Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Games 79 through 81 - Red Sox
A Sort of a Mid-Season Update

Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 4
Blue Jays 5, Red Sox 2
Rangers 6, Red Sox 5
Record: 46-35

When the Sox are locked in a Wild Card scramble with the Twins and Orioles this September, they'll look wistfully upon this week's debacles against the Indians, Jays, and Rangers and point to them as innocence lost. By rights, the Sox should have a 6 or 7-game lead on the Orioles right now, and a similar margin over the Yankees. And they need only look as far as 60' 6" from home plate to understand why they don't.

The Sox, you see, are like a stunning woman - an Elle MacPherson look-alike - with chronic, wretch-inducing halitosis and seriously abcessed teeth and gums. Their offense - the T&A of this sqaud, if you will - is spectacular, producing at a sublime clip, wearing out opposing pitching staffs almost as they please. The Sox lead the league in OPS, average, and runs per game. They've even stolen 20 bases in 21 attempts. Individually, they've got 4 players in the AL All-Star starting lineup. Johnny Damon's been among the league leaders in runs and average all season, and just extended his current hitting streak to 21 games. Manny and Tizzle are in the league's top 3 in homers and RBI. Varitek leads all catchers in homers, slugging, OBP, and runs scored. Trot Nixon's got an .853 OPS, and he's holding his own against lefties. Doug Mirabelli's slugging .505 in limited duty.

They've been dominant on offense even with several relative disappointments. Mark Bellhorn's Milne fixation has been well documented here, but Kevin Millar's .732 OPS hasn't received quite enough negative press at MLC. I'll be working on that. Edgar Renteria's much-improved since the season's first month, but he's still only only carrying a .718 OPS. Billy Mueller hasn't been bad, but he hasn't been good, either. These guys are like Cindy Crawford's beauty marks, though - a tiny bit distracting, but interesting and exotic as a part of the total package.

The pitching, though, is as ugly as the daughter of West Virginian cousins. Keith Foulke is single-handedly responsible for 2 bad, bad losses in the past week, including last night's curse-inducing gack-fest against the Rangers. Foulke's ERA is over 10.00 in save situations - his impending trip to the DL is a mercy killing. The problem is, the bullpen's woes don't end with the closer's cringe-worthy early efforts. Only Mike Timlin and Mike Myers have been remotely consistent, and Timlin's starting to show the effects of a heavy first-half workload (8 hits and 3 ER in his last 3 1/3 innings), while Myers is a novelty act at best; only worth a damn against lefties.

The rest of the bullpen has been worst-in-the-league bad, saved only from that actual distinction by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and their 5.77 ERA. The Sox and their 5.58 bullpen ERA are closer by far to the Devil Rays than to the 12-best Rangers (4.86). I don't probably need to spell out the fact that teams with championship aspirations don't get taken seriously with bullpens only marginally better than Lou Piniella's Bad News Rays.

The good news for the Sox starting pitchers is that they have the bullpen to make them look stellar by comparison. Their middle of the pack 4.53 ERA is adequate, but only adequate. The maddening thing about the Sox' starters has been their inconsistency. Each starter has had extended stretches of brilliance - Tim Wakefield's in the middle of one right now, David Wells went 15 straight scoreless innings in the season's early stages, Bronson Arroyo won his first 4 decisions, Wade Miller's first few starts were very promising, and Matt Clement's been good to very good almost all year. Each starter has also had starts or stretches of starts that define putrescence. They've been like the Seinfeld girlfriend that looked great in one light, and ghoulish in another.

The positives for the Sox at the mid-way point are many: they're in first-place in the AL East, despite (cue broken record) not playing up to their potential. Curt Schilling comes back soon, and with Matt Mantei and Foulke on the DL, bullpen help is probably on the way before the trade deadline at the end of this month. They are clearly in the top 2 or 3 in the AL in terms of overall talent, and they have big-game experience that most other teams don't have. It's hard to be too down on this team. (Ducking.) Especially given the events of the fall.

On the other hand, it's hard to be too excited about this team. There is simply no reason that they're not running away with the division. The fact that they've let the AL East's other supermodel climb to her feet after a particularly wicked bender with 3 Italian photographers and a mountain of blow is galling. That pinstriped supermodel is certainly flawed, but she's also only 3 1/2 games behind the Sox as I type this, and more than capable of a last-gasp Christie-Brinkley-in-Sports-Illustrated jaw-dropping stretch.

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