By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

An improbably good post-season

Congratulations to the Red Sox, whose incredible comeback in Game 5 capped an improbable post-season. Somehow they glided into the playoffs without ever really getting hot. Then they knocked off the Angels, and nearly knocked off the Rays, despite injuries and glaring weaknesses.

Not that the Rays haven’t had injuries. But they are a young and resilient bunch, aren’t they?

The Sox have a lot of holes right now — holes that weren’t at all apparent when the season began. Of course, the biggest hole is the loss of Manny Ramírez’s bat. Jason Bay was a great pickup given the impossible situation Ramírez put the Sox in. But he’s no Manny.

Will Lowell ever be the same player? No. Ortiz? He’ll be better than he was this year, but he’s not going to hit 50 homers again. Probably not 40, either. Will Drew ever play a full season? No. How’d you like to play with a herniated disc? Is Youkilis now the third baseman? I hope not. He plays with such maniacal intensity that I’d rather seem him stay at first, where he’s less likely to burn himself out. Will Lowrie and Ellsbury hit consistently enough to stay in the line-up? Who knows?

Two things I’d like to see next year: (1) Beckett’s showing up in shape. This year he hurt his back, and then it was one thing after another for the rest of the season. (2) Schilling’s rejoining the team after the All-Star break. He might just be better than he was in late 2007. And he was pretty good then.

Go Rays!

Photo of Fenway Park copyright © 2008 by Michaela Stanelun. All rights reserved.

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  1. Jessica Torrez-Riley

    Go Phils!

  2. Aaron Read

    After watching Schilling’s painful decline last year, I think it’s time for him to let go. Anything further and he’s into Timlin-land.Which brings us to another problem: the bullpen. Timlin has guts and honor, but he can’t pitch worth a damn anymore. Delcarmen is maddeningly hit-or-miss. Okajima was good for one season with his dazzlingly bizarre pitching style, but it’s clear that other teams have figured it out, and now he’s merely decent at best. And while Papelbon is still the best closer of the game at the moment, he’s already showing signs that he’s human, and a human Papelbon cannot carry the entire bullpen.Like Edes, I’m most worried about Varitek. There’s no replacement out there, and his bat is useless at this point, plus his body is old and fragile. Granted, his experience and ability to guide pitchers / read batters is incredibly valuable…but he’s also 36 and his agent is Boras. You can rest assured that if Tek signs with the Sox, it will not be for less than four years. Probably more like six. You really want a 40+ year old as catcher? Eep!By the way, Jason Bay finished the season hitting .286 with 31 HR and 101 RBI’s. Manny finished .332 with 37 HR and 121 RBI…BUT, Manny also spent two months in the National League. I don’t disagree that Bay’s no Manny…and perception matters so when a batter is “feared” it can rattle a pitcher…but dammit, I thought Bay was a damn fine replacement considering. And he’s also six years younger.Letting go of Hanley Ramirez was a blow but look what it got us, too. While not every player Epstein has brought in has been fabulous, virtually every player they’ve let go, or gotten rid of, has proven to be a smart move. I think a year or two from now, after seeing Manny destroy some other clubhouse’s chemistry after collecting a fat payday and an eight year contract, we’ll be looking back and thinking we dodged a real bullet.

  3. Prospecticus

    Can’t root for the Rays. They throw at out guys. And have been doing so for years. As well as that place they call home: nauseating atmosphere.

  4. mike_b1

    Relievers are notoriously erratic from season to season. As these things go, Delcarmen (and the Sox bullpen in general) is pretty darn good, however. He pitched 74 innings of 3.27 ERA ball. Okajima (whose contract is up, I think) was at 2.61 ERA (62 innings), Masterson 3.16 ERA (88 innings, some as a starter), Papelbon at 2.34 (67 innings), and Lopez 2.43 (59 innings). It’s a team strength. Vsritek is the big question. I don’t think you’ll see him go anywhere else, but I think it’s clear the Sox will be dangling some minor league pitchers out there, probably in the direction of the Rangers or the O’s (if the latter will trade within the division, which it doesn’t like to do) to get another catcher. Varitek, it says here, is done.Why bring back Schilling when Wakefield gives you 180 innings of 4.13 ERA ball (and at half the price tag)? Isn’t that what they wanted from Schilling?

  5. acf

    I agree with prospecticus regarding Tampa Bay’s character. They seem to have too many incidents of throwing at hitters, then defense and encouragement of that behavior from the manager. I can’t be for them in the Series. Actually, I usually cheer for the NL team when the Sox aren’t in it. I’m glad it’s the Phillies and not the Dodgers because I’m a Dodger fan from the early Koufax days and having to decide to support a Dodger team with Ramirez on it would have caused me to blow a gasket.As for the Sox, considering their record with injuries and Mannygate, they did pretty good this year. Absent those problems, I think they would have repeated. I’ll leave the look to their future to the other posters.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: Schilling v. Wakefield —The Sox need someone who gets better in the off-season, not worse. Though I agree that may be beyond Schilling at this point. I’m assuming a miraculous recovery from his surgery, which is probably way too big an assumption.Not sure why I had forgotten about Varitek. For sure the biggest question in the off-season.Okajima? Not only did he have a good year, but he got better as the season progressed.No doubt Timlin will announce his retirement in a few days.

  7. Suldog

    Great fun game to watch, a good one to go out on. A couple of minor second-guessing opportunities (Why did Tito bat Alex Cora in the 7th after the miserable at-bat he had previously? And why didn’t he run Ellsbury for Cora when he did reach on the error? Etc.) but nothing so glaring that it probably would have made the difference.I say Rays in 6. They’re damn good.

  8. O-FISH-L

    I hate to come back to the Johnny Pesky curse, but I can’t help myself. When you equate mediocrity with excellence on the right field facade, what message are you sending to the guys on the field? You can already hear the parallels, that losing the pennant is somehow worthy of congratulations. Huh? Might I remind you Dan that second best is first worst, especially when you compare the two payrolls. Dan, you and I are in rare agreement on one thing. Jason Bay, while likable, is no Manny. I would go further and say, since there was nobody available comparable to Manny, he never should have been let go. If he shut it down at the peril of the team and his own pending contract, shame on him. It seemed to me that management, cheered on by the sports media and a few vocal players, crossed a bridge too soon. Funny, I like Curt Schilling’s politics but to hear him saying good riddance to first round HOF’er Manny, who played most of the time (damn well, I might add), while Schilling collected full pay for doing nothing is laughable. When they gave away Manny, they gave away the World Series, I fear for many years to come.Also, is Ellsbury hurt or his he bitter with Francona? How else to explain him not pinch running for Cora (one steal all season) when Cora was on first with no outs in the eighth. Have we already forgotten Dave Roberts? It’s time for Francona’s free pass to expire. Among other things, Game 2, from overusing Beckett to simply using Timlin, rests entirely on his shoulders.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    If he shut it down at the peril of the team and his own pending contract …Fish: Manny had shut it down. If the Sox had kept him, it would have been based on the dubious assumption that he was going to stop screwing around and start playing hard, and every day.I think Bay’s numbers with the Sox were at least as good as Manny’s would have been for the rest of the year (although maybe not the post-season, when he’s been known to crank it up a notch). Ramírez was not going to do for the Sox what he did for the Dodgers — not even close. He was even showing signs of not being able to get around on a good fastball anymore. Then he goes to LA, and bam, he’s 28 years old again. John Henry should sue him for breach of contract.And since Manny was going to leave at the end of the season anyway, they’ve got an OK replacement for him in left. But they do need a real power hitter.Besides, it’s not just numbers. The entire team started playing better once Ramírez was shipped out of town.

  10. mike_b1

    Well, we always mock what we don’t understand, don’t we? :-)Over the past three seasons leading up to the trade, Jason Bay’s production was equal to Manny’s. And Bay is a real power hitter: 31+ HRs three of the past four seasons, a lifetime slugging of .516 (2d highest on the team), etc.Boston did play better after Manny was traded. It’s hard to say what that was tied to. Certainly it’s impossible to claim a guy who hit .347 with an OBP of .473 and SLG of .587 in 22 games (of a possible 24) in July — the month leading up to the trade — was a) dogging it or b) holding the team down. If you want to point a finger, point it at Varitek (who hit a combined .157 for June and July) for not having the sense to get off the field.Now, is Bay a future Hall of Famer? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good trade, both when it happened and over the next couple years.

  11. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: It’s hard to say Manny was dogging it??? He was faking a knee injury and skipping games!Your three-year averages include Manny’s 2007 season, when his power numbers were way down.

  12. mike_b1

    Why wouldn’t you include Manny’s 2007 season? It counted, didn’t it? The three-year span, which is better than a one-season span because it smooths the data, also includes a down year for Bay (2007). So I’d say it’s a draw in that context.But again, how do you know he was faking it? Where’s the data? Did you not see the stats he was putting up? Through July 31, Boston had played 109 games. Ramirez had played 100 of them. At that point, only Pedroia had played more.) He was hitting .299/.398/.529. He had 20 HRs (most on the team). How can a guy who’s dogging it do that? Honestly, what more could you have asked for?

  13. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: I would ask him to be consistent about which knee was bothering him.

  14. Don, American

    YOUR Red Sox Billy Bucknered my fantasy playoff team.

  15. Kris Olson

    Some off-season predictions:TRADES:- Clay Buchholz to his hometown Texas Rangers in a deal for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Texas has a glut of catching talent (Max Ramirez, Taylor Teagarden) and never has been able to figure out that pitching thing.- Coco Crisp, Michael Bowden, Julio Lugo, cash (yes, once again your hometown team will eat part of a shortstop’s contract) and another lower-level prospect or two to San Diego Padres for Jake Peavy. Pads need a center fielder, and Lugo can keep second base warm until St. John’s Prep’s own Matt Antonelli’s bat is ready. If this isn’t going to work, make sure you don’t let A.J. Burnett slip away.SIGNINGS:- A better backup plan at 1b/3b than Sean Casey or Mark Kotsay. (A guy like Casey Blake would be perfect, if he were left-handed.)- A slew of nondescript middle relievers, at least a couple of whom have been recently injured (a Theo trademark), hoping one will be the next Grant Balfour (rather than Brendan Donnelly, or JC Romero, or David Aardsma, or Chad Fox, or Matt Mantei, or…) – A more potent version of Alex Cora to spell Jed Lowrie on occasion (Mark Grudzielanek, Nick Punto)- I’d bring back Wakefield as #5 starter behind Peavy, Beckett, Dice-K and Lester (whew, just got chills typing that), and also put Curt on the mid-season plan, just to have a better fallback than Wake in case you need a #4 starter in the post-season- Let ‘Tek walk; hope Boras does indeed stir up a bidding war (anything over two years, $16 mil total is lunacy for ‘Tek in my book), so you can get the draft picks.There you have it. Go to it, Theo.

  16. Dan Kennedy

    Kris: Good stuff. All of a sudden, it does seem like Varitek is close to the end, at least as a full-time player.

  17. Dot Lane

    “When you equate mediocrity with excellence on the right field facade, what message are you sending to the guys on the field?”Gee, I dunno. How many guys on the field currently have a lifetime .307 average? But I guess you’re explained why the country has gone to hell in the eight years of the Bush presidency.

  18. mike_b1

    Jake Peavy does not want to come to the AL, and has a no-trade clause. So you can scratch that off your list right now.Not having Manny’s $20M salary frees up a lot of cash, especially if they want to go after Sabathia (I suspect they’ll make an inquiry just to push the Yankees’ bid higher). I think the more likely SP would be Roy Oswalt.(And Dan, your response is cute, but that’s about it. He played, he starred, he was traded. All the rest of it was MSMMB — mainstream media Manny-bashing.)

  19. O-FISH-L

    What Mikeb_1 just said.

  20. O-FISH-L

    Bush on the mind, even during baseball talk, huh Dot?Q: “How many guys on the field currently have a lifetime .307 average?”A: Over the required ten years with the team for a number to be retired, nobody, not even Pesky himself. That’s another reason why he shouldn’t have been so honored. “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly” — Thomas Paine. Actually, are we to still consider Pesky as part of the roster? I know the league threw him off the bench years ago lest he get hurt, but at 90 he still shuffles around in his uniform. I don’t know if he appears on any official list though.

  21. Steve

    Kris – interesting stuff, except that Saltalamacchia is not a major-league caliber catcher defensively. The Braves figured it out, and the Rangers have figured it out (or else they would have moved Gerald Laird), so I’m guessing Theo has it figured as well.The Sox need a catcher, but Salti is not the answer.Oh, and I wouldn’t be surprised (but I would be saddened) if Wakefield hangs it up.

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