Craig Calcaterra

Comerica Park

Deviled eggs on a slab of bacon at the ballpark? Sure, why not?

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The Tigers already sell bacon on a stick at Comerica Park. Really, it’s just a hunk of thick-cut bacon on a stick. They sell it at the craft beer stand in right field. Righteous place, actually, even though I’ve never got the bacon.

They’re kicking it up a couple of notches this year:

Nothin’ says “baseball” like deviled eggs and bacon. Give me one of those, wash it down with a Bell’s Oberon and it may as well be 1979 at Tiger Stadium all over again!

2015 Preview: Boston Red Sox

Ortiz Ramirez Sandoval
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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2015 season. Next up: The Boston Red Sox

The Big Question: Can the Sox go from Worst to First once again?

The Giants win the World Series in even years. The Red Sox stink in even years. It’s quite a pattern.

The Red Sox aren’t counting on that being a pattern, however. They decided to help it along by improving an offense that was near the bottom of the American League in runs per game. The big additions: Pablo Sandoval at third base and Hanley Ramirez in left field. The Sandoval contract may look bad later, but it should certainly help the offense now. Ramirez, when he’s healthy, provides a nice bat, but he’s never played in left field and his presence there creates a roster crunch of outfielders with three guys — Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo and Shane Victorino filling the other two positions. And don’t forget about Jackie Bradley Jr., who is still hanging around. At the moment both Castillo and Victorino have some health issues (Castillo is set to return this weekend) and of course, Ramirez is not exactly a portrait of durability, so that may clear itself up on its own.

The rotation has received a makeover as well, but it’s an open question as to whether it’s good enough to push the Sox back to the playoffs. Jon Lester was traded away and didn’t come back via free agency, so the Sox went with something of a volume approach with their starters. Rick Porcello is coming off a fine season for the Tigers, but it was his first year in the past five with an above average ERA+. Justin Masterson, before last year, looked to be a budding ace, but he struggled mightily in both Cleveland and St. Louis. Porcello seems like the better bet to approximate an ace — so many of his statistical issues of the past few years can be laid at the doorstep of the Tigers’ horrendous infield defense — but neither one is your prototypical stopper. The hope is that Clay Buchholz can return to ace form he showed before getting injured in 2013, but he has either been feast or famine since then. Mostly famine. In Wade Miley and Joe Kelly the Sox have guys whose ceilings seem to be in the back-of-the-rotation. Which is fine if that’s all they’re expected to do. If the three guys up top falter, however, it could be a less-than-fantastic staff.

The lineup will be better than it was in 2013. The rotation, well, it’s really hard to say. In both of the Sox’ recent last place finishes, they didn’t feel like a last place team heading into the season. Likewise, this year’s edition feels like it could be a really competitive club. But they will require a lot of things to break right, especially with the rotation, but also with the development of young position playing prospects like Betts, Castillo and Xander Bogaerts. That is not the stuff of a last place team, but it’s no guarantee whatsoever of a first place team, and they shouldn’t be the favorites to finish as one.

What else is going on?

  • Benches are often afterthoughts in the minds of fans, but the Sox’ bench will have some big names on it and will likely give John Farrell a lot of flexibility. Jackie Bradley Jr., Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, Brock Holt and whichever of the Betts-Castillo-Victorino crew isn’s starting is pretty cool.
  • Koji Uehara fell off big in the second half last year. Health? That’s what he and the Sox say. But he’s also gonna be 40 on Opening Day, so you have to wonder. Beyond him it’s a revamped bullpen with guys like Anthony Varvaro, Alexi Ogando and Robbie Ross added to the mix. Junichi Tazawa is still solid. Edward Mujica and Craig Breslow are still hanging around. Not the team’s strength, not it’s worst weakness. Most of it depends on Uehara keeping up his usual level of strong work.
  • I like catching combos like Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan. Neither are offensive stars, but both rank extremely highly in pitch framing metrics. I can’t say I understand how those work, but if reality is even close to what the people talking about the numbers say it is, they’re going to steal a lot of strikes for that pitching staff. That will be especially helpful for sinkerballers like Procello and Masterson.
  • The Sox’ minor league system has gotten a nice boost lately and Blake Swihart and Yoan Moncada have gotten a ton of ink. That’s nice, but neither will be contributing to the 2015 Sox. Or, if they are, it means everything that was supposed to go right for the club has gone wrong.

Prediction: I don’t like all of the uncertainties with that rotation. I don’t know that Dustin Pedroia will return to form. I don’t know that Pablo Sandoval is good enough to truly elevate that offense (note: his fame is based way more on the playoffs than recent regular season dominance) and I don’t know if it’s fair to expect (a) Hanley Ramirez to be healthy all year; and (b) the youngsters to all take the big step forward they are capable of taking. John Farrell doesn’t need a Hail Mary completion for this club to contend, but he does need a lot of things to break in his favor. Because it’s baseball, not all of them will.

I think the Sox will be in the playoff hunt all year, but I don’t think they’re be a dominant team. Or as good a bet as the Orioles to win the division. Even a weak division. My guess: Second Place, American League East.

David Ortiz is out with “general soreness” through the weekend

David Ortiz
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David Ortiz has had a slight achilles issue this spring and had a bout with dehydration last week. He’s going to miss some time this weekend too, it seems, as he’s dealing with “general soreness.”

Which, hey, dude is pushing 40, he’s the DH and it’s not like he’s not going to be able to answer the bell when the season starts. Given how most veterans start to feel about spring training at this point in March, I’m surprised more of them don’t either have general soreness now or say they do in order to take a break. Ortiz is no different.

I don’t delve too deeply into local Boston media, but I saw this John Tomase column at WEEI, which suggests that Ortiz has been catching flak from local sports yakkers over this (Tomase defends Ortiz). I can’t even imagine that at this point of his career that’s even possible, but I guess one should never underestimate the need for sports yakkers to be phony mad about some phony controversy.

Hyun-Jin Ryu to be shut down due to inflammation in his shoulder

hyun-jin ryu getty
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We’ve entered the portion of spring training where all that can really happen is dudes getting hurt. The latest: Hyun-Jin Ryu. Who the Dodgers just announced will be shut down with inflammation in his shoulder.

Ryu’s last outing was noticeable for his markedly decreased velocity, after which he experienced shoulder tightness. You’ll also recall that he was shut down for a spell in September last season due to similar issues. He was able to come back for the playoffs then. Here’s hoping he can do the same for the regular season now.

It’s not a great day, so let’s look at Brad Ausmus without his shirt on

Brad Ausmus
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I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning and, since I woke up, I have read a half dozen news articles which more or less make me want to move to a remote mountain cabin and wait for death. Happy first day of spring.

One thing did make me laugh, though, and that was Tigers pitcher David Price tweeting and retweeting pictures of his manager Brad Ausmus without his shirt on.

They’re old pics — from some newspaper or magazine shoot Baseball’s Most Handsome manager did back in his playing days, but who cares. There’s sunshine in them and we need some sunshine today.

Maybe that’ll make some of you feel better. It certainly is better than thinking about the state of the world.