Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Red Sox Depth Puts Them in First Place

So, the Red Sox got a well earned day of rest yesterday. The timing was great given the sweltering heat passing through Boston, and the nagging ailments that need time to heal. Jacoby Ellsbury needs the day to strengthen the wrist he sprained diving for a catch, Manny Ramirez needs the day to rest up his tender right hamstring, and Coco Crisp can heal up those scratches on his face, the only damage the Tampa Bay Dirty Rays were able to inflict to a man pinned to the ground by three people.

David OrtizInjuries have not been an occasional problem for the Red Sox in 2008, they have been a way of life. The ability this team has shown to be able to continue to, not only stay afloat, but to excel though the many injuries, illnesses and bruises has been just remarkable. It started with Curt Schilling's shoulder injury this winter. Before a game had been played, they knew they would be without their veteran ace possibly for the entire season. Then, Josh Beckett, the newly adorned ace of the staff, misses his first two starts of the season to back ailments. Is that all? No far from it. Mike Lowell spent time on the DL, David Ortiz is currently on the DL, as is Daisuke Matsuzaka. Clay Buchholz went on the DL, then took a trip to Pawtucket. JD Drew lost time to a sprained wrist, similar to the one Ellsbury is nursing right now. Nagging injuries, like Manny's hamstring, and illnesses, like the flu that swept through the bullpen, have forced players to miss time, included Captain Jason Varitek. The Red Sox even lost back up players, as when Brandon Moss underwent emergency appendectomy surgery.

This list is not even complete! If you read that list of injuries, but had heard nothing else about the season, you'd have to assume the Sox would be struggling to stay afloat, struggling to find an identity, struggling to piece it all together. Well, wouldn't you be surprised to find out that the Red Sox have yet to truly struggle this season. They currently sit atop the American League East, one game ahead of the cheap shot Devil Rays, with a record of 40-26 that is best in the American League.

Theo Epstein and Terry Francona deserve lots of acclaim for this season. Theo for building an impressive player development system, filling it with talented draft picks, and strategic additions through trades and free agent signings. Terry deserves credit for working the backup players into the mix perfectly. He's gotten them engaged quickly, put in spots where they can succeed, and made them an immediate part of the team. Curt Schilling is out? That's okay, we'll open the season with Clay Buchholz in the rotation. Another starter needs a day off? No problem, Justin Masterson is ready. Need to add experience to the rotation? How about inserting Bartolo Colon? Bullpen looking shaky? Let's bring up Craig Hansen. Infield help? How about Sean Casey or Jed Lowrie? Need a hard hitting DH? Just call on Chris Carter.

Player after player steps in and contributes right away. This is not only a tribute to management, but also the whole clubhouse. There seems to be a lot of camaraderie on this team. Fans see one too many outfielders and proclaim, "you have to trade Crisp - he'll be a cancer in the clubhouse if he doesn't play". Same thing when Colon returned from his rehab. Who gets traded? No one. This team seems to get it. They seem to understand it is a long, long season, and every available player is needed to step up and contribute when the time is needed. Egos are not getting in the way. Nothing is.

Josh BeckettAnd nothing includes the poor Baltimore Orioles. They are not coming to Boston at an opportune time to win a few games. But, before we take the Orioles too lightly, they are featuring two good pitchers in the first two games. Daniel Cabrera (5-2, 3.98 era) faces Josh Beckett tonight. That will be a good match up, but if Beckett has a good night, I would not wager any money on the Orioles. Even if Cabrera holds his own, the Sox will simply bide their time until they get to the bullpen, and then all hell will break loose. Meanwhile, the Sox bullpen had been getting stingier than Scrooge on Christmas Eve. One tip to Baltimore - don't let Ellsbury get on base tonight (rumor is he may play). If you do you'll regret it. The second game features Garrett Olsen for Baltimore. Garrett is 5-1 so far this season, with a 3.86 era. As a lefty pitcher, he'll present problems for the Red Sox, who counter with Bartolo Colon. Colon did not look as dominating in his last start. Could be just an off game, or it could be a bit of fatigue as he continues to build his conditioning up. If he has a game similar to his last, this would be the game that the orioles could steal. But game three will surely belong to Jon Lester. The kid is just beginning to truly show what he is, and Baltimore will be nothing more than a speed bump for Lester and the Sox bats come alive and pound Jeremy Guthrie, giving Lester a big cushion that he rides to a fifth win.

Are you excited yet? Are you as excited as Roger Clemens on Viagra? Yes, it's true, but is it hard to believe? While Roger still denies ever taking performance enhancing drugs, he has yet to deny that he took Viagra before games to give him something extra. My memory is now full of nothing but jokes as I recall broadcasts of games nearly forgotten. "Clemens gave him the high hard one that time!". "Clemens looks a little stiff on the mound today". "There's a drive that hits off the pole". Of course, I can't imagine Giambi shared any of his thongs with Clemens, not with him on Viagra! And you definitely want to shower separately!

Game on tonight at 6:05 - one hour early due to the Celtics playing tonight at 9:00. While the NBA does not seem to be too concerned with their fans' ability to watch the Championship Games, the Red Sox are. They want to make sure you can watch the Red Sox, and not miss the Celtics. Thank you Larry!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

No comments: