And in the thick of it we appear to be…
No, not so much the Wild Card race with Tampa hitting the brick wall and Texas slowly crashing in the flames of injury but the AL East race. Upon waking up this morning, we are but 5 games back of the (insert catchy phrase of doom here) Yankees with three games in the season series still left to be played in our remaining two weeks of the regular season. Jeter, Texeira and Rivera… oh my!
Now, generally this time of year, the true New England sports fan becomes slightly
psychotic… with the Sox in the midst of the stretch run and the Patriots being two or three weeks in (1 – 1, just another reason to hate NY)… plus the Bruins preseason getting underway (so long Phil Kessel) and the Celitics gearing up for camp…. it makes you want to pull out the remaining hair that hasn’t turned prematurely gray or fallen out!
A few tidbits in passing….
This post-season may well rest in the hands of Victor Martinez, and rightfully so. V-Mart made the play of the entire Red Sox season last week in sacrificing himself (his knee in particular) to block the plate and prevent the Rays from scoring on such an incredibly close play. Sure, Tampa is out, but who knows what the outcome of that run scored may have been if it happened. Teams on the bubble can use a lot less as motivation to hurl themselves back into the race… nevermind the fact Vic could have been injured and brought a Grand Canyon sized hole to the three spot in the line-up. Easily, and I believe everyone would agree, Martinez has been the single biggest mideseason pick-up in recent Sox lore. Sure, Bay is no slouch, especially considering who he was traded for, Orlando & Doug for Nomar in ’04 sealed the deal in the long run for the Series title (and Larry Anderson will forever burn in the Lou Gorman designed trade for Jeff Bagwell… but that’s for another blog)… but Bay is a FA this off-season and neither Doug nor Orlando stuck for the full cup of coffee. Vic on the other hand is obviously a cog for the future. He’s a leader on the field and a very present voice and personality in the locker room. He credits ‘Tek for his success with the pitching staff, especially coming in mid-way and raves about the comfort level with his guys. He’s helped Buchholz settle in and volunteered to catch Wake (doing a stellar job of it too) all while playing two different fielding positions, spot filling at designated hitter and bringing a stability to the line-up not seen since Manny stopped being Manny and became a grumpy little pr!ck.
V-Mart also carries with him a lot of questions. Where does this leave Varitek next season? Both he and the club hold an option on his contract for 2010 and on top of that, he’s Jason Varitek. Do you drop him and try to use the money to help re-sign Bay or make the run for a Matt Holiday while promoting a Pawtucket talent to back-up? At the time of the trade, the Indians noted to Theo that Martinez shouldn’t be pushed to catch more than 100 or so games (as noted by Peter Gammons), meaning the current situation appears to work… this combined with the fact neither Varitek nor Mike Lowell can field their positions for more than half the season would lead you to believe it could remain status quo or one of them is getting ejected from the plane. With Lowell still a capable hitter and fill-in at the DH spot, all eyes again fall on Tek.
The Hot-Stove Season should be interesting and possibly quite heart-breaking.
NASA called and informed the NL that both John Smoltz and Brad Penny had returned to Earth. Thank God.
Speaking of returns… Dice-K put down the pastries and apparently felt like pitching well for a
team other than Japan this week, pitching two stellar performances to help cement the rotation going into October. Wakefield is due to return tonight though still suffering from his back problem and walking with a slight limp… granted he pitched well in his last few appearences with the same ailment, but the human back is such a touch and go thing. Should Wake be a no go for the October hunt, Dice-K appears to be a very viable option in the 4 spot… for now, that could change at a moment’s notice as has much of the staff’s fortunes this season. That doesn’t mean we won’t see one or the other out of the ‘pen. With Manny Delcarmen currently struggling, Wake or Dice-K could fill the middle/long relief hole in his spot.
Speaking of the ‘Pen, Billy Wagner has found himself a very comfortable role in the form of 7th or 8th inning holder /set-up guy… working well in conjuction with Saito/Okajima to bring in Pap. And what slightly immature closer didn’t want Wagner here? The bullpen, still ranking as one of the tops in all of baseball is looking fairly fresh, healthy and ready for the Hunt. Talk still swirls that Pap may be trade bait in the offseason with Bard pegged as the Closer of the Future. Either way, it’s good to see Papelbon smoothing out around the edges this past week and getting away from what Gammons refers to as “The Tower of Terror”.