot of damage. That’s exactly what the Red Sox did Monday night.

Red Sox on the Mound

While John Lackey didn’t exactly pitch well (six earned runs on eight hits and three walks), he didn’t pitch poorly either. He really just had one bad inning: the second, in which the Blue Jays did most of their damage. He settled down after that and, aside from one mistake-pitch to Jose Bautista (which led to the home run), he did an excellent job keeping Toronto off the bases. More importantly, the bullpen pitched spectacularly tonight. In three innings of work, they did not allow more than a single walk. And in the ninth, Papelbon was perfect, striking one out and not allowing any balls out of the infield. Lackey’s ability to pitch six innings despite the six earned runs allowed limited Boston’s need for its bullpen, and this paid dividends for the final third of the game. As long as the starters can extend themselves, the liabilities in the Red Sox bullpen will have fewer chances to be exposed.

Looking to Game 2

The Red Sox have now won two in a row. Tomorrow they will look to continue their winning ways and keep moving up the divisional ranks. Strong pitching, especially late in the game, will be key to doing this. The Blue Jays are ahead of the Red Sox right now, but their pitchers are not nearly as strong as Boston’s are. As long as the starters can remain settled in the face of Toronto’s hitting abilities, they should be able to at least keep the Red Sox in the game long enough for Boston’s hitting abilities to emerge. Tomorrow night will see another start from Daisuke Matsuzaka. How long he lasts will have a direct correlation with whether or not the Red Sox win.

A Sad Day in Boston Sports

We all went into Friday evening with such high hopes. A 2-1 lead against the Cavaliers! A chance to get back in the AL East divisional race! The NHL Eastern Conference finals! Alas, such hopes were dashed and dashed hard. The Celtics were blown out 124-95. The Red Sox were similarly defeated, 10-3. The Bruins put up more of a fight, but they too lost, 5-4 in overtime. Some of these losses are easier to take than others. In the history of 3-0 series leads, only once did the other team come back and win the series: the 2004 Boston Red Sox. So the Bruins will probably be fine. And it’s still early enough in the season that a couple of hot streaks by the Red Sox will get them right back in the hunt for the playoffs. But the Celtics loss was very disheartening. They should’ve come into this game brimming with confidence. They’d stolen a game on the road and almost stole them both in Cleveland. Now they were playing at home. Unfortunately, the extra rest may have been just what LeBron James needed, as he torched the Celtics for 38 points.

What’s most troubling about these games is each one exposed a major weakness in the losing team, one that so far they have not had much luck in fixing. For the Celtics, it was their inability to start games quickly. In the first quarter they were outscored 36-19, and it only got worse from there. Facing this deficit and early foul trouble (what IS it with refereeing at the Garden this season?), the Celtics were forced to turn to their bench. While they scored 38 points, including double-digit points from Nate Robinson and Tony Allen, they had a combined +/- of -25. Granted this is not as bad as the starters played (-120 combined), but it was still way too much to ask of a bench that lacks scoring threats beyond Glen Davis. If the Celtics can’t start their games stronger and play cleaner basketball (once again they were hit with foul trouble early in the game), they’re going to lose the series.

For the Red Sox, the problems start and stop with pitching. Starting pitching, to be exact. John Lackey and Jon Lester seem to have figured things out, but Josh Beckett still hasn’t. He gave up nine earned runs to the New York Yankees. This is unacceptable against any team, let alone one as strong as the Yankees, who boast an incredibly strong starting pitching rotation. It’s an even-numbered year, so we’re probably not going to get much from Beckett this season. But he has to prove he was worth the contract he signed and at least pitch better than THIS! He gave up all of his runs in the fourth and the sixth. The fourth inning saw most of the Yankees getting their second look at Josh Beckett. This means he did not pitch creatively enough. The sixth inning was Beckett’s last. This means he still has stamina issues and has not built his strength up sufficiently to go deep in games. The lone bright spot was Tim Wakefield, who did a decent job in relief, giving up just one additional run (on a sacrifice fly) on two additional hits.

For the Bruins, I think they played as hard as they could, but they’re banged up. Marco Sturm and David Krejci are both out for the playoffs, and Marc Savard is still coming back into game-form after suffering that devastating hit and concussion at the hands of Matt Cooke. The Bruins have had trouble scoring all season. While they’re scoring more now, their defense needs to step up. Too many times did the Flyers, playing with far more intensity than the Bruins, control the puck on Boston’s ice. In truth, the Bruins maybe were lucky to send this game to overtime. Overall, we can look at this game as more of a hiccup and less as the beginning of a trend. The Bruins still have three chances, including two in Boston, to clinch this series. All signs point to them doing it, and probably in their next game.

The Celtics are slow, the Red Sox can’t pitch, and the Bruins need to solidify their defense. These are difficult issues to correct at this point in the season. And yet there is hope. The Celtics HAVE beaten the Cavaliers, both in the regular season and the playoffs, both home and on the road. The Red Sox HAVE beaten the Yankees, although it was the first game of the season. And the Bruins are up 3-1 on the Flyers. Most likely they will be fine. But as one team wins or loses, so do all of the teams playing that night seem to follow suit. So as we head to Game Four of the C’s-Cavs series and the finale of Sox-Yanks on Sundays, we must remain fans of both teams simultaneously. One team’s victory or defeat might empower or doom the other team’s chances.