September 2008

Funny thing about the weather…

You just can’t outsmart Mother Nature. This is my seventh year covering this team and never was I more sure than tonight that there would not be a baseball game.

But here we are, closing in on 9 o’clock, and is almost the second inning. Go figure.

David Pauley is pitching instead of Dice-K. Sean Casey is playing first base instead of Big Papi. Mike Lowell is getting in some reps before the playoffs.

In a way, it is admirable the way the Red Sox are going at these last 3 games. Do they still have a slight hope of winning the division? Sure. Is it worth sacrificing health or energy next week? Uh. no.

In a sense, the Red Sox are saying that they’re not afraid of the Angels. Nor should they be afraid of any opponent. If you plan on winning the World Series, you best be able to go through the teeth of the league, be it in the Division Series or the ALCS.

At any rate, I’m pleasantly shocked that they are playing baseball tonight.

I would assume Dice-K will pitch tomorrow. I never thought Beckett would pitch this weekend, even though he had been in pencil for Saturday.

Later.

Ian.

Magic number — 0

Now we can talk playoffs.

Wakefield or Byrd in Game 4 if the Angels choose Division Series A?

What is your roster looking like? Here’s what mine would look like.

Catchers
Varitek
Cash

Infielders
Youkilis
Pedroia
Lowrie
Lowell
Casey
Cora

Outfielders
Bay
Ellsbury
Crisp
Drew
Kotsay

DH
Ortiz

Pitchers

Beckett
Lester
Matsuzaka
Wakefield
Byrd
Papelbon
Okajima
Masterson
Delcarmen
Lopez
Timlin

Which series will Anaheim take? Do they view it as an advantage to pitch Lackey and Santana twice in the series, or would that be playing into the Red Sox’s hands with Beckett and Lester?

The intrigue continues.

Do the corks get popped tonight?

1

That is still your magic number as of this posting. It won’t be easy to reduce it either, not with Cliff Lee pitching against the Red Sox and Mike Mussina pitching at Toronto for the Yankees.

But this would be a much more fitting night to clinch than last night. Where last night was dreary and raw, this is a crisp, nice fall night.

I watched J.D. Drew take batting practice today and he was positively obliterating the baseball. If the spasms are nullified by Monday’s epidural, perhaps he will return after all.

Mike Lowell took BP indoors today and should do so on the field by tomorrow. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mikey is back in there by Thursday or Friday.

The Rays are just about to wrap up a Game 1 victory against those ever-competitive Baltimore Orioles — yes, sarcasm is dripping — which would reduce their magic number for clinching the division to three. I think everyone realizes that the Red Sox will start the playoffs in Anaheim either a week from tomorrow or Thursday.

As for Johnny Pesky‘s number 6 getting retired on Friday, just two words fit the occasion: About Time.

Later,

Ian.

Magical Monday?

1

Nothing else needs to be said tonight.

Chime away.

O'Canada

Up here in Toronto, where the weather is magical for those of us who love the crisp, Autumn air.

Speaking of magic, this is the time of year where magic numbers dominate the topic of conversation.

The Red Sox, entering play today, have a magic number of two to clinch a playoff berth. Simply stated, if the Red Sox win two out of their final nine games, they are in the playoffs, no matter what anyone else does. In other words, it would take the biggest choke in baseball history — and  the most magical comeback in baseball history — for them to be October spectators.

There is a very small chance the Sox could clinch today. This is what would have to happen.

The Red Sox must beat Roy Halladay and the Jays (1:05 p.m. ET game). The Yankees — pitching a young prospect named Alfredo Aceves — must lose their 1:05 game to the Orioles. And then, if those two things occur, either the Twins — facing Scott Kazmir at 3:55 — or the White Sox — playing at Kansas City at 7:10 p.m. ET — must lose.

How do the White Sox — who lead the Twins by 2.5 games in the AL Central — factor into this? Here’s the deal. The White Sox have 68 losses as of today and the Twins have 71 losses. The White Sox and Twins have three head-to-head games left this season which means that if the Twins were to run the table, the White Sox would have to finish with a minimum of 71 losses (72 if they lose today). If the Red Sox win today, the most losses they can have is 71. That’s why a loss by the White Sox or Twins — along with a loss by the Yankees (71 losses) could clinch things for Boston. Get it?

By the way, huge thank you to Jeff Goldberg of Hartford Courant fame for helping me out with this. I hate to break it to Jeff though — I’m still going to rip him apart in fantasy football this year even if he doesn’t know it yet.

As for the news of the day, J.D. Drew remains, at best, in limbo, and, at worst, haunted by the prospect of not playing another the game this season. He just can’t get rid of the spasms. And anyone who thinks that J.D. is dogging it is being unfair. You don’t get multiple injections and epidurals in a desperate attempt to make pain go away if there is no pain. He was extremely dejected last night.

That’s all for now.

Ian.

Ouch

Tim Wakefield‘s knuckleball completely flat-lined tonight. This was about as unpredictable as the way Kazmir was destroyed Monday night.

I never expected this. I figured he’d come out and baffle them tonight.

One thing you don’t want to see when you are making your last stand for the division title is Devern Hansack pitching in the third inning.

If I’m the Red Sox — given the state of their health — I might take the pedal off the accelerator here pretty soon and play for the Wild Card. That is, of course, if they lose this game tonight.

Get all their ducks in a row, get guys like Lowell as much rest as he needs, and get this machine running smoothly for the playoffs. Fact is, if you have Beckett, Lester and Dice-K throwing well, homefield isn’t as huge a factor.

Stability At the Top

On the same day the Red Sox could move into sole possession of the top spot in the American League East for the first time since the All-Star break, it is refreshing to know that there is also great stability at the top of the organization.

Theo Epstein will not need a gorilla suit to exit Fenway Park on Halloween this year. Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe has reported that the GM — who has gone in less than six years from a 28-year-old wonderboy to one of the most respected executives in the game — is on the verge of signing a new contract.

Though owner John W. Henry basically told Shaughnessy the deal was done earlier on Tuesday, Henry backed off slightly on those comments to the rest of the media later in the day while conceding an announcement is imminent.

“I got a little ahead of where we are today in commenting
on what have been refreshingly private negotiations,” wrote Henry. “We are
not done, but we expect to have an announcement in the near future. I have
asked all involved not to comment until this is finalized.”

I wonder what this organization would like right now if Epstein, had, in fact, bolted in ’05. Would they have won it again in ’07?

At any rate, the Red Sox are lucky that upper management (Epstein and his staff) and field management (Terry Francona and his staff) is a big strength of this team. It is one less thing to worry about. Imagine having a Ned Yost-like situation in Milwaukee?

As for tonight’s game, I think it is important both in the short and long term. Obviously Beckett puts them back into first with a win. And if Beckett does that and is dominant in doing so, perhaps it is fair to forecast the ace to go on one of those runs he had late last season.

Though Lester has been a rock, there is something comforting about being able to rely on Beckett as the front man for the staff.

AL East showdown under the roof

All the years I’ve come here, and I never tried to imagine what it would be like to cover a September series at Tropicana Field that mattered. And here we are.

This used to be where we’d come to unwind after a stressful, crowded, intense series somewhere else.

And just as I was in the middle of typing, Big Papi just left the yard. A three-run blast off Kazmir, and just like that, Dice-K has himself a three-spot to work with. Make that a four-spot as Mike Lowell also puts one out. The Rays can’t feel good about Kazmir opening the game with eight straight balls, which obviously left him in the mode of, “OK, I need to get the ball over the plate and take my chances”. He did take his chances, and Ortiz and Lowell took him over the wall.

Speaking of Lowell, he told his former ghost writer Rob Bradford — and the current beatwriter for WEEI.com — that he has a slight tear of the labrum in his right hip. I didn’t even know the hip had a labrum. Also, if Lowell can take the likes of Kazmir deep, Sox fans should feel pretty good bout the chances he can salvage his way through the rest of 2008.

At any rate, there is quite a media following for this series. The press box has three packed rows. Faces in the crowd: Jayson Stark of ESPN.com; Hal Bodley of MLB.com; Scott Miller of CBS Sports (seat there for him, but he’s yet to arrive); the aforementioned Bradford; Joltin Joe Haggerty of Comcast Sportsnet, the Woburn Times, NECN, CN8  and Boston Metro. Oh, and WEEI. Is there anyone he doesn’t take a paycheck from? Make sure to check out the underrated Hacks with Haggs blog when you get a chance. That’s http://www.hackswithhaggs.com in your game program.

Tito’s take on the Rays and this series, before the game was pretty good:

“I don’t think, because we’ve been here before, we should
downplay what we’re going through the the next couple of weeks. This is exciting.
This is great,” Francona said. “The Rays are certainly the story of the year and I understand
that. If it wasn’t for us, I would be a fan of them. I’m not. we really want to
win. I’d hate to be walking around here like, oh, we’re the team that’s been
here. We need to match the energy, if not exceed their energy. These are big
games for us. I don’t see why they’re any bigger for them than they are for
us.”

Look for Jonathan Papelbon to sit this one out after pitching the last two days.

Let's Play Two

Ernie Banks had it right. Nothing like two for the price of one. Well, OK, this is a day/night doubleheader with separate admission, but you get my point.

This time of year, how can you quibble with a doubleheader? Maybe the Red Sox sweep the Jays and the Yankees sweep the Rays and the Sox end this laborious day tied for first? Dare to dream?

It will be tough to pull off with Burnett pitching Game 1, though perhaps he will falter on three days rest.

Here are the Boston starters against Burnett lifetime:

Ellsbury — 1-for-8
Pedroia — 4-for-14, 2 homers, 4 ribbies
Ortiz — 5-for-16, 1 homer, 3 ribbies
Lowell — .4-for-14,  0 homers, 0 ribbies
Casey — 13-for-23, 0 homers, 3 ribbies
Bay — 4-for-8, 1 homer, 1 ribbie
Lowrie — 0-for-6
Varitek — 3-for-11, 0 homers, 2 ribbies
Crisp — .091, 1 homer, 1 ribbie

One small piece of news before the game. Okajima’s contract vested for next year because of total appearances. He remains a bargain at $1.75 million.

Buckle up for the next 18 innings. Looks like a nice day.

Soggy Fenway Friday

I’m very lucky to be in a window-enclosed press box tonight. It is positively disgusting out there.

Maybe the rain will cool off the Blue Jays. They’ve been special lately. Is it me, or do they catch fire every single year after they fall out of the pennant race?

The only way possible they can get back into the race is to sweep this weekend. And manager Cito Gaston is going with his next three starters — Burnett, Listch and Halladay — on three days rest.

Sounds like a bit of a reach, no?

Wondering what happens if the Red Sox and Rays tie for the AL East title? Unless the Red Sox sweep the series next week at the Trop, the Red Sox would be the Wild Card team under that scenario. Even if the Sox take two out of three in Tampa, they would finish 9-9 against the Rays. Then it would go to the next category: Divisional record. Thanks in large part to this team the Sox are playing tonight, they don’t have a good record in the AL East. The Rays would easily win that tiebreaker.

I have huge fascination with the Angels, and how this two-plus weeks of playing meaningless games will affect them.

Also, if the Red Sox enter the final week of the regular season trailing the Rays by two or so games, I expect them to start lining up their pitching and prioritizing that over winning the division. They were in the exact same situation in 2004 — winners of the wild card and two games behind the Yankees with seven to play — and they opted to get everything lined up.

It is their belief — and somewhat hard to argue — that having ducks in a row and everything lined up perfectly is more important than home-field advantage and first round opponent.

Ian.

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