Posted on: August 21, 2011 7:36 pm
Late August, and if you're looking for stretch-run drama, well, you'd better go find a good book. May I recommend David Halberstam's Summer of '49? Great book chronicling an epic Red Sox-Yankees pennant race. Sigh.
There's still time for things to change, of course, but as we sit here today (unless, of course, you're standing), there is less than a four-game difference in only one of eight potential playoff races. (I'm dismissing the half-game separating the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East because both clubs have all but formally qualified for October: The Red Sox own a 7 1/2-game margin over Tampa Bay in the AL wild-card chase).
No, after Detroit's beat-down of Cleveland, the only real drama heading into this week is in the NL West, where the Giants have pulled back to within 1 1/2 games of Arizona. The Diamondbacks were and are a nice story, but not quite so much after getting swept in Atlanta.
Anyway, for all of this, I blame California.
The Not-So-Golden State right now is playing harball at a level ranging from head-shakingly bad to maddeningly sporadic and is in danger of being shut out of postseason baseball for the first time since 1999:
-- The World Series champion Giants, playing catch-up with Arizona, currently rank 29th in the majors in runs scored and seemingly have more players on the disabled list than on the active roster. Carlos Beltran, hello?
-- The Dodgers' back-to-back NLCS appearances in 2008-2009 currently are tied up in divorce/bankruptcy court.
-- The Padres' 90-win season of a year ago has turned to dust.
-- The only way the Athletics will see October is in Moneyball -- literally. The movie opens Sept. 23.
-- The Angels were nearly extinguished by Texas last week before rising from the ashes with a four-game winning streak that has moved them back to within four games of the Rangers.
Starting in 2000, the Angels have made the playoffs six times, the Athletics five, the Giants and Dodgers four each and the Padres twice.
Now? The Giants are clawing and the Angels have regained a faint pulse. Those two right now are a couple of the last hopes to goose a stretch-run that is threatening to boost football's television ratings even more.
Now, with colleague Danny Knobler hopefully somewhere with his feet up and an ice-cold lemonade nearby ... on to this week's 3 to Watch:
1. Time was, the Red Sox looked loaded and dangerous. Aw, truth be told, they still mostly look that way, but with Clay Buchholz out until mid-September, Daisuke Matsuzaka done for the season and Kevin Youkilis, J.D. Drew, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury all hurting, they're vulnerable. The pitching situation in particular is why they acquired Erik Bedard at the July 31 deadline, and it is Bedard who takes the ball in the series opener of Red Sox at Rangers, Monday night (8:05 ET) at the Ballpark in Arlington. It's an intriguing four-game series for a few reasons, not the least of which is because, if the season ended today, these two teams would face each other in the first round of the AL playoffs. One thing to watch between now and then, though: The Rangers' schedule down the stretch is more difficult than the Angels, with seven games against the Red Sox, six against Tampa Bay and three against Cleveland (the Angels have two against the White Sox and three against the Yankees, but they also get Baltimore again).
2. Speaking of tough schedules, what Manny Acta's Cleveland Indians are facing is pure torture, and the Indians did not get off to a good start in Detroit over the weekend, where Cleveland was swept. Thanks to early rainouts, the Indians are in the midst of playing 45 games in 44 days. They've got two home doubleheaders -- White Sox and Twins -- the final full week of the season. Before that, though, Seattle pulls into town on Monday, and Cleveland dives into its double-dips with Mariners at Indians, Tuesday afternoon and evening (1:05 and 7:05 ET) at Progressive Field. It doesn't get any easier with rookie second baseman Jason Kipnis (hamstring) on the disabled list and with slugger Travis Hafner nursing a right foot strain (he left Sunday's game in Detroit and the Indians will know more Monday).
3. Two teams struggling mightily to tighten a couple of AL races hook up for a quick two-game series, and by the time Chicago rookie Zach Stewart is finished facing Los Angeles' Jered Weaver in the finale of White Sox at Angels, Wednesday night (10:05 ET) at Angel Stadium, we'll have a better idea of whether Ozzie Guillen's club is in or out in the AL Central, and whether the Angels are serious players in an AL West race that right now is Texas' to lose. The White Sox took two of three from the Rangers and are five games behind the Tigers in the AL Central. Thanks to the Sox, the Angels were able to gain a couple of games back on Texas to pull to within four in the AL West. Considering that Texas pushed the Angels to six back last week and was one out away from seizing an eight-game lead on the Angels last Thursday night, Mike Scioscia's club is living large.
Tags: Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Indians, David Halberstam, David Ortiz, Erik Bedard, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Kipnis, Jered Weaver, Kevin Youkilis, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Mike Scioscia, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Travis Hafner
Posted on: September 30, 2008 5:54 pm
Edited on: September 30, 2008 5:55 pm
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The early word on Boston's myriad health issues Tuesday was "encouraging", as Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, as the club prepared for Game 1 of its American League Divisional Series with the Angels here Wednesday.
The Red Sox's main worry, for the time being, is third baseman Mike Lowell, who has struggled with a partially torn labrum in his right hip. Lowell seemed to move around reasonably well in Tuesday's workout, and though they still likely won't determine whether he can play in Game 1 until Wednesday, they're more optimistic now than they were.
"It was encouraging the way he moved around, or the moving he did do," Francona said about two-thirds of the way through Boston's workout. "It didn't grab at him, and that's very encouraging."
Regarding Boston's two other key injuries, outfielder J.D. Drew (strained lower back) "looked pretty good", Francona said. And starter Josh Beckett (strained oblique) is still on track to start Game 3 on Sunday in Boston.
"He threw from 60 feet, 30 throws, then threw from 90 feet, 20 throws, then moved back and threw again from 60 feet," Francona said. "The ball came out of his hand very well."
Beckett is scheduled to throw long toss Wednesday and then throw a side session in the bullpen Thursday.
As for Lowell, he's retaining hope.
"I would love to play," he said before Wednesday's workout. "It's going to be fairly simple. If I can make plays and move around, I think I will. If I can't, I won't.
"I feel great sitting around. Doing nothing, I feel fantastic. But until we're sitting on the couch and that's what it takes to play baseball. ..."
It isn't, and especially against an Angels team that is as aggressive as any club in the majors. That's why Lowell's mobility -- or lack of -- is as important as anything else as Francona makes his decisions in this series. The Angels will bunt, take the extra base, make the Red Sox make plays.
Which could be to the detriment of Lowell, if his hip injury keeps him several steps slow. Lowell said it doesn't hurt to hit, but Francona quickly shot down the idea of using Lowell as his designated hitter and David Ortiz at first base because of the way the Angels play.
"He's one of the best defensive third basemen in the game," Francona said of Lowell. "If he can move and he's not in agony, if he can position himself, I think we're a better team with him at third base. If we have to move (Kevin Youklis) over and have to play somebody else at first base. ..."
If so, that's probably not the Red Sox's best option. But it might become their most realistic option.
Lowell said that Boston cannot worry about its banged-up players, that the show must go on.
"If some key guys are out and we're not at full strength, I don't think that will determine whether we can win this series," Lowell said. "Whoever executes better and plays well, that will determine if you win the series."
Francona said the club will not determine its final roster for the divisional series until late Tuesday night or, possibly, Wednesday morning. He planned to meet with front office officials back at the team hotel later Tuesday for more discussion.
Posted on: August 27, 2008 4:57 pm
Kotsay is 32 with the back of a 42-year-old (or worse), but he's playing and he's good to go for now. He was hitting .289 with six homers and 37 RBI in 88 games for Atlanta. With Drew's status dicey for the rest of the season, Kotsay is the perfect complement to Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Bay and Coco Crisp: An experienced hand who is battle-tested, having playoff experience with Oakland in 2006.
The Red Sox have been in the market for an outfielder since the Manny Ramirez fiasco, before Drew's back began acting up. San Diego's Brian Giles declined a trade to the Red Sox earlier this month for family reasons and because the Red Sox couldn't promise him anything more than an extra outfielder's role at the time. Giles wanted to play every day.
What's changed since then -- and increased the urgency for the Red Sox to acquire another outfielder -- is Drew's injury. Fortunately for the Red Sox, they didn't grant Crisp's desire to be traded this spring. Think how thin they'd be in the outfield if they had.
Not only does Kotsay know his way around the outfield, he's a solid guy to have in the clubhouse for a stretch run. Professional, committed, intelligent and no-nonsense (no Manny comments here, please).
So consider this another test passed for Boston as the Red Sox gallop toward another October. This isn't to grant them a playoff spot yet -- there are still many challenges ahead.
But the Red Sox are better today with Kotsay on their roster than they were yesterday. And thanks to Minnesota's four-game losing streak, the Red Sox have some breathing room (a 2 1/2-game lead) in the AL wild-card race.
This isn't a team that has given up on first place -- they trail Tampa Bay by only 3 1/2 games, and they still play Joe Maddon's club six times in September (three home, three away). A lot still can change.
But the way things are shaping up, the Red Sox have two chances to make the playoffs. And the percentages are rising. Minnesota should have won three of four over the weekend in Anaheim and could have swept the Angels. But the Twins lost the final two games of that series and the first two in Seattle this week.
Not a good way to begin a 14-game trip, and even more disheartening for the Twins after they started 2-0. Being that Ron Gardenhire's club has begun a stretch in which they play 24 of 30 on the road, as Yogi says, it's beginning to get late early.
Meantime, Boston has won five of seven, nine of 13 and life without Manny isn't looking as daunting as maybe it once did.
Likes: Colorado has won four in a row and has pulled to within six games of first-place Arizona in the NL West. You don't think the Rockies will stage another September miracle, do you? … Instant replay on boundary calls are fine, but if baseball officials ever look to expand replay, it'll be time to dig in and fight it. … Watching Randy Johnson pitch. … My Weber grill. … Gates barbecue sauce from Kansas City, right in my fridge and then on the chicken on the Weber grill.
Dislikes: Well, I was just saying yesterday how fun the Mets are to watch lately. Not so much after they blew a 7-0 lead to Philadelphia on Tuesday night while falling with a thud into second place in the NL East. … Florida's Hanley Ramirez with a glove. … Sure, I write a feature piece on Arizona this week and the Diamondbacks promptly go into the tank in San Diego. I hate it when teams don't cooperate. … Come on, Tropical Storm Gustav, let's skip right over New Orleans this time.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"When I think back on all the crap
-- Paul Simon, Kodachrome