Putting a bow on it
The first half is over after an epic 19-inning game — unfortunately a loss — and I think you’d have to be pretty happy if you’re a Red Sox fan.
This team has a terrific combination of veterans and young players right now, and everyone seems to be feeling good about themselves at the moment. Earlier in the half, the Red Sox couldn’t seem to get in any kind of groove. They’d win three, lose two, win four, lose two, win four, lose one, that type of thing.
But they’ve recently gone on a run that any contender goes on during the course of the season and that’s when you have the inner confidence to believe you’re going to win every night.
Here were the most pleasant developments of the first half:
Papelbon’s emergence:We all knew this guy was going to be something special from that first day he took the mound against the Twins on July 31, 2005. But who could know he would so swiftly rise to the point where he might be the best closer in baseball? The Red Sox have a great attitude right now, and that is that all they need to do is be winning a game going into the eighth inning and they are going to win.
resurgence: This is what Curt Schilling said following his last start of Spring Training — "I want to believe that physically I can be where I was, if not better,
because I feel like I’ve added some things, and mentally I’m better. Until you go out there and it counts, you can think
all you want. I’m human, so I want to see myself get it done, so that’s
probably where a lot of the nerves come from."
I think we can all agree that the nerves are gone, and so are the questions, both from Schilling and everyone else. Is he the dominant guy he was from 2001-2004? Not quite, but he’s not far off either. Is he still a guy you’d want to take the ball when something is on the line? No question about it. If Schilling can figure out how to limit his gopher balls, he might be even better in the second half.
Papi’s pop: Every year, you think to yourself, there’s no way this guy can be better than he was last year. And every year, he comes back better than he was the year before. How is that possible? Because David Ortiz has the gift that only the select best athletes in the world have, and that’s a burning desire to never let up and to constantly be adjusting and learning. Jimmie Foxx’s team record of 50 home runs is going down as logn as Papi stays healthy. And wouldn’t it be great drama to watch him go for 60?
Steady at the corners: Kevin Youkilis can flat-out play, both at the plate and in the field. But did anyone know what a consummate leadoff hitter he would be? Mike Lowell has been a breath of fresh air for this team. I can’t think of a bigger professional that i’ve ever seen on a daily basis. He defines the term "gamer". And as Kevin Millar said to me about Lowell back in May, "Holy doubles!". Yeah, the doubles keep booming off Lowell’s bat, and the home runs come every now and then also. Defensively, Lowell is Bill Mueller without the bad knees. Smooth and slick, always in position to make the play.
Kids are here to stay: Jon Lester, Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen can tell the Pawtucket equipment manager not to keep a locker fresh for them at McCoy. This trio is here to stay. Lester has shown rare poise — Papelbon-esque poise — for someone so young. Any team would take him as a fifth starter. Delcarmen is commanding his offspeed pitches, something he couldn’t do last year. Hansen is throwing his fastball with confidence and getting results even without his patented slider working.
Concerns: Not everything is rosy, even for a first place team. One issue that concerns me is Jason Varitek’s bat. Could all those years of wear and tear finally be slowing Varitek down at the plate? Or is it more a confidence issue. I’m thinking it’s more mental than physical, and that Varitek will have a strong finish, but we’ll see. Also, we’ve yet to see the real Coco Crisp — the guy who dominated for a month in Fort Myers. I know that it was only Spring Training, but Coco looked like a player who was going to do special things this year and we’ve seen no signs of that yet. Obviously the injury was a huge road block, so perhaps he’ll get stronger down the stretch. This team still does not have a fifth starter. Jason Johnson? Come on. I don’t think that is going to work. It’s hard to count on Clement right now both because of the way he pitched earlier this year and because of health issues. Before it’s all said and done, I believe Theo Epstein will find a fifth starter from outside the organization.
I’ll talk to everyone from Pittsbrugh. Thanks for all the great posts throughout the first half and spread word about the blog. We should double the readership in the second half. There’s a goal.