The Red Sox: "Go Celtics!"

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Papelbon dazed.jpgLast night’s game was a gut punch. Sure, it was technically only one game, but to Red Sox fans it must have felt like three or four. An early slap in the face, an inspiring comeback and then a 1-2 from A-Rod and Marcus Thames which probably felt like a mugging. With that the Red Sox have now lost 14 of 17 to the Yankees and at 19-20 in the toughest division in baseball, stand 8.5 games back. Wait, that’s not right. They sort of sit there, kind of dazed, shifting their weight back and forth.

It’s the kind of game that can make the talk radio guys go from asking “what’s wrong with the Red Sox” to shouting about who should be cut, traded and fired and demanding to know why anyone should even care.  More importantly, it’s the kind of game that could cause fans to decide that 2010 just isn’t happening and inspire them to find something else to do with their summer days than extend the Red Sox’ sellout streak.

But I think all of that wrath will hold off for a bit longer. At least a couple weeks longer, anyway, and maybe as long as a month.  What’s stopping it?  The Celtics, who currently look unstoppable.  For those of you who don’t traffic in the lesser sports, the men in green — after unceremoniously kicking LeBron James out of the playoffs and maybe out of Cleveland — lead the Eastern Conference finals 1-0 over the Orlando Magic, and look poised to head into the finals to challenge for their 18th banner.

Because the NBA is far more ridiculous than even Major League Baseball when it comes to scheduling, even a four-game sweep of the Magic would take until next Monday and a seven game series would take this sucker through May 30th. Then, unless things go differently than they currently appear to be going, it’s on to the Finals which could stretch into mid-June.  It should all serve as a nice distraction.

I’m not saying that the Red Sox will get a free pass to continue sucking while all that plays out — Boston is a baseball town above all else, and the Sox’ bad play will make some people cranky no matter what happens — but a nice long playoff run for the Celtics, preferably with a championship at the end, may prevent the more casual fans from hopping onto the Red Sox hate-wagon.

Of course when they do ultimately jump on, they’ll jump on hard. That is, unless they reverse a trend that currently has them giving up more runs per game than any other team in the American League (yes, including the Kansas City Royals). And unless Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury come back and remind everyone that, yes, this is a good defensive team.  And unless last night’s explosion from Victor Martinez is a harbinger of a long hot streak that will make the middle of the Sox’ order as truly formidable as it was supposed to be.

And make no mistake: last night’s game aside — if indeed it’s possible to put it aside — the Sox have improved.  It’s just that this improvement means very little as the Rays and Yankees continue to stand on the gas pedal and motor off into the distance.

But for the moment at least some non-trivial percentage of Red Sox Nation — those whose passports are a tad newer, it’s safe to assume — are only paying half attention.  Instead, they’re watching the Celtics. A team that, with each win, pushes the Sox’ day of public reckoning farther into the future.

The only problem? Each Celtics’ win also puts the Sox’ current state in sharper relief.

Report: Teams reluctant to gamble on Cliff Lee

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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In Saturday’s column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo suggests that free agent Cliff Lee is seeking a guaranteed major league deal between $6 and $8 million plus incentives. That is turning some otherwise interested teams away, as the lefty is still recovering from a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow. Lee hasn’t pitched since July 31, 2014.

Last month, Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker said the pitcher would need “a perfect fit” to pitch in 2016. He also noted that Lee has begun a full offseason throwing program.

In his most recent season, Lee compiled a 3.65 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 12 walks in 81 1/3 innings for the Phillies. The Phillies had signed him to a five-year, $120 million contract in December 2010 but declined a club option for the 2016 season, instead buying him out for $12.5 million.

Orioles reconsidering signing Yovani Gallardo

Yovani Gallardo
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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In an article for MASN on Friday, Steve Melewski noted that the Orioles were reluctant to forfeit their first round draft pick (14th overall) in order to sign free agent starter Yovani Gallardo. The club is now reconsidering its stance and rechecking the right-handers medicals, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports.

Gallardo, who turns 30 on February 27, posted a 3.42 ERA with 121 strikeouts and 68 walks over 184 1/3 innings for the Rangers last season. The Rangers had acquired him in a trade with the Brewers, sending Luis Sardinas, Corey Knebel, and minor leaguer Marcos Diplan to Milwaukee.

Gallardo has posted an ERA below 4.00 in six of his last seven seasons. He remains unsigned into February, however, because his strikeout rate has rapidly decreased with each year since 2012. Per FanGraphs, that rate was 23.7 percent in 2012, then went to 18.6 percent, 17.9 percent, and 15.3 percent progressively. Some of that may have to do with diminishing fastball velocity, as Gallardo’s 90.4 MPH average marked a career low among his eight full seasons with at least 100 innings pitched.

The Orioles lost starter Wei-Yin Chen, who signed with the Marlins, and the back end of their rotation is highly speculative with Kevin Gausman, Mike Wright, Odrisamer Despaigne, and Tyler Wilson. Adding a veteran like Gallardo, even if he is apparently declining, may be stabilizing.

Freddy Garcia is calling it a career

Screenshot 2016-02-07 at 10.16.43 AM
Elsa/Getty Images North America
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MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez passes along word from the Dominican Republic that right-hander Freddy Garcia will hang up his cleats for good after Sunday’s Caribbean Series championship game.

Garcia will start that game for the Tigres de Aragua out of Venezuela. He’s taking on Mexico’s Venados de Mazatlan.

“Venezuelan fans are expecting something good from Freddy and so is everybody,” said Tigres de Aragua manager Eddie Perez, who also serves as the bullpen coach for the Atlanta Braves. “Knowing that it’s his last game is going to make it very special. We all hope he pitches a really good game so he can retire in a good way and bring the title for Venezuela. Everybody who is rooting for Venezuela expects him to do well.”

Garcia’s last major league game was in the 2013 postseason. The 39-year-0ld will finish with a 4.15 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 6.4 K/9 in 2,264 career regular-season innings. He had a 3.26 ERA in 11 playoff starts, winning a World Series title with the White Sox in 2005.

Video: 2016 will be a season to remember

Carlos+Correa+Houston+Astros+v+Arizona+Diamondbacks+Ctyu5RiU3SWl
Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America
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MLB.com put together this very cool video montage reviewing the 2015 season and setting us up for what should be a wild 2016. Young stars, veterans chasing milestones, unpredictable divisional races.

It’s so close to spring training. Let’s do this.