Division Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox - Game One

Are there any holes to be punched in these Red Sox?

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With the ability to start David Price twice and Alex Cobb once in the next four games, the Rays aren’t sunk after dropping Game 1 to Boston on Friday. The Red Sox, though, seemed pretty unbeatable today with the offense in sync despite four days off and Jon Lester limiting the damage besides a couple of solo homers.

So where are the weaknesses?

Lineup: Boston’s has baseball’s strongest lineup top to bottom, leading the majors in runs scored by 57 (853 to Detroit’s 796). Eight of the nine starters today had OPSs of .770 or better. The only guy who didn’t, third baseman Will Middlebrooks, came in at .805 in 145 at-bats after returning to the majors in August. The minor flaw is that the Red Sox were weaker against lefties, posting a .751 OPS compared to an .818 mark against righties, though that didn’t hurt them today against Matt Moore.

Defense: Second baseman Dustin Pedroia and right fielder Shane Victorino excepted, the Red Sox are more solid than spectacular. Still, Jonny Gomes in left field is the only liability, and he’ll be out of the lineup in favor of Daniel Nava once the series switches to Tampa Bay with the bigger left field in The Trop.

Baserunning: Incredible. Including today’s two, the Red Sox have been successful on an amazing 42 straight steal attempts. With the plodders in the middle of the lineup, the Red Sox aren’t so great at going from first to third or first to home on doubles, but they haven’t made many miscues lately.

Rotation: The Red Sox’s rotation doesn’t match up to Detroit’s, but there also no weak links in a group that includes Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy. While there probably won’t be any postseason shutouts from that group, there also shouldn’t be many early exits. Combined, those four guys had six starts of less than five innings this year, with two of those coming because of injury.

Bullpen: Boston’s biggest flaw would seem to be its vulnerability in the seventh and eighth inning of games. Koji Uehara has been amazing in the closer’s role, but Junichi Tazawa has struggled to serve as the bridge, leaving Craig Breslow as the primary setup guy. A big key to Boston’s postseason hopes could be Ryan Dempster stepping up and assuming a setup role; he pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings after moving to the pen last month and he finished up with a scoreless ninth today.

There are no juggernauts in this year’s postseason, but the Red Sox, with home-field advantage for the duration, would seem to be the best bets to fake it for a few weeks, especially since the frequent off days will lead to a more liberal usage of Uehara in the eighth. Then again, what if their surest thing isn’t so sure? Uehara was arguably the game’s most valuable reliever this year with his 1.09 ERA and 101 strikeouts in a career-high 74 1/3 innings of work. However, his postseason ERA stands at 19.29 because of the three homers he allowed in three appearances for the Rangers two years ago. If he lets the Red Sox down this month, there may be no coming back.

Mets owners get some breathing room on their Bernie Madoff settlement payments

New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon stands on the field before baseball's Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Associated Press
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For years the central fact of life of the New York Mets has been that their owners, the Wilpon family and Saul Katz, lost a ton of money after investing it with friend and business partner Bernard Madoff, perpetrator of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. It has hampered their payroll and led to huge amounts of borrowing and restructuring that, before last year’s pennant run, seemed like it’d be a millstone on the Mets competitive prospects for years to come.

In addition to losing money, it was later determined that Katz and the Wilpons unfairly gained in some other respects and thus they ended up having their phony earnings clawed back via a settlement with the trustee managing the fallout of the Madoff scandal.  The upshot: the Wilpons and Katz, in addition to their losses, were ordered to pay nearly $60 million dollars back, half payable this week, half payable next year. That’s a lot of money for anyone to fork over and this week’s payment loomed large.

Now, however, Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Wilpons and Katz will get some breathing room. Specifically, they have modified their agreement with the trustee and some of the owed money has been deferred. Instead of some $29 million payable this week, they will only have to pay $16 million. The remainder will be paid in four installments — from 2017 through 2020 — with an interest rate of 3.5 percent on the unpaid balance, Rubin says.

Now, there obviously was no promise that the $13 million saved this week be invested in the baseball team, but it’s probably a good thing overall for the Mets if their owners’ debt payments are reduced a bit.

Mike Napoli hit a homer for a fan with cancer

CLEVELAND, OH -  MAY 30: Mike Napoli #26 of the Cleveland Indians rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers at Progressive Field on May 30, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Last night a fan named Kathi Heintzelman showed up at Progressive Field in Cleveland with a sign asking Indians first baseman Mike Napoli to hit a home run for her and to give her a hug. But there was a reason beyond her love for Mike Napoli. She’s starting chemotherapy today and the hug and homer would be a nice thing.  Hard to disagree with that, even if everyone knows that ballplayers can’t hit homers on demand.

Well, most players can’t. Mike Napoli did the easy part before the game, giving her a hug. Then in the sixth inning, he went yard:

 

Whether you believe that such things can be fated or if you merely acknowledge that Heintzelman asked Napoli for a homer at a good time — he’s on a hot streak right now and has hit bombs in four of his last 11 games — it’s a great story.

 

The Twins recall Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton
Getty Images
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Byron Buxton has been recalled from Triple-A Rochester by the Twins.

Buxton will replace Danny Santana, who was placed on the disabled list following a hamstring injury. But the bigger picture here is that Buxton will get a fresh go-around to show that he is the future of the Twins like so many assume he will be. The 22-year-old hasn’t hit so far in the majors, but he batted .336/.403/.603 with six homers, four steals, and a 26/11 K/BB ratio over 129 plate appearances after his demotion to Triple-A last month.

At this point the Twins, who stink on ice, need to just put their top young player in the game and let him learn to swim at the big league level rather than try to squeak out a few extra relatively meaningless wins with guys who won’t be part of the next contending Twins team.

92-year-old World War II vet throws a nifty ceremonial first pitch

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 9.04.09 AM
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Think of how many bad ceremonial first pitches you’ve seen. From the worm burners from local business owners and pillars of the community at minor league games to ex-big leaguers who obviously haven’t picked up a ball since they retired to the famous celebrity ones that go viral the next day, there are probably a lot more bad first pitches out there than good ones.

But when the good ones come, they’re really enjoyable. And few are more enjoyable than the one which preceded yesterday’s Padres-Mariners game in Seattle. The pitcher: Burke Waldron, a 92-year-old veteran of World War II. He did it in his dress whites. He ran out onto the field beforehand. And though his catcher didn’t set up the full 60 feet, six inches away from where Waldron threw it, it was still a spiffy pitch. Way better than most: