Thursday, September 20, 2007

Red Sox Freefall - Bring it On - Where's our Mojo?


This may sound like heresy right now, but hear me out.

After last night's latest meltdown, the Sox are barely hanging on in 1st place, where they've lived comfortably for most of the season. Is The Nation in panic mode? You bet. Big time. I'm sure the New Yorker whispers of "who's your Daddy?" will be getting louder by the day. And no doubt, after the Jays play well enough to sweep the Sox at home, they will reverse the charges and lay down for a nap at Yankee Stadium the next 4 games. All of a sudden, my last post about the Sox, from our Holy Grail visit to Cooperstown - barely a month ago - seems so wistful and from another time and planet.

Amazing how much the world can change in a week. After their last win - an inspiring and emphatic 10-1 win over NY, personified by the "Hinske Charge" at home plate - order had seemed restored, especially after the unprecedented disaster the previous game. Don't forget, going in the series last weekend, the Sox had a rest day, and before that, 2 memorable come-from-behind wins over Tampa Bay. They were in a groove.

Since then, though, the Sox - like Austin Powers - have completely lost their mojo, and basically handed it to NY. These two teams have totally flip flopped compared to how the season started, and there's no doubt in my mind who the best team in baseball is right now. Have the Yankees ever had a more dominating lineup? And their playoff pitching rotation is good enough to win, and if things don't change, the Sox have nothing on them pitching-wise. All of a sudden Papelbon and Okijama - and of course Gagne - are not effective, and there are no more easy wins happening.

Even though I live in Toronto, I've been unusually lucky to be able to watch the last 5 Sox games on TV. Saturday they were on FOX, Sunday they were on ESPN, and the Toronto games here were all televised. Can't remember the last time I saw them 5 games in a row on TV. Aside from Mike Lowell, the entire team is either hurt or playing in a stupor, no doubt feeling the pressure. Oh - Schilling has actually been great too - can't fault him his last 2 starts - losing 1-0 to Sox-killer Kazmir, and then taking a 2-1 lead into the 8th Sunday, until throwing 1 pitch too many to Jeter(shades of Bucky Dent there).

Actually, if you have to boil their troubles down to one thing, it's the 8th inning. That's where they've been losing their games lately - last night's grand slam to....Russ Adams - huh? Or Tuesday night's double - again to Russ Adams. Or Jeter's bomb on Sunday. Or Okijama's total meltdown last Friday, giving up a seemingly rock-solid 5 run lead, and allowing 6 runs for the Yankees to turn a 7-2 loss into an 8-7 win. All of these in the 8th, and all our relievers had a hand in the damage. I don't know how to solve that one, other than getting the mojo back. And fast.

Enough. So, why do I say "bring it on"??? Gotta think strategically here. It's all about the playoff matchups now. NY can handle Cleveland, but not Anaheim. Right now Cleveland is hot, and even though their record is the same as Anaheim's, they should be able to finish with a better winning percentage. IF that happens - and it's a big if - it behooves the Sox to stay the course and concede 1st place to NY. It would be tough to give up home field advantage and swallow your pride for a chance to finally take the division back from NY. However, if Cleveland can finish ahead of Anaheim, the wildcard is where the Sox want to be. Am pretty sure that's how it works for the matchups.

I like the Sox's chances a lot better in this scenario - who wouldn't? Last time they played Cleveland in the playoffs (Pedro, Nomar, Bruno, Valentin...) they won in memorable style. Of course, these teams are totally different now, and today's Tribe is a very good team, but I think the Sox could beat them, and wouldn't have to leave their time zone. Let the Yankees play Anaheim and do the West coast thing, where they do not win very often. The way things are going right now, it's much better to let Anaheim do the dirty work, and give us a chance to round into playoff form with Cleveland.

It's all for naught, of course, if the Sox don't get their mojo back. If God is a Red Sox fan, Manny will come back to life, JD Drew will start hitting, Ortiz will stop trying to stretch singles into doubles, and the pitchers will revert to form. That's the team that can win it all - no doubt - but what's on the field today is going nowhere fast. Anybody seen our mojo???

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