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.
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.
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.
We’re just one week from the start of September, and still waiting for the Sox to turn it on — if they are going to turn it on at all this season. An optimist might point to 2004, when they were hopelessly mediocre until August; or maybe last year, when they looked like a sinking ship for most of the second-half, including an ugly sweep by Toronto in early September. Both years, as you know, had a happy ending.
Of course, a pessimist could point to the other 88 seasons since 1918.
Despite our two recent championships, being a longtime Sox fan means one is automatically predisposed to waiting for the roof to cave in. And I can’t help but think the worst as we head into the stretch run.
Overall, the Sox have just looked beat-up and flat this season. Beckett hasn’t been as sharp as he was last year, and now injuries are forcing him to miss starts, including one against the Yanks. Overall, our pitching has been fair, but far from dominant or intimidatingly good. Our rotation is such that we’re making deals for the Paul Byrd’s of the world (which, of course, could end up being a good thing, but I’d rather not have to be making deals to plug rotation holes this time of year). Nagged by injuries, Big Papi is a fraction of himself right now. And J.D. Drew’s back might land him on the DL — which, admit it, you hate to see at this point in the season, but you have also been kind of rooting for it for a year and a half so the Sox have the option of dumping his contract after next season.
But if we have one thing going for us, it might be our competition. The Yanks are currently five back of the Sox in the loss column. With all the games they have together, sure they have a shot to get back in the mix. But, given their own injuries and problems, and given the way these two teams have split games in recent years, you have to think it will be tough for New York to salvage their season. (I know, for a Sox fan, famous last words.) That leaves the White Sox, Twins, Devil Rays and Red Sox battling for three playoff spots. The D-Rays could collapse; we’ve been waiting for them to do it all season. But from our seat five games back, Tampa sure looks like its all but punched its ticket to October. The White Sox are good, but I’m still don’t believe they are this good. And I don’t know how the Twins are still here. If the Red Sox don’t catch fire and instead stay fairly mediocre like they have most of this season, there is still a very good chance either the White Sox and/or Twins will stumble enough in September to get us to the sweet days of October.
I like our chances. But I’m still scared.
What do you expect from a Sox fan?