Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Playoffs!

Remember how you felt last October 1st, the day the ALDS began in Oakland? Thrilled, excited, yes, but also vaguely terrified. The Sox had played a good September, and were ready for a climactic postseason, but there was a feeling of doom around the corner. Boston's flaws were obvious, and with a distinctly tenuous rotation and even less reliable bullpen, the Red Sox could be beat. Their job was to mash the ball, but against the A's that wasn't going to be easy. Fans talked with pride and confidence, but we knew this was no gimme. After Ramon Hernandez dropped a bases-loaded bunt at 2:30 in the morning, it was even less so. This whole wonderful thing really could end in a horribly unwonderful way, and we always sort of knew it. Sooner or later, Boston fans realize that their dreams have very little to do with the ability of their teams, and there isn't much you can do about it. You always fear that those parallel lines of expectation won't meet, and then, later, you understand that to be the unfortunate truth. In 2003, the fear started before Game 1, but the truth part didn't hit until Jorge Posada blooped a ball two weeks later. The question is, do we feel that fear now? Does anyone have that "oh no, how is it going to end this time" sensation? I'll be honest, I don't.

Several months ago The Ninth wrote about the New England Patriots: "It's hard to go all the way, and as we all know, the best team doesn't always win. But the point is, they should." Powerful stuff, I know. Goosebumbs, yes please. My honest evaluation of the Pats last winter was that they were the best football had to offer, and I feel the same way now about the Red Sox. We all know, however, that strange things happen. The Yankees had more juice than the Marlins last year, and they lost. And Boston's advantage on their competitors is a fraction of what New England's was in February. But they are the best. Their rotation is the most qualified (people complain about Wakefield and Arroyo - last year they had John Burkett), their offense is the best in the American League, their defense is reliable and potentially great, and their bullpen is solid. If there is one weakness, it's in that pen, but I'll believe their failure when I see it. Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke have had some problems, but you know what, I think they'll get it done. I can't give you numbers or offer stats (do I ever?), I've just watched them all year and believe in them. The Red Sox have the best team in the league fans, like it or not. We are who we are, so we never stop being afraid, but let's try to enjoy this one. I have a feeling it might be worth it.

Some bullets:

- It's being said everywhere, but the way to beat is Anaheim is by getting ahead early. It makes it harder for them to run, minimalizes the effect of their bullpen, and eases the job on our starters. Boston swept Anaheim in September by taking quick leads. Their starters are bad - do it up.

- Johnny Damon hits Bartolo Colon and no one else. His OPS against Barty Tubs is 1.019, but his number against Escobar, Lackey and Washburn COMBINED is only 1.140. He's 1 of 19 against today's starter. This could be a problem.

- Speaking of Washburn, he's not particularly tough against lefties, but he's gotten ours pretty well. Neither Ortiz, Damon, nor Nixon hit him very well. He is the flyballiest of all pitchers, featuring a heavy reliance on high fastballs. This is not a great matchup for Boston, as most Sox like the ball down. Bill Mueller however could have a field day. Also, Washburn is curiously much worse at home than on the road.

- Vladimir Guerrero can be pitched to - don't listen to what people say. He'll swing at unhittable pitches if you get him in the right count. This is not Barry Bonds.

- Every good postseason team features the unexpected contributions of an unheralded player. Last year it was Todd Walker for the Sox. Who will do it in '04? A lot of people lack creativity and are picking Mark Bellhorn. The Ninth's Choice: Also Mark Bellhorn.

- Manny Ramirez Career, Regular Season: .316/.411/.599
Manny Ramirez Career, Postseason: .232/.332/.473
Ouch.

- We have Curt Schilling, they don't.
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