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Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight!

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  August 31, 2010 01:34 PM

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95718985GF004_BOSTON_RED_SO.jpgBaseball Prospectus, this morning: There's a 6.32545 percent chance the Sox will make the postseason.

Lloyd Christmas to whatever Lauren Holly's character was named: So you're telling me there's a chance?

All right, so even an unabashed and occasionally delusional admirer of this team isn't dumb (or dumber) enough to believe a postseason berth is in the cards for 2010 Red Sox.

While the proof of their certain demise is right there in the loss column -- their deficit in the division, eight games, is exactly what it was July 25, 35 games ago -- we appreciate this team too much to formally eulogize them before the calendar turns to September.

So rather than considering the team as a whole today, let's discuss some individuals . . .

Jays-Sox 19.JPGJ.D. Drew: As one of David Jonathan's most vigilant apologists among the semi-mainstream media (turbo-nerd baseball blogger division), I will gladly admit his season has been extremely disappointing offensively (.344 OBP) and I'm going to be howling along with his detractors if the one month he annually carries the offense proves to be a meaningless September.

I will also concede that his decision to catch that infamous fly ball the other night was probably the wrong one, though it should be noted that had Matt Joyce hit the next pitch for a two-run homer, the habitual revisionist historians among us would be caterwauling that you always take the sure out, Felgah! I guess $14 million don't buy any brains! Which is fine. I've accepted that sports-radio callers live among us, and I will attempt to live with them in harmony. Howevah . . .

I would just like to point out that had your beloved dirt-doggiest hero Trot Nixon been the right fielder chasing that fly ball, he would have had no time for instinct to take over as it did with the usually heady Drew, which is really what happened there. For had Trot been the right fielder in question, he would have run over three Rays relievers, lost his scuzzy hat, run a circle around the ball, whupped his buddy Dauber in an impromptu belching contest, scowled, lunged, dove, suffered a quad injury, suffered a back injury, suffered a back injury that led to a quad injury and vice versa, taken Roger Clemens deep just because, made moonie eyes at Debbie, punched Tanyon Sturtze just because, scowled some more, and then come up 20 feet shy of even having to think about making a catch because he wasn't half the outfielder J.D. Drew is. So there.

Angels Red Sox Baseball.jpgJacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis: The Nos. 1, 2 and 4 hitters in the Red Sox lineup have played a total of 195 games this season. If Bill Hall and Darnell McDonald are both in the lineup today, they will have combined for . . . wait for it if you're dense . . . 195 games played this season. Now, this is no knock on Hall and McDonald, appreciative role players whose admirable performances have helped make this team so likable in its own weird way. A 2011 Red Sox bench with them on it works for me.

No, this is to say that those who cite the Red Sox overall offensive stats and say offense isn't a significant part of this team's problem right now are either motivated by an agenda, not paying attention, or both. The Sox have scored three or fewer runs in each of their last five games. They are 18th in the majors in runs scored over the last 30 days. They are without a .300-hitting speedster, their heart-and-soul former MVP, and one of the five best hitters in the American League . . . and offense is not a problem?

Let's put it another way -- John Lackey and Josh Beckett have stunk. They've killed this team lately, and we'll join the chorus in killing them for their failings in moment. But maybe some of those feeble, crushing losses could have turned into heartening 8-6 or 9-7 victories had the offense been able to pick up the slack. But in their current depleted state -- and we're looking at you, Mike Lowell, and your .678 OPS over the last month in Youk's spot -- they're just not capable of doing so.

0831beltre.jpgVictor Martinez and Adrian Beltre We'll get into more detail on this down the road, so we'll keep it brief today:

I demand that both free-agents-to-be are back next season provided the terms are relatively close to reasonable. OK, maybe not demand. But request politely, at least.

Keep V-Mart, an uncommonly versatile and valuable offensive player who is more dependable behind the plate than his miserable April suggested. Keep Beltre, whose talent, flair, quirkiness and "DON'T TOUCH MY HEAD!!" antics have made him a wildly popular player to those unfamiliar with him before.

Keep both of them, whose dedication to the Red Sox should not be questioned given their willingness to play injured in a contract year. Martinez clearly came back too soon from his thumb injury. (A thumbless V-Mart is a better option than Kevin Cash.) And did you see Beltre, battling through a hamstring injury, busting it down the line last night to prevent a double play? This is not a guy who plays hard only during his contract year, as is the common insinuation around here (not to mention that it disregards that last year was a contract year, and it was his worst in five seasons in Seattle). This is a guy who plays hard because he knows no other way.

Keep them, Theo, and add reinforcements to a team that could have accomplished memorable things this season.

I'm already pre-ticked-off at the notion that both players who share so many characteristics -- they're hard-working, hustling, tough, funny, clutch, team-oriented, and most important of all, productive -- will be elsewhere next season. I strongly, strongly suspect that should they hit free agency -- and Beltre, repped by Scott Boras, is a test-the-market certainty -- they'll get offers that exceed the value the Red Sox put on them.

I don't need to be told that there's obvious risk in signing Beltre and Martinez long-term -- they're both 31 and have had their ailments over the years. And I recognize that all avenues should be explored. Our tune might be different if we suspected there to be any chance at all that Adrian Gonzalez might be traded before next July, and should Theo have a deal in mind that none of us have considered, it wouldn't be the first time.

Unless you're new around here, you know I'm an advocate of Theo's approach and prudence for the most part. I was fine with letting Jason Bay walk away, and I'm glad he didn't trade any real prospects for the likes of Octavio Dotel at the deadline.

But this is different. Beltre and Martinez fit so well, and the Red Sox need to keep top-quality players who thrive here rather than allowing them to walk. It's a risk, yes. A risk the Sox should take.

83110delcarmen.jpgManny Delcarmen: This deal was not proof that the Sox are waving the white flag on the season. It was a good trade all around.

The Red Sox get a decent prospect in Chris Balcom-Miller, a 21-year-old righthander who throws in the low-90s but has an impressive strikeout rate in Single A.

And the Rockies get an enigmatic but often successful relief pitcher with good stuff who happens to be in desperate need of a change of scenery.

This isn't intended as an insult, because there's something to be said for a pitcher who has had the relative success Delcarmen has had pitching in the hellacious AL East, not to mention in his hometown, but I've always thought he would make a damn effective closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates, you know?

He tended to pitch better the bigger the deficit, which I suppose is damning of his poise, and it's fair to presume his manager lost faith in him in big spots long ago. The NL, with its junior varsity lineups, will suit him.

Goodbye is not difficult to say. But we're not about to say good riddance.

The kid from Hyde Park was always appreciative of his chance to live the shared dream of young New England baseball fans -- we'll never forget his saucer-eyed, holy-Schiraldi-I-really-play-for-the-Red-Sox look upon joining the team in his first callup in '05, because that's exactly what you and I would have looked like -- and the man earned his World Series ring.

I'll be rooting for him, even if I'm glad to be no longer counting on him. Everyone has to leave home sometime.

portugal.jpgJosh Beckett and John Lackey: So he pitched relatively well against Earl Weaver Showalter and the mighty Orioles last night. Whoa. Don't clear a spot on the mantel for the Cy Young Award just yet, CC. Don't mess with Texas!

Seriously? He pitched well enough to almost beat the Orioles? Big [word he might say in a postgame press conference accompanied by his well-practiced, dead-eyed, starin'-down-Goulet glower] deal.

He tanked in three crucial August starts when the playoff hopes were legitimate and the Sox were desperate for momentum. More than any other player the Sox were counting on coming into this season, he's responsible for their predicament. In retrospect -- and Theo has to privately lament not doing this -- he should have been forced in his contract year to prove he's worthy of a long-term deal. Hell, at least A.J. Burnett beat the Yankees once in a while to justify the silly loot they threw his way.

Maybe it's an epiphany, probably it's bitterness, but in this current frame of mind I wholly agree with the theory that Josh Beckett's reputation is much more intimidating than the actual pitcher, that he's only been an ace in certain moments, and that his real identity is as an erratic, injury-prone and often aggravating No. 2 starter (on his healthy days) who has had an unusual amount of stellar performances on the big stage. Those can't be discounted; just as no player is more responsible for the Sox' demise this year, no player was more crucial in winning the 2007 World Series. But I'm done giving him leeway because of those feats; the benefit of the doubt expired sometime during the flash fire in between when the Red Sox gave him an 8-2 lead that night in Texas and when that lead became a deficit.

As for Lackey? Viscerally, it's simple. I'd rather follow the boss's orders and try to plant grass in our godforsaken pine-needle-magnet of a yard for the fourth time this summer than spend an afternoon I'll never get back watching this guy pitch. He's an angry Frank Castillo, a less effective (look it up) Rolando Arrojo. He gives up rockets and growls and groans when he's fielders don't get to balls that would elude Ozzie Smith. He's from the Tim Wakefield School of Denial when it comes to his stuff -- it's always good, no matter what the box score suggests, and doggone it, it's just so downright puzzling how all those hitters somehow managed to pulverize those 91-mph fastballs decorated with the neon "Hit Me!" signs that perfectly part the heart of the plate.

And statistically? He has an adjusted ERA of 95, the same as Beckett's in 2006 when he had a 5.01 ERA. For horrifying perspective, Matt Clement's in 2005 was 99.

Hey, but he's better than Steve Avery '98 -- his ERA+ was 94.

I'm gonna stop right here before I have another Mark Portugal flashback.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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