July 9, 2009


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LONGSHOTS: Season’s second half is when it’ll get interesting for the Sox
by Dave Long

With Sunday’s 8-4 win over Seattle, the Red Sox closed out the first half of the season. This is when the fun begins, with the All-Star break on the horizon, the looming trading deadline at the end of the month, two series in August with the Empire and then the stretch run. The Sox are 49-32 as I speak and are clinging to a one-game lead in the East over the red hot Yankees, so we’re not talking cake walk. So as we move forward here are some things to keep an eye on in the second half of the baseball season.

Triple Crown Dreams: If you ain’t been paying attention — with him leading the majors in homers, runs batted in and second in the batting race, Albert Pujols has a legit shot at the Triple Crown. And while that’s great in itself, here are two Red Sox ties to give it more spice. First, if he does it, he’ll be the first since Carl Yastrzemski did it during the miracle of 1967. And if you’re rooting for Yaz to remain the last, you’ll be pulling for an ex-Red Sox farm hand in Hanley Ramirez to stop Pujols in the batting race. But, since he already has a .357 and .359 season in the books, Ramirez’s current .344 isn’t anything he can’t beat. And since he’s the best hitter of his generation, which includes Manny and A-Rod, as well as maybe any generation before his career is done, don’t bet against him. 

The Evil Empire: The disturbing thing about having just a one-game lead is that they’ve beaten the Yanks every time they’ve played them so far. Shouldn’t it be larger as a result? And the flip side is, on the law of averages you know the Yanks have to win a few going forward. Plus the schedule favors them after the All-Star game when they play 10 straight at home vs. Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland while the Sox are on the road for six. Then they go on the road for eight and return to the new Stadium for a four-game weekend showdown with the Sox in early August. Their big question is — with an 11th-ranked ERA of 4.42, do they have enough in the bullpen before Mariano Rivera and depth at the bottom of the rotation? Another is — can anyone slow down their hitting, which at the current pace has eight guys hitting at least 20 homers and a team-record 250 homers overall? Since this is the team called the Bronx Bombers for the last 90 years, that’s saying something.

Jonathan Papelbon: Yes, he made his fourth straight All-Star team. Yes, his ERA is under 2.00 again. Yes he’s second in the league in saves and has blown just two. So this is like complaining when Tiger only wins by a stroke or two. But his first half just doesn’t feel like it was that good — when heart-attack saves were common. Stats that jump out are 31 hits in 36 innings. Not too far off last season’s pace, but not close to his first two seasons in Boston. The 17 walks he’s allowed are more than he had in any FULL season. And finally, for the first time he’s not averaging more than a strikeout per inning. So is it going to catch up to him in the blown save department, or has he done it all when he’s been a bit out of sync and he’s likely to be the killer’s he’s been when he gets back in sync? It’s probably the latter, but it bears watching.

Wake Going for 20: I’ve never been a huge Tim Wakefield the pitcher guy, have always felt his innings-eater rep was overdone and the knuckle ball worries me in the post season when he’s 3-7 with a 6.00 ERA for Boston. But he takes the ball, is versatile and an excellent team guy, so we’re hoping he doubles his 10 first-half wins to get his first 20-win season.

Santana for Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury: You may recall this was a very hot topic two winters ago when many wanted to follow the old axiom “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” in taking a star for two youngsters with potential. A season and a half later, Santana is 9-7 in ’09 after going 16-7 last year as Lester was going 16-6 and Ellsbury was stealing 50 bases while hitting an up and down .280. This year he’s over .300 with 35 more steals as Lester struggled early and has had little run support in going 7-6. And since Santana costs $18 million, while the two youngsters are a combined $1.5, it’s like a four-for-one deal as the money saved went to Brad Penny and John Smoltz. Would you do the deal now? I didn’t think so, and it’s only mentioned here to give you a little extra confidence in Theo’s judgment as the trading deadline looms.

Trading Deadline: With Chen Ming Wang at 1-6 with a 9.64 ERA and back on the DL, the Yanks probably are looking for a starter and bullpen help. With Dice-K an issue, Brad Penny isn’t going anywhere now, so while a month ago I was thinking blockbuster, now I’m not so sure. Especially since Theo learned a lesson from moving Bronson Arroyo for Wily Mo Pena and then got caught short when injuries hit in 2006. And with David Ortiz hitting .320 in June with seven homers the need for a basher has been reduced too. So now it’s focused on evaluating Mike Lowell and getting hitting depth to step in at first or third if he’s not going to be able to go the distance. So it doesn’t look like an active time, but Theo’s made some dynamic trades at times, so you never know.

Tampa Bay: They bear watching because the Sox have eight left with them and even though they have not been a good road team recent history says they can win at Fenway. But they are just 18-26 on the road, they trail the Sox by six games, and they open the second half with 10 straight on the road. And when they do finally get back home it’s for four with the Yankees. So they could be on life support by the time they come to Fenway in early August. But they can hit and pitch so I wouldn’t count them out just yet.

Manny and the Dodgers: With the Dodgers having the best record in baseball and the Sox the best in the AL, there’s a real possibility Manny could be at Fenway in October. That would be the best return since Roger Clemens got hooted out of the joint vs. Pedro in the 1999 ALCS.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.

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6/4/2009 The Mt. Rushmores of the red Sox-Yankees rivalry
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5/21/2009 NBA rivalries have no rival in other team sports
5/14/2009 Lying from baseball's Pinocchio prompts questions
5/7/2009 Celtics bull their way into round two — finally!
4/30/2009 Tanked from the headlines, the Fenway series yanks it back
4/23/2009 Draft winds blow NFL teams to make interesting decisions
4/16/2009 Spring cleaning of a cluttered sports mind
4/9/2009 Red Sox Nation springs back to life
4/2/2009 Climbing sports Mt. Rushmore
3/26/2009 Mount Rushmore offerings and other spring thoughts
3/19/2009 B-Ball, Coach B and Baseball in the mailbag today
3/12/2009 Great talent a rush but not all it's cracked up to be
3/5/2009 In Bill we still trust?
2/26/2009 A mountain over this molehill
2/19/2009 Steroids muscle in on game's strength
2/12/2009 Bonner bombs away on Cs in garden party homecoming
2/5/2009 Nation's angst ends as V-Tek says what the heck and rejoins flock
1/29/2009 Super Bowl Sunday brings to mind past and present
1/22/2009 The elusive quality of greatness is the topic of the day
1/15/2009 Spring cleaning of the sports mind a little early
1/8/2009 Will hall have Rice on the menu come July
1/1/2009 Predictions and wants for the year ahead
12/25/2008 A look in the rear view mirror at 2008
12/18/2008 The Pats' playoff run and new Yankees contracts make big news
12/11/2008 Random thoughts and associations
12/4/2008 Pats should consider options when it comes to Cassel and Brady
11/27/2008 Putting the thanks in Thanksgiving
11/20/2008 News of the week has people talking
11/13/2008 Cassel's in the clouds compared to early expectations11/6/2008 Mail bag delivers some interesting questiont10/30/2008"Yankees Suck" - like mentality fuels political discontent10/23/2008 No ray of hope as season closes in Tampa Bay
10/16/2008 Going to the nines a thing of the past
10/9/2008 C-eeing some interesting stories unfold this week
10/2/2008 "How come?" is the main question of the day
9/25/2008 Observations on baseball in 2008
9/18/2008 If I were a QB, a DB, a stat geek or a soccer mom ...
9/11/2008 After disaster Brady's bunch won't pass on season
9/4/2008 Pats start off with high expectation and some concerns
8/28/2008 A race to the finish to take all month long
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
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6/26/2008 Boston turnaround makes NBA green with envy
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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 — Take Two
3/27/2008 Drowning in the NCAA office pool
3/20/2008 Whether forecast is right or not is the question
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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 — 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 — 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 M’s for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
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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
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06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
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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
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03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
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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
Hero’s 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