Sunday, August 29, 2010

Clay Buchholz: 2010 AL Cy Young Award Frontrunner

It wasn’t too long ago that Boston Red Sox (first time) All-Star pitcher Clay Buchholz was trade bait. In fact, he was once one of the key ingredients to any number of possible trades in recent years (one of which allegedly included a deal to send him and others to San Diego for Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez last offseason). The righty was also not guaranteed a spot in Boston’s starting rotation coming into this season, given the veteran depth of starters they already had.

Buchholz famously pitched a no-hitter late in 2007 in his second career start, but had a rocky 2008 (2-9, with a 6.75 ERA in 15 starts, 16 games overall). When given another chance, he started to regain form again and truly mature as a big league starter in the second half of 2009, putting up a 7-4 record and a 4.21 ERA in 16 starts.

Look at him now. In his first full season as a starter in the five-man starting rotation (joining Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey), he has had an incredible season thus far, leading his the Sox staff and the American League with a 2.21 ERA, and sporting a team-leading 15 wins. The Sox are also 17-6 in games he starts.

Even though he missed about a month due to injury earlier in the season, Buchholz has pitched himself into the AL Cy Young Award race, joining the likes of Seattle’s ace Felix Hernandez (10-10, 2.47 ERA) and Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia (18-5, 3.14 ERA).

Now, wins are the most overrated stat in baseball and out of a pitcher’s control. Just ask poor Hernandez, who has (and deserves much better than) a .500 record pitching for a team with the worst offense in the big leagues. Therefore, it shouldn’t factor all that much when it comes to evaluating who the best pitcher is.

There are some other eye-opening stats, however, that have made me think Buchholz deserves to be catapulted above the rest for the ultimate AL pitching prize. Consider that before giving up one earned run yesterday in a no-decision against the Rays, he achieved a major league-leading 30 1/3 innings of consecutive scoreless innings pitched, a feat not only unexpected from an American League pitcher given the DHs and better overall hitters in the league, but quite frankly mindblowing - as is his 2.21 ERA - considering he pitches in the AL East, against top scoring and power-hitting Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays clubs.

It’s the longest stretch of not giving up an earned run since Pedro Martinez’s 35 scoreless innings streak in 2002. Buchholz’s ERA in the low two's is also vintage Pedro-ish and nearly a full run better than Sabathia's. Also note that Buchholz’s .222 BAA (batting average against) is not only tied for third in the AL but better than Sabathia’s (.247) and Hernandez’s (.225).

This article was first published and can be read in full at Blogcritics Magazine

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Johnny Damon: Heading Back To Boston?

Yesterday, while the Red Sox won and beat Seattle to pull within 5.5 games of both the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays for the AL East and AL Wild Card leads, GM Theo Epstein claimed Detroit Tigers outfielder Johnny Damon off waivers. The teams are now in the middle of a 48-hour window to work out a deal.

Right now, Damon has a no-trade clause in his contract and is leaning towards staying put, but as we Sox fans all know, money talks. It's the reason he left after the 2005 season in the first place, with the Yankees offering $13M/yr over four years, up from $8M the Sox paid him in 2004 & 2005, and the Red Sox not taking their offer seriously until it was too late. Thus, both sides are to blame for his leaving Beantown for The Bronx, where he won another championship last season.

Now, he has a "long and hard" decision to make: stay with a Tigers team that is definitely out of postseason contention, or join a Sox team again that is still in it and could greatly benefit from a veteran, future Hall of Famer like Damon, who currently has over 2500 hits and over 1500 runs scored in 16 seasons, four good ones of which were spent in Boston (2002-2005), where he led the self-proclaimed lovable "Idiots" 2004 Red Sox team to its first title in 86 years.

Yes, Sox fans have given him lots of shit for being a Yankee over the last several years, but we (fans) and he should put that behind in the next six weeks and go for another fun postseason run. He can't replace all the injured players (Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, for starters), but the 36-year-old veteran still brings legit, hard-nosed big league talent, a slew of successful postseason experiences and a colorful personality to a team that is literally sorely missing it.

So go, Johnny, go back to Boston, where you belong.

Please note: This article was first published at Blogcritics Magazine

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jacoby Ellsbury: Likely Done For The Season

Thanks to an early season collision with teammate and human freight train Adrian Beltre, a controversial diagnosis by team doctors of the five broken ribs suffered from it, and a re-injured or newly fractured rib suffered in last Friday night's game in Texas, speedy outfielder and Red Sox leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury is back on the DL for a third time. Now, sources say his 2010 season is in doubt.

Between Ellsbury's (probably valid) claim of being misdiagnosed, and some restless Sox fans and members of the media (like Tony Massarotti) questioning his toughness, it's been a nightmare season for him, which has spanned only 18 games so far, the highlight of which was his four steals in Yankee Stadium during Boston's last road trip.

I'm not a doctor so I can't say how Ellsbury should've been treated had doctors spotted the complete severity of his fractured ribs to begin with. But Ells has done all he can to play this year, and what I can't stand are fans and Boston media who question an athlete's toughness behind a phone, computer, newspaper or mic when there is no real history of a player like him being soft. This isn't J.D. ("Nancy" or "DL") Drew we're talking about here. The only warranted criticism of Ells is him rehabbing in Arizona for a whole month, with the Red Sox's permission, of course, but without doing much to support his teammates during that time.

But Ellsbury has twice tried to come back from these injuries now, and didn't even want to come out of Friday night's game in Arlington, Texas. That was manager Terry Francona's call.

Ask any teammate or even ex-teammate like the Rangers' David Murphy, and they'll tell you Ellsbury is a "gamer" who's played hurt and always plays hard and fearlessly in the outfield. Even in May, he played ball knowing his soreness wouldn't go away until the offseason.

But questioning whether he wants to play or play hurt like Massarotti did in May, Dan Shaughnessy did a couple of weeks ago and some supposed Sox fans on talk radio have done lately is wrong. There is just no basis for it. Period.

Jacoby Ellsbury tried to play hurt and re-injured himself now twice in the process. He should be commended for his efforts, not criticized by an impatient Boston media looking for something to scream about during what has been a very frustrating Red Sox season. This isn't it, folks. Find something else to whine about.

This article was first published at Blogcritics Magazine

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Music Review: Street Sweeper Social Club - The Ghetto Blaster EP

Tom Morello has been a busy man in the 10 years since rap rock heroes Rage Against The Machine went its separate ways. The first half he spent using his big-sounding guitars to rock the hugely successful hard rock supergroup Audioslave, with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell as frontman and his fellow ex-RATM rhythm section members Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk on bass and drums, respectively.

A few years ago, he quieted down and recorded an album (One Man Revolution) for his Billy Bragg-inspired political and protest folk project, The Nightwatchman. And in the past few years, he and his old RATM mates even found time to do a series of reunion gigs across the world.

It was while touring his folk project that he met up and jammed live with Raymond “Boots” Riley, emcee of veteran Oakland political hip-hop duo The Coup. In 2009, they recorded as Street Sweeper Social Club and released their self-titled debut, billed as “revolutionary party jams” to somewhat mixed but mostly positive reviews.

Released this past week, the follow-up is the seven-song Ghetto Blaster EP, out just in time for SSSC’s August performances at select dates on the Vans Warped Tour and the Rock The Bells Festival with Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan and other acclaimed rap acts.

Compared to Morello’s previous singers (Cornell and Rage’s Zack de La Rocha), as smooth as he is as an emcee, Riley is the least intense and most tame frontman he’s ever worked with. And as a result, Riley’s rhymes and flow didn’t always work and match up with the guitarist’s fiery riffs and rhythms on the ’09 debut, but was done well enough for a majority of it.

“Promenade” was the biggest highlight on it, with its bouncy beats and Morello’s trademark whacky, whammy pedal-powered six-string solos, some of his best and most expansive ones in recent memory. On the new EP, it gets a remix treatment, even though it wasn’t necessary, and quite frankly doesn’t sound much different from the original track.

This article was first published and can be read in full at Blogcritics Magazine

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Red Sox Win Seven-Game Homestand, Lose Key Bat For The Year

As usual, a lot has happened in Red Sox Nation since last I wrote – some good, some bad, and in one case, very bad.

On Tuesday, August 3, before the second of four games against the lowly Cleveland Indians, Mike Lowell was activated from the DL and put in the starting lineup. That’s the good news. The bad? First baseman Kevin Youkilis was placed on the DL and is now done for the year with a torn muscle/ligament in his right hand thumb.

The Return of Mike Lowell

This is no doubt a huge loss, but if it wasn’t for the fact that Lowell, a World Series MVP just a few years back is still here, with something to prove to the organization, I would say this is a blow the Sox would not be able to overcome. I’m not saying Lowell will put up Youk-like power numbers (though he did hit three bombs in one game while rehabbing recently), but he’ll at least give you some power, a good batting average and good defense. His very presence in the lineup and at first base means that weak-hitting Kevin Cash stays on the bench, so Victor Martinez can catch, instead of V-Mart starting at first base and Cash catching when Lowell isn't in the lineup.

Tuesday night was pretty special. Not only was it the only Red Sox game I bought tickets to and attended this season, it was the night Lowell got his first start coming off the DL at first base. And what did he do? After the first standing ovation as he came to bat, he took the first pitch he saw out of the yard to give the Sox a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. He got two more standing ovations in his next two at-bats, and cracked a big smile after making a diving play at first base later in the game.

With starter Josh Beckett looking like his old self, fooling Indians hitters for eight innings with mid-90s fastballs, sharp curve balls on 103 pitches and earning his third win of the year and first at Fenway Park this season, it was a perfect night to be at Fenway as the Sox won the game, 3-1.

This edition of my Dead Red column was first published at Blogcritics Magazine. Read the full article at that link.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Music Review: Jon Lindsay - Escape From Plaza-Midwood

Portland, Oregon-born, North Carolina-based singer/songwriter Jon Lindsay has been musically active since the ripe old age of three. But for the past 10 or so years, he has performed all over the U.S., fronting the likes of The Young Sons, Catch Fire and Carlisle, and also performed solo or toured as a multi-instrumentalist/singer with the renowned Brooklyn-based folk/alternative vocalist Nicole Atkins (Columbia Records), Benji Hughes, and others.

Last year, Lindsay came out with his own work, the five-track EP Magic Winter & The Dirty South, which saw high praise from the likes of Paste Magazine and Shuffle Magazine, for starters. He’s also received compliments from peers, including Ken Stringfellow (of The Posies, Big Star and R.E.M., among others), and members of The Love Language (Stuart McLamb), Ben Folds (Britt Harper Uzzell) and Whiskeytown (Caitlin Cary).

On August 17, Lindsay will release his long-awaited debut, a 15-track affair titled, Escape From Plaza-Midwood on Chocolate Lab Records, an independent Chicago label home to other acclaimed acts like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke’s brother Andy Yorke and (mostly) instrumental rockers Motion Turns It On.

Leadoff gem “These Are The End Times” features an array of instruments, including folky guitar strums, a melodica, and steel drum, along with sleigh bells. And then there are the lyrics (sung at times with ‘60s-style reverb running through the mic). Since we are in the “end times,” Lindsay wants one to “make some moonshine,” then thinks of California sinking, and later, inventively uses Bernie Madoff as a verb. Such is the world of one Jon Lindsay.

Lindsay’s imagination and storytelling is captivating, and so often is matched by strong pop hooks. His imaginary tales run wild in the buzzing bass-heavy “Futuretown,” for example, as he cleverly slips in a Kato Kaelin reference, a rare f-bomb, and discovers that his new “lady friend” was a “half a robot, half a cop.” The tune was featured on AOL Spinner at the end of July.

The anthemic “My Blue Angels” is another highlight, with its infectious, twinkling sounds and as the song kicks into full gear, fast, post-punk energy and chords.

This article was first published at Blogcritics Magazine. Please click that link to read the full review.