Sunday, October 02, 2005

Where Has The Season Gone?

Bright sides of accepting the wild card and not having to play a one game playoff:

- Being able to pitch Clement on full rest on Tuesday instead of Wells on short rest or possibly Arroyo.
- Having an off day to travel, get settled, have team meetings and prepare
- The fatigue factor of flying to New York for one game, then back to Chicago only if we win
- Playing the less dangerous White Sox in a shorter flight than going from Boston to LA like the Yankees

To sum it up, the wild card isn’t nearly as gratifying as winning the division and dethroning the Yankees, but I think we did a little of that last postseason. Our goal now is to continue the trend of wild card tradition over the last few years, repeat, and hopefully get a “second greatest Red Sox team ever assembled” toast from Schilling. Watching the guys pour champagne in the locker room brought back some great memories, and I have a good feeling this won’t be the last time in October.

The main reason why I’m confident in this years team- there is not one single clear cut team better than everyone else in either league. No team really sticks out as the fearsome bunch that has a loaded offense, amazing staff and nasty bullpen. The great thing about this years playoffs is the parity and how no team will be completely favored over the other. Would it surprise me if the Padres-Cardinals series goes to five games? Not at all. We could be seeing the majority of these series going the distance.

Today, the Red Sox got the job done with homeruns from Billy Mueller and another colossal shot from Manuel Aristides, along with Dougy chipping in with a three run dinger when the game was already put to sleep. The only players missing from that Yankee lineup late in the game were Clay Bellinger, Mike Figga and Homer Bush. Schilling held the fort strong with only one earned in six innings, as the Red Sox finished the season with the exact same record as the Yankees. I still consider us Co-American League East Champs, but whatever.

The bottom line? The playoffs will soon be with us. Constant analysis and second-guessing of every managerial move. Late night finishes and dramatic walk offs that could save seasons. Series going the distance and the real players stepping up in the spotlight. When the leaves start to change and the temperature drops, I’m only thinking about one thing: the big playoff game that night. Let’s hope and pray this Red Sox team can stay alive for as long as possible and bring us to the promised land once again. Nothing would make me happier than rubbing it in the Yankees faces once again. Believe!

And now some quick final regular season grades:

Damon-: A Set the table all year, and is the perfect fit for this dynamic lineup behind him.
Renteria: C- Struggled in big situations this season, and made way too many errors at short.
Ortiz: A+ The MVP of baseball is the number one reason we’re in the playoffs.
Ramirez: A- More outstanding power numbers for Ramirez- an A if not for off-the-field problems.
Nixon: B Another stellar year for Nixon both offensively and defensively.
Varitek: B+ Started off huge in April and May, then dipped, but still is the Captain.
Millar: D Worst season for Millar in a Red Sox uniform, probably won’t be here next season.
Mueller: B Flirted with .300 for a while and played tremendous defense at third- always hustling.
Graffanino: B Been a savior for us at second base after the dismantled Bellhorn left town.
Olerud: B+ Over .300 for most of the season in limited time, outstanding defensive player.
Mirabelli: B- Always a solid backup catcher, and shows power at times.
Bellhorn: D- Formally one of my favorite players constantly struck out and failed to deliver.
Cora: B Brings a spark to the lineup with his glove and bat, does all the little things to win.
Kapler: C Great clubhouse guy and a solid hitter, but was inconsistent at times and got hurt.

Wakefield: A- Completely carried this pitching rotation in the second half with great numbers.
Wells: B Wells won a lot of games this year, ERA too high but pitches well in big games (Friday).
Schilling: C Pretty much sacrificed this season for last year, and I think we’re fine with that.
Clement: B- Started off 10-2, but began to crumble in the second half and is prone to being hammered.
Arroyo: C+ Way too inconsistent for my liking, but always shows potential to be an All-Star.
Timlin: A He may have trouble with inherited runners, but posted the best season of his career.
Myers: A- Always stopped the big lefty late in the game.
Foulke: F Struggled during his time as closer and turned out to be a negative factor this year.
Embree: F Knocked around whenever he took the hill and continued that trend with the Yankees.
Papelbon: A- Has showed signs of being a future stud with a live fastball and curve.
Bradford: B- Done the job pretty well since coming here…been to the postseason before.
Gonzalez: B- Perfect mop up guy, and did OK in his few starts.

Francona: A- With all the changes to this roster, Francona kept the team happy and winning.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Bye Bye Division Championship

The 2005 American League East Champions? The New York Yankees.

Sadly, the Red Sox have faltered behind the ‘stripes once again, finishing in second place and continuing this disturbing trend in the divisions history. The eighth straight division title was made even more disturbing watching the Yankees celebrate in the center of the Fenway diamond. Torre crying and hugging his team. Sheffield pumping his chest and A-Rod slapping the ball out of Tino’s hand for a nice keepsake. But you have to give this team credit, as much as I despise the ground they walk on. People, including me, wrote off this team numerous times during the season, and yet they battle through the tough times with a little help from two journeymen and an offense that never stopped truckin’.

The game was not much of a contest, and was probably the most painful and miserable I’ve been all season watching the Red Sox. With every single second that ticked, the Yankees were getting closer and closer to winning the division once again. They made this perfectly clear with a three run first inning that quieted the crowd and caused Ben Affleck to have a short seizure near the Sox dugout. Manny countered with a big blast of his own, and my confident rose once again. It’s just one crappy inning for Wake, we’ll be fine.

Not so much. The Yankees made Manny’s homer irrelevant with two runs in the top of the second and later with Matsui and A-Rod homeruns. Wakefield’s knuckleball was completely flat that even when the Yankees recorded outs, they still creamed the ball. You can tell by the second inning whether Wakefield has his A stuff, and today it was pretty obvious it wasn’t there. He’s been great for us this season, so we’ll let this one slide. Or at least I’ll try.

There is some excellent news out of Cleveland, and that is the continuing slide of the Indians, as they lose again to the ChiSox 4-3 in a nail biter. This means that the Red Sox will be playing baseball past tomorrow no matter what happens. A Red Sox win tomorrow or an Indians loss means we take the wild card and ride that streak of four consecutive World Series champions being Wild Card winners. A Red Sox loss and a Cleveland win means there will be a one game playoff at Fenway on Monday night to decide who goes to the playoffs and who goes home. I imagine the Yankees will rest Mussina and pitch Jaret Wright tomorrow along with a group of subs, maybe Bellhorn, so we should be able to clinch a playoff berth. Let’s hope.

If the Red Sox do win or the Tribe falls, the Red Sox would play the White Sox in the first round. Tell you the truth, I’m ecstatic about this development. I would much, MUCH rather play the White Sox than the Angels in the first round. Sure the home field advantage would be nice, but the White Sox scare me about as much as Alan Embree. They do have the big basher in the middle of the lineup in Paul Konerko, but Konerko is no Sheffield, A-Rod or Vlad. The rest of their lineup is hitting about .270 as a group and really pose no threat. The only worry is the speed and defense, but you saw during their near choke job that that plan can go up in flames quickly.

The pitching of Chicago? Bah. If I was typing this in June, Buehrle and Garland would have scared me to death, but now Garland seems average and Buehrle has no playoff experience. They also have our personal boxing dummy Jose Contreras who is red hot but is Jose Contreras. The bullpen? Politte is nasty, Jenks throws in the high 90’s and Hermanson’s had a good year, but those guys are nothing compared to facing a Rivera or K-Rod.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The division would have been nice, yes, but the wild card isn’t a bad secondary option. Let’s just win tomorrow and make the playoffs. Just win tomorrow.