Wednesday, October 15, 2008

News Flash - Tampa Bay is for Real!

I have been hearing the moaning, complaining, and second guessing from Red Sox fans growing louder and louder. You are frustrated, angry, and gnashing your teeth grasping for reasons why the Red Sox are ruining your October. I can answer that question pretty easily. The Rays are better than the Red Sox right now, at this moment in time, which is the only thing that matters. Did you ever notice how when one of your batters strikes out, it is his fault - he is a bum. It's not the pitcher who was masterful. When your guy hits a home run, he's a great hitter, but when they other guy hits a homer, it's because your pitcher stinks. In this case, you need to starting thinking the other way. We don't stink, they are just playing better.

As far as the Rays go, we are so used to them being a meaningless team that this transformation is difficult to embrace. But, you know the saying, "if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck"? That is what we are dealing with here. The Rays took over first place in the AL East midway through the season. We all wondered when they would collapse, but they never did. They had injuries and kept winning. They never let go of first place. They faced off against the Red Sox, their only true threat this season, in Fenway Park in September, and they survived and held on to first place. They survived a temporary losing streak in early September, and retained first place. They ended the season in first place with most home wins of any team. They passed their first post-season test by walking over the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS.

This team is for real, get used to it. Their pitching is running on all cylinders right now. They are hitting well, running well, and playing excellent defense. They are good. They are better than the Red Sox right now. That's what we are seeing. All those strategies you are juggling in your mind won't help. Batting Papi 6th, sitting Varitek, pulling Beckett sooner, mixing things up, are all interesting, but futile.

So, you admit the Rays are a good team playing great ball right now, right? But, aren't the Red Sox a great team? Aren't they the defending World Champions? Technically, yes, but practically speaking, no.

This is not last year's Red Sox team. Last year's team had Manny Ramirez batting 4th and Mike Lowell batting 5th. Last year's Red Sox had Jacoby Ellsbury creating all kinds of problems for the opposition, this year he can't get on base. Last year's team had one of the best post-season starters in history (Curt Schilling) on the roster, and Josh Beckett pitching the best games of his career. This year is different. Schilling is not available, Beckett is obviously not 100% healed from an oblique strain, and that takes a huge 1-2 punch out of the starting rotation. Big Papi is struggling to hit, and from watching his swing, I am certain his wrist does not feel 100%.

So where does that leave us? Is it all over? Not yet. The Sox came back from an 0-3 deficit against the Yankees in '04, and came back from a 1-3 deficit against the Indians last year. This is not over, and they won't give up. I think their chances are bleak, given everything described above, but they can still make this interesting. Here's why...

Daisuke Matsuzaka pitches tomorrow night. He had a terrific outing in Game 1. The Sox are due to break out the bats, and they are at home, and don't like losing there. I think we can all envision this game being a tough battle, but the Sox could pull out a win. That would make it 2-3 in the series. So, we head back to Tampa Bay for Game 6. Personally, I'd be inclined to pitch Lester in Game 6. He has been brilliant up until his last game, during which he was good, but gave up 2 fatal home runs. Erase those home runs and it was a good outing. So, if Lester bears down and returns to ALDS form, they could win Game 6.

That would set up a Game 7 showdown, which is all we can ask for at this point. Beckett takes the mound, pops a few aspirin, and who knows? So, don't give up yet, but do know you are simply getting outplayed by a very good team right now. Give them some credit for that, as we regroup to take the battle back to them on Thursday. Time to get hot, and go on our own little 7 game winning streak!


Anonymous said...

I think Maddon is toying with us.....put Kashmir in tonight to lose (we seem to have his number lately) so that Big-Game-James can clinch back at home with the home-town crowd. Makes for a better celebration.......unless we can figure out how to spoil it.

Anonymous said...

Of course you know I meant "Kazmir"....I hate when I do that.

Rooster said...

I had a similar thought.

What I actually thought was that Maddon wanted to start Shields in game 1 of the World Series. So, he sends Kazmir out there to try to wrap up this series and keep Shields ready for the big game 1.

The backup plan is not so bad. You have Shields available to clinch, but he does it at home.

Either way, not a bad plan, especially since Shields has gotten pounded in Fenway.