Two weeks from now, I may be begging for a wild card spot for the Sox. For now, I have my sights set on the division. Why not? Face it, when the Yankees went 11-10 in April, you knew they were better than that. And they are. They went 37-15 combined in May and June. The question is, are they that good? I say no. There are too many holes, too many question marks, many of them where it counts most – on the pitching staff.
Contreras has been a Lowe-like disappointment with an ERA over 6. Mussina has been inconsistent. Lieber, a .500 pitcher. Brown has been hurt, as expected. Vasquez has been the man for them. Giambi has been noticeably absent from their line-up, whether he plays or not. As was the talk through spring training and into April, they are vulnerable.
What they are, however, is the anti-Red-Sox. When their pitching is shaky, they get the big hit. When batters are struggling, the pitching and defense get the big out. They are 12-7 in one-run games, compared to a painful 5-9 for Boston. I give most of the credit (and blame) for one-run games to the manager. These are the situations where managers earn their keep. The chess match, if you will. Pinch hitters, situational pitching, pinch runners, bunts, hit-and-runs, in a nutshell – decisions. Torre makes the right ones, Francona doesn’t.
Conversely, the Sox are 9-5 in games decided by 4 runs, and 14-11 in games decided by 5 or more runs. As much as the team was “built on pitching”, they are still outslugging teams to win games. And until recently, they were doing it with a half-assed semi-minor-league line-up. The reality is, the team is now healthy. Nomar is heating up, Trot is Trot, and Bill Mueller was probably the most overlooked hole in the line-up both on the field and at the plate.
This team can play. If Francona chooses to put in a consistent line-up – screw the days off and while you’re at it, screw the righty-lefty thing – this team can win, and win a lot. Let’s start tonight.