Games 53 & 54 - Red Sox
Red Sox 10, Tigers 5
Red Sox 6, Tigers 3
Little bit of everything for the discerning baseball fan over the last few days, as the Sox dispatched the Central-leading Tigers on the strength of timely offense, a little bit of luck, and gritty starting pitching. Toss in an injury to Kevin Youkilis and an ejection to mild-mannered Mike Lowell, a 2-run double by Papi (!) and a concerted effort to keep the Tiger faithful interested with some indifferent defense and daredevil relief efforts and we had the full buffet. I'll thank the Sox kindly to keep their knees on the throats of their defeated opponents from here forward.
And so we find ourselves at the 1/3 pole, which is like the 1/4 pole, only curvier. My attention deficit issues are more pronounced this season than most, with a renewed interest in the NBA and a particularly compelling series of Good Eats episodes distracting me somewhat. Nonetheless, I can't help feeling fairly good about the fact that the Sox have had mediocre starting pitching, dreadful defense from the shortstop position (Nick Green has 9 errors in 30+ games and Julio Lugo is Julio Lugo), pitcher-like production from the DH spot, and below-average production out of erstwhile leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury and still find themselves tied for first.
The much-mentioned work from the bullpen and the offensive contributions of Jason Bay (and his 53 RBI in 54 games), Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jason Varitek(!) are the foundation for the Sox' 96-win pace. The fact that most of those things should continue (obvious exception noted and not discussed) and the starting pitching has to get better and indeed has already begun to do so is the cause for optimism.
Which brings us (briefly, because I'm as tired of writing about it as you are of reading it) to the vexing DH issue. ESPN's Buster Olney postulated a Manny Delcarmen for Nick Johnson trade as a solution. Put me in the 'no thanks' column, please. Johnson's a solid ballplayer and an OBP machine, but his introduction into the Sox' mix (like Chex Mix, but smellier and without the crunch) creates more problems in my mind than it solves while simultaneously weakening the team's greatest strength. On any given day, and on every given day, Terry Francona would need to figure out who to sit among Johnson, Ortiz, Youkilis, and Mike Lowell, four guys used to being in the lineup. Unless you convince Ortiz that he's 'injured', you create a potential clubhouse problem.
Papi's shown signs of being able to contribute over the past few days. My solution is to ignore the problem until it goes away. If it doesn't go away, it was too big to solve in the first place, and the Sox pursue options while shelving the big fella for a significant period. I don't expect him to return to past glories, but if he posted even an .800 OPS for the rest of the way, the incremental improvement would make the Sox' offense lethal. And that's not too much to ask.