Monday, September 18, 2006

Am I Too Late?

Games 147 through 150 - Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Yankees 2
Yankees 7, Red Sox 5
Red Sox 6, Yankees 3
Red Sox 5, Yankees 4
Record: 81-69

Finally, a bright spot amidst the post-apocalyptic dreamscape that’s served as the backdrop to this season’s 2nd half. The scrappy, patchwork Pawsox hung just tough enough to sweep a doubleheader from the mostly disinterested Yankees yesterday and take 3 of 4 in the Bronx over the weekend. What a difference a month makes.

The ongoing theatre of the absurd opened to rave reviews in its off-off-off-off-Broadway curtain on Saturday, with Josh Beckett finally resembling the guy the Sox shelled out long dollars to retain. (The location refers not to Yankee Stadium, but the metaphorical site of the first Sox/Yanks series in nearly 4 years not to cause Tim McCarver’s eyeballs to bleed from overwrought dramatic tension.) Julian Tavarez tried gamely to lead the Sox to a sweep in the day’s 2nd game, but the Sox bullpen gave up 2 late runs to the Yankees after the offense had knocked Randy Johnson around – the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Young David Murphy led off yesterday’s first tilt with his first career homerun, a sure harbinger of things to come. Papi momentarily silenced his detractors in the Yankee Stadium crowd with his 49th homer of the year, and Kevin Youkilis ripped a 3-run 7th-inning shot to break the game open and lead the Sox to the win, guaranteeing that the Yankees would be unable to celebrate their division championship in front of the Sox.

The Sox scrapped back from a 4-2 deficit in the series finale to sweep a doubleheader in the Bronx for the first time in 30 years. Too little and far too late, indeed, but I suppose it’s better than the alternative. From the get your happiness where you can department, it’s been nice to see Murphy and Pedroia break into the bigs, even as the diminutive infielder’s struggled a bit.

Yankee fans are ticked at Ortiz because he publicly politicked for his primacy in the MVP race at the expense of Derek Jeter. I’ve been trying to ignore my obvious bias on the topic and really dig into my MVP choice. For me, the following criteria matter:

  • The MVP really must come from a team that’s headed to the playoffs or in serious contention until the final weeks. Value is in the eye of the beholder, but I’m a lot more compelled by performances that elevate teams from good to contender than efforts that make an awful team slightly less awful. Sorry to Travis Hafner and Ortiz (not to mention Manny Ramirez) on this count.
  • The best MVP candidates have to stand out on their own teams, and if you could make the argument that their absence wouldn’t have much overall impact, then they’re not an MVP. While Derek Jeter’s having a very, very good year (although his OPS is but 3rd-best on his own team), I simply have a hard time believing that a team with Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, and Robinson Cano would suffer significantly with a lesser player at short. In this case, Jeter suffers because the Yankees are so damn stacked. Not his fault, but it does reduce his “value” in this context. Ultimately, to me, the single most important component of the MVP calculus is this: which guy would hurt his team the most by his absence.
  • Fielding is most always a red herring, and the DH vs. field player argument makes little sense to me unless the fielder in question is outstanding. I fail to see the logic that defensive adequacy translates to additional value.
  • Big-game, big-moment performance matters, because momentum is a real, if intangible component of a baseball season and standout performances in the clutch contribute significantly to that momentum. Jeter gets high marks here, as does Papi.
  • Finally, pitchers are a part of every team’s roster, and they are arguably the single most important component of every single game, so to argue that they shouldn’t be considered for the MVP is ludicrous.

By my reckoning, Ortiz and Hafner lose out because their teams aren’t going anywhere. Jeter’s eliminated by dint of the overall excellence in the Yankee lineup. Justin Morneau’s got nice numbers, but they pale in comparison to a number of other offensive stars – he’s 9th in the league in OPS. So it’s down to Jermaine Dye and Johan Santana, and it says here that the Twins would be in deep nowhere without Santana, while the ChiSox would remain competitive in Dye’s absence. Johan Santana’s been the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2006.

In a brief housekeeping note, Whitney's nursing a painful case of plantar fascitis and fighting off a recurring halitosis outbreak - we look to see something from him should the Mets ever clinch their division.

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