Monday, August 10, 2009

What just happened?

Remember the 2001 Red Sox who just imploded in late summer? They had a few weeks just like the one the 2009 Red Sox just slept through.

A week ago, the Red Sox were a half-game out of first place and leading the Wild Card. Today they are 6 1/2 back and tied with the Rangers for the Wild Card. The season ain't over by a long shot, but it sure went pretty bad pretty fast.

My level of irrational anger/profanity-laced rants rose with each game this weekend. I did not bother to watch John Smoltz's start because I knew - I KNEW - he'd get rocked. He did. Friday night they hit into 33 double plays and as each inning went by, I tried to guess which Yankee would end it with a home run. I guessed Posada. Then Saturday CC Sabathia dominated them and Kevin Youkilis did his best Sears impression in left field.

And there's Sunday's loss. Thirty innings without a run. Ridiculous. But Victor Martinez belts a two-run homer! Runs! Sweet, glorious runs! The Sox might salvage a game. But wait, they don't want the lead. It makes them uncomfortable. So they promptly give up back-to-back shots and a few more runs after just for kicks and it's time for curtain calls galore in the Bronx.

Baseball is the toughest sport to follow in many ways. Five hours watching them lose on Friday. Almost four on Saturday. Another four on Sunday. For what? I could have been blogging about my top Jack Bauer moments or read some more Huffington Post articles. There's no escape in baseball. If your team is scuffling, it's every day for three ours. Every day.

I'm not as angry about this as I would have been, say, in my college years. I'm slowly but surely growing out of that as I realize millionaires playing baseball should not affect my mood that much.

As I type, the BoSox are up 3-0. (World Series champs!) Nonetheless, it's time to look at all the things that have gone wrong the past few weeks.

1. Jason Bay's disappearance: He's been injured lately, but since the All-Star break, he's batting a robust .204 with one home run. Not exactly Manny-type numbers. Besides costing himself millions in the free-agent market, his vicious slump has created a giant crater in the lineup. He's not alone, though.

2. Shortstop: Nick Green's been a great story, but he should not be an everyday starter at shortstop for a team with a $120M dollar payroll. Jed Lowrie's been hurt and Boston started Chris Woodward (Chris Woodward!) at short Friday night in that interminable 2-0 Yankees win in 15 innings. The Sox just aren't receiving great production here, offensively or defensively. It all traces back to the still unexplained fascination Theo Epstein had with Julio Lugo. An average player his whole life, Theo thought of him as Honus Wagner/Ozzie Smith. Now Lugo is in St. Louis and Boston will be searching for a permanent shortstop for a long time.

3. 3-4-5 starters: Will John Smoltz go into the Hall as a Red Sox? He was the best Home Run Derby pitcher to hit Fenway since John Wasdin. That was a total failure. Brad Penny's ERA since the All-Star Game? 7.24. The jury's out on Clay Buccholz as a long-term pitcher. Right now, he is iffy at best. We all know how much Dice-K sucked early in the year, but at least he was good in the World Baseball Classic. Magically, he's able to throw strikes and get guys out while pitching for Japan and then he turns back into Bobby Jones when he plays for Boston. Not to worry though, Junichi Tazawa is slated to start tomorrow.

4. Middle relief: Last month, this was the best bullpen in baseball. I have no idea what happened. Hideki Okajima is still solid, but not spectacular. Ramon Ramirez has come back to earth a bit. Daniel Bard has serious stuff, but he's a rookie. Justin Masterson is gone. And against the Yankees Boston trotted out two guys I never knew existed in Billy Traber and Enrique Gonzalez. Combine this with 5-inning starts from Penny and company and you have a suddenly vulnerable 'pen.

5. Rocco Baldelli's everything: No need to comment.

6. No sluggers: The days of Manny-Papi slamming homers and doubles all over the place made me one spoiled little brat. These days it's tough to see where the power can come from. J.D. Drew is a singles hitter at this point. I talked about Bay. Pedroia and Youkilis are carrying their weight, but power comes and goes with them. And then there's 2009 David Ortiz. Terry Francona is platooning him on a regular basis. The low inside fastballs he used to hammer are foul balls or grounders to second. They need him to be better than he is right now. I keep hoping for some miracle turn-around where he becomes the Papi of old.

And I will stop here because it's too depressing.
Boston leads 4-0! Nevermind. Who will they play in the World Series, Philly or L.A.?

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