Monday, September 27, 2010

Outplayed

Normally, this post would be about how Alex Rodriguez has done one of the bigger 180's in recent sports memory. He's gone from someone who you were surprised when he got the big hit to now being someone who you're surprised when he doesn't get the big hit. He went from the guy you didn't want up in the big spot to the guy who all you want to do is get the bat in his hands when it matters most. He used to look tight and tense in a big spot and now he laughs at opposing dugouts after taking a nearly game ending strike three, then hits game winning three run homers on the very next pitch (last weekend in Baltimore). He used to worry about stuff and now there's nobody in the game who is more confident or operates with as much mental toughness as he does when the game is on the line. Maybe as much, but not more. The results are too overwhelming. I'm not sure of the exact stat I saw, but he now has more go-ahead or game tying homers after the 7th inning than any player in the game over the last 4-5 years. You could use a ton of examples (last year's playoffs being most notable), and tonight was just another one. He is beyond clutch, and it's pretty funny to say that thinking back to where he was in that regard just a few years ago.

Normally, this post would be about the entertainment value in watching live as Jonathan Papelbon melts down in all sorts of fantastic ways.

Normally, this post would be about watching live as Josh Beckett turns a 10-1 laugher into a tying run at the plate game in the 9th by holding his own version of Home Run Derby.

Instead I'll keep them each between a sentence and a paragraph, because none of those things are the main point. The main point is that the following players are the only players on the Red Sox who competed against the Yankees this weekend that I can be sure are both A. established Major League players (as in more than one year in the bigs) and B. productive Major League players (as in you are marginally concerned about them beating you):

1. Jon Lester
2. Victor Martinez
3. David Ortiz
4. Adrian Beltre
5. Daniel Bard

I don't say this to be patronizing. I don't say this to be a jab at the great Red Sox fans we have reading this sight everyday. I mean that as a complete and utter insult to the team that this group took 2 out of 3 from this weekend, which is exactly what this post is all about. In fact, I give the Red Sox a lot of credit. They're injured. They have had a lot of key underperformances. And yet they just keep plugging away. They didn't always play well, but they played loose, they played hard, they played with nothing to lose, and they played better than the Yankees for about 90% of this weekend. The Yankees should be embarrassed by that.

It starts at the top. I understand a magic number of 3 to clinch the Wild Card with 10 games to play (including 6 against the team you are competing with in the Red Sox) looks good on paper. That is no reason to start lining up your playoff rotation for a spot that doesn't exist. You lock the spot up as soon as possible, then you start making those arrangements. It's not just about the physical decisions (like lining up your starters), but the message that it sends. The Yankees have been playing bad, sloppy baseball for pretty much the entire month of September. That's not the time to send a message of complacency, take things for granted, or look past opponents in a rivalry where really wild things have happened. I commend Girardi for going back to Hughes tonight, and for having a plan in place in case the magic number didn't get reduced as quickly as they hoped. However he's been smirking his way around the whole division, Wild Card, locking up a playoff spot for a few weeks, managing his bullpen at times like everything is already set. Well it isn't, and the Yankees came one Papelbon implosion away from making this thing way more interesting than it still is. Had they lost tonight, it would have taken a scenario that I would have put at about 50/50 from the game next Friday night in Fenway mattering. Giving the Red Sox that type of opportunity would have been a disaster. They still might get it, but the probability was a lot higher before the second comeback tonight. Girardi has not done a good job managing this situation. At all.

Of course the players are not blameless. The play has been, as I mentioned earlier, bad and sloppy amongst other things. There is too much stuff to go through one by one, and most of I've already covered this month anyway as the same issues seem to resurface over and over for this team. The biggest thing that stands out right now is that they just don't finish games. And when I say that I don't mean at the very end and in traditional ways. I mean from the time they should reasonably be expected to win a game more times than not and in all kinds of different ways. Just look at tonight. Once Rodriguez hits that go-ahead homer bottom 7 that game has to be over. They don't just blow it, they blow it by allowing third base to get stolen TWICE in the bottom of the 9th. That's not paying attention to detail, that's being careless, that's a lot of things But it can mostly be summed up by saying they just aren't finishing. Which does not bode well if they are fortunate enough to get to October.

The solution is as simple and obvious as it gets. The players they rely on have to play better, and they have to finish. Very few of them are right now. That is why a group that is not nearly at full-strength was able to come in, outplay them for most of the weekend, and take a series from them at home late in September. The talent is there. When determining things like "if this team has it or not", it's not any more complicated than if that talent does what they are capable of.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

PF

I'd add Clay Buchholz to that list. Unfortunately, that's it. Six guys out of 25 doesn't normally lend itself to a playoff run.

Of course, your comments about Beckett and Papelbon weren't serious, but it's no joking matter for Red Sox fans. Those guys make us sick. Literally. They make us physically ill whenever they're on the mound because we're just waiting for them to blow up. Especially Papelbon because the stakes are so much higher in the 9th inning. Forget if he'd been great this year. That ship has sailed. But even if he were COMPETENT he'd be 41-45 in save opportunities and the Sox would be right in the division and wild card races. But he's not. And they aren't. A month ago I would have said that he can come back next year and be Bard's set-up guy, which probably sounded blasphemous to many Sox fans. Now? I don't know if he's even capable of that. Maybe have him pitch in the seventh or something. Or trade him to some team in the National League for 70 cents on the dollar (and at least save the $10-12 million he'll make next year). But as far as I'm concerned he can't close for the Red Sox anymore. He's just not good enough. I really hope I'm wrong. But I don't think so. And you have to just wonder--where the hell did his talent go?

--the Gunn

Patrick said...

he would no doubt have been right at the top of that list had he pitched this weekend. he's been one of the best pitchers in the league. had he pitched (along with lester) it would have made dropping 2 of 3 less ridiculous. the fact that he didn't pitch and the yankees still dropped 2 of 3, playing the way they played for most of the weekend, is pretty ridiculous.

as far as papelbon, it's always surprising to see someone who puts up big numbers seemingly lose it out of nowhere. but it's a lot less surprising with relievers. even ones that are elite for a period of time. if he doesn't back bounce back (and i'm not saying he won't to some degree), his career won't be all that atypical for closers who were really good: burst onto the scene, 3-5 years of top shelf production, then they aren't the same again. it's really only the superstars who buck this trend.

Ross Kaplan said...

I get that you can't get too excited about a season where you miss the playoffs, but you have to be impressed by the Red Sox resiliency to still be alive albeit on life support after losing their two best players in August and in a gap year nonetheless.

So all of that makes the Yankees recent stretch all that more disconcerting. That bottom of the 9th inning was a miserable display and you better believe the Rays if the Yanks reach the ALCS are going to take full advantage of that inability to hold runners.

the gm in ireland said...

I have Internet by the minute here, so I'll keep it short. You said something about how Boston only has five players who should be capable of beating the Yankees. That says a lot about the Yankees, but I have said for a long time that this team, despite a heinous lack of talent (I thought you were gonna ask about that, Theo), has quite a bit of resolve. They suck, no doubt, but they fight. Those who have not watched this team because it's "boring" are using a cop-out.

Ross Kaplan said...

What's going on here? Are the bloggers of How Youz Doin Baseball each required to make a sojourn to Ireland? All I can say is that I've already been there and don't plan on returning unless I suddenly grow a desire to drink copious amounts of Guiness or eat at least 5 potatoes with every meal

TimC said...

A fitting end to the season in that watching this one game told the story of the entire season. The starting pitcher keeps the team in it, a makeshift lineup gets enough runs across and makes enough plays to give the team a chance, and the bullpen takes a giant dump in the end with a little assist from our stellar defense. Thanks, 2010 Red Sox, for being good little grade schoolers and putting a nice concluding paragraph on your five paragraphs essay.