Thursday, September 25, 2008

Playoff Prep Begins for Red Sox

With the Rays winning their game against the Orioles last night, the Red Sox are down to an elimination number of just 1. The next Rays win or Red Sox loss will officially hand the AL East crown to Tampa Bay. The good news is that, with 4 games remaining in the season, the Red Sox do not need to scratch and claw the rest of the way, only to limp into the playoffs worn out and exhausted. Instead, they can calmly and strategically give everyone enough work to keep them sharp, give anyone a rest who could benefit from it, and get some work in for anyone coming off an injury.

Paul ByrdThat is just what we saw last night. Paul Byrd started and got 5 decent innings in. Probably his last start, but I would not be too surprised if he pitched an inning or two in the final game of the season in preparation for the playoffs. Mike Timlin, David Aardsma, and Manny Delcarmen all pitched in relief, and all three shut down the Indians and allowed the Sox a chance to win the game. Definitely an encouraging outing for all of them. Their success allowed Terry Francona to give Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon the night off.

Who could benefit from rest? Coco Crisp has been dealing with a nagging foot issue, and he got the night off. Jed Lowrie has been experiencing recent struggles at the plate. He also got some rest, but came in late in the game to pinch hit. What about Jason Bay? Don't forget, he and his wife just had a baby LAST WEEK! Any parents out there know what that is like. He is probably feeling stressed, a bit overwhelmed, and not getting much sleep. During Tuesday's game, there were a couple of times he seemed to be in a daze. The fans around me started to get on his case, then I reminded them all that Bay just had a baby, and they all thought about that, and realized that these guys are not robots, they have real lives like all of us, and he probably has a lot going on right now. They instantly got off his back, and giving his a rest last night was a good idea.

JD Drew has made enough progress with the herniated disc in his back that he started the game last night. He only played 3 innings, but it got him out there to get some live work in. He looked understandably rusty, but if he can use these final games to tune up and get back to near 100%, that would be a big boost to the lineup. If JD (and I do mean IF) can get hot in the playoffs and start hitting like he did in June, I'd love to see him batting fifth and creating havoc for opposing pitchers. Think about that. Ellsbury leading off, followed by Pedroia, Papi, and Youk. Pretty goof top four. But then, the pitcher sees Drew, Bay, and Lowell (not necessarily in that order) coming up? I like the sound of that. That also puts Lowrie and Varitek in the 8 and 9 spots, taking pressure off of them. Meanwhile, you still have some weapons coming off the bench in Sean Casey, Crisp, Alex Cora, and Mark Kotsay.

That all sounds like a potential Championship team to me. BUT, it relies on JD Drew and Mike Lowell to get well. not barely well enough to drag themselves out there, go 0-4, and play meekly on defense. It relies on them going out there and playing hot. Lowell is even more pivotal than Drew, because his absence not only collapses the lineup a bit, but it also throws the infield into a spin. Our best backup 3rd baseman also happens to be a gold glove caliber first baseman. Replacing Youk at first with Casey or Kotsay is a downgrade. Plus, Youk is not as sharp at 3rd as he once was. But, if we keep Youk at 1st, now we need to move Lowrie to 3rd and bring in Cora at short.

So, I think if Drew and Lowell can heal and recover in time to play well in the playoffs, the Sox will be very tough to beat, even by LA. If these guys are still hobbling, or have not gotten their timing back yet, then it is going to be a struggle.

Well, hopefully the weather does an about-face tomorrow. I am looking forward to my final regular season game, and a chance to watch a relaxed, meaningless game against the Yankees.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)


Suldog said...

My only concern - perhaps made too large in my paranoid mind - is that someone decides to put Byrd in the playoff rotation OVER Wake. I'd have to seriously consider sneaking some Ex-Lax into Byrd's oatmeal, if that happened, just to get Wake back in.

Hmmmmmm. Does my rabid-Wake-fanboy side show?

Rooster said...

I'm expecting both guys to be on the playoff roster. But, if only one goes, it ought to be Wake.

I think Timlin will not make the roster, but that may also depend on guys like Aardsma being healthy.

The great thing is that there is a whole week to figure all that out, not just a day or two.

Suldog said...

OH! Come get your award! :-)

Rooster said...

I just added the prestigious award - Thank You!