Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Checking In

Wow, lots to cover, let's get to it.

1) Papi's Injury

Terrifying? Yep. A crushing blow to the season? Maybe.

Look, I'm not trying to get all over-dramatic but the fact is that at this point in time we have absolutely no idea of knowing how long he'll be out and if when he returns - IF he returns - how effective he'll be. In my opinion, best case scenario is he'll be back up to speed by mid August. Worst case scenario he's out for the season or comes back in September but cannot get all the way back and the team misses the playoffs.

Still, we're talking about Big Papi here and the guy did have arguably his best season last year - and best if you go by OPS+, his 171 in 2007 besting his previous career high of 161 in his 54 HR 2006 season - on a balky knee so you really don't want to put anything past the guy. But this is wrist and the questions hanging over the "when" and the "how good will he be" of his return are no different than if Josh Beckett went down with a shoulder injury (PLEASE DON'T LET THAT HAPPEN). We just won't know until we know I guess and right now there are three other good teams in the AL East and going even two months without their best hitter may just be too much to overcome. You never know of course, but for the first time since 2001 the Red Sox have an early season injury to a key player that is much more iffy than just "weather the storm for six weeks and pick back up after that".

With all that being said, I'll also say that if this team does hang in there and keep themselves in the middle of the division and wild card races then they will carve out a very special place in my heart. And even if that does not happen, at least there are no 2001 Red Sox type assholes on this squad so at least they won't disgrace themselves either.

2) The New Keys to the Sox Season (In this order)

Kevin Youkilis - Absolutely cannot do his patent second half nose dive this year. No way. The team needs him too much.

Manny - He's been crushing the ball since he got 500 off his back. He needs to go on one of his patent six week tears - which I think may be coming with all the shots to right and right center he's been hitting - and prop the team on his back for a while. We know he can do it.

Clay Bucholz/Jon Lester - Both of these guys need to find the consistency which they have lacked in the early stages of their respective careers. I like Bucholz' ceiling a lot more, but Lester has shown he can be a quality 7 inning/3 run pitcher and that would be a wonderful thing for him to be right now.

Dice-K - Who knows when he's going to come back, but when he does he must stop walking people and start attacking hitters. Haven't we been saying that since day one with him?

Papelbon - The rest of the bullpen is awful so every time he gets the ball he needs to make it count. Conversely I hope Tito recognizes this, starts giving some three run save opps to Delcarmen/Hansen (shuddering as I type) and uses Papelbon in some more high leverage situations where the game may be tied. With no Ortiz the Red Sox absolutely cannot give any games away.

Bartolo Colon - At some point the Sox are probably going to try and sneak both Beckett and Lester on the DL this year and when that happens he'll need to continue to step it up as he has.

Mike Lowell - He must prove that last year was not a contract year fluke and he can once again be a consistent, 162 game contributor.

3) NBA Finals

Wow. I can't believe I just typed that. I'm beyond excited but part of me almost is not? No, that's not right. I just have a sinking feeling that the Celtics are going to get crushed by the Lakers. Why? Well the Celtics have gone 12-8 so far in the postseason while the Lakers have gone 12-3 and just steamrolled the defending champs. Not only that but the Celtics have been maddeningly inconsistent this postseason and have shown a penchant to fold when facing the slightest bit of adversity on the road (Game 6 in Detroit being the huge exception). I don't know what happened between the end of the regular season and now but lately they have NOT looked like the team we all loved November through April.

With that being said, they can win, and in order for them to win I need to channel Peter Gammons and throw out a bunch of ifs.

A) Paul Pierce must play out of his mind and average 25+ for the series while shooting better than 50%. I really could see this happening, especially with him being an LA guy and all. Also, I really want this to happen. Nobody loves Paul Pierce more than I do and if he could finally prove to the world how good he is and that he truly is a superstar then I'll be happy.

Everybody else is saying it and I'll chime in because it is true, he is the absolute key to the series for the Celtics as they cannot win without an A+ effort from him.

B) Rondo must use his quickness to destroy Derek Fisher on both ends of the floor. Again, this is very possible, Rajon just needs to find some semblance of consistency from game to game.

C) KG must get it in his head that nobody on the Lakers can guard him on the block and dominate the game that way. At the game at LA in December he did this, and destroyed Andrew Bynum leading the C's to an easy victory. Bynum is a better defensive player than Lamar Odom or Pau Gasol so he better get down there. If he decides he wants to take long jumpers and fadeaways for the duration of the Finals then forget about it. He needs to dominate the post for them to win. (Heard that one before?)

D) Ray Allen needs to average an efficient 20 points for the series. Ideally he gets these points by nailing open jumpers, back-breaking threes, and catching his defender off guard and attacking the basket. I'm still in awe of what a good finisher he is. Most importantly though, it's going to be him hitting the open jumpers which he should have plenty of.

E) My experiences in watching Pau Gasol are minimal. With that said, I like to think that he is soft and can be mentally taken out of the game by a big, bruising, and physical player like Perk. If Perk can disrupt him on the defensive end and contribute his 10/8/2 then I think that is a big advantage in the C's corner.

F) The bench must play well. Posey must contribute great D on Kobe - don't really worry about him doing this honestly - and hit his open threes, PJ Brown will need to keep on playing smart ball while knocking down the open jumpers he'll see, and finally Eddie House will hopefully have one or maybe two games where he catches fire and torches the Lakers for 15 points in 15 minutes or something like that.

And that's it. A ton of ifs there, but that is what has driven me so crazy about the Celtics during the playoffs. They'll show flashes of brilliance and then revert back to a maddening form with bad shots, poor D, and stupid turnovers. Either way, writing this just got me even more pumped for Thursday night. I'll try and churn out an "Instant Analysis" after the game on Thursday but seeing as it probably won't end until midnight, it may be tough.

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