Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Escape Engine the 4th

(Editor's note: Escape Engine will be a series of baseball features on this site. The first month of the series will focus on bullpens.)

The fast rise and fall of a bullpen is a tragic thing to watch. A month of fantastic pitching could just as easily crumble as continue, as anyone knows, but to predict such a fall is divine. Since sportswriters mention bullpens more than they actually talk about them, we've decided to devote a little time to some contenders' bullpens (with little focus on the closer, since they get enough airtime already). This week we've focused on the Boston Red Sox, currently 8 games ahead of the Yankees in the AL East at 56-37, which is also the best record in all of baseball. We have them winning the AL pennant, if you must know.

Let me preface this by saying that this is a punishment post. Well, not really. Aside from my obvious allegiances, I do root for some AL teams, and the Sawx are definitely one of them. The reason is, quite simply, I hate the Yankees. Is there any better reason to do anything than pure, vitriolic hatred? Adolf Hitler says no. FOX News says no. PETA says no. And if there's three people/organizations I aspire to be like it's Hitler, FOX News and PETA.

Anyway, at a little get-together at a Mets game almost a month (?!?!) ago, Business or Leisure? and I had a little bet. I took the A's, he took the Mets, and the loser would have to do the Escape Engine for the other's team. The Mets won 9-1. So, technically I lost, but not really.

Oh, we were supposed to race pantsless or something, too. That idea got scrapped pretty quick.

Onward and upward, friends.

Land of rising suns, falling ERAs: Remember the fervor over the Daisuke sweepstakes? The incessant coverage, the back-door dealings, the sealed envelope bids, the puffy jacket at the airport? Seems like eons ago, doesn't it? Now we're just past the halfway point in the season, and while Dice-K's been good, he's not even the best Japanese pitcher born in a town with the letters T-O-K-Y-O on the team. That would be Hideki Okajima of Kyoto, the far less-known of the two overseas signings. All he's done is win the fan's vote for the All-Star game while posting an absurd 0.79 ERA and a sick 0.86 WHIP. A lot of foreign pitchers -- especially Japanese and Asian ones -- have unconventional windups and deliveries, and Okajima is no different. The best part about his, though, is that when he releases a pitch he looks down at the ground. His head whips, flings violently down, and he's not looking anywhere near the plate. It's a fun thing to watch, but it must be a bitch to hit against. No matter, because he's got good stuff that he locates well and keeps down in the zone. Head fling or not, that's how you get badass numbers.

Late innings: I was going to make a joke about Mike Timlin being 40, but he's actually 41. Wow. Has anyone ever seen him without a shirt on? I'm guessing his arm is connected to his shoulder by warm Twizzlers and plumber's tape. Don't get me wrong -- I love the Bulldog (he looks like my friend Dave) and he's still putting up respectable numbers (3.86 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and a .260 BAA) -- but at some point the ol' truck is going to blow a gasket. He's already been on the 15-day DL twice this year. Brendan Donnelly has been out for about a month now, and Manny Delcarmen's been up and down between Pawtucket and the big club all year. He's only thrown about thirteen innings this year, but he's done a decent job.

Middle innings and long relief: Joel Pineiro. The words roll off the tongue like "syphilis" and "asphyxiation." He used to be a starter. Not anymore. Now he's a mediocre reliever with numbers that don't equate to his four-million-dollar salary. What's my boy going to be when he grows up? "No, no son. Neural surgery is hard work. You've got to go to school for twenty-something years, work really hard, and look at brains. Don't you want to work in middle relief and make five big ones a year while you get lit up like the Vegas strip?" An ERA of 5+ and a K-BB ratio of barely better than 1-1 isn't really getting the job done, especially for someone who once won 16 games.

Long-term Eye: With Okajima setting the table for Jonathan Papelbon to clean up, there may be no better one-two punch in the league (aside from Elijah Dukes roughing up his nanny). Timlin still continues to plug away, but the return of Donnelly will be key. He's been through pennant races and the rigor of the post-season, and will assuredly mentor the younger guys. Plus Jon Lester could come back in the next month or two and, if Curt Schilling ever gets back to form, that would put either Julian Tavarez or Kason Gabbard into a long relief role. That would give Terry Francona more options, and would increase the possibility of Tavarez throwing the bullpen catcher into the stands. And that's always a plus.

Fun Fact: Timlin really does look like my buddy Dave. I promise. Once I track down a picture, it's on.

Projection: This team doesn't have many holes, but middle relief could be one. Could be. The Sox might try to make a minor deal toward the deadline, but I think they'll go to the party with who brung 'em. So far, the starters have been solid enough and getting deep enough that it really hasn't mattered. With a handful of solid single-inning-eaters like Timlin, Javier Lopez, Kyle Snyder and Okajima, the bridge to Pap-smear looks like a relatively short one that's easy to cross.


Business or Leisure? said...

Surprisingly, I remember this bet. It was my last glimmering flicker of respectability.


Business or Leisure? said...

Goodbye, Joel Pinero. Helllllllloooooooooo Jon Lester.
Tavarez is an upgrade over Pinero, and Lester is and upgrade over T-Rex. T-Rex looked good in his first run-through of each lineup.

I love this move.