Tagged: Chicago

Just When You Thought It Was Safe . . .

Dan:

God, I hate this team.

Just days ago, the Sox were coming out of Tampa Bay having taken 2 of 3 at the Trop, putting the final nail in the coffin of the 2009 Devil Rays, and heading to Chicago to face a shell of a White Sox team that had waved the white flag of defeat at the August waiver trade deadline. Things looked great.

After dropping 3 of 4 to that team, things once again look bad.

The 2009 version of the Boston Red Sox seems like a heartless squad. They can’t get any traction; can’t go on any run. They’re like a ship without a rudder, floating aimlessly through the season.

Who knows why. Maybe Theo has too many emotionless robots like J.D. Drew and not enough idiots. Maybe this team doesn’t know how to be a dynasty or favorite. In years like 1999, 2003 and 2004, the Red Sox were underdogs battling 86 years of bad history. Nobody expected them to win. There’s a certain joy in being an underdog. Now, they are supposed to win. Maybe it’s just not as fun.

Whatever the reason, this is an immensely frustrating team that has so far sucked the joy out of the 2009 baseball season. Hopefully, they’re saving it for October . . . if they get that far.

God, I hate this team.

Octoberfest — The A.L. Playoffs

Dan:

Sing with me now: It’s the mooost wonderful tiiiiime of the year . . .

Welcome to October — a time of year when the leaves change color, the air is crisp, the beer is amber and baseball is at its best. Starting Wednesday, we get to enjoy games carrying the weight of the baseball world from mid-afternoon right on through midnight. Get ready to do nothing but live, breath, drink and eat baseball for the next month.

In the American League, we have our beloved defending world champion Boston Red Sox playing ball along with three soulless franchises. Thankfully, the National League will make for hours of great viewing, with three bigtime franchises in Philly, the Dodgers and the Hated Cubs, plus the new kids on the block, my own favorite National League team (not named the Pirates), the Milwaukee Brewers.

As we gear up to enjoy the playoffs, let’s take a look at what may lie in store in the coming weeks, starting with the American League:

Chicago White Sox/Minnesota Twins Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter which of these teams make it in. They’ll be completely outmatched by the other A.L. teams. Both are good teams. And the Twins are an amazing story this year — contending for the division title in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Ron Gardenhire deserves manager of the year (although Tampa’s Madden will get it). But neither team has the goods to compete with the Angels, Sox or Rays.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays Well, they did not fade. In fact, when they had every opportunity to cave in facing a tough stretch in September, they stepped up. Consider that, then take a look at their talented pitching staff and you’d be a fool not to take them seriously in the playoffs. Sure, they could make a run. I fully expect them to take the Minnesota White Sox in four games, and then face a bruised opponent in whoever takes the difficult Red Sox-Angels series. So that would bode well for Tampa. However, with this team I can’t help but get that feeling that they are like the 2001 Seattle Mariners . . . the 116-win Mariners who wilted in the playoffs. A team – albeit talented team — that overachieved in the regular season and disappointed at crunch time. Expect them to take the opening series, then lose the ALCS in six.

Boston Red Sox and Anaheim Angels This projects to be one explosive opening series. Both of these teams are absolutely stacked. And forget about their October history; these Angels are far better than the 2004 or 2007 versions. The Angels absolutely man-handled the Sox during the regular season. But getting the Halos in the opening series might work to Boston’s advantage. The Angels have essentially been on cruise control since August 1, so there’s always the possibility they could open the series flat. (Remember the highly-favored Tigers who sat a week prior to the 2006 World Series?) Also, the Wednesday/Friday/Sunday schedule for the series’ first three games mean the Sox could throw Beckett and Lester twice should the series go five games. And then there’s The Enigma: Daisuke Matsuzaka, a man who can make an 18-2 record and a sub-3.00 ERA look uglier than anybody else. Still, that’s one heck of a Number Three. Yet over in California, the Angels have an immensely deep rotation with guys like Lackey, Saunders, Santana and Weaver. With Texeira and Hunter they have a lot more thunder in their lineup than in previous years . . . and, oh yeah, that K-Rod guy just saved 60 games. If you think you can pick a winner in this series, good luck to you. But you can bet whoever does take it is the odds-on favorite to win it all.

Playoff Butterflies and Goodbye Yankee Stadium

Dan:

  • One Red Sox win or Yankee loss away from punching our ticket to October, and I can’t help but have mixed feelings about what lies ahead. In 2007, while realizing the Indians and Yankees could both pose a threat, almost everyone in Sox Nation believed the Sox at least had the better team going into the playoffs. In 2004, while we had 86 years of disappointing history and the Yankee aura to overcome, Sox fans believed we had a team that was equal to — if not superior to — the Yanks. But this year is different. On paper, you have to like how the Sox match-up with anyone. With Daisuke as the Number Three starter behind Lester and Beckett, they have deep starting pitching. Their bullpen is flawed, but can still match-up with anyone else’s. And they have a deep lineup. But both Anaheim and Tampa Bay manhandled the Sox this season. And if that doesn’t worry you, their sub-.500 record on the road and their likely spot as the Wild Card team should. Getting to the World Series through Anaheim and Tampa Bay is going to be a tough road.
  • Bud Selig must be thanking his stars the Sox are in the playoffs instead of the Twins. Imagine an AL playoffs with the contraction-candidate Twins, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and their total of 15,000 fans, the Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles in California and Anywhere Else They Might Be Able To Scrape Together Some Fans (a franchise who didn’t have more than a dozen fans prior to 2002), and the Chicago White Sox, who when they won the Series in 2005 had “thousands” of fans turn out to see the parade (as opposed to “millions”). Who would MLB get for sponsors? Pete’s Tire Barn Discount Outlet?
  • While people complained about the final game at Yankee Stadium happening now instead of the end of the season, I think it worked out well. That way people were able to focus on the event, which it deserved. If it was the final game of the season, it would have likely been overshadowed by playoff races.

Striking Distance

Dan:

  • Thanks to a great comeback performance by Josh Beckett last night – and some help from the suddenly fearsome Toronto Blue Jays – the Red Sox have pulled to within three games in the loss column of division-leading Tampa Bay. Three games is an important mark, as it can be made up with one big series (next week?), and can certainly be made up over the course of the next three-plus weeks. Of course, right now it looks like both the Sox and the Devil Rays are headed to October, but – as I pointed out in my previous post – winning the division this year may be more important to the playoffs than most previous years.
  • You have to be excited by the way things are shaping up for the Red Sox. Their lineup right now is stacked from top to bottom with players who can hit (except Coco Crisp). Varitek has been playing great, Kotsay is a great pickup, and we still have Youkilus and Drew out of the lineup, and Lowell is just coming back now. Meanwhile, the starting pitching is shaping up to be in top form come October. Expect the Sox to play it safe with Beckett for the rest of September, keeping his innings down, and maybe even skipping a start late in the month. If he is ready to go full-steam come the playoffs, it could be lights out for everyone else. Lester is pitching like a 1A. Then having guys like Daisuke and Wakefield filling out the rest of the playoff rotation makes the Sox very deep. (Remember all of Wake’s great playoff performances in years past.) The bullpen has questions, but so does every other team’s. And I’ll take my chances with guys like Masterson, Delcarmen, Timlin and Okajima leading up to Papelbon. The Sox are starting to click, and I’m having visions of back-to-back titles.
  • You have to feel for the Blue Jays. They are playing about as well as anybody in baseball right now. In fact, there have been stretches over each of the past three seasons when they played like an elite team. Unfortunately for them, they’ve been rocked by injuries each season. I’m sure J.P. Riccardi loses a lot of sleep at night thinking about what might have been.
  • Could it be both Carlos Zambrano AND Rich Harden are injured for the Chicago Cubbies?? I’m so happy I could cry. But what I find most laughable is how the national media is jumping on this saying this could dash the Cubs’ title hopes. National pundits have been making this season out to be the year of the Cubs all year long. I’ve never been sold on the Cubs. And all the hype about them is just setting Cubs fans up for a heartbreaking October . . . which, I guess, isn’t so bad.

The Right Direction

Dan:

Thank you, Yankees. Those spunky, loveable Bronx Bombers took another one from the hated Tampa Bay Devil Rays last night, while our own Boston Red Sox stole a victory from the jaws of defeat in a thrilling game against the Baltimore Orioles. That brings the Sox within three games of the Devil Rays (yes, Devil), four back in the loss column, and brings the division crown close to striking distance. Happily, my low-life brother Jason and I were able to score a couple of tickets to next Tuesday’s game against the D Rays in what is shaping up to be an exciting series with the division on the line. Seems that last winter when people were snatching up September tickets against the Yankees, they overlooked the Devil Rays series. Who knew?

Now, before you say winning the division doesn’t matter, that it’s just about getting to the playoffs, let me stop you right there. Sure, historically, you are right. A bunch of wild card teams – the Marlins twice, the dark Angels, even our own beloved Red Sox – have all gone on to win the World Series. And when you take a look at how the Sox are built and how the team has been playing, you have to feel good about their chances in Soxtober. But check out the possible playoff scenarios, and there is a HUGE benefit for the Sox should they win the division.

If the Red Sox are the wildcard team, they end up with the California Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles just south of Oregon and north of Mexico, a team that has torched them all season. Sure, October is a season of its own. And, yeah, the Sox have made some deals and are playing like a different team now. Still, a five-game series with the Halos would be a challenge.

Now, contrast that with the Sox winning the division and playing either the White Sox or Twins. We just got a glimpse of the White Sox, and Chicago looked like a team the Red Sox should steamroll in the playoffs. And the thin Twins would likely fare even worse than the South Side Sallies. While the Red Sox should enjoy a rather easy first series, the two talented, evenly-matched clubs of Tampa Bay and Anaheim would likely endure an epic, difficult series. Should either of them have tired arms when they open up the ALCS with a fresh Boston team, that would be a huge advantage for the Sox.

So just because the Sox have virtually locked-up a playoff spot, this is no time to put it in cruise-control. There’s a division crown to take before we set our sights on more valuable hardware.

Strange Days Indeed

Dan:

  • We have finally arrived at the uber-meaningful games of September. And here we are — diehard Red Sox fans — cheering for the boys in pinstripes to beat the once-lowly Devil Rays. Never thought I’d say this, but: Go Yankees!!! Wow, that feels weird. We have officially arrived at Bizarro World.
  • Sox fans who have watched their team all season probably feel that overall this team just hasn’t performed up to what it could. Both hitters and pitchers have been knicked-up all year. Their pitching has been lukewarm at best, and their hitters just haven’t all clicked yet. But check this out: The Sox have a +149 runs-scored-versus-runs-against differential. That is far and away the best in the American League (and second in the majors only to the smoke-and-mirrors Cubbies). The Devil Rays are a distant second in the AL with a +93, and the Mighty Coastal California Angels of Los Angeles of Anaheim West of the Mississippi have a mere +60. If that isn’t good enough for you, imagine what could happen should the Sox actually click come October.

Yankees RIP & Cubbie Hate

Dan:

HERE LIES THE NEW YORK YANKEE PLAYOFF DYNASTY
1995 – 2007
R.I.P.

We all know the history. We all know the Yanks could somehow rise from the ashes and catch the Sox. But that was a different time, a different ownership. An era in which the Yawkey ownership clumsily cobbled together Red Sox teams. These days, we have a different kind of Sox team. And when you look at this year’s Red Sox and this year’s Yankees, it is hard to envision how the Yanks could make up a 7-game deficit in the loss column to the Sox . . . forget about catching the Devil Rays.

The question now, is: What will the future hold for the Yanks? Are they really about to reload? Or is this one of those transition periods, like when they went from the likes of Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson to the Steve Balboni era? Will they once again have a roster of Danny Tartabull’s and no rings to show for it? Whatever happens, it will make good theater this off-season.

On another topic, if you hate the Cubbies – like all red-blooded baseball fans should — ther is a great article on Cubbie Hate at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/joe_posnanski/08/27/playoffs.cubs/index.html. Another great point about the article: The writer refers to the Angels as the California Angels, and then slams them for their ridiculous name change.

That’s hate I can love.