Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Division Title? We Don’t Need No Stinking Title!!! (or do we?)

Here we are with some rational and calm commentary from DC. I'll be back with my own brand of blab toward the end of the season. I'd give an excuse about why I've been so quiet... but you don't want to hear that I found people I can actually TALK to about the Red Sox... anyway DC's words follow.

Oh wait… Yeah we do! Let me take this opportunity to congratulate the olde town team on beating this year’s Cy Young Award winner and in doing so clinching a playoff spot. Unlike some other professional leagues where it seems like half the teams make the playoffs (I’m looking at you NBA), making the playoffs in baseball still means something. This season has been more demanding than any in recent memory and the Sox managed to fight through all the injuries, crazy clubhouse antics and trade deadline drama to take another step towards baseball’s holy land. Unfortunately with overtaking the Rays for the division looking as likely as me waking up tomorrow looking like Tom Brady, the next step will be much more difficult.

The Sox have a lot more going against them facing the Angels in the first round of the playoffs than they would have if they’d won the division and earned the right to play the White Sox, who enter the playoffs looking like the weakest post season team. I know what you’re thinking: “But we own the Angels in the playoffs.” While historically that may be true, consider these five facts and then tell me you’re not concerned:
  • We’re 1-8 against the Angels this season and our one win came in April and was off of Darren Oliver who coincidently had his worst month of the season in April. Of our 8 losses, 6 were won by their starters (including 2 W’s for Lackey and 2 for Saunders). That means their starters were able to go deep into the games rather than being worn down and having to rely on the bullpen like the Red Sox hitters prefer.

  • The Red Sox don’t scare John Lackey anymore. In past seasons, Lackey’s struggles against the Sox, particularly in the Fens, were well documented. However, he took care of those demons this year to the tune of a complete game victory that was a home run away from being a no hitter. On the year the Sox are only hitting .132 against Lackey and he’s 2-0 against them.

  • On the flip side of that coin, Josh Beckett has been the anti-Lackey. Against the Angels this year he’s 0-2 with an ERA over 7 with a batting average against of .345. Compare that to 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA against the White Sox. Furthermore, this season Beckett has looked like an ace at times but other times he’s looked extremely mortal. I was at this week’s game against the Indians. He seemed to have no command of his fastball and at times was very hittable. 105 pitches through 6 innings isn’t going to cut it from our playoff ace.

  • Beckett isn’t the only pitcher who’d rather see the Chi-Sox digging in over the next couple of weeks. Dice-K’s ERA against the Angels this year is on the wrong side of 10 and they hit .350 off of him. Compare that to a 0.56 ERA and .122 BAA versus the White Sox. Lester isn’t must better with a 7.20 ERA against the Angels (5.14 versus Chicago) and a .429 batting average allowed (.261 for Chicago).

  • These are not your father’s pitch first, score later Angels. This team went out and got 2 big time bats (Hunter & Teixeira) without losing anything on defense (9 Gold Gloves combined). On the other hand, the Red Sox aren’t scoring like they used to. Jed Lowrie seems convinced September translates to “swing and miss” in some ancient language. Mike Lowell can still hit, but unfortunately running is out of the question. JD Drew has a serious injury and likely won’t be 100% when he gets back on the field and his replacement, Kotsay, has been looking old.
What this all boils down to is cause for concern. I’m not saying that the Red Sox are going to lose. I’m simply saying that a successful title defense would have been significantly easier if we had won the division. In that case, we would have had home field advantage where the Sox are 53-23 (versus 39-42 on the road) and playing against a lesser opponent in the Chicago White Sox. But instead, we’re the wild card winners. We earned the right to go to California to face the best team in the league. An Angels team that stacked with pitchers and hungry to regain their playoff swagger. So, with regard to clinching the wild card I say to the Red Sox: “Congratulations… I think?”