Well the ‘Dog Days’ are carrying on for ‘The Nation’ and more than hot summer air is hitting the fan. Jubilation turned to fits of panic quickly this weekend and perhaps rightly so.
The Sox took a good hold of the Tigers last week, a team with newly established pitching and re-establishing their hitting game. Something Red Sox Nation should be keeping in mind. Of course, the joyous cries of “We’re saved!” sounded from the rooftops of New England in response to actually winning a series since the All-Star Break. Awesome… we’re Wild Card champs and on our way to re-taking the East.
Enter The Dragon… or perhaps Dragon Slayer, or just the Texas Rangers. Now, I’ll admit, just a week ago I gave an opinion that while the Rangers’ pitching got younger, it hadn’t gotten particularly stronger. Yeah. Well, a weekend series with the Sox and they look like a Cy Young collective. Not only that, they ran their a$$es off on us… or is that they ran our a$$es off? Granted it was not Varitek’s fault. Brad Penny is not only a ‘hoss but a house and his delivery reflects such. Anyone who can run, will on Brad. Twice this season a team has stolen 8 bases on Penny & Varitek, which again shouldn’t reflect on Jason, but will give his ‘boo-birds’ plenty of ammunition… especially with Victor Martinez in hand.
The last team to steal 8 bases on the Sox? This season’s Tampa Bay Rays. While the Sox have been dancing the dance of poor play since The Break, Tampa has been putting all the peices together and solving their own mysteriously poor first half performance. They have recovered on the mound and are slowly re-establishing their hitting game beyond Longoria. Again, two concepts The Nation needs to keep in mind as the ever evolving August roster unfolds. While we have been skidding along, The Rays have been winning in tandem with The Rangers to seriously challenge our currently inept Sox.
Now let’s look at this as a whole. The pitching has sucked… plain and simple. The ‘back-half’ of the rotation has been fairly Mickey Mouse since before the break. To be serious, it’s been more than half since Wake went down during the break…. Beckett & Lester & hold your breath. Wakefield, the ageless wonder he is, will be back shortly. Dice-K and Paul Byrd are making their way back into game shape… hoo-ray?! It sadly may be too late. Beckett, Lester and Bucholtz have pitched well, Bucholtz pitching better with every start.. but the line-up is giving them little to nothing to work with. You can have 5 starters with an ERA of two or under, but if your boys can’t score one, two or three runs to beat the other team, you lose. Youk will be back and hopefully unfazed by his MLB spanking (as well as the partial bodyslam delivered by that Detroit pitcher) to resume his great all around play. He’ll also be right on time to spell Mike Lowell who has played obviously well. Martinez seems to be adapting, like Youk, to being a multiple position player on a regular basis. Alex Gonzalez? Sure, we got Lugo to replace this guy ’cause he was slowing in production… why not get him to replace Lugo who was apparently slowing in production. Bay appears to slowly be coming around, and at this point slow is better than not at all.
Let’s talk seriously for a moment. The bottom half of the line-up, barring steroids or cyborgs becoming legal in MLB is in serious f^@%in’ trouble. Ellsbury may finally be settling into the lead-off spot (though I believe a nine spot may still work for him if a better alternative to the top spot can be found) and following up with Petey, Youk, Bay and Martinez is solid once they get consistent. Now comes the hard part. Yeah, Big Papi. He’s beginning to look the age that no one really knows he is. We know him, we love him… but it may be time to just sit him. David is no longer 2003 to 2007 Papi… he’s Minnessotta David Arias, a left handed bat off the bench. I don’t think we’re in a position to wait for that hot streak… as we have all season. Would you rather keep getting one to two really good hits a week out of the DH or maybe put Mike Lowell’s bat in and see if we can find some consistency in the 6th spot. I’m sorry Papi. I thank you for 2004 and 2007 and all the wonderful moments before and after, but the train looks to have come into the station. J.D. Drew? I’ll admit, when the Sox signed him to that rather hefty contract a few years back, I was iffy. He has a track record of breaking down to go with that skills set and streaks of great hitting. Well, like clockwork, he keeps breaking down between those streaks of great hitting. If he keeps smackin’ them off the Monster at home we may only really need to worry about him on the road… which means a platoon… once he’s back regularly in the line-up. Rocco has done what we figured he would and Brian Anderson? Moving on. Varitek. Hey, we knew this guy would just keep slowing down as the year went on. Same as last year, same as next year. His worth is behind the plate and gives the bottom half of the order one more empty spot.. a good deal of the time as he is still dedicated and works his tail off. And Gonzalez phase two… Me, I’d rather put him in at 8th and insert Jacoby at 9th and see how it shakes out.
I’m not going to write anything off yet. The Yankees showed shades of the late season breakdown last week which could take effect fairly soon. Remember, with no A-Rod, Tex has little hitting to feast on. They won’t drop out, but they may fall back to Earth. Tampa isn’t really going to fall too far off the radar so their in it as is Texas whose pitching may hit a growing pain or two but will have hitting to carry them through. Right now, the Sox are a good hamstring away from “Maybe Next Year” signs going up all over Fenway. The pitching can’t get worse, neither can the hitting really so it will depend on how long it takes to right the ship. Can you repair the ship at full speed ahead while diverting floating mines? Guess it all depends if you’re piloting a tugboat, the QE II or the starship Enterprise.
I’m banking on the Enterprise. “Mister Epstein, take us out.”