Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wheels In the Sky
(The Awful Song Reference Edition)

As my friend stressed in an email yesterday: It's all about the Rays!

And on some level I agree with this. The Red Sox aren't going to continue scoring two runs a game. And can you really take the Yankees seriously in a comparison vs. Boston until they, like . . . actually win a game against them?

So yes, the fact that New York's recent run has enabled them to build a 5.5 game cushion over Tampa is a comforting thing. However, I do think it's fair to begin assessing the Yankees in a head-to-head context vs. Boston. The lead is now two games, and I'm sticking with my law-of-averages mantra and think the Yanks are likely to play the Sox at least dead-even in their remaining 10 games. And if it's not 5-5, I'd be willing to bet the house that it's not going to be worse than 4-6.

Boston's batting numbers over the last month speak for themselves. In July, they're tied for 8th in the American League in RS at 72 with the A's. And in OBP, the bedrock foundation of the Boston franchise, they're tied for 11th in the A.L. at .311. These are numbers we haven't seen out of the Sox in a long time.

From Theo's press conference yesterday:

"I think we're a good offensive club having a horrific month. When you go through slumps like this, one, it's important to assess any areas where you can improve without overreacting, and two, to put in perspective. We have the potential to be really, really good. But we're not the most prolific offensive club in recent Red Sox history. We certainly have the ability to score enough runs to get where we want to go."

Adam LaRoche and Chris Duncan aren't going to do a whole lot to change that equation, but they're something. Especially the former; the latter has been sent off to AAA as a bat-in-waiting if necessary. LaRoche gives them more flexibility in the infield, and at the very least represents a clear upgrade over Mark Kotsay.

So much is written about Epstein by both the mainstream media and the bloggers, that I want to be careful about being over-effusive in a pick-up of a middling corner infielder. But this trade is an example of why you can't go wrong with this guy as your GM. The wheels are constantly turning, and you always get the sense that he's being proactive and staying one step ahead of the competition. With this move maybe he's picked up a run here or there, and considering the slim divide between NY/Boston/Tampa, that small batch of runs could end up making all the difference.

To get back to my opening thought: yes, in some ways it is all about the Rays. Staying ahead of them virtually guarantees the Yankees a playoff spot (sorry, Texas). However, I continue to maintain that having home-field advantage in a potential Boston-New York A.L.C.S. is reason enough to keep a constant eye on the Sox and that perch above the best division in baseball.

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