August 28, 2008

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LONGSHOTS: A race to the finish to take all month long
by Dave Long

As I mentioned last week, thereís nothing quite like a final-month pennant race in baseball, where you live and die with what happens on a daily basis. And with Sept. 1 just around the corner and the Sox 4Ĺ games out in the East as this is written, it looks like we will get that treat once again. So with the race now on in earnest, hereís a series of things that could make their presence felt before Game 162 is in the books.

While it sure helps, surviving the onslaught of injuries has more to do than just having a $140 million payroll. They lost projected number two (maybe three) for the year in Curt Schilling. Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell (twice), David Ortiz, Tim Wakefield, Julio Lugo, Brandon Moss, Bartolo Colon and Mike Timlin have been on the DL and JD Drew might be headed there. Plus Clay Buchholz hasnít lived up to expectations as yet and Manny messed up everything with his final drama before flying the coop. Itís a testament to the farm system, to Theoís being smart enough to not dump Coco Crisp as many wanted, and to the teamís resources.

Iím not sure if heís unlucky, injury-prone, brittle or just soft, but the concerns many in The Nation had when word got out that Theo was after JD Drew might be coming home to roost. Iím not saying his back spasm isnít enough to keep him from playing, but itís more of the same because when you average only 118 games over your first eight seasons in the majors, you have to think sooner or later that will come back to haunt in a pennant race ó which might be the case now.

If you could have the Johann Santana-for-Buchholz-and-Jacoby-Ellsbury deal now, would you take it? Iíd still probably say no, but Iíd think about it longer, I have to admit.

Hope former F-Cats manager Bill (Sunday) Masse was paying attention to the Sox and Blue Jays this weekend. That way maybe heíd understand why the locals cheered so loudly when Portland came to town during his tenure. Guys like Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie were soon to be on the varsity and F-Cats alums, like Friday and Saturday starters Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch, along with Adam (gone with the) Lind, would be the enemy in a BIG pennant race series like the one just concluded. Everyone knew it was going to happen, so why was that so hard to figure out?

Hereís the update on Manny. After hitting four homers his first six games, he had two in his next 16 when he has 12 RBI to go along with the nine he had in the six-game flurry when his average as a Dodger was .565. Since then itís .303 to bring his average to .380 in L.A. Not bad, but not all-world.

As for Craig Hansen in Pittsburgh, the story is similar. In eight games heís walked nine and his ERA is 4.50. They might have wrecked him by rushing to the majors 60 days after he got out of college.

While there is a long way still to go, hereís my case for Kevin Youkilis for MVP of the AL. As I define it, itís most VALUABLE, not which player is having the best statistical season. It was exemplified last week when he started the game at third, moved to first for defensive purposes, but then back to third after Dustin Pedroia pulled a knucklehead move to get tossed out in the eighth. With Mike Lowell on the DL twice this year heís moved over to third pretty easily, while having the teamís best offensive year batting all over the line-up, including in Ortizís spot, until the Manny deal. Then he stepped in at clean-up and matched the six homers Mannyís hit in L.A., while knocking in three fewer runs with 18 and hitting just a few points lower at .368. Plus he has eight doubles to Mannyís three and scored 13 runs to his 12. Theyíd have been lost without Youk.

Speaking of Pedroia: how does that guy have 14 home runs? Jerry Remy was roughly the same size, though a lefty hitting in Fenway, but hit only two in seven seasons with Boston and seven in his entire big-league career. Plus after making only six errors his rookie year, Pedroia has just five in 2008.

Heís got to go some to match what Bobby Doerr did while playing second for Boston, though. Doerr hit 12 or more homers 12 straight years while driving in over 100 six times. He had a high of 27 homers in 1948 and 1950, all of which makes him a better hitter than I realized.

And speaking of not making many errors. Anyone else besides me know that Lowrie has yet to make an error at any of the three positions heís played in 50 games? Plus he leads all shortstops in runs batted in since the All-Star break.

All of which makes Julio Lugo odds-on winner for the 2008 Wally Pipp Award donít you think?

Even being three games behind, the Blue Jays, who are 32-23 under Cito Gaston, look like a bigger wild card threat than the Yankees. To paraphrase political consultant James Carville during the 1992 presidential race, itís the pitching, stupid. Toronto had the best ERA in the AL on Monday at 3.69.

Thatís the same story for why Tampa is not going away. Theyíre second in ERA at 3.71 and best in batting average against at .244, where teams are hitting .217 against their bullpen!

Not that this is a big shock, but the Red Sox are hitting .295 at Fenway and .268 on the road. The good news is that 17 of their 24 games in September are at home where theyíre 43-18.

For Tampa itís the opposite ó they play 17 of their final 27 on the road, where they are 32-32. For the Twins itís 12 at home and 13 on the road, while for Ozzie and the White Sox itís an even split over their 26 games in September.

I kind of missed on how many Colon would win, but given the struggles of Buchholz and the worrisome injury to Beckett, he might still turn out to be a BIG pick-up for Theo.

And finally, hard to imagine how the schedule makers could have whiffed so badly on this one. They just needed to flip-flop the series this week in New York with the final weekend in Boston and it would have been Red Sox and Yankees in the last game ever played at Yankee Stadium ó just like they were the day the old place opened.

What were they thinking?.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billyís Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM Ė The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.


8/21/2008 National news items of interest for local folks

8/14/2008 A little of this and that from the good side of sports pile
8/7/2008 Manny happy returns from the Evil Empire
7/31/2008 Manny being Manny - the sequel Part XXXII
7/24/2008 Open the mail bag for some Red Sox questions
7/17/2008 Hall-worthy or not the latest question on Schilling
7/10/2008 Baseball season has actually started
7/03/2008 UL editorial in denial ó stop the presses
6/26/2008 Boston turnaround makes NBA green with envy
6/19/2008 Letters from the NBA finals
6/12/2008 A Father's Day letter to dad
6/5/2008 Twenty-one and six are the lucky numbers for the Cs
5/29/2008 Sometimes a bat is just a bat
5/22/2008 Some questions for folks right up there in the front row
5/15/2008 Numbers don't add up to supposed Fenway
5/8/2008 Cavalier attitude nearly derails first meeting with LeBron
5/1/2008 I'm so old,I remember ...
4/24/2008 Sox Line-ups, Celtics and ESPN investigations are in the mail bag
4/17/2008 Show me the way to that All-Star Game
4/10/2008 For C'ing a great time ahead as playoffs arrive this spring
4/3/2008 Bill James and the stats for 2008 ó Take Two
3/27/2008 Drowning in the NCAA office pool
3/20/2008 Whether forecast is right or not is the question
3/13/2008 Comment sparks wonder over just what I did
3/6/2008 New hires, new trades in pro sports
2/28/2008 Celtics issues far from black and white in the early days
2/21/2008 Congressional ineptitude muscles in on steroid hearings
2/14/2008 Basketball rounds into form under the cover of Pats football
2/7/2008 A giant win leaves Patriots fans feeling blue
1/31/2008 Foxboro lads earn pats on the back, and old Celtics mystique makes sense
1/24/2008 Mail bag asks about Rice, the hall and wild-eyed liberals
1/17/2008 Peyton manning the fort back home as Pats take on Chargers
1/10/2008 Grumpy old Dolphins are lost at sea on this one
1/3/2008 The primary concern is getting a clear picture
12/27/2007 The annual sports awards close out 2007
12/20/2007 Holiday gifts for the deserving and not so deserving
12/13/2007 Jets land in Foxboro as pat go number 14
12/06/2007 To include or not to include Ellsbury ó that is the questione
11/29/2007 Yanked from the sports pages in the Big Apple
11/22/2007 Here's what I'm thankful for at Thanksgiving
11/15/2007 Waiting game leads to a series of random thoughts
11/8/2007 OK ó it's week nine and I'm ready to talk
11/1/2007 Finally a little shut-eye for a sleep deprived nation
10/25/2007 A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
10/18/2007 Time to go to the mailbag
10/112007 Who'd more popular, Patriots or Red Sox
10/4/2007 IA weekend chock full of nuts, chokes and great moments
9/27/2007 I hate to say I told you so...
9/20/2007 Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
7/12/2007 Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 Mís for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did

02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Heroís death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The†Demonization of Johnny Damon

Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat