Chewing on some regular season leftovers
Sure, the Sox still have three games to play (against the Yankees, no less), but most everything is focused toward the postseason at this point. It seems like it's been years since I was boarding that plane to Tokyo for my 51-hour trip to Japan -- long story, I promise -- but the Sox have finally reached the promised land. Anaheim awaits, almost certainly, as it did last season, but my feeling is it won't be quite so easy for the Sox this year in the first round. Partly because they've got to start on the road, and partly because this is a better Angels team that has a chance to beat the Sox, unlike last season's edition.
And, yes, I know the magic number for the Rays to win the East is still at one, but the likelihood -- and my plane tickets -- say we're headed to Anaheim.
But before we get into the postseason questions, there are quite a few left over from the regular season, including a reader unhappy with Theo Epstein's moves, Bartolo Colon's disappearing act, and a warning against drinking raw eggs. (Yes, I was kidding.)
For now, stay inside and out of the rain, and enjoy this week's version of the mailbag. There are -- at minimum -- six more games left in the Red Sox season. There could be quite a few more, or that could be it. I think the Sox can at least make it to the American League Championship Series, but there's a lot riding on the improved health of a few key players this week, including both Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew.
And stop shaking up those bottles of champagne. There is time, you know.
Hey Amalie! What happens if any of this weekend's games vs. the Yankees gets rained out? Surely they won't play a doubleheader on Sunday! Will they? And forget Monday! Just because the Yanks have nothing else to do...
Heather, Portland, Maine
A: Ah, the weather. The best topic for getting more hits on Extra Bases. (Seriously.) But as for the rains that are expected this weekend, yes, there is a chance that there could be a doubleheader Sunday. If today's game is rained out, the Sox are almost certainly unable to schedule a doubleheader tomorrow (Saturday), given that they are one of the 3:55 p.m. Fox games. Plus there's more rain forecast for Saturday. So we could see two games Sunday. What we won't see are games Monday -- unless there is still a chance for the Sox to win the division. That's why the White Sox and Tigers are likely to play their final game of the season Monday, because it could have an effect on the AL Central race. But it could be a long weekend at the park, that's for sure.
Why does the Globe so consistently praise Theo's performance? I recall he brought us Julia Lugo, a $36-million meltdown in field and at the plate; JD (Hospital Ward) Drew for $44 million who doesn't do much when in the lineup and is mostly out of it; a bad bullpen year after year - Tavarez, and the San Diego reject that we incredibly signed twice, Timlin, aged and confused, Gagne!!! This guy plays with a lot of fan money, but defend, if you can, his poor record of free agent acquisitions!
John Fay, Alexandria, Va.
A: Mostly, John, because it's kind of hard to argue with two World Series titles. I think we all understand that Theo isn't infallible. He has made some bad signings, which include the deal for Julio Lugo. I think the J.D. Drew signing wasn't quite as bad as some think, though there's no question that he's spent more time on the disabled list than anyone is comfortable with. But you also have to admit that Theo is responsible, ultimately, for Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester and Curt Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka. He has drafted extremely well, for the most part, and has had his good signings and bad signings. No general manager is going to be perfect on every move and there are decisions that certainly can be questioned (Gagne among them, of course). But, overall, it has been more good than bad, and those two championships support that.
With Mike Lowell's hip hurting, if he can't go in the playoffs would they shift Youk to 3rd and start Casey/Kotsay at 1st or be more inclined to leave Youk at first and let Cora/Lowrie/Lugo handle the hot corner?
John C., Dale City, Va.
A: The Sox are trying all they can to get Mike Lowell ready for the playoffs, and he said yesterday that he's confident he'll be able to play. But if he can't, or if something happens, the team will play a combination of those two scenarios. Matchups will play a large role in the decision, as will defensive needs. They may need Kotsay in the outfield if J.D. Drew is unavailable. As for the Cora/Lowrie/Lugo option, just remove Lugo from that. He won't be playing in the postseason, as he seems to keep having setbacks the closer he gets to playing. Don't count Lowell out quite yet, but the Sox will have backup plans in place, in case Lowell re-aggravates it, as he did against the Rays last week.
I know I'm a little late on this, but could you please explain to me why Buchholz was demoted to AA instead of AAA? I never heard the basic premise behind it all...was it to send a message/ give him a wake-up call? Does he respond better to the coaches at Portland? I still think he'll be a great ML pitcher...wouldn't the organization prefer to have had Clay benefit from the playoff experience at Pawtucket? The demotion two levels surprised me... thanks!
Adam, Rochester, N.Y.
A: As for Buchholz, he was demoted two levels to work with a specific pitching coach. Mike Cather, the pitching coach at Portland, had worked with Buchholz in both Single A and Double A, and had probably spent more time with the pitcher than any other coach in the organization. Cather's a great guy, one I've dealt with quite a bit in covering the minor leagues, and he seemed to have an excellent grasp of Buchholz's strengths and weaknesses when I spoke with him last season. Buchholz will continue to work out his issues with about five starts in the Arizona Fall League.
I keep hearing about Wakefield must be a starter because if he's a reliever they'd also have to bring in Cash. Doesn't that thinking go out the window in the playoffs, or am I mistaken? I could've sworn that Varitek in the last few years mostly catches Wakefield in the playoffs.
John C., Dale City, Va.
A: That's a good reason for keeping Wakefield in the starting rotation, but we'll see in the next few days if that happens. Whenever Varitek has tried to catch Wakefield in the past half-dozen years -- which hasn't been much -- it's been a disaster. Remember when Terry Francona left Varitek in to catch Wakefield in Game 5 of the 2004 American League Championship Series? Remember those three passed balls? While obviously Varitek will do it, it's not really an optimal situation for the Sox, which either means that Cash could come in late in relief of Varitek to catch Wakefield out of the bullpen, or that Wakefield will remain a starter. Or, of course, they could leave the knuckleball to chance and have Varitek catch it, which is probably the least enticing of the scenarios. Also remember that the Sox might not need a fourth starter in the first round, if the Angels pick the Wednesday-Friday scenario.
I saw your brief note about Bartolo Colon and hope you will expand on it in future columns. What's going on with our Dominican players whose love for the game we've enjoyed so much? Manny quits on us and now Colon. What gives? And, Papi doesn't look like a happy guy at the plate anymore. Do you think he'll try to leave next? I hope he stays and gets surgery right after the season ends to fix his wrist and anything else that's hurting.
Dan, Marco Island, Fla.
A: Dan, I wouldn't worry too much about David Ortiz leaving the team. That's not his personality, though he has seemed more subdued of late. I think that's partially related to the difficulties he had been having at the plate. In case you haven't been watching, those seem to have been corrected for the most part. So, with his swing back on track and the playoffs approaching, I think Ortiz might be turning the corner. Ortiz said after Sunday's game that he was looking forward to drenching the clubhouse in champagne, which he did nicely on Tuesday. So there's a good sign. As for Colon, it's clear that he wasn't interested in coming out of the bullpen, which was why he left the team for the Dominican. There wasn't a spot for him in the rotation, and he wasn't going to take a relief role. So really the only solution for the team was to suspend him without pay. I would certainly not generalize with the Dominican players on the team. But don't worry, I don't think this will happen too often -- with any player on the team.
Love your take on all things Sox. Now that the Red Sox have secured a playoff spot, do you think that Bartolo Colon will try and grovel his way back into the good graces of the team? Will Theo and Terry welcome him back or has he sealed his own fate?
Rob K., Scarsdale, N.Y.
A: More Colon talk. Nope, I wouldn't be looking for Colon around these parts any time soon. He was placed on the restricted list, which means that he's done with the Sox. He can't be recalled, and he'll be a free agent in the offseason.
Quick question, I thought the Red Sox had a rule that you had to be in the hall of fame to have your number retired. If so how are they getting around that to retire Pesky's number?
Rick, Stamford, Conn.
A: Rick, the Sox did have that rule. The current Sox ownership inherited it from the previous regime, and it's still technically in place. But the Sox decided that Pesky warranted an exception because of his dedication and service to the Sox. Larry Lucchino said, when the team announced the decision, that they looked at them as guidelines instead of hard-and-fast rules. Still, don't look for a rash of numbers retired by the Sox in the coming days. I do think this was a great decision by the Sox, something deserved by Pesky for all that he's given to the Sox. And, remember, No. 6 turns 89 on Saturday, the day after his number is retired. Quite an accomplishment, on both counts.
I'd like to respond to a reader responding to a reader regarding Manny Ramirez. Should we cheer or should we boo? To me, Manny wiped out every bit of goodwill he ever earned by quitting on this team (and its fans). He didn't just demand a trade - he tanked games (three strikes looking against Rivera) or flat-out refused to play games (has he missed any time for his "bad knee" in LA?)... he should be mercilessly booed. As for Nomar, he seemed to quit on this team too (in '04). For that, he should be treated no better. That's another fan's opinion.
Steve W., Plattsburgh, N.Y.
A: Equal time, and all that. But, Steve, you've got the last word on this topic. Now we'll just have to wait and see if the fans at Fenway Park get a chance this year in the playoffs to welcome (or not welcome) Manny Ramirez back to Boston.
Thanks for doing such a thorough job as a reporter and handling the Mail Bag.
Do you know why Coco Crisp's playing time has diminished recently? It seems like Tito is waiting to see if Kotsay will get hot. I ask this because Coco's OBP has been on the rise and he plays a great center field, not to mention his speed on the basepaths. Of course, Kotsay may have better power potential but he seems to be having difficulty adjusting to American League pitching.
Steve, Rochester, N.Y.
A: Kotsay has had some trouble offensively thus far since joining the Sox, but it appears that the choice of him over Crisp in some recent days has had more to do with the injury to the ball of Crisp's left foot that has been bothering him over the past week. It hasn't kept him off the field entirely, as evidenced by some games started, but it has slowed him. He didn't start Monday with a lefty on the mound, for example. I do have to say that, even with some of his struggles offensively, Kotsay was a huge addition to the Sox team during the waiver period. With the back injury to J.D. Drew, having Kotsay to provide an option in the outfield (and flexibility at first base), that's helped this team quite a bit.
I enjoy your reporting. Keep up the good work. Here's my question: Julio Lugo. Any chance the Sox will eat enough of his contract to move him in the offseason? Can't see how they can justify keeping him with his poor defense and inconsistent offense, especially compared to Jed. Thoughts?
Spaceman37, Los Angeles, Calif.
A: There is precedent for this (see Edgar Renteria), so we'll see if there's a market for Lugo in the offseason. I can't imagine it would be overly large, even if the Sox ate a big portion of his contract. He's coming off an injury that likely won't let him play the rest of this season, plus he was not particularly impressive while on the field. Jed Lowrie has been a boost to this team, filling in at shortstop and third base, and perhaps all that play has been wearing on him of late. His bat has slowed down a bit, and he hasn't been producing in the same way he was when he first came up. He does deserve a break, however, and maybe even some more development time. He hadn't played much above Double A before he came up to the big leagues this season.
I am still confused as to why they didn't use Papelbon last week against Tampa in the 9th inning of the 1-1 game. That was a great chance to make up a game against the Rays, and I didn't understand why they wouldn't go with their best pitcher in such a crucial situation.
Phil A., Boston
A: Terry Francona rarely, if ever, does this. He doesn't like to bring Papelbon into tie games on the road. His rationale is that Papelbon would have to go at least two innings to complete the game, and this team doesn't like to pitch him for two innings. If, say, Papelbon holds the game at 1-1 for his inning, then the Sox score in the top of the 10th, Francona's faced with either having Papelbon go back out there for another inning, or bringing in a lesser pitcher at that time. It's definitely a strategy that can be argued with, but that's the theory from the Sox manager.
After last night's loss to Indians (12 LOB), I continue to be astounded by Tito's reluctance to go to his bench for a pinch hitter in clutch situations. Last night, Lowrie ended up with a golden sombrero after going 0-5 and leaving six LOB, none more important than in the ninth inning (two outs, second and third). I know he has always been one to "stick with his guys" (see Bellhorn), but not sure going 0-5 is really going to help the confidence of a young rookie. After Lowrie stumbled in seventh (bases loaded, one out, takes a CALLED strike three), he went to Sean Casey in the eighth as a pinch hitter. Unfortunately, when Casey delivered his single (he is a career .300+ hitter and has proven to do it in clutch situations), the bases were empty . . . not like it would have been in the 7th. Do you think this will change in the playoffs? There is a reason why Theo got Casey & Tito doesn't appear to be using him, rather than an occasional start (crucial now that Lowell is down). Tito has players that give him enormous infield flexibility (Youklis, Kotsay can play first, Lowrie can play multiple infield)
Brad D., Richmond, Va.
A: You're right, Francona is generally reluctant to pinch hit. And I do understand that you're not going to pinch hit for many guys in the lineup. But not all. Your point is well taken that, because of the infield flexibility, he could have hit for Lowrie -- just like he could have hit for Alex Cora in the game in Toronto over the weekend. Things are magnified in the postseason, so you might see a slight tendency to make more substitutions, including for defense in the later innings. With Francona, it's never going to happen a lot.
Dear Amalie, stay away from the raw eggs. Salmonella. Best regards.
A: Will do, Early. I prefer mine scrambled, well done. But this week I'll be shelving the eggs for some apples and honey. Especially the raw ones.