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HENCH’S HARDBALL: Opinions expressed in Hardball are
not necessarily those of Boston Dirt Dogs, Big Dog, or our sponsors:

Date: Monday, July 9, 2001
From: Kevin Hench
Subject: First Half Over, Glass Half Empty

We'll start with today's fiasco and pull back from there for a wider snapshot
of the first half and perhaps a look into the grim near future.

* When Jimy starts the Forfeit Lineup - Hillenbrand, Lansing, Mirabelli,
D-Lew - we have basically no chance of scoring in three or four innings. 
That we could so desperately need some right-handed pop against lefties and a
have a Triple A Triple Crown threat growing old on the farm is just another
testament to how screwed up this organization is.  Izzy sets a nightly homer
distance record in various IL parks and the first we see of him is when he
Karate kicks a catcher.  Great.

*  There is no slump so deep that a pitcher, be it Steve Parris, John Halama
or Tom Glavine (winless since May), will not immediately snap out of it when
he goes up against today's lineup.

*  B.J. Surhoff has never met a slump that a weekend series with the Sox
couldn't cure.

*  Did anyone catch Shea Hillenbrand's underhand flip too late for the force
at second today?  He is so bad defensively, so clueless at the plate, that
not only does he not belong in the Majors right now, I can't see him ever
developing into an everyday player that doesn't hurt his team.

*  Tomo Ohka had a decent fastball and an excellent change working through
four scoreless today.  So why, you ask, did he throw hanging curveballs to
Brian Jordan and Andruw Jones during the five-run shelling in the fifth? 
Beats the hell out of me.  Mirabelli looked over to the dugout a lot today
and Ohka didn't appear to shake him off much, but whoever called those two
pitches is an idiot.  If you must mix in your sub-par rolling curve, please
do so against Quilvio Veras, Mark De Rosa or Rico Brogna, not against boppers
who will deposit a hanger.  The game is not that complicated.

*  Which brings me to 2-0 and 3-1 counts.  When you, the hitter, have the
count in your favor, you should sit on a pitch in a certain spot.  Let's say,
a fastball, on the inside half.  If you get this pitch, you should annihilate
it, full rip.  If you don't get your pitch right where you want it, just take
it.  It's okay.  That's the luxury of being up in the count.  So why the hell
do the Boston Red Sox hit so many 2-0 and 3-1 pitches weakly the other way
with defensive half swings?  It's mind-boggling.  Troy is the worst.  Did you
catch his act on Saturday?  Twice striking out on 3-2 pitches off the plate
in the dirt.  He is so weak.

*  Think there's any friggin' chance the White Sox would trade David Wells for
Ohka and Crawford now?  Wells could be in traction and be more valuable than
either of these soon-to-be journeymen.

*  Watching Brian Jordan (two), Dave Martinez, Quilvio Veras and Mark De Rosa
all make hit-robbing plays this weekend while we struggle to make the most
quotidian plays gave me a foreboding sense of dread for the long haul.  When
your players have minimal range and weak arms, they are simply incapable of
the spectacular play.  Our record, however, has led me to revisit the
"pitching and defense" mantra.  Maybe defense is overrated.  Maybe the vast
majority of plays are routine.  Maybe you can win with a butcher in left, a
rainbow-throwing second baseman at short, a DH at catcher, a broken down old
man at second, a mediocre right-fielder in center and an average left-fielder
in right.  Previously, I would have doubted it.

In our 15 one-run and extra-inning losses in the first half, our shortstop
position produced these numbers:

                           G       AB         H       AVG      RBI    LOB

Red Sox  SS       15      56          7       .125         0       28

So in the 15 losses where one run, one RBI, one positive contribution with
the bat would have made the difference, we got nothing from the guys
replacing the two-time batting champ who entered 2001 with the highest
all-time slugging percentage for a shortstop.  If you encounter someone who
suggests that we haven't missed Nomar - because our rangeless shortstops have
made so few errors - please punch him in the face.  In these 15 games, the
opposition has produced more runs on routine throws breaking the webbing of
mitts than our shortstops have.

And now the bad news...

* Four of these six teams will make the playoffs: Yankees, Mariners, Twins,
Indians, Red Sox and A's.  Let's take them one at a time.

Yankees - They are in.  There's is simply no way this de facto All-Star team
could fail to win the AL East.  Even with Pettite and El Duque on the DL and
Bernie missing about three weeks for his pops, they played .550 ball and now
are healthy and white hot.  Plus, teams lay down for them.  Thanks, Rey
Ordonez, for hitting the ball 10 inches with the bases loaded and one out and
killing a rally with the never-before-seen 2-U-3 double play.

Mariners - They are in, mathematically, it would seem.  Who would have
thought they got the better of the Mike Cameron-Ken Griffey deal?  With
Cameron and Ichiro patroling the cavernous reaches of Safeco and Sele,
Garcia, Moyer and Abbott throwing strikes for six innings before Messrs.
Nelson, Rhodes and Sasaki make 7-8-9 a formality, the M's have a real shot at
the whole deal.

Twins - Everyone is waiting for their fade, even as they won 13 of 15 before
the break.  Even as their 2 and 3 starters made the All-Star team and their
ace won his 10th of the first half.  Pettite over Radke and Sele?  Shame on
you, Joe Torre.  The Twins have the most range in the AL up the middle in
Guzman and Rivas, the best defensive centerfielder this side of Safeco in
Torrie Hunter, great defense on the corners in Koskie and Mankiewicz  and an
ace manager.  The pen would seem to be a concern, except that it gets the job
done seemingly every night.  There's a little bit of a power shortage, too,
but they have a lot of big innings because they can run and they all put the
ball in play.  The main reason they won't fade, however, is the schedule. 
Did you notice that while we were lucky to take one of three with the Braves,
the Twins were sweeping the Reds?  Yes, the NL and AL Centrals are stocked
deep with lousy teams with lousy pitching.  After beating up on the Reds and
Pirates, the Twins can spend August and September feasting on some unbalanced
meat: Tigers, Royals and the primed-to-fade White Sox.  Do we really expect
the Twins of Radke, Milton and Mays to be under .500 against these awful

Indians - As you may have noticed last week, the Indians lineup is
ridiculous.  It almost doesn't matter that their starting pitching has been
shit because they are playing Beer League softball anyway.  Colon, Finley and
Nagy will be better than they've been and Sabathia and Westbrook have looked
good.  Do you really expect Gonzalez, Burks, Alomar, Thome, Lofton, Vizquel,
Cordova and Fryman to be watching the playoffs at home?

A's - After Mulder, Hudson and Zito held the D-Backs to two runs in a
three-game sweep at the BOB, this might be the scariest team in the league
right now.  They know they buried themselves as far as the division is
concerned, but they are only 6.5 back in the wild card race.  If Johnny Damon
comes anywhere close to what he did last year in running away with the
second-half batting crown, look out.

Red Sox - Remember 1978?  The best team in memory to miss the playoffs?  And
you look back and you ask, How did Rice (MVP), Lynn, Evans, Yaz, Pudge, Eck
(20-8), Steamer (15-2) and Rooster miss the playoffs? Fast forward to
September, 2001.  Pedro, Nomar, Varitek and Jurassic Carl are back and we are
on a tear, winning 10 of 11 to close the gap on the wild card-leading
Indians/Twins/A's, but we fall short, done in by the .400 ball we played in
July and the first two weeks of August while the other contenders heated up. 
And Manny and Pedro and Nomar will go into the Hall of Fame in 2015 and no
one will believe we missed the playoffs in 2001... and don't even get me
started on the labor stoppage of 2002 further encroaching on our tiny window
of opportunity.

That's why they call it a curse.

Enjoy the break.

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