Friday, 8 February 2008

Colonel Curt(z)

Is it wrong to smile like the Cheshire Cat when a key player on a divisional rival gets injured badly? The answer is 'yes', but only on the condition that said player is from one of the two divisional rivals who are spending the sport into oblivion and crushing our spirits on a yearly basis.

Despite overtaking David "Boomer" Wells as baseball's preeminent old, fat loud-mouthed bore, Curt Schilling can still bring it on the mound. Well, make that could bring it. New reports suggest that an undisclosed right shoulder injury will keep Schill out until the all-star break, but no one around these parts would be surprised if he never pitched again. Oh the sadness!

The image of a forlorn Schill slumped over in the Phillies dugout with a towel over his head as Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams came in to 'save' Game 6 of the 1993 World Series is forever burned in my memory. No halfways decent Little League coach would allow one of his players to show such collossal disrespect to a teammate on the field. It was at that moment, at the tender age of 14, that I came to the following conclusion: Curt Schilling is a giant douchebag. You will not be missed, Curt. But on to current matters...

Last summer I was deeply skeptical of the notion that the Red Sox were a great baseball club. They won the World Series and everything, but anyone can do that, right? My impression of last year's beantowners was tempered by the fact that they played some pretty pedestrian baseball against the Jays, aside for a three-game pwning at the Rogers Centre during The Losing Streak in early May. (They split the season series 9 games apiece.)

The Bosox were a very good club that got off to a torrid start, took advantage of a horrid first half from the Yankees, and then coasted to the finish line. With Schill healthy, the Bosox started the season 44-25 ( to June 18), were 24-18 without him midsummer (June 19 to August 5), and 28-23 with him back again to finish the season (August 6 to September 30). I don't want to make any wild conclusions from this that the Bosox need Curt Schilling to win in 2008, but I don't think they're quite the same club without him.

Schill had been a rare breed going into last year: the Big K starter who didn't walk batters. In his age 40 season, his K rate fell precipitously, but Schill managed to make do without the cheese. He was able to slightly better his 2006 ERA+ despite a major drop in his K/9 IP numbers from 8.07 to 6.02. Of his 24 starts, 11 were Quality. Like the futuristic machines that enslave the human race in The Terminator, Schill was learning to use the ever-changing resources at his disposal quite effectively. There's good reason to think he still would've been a gamer at age 41 in 2008 if that balky shoulder wasn't standing in his way.

So who do the Bosox turn to now? Barring injury (hrm...), their rotation now stacks up as Beckett/Matsuzaka and some combination of Tim Wakefield, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and presumably world's ugliest man and most awful human being, Julian Tavarez. Oh, if Epstein hadn't traded a bunch of kids pretty much no one has heard of for baseball's best pitcher when the opportunity presented itself...

23-year-old Buchholz is a K machine who threw a no-hitter (that apparently counts even though it came against the Orioles) during his late season callup, but he has a mere 38.2 AAA innings under his belt and might well need more seasoning. Thrusting him into the rotation to start the season may backfire. Jon Lester seems to the Golden Boy of Beantown, too valuable to package with Jacoby Ellsbury for Johan Santana, but it's hard to see what all the excitement's about. His BB rates in the minors have been Gustavo Chacin-bad and his K rates have fallen to normal levels as he hit the high minors. And a lefty pitching in Fenway Park? Colour me unsurprised if he doesn't turn out to be the second coming of our Lord and Saviour. Wakefield was left off the Bosox 2007 playoff roster because of a minor labrum tear. He's supposed to be healthy going into spring training, but then again he might not be.

You get the picture here.

In conclusion, Curt Schilling = a raging a-hole of the first order, but will be sorely missed by his club.

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