August 2006

Beckett and Coco

Back in the winter, who were the two new additions that excited you the most?

I’d say that if you polled the average fan, it would be Josh Beckett and Coco Crisp. At this hour, those are two of the team’s biggest disappointments, which in a large way probably explains why they are now on the outside looking in in both playoff races.

Coco is hitting .275 with five homers, 23 RBIs and a .325 OBP. Those numbers acorss the  board are far less than you’d expect, even with the injury.

Beckett has a 5.02 ERA and continues to be a huge enigma.

Can these two players straighten themselves out in time for crunch time? I want thoughts, solutions and opinions on both these guys, because I’m having a hard time figuring out why both guys can’t at least perform up to past levels.

Ian.

A new leader is discovered

When Mike Lowell got hit in the back of the helmet on Friday evening, silencing Fenway Park, and then electing to stay in the game, and then, two innings later, diving into the stands to catch a foul ball, and then a half inning later, pounding a single off the wall, and then, in a shocker of all shockers, stealing third, I don’t think that he was consciously trying to become a leader of the Boston Red Sox.

But that is precisely what he did in the span of just an hour or so. As we’ve discussed over the last couple of days, this was the lowest point of the season. When things are that bad, somebody needs to step up.

In 2004, Jason Varitek stuck his mitt in A-Rod’s face, and the first seeds of a championship season were planted. This time, during this crucial point of adversity, Varitek was on the DL, which is why so much of the adversity existed in the first place.

So Lowell inspired a crowd and a dugout full of teammates by shaking off the rattling he had to feel in his head after getting struck by that 91-MPH fastball and staying in the game. And he inspired all of those same people again when he flew into those stands Jeter-style and caught that ball as if the season depended on it. That is playing baseball with urgency and showing everyone what it takes to win this time of year.

To me, Mike Lowell has been a guy steadily growing into this leadership role all year long. This guy is a class act in every sense of the word. He "gets it", he’s always thinking about his team. He’s one of those guys that’s impossible for a teammate not to like.

And tonight, four months into his time with the Red Sox, he officially stamped himself as someone who will do anything to win, playing with passion that is only matched by the city he plays in.

Maybe Lowell’s performance tonight will bring this team together like Varitek did in ’04. Maybe it won’t. Either way, everyone now knows that the Red Sox have found another full-fledged leader in the absence of the captain.

Rock Botton — the sequel

After headlining last night’s blog Rock Bottom, how am I supposed to characterize tonight?

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for the Red Sox, they did — a lot worse. Another winnable game down the drain. This is the most exasperating road trip the Red Sox have had in my five years on the beat. They are not only losing to bad teams, but doing it in the late innings.

One night after their most reliable relief pitcher (Papelbon) coughed up a game, their most reliable starting pitcher (Schilling) did so tonight. To see Schilling give up nine doubles to that team is almost incomprehensible. I’m quite sure nobody is more disgusted with it than he is.

Seriously, how did they lose this game. And how did their bats not once jump on the Royals pitching staff over these three games? Is it me, or does the entire offense now depend on home runs? What happened to an old-fashioned rally?

Perhaps Fenway will make a difference this weekend. Something needs to. It’s a good time to start a lengthy homestand. I’m sure the crowd is going to be on the edgy side on Friday until the Red Sox start doing some positive things.

Gut check time has come early for this team.

Rock Bottom

It’s official, the Red Sox have finally reached the lowest of the low in their 2006 season. This road trip against last place teams is a certified disaster as even a win behind Schilling on Thursday will make it a 2-4 trip.

That said, is the season over? OF COURSE NOT. You don’t find out about a team when times are good, you find out about a team when times are bad. This pothole is something that offers the Red Sox two choices — sink into it or lift their way out of it.

There are too many good players on this team — even with the injuries — for me to believe that these guys are just going to pack up and go South from here on out.

They need a galvanizing moment like the one Jason Varitek delivered to A-Rod at home plate on July 24, 2004. Something needs to happen. Obviously something more original than an Ortiz walkoff homer becasue that seems to happen twice a week.

There are still 50 games left in the season. That’s a lot of baseball. Assuming Schilling can right the ship, they have a bad Orioles team coming in to Fenway this weekend.

I am fascinated to see what the next week to two weeks hold. We’ve seen this team pull their way out of the depths before. Guys are pressing. That’s natural. Even Papelbon admitted last night he was trying to do too much.

I’m not saying that the Red Sox WILL make the playoffs. I’m simply saying not to get too low just because they are in a miserable slump. A baseball season is 162 games for a reason.

Terrible Tuesday

That was absoultely not what anyone was looking for tonight, starting an already disappointing road trip by suffering a late-inning loss to the worst team in baseball.

As much as the young kids carried the Red Sox earlier in the year, we are finding out right now what a double-edged sword it is to count on youth this time of year. Youth is unpredictable and unreliable unless, I suppose, your name is Jonathan Papelbon.

Jon Lester, ever since he got promoted, has proven to be a guy who can keep the Red Sox in games for five or six innings. However ,he has not been able to command his pitches to the point where he’s economical with how many pitches he is throwing. This team DESPERATELY needs Tim Wakefield back.

I think it’s become readily apparent that Hansen needs to take a break from pitching in crucial situations. He’s been scored on in four of his last five outings. You don’t want his confidence to get destroyed. I think it’s unfair to criticize this guy because he is 14 months out of college. It’s not his fault that the bullpen is thin enough that he’s been asked to do so much so soon.

Beckett and Schilling the next 2 nights. the Red Sox desperately need to finish with two wins and at least get home with a .500 record on a trip that has been played exclusively against cellar dwellers.

Talk to you tomorrow,

Ian.

Sunday road nightmares

What is it with Sunday road games? In this one at the Trop, the Sox blow a 6-2 lead. The last Sunday road game before this was the Coco-Manny inside-the-park disaster at Safeco two weeks ago. And the Sunday road game before that was the 19-inning meltdown in Chicago right before the All-Star break.

Earlier in the game, there was reason to be inspired.

Kevin Youkilis, not exactly blessed with blazing speed, trucked around third and tried to score on Alex Cora’s single. Youkilis saw catcher Dioner Navarro set up to take the throw, and he likely would have had the out if Youkilis allowed him to. But Youkilis basically rammed right into Navarro football-style, knocking the ball loose and bringing home not just one run, but two runs. That’s right, Wily Mo Pena circled all the way around from first on a tough error for Navarro.

That is the type of desire you need this time of year and this Red Sox team has it. Look at the way they’ve been winning games. Their last four wins before today were all of the comeback variety. Is that a formula that is going to keep a team going all year round? No. But it is one that will keep them above water at a time when adversity has mounted.

Then Ortiz launched his 40th homer and all seemed well. But it wasn’t.

The bullpen coughed this one up big-time after my initial post. Delcarmen and Hansen have been fairly atrocious of late and that’s troubling. Timlin has looked very hittable for the last month or two. And Papelbon simply picked the wrong day to be human. And Tavarez, what can you say about Tavarez, other than, how utterly fitting it was that he was out there for the final dagger of the day.

Javy Javy Joy Joy

The Red Sox found the one viable catcher on the open market in Javy Lopez, and that should help stem the tide until Varitek returns. Lopez isn’t the star he once was, but he still has a little pop in that bat.

What the Sox did not need tonight was for Mirabelli to get rolled over on the left ankle by a baserunner and have to leave the game. Gabe Kapler is now the only player Tito has on his bench tonight because there’s no  way a hobbling Mike Lowell can play.

I wonder, why on Earth do the Red Sox have 13 pitchers on their roster and just 12 position players? Obviously it’s more glaring on a night like this, but i just don’t get it — even a little bit.

I’m sure reinforcements will arrive in some form or fashion from Pawtucket by Saturday.

Playing without the Captain

it is official. Your 2006 Red Sox have reached their first crisis point of the season. Jason Varitek is going to be gone until September it looks like, and the Red Sox will be without both their captain, catcher and leader of the pitching staff.

That’s a lot to live without for any period of time. How will this team respond? Mirabelli is a good backup, but his production will likely be lacking on an everyday basis. Is Ken Huckaby really the answer as the backup? And could timing have been any worse, Varitek getting injured just hours after the trade deadline?

Looking for a positive development? Well, if the Red Sox can hold down the fort during Varitek’s absence, he might return a more productive player for the stretch run. Consider all the nagging injuries he’s been playing with all year. I would think that not playing for a month will do wonders for Varitek’s beaten up body.

The Red Sox are going to have to find a way to make this work, otherwise they’ll be watching October from television. In the next few weeks, we will truly find out how good this team really is.

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