2010 Season Forecast: Boston Red Sox

Last Five Seasons:
2009: 95 – 67 (2nd AL East)
2008: 95 – 67
2007: 96 – 66
2006: 86 – 76
2005: 95 – 67

Runs Scored: 872 (3rd AL)
Runs Allowed: 736 (3rd AL)

Season Recap:

Most people figured that the Red Sox would finish first or second in the AL East and, as they have done four times in the last five years, the finished with at least 95 wins.

The Sox actually stumbled out of the gate, losing their first three series to Tampa, Los Angeles, and then Oakland.  An eleven game winning streak got things going, however, putting the Red Sox out front in the first month of the season.  Jason Bay‘s April made up for the struggles of David Ortiz, but already there were problems.

As the calendar turned to May, the Sox were dealing with a hole at shortstop, the lack of offensive production behind the plate, and still David Ortiz hitting like a middle aged AAA infielder.  Brad Penny wasn’t pitching well as a fourth starter, and the team leader in wins was a 40 something knuckeballer.  Daisuke Matsuzaka was rehabbing a sore back – and dealing with his lack of fitness.

In June, things started to look up.  Ortiz started hitting.  Jon Lester hit his stride, and the Sox went 20 – 8 to regain control of the AL East.  Unfortunately, the Yankees were becoming more complete as the season went on while the Red Sox were just coping.  Mike Lowell‘s hip became problematic.  Jed Lowrie was out and Julio Lugo couldn’t stay in the lineup.  Nick Green, who had taken over for both, began hitting the way Nick Green usually hit – which is .240 with no power or patience.  J.D. Drew missed a month of games, and Jason Bay took a month off with poor production in July.

When August began, the Yankees were in control and the Red Sox were an afterthought.  The Sox didn’t have enough bats to make up for a pitching staff that had 4.86 ERA for the last two months of the year.  In fact, if you consider May, July, August, and September, the Red Sox were just eight games over .500 (59 – 51) and had no business being considered among the elite teams in baseball.  A decent April and a very good June gave them the gaudy record they had.

Pitching:

At the top of the rotation, the Red Sox were solid.  Jon Lester went 15 – 8 and saved his team 33 runs over 203.1 innings.  Josh Beckett delivered a healthy season, 17 wins, and saved his team 20 runs in 212.1 innings.  Tim Wakefield wasn’t bad, but with his bad back, he couldn’t pitch much after the all-star break, making just 21 starts.  After that, however, nobody else was really that impressive.

Brad Penny had a 6.08 ERA in his 24 starts.  John Smoltz returned from surgery to make eight ugly start (8.33 ERA).  Daisuke Matsuzaka went 4 – 6 with a 5.76 ERA.  The Sox gave four starts to Junichi Tazawa that they wish hadn’t happened.  Boston finally gave 16 starts to Clay Buchholz, and he went 7 – 4 with a 4.21 ERA – but you have to wonder what took so long.  Same goes with Justin Masterson, who was left in the bullpen but should have had more than six starts.

In the bullpen, the Red Sox remained solid with Jonathan Papelbon‘s  38 saves and 1.85 ERA.  Hideki Okajima, Takashi Saito, and Ramon Ramirez were capable and competent middle and short relievers.  Even Billy Wagner and Daniel Bard contributed when asked to pitch.

Looking to 2010, if the Sox want to keep up with the Yankees, they need to have more starting pitching.  John Lackey was signed away from the Angels to give the Sox a big three to go along with Beckett and Lester.  Matsuzaka has to find his way back to 2007 – 2008 form.  If so, that’s four solid starters.  Look for Matsuzaka to fight with Buchholz and Wakefield for the last two spots in the rotation.  Justin Masterson, as you might remember, is with Cleveland after the Sox traded for catcher Victor Martinez.

The bullpen includes Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, and Ramon Ramirez, and is supported by Manny Delcarmen, Daniel Bard, and possibly prospect Michael Bowden.  I think the Sox will miss having Saito, but if Lackey can stay healthy for 30 starts (he’s been nicked up the last couple of years), they might not need the bullpen as often.

That being said, this unit is more potential than actual at the back end – and that tempers my opinion just a little bit.  There is every good reason for this group to be 30 runs better than last season, but in all likelihood, I see it more like 15 runs better.

Catching:

Victor Martinez joined the Sox in the late summer and helped sustain the offense (.336 BA, 507 Slugging).  I think he’ll do just fine in a full season – which will be about 15 runs better than having more Jason Varitek playing full time.  At the same time, Martinez isn’t in Varitek’s league as a catcher (though neither is any good against the run anymore), so it might cost the team about five runs defensively.

Infield:

Kevin Youkilis is a mobile and dependable first and third baseman who, with the addition of Adrian Beltre, will find most of his playing time at first base.  He hits for some power, gets on base a lot – one of the best first basemen in baseball.  Mike Lowell, if he remains, could be a competent backup at both corners.

Dustin Pedroia wasn’t as good in 2009 as he had been in 2008 – but he dropped off both offensively and defensively.  I think he’ll bounce back some defensively, but we’ve probably seen his best offensive season already.

After a year trying Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie, Nick Green, and Alex Gonzalez at short – failures abounding here – the Sox went out and signed free agent Marco Scutaro from Toronto.  As mentioned in my comments about the shortstops, Scutaro is NOT a top flight defender, but he’ll be a step up.  He’s also coming off a career year and is closer to 35 than 25.

At third, the Sox went defensive – signing Mariner Adrian Beltre to replace Mike Lowell (only Lowell couldn’t leave).  Beltre remains as good a fielder at the position as you will find, and if he can return to good health will have offensive numbers not too different than what Lowell produced.  Lowell was supposedly traded to Texas for catcher Max Ramirez, but hand injuries prevented that trade from happening.  So, for now the Sox have a really good (and expensive) insurance policy.

Bill Hall arrives from Milwaukee to join Jed Lowrie and Lowell in providing bench support.

As a group, this is going to be a bit better than last year – maybe 20 runs better defensively and 15 runs better offensively.

Outfield:

Jason Bay, an all-star left fielder, is gone – and his replacement is Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Mike Cameron.  Cameron is still a solid defensive player so he’ll get the nod in center and move speedster (but not nearly as good defensively) Jacoby Ellsbury to left.  Bay was surprisingly good in left, so Ellsbury will hopefully just maintain the good numbers.  Cameron will be an improvement over Ellsbury in center – assuming that he doesn’t suddenly age in Boston.  In right, J.D. Drew returns – just as likely he’ll be missing time and we’ll get to see more of former Marlin Jeremy HermidaBill Hall could play some out here as well.

I don’t see this as an offensive improvement – it’s probably a loss of 40 runs from 2009.  Defensively, however, it should be fifteen runs better.

DH/Bench:

David Ortiz struggled and you all read about it.  What is lost is how well he played in the last four months, nearly making it to 100 RBI.  I don’t think he’s going back to his old days – he doesn’t have the bat speed and needs to lose about 30 pounds.  But, he can be productive and guys like Hermida and Martinez will do fine as his occasional replacement.

The rest of the bench is pretty good – Hermida can play two positions in the outfield, Hall can play four or five positions.  Jed Lowrie covers the other two, and Varitek is a tolerable back up catcher.  I just don’t think that the offense off the bench will be that good.

Prospects:

Most of the AAA hitters are getting long in the tooth, and the one player who stood out was outfielder Chris Carter, a former Diamondback farmhand who is 27 and should have made it by now.  He must have defensive issues – because he can surely hit.  Of course, he’s with the Mets now.  Let’s hope he catches a break there.  The best pitchers, Daniel Bard, Michael Bowden, Hunter Jones, and Clay Buchholz are already with the big club.  (Hunter Jones is with the Marlins.)

The Portland River Dogs (AA) featured a couple of pitchers that might make an impact in a couple of years – but likely somewhere else.  Junichi Tazawa smoked AA, pitched well enough at AAA and got a shot with the big club.  He’s not ready, but he’s close.  Good control, decent strikeout numbers…  Felix Doubrant, a 22-year-old, has great stuff but needs to work on his control.  I see him in AAA at the start of 2010.  And reliever Dustin Richardson has NASTY stuff, 80Ks in 63 innings, but walked 40 – and that’s going to be a problem.  He COULD be a future closer, but not yet.

First baseman Aaron Bates alternates between hitting .340 and .240 – the good guy would be great, but the former third round pick (2006) hasn’t been consistent at the top levels.  Outfielder Josh Reddick is 23, has great power, but needs another season before he makes the concert tour with the big boys.

At A+ Salem (where I was surprised to see former Royals infielder Carlos Febles is the batting instructor), the most interesting prospect is from Taiwan, Che-Hsuan Lin.  Lin can run, is 21, and shows some patience and the potential to find a little power.  If he has a big year in AA, look for someone to give him a MLB look.  Anthony Rizzo is even younger and hits a bit like Mark Grace – and plays first base, too.  Ryan Kalish was so good at Salem, he moved to Portland and still showed power.  He’s 22 and will start 2010 at AAA.

Two pitchers that caught my eye were Casey Kelly and Eammon Portice.  Portice has control, an out pitch, and the Ft. Lauderdale native who was a late round 2007 draft pick has been a pleasant surprise at every level.  Kelly is a rare find – the spot starter/shortstop.  He won’t hit enough to play in the big leagues, but has a live arm and might make it based on his great control and power strikeout numbers.  In 95 innings, he’s walked just 16 batters, allowed 65 hits, and fanned 74.

Forecast:

With the offense staying good but likely not great, the improvements defensively and in the rotation should be enough to push the Red Sox back to the top.  The system says 97 wins, but personally, I’d play the under.  If my hunches about both the Yankees and Red Sox are right, Boston and New York would finish in a dead heat – but the system picks the Sox.

Greinke Tabbed AL Cy Young Champ; Other News…

He didn’t win 20 games, but that’s because without him, the Royals were 49 – 89…  Even with him, the team didn’t always help Zack Greinke out.  Check out his game log – he should have been undefeated in April and May, but he got saddled with a loss in a game he allowed one run in eight innings – one of seven starts where he allowed two runs or less and didn’t get the win.

However, the voters got it right – the best pitcher in the AL last year, heck the best pitcher in baseball last year, was Zack Greinke.

Finishing second was Felix Hernandez, a worthy contender who had his best professional season, followed by Justin Verlander who carried the Tigers on his back during the late stages of the season.

Remember when Zack Greinke was a source of frustration for the Royals?

Joe Posnanski did, and his article for SI telling the story of how Greinke dealt with a severe anxiety disorder is pretty darned good.

Hot Stove Notes…

Remember Eric Gagne?  He pitched independent baseball in Canada for 2009 and wants to make a comeback…  As a starter.  [MLB]

Miguel Tejada may be a free agent, but the Astros are open to having him come back – possibly at third base, too.   Meanwhile, rumors that John Smoltz might be in their plans aren’t necessarily true.  [MLB]

Matt Holliday is a coveted free agent, but apparently not coveted (that much, anyway) by the Angels.  [MLB]

Washington wants to upgrade the rotation (and Lord knows they need to) and have expressed an interest in John Lackey.  [MLB]

Philadelphia’s Chan Ho Park said that if he had his choice, he’d rather be a starter.  As someone who watches him pitch, I’d think he would be most successful getting a paycheck as a long reliever.  [MLB]

Aubrey Huff and Jarrod Washburn were short term Tigers, and won’t be resigned by Detroit.  [MLB]

Cubs reliever John Grabow has filed for free agency, but the Cubs want the lefty reliever to stay if possible.  [MLB]

Kip Wells is the only Reds player to file for free agency.  For whatever reason, I seem to see him every spring in Florida and he’s awesome, but once April hits, he’s rather beatable.  (Except by the Marlins…)  Anyway – he might get a minor league contract, but I’d be surprised if we see him beyond 2010.  [MLB]

Randy Johnson filed for free agency, so it’s possible we might see him one more time…  His arm is ready to fall off, having missed half of 2009, but you never know.  I’ll miss the big guy once he decides to retire…  [MLB]

The Yankees declined an option on pitcher Sergio Mitre, who now is eligible for arbitration.  If he gets a job following a season missing time for banned substances and having an ERA approaching seven, that’s plenty…

Happy Birthday!

There are only a couple of players left in the majors older than I am (how sad!), led by Jamie Moyer – a former Cub – who turns 47 today.  Keep going, Mr. Moyer – you’ll never get this chance again!!!

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or rememberances include:  Deacon McGuire (1863), Jack Coombs (1882), Les Mann (1892), Rocky Nelson (1924), Gene Mauch (1925), Roy Sievers (1926), Cal Koonce (1940), Steve Henderson (1952), Luis Pujols (1955), Dante Bichette (1963) – I can still see his shot after hitting a game winning homer on opening day some years back on ESPN, Ron Coomer (1966), Tom Gordon (1967), Gary Sheffield (1968), David Ortiz (1975), C.J. Wilson (1980), Travis Buck (1983).

AL Gold Glove Winners Announced; More Hot Stove News

The managers who voted for the AL Gold Glove awards apparently were those guys managing in 1980, because obviously they didn’t watch any games this year, or check out the stats, or – well, pay attention…  Winners included Ichiro Suzuki, Torii Hunter, Adam Jones, Evan Longoria, Derek Jeter, Placido Polanco, Mark Teixeira, Joe Mauer, and Mark Buerhle. [MLB]

Now, Torii Hunter hasn’t been the best centerfielder in the AL for probably five years, but he makes enough flashy catches to earn notice on Baseball Tonight.  Baltimore’s Adam Jones and Seattle’s Franklin Gutierrez flew all over the field and made all of the Oriole and Mariner pitchers look better.  Hunter was solid – don’t get me wrong – but I think he won it because he had won it before and not because he deserved it.

Jeter and Polanco are both dependable and make few errors, and while Polanco had a good season I might have considered Aaron Hill first.  And Jeter?  Don’t get me started.  How can the guy with the lowest range factor (chances per nine innings) of all shortstops with at least 200 innings in the field get the award???  Elvis Andrus was robbed.

I’m good with the rest – Longoria is great, Tex solidified the Yankees infield, and Joe Mauer is the best catcher in baseball with the bat, and only Yadier Molina is his equal in the field.

Other News…

Let the bidding begin – followed by cries that MLB executives are deliberately talking about the depressed free agent market…  MLB’s future union chief, Michael Weiner, says that execs are anonymously setting the stage through the press for making lowball offers to potential free agents.  [ESPN]

The soon-to-be 82 Vin Scully says he’s going to call the 2010 Dodgers season, but might walk away after the year to spend more time with his family.  He’s been a Dodger voice for 60 years…  [ESPN]

Despite a slew of bad calls in the post-season, GMs aren’t interested in expanding the use of instant replay.  Sheesh.  [SI]

Mark Cuban didn’t get to buy the Cubs, but he’s interested in finding a good deal.  With the McCourts going through the throws of a divorce, the Dodgers might be in his sights.  [FoxSports]

John Smoltz says he still wants to pitch – apparently feeling better, and not wanting to go out like he did last year…  [FoxSports]

Free Agent Filings… Rich Aurilia (SF), Jerry Hairston (NYY), and Elmer Dessens.  Others considering other options, Russell Branyan, who turned down a one-year deal from Seattle, and Jason Kendall.

Happy Birthday! Rabbit Maranville (1891), who was the greatest fielder of his day…  Perfectly timed with the announcement of Gold Glove winners…  Also Pie Traynor (1898), Hal Trosky (1912), Cory Snyder (1962), Roberto Hernandez (1964 – probably can still hit 90), Damion Easley (1969), Rey Ordonez (1971), Mike Bacsik (1977), Matt Garza (1983).

Free Agents Filing at Torrid Pace…

‘Tis the season for teams to decide on what members will remain on the 40-man roster, and which players will not get tendered offers based on existing options, and for other players to test the market.  So, for the next several days, the list of players on the MLB Free Agent list will grow and the number of players officially on the 40-man rosters will likely shrink for a little while.

The Rumor Mill

FoxSports reports that the Cubs are considering a three-way deal to move Milton Bradley.  The Cubs would get Luis Castillo from the Mets, the Mets would get Lyle Overbay from the Toronto Blue Jays, and Toronto would get Bradley.  Other deals suggest the Rays getting involved and offering Pat Burrell for Bradley.  [FoxSports]

The Mariners are looking to keep Felix Hernandez around (which means starting the process of a long-term deal now), but understand that there are many, many suitors for the AL Cy Young candidate.  [SI]

Thanks for Playing!

Carl Crawford remains in Tampa as the Rays honored his $10 million option.  Meanwhile, Brian Shouse and Greg Zaun were both bought out and will become free agents.  [ESPN]

Boston picked up the option for catcher Victor Martinez ($7.1 million), signed Tim Wakefield to a two-year deal loaded with incentives, but declined an option on Jason Varitek.  Varitek has the option to sign for $3 million to be a backup next year, else join the free agent market.  For Wakefield, he’ll have a chance to break the team record for pitching victories (Young/Clemens have 192) and win his 200th career game.  [ESPN]

Free Agent Filings…

The most interesting story is that a Japanese fireballer, Ryota Igarashi of the Yakult Swallows, owner of a 98-mph fastball, wants to play here.  Japanese players have to wait nine seasons before they can come to the states and Igarashi is already 30 but could be a viable late inning pitcher for somebody.  [ESPN]

The Dodgers declined a $2.2 million option on reliever Will Ohman, while Mark Loretta and Juan Castro also filed.  [ESPN/MLB]

Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, Yankee World Series heroes, joined the current list of 151 free agents.  Other Yankees on the list now include Eric Hinske, Jose Molina, and Xavier Nady.  [MLB]

Houston’s Jose Valverde, as good a reliever on the market, filed for free agency yesterday.  At least five Astros players (Erstad, Tejada, Brocail) are on the list now.  [MLB]

Octavio Dotel not only filed, but learned he was a Type A free agent, which means the Sox have to offer arbitation if they hope to get compensation should someone else sign Dotel.  [MLB]

Rockies pitchers Joe Beimel and Jose Contreras filed for free agency.  If Beimel is healthy, he’s a good pickup, but I’d be surprised if Contreras gets a lot of interest from teams.  [MLB]

Cubs closer (well, former closer) Kevin Gregg filed for free agency, and – like Dotel – was graded as a Type A free agent, meaning the Cubs have to offer Gregg arbitration to get the compensation draft pick.  [MLB]

Twins infielder Orlando Cabrera joined the list of free agents, alongside Mike Redmond, Ron Mahay, Carl Pavano, and Joe Crede on the list.  [MLB]

Toronto catcher Rod Barajas is a free agent, though he noted that he’d love to stay a Blue Jay.  [MLB]

You know who has a lot of free agents?  St. Louis.  Todd Wellemeyer became the ninth player (Holliday, Ankiel, Pineiro, Smoltz, Glaus, Greene, DeRosa, LaRue) to file.  [MLB]

Gary Sheffield also filed for free agency, trying to find ANYONE who might give him a chance to play.  He’s at eight teams and counting…  [MLB]

Free Agent Discussions

Jerry Crasnick met with a number of executives and put eight questions before them.  Want to see the answers?  [ESPN]

SI’s Ted Keith identifies his list of the ten riskiest free agents.  Well, nine + Rich Harden!!!  [SI]

Old News…

Something else I missed last week…  With several infielders on the horizon (Reid Brignac, Tim Beckham) and Ben Zobrist having blasted his way into the starting lineup, the Rays had less need for Akinori Iwamura.  So, the Rays shipped Iwamura to Pittsburgh for reliever Jesse Chavez.  Chavez probably appreciates the change of scenery, joining a contender, but he’ll need to step up his game to be a contributor.  I like this move for Pittsburgh.

Happy Birthday!

His 1961 season put him on the map, and for much of the 1960s, he was a great Tiger slugger – Norm Cash would be 75 today…

Also celebrating with cards and cake (or rememberances):  Jimmy Dykes (1896), Birdie Tebbetts (1912), Gene Conley (1930), Mike Vail (1951), Larry Christenson (1953), Larry Parrish (1953), Bob Stanley (1954), Jack Clark (1955), Kenny Rogers (1964), Keith Lockhart (1964), and Shawn Green (1972)…

Afterthoughts…

For the first time in nearly 30 years, it looks like all 27 members of the U.S. Appeals court will review the “drug list” case, determining the fate of the list of 104 players who allegedly failed the 2003 anonymous steroid survey.  [MLB]

The Season is Over – But it’s Not… Twins and Tigers on Tuesday for Title

Justin Verlander did what he had to do – he beat the White Sox on the last game of the season to keep the Tigers from fading into history.  Meanwhile, the Twins pounded the Kansas City Royals to keep pace, setting up a Tuesday night game in the Metrodome for the AL Central Division crown.  It’ll be Rick Porcello for Detroit, and Scott Baker for Minnesota, who has been in a game 163 before.  Last year, the Twins hosted a playoff play-in but lost to John Danks and the White Sox. [MLB]

The weekend had a few interesting tidbits.  The Minnesota Twins had a little in-fighting when pitcher Jose Mijares plunked a Tiger in Thursday’s game, and the Tigers retalliated by hitting Delmon Young.  Young was angry – at Mijares.  However, a quality scolding from Ron Gardenhire brought the two back into thinking about the goal – which was taking on Kansas City.  [FoxSports]

Let’s discuss some playoff news (which starts Wednesday)

Boston will get Alex Gonzalez, whose hand was injured when hit by a Kerry Wood pitch on Friday night.  X-Rays were negative.  [ESPN]

And, Boston awaits news on Rocco Baldelli.  The outfielder has a left hip-flexor injury, but appears to be day-to-day for now.

Colorado starter Jorge De La Rosa strained his left groin in his last start of the season, but hopes to pitch in the playoffs.  [MLB]

A couple of days ago, I told you about the late season finish of Joba Chamberlain.  This weekend, the Yankees’ brass decided to keep Chamberlain and keep him as a bullpen option.  [ESPN]

The Cards plan on using Kyle Lohse and John Smoltz out of the bullpen for the  playoffs, while Tim Wakefield will not be on the ALDS roster.

What’s up with the bruise on Tiger first baseman Miguel Cabrera’s face?  Even the Detroit Free Press has no idea – and listed to a lot of “no comment” responses.

Bronson Arroyo pitched great down the stretch and therefore has decided to put off carpal tunnel surgery.  The problem seemed to have gone away when Arroyo gave up playing the guitar…  [MLB]

Comings and Goings in Management… Orioles Manager Dave Trembley gets another season at the helm, despite a long September losing streak (13 games), for doing a good job with the young talent.  [SI]

Brewers manager Ken Macha gets another year (and an option), but will have to make due with a new pitching and bullpen coach.  [MLB]

Padres GM Josh Towers is done, possibly so that new Padres ownership can have “their own guy”.  Towers did a pretty good job with limited options over the last few years.  [SI]

Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi was canned after a handful of moderately successful, but frankly disappointing seasons.  And, with his departure, can Cito Gaston be far behind?  Players don’t like Gaston’s lack of communication issues.  [ESPN]

Afterthoughts… Remember Shawn Chacon?  The former MLB pitcher was arrested for failing to pay $150,000 in gambling markers to Caesar’s Palace.  [MLB]

Phillies Clinch; Braves and Twins Likely Done – and what to do with Joba Chamberlain?

With a pounding of the Astros, the Philadelphia Phillies clinched a third straight NL East title.  And, while the champaign was freely flowing, one player won’t get to participate in the post season, and that’s Jamie Moyer, who needs surgery to repair tendon tears in his abdomen and left groin.  [ESPN/SI]

Detroit got the magic number down to two with a 7 – 2 win over the Twins and Carl Pavano.  The Twins needed to take three of four to have a legitimate shot – and now the Tigers can win tonight and end the race without any additional help.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves were handled by Ricky Nolasco and the Florida Marlins, 5 – 4, pretty much ending Atlanta’s shot at a post season bid.  Nolasco fanned nine in a row at one point, finishing with a league high 16 strikeouts.  The Rockies keep winning – and with the Dodgers unable to win a game in San Diego, the Rockies still have a shot at catching the Dodgers for the NL West crown.

Speaking of the Marlins, the Miami Herald discussed a number of potential roster changes for Florida based on the usual need to dump salary (which makes it hard to be a Marlins fan).  Among those who could be tossed or traded:  Jeremy Hermida, Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu, Nick Johnson, and Brendan Donnelly.  Hermida, a former first round draft pick, has been sidelined with a strained oblique and rarely plays anymore – plus he’s never lived up to the hype.  (Heck, his first ever plate appearance, he hit a grand slam, so there was no room to go up…)

It’s Over! Cleveland Manager Eric Wedge was fired effective at the end of the season.  When a season is disappointing, and the best players are traded to other contenders at the trading deadline, and THEN you lose 20 of 25 – your fate is pretty obvious.  [SI]

Is it over? Anybody see how poorly John Smoltz pitched (again) last night?  And he blamed it on the baseballs, saying he could never get a grip or feel comfortable throwing.

Is it over? I know that Ken Griffey’s not saying “retirement”, but hitting .218 isn’t what he probably had in mind for 2009.

Is it over, too? Joba Chamberlain’s poor August and September may end his days as a starter for the Yankees (I was touting him as a starter a few months ago, but he’s be lousy lately), and may keep him from the post season roster altogether.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure this is all Joba’s fault.  He was ROLLING in July – and when he has a couple of tough outings in early August, the next thing you know, the Yankees management starts limiting his pitch count, which couldn’t have been good for his head.  Now, he’s probably pressing – trying to get back his rotation slot as the Yankees have decided to go back to letting him throw 100 pitch outings again.  I compared Pitch FX data (not too closely, but looked at stuff) and it doesn’t look like he’s lost velocity – but he has lost the strike zone.  He was throwing strikes 61.5% of the time in July, but less than 59.5% of the time in September.  The Yankee’s lack of commitment to Chamberlain in a given role is, to me, as problematic as it gets.

Hurry Back! Freddy Sanchez had successful surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, but should be back for spring training.

Welcome Back! Chris Dickerson (Reds) and Russell Branyan (Mariners) came off the DL.

Baseball Notes on NFL’s Opening Sunday…

It was a quiet weekend in baseball – overshadowed on Saturday by a handful of interesting football games (Michigan vs. Notre Dame and USC vs. Ohio State) and a solid compliment of professional football games finishing with Chicago at Green Bay on Sunday night.  In fact, it was the type of weekend that doesn’t bode well for baseball getting many headlines between now and the playoffs…

There’s really only one division race (NL West), and really only two teams competing for the wild cards in each league (Colorado and either SF or Florida, each with holes, or Boston and Texas).  While a couple of career or season milestones are nice for a day or two (Jeter passing Gehrig, for example), there just won’t be enough day-to-day elements to carry MLB for three more weeks.

Of course, I’ll still be watching baseball, preparing for the fantasy playoffs and wondering why it took 50 years of The Tonight Show’s success to decide to try it an hour earlier…  And, I spent a few hours with a spreadsheet and the 1930 NL pitching and fielding data sheets.  I’ll write about that tomorrow, I guess.

So what’s news?

Tim Lincecum is about ready to test his tweaked lower back.  He’ll open for the Giants against the Rockies Monday night in a last gasp shot at closing the gap.  The Giants sweep, and we’ll have something to watch for the next several days.  [ESPN]

Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton’s back received two more shots, and the hope is that Hamilton will be able to play next weekend.  The Rangers are chasing Boston and the Angels and need all the available bodies on hand as possible.  [SI]

Meanwhile, teammate Kevin Millwood is doing extra work with his mechanics trying to get out of a slump.  He MAY miss a turn, as the Rangers open a series against the Angels (another good series to watch if you are a baseball fan).  [MLB]

Colorado may get two pitchers back soon.  Both Aaron Cook and Jose Contreras made bullpen sessions, and are a simulated game or so away from making a major league appearance. Cook has a sore shoulder, while Contreras has a quad injury – he can throw, but not field.  [MLB]

Finally, John Smoltz will miss a turn to rest a sore shoulder.  Smoltz expects to miss only the one start, then make his start against Chicago next week.  He added that if the playoffs were going on, he’d have figured out a way not to miss his turn.  [FoxSports]

Welcome Back! Sort of…  John Maine made a start Sunday for the Mets – but the Phillies pounded him around a piece…