Sometimes it's good to step back and take a look at the forest, and nestled amidst the wooded mountains of Ojai Valley, California this weekend, I have that opportunity.
The Sox invaded Angel Stadium (what, no naming rights) Thursday night, and got hammered (as so often seems to happen in the first game of road series this season), before coming back to win Friday night.
"You can see a lot by just watching." - Yogi Berra
Talking with a number of conference attendees out here, I get the sense that last year (including Yankee fans) people considered the Red Sox a special team, and that sense doesn't particularly carry over into 2005. Admittedly, the Sox have enjoyed terrific seasons from Johnny Damon (a 'career contract year'), Jason Varitek, David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez. However, the infield has generally been mediocre (compare Mueller, Renteria, Graffanino, and Millar to Blalock, Young, Soriano, and Teixeira for example). Last year's rotation could call on Schilling and Pedro Martinez for almost divine intervention to disrupt even a hint of a losing streak.
But wait, the Sox are still 70-50, have a four game lead over the Yankees (decimated by injuries), and control their own destiny. Jonathan (don't call me Jon) Papelbon has impressed, and Jon Lester is just over the horizon to step in if necessary. Clearly, the Sox are trying not to reproduce the Bobby Sprowl experience of the seventies.
A lot of questions remain. What becomes (if anything) of Mark Bellhorn, completing his rehabilitation at Pawtucket? Will Olerud or Petagine fill the gaping hole at first base? Can Keith Foulke (arguably the rightful 2004 Series MVP) regain his form? Do Clement, Arroyo, Wells, and Wakefield constitute formidable enough pitching to carry the team down the stretch? Will Curt Schilling be durable enough to rejoin the rotation?
If strength up the middle is necessary in all the major sports, checkers, and chess, the latter questions remain paramount. It surely appears that GM Theo Epstein is going to have to 'dance with the ones that brung 'em', as it remains highly unlikely that any pitching manna will fall from heaven.
Coming off a championship season in 2004, where the stars aligned perfectly to allow the Sox to rebound from the nadir of emotional fluctuation, the Sox must rely on pitching 'on a wing and a prayer' with more hope than consistency as their fuel.