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 email@example.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.