Don't take this the wrong way, but maybe it's for the best that we're seeing some chinks in the once-impenetrable armor of Jonathan Papelbon.
At least it might re-open the now-closed discussion as to where his talents are best utilized.
Up until this month, Papelbon has been so filthy dominant as the Red Sox closer that any poor schmo who brought up the question as to whether the Red Sox were going to one day groom him as a starting pitcher was greeted with a chorus of degrading denials. Don't mess with what you have. Papelbon? He's so intense on the mound.
But now ...
OK, I don't mean now, but in 2007 we're talking a different story ... unless you like the prospect of Jason Johnson coming back, Matt Clement sticking around, and re-signing a 54-year-old David Wells to cement what has turned out to be perhaps the weakest point of this Red Sox team. Why not?
It's either a testimonial to the loss of Jason Varitek or just how untouchable he's been that of the six runs the righty has allowed, half of them have come in the past week. His ERA has doubled, and opposing hitters are hitting .313 off him this month. Small sample size, sure, but if it begins a trend, it becomes a warning sign. And by that point, I suppose it's too late anyhow.
Point to the bullpen all you want as this team's crux -- and I'm not arguing that it isn't -- but what effect has the rotation had on the penís problems by failing to go more than six innings pretty much every night? Plenty, at least on kids like Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen, who have both had nice stretches this year, but might be petered out at this stage after continually having to bridge the gap.
Besides, how does this sound for '07: Curt Schilling, an AL-adjusted Josh Beckett, Papelbon, a more seasoned Jon Lester, and Tim Wakefield?
Who closes then, smart guy? It could be Hansen. OK, maybe not based on what he showed you this season, but let's not forget the kid is 22 years old. With another year of seasoning, he might be the right guy for the job. Anyone think the Oriolesí Chris Ray would have 24 saves at this point in replacing BJ Ryan?
And yes, while there are your occasional lifers like Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, closing is a fickle thing; today's stud is tomorrow's Keith Foulke. It's no coincidence really that kids like Ray, Bobby Jenks, and Papelbon are among the league leaders in saves. Teams are always looking for new blood to close after their incumbents seemingly lose it out of nowhere.
Papelbon's 0.94 ERA might illustrate his dominance, but let's not lose focus of the fact that he has blown five of his 35 save opportunities, all since June 1 (which is more than any other AL pitcher in that time frame, according to NESN). That puts him only in about the middle of the pack of all pitchers with save opportunities (Kansas City's Ambiorix Burgos leads the way with a ridiculous 10 blown saves). That might sound like nitpicking to be negative, but there are times when a negative can become a positive.
And with Papelbon taking on the challenge of becoming a 200-inning eater next season, the Red Sox might have a starting five that can significantly adjust the bullpen usage.
And maybe now, we can talk about it. Just talk.
From the Dayton Daily News:
Ryan Freel said not even Farney believed that Freel made the stupendous diving catch on Albert Pujols Tuesday.
Farney? Who's Farney?
"He's a little guy who lives in my head who talks to me and I talk to him," said Freel, acting as if he finally crashed into too many walls, ran into too many catchers and dived into too many dugouts.
"That little midget in my head said, 'That was a great catch, Ryan,' I said, 'Hey, Farney, I don't know if that was you who really caught that ball, but that was pretty good if it was.' Everybody thinks I talk to myself, so I tell 'em I'm talking to Farney.' "
Brilliant. I wonder if he knows Mr. Weebles.