Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Games 143 & 144 - Red Sox, Waiting to Exhale

Orioles 13, Red Sox 10
Red Sox 9, Orioles
Record: 84-60
AL East: 3.5 GB NYY
Wild Card: 1st - 2 up on Sea

The Positivity Train shuddered and wheezed on Monday night, but I managed to take a deep breath and remember the "Lotta Ball Left, Stay on Target" mantra. Thankfully, so did the Sox, who continued to follow this season's remarkable pattern of bouncing back strongly from seemingly crushing defeats. They blew an 8-5, 7th inning lead on Monday through a series of defensive miscues (4 errors!), bonehead decisions (Mike Timlin, this is a rundown - you've only practiced it 100,000 times in your career), and untimely questionable umpiring.

I chalk the loss up to a natural letdown after a high-intensity series against the Yankees, and yesterday's result seems to reinforce that. D-Lowe pitched really well, emphasis on "pitched", because he didn't have very good command, but fought through his own problems to record 6 innings of 1-run ball. To me, Lowe is the single biggest factor in how far into the post-season the Sox can go - if they hang on to get to the playoffs. If he regains his form from last season, a Pedro-Lowe 1-2 combo is comparable to the Johnson-Shilling pair that the D-Backs rode to a championship in 2001. If he doesn't, it's Pedro and Pray. The obvious difference is that the Sox offense is light years better than the one the D-Backs threw at opponents.

Nomah's in a wicked pissah of a slump, hanging another 0-for-5 on his recent resume. He had a couple of big hits in the Yankee series, but he seems just a bit off. Luckily, Billy Mueller's back on track, and the offense doesn't seem to be skipping a beat. The bullpen, though, is another story. Bailing wire, masking tape, chewing gum, and the kitchen sink are in short supply in Beantown, because they're all being used to hold the Sox relief corps together.

Frankly, every contender in the AL has some problem or another right now - and the Sox seem to be the most put together, despite their flaws. The Yankees are in an awful hitting slump, and their bullpen consists of 1 guy - Mariano Rivera - who is throwing waaay too many innings. The A's starting pitching is still good, but less deep without Mark Mulder, and their offense has never been all that good. The Mariners are 40-41 in their last 81 games, and are relying on Armando Benitez in clutch situations (like last night - thank you, 'Mando), not to mention the fact that their starting pitching seems to be fraying. The Sox bullpen problems are well documented, but their starting pitching has been pretty good of late (all the more so if Suppan can build on his outing against the Yankees) and their hitting will cover up a lot of pitching deficiencies.

In short, 18 games to go: All aboard the Positivity Express. Lotta ball left. Stay on target.

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