Monday, October 12, 2009

ALDS Game 3: Seconds

ALDS Game 3: Boston Red Sox 6, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 7

It takes seconds to say good bye to the end of a season...about the time it takes for the ball to leave Pedroia's bat and fall into Aybar's glove, or Chone Figgins to walk to first base at the start of a rally that wouldn't end until it was just too late. Afterward, we can debate the hows and whys until we're blue in the face: maybe the Angels were too good, or the Red Sox were not hungry enough, or the magic that we've come to rely on to spark those magnificent come-from-behind victories is sparking another team's fire this year; but it doesn't really matter: we started with promise in the Spring, and ended with cold defeat in the waning of the year.

However, despite the dismal result, I'm grateful for two things:
  1. The offense finally woke up. Even a blowout isn't as frustrating as watching opportunities to score slip away like the hours of a Sunday afternoon and for two games, slippage was all we had to look forward to. As painful as the ending was to watch, it would have been worse to end the day with no hope at all.

  2. That we made it this far. I'm not going to turn into a fan for whom nothing but World Series victory is acceptable. Especially after the absolutely depressing end of the 2006 season when the wheels fell off the train long before the end of September, I'd rather face a sweep in the first round of the playoffs than nothing at all.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

ALDS Game 2: Living Bad Dreams

ALDS Game 2: Boston Red Sox 1, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 4

When I woke up yesterday morning, I had really hoped the complete and total lack of hitting was just a one-time failure; a product of really good pitching and a really bad night. This morning, I'm starting to wonder if we're in some sort of terrible dream, where those at-bats that do turn into base runners are few and far between; where rallies are devoured by a ravenous beast wearing a big, haloed A.

So the offense is in one of the worst-timed slumps possible and it seems for the moment that they won't be scoring a lot of runs in their traditional high-explosive style. In fact, looking back to September 21, when the Red Scare lost that game against Kansas City and the slide that landed the Sox firmly in the 2009 Wild Card slot really started, it doesn't seem like they've hit that well against above average pitching. Maybe this slump is a long time coming; maybe now that they're once again up against the wall they'll start to click again and we'll all be laughing about these first two steps down the road to a champagne-less ending to October.

However, regardless of what happens when the series resumes in Boston mid-day Sunday, I think these first two games have proven that Tito needs a faster hook on his starters. Elite veterans though Lester and Beckett may be, the lack of run support demands perfection from the starting pitcher, which becomes a smaller and smaller possibility as the game goes on. It's true that the bullpen isn't always perfect either, but changing things up before tight situations get really tight - when the starter gives up three or four runs - may be the only way to win right now.

Friday, October 09, 2009

ALDS Game 1: Mood for Trouble

ALDS Game 1: Boston Red Sox 0, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 5

Dedicated to Robin, who knows why.

Last night was all about trouble. Take the sterling effort by the defense, for example. Normally you'd write it off as first-time playoff jitters, except that every man, infield and outfield, behind the plate and on the mound, had been to the post-season before. Yet somehow, these experienced fielders who'd played together for half a season couldn't execute three times, chalking up three errors over the course of the game...

Oh wait. At least one of those "errors" was the fault of this guy. Poor execution doesn't help keep the pitch count low, but neither does blindness by the officiating. Maybe tonight they'll relegate Bucknor to one of the outfield positions where he won't do as much damage. So the defense was trouble, but the umpires were trouble, too.

The offense generally looked like the hacks they were taking, but that's to be expected: Lester might have pitched decently, but Lackey was generally on fire and with the exception of one jam that the Sox managed to waste by looking like Bucknor flailing in the wind, was pretty much unhittable. I distinctly remember one pitch to Ortiz where the bottom fell out of the ball right as he swung and while it broke my heart, it really was a beautiful pitch to see. You'll notice the pattern continues: the offense was trouble. Lester was trouble, because he gave up four walks.

There was trouble from all sides then in Game 1. Tonight they'll come back out and try things again and just maybe they'll look like they belong in the post-season. Because otherwise, we're in trouble.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

I Think We All Know What Needs to be Done...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Kevin Youkilis, A Man Afire

Jackie MacMullen's profile on Youkilis - or maybe more on Youkilis's intensity - is a great read, but is anyone surprised at all that:
  • Boston fans love Youkilis for being the guy who made good by working hard and beating the odds. I'd say that's probably going to be the case no matter where Youkilis played, because it's a part of the American national myth: we love self-reliance and work ethic and we love the underdog. Put them together and you get some sort of living legend with an awesome beard.

  • Pedroia doesn't think Youkilis should change a thing. If you took Kevin Youkilis, shrunk him down a few inches, and gave him a complex from people either underestimating him for his height or seeing him like the second coming of David Eckstein, you'd have Dustin Pedroia. On a side note: how lucky are we to have a left side of the infield that's so committed they don't understand why people think they're a little crazy and really good at their jobs?

  • Some of the other players find Youkilis a bit much. I can understand that: his intensity is a lot of fun to watch and makes me love him as a player, but I'm trying to imagine a co-worker who blew up at himself in public every time he missed a minor deadline and I can imagine it would make things pretty uncomfortable.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Nervous About the Playoffs

I suspect many of you are asking yourselves right now: 'Has there ever been a 95-win team that seemed more of a long shot coming into the playoffs?' Maybe it's some combination of finishing second to a 103 game-winning Yankee team, the severely lackadaisical turn the team seemed to take after losing those first two games to the Royals, and how many of Boston's positions seemed to be filled by a combination of tape, glue, and odd luck, but going into this ALDS - whenever it starts - I'm more nervous about Boston's chances against Anaheim than I've been in the past - and that's not just because the Angels have so much to prove. I mean, if you'd told me in April that Boston's solid group of options in the field and on the mound would be rife with injuries and missing major pieces by mid-season, or that Francona would be juggling a combination of Lowell, Youkilis, Varitek, and Martinez across three positions by August to keep Lowell and Varitek in playing shape for October, I would have been quite surprised.

Actually, I suppose I wouldn't have been surprised about either Lowell or Varitek: they're a combined age of 10,000 years old and have one good hip between the two of them. But the rest was a surprise.

Adding to my feelings of uncertainty is a little fun with small sample sizes: for whatever reason, it's taken 95 or more wins to get to the playoffs this decade. Boston has six 95+ win teams since the 2000 season. Two of those teams won it all; three teams met the agony of defeat, including two edge-of-the-seat ALCS losses; and one team is still in the process of writing its own history. Here's where it gets a little odd: the teams that won it all had more than 95 wins. The teams that did not had 95 wins.

See how I've already psyched myself out? I'm drawing patterns from meaningless data. I may not feel better until the Sox have exacted another sweep from the Angels.