Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Some Red Sox Thoughts

So, the big six game swing through Toronto and New York that I mentioned last week; how is it going? Pretty damn well so far. I am not going to lie, when I posted a desired mark of 3-3 over this six game span last Thursday, I really felt like that was a reach. I was fully expecting a 2-4 or worst case scenario a 1-5. Now, the Sox have clinched a 3-3 mark over these six games as they sit at 3-1 with two to play. And let's face it, right now 3-3 would be disappointment. And I now think 4-2 is how it will end up, but with Sidney Ponson going for the Yankees tonight and Jon Lester for the Sox tomorrow, a sweep in New York really doesn't seem out of the question. I don't want to get ahead of myself at all here and even the 3-3 worst case scenario is not bad in the big picture, but if the Sox can somehow manage the 4-2 or 5-1, then all of a sudden they are sitting at 77 or 78 wins with 29 games - and 20 home games! - to go. Couple that with the 2.5 game lead they currently have opened up in the Wild Card and the deficit in the AL East being cut to 3.5 games, and come Thursday evening, there is a chance that you could be feeling really, really good about the team seeing October.

And that brings me to my next point, which is something I should not have to tell you but I will anyway. This weekend's series with the White Sox is huge. It's not just huge in the sense that all the team's remaining series are huge from here on out. It is also huge in the hypothetical.

Consider this; if the Sox end up pulling out the division and the White Sox win the Central, then those two teams will meet in the first round of the playoffs assuming that Tampa then captures the Wild Card. So what does that have to do with anything? Well, if both Sox meet in the Division Series and each has an identical record - not so far fetched seeing as there is just a half game difference between them now - then homefield advantage will go to the team that won the season series. After the split in Chicago a few weeks ago, now whomever wins the series at Fenway over the weekend will win the season series. I know chances are greatly against it coming to that type of tie-breaker between those two teams considering that if the White Sox win their division and the Red Sox take the Wild Card, the only way the two teams could meet - assuming the Angels finish with the best record in the AL which they should - would be in the ALCS and the division winner is going to get homefield in that series regardless. So, I know it's a long-shot that a tie-break will come into play between the two Sox, but it's not that much of a long-shot and let's not forget that the regular season tie-break last year came into play in giving the Red Sox homefield over the Indians in the ALCS.

And that is part one of this piece. For the second part, I don't want to speak to soon, but I do want to throw a parallel out at you.

This little run of tough wins in tough locales is starting to remind me some of the "well I guess they are really good" moment from the 2004 season when after running off a 17-2 streak (with only 6 of those games on the road) against primarily also-rans with the exception of LAA (Toronto, Chicago, LAA, Detroit, and Texas) they headed out to Oakland to face the first place A's who had two of their three best pitchers going (Barry Zito and Tim Hudson with Mark Redman being the "other pitcher"). In case you forgot, the Red Sox swept the A's in that series and it really wasn't that close as they beat them 8-3, 7-1, and 8-3. Many people point to the Nomar Trade and the Varitek/A-Rod/Bill Mueller Game as the defining moments of that season and when "things turned around", but whenever I think of THE defining, "these guys are good!!" moment from 2004 I think of that blitzing in Oakland. The first two events were flashier, but the Oakland series I think was a lot more telling.

So what does that have to do with 2008? I'm not sure exactly. I guess my point is though, if you are looking for a sign as to how good a team is or whether or not a "turning point" has officially been reached, don't just latch on to one game. Latch onto a series of games. And if you are looking for a series of games to latch onto, winning a couple of tough road series in late August after struggling mightily there for most of the season is a really good place to start.

Now, they just need to seal the deal in New York. Easier said than done of course.

One last note:

There was a lot to like about Monday night's victory in New York, but if you had to ask me my favorite part, it was the sequence that lead to the Red Sox two out, three run, fifth inning rally which was definitely the key moment in the game. The conversation really begins with Coco who drove in the first of the Sox three runs with a single to right. On that play, Lowrie went first to third, which setup Coco stealing second and Jeff Bailey driving both of them in with the biggest hit of the game in my opinion, his two-run single to deep third. While Bailey's hit was obviously huge, the play was setup first by Lowrie going first to third and then by Coco stealing second. Consider that if Lowrie does not go first to third there then Coco can't steal second and the Sox have first and second for Bailey's AB instead of second and third. With guys at first and second, maybe Lowrie scores from second on Bailey's hit and maybe he does not, but obviously there is no chance of the second run coming in. Not to get all corny here, but that is great baseball and if you ever wonder why it is my favorite sport, look no further than the above.

Whoops, before I could publish this, it just broke that the Sox have acquired Mark Kotsay. Here's my quick take:

To find out what type of player Mark Kotsay is, all you really need to do is look at his 162 game average from baseball-reference.com. From there (noted below) you can see that he is an average to slightly above average major leaguer that does everything suitably but nothing great. However, he has always had a reputation as a very good defensive center-fielder and in looking at his zone-rating (the seemingly go-to stat for fielding which I have no idea how it is calculated) he matches up very comparably to Coco Crisp both last year (.897 for Kotsay and .911 for Crisp) and this year (.827 and .822 respectively). So is it fair to call Mark Kotsay a slight upgrade over Coco Crisp for their bench? I say yes.

One other thing I'd like to throw out there is the idea that Kotsay will get a bit more playing time than many would anticipate between now and October. If Ellsbury continues to struggle, I could see Kotsay getting a good bulk of at-bats down the stretch because in big games, they can't just give away outs which is what Ellsbury has been doing since June it seems. Also, Kotsay can play first base so he is another option to throw out there until Mike Lowell comes back. Anyway, take a look at Kotsay's 162 game average stats below and try and tell me he is not a nice addition to the team. Of course he's not a huge piece, but he is definitely somebody that will come in useful and I firmly believe the team is better with him a part of it.

Mark Kotsay 162 Game Average:

.282/.337/.415 (Avg/OBP/Slg)

80/12/68/10 (Runs/HR/RBI/SB)

And while we are here:

Manny in LA - .379/6/21/1.108 OPS

Bay in Boston - .341/4/20/.914 OPS

Red Sox record since: 15-7

Dodgers record since: 11-13