Hot Stove League: It’s getting hot in here!

I know that I’ve been clamoring for some action in the MLB Hot Stove League for weeks, even months. But please, I can’t keep up with the floodgates these last few days. Well, here are the highlights (i.e., the bigger names), and you can bet much more will happen in the coming weeks as we get closer to spring training:

First off, two long-time players for a single team will have new addresses in 2009: Trevor Hoffman and John Smoltz. Hoffman, who has been with the Padres since 1993 when he came over as part of a trade with the Marlins for Gary Sheffield, has not only been a great closer for San Diego for 16 seasons—he has become the all-time MLB leader in saves with 554. But when San Diego no longer put the welcome mat out, Hoffman sought to sign elsewhere, and settled on a one year, $6 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers that can also pay him $1.5 million in performance bonuses.

As for Smoltz, he came to the Braves in 1987 from Detroit in the Doyle Alexander trade, and has been with Atlanta, his only major league team, for 21 years. But the Braves, who are trying to inject more youth into their roster, did not offer Smoltz the money he was looking for and so he signed with the Boston Red Sox. Granted, Smoltz still is injured and probably won’t be available to the Sox until a few months into the season, but you’d rather have him in September and beyond anyway.

The Sox also finalized their deal with free agent RHP Brad Penny on Friday, so both he and Smoltz will join a rotation that includes Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Whoa. I gotta be honest, I think I like their rotation better than the CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett-led Yankees’. Not to sit tight after losing out on the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes to the Yankees, Boston also signed utility outfielder Rocco Baldelli, formerly of the Rays, who grew up in New England.

The Cubs signed outfielder Milton Bradley to a 3-year, $30 million deal, a year after he had one of his most productive seasons with the Texas Rangers (22 homers, .321 batting average). The Rays, who nearly won a title with all that youth in 2008, signed veteran OF Pat Burrell away from Philly, the team that beat them for said title.

Also, Jason Giambi has returned to his roots, signing a one-year. $5.25 million deal with Oakland, the team he began his career with before taking his big bat (and his tubes of stuff, allegedly) for big bucks.

Oh, and as if the Mets and Braves didn’t have enough to battle about on the field (I bet New York is thrilled not to have to face Smoltz anymore), the two teams are reportedly fighting hard over the services of one Derek Lowe. Then, whoever loses out on Lowe can turn their attention to the likes of Ben Sheets, Freddy Garcia or Andy Pettitte.

I know the economy still sucks, but at least we have some signings and movement.

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Couch Potato Alert: 10/17

Ohio State vs. Michigan State
Ohio State cannot afford to look past the Spartans this week in anticipation of their game against Penn State on October 25th. The Buckeyes will be back in the national title chase if they win their next two games, and who would have predicted that after their loss to Southern Cal? Michigan State has the ultimate workhorse Javon Ringer, an Ohio native that leads the nation in rushing with 1,112 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. He has quietly become a viable Heisman Trophy candidate. Regional coverage will begin Saturday at 3:30 PM ET on the ABC/ESPN family of networks.

Missouri vs. Texas
Texas is No. 1 in the polls during the regular season for the first time since 1984. But coach Mack Brown can remind his players that the 1984 squad went on to lose four of their last five games to finish 7-4-1 and out of the national title hunt. History is working against Missouri, as the Tigers are 0-10 lifetime vs. No.1 teams, and are winless in Austin since 1896. That’s right…1896. This game pits Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel trying to re-establish himself in the Heisman race against Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy, who some believe is the Heisman front-runner. National coverage will begin Saturday at 8 PM ET on ABC.

Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays
Baseball fans have been lulled to sleep this post-season by uninspiring play, with no series going one game beyond the required number. And with nine outs remaining, Tampa’s bullpen fell apart and blew a seven-run lead in an 8-7 loss to the Boston Red Sox in Game Five. We now have a series to watch. The never give-up Red Sox could force a Game Seven if struggling post-season ace Josh Beckett can muster a victory against James Shields in Tampa Bay. Game Six will begin Saturday at 8 PM ET and if necessary Game Seven will begin Sunday at 8 PM ET. Both games can be seen on TBS.

It’s all about the pitching

Jonathan Papelbon“Momentum is always as strong as your starting pitcher is the next day.”
– Joe Maddon

Leave it to the well-read Rays manger to come up with such a profound statement. Chances are this saying is nailed up in his teams’ clubhouse alongside others from the likes of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Maddon’s right, and he’s used this pitching-first philosophy to propel his team into the ALCS.

If there’s one quality that ties each of the remaining four teams together, it’s that each of them can hit. They each have at least two big bats, lead-off men that can hit for average, and a bottom of the order that can consistently do some damage. When teams are this evenly matched at the plate, it’s often a single blunder on the part of a pitcher that can decide a game. As we’ve seen in the Division Series between the Angels and Red Sox, it comes down to the pitching. Both teams boasted fabulous rotations and excellent hitting, but it was the Red Sox middle relief and closer that really won the games.


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Jon Lester new Josh Beckett of postseason for Red Sox?

In the 2007 MLB Playoffs, there wasn’t more dominant pitcher than Boston’s Josh Beckett. The Red Sox essentially rode his postseason performances to another World Series title and are doing the same thing again this year, only with a new face: 24-year old Jon Lester.

Boston set up an ALCS showdown with the Tampa Bay Rays by beating the L.A. Angels 3-2 in Game 4 of the ALDS Monday night. And as Adam Kilgore of The Boston Globe writes, Lester was superb.

Jon LesterFor the second time in a week, the Red Sox placed the hopes of their season on the broad, 24-year-old shoulders of Jon Lester. He had already replaced Josh Beckett, spitting at the pressure of the Game 1 assignment as easily as he dispatched the Los Angeles Angels. Lester did even more last night, taking a leap toward becoming every bit the October legend Beckett is.

Lester’s feats so far this postseason challenge belief, defy expectation. He has twice faced the lineup that won more games than any other major league team and for 14 innings has not allowed an earned run.

Lester hurled blinding fastballs and devastating curveballs for seven innings last night, giving up four hits and zero runs in the Red Sox’ 3-2, ALDS-clinching victory.

Lester has grabbed these playoffs by the throat and made them his personal showcase. He has now thrown 22 2/3 consecutive innings in the postseason without allowing an earned run.

Do you want to know why the Yankees and their billion-dollar lineup have continued to fail to reach the World Series lately? Because of pitching. It’s that simple. They don’t have the pitching that Boston continues to produce. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jonathan Papelbon – the BoSox win in the postseason because of their pitching. And we’re witnessing let another great performance by a Boston pitcher this year.

Angels finally figure out Red Sox in postseason

It took the L.A. Angels 11 tries, but they finally beat the Boston Red Sox in the postseason. The Halos pushed a Game 4 and staved off elimination in the ALDS by beating the BoSox 5-4 in 12 innings on Sunday night.

Among several observations he made in the 12-inning affair, Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe notes that Josh Beckett is hittable in the postseason after all.

Josh BeckettOne of the evening’s big revelations was that Josh Beckett is not always going to be Superman in the postseason. The Sox starter’s mortality was evident from the first pitch of the game, which Chone Figgins ripped for a ground-rule double down the right-field line.

That was the beginning of a rocky five-inning stint in which Beckett was reached for nine hits and four earned runs while twice being taken deep by Angels catcher Mike Napoli (the first caroming off the light tower nearest the left-field foul pole and landing on Lansdowne Street). In addition, Beckett walked four, which doubled his entire 2007 postseason total.

He was never really comfortable, holding the ball for endless stretches between pitches, as if telling the world he really had little interest in throwing it. Catcher Jason Varitek added to the tedium with several visits to the mound, and thus it was still the fourth inning two hours into the game.

Beckett deserves credit for gutting it out knowing his team needs him. He wasn’t at his best Sunday night, but he’s hobbled and despite not showing it in the previous two games, the Angels have a great lineup. Boston will just have to tip their hats to L.A. and get ready to try and clinch again.

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