Sure, the Red Sox offense looked pathetic last night. Extremely pathetic. But this was a case of the Sox running into a talented pitcher who was as good as he could be. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other team.
The reaction to Game 1 results is always overblown, especially in a short series. When the Sox took Game 1 against the Indians in 1998, fans talked of a sweep. Three games later, the Sox were eliminated. Twice this decade the Twins have taken a Game 1 against the Yankees; both times the Yanks easily won the series.
You can’t help but like the Beckett – Weaver matchup tonight. If the Sox take it, they’ve earned a split and gained home field advantage. Then the Angels have to try to win at Fenway — not easy for them. Of course, should the unthinkable happen, then it WILL be time to panic.
Is it me, or are the clouds beginning to break?
I don’t want to do this. After the way this rollercoaster season has gone, after all the streaks of joy followed by streaks of gut-wrenching disappointment, my brain warns not to get too invested in this team again. But my heart . . .
The fact is, however you want to slice it, as we stand here today things are starting to look mighty good for these Boston Red Sox. After most of us wrote off his 2009 season as a bust (and many wrote him off all-together), Daisuke Matsuzaka last night turned in the most dominant performance of his Red Sox career . . . and against the team Boston will face to start October. That was the Daisuke we had expected to come to Boston a few years ago (minus a 96-mph fastball, which looks like it will never come). And it’s a performance that comes at a time when Boston’s ace – Josh Beckett – looks like he’s starting to gets his legs under him again, and two other pitchers – Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz – are now pitching like aces. I know it’s just one start, but if the Daisuke we get the rest of the year is anything close to the one we saw last night, a rotation with that guy, Beckett, Lester and Buchholz will be untouchable.
These Sox have now won 6 in a row, and they’ve put 5 1/2 games between them and the Rangers now, all but wrapping up the Wild Card with last night’s win. Meanwhile, Papi is doing his best to make us all believe that he really is Papi again. And, with the addition of Wagner, the Sox now have superior arms to close out opponents for the last three innings of the game. In fact, as Tito makes out his playoff roster, his biggest challenge will be squeezing all that bullpen talent onto the team. Some will be left off, but it’s a nice problem to have.
The bottom line is, as we wake up this morning, the Boston Red Sox all of a sudden look like the best team in all of baseball again. And, being the middle of September, they got here just in time.
Step away from the ledge, Red Sox fans. It is April 15. I know the Sox are 2 and 6, and Papi and co. are struggling. But take a deep breath and consider these points:
- Two Aprils ago, people wanted to ship Pedroia back to Pawtucket.
- Two Aprils ago, people thought J.D. Drew was the second-coming of Carl Yastremski.
- Nine Aprils ago it looked like Carl Everett was the next Ken Griffey Jr.
- Nine Aprils ago we thought Wilton Veras was the Sox thirdbaseman of the future. Remember him?
- During their 86-year championship drought, how many April championships did the Red Sox win? Lots.
Sure, all 162 games mean the same. But if the Sox went through this same stretch in June or July, nobody would be too concerned. Every year, fans magnify the importance of what happens in April, and by Memorial Day people don’t even remember what happened in April. This is a good Sox team with a ton of depth. So talk to me come Memorial Day.
Meanwhile, Daisuke’s health woes have to be cause for concern. But this is where the depth of the Sox could play a huge role in their success this season. If he needs to be out for any length of time, the Sox can turn to Clay Bucholz, who looked like a world-beater this Spring. They also have Michael Bowden in the minors, and, if things get bad, their bullpen is so good they could slide Justin Masterson into the rotation without missing a beat.
BTW, the Beckett suspension is bogus.
Alright, with the season almost upon us, it’s time to wrap up this whole prediction business. I’ve already listed my AL East and AL Central picks. I’ve included them in the rest of the picks below, but if you want to find out my well-researched, brilliantly-reasoned reasons for them, you’ll have to go back to the old posts. So, without further ado, I present to you the rest of the case for my baseball genius:
(see old post for explanation)
(see old post for explanation)
This is another division where almost anything can happen. The Angels are not as good as they were last year – lost K-Rod and Teixeira, and the heart of their lineup is getting old. And the rest of the division has gotten better – the A’s added some offense, Rangers finally have some young pitching ready to take the stage, and you have to expect the Mariners’ Erik Bedard will be better this year. Still you have to like the Angels track record, especially in light of the questions surrounding the other teams. Oakland will find out Matt Holliday is overrated away from Coors, and you can’t depend on rookie pitchers for your starting rotation. Rangers pitchers could improve, or just not be there yet. And Seattle still lacks the offense. Overall, this will not be a strong division. In fact, the East appears heads and shoulders above the rest of the AL.
The Mets can hit, and with Mike Pelfrey ready to arrive as an elite talent behind Johan Santana, not to mention a reinvented bullpen with K-Rod and Putz, the Mets should win this division by five games. Expect the Phillies to be in the wildcard mix, though. The Marlins have a bunch of good young pitchers, and that should carry them past the Braves, who had an active, yet foolish, offseason.
The Cubs are way-above the rest of the NL Central. It would take a curse for them not to win this division. How the rest of this division shakes out is anybody’s guess (a common theme this year). I expect a comeback year from Aaron Harang, and the emergence of their young pitching staff to carry them to second place. The Brewers take a step back; they can’t thrust all their hopes on young Gallardo. I really, really, really wanted to pick the Pirates to surprise. And, until recently, I had them in second. Yes, it was based more on emotion, but they do have a cast of super-talented young pitchers . . . if they can ever put it together. But, ultimately, they don’t have the offensive depth to mimic Tampa’s success from last year.
The Dback already have two of the game’s best pitchers in Brandon Webb and Dan Haren. Throw in uber-talented strikeout artist Max Scherzer, and that’s one impressive staff. The Dodgers have a core of excellent young pitching and hitting talent, and Manny will produce — but he’ll be much closer to our Manny. The rest of the division is scuffling. (But keep an eye on Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez — breakout year.)
AL Wildcard: Yankees
NL Wildcard: Dodgers
AL Champion: Red Sox
NL Champion: Diamondbacks
Both these teams have great pitching staffs and, depending on how Scherzer pitches, the edge in starting pitching might go to the Dbacks. Of course, with trades, injuries, etc., nobody knows what these staffs will look like come October. Still, I like the depth of the Sox offense and bullpen. The Series will go 6 games,
World Champion: Your Boston Red Sox
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera
NL MVP: Carlos Beltran
AL Cy Young: Josh Beckett (maybe Scott Kazmir)
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana
Let’s face it: The Sox were banged up, and the Devil Rays were the better team. They’re probably going to win the World Series. Just freakin’ wonderful. I’m not in a good place right now. Let’s stop talking about it.
Anyway . . . . . on a positive note, once we get past this bothersome World Series, we get to embark on one of the most exciting times of the year — the Hot Stove Season. It’s the kind of thing blogging was invented for. So, let’s just get beyond this thing we’re not talking about and move forward. Let’s see what Boston’s current weaknesses are and what we can hope to expect from this Hot Stove Season.
Papi’s Wrist — There’s no offseason solution to this. All we can do is hope and pray that Papi’s wrist is better by next season and he becomes the hitting terror he once was. But the cold hard truth here is wrist injuries are scary things for hitters. There was once a future-Hall-of-Famer named Nomar Garciaparra who won a batting title with the highest average for a right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio. Then Nomar was hit by a pitch and messed up his wrist. Goodbye Hall of Fame title; Hello title of Mr. Mia Hamm.
Jacoby Ellsbury — This is another one of those wait-and-see situations. Luckily, Ellsbury’s offensive struggles this year stemmed from his youth instead of any injury. We know he can play. And we know young players do struggle at times. Eventually, Ellsbury will be fine.
Jason Varitek — Whether the Sox resign him or he leaves in free agency, the team needs to find his replacement now (actually, I believe I said last year at this time the time was last offseason). Even if he stays, his best days are far behind him. And his performance is only going to get worse in the coming years. He is a great catcher, but the he-calls-a-great-game thing only works if he’s hitting +.240 . . . not .220.
Mike Lowell — I will likely catch some serious hate here. I love Mike Lowell as much as anybody. And, sure, everybody gets injured and he’ll probably come back at 100 percent next season and have a great year. But all the more reason to trade him. Lowell has had a great run in Boston, but he’s not a guy you can bank on year in and year out; over his whole career he has had his up’s and down’s. Fact is, he’s not getting any younger, and you can expect more common injuries and declining production the next few seasons. The good thing is Lowell has trade value. He has put up great numbers the past few years, he has two years remaining on his contract, and his salary is manageable. And Theo has long coveted the idea of a power-hitting first-baseman. Which leads us to . . .
Sign Mark Texeira — Texeira is a young, switch-hitting, power-hitting first baseman who could be a huge addition to a questionable Sox offense. Of course, in this situation you deal away Lowell. Sure it hurts, but imagine a lineup with Pedroia, Ortiz, Texeira, Youk, Bay and Drew as your 2-7 hitters. October 2009, here we come. The only question is how insane the Yankees will go this year. They have money coming off the books too, and a Wall-Streetesque situation of the rich getting richer with huge dollars coming in next season from their new ballpark, they could put up insane money to sign every free agent they want. Let’s hope they exercise some sanity.
Trade for Saltalamacchia — The Rangers have too many good, young catchers and need to deal. The Red Sox have the need for a catcher and the goods to offer. Salty has been one of the most highly-touted prospects in recent years. And although he has struggled somewhat at the big-league level, he is still extremely young, and those struggles might just have brought his value down enough to secure a deal. By the same token, thankfully Coco Crisp’s performance in the second-half and October may have upped his value where teams may be interested in grabbing him and a prospect.
Trade for Peavy — Yeah, I know. We have a boatload of starting pitching. We have Lester, Beckett, Matsuzaka . . . and then a lot of questions. Schilling won’t be back. Wakefield is too much of a wildcard to depend on at this point. And you can never . . . NEVER . . . depend on unproven youngsters to fill out your rotation (ask the Yanks how Hughes, Kennedy and Joba carried them this year). This offseason, let the Yankees throw boatloads of cash at C.C., D-Lowe and Burnett. I’ll take dealing some of our young arms to the Padres for Peavy. If you hate dealing prospects, remember you never know how they’ll turn out. Wasn’t Casey Fossum going to be the next Tom Glavine?
I am so confused. Three days ago the Red Sox weren’t just losing, they were disappearing . . . completely disintegrating before our very eyes. Their offense had long ago left town, and their starting pitching was a train wreck.
And then, just as I told my wife I had given up and was going to bed, they reappeared like the resurrected ghost of the 2007 champions. The Game 5 comeback left me in a volatile state of ever-changing emotions — one minute I was living in the euphoria of the greatest comeback in ALCS history; the next I was enduring the horror of accepting I turned down tickets to that game; and then there was the grief, understanding that while the comeback was fun, it was one game and the chances of coming back from another 3-1 deficit were slim, especially considering we had The Shadow of Josh Beckett going up against James Shields in Game 6.
But the Sox kept plugging along. Beckett — who is at best 80 percent of himself — stepped up like injured Pedro against the Indians in the 1999 ALDS and He Of The Bloody Sock in the 2004 ALCS. He gutted out five innings, our bullpen stepped up, and we managed to score with some clutch hits (although with all the men we left on base, I never felt good about our chances until the game was over).
And now we somehow — SOMEHOW — find ourselves in Game 7, with Jon Lester facing the emotional Matt Garza, and all the pressure of a monumental collapse hanging over the head of the young Devil Rays. And again the Sox have sucked me back in. They have got me staring at another late night, apologizing to my wife in advance for the screaming and cussing I will do in both good and bad spots, and thinking that maybe, just maybe, they can somehow do it again.
First, let’s get that uncomfortable part out of the way . . .
Congratulations to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. This is a deep team with a potent lineup — I mean, Upton, Pena, Longoria, Crawford? Ridiculous. They play great defense all around; not a Howie Kendrick in the bunch. And they have an excellent core of starting pitchers, with David Price set to arrive next year. This is a team built to compete for the next several years. (But expect them to take a step back next year, before coming back to seriously contend again in 2010. You heard it here first.)
It’s now on to the World Series, where hopefully the Phillies will crush Tampa Bay.
Sure, it’s disappointing the Red Sox didn’t make it back to the Series, especially against a solid franchise like Philly. But the fact is this Red Sox team WAS good enough to win the World Series. Unfortunately, they were banged up in October. It’s never good to lose a bat like Mike Lowell and have to replace him with a Mark Kotsay. It’s obvious to everyone both Papi and Beckett aren’t right. And Ellsbury is just slumping at the wrong time. That’s baseball. Good teams get banged up and slump. Teams like the ’06 Cardinals have .190 hitters suddenly hit .380 in October and have Jeff Weaver pitch like Sandy Koufax for a month. This baseball is a funny game.
Luckily, we have two recent world championships to comfort us. Remember the days when this loss would have led to a city of heartbreak and tears? And while it is sad to end the season like this — especially knowing this team could have won it all — we now have the luxary of just saying this just wasn’t our year . . . and we have the comfort of knowing we’ll be back in the mix next year.