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.
Sox fans have a reputation of living game to game. Sox win, everything is good; they lose, their season is collapsing. I try to sit back and look at the big picture of the season — when they started the season 2 and 6, I said don’t worry; when they went 8 and 0 against the Yanks, I said don’t get too excited.
But this season feels like it has been an up-and-down season like no other in recent memory. After a good spring – despite weak performances by Papi and their starters – this team looked like a force. Come June, they went through a stretch where their problems started to show through, and we became justifiably worried. Then they went into the break strong while the Yanks scuffled, and we were cruising toward October again. But for much of the second-half, they’ve looked troubled, being torched by the Yankees, and looking vulnerable in the wild card race. Then, just when things looked bleak, they run off an 8-2 stretch and start September in command of the wildcard. And, then, last night Beckett struggles again, they blow it late, and both the Rangers and Rays pick up a game and worry begins to creep in.
I can’t do this.
As a Sox fan, stress is part of the game. And each season has an ebb and flow. But not like this. In 2004, the team was mediocre until August, and then took off like a champ. Not a whole lot of back and forth. In 2005, they struggled around the “good enough” line through the season. Next year, they were great til August and then nose-dived. 2007 they were great most of the year, watched their division lead shrink in September, but were still strong enough. And in 2008 they spent the year consistently being good, but not good enough.
But this season has had peaks and valleys that would even make the most level-headed fan feel motion-sickness.
Now we sit in early September, in the middle of a full-blown playoff race, and who knows what to expect from this team game to game, never mind the rest of the season. I don’t know how much more of this I can take . . . but I’ll try.
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.
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.
I used to think SI’s Tom Verducci was one of the more respectable baseball writers out there. It might be time to rethink that.
While the Devil Rays were cruising to an 8-1 beatdown of the Sox today, Verducci made a comment during the broadcast saying that when the Sox traded away Manny Ramirez, they changed from a run production team to a run prevention team.
The Red Sox didn’t trade Manny to get Alex Gonzalez or Doug Meinkewicz. They got Jason Bay — a .300/30+/100+ type of hitter. And, last time I checked, Bay’s bat wasn’t the problem with the Red Sox offense this October. On paper, they still have a great offense. But the reality is this:
-Lowell is injured, replaced by one Mark Kotsay — who has been hitting like a pitcher.
-Ellsbury, Ortiz and Varitek have been an abyss of outs. Ellsbury just simply hasn’t been hitting, Varitek looks like he is auditioning for retirement, and Ortiz is just behind on pitches he normally takes deep (and he isn’t shooting to the opposite field). Important Note: Don’t think Ortiz isn’t getting the pitches now that Manny is gone. He’s been getting the pitches; he just hasn’t been hitting them.
-The Jed Lowrie/Alex Cora slot in the offense has been mediocre at best these playoffs. But, if Ellsbury and Ortiz are hitting (and maybe Tek starts hitting north of .230), that isn’t an issue.
Fact is, right there are five unproductive slots in the lineup, all of which are currently underperforming. Hard to score runs with that being that case . . . with or without Manny.
And let’s not fool ourselves. The Manny you see currently playing for the Dodgers IS NOT the Manny who would have finished out the season with the Red Sox. Before the deadline, Manny was already shutting it down. Theo and Co. absolutely made the best of a bad situation.
Now, if three of those five slots would start hitting around .250, we can start getting back in this series.