Thursday, August 17, 2006

TAKING A DEEP BREATH

A five game weekend series against the Yankees with a double-header to kick-off the series on Friday. Adrenaline? Check. Butterflies in the stomach? Check. Memories of 2004? Gone.

Let me take the pulse of Red Sox Nation: Pure, unadulterated full-bore PANIC!

Why?

The Yankees are a flawed team. The Red Sox are a flawed team. So are the Tigers, White Sox, Athletics, Angels, Blue Jays and Twins. There are eight teams in contention for four playoff spots with about six weeks worth of games to play.

Of these teams (OK, maybe we cross off the Blue Jays), whatever team gets the most consistent pitching from the starting rotation over the next six weeks will win the pennant. Plain and simple. All of the teams (save the Angels) can hit enough to win.

For the Yankees, it is if Mussina bounces back, Johnson can be consistent, and Cory Lidle keeps forgetting he is Cory Lidle. Watching Jared Wright is for Yankees fans like watching Byung-Hyun Kim pitch for the Red Sox in the not-so-distant past: game-to-game you have no ideas if he is going to give you five solid innings (and pray they pull him before he falls apart) or if he gives up eight runs in the first inning. Forget the Yankees fantasy line-up, the biggest fear for the Pinstripes in August and September is if Chien-Ming Wang falters, the season is basically over for New York. Wang is the Yankees number one starter. As odd as that seems, he is the key down the stretch.

For the Tigers, whether or not Justin Verlander and the other young guns stays healthy down the stretch. One other complaint: why is the best closer in the American League, Joel Zumaya, playing set-up man/middle reliever? I love Todd Jones (read him every week in the Sporting News), but I remember him in Boston in 2003 and he would scare me closing down the stretch!

For the White Sox, it all about all five of their starters. This was their strength last season, and it looks like all those innings zapped them like it did for the Red Sox in 2005 when Schilling and Foulke paid dearly for their post-season heroics by breaking down. The postseason is truly the second season now (not quite at NHL levels, but give Bud Selig ten more years and see how the playoffs look with five wild card teams!). The White Sox need Brandon McCarthy to step in and give the rotation a breath of fresh air and eight solid innings every fifth day.

For the Athletics, it is all on Barry Zito stepping up as the ace of the staff until when/if Rich Harden comes back. With Danny Haren, Joe Blanton, and Zito, Billy Beane has a big three again. But Zito must keep the kids in line and a healthy Rich Harden makes the Athletics a favorite come October.

For the Angels, I give up. They should be in first place by ten games. I hate them now. May K-Rod save every John Lackey start for pure fantasy baseball purposes and let them once again underachieve.

For the Twins, Matt Garza is the great unknown. Can the third kid phenom impress as much as Francisco Liriano and Johann Santana has before him? I know I am banking on it because I have wasted my top waiver position in both fantasy leagues on him! In reality, however, the real question mark is the health of Liriano. He and Santana make the Twins favorites to get wipe out ANYONE in October. If they can get there!

Not to digress, as I love to do, OK, to digress: I had Liriano in my sights this spring and did not pull the trigger on him. In fact, in the Rickles league, instead of picking him up, I told my sister-in-law Shannon to grab him. Yes, I have kicked myself repeatedly for my stupid kindness. If I had Liriano, he would no doubt have vaulted me way ahead of fourth place, while Shannon sits in dead last despite having Liriano AND Papelbon. Fantasy baseball is a cruel mistress. But I digress, back to reality again:

Here are some other nagging Red Sox Questions:

Is the loss of Jason Varitek a concern? Only if Corky Miller was filling in. Javy Lopez is an offensive upgrade, and Doug Mirabelli offers no drop-off as a defensive fill-in.

Is the loss of Trot Nixon a concern? Hardly. Other than one defensive miscue, there has been no drop-off in the transition from the Nixon Administration in right field to Wily Mo Show. Wily Mo is hitting for a higher average, much more power, and has a lot more range than Nixon. Wily Mo should be considered an upgrade.

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Kudos go out to Mike Gee, formerly of the Boston Herald (check out his blog here: Mike Gee). Great piece he posted on Thursday the 17th of August on how the Sox can be expected to stay afloat in the A.L. East and Wild Card race and a brief August swoon seems to be par for the course for this team. The best compliment I can ever give, and that I can say is the case here, is that I read a piece and immediately think:
Damn, I should have written that!
Glad to have you back & writing Mike. I may not have always agreed with your opinions or columns in the Herald in the past, but I always thought they were well written and provoked thought. Glad to see him taking advantage of the microphone/soapbox/forum that is blogspot. We Boston sports fanatics will find you, read what you write, and give our opinions as well.

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