Thursday, July 21, 2005

TWO IN A ROW

A two game winning streak against the mighty Tampa Bay Ducklings, I mean Devil Rays, never used to be a big deal in Boston, but fresh off a disastrous few weeks wedged around the all-star break, the Red Sox are trying to use this mini-streak to build momentum as they head into Chicago to take on the best team in the American League, the Chicago White Sox. The Sox need to take of three of four from the Pale Hose, which is not an easy task considering they face two all-stars, Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland, in the first two games of the series.

The Ducklings, I mean Devil Rays, put up a good fight, taking the first game of the series as they caught the Sox on an emotional low following the A-Rodapalooza at Fenway over the weekend. Rodriguez finally got his act together against Boston as he just destroyed them with a series of clutch hits. The Ducklings, I mean Devil Rays, showed that they are still a few good trades and $25 million away from building a contender. They have some decent young players who could really use seasoning in the minor leagues. Unfortunately, the major league team has so many holes that the roster is full of players better served in AA or AAA.

Another interesting note about the coming series with the White Sox is the disparity of style between the teams. The White Sox have been molded in the image of manager Ozzie Guillen. They run the bases with reckless abandon, they bunt, they hit-and-run, they play close games, and in the end they try to out-hustle and out-think the opposition. I am a huge fan of Ozzie Guillen. He is a stand-up and kick them in the crotch kind of guy who extracts every last drop of enthusiasm, energy, and spirit from his players. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the laid-back BoSox. Content to meander around the bases one at a time and wait for Manny or Big Papi to launch a moon shot, they disdain the sacrifice bunt, the hit-and-run, and almost any thought of the stolen base. However, both Sox, both White and Red, follow one mantra: you only go as far as your pitching takes you. With the only legitimate Big Three in baseball right now (Buehrle, Garland, and Freddy Garcia), the White Sox have enough starting pitching to scare anyone in the playoffs. Where they are vulnerable, like the Red Sox, is in the bullpen. Dustin Hermanson has been a great pickup, but would you want him on the mound to close out a game in the playoffs?

A final note is that the White Sox recently designated Shingo Takatsu for assignment, a set-up man with a funky delivery who, while possessing good stuff, has been unable to consistently get anyone out lately. How these two teams have not decided to merely swap Alan Embree for Takatsu is beyond me. Both teams get quality relievers who for whatever reason are struggling to get outs. Maybe the trade makes too much sense, but I would rather take the chance on the other guy than risk your guy being claimed on waivers by a division rival and have to face him down the stretch.

Even if the Red Sox do not make another move at the trading deadline, the team is still talented enough to win the division with the roster as currently assembled. However, I think that some of the veterans who are showing less value on the field (Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, and Mark Bellhorn) are quickly going to be shown the door regardless of their perceived clubhouse intangibles. In my mind, the Sox are better served with an infield of Kevin Youkilis at third rather than Bill Mueller, the two-headed monster that is Tony Graffanino and Alex Cora at second rather than Mark Bellhorn, and John Olerud, David Ortiz, and whoever at first base rather than Kevin Millar. With Gabe Kapler returning and Adam Hyzdu currently on the roster, I see nothing lost by having them at DH or play left field and let Manny DH while putting Ortiz at first base. David Ortiz is not a slouch at first base, as he has shown during interleague play, and giving some regulars a few starts at DH (why not Varitek rather than sitting out the game instead be the DH during starts by the knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield?) rather than having their bats out of the lineup to give them a day off. Using the DH as a rest stop for starters is a better use of a spot than having Millar and Bellhorn hitting in the lineup each day.

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