Monday, July 24, 2006

Why Not?

For many New Englanders, the Red Sox' March to October marathon becomes a focus, a raison d'etre. Our food tastes better when the Sox win, and from Bangor to Block Island, fans second guess lineups, strategy, and pitching changes. We have no life.

Which brings me to today's topic, speculation about the future of the roster and the Sox going forward. At this point in the season, with the Sox in first place by two and a half games, despite the injuries which all teams face, there isn't any point in projecting the comings and goings, trade deadline excepted.

First, concerning the trade deadline, every team in baseball wants more pitching and if available, somebody else's 'bat'. In the AL, only Baltimore, Tampa, Cleveland, and KC are 'out of it'. In the NL, aside from the Cubs and Pirates, everyone has at least an outside shot. That's not to say that the Nationals (unloading Soriano) and other teams won't try to rebuild on the cheap. Everyone's talking about Jon Lieber, Jake Peavy, and Greg Maddux. As for Maddux, we may as well see if Juan Marichal wants to make a comeback, as he's allowed 138 hits in 124 innings. Period. Lieber has a 5.55 ERA in Philly and makes 7.5 million. Philly will want young pitching, and the Sox shouldn't surrender that. Peavy has a 4:1 K/BB ratio with 128 K in 117 innings and is only going to go for top prospects. Do you want to trade your top prospects at this point? Didn't think so.

What wouldn't be disaster at this point is some more rotation of the available offense, with more at bats for Pena at the expense of both Nixon and Crisp. In their last 43 at bats, Crisp and Nixon have 9 hits, 3 doubles 2 runs scored and 2 RBI. Coco did a Geordi LaForge on Beltre's inside-the-park homerun yesterday, although I'm think LaForge might have had some infrared detector that would have put him within a couple of body lengths of the drive. I'm not saying that Crisp should have made the catch, just...aarrgghh. It happens.

As for the rotation, the Sox have to feel reasonably good about Schilling, Beckett, and Lester. Kason Gabbard pitched admirably on Saturday, with a passable fastball, backdoor curve, and changeup. He kept the ball down, and frankly looked like a major leaguer. Considering the first appearance jitters he had to have, he did very well. When was the last time the Sox had two southpaws in the rotation? When was the last time they even had one not named Casey Fossum or Matt Young?

Pete Schourek and Jeff Fassero both started in 2000. Really, did you want them on your fantasy team, let alone the big club. Steve Avery started in 1997. Jamie Moyer (we knew him well?) and Vaughn Eshelman were on the hill in 1996. Mostly it's been a Sisyphusian effort for the Sox to find serviceable lefthanded pitching.

I'd like to believe the longer-term cornerstone of the franchise is pitching, based upon the core of Beckett, Papelbon, and Lester in the rotation, with Delcarmen, Hansen, and a couple more youngsters on the staff. Ultimately, everyone wins with power arms, and the Sox have a (lower budget) corps worth keeping. In addition to having hard throwers, winners need AN OUT PITCH, which is what impressed me about Gabbard. I thought he was sneaky fast with his motion, and that his curve could also be an out pitch. The Sox have talked a good game about getting guys to pitch off the fastball, and it looks like it's finally starting to pay off.

As for the next generation of position players, we'll see from whence they're coming another day.

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