Monday, August 31

Autumn Leaves

The Red Sox next game will be played in September. The Red Sox next game will be played in September. A phrase so nice I typed it twice. But like every year, a little frightening, too. September is when you want no more question marks, but inevitably you find them at every turn. We're not in it alone. The Yanks don't know what to do with Joba. The Rays are trading up aces and bringing up colts. The Rangers are wondering if their pitching can keep going this good. But the Sox have their own set of worries. Unfortunately, it's in the area that you really, really don't want to have to worry about this time of year - starting pitching.

Perhaps the Sox troubles aren't as bad as we think. The five-man rotation only needs to survive maybe four more passes until it can be chiseled down. But those four-passes are all important, and we're currently coming up at least two short. At least, I say, because while Buchholz was a magician against Toronto, he isn't up there as a sure thing. And Beckett is suddenly looking more than mortal.

That's all to say that this is going to be one hell of a meaningful road-trip. A make or break road-trip, really. The Sox kick off September with three in Tampa Bay and another four-setter at Chicago. After that, they have only one road swing left on the season. That's right, we're talking 'last of the seasons' now. And while that trip will involve a brutal finish in New York, it begins in Kansas City and goes on to Baltimore. So if the Sox can stay hot against the Rays and White Sox, and if they get a couple quality starts out of someone not named Beckett and Lester, we might start to talk realistically about the prospect of the proper fall baseball to come.

That means it's up to Paul Byrd - who was famously throwing batting-practice to twelve year olds a month ago - Tim Wakefield - who couldn't stand up after his return start - Daisuke Matsuzaka - who couldn't get through AA ball without giving up five runs in an inning - and Junichi Tazawa - a kid who was recently throwing in the Japanese Industrial League. The Sox probably only need one of them to really step up. And here's my handicap on it - Wakefield, Byrd, Matsuzaka, Tazawa. But here's my vote - Tazawa. Yeah he got hit pretty hard and likely he's got little chance of taking the fourth spot, but I can't help feeling the kid might be the answer. Pretty scary.

A final note in this Ode to Autumn, just to show you that we here at ITM aren't exclusively worry and negativity. Praise where praise is due. The Sox pulled it together on offense in August big time. They'd hit a collective .248 in July, with a .328 OBP and a .419 SLG, all numbers well below the AL average on the month. In August, the Sox cranked out a .274 average, with a .358 OBP and a whopping .494 SLG. At the beginning of the month, we were floundering, wondering where in the world four runs were ever going to come from. Then suddenly there was Victor, JD, and, of course, Ortiz. As has been pointed out here, if Papi replicates his numbers from the last three months (three months he's been doing it now), he'll finish the season with right around 30 HRs and 100 RBIs. I'm not saying it's gonna happen. I'm not saying JD will keep this up. I'm not saying Martinez will get a hit every time we need it. I'm just saying thank you, to them and to the front office, for righting the ship in August.

So there you have it: a quick preview. A whetting of the whistle. A flipping for real: hitting's up, pitching's down. The Sox are 3 games up, but questions abound. It's September baseball.

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