It's a day off - but I'm still thinking of the Sox!
West Coast road trips are tough - the games start at 8pm MST and don't get over until well after I'm in bed (at 10pm MST). The WC trip also sucks because those teams are tough - the A's, M's & Angels all play good baseball and they always seem to crush the Sox. No change this week - as the Sox dropped 2 to the Angels. Luckily they won last nights game and the Yankees lost - this pushes their lead back to 6 games. In the past two months their lead has shrunk from 14 games to 5 games. That's a huge change.
The Sox have been mediocre of late, but that hasn't been the main cause of their collapse. The Yanks have been playing out of their minds - having about as many double digit runs score in the past two weeks as they had the entire beginning of the year. Matsui and Abreau are carrying that team.
The Sox are just stagnant - unable to score like they were in the beginning of the year and the starting pitching is shaky at best. DiceK and Josh Beckett have been average. The #5 pitcher (Lester) has been average at best, Gabbard was traded. Wakefield is never impressive to me. Schilling is coming back from injury, but he wasn't really impressive in his first start back either.
So, are we in trouble? No. But we need to beat the teams we should be beating and winning most of the series against stronger teams. We have an easier schedule coming up as the Yankees schedule gets tougher over the next couple weeks. The Sox play Clev, Balt, Detroit, LA, Detroit and then Boston. While Boston has Balt, TB, LA (at home), TB, WS and Yankees. This is the month where it could make or break the Sox. If the Sox gain a game or two it would be a victory - if they lose ground or stay the same it will be bad.
Right now the Sox are being carried by Dustin Pedroia (ROY anyone?) and Mike Lowell. Coco and Lugo have been doing well. No Ortiz hurts. Manny and Youks are just flying under the radar. The bullpen has had some rough outings, but they have been strong. Adding Gagne to this pen has been helpful, but he doesn't appear to be as dominant as expected.
The Yankees added Wilson Betimit at the trade deadline and a bunch of minor league pitchers have been brought up. Shelley Duncan has added some spark to their lineup from AAA. Giambi is back, Hughes is back and Cano has been named the starting CF. These moves should help the Yanks. ARod has been out off and on - so the Betimit pick up seems to have been a smart move. Is this enough to get back on the winning track and win the division? Luckily, their pitching still sucks and their bullpen is the worst of it. Trading Proctor (who was average) and designating Myers (who was ok) will not help that bullpen.
With two full months left I'm wondering when the Yankees will be eliminated mentally. Obviously there is a clinching date, but I wonder if the attitude in NY will go sour sooner than that, maybe after a couple of losses. If there is one team that surfs the momentum wave the best, it is the Yankees. But - falling on their faces would make a division win even sweeter.
So what do the Sox need to do in 60 days to clinch the East?
1) Get quality starts from the SPs.
2) Start hitting in clutch (2 out) situations. LOBs are killing us.
3) Get production from a spot in the order that is unexpected? WMP, Belli, Hinske, Moss, someone has to step up.
4) This will sound weird, but keep Paps fresh - use Gagne to close any game with a 2 or more run lead.
5) Get rid of Timlin - the guy is killing us - throw him on the DL.
6) Pray to the baseball Gods.
I think the Yanks want to believe they have a shot at the division - I don't think they do. But they will be very hungry if they lose the division and win the wild card - so that could be just as bad for Boston, as they could meet again in the ALCS.
The Sox will end the regular season barely mediocre - currently at 69-45, will end season at 95-67 (that 26-22 the rest of the way) and win the division.
The Yanks will end the regular season mediocre - currently at 63-51, will end season at 91-71 (that 28-20 the rest of the way) and 2nd in the division.
With 91 wins the Yanks will probably not win the wildcard. I think the Tigers will sneak it with 93 wins (30-19 finish) - so it seems like the most important games for the Yankees are the 6 games against us and the 8 games against Detroit and the 3 games against Cleveland. If they went 8-9 during those games, they'd have to win 20-11 against the rest of the teams just to get to 91 wins. And that won't be easy because teams like the O's, BJ's and Rays will be gunning to knock out the defending East champs in 22 remaining games. That being said, those 22 games are against teams that are .500 or below (technically Toronto is one game over .500), and could allow the Yankees a chance to climb back into this. So, I guess what I'm saying is that we will need a little help from our friends in the East and Central divisions!
We also need a little help from the health Gods. Getting Schilling back is great - if he's healthy. Ortiz needs to get back to health quickly. More importantly we can't have second half slumps from Youks, Lowell or our bullpen - like last year.
Well, I hope the Sox pull it out - it will be nice to be able to brag against Yankees fans that we broke their long streak of Division titles.