Arms Race heats up in the AL East

John Lackey had probably not even settled into the Boston area by the time he felt the true nature of this historic rivalry.  The Sox landed a monster catch a couple weeks back, inking a bull dog pitcher to form arguably the best one-two-three punch in baseball.  Heading into a weekend series and starring down the likes of Lester-Beckett-Lackey cannot make anyone comfortable, let alone Brian Cashman.  Lackey brings 100 win resume, 3.81 career ERA, a game seven world series victory (how many starters can claim that), and regularly eats up 200 innings with quality starts.  He’s also just two years removed from a 19-9 record, 3.01 ERA and 180 K’s.  His strike ratio has fallen the past couple years, but his WHIP is solid, and adding him into the mix with Lester-Beckett gives the Sox an edge over every single team when comparing starters one through three.  

The Bombers however, are not known for rolling over and playing dead.  December 22nd, welcome back Javy Vazquez, your pinstripes have been kept to the side waiting for you.  I remember immediately two things about Vaquez, monster first half in 2004 (I believe he was 10-5 heading into the all-star game) and a certain Johnny Damon Grand Slam in Game Seven.  I believe he was also part of the Randy Johnson deal (and for those of you who do not know how I feel about Johnson, I NEVER liked him…even in pinstripes).  
Vazquez was a monster in ’09 for the Braves – 15-10, 2.87 ERA,  32 starts (which is actually slightly under his average year in the ’00’s),  219.1 IP, 238 K’s,  1.03 WHIP.  He also pitched incredibly well against the NL best, going 7-2 against the Phillies, Cubs, Mets, Dodgers and Cardinals.  His one start against the Sox in inter-league yielded 7.2 IP, 1 earned run, 8 K’s, 6 hits and 3 walks.  For those keeping score, the Braves posted no run support and Javy took one of his ten losses that day in June.
Javy slots in as your fourth starter in a rotation that could be, one though five, the most complete in baseball.  Sabathia is a legit ace and one of the top five pitchers in baseball, he’s followed by AJ Burnett who is a true Jeckle and Hyde creation.  If he has that breaking stuff in control, he’s unbelievable…but that does not happen often enough.  Pettitte’s a grinder and owner of two of the most telling records of the past fifteen years.  18 Post Season victories and 6 series clinching wins.  Lackey’s got a game seven victory, Pettitte closed out every single series in this year’s World Series run.   His game three victory against the Phillies is a true testament to what you get with Andy.  Even with less than perfect stuff he’ll battle you all the way.  Vazquez takes up residence in the four spot (where 32 starts and 200 IP looks almost unbelievable for a fourth starter) and you follow that up with either Joba or Hughes (the other playing 8th inning set-up bridge to Mo).  Trading for Vazquez solidifies the rotation AND makes the bullpen just a little bit nastier.  Joba or Hughes out of the pen is imposing, especially knowing Mo waits patiently at the other side.  Hughes was a nightmare for opposing pitchers last season (post season aside) and we’ve all read enough Joba Starter or Reliever articles to understand the value he brings throwing bee-bees in the 8th inning.  With Aceves and Marteadded into this pen, the Yanks look solid heading into any late inning situation.
Exiting the Bronx is Melky Cabrera.  I loved Melky at the bottom of the order, hitting walk off wins, adding youth and exuberance and a solid arm in Centerfield to the mix.  Cabrera will be missed, albeit marginally as .270 averages with little to no power in the historic CF spot in the Bronx is easily replaceable.  Cabrera’s a solid switch hitting young player that should help the Braves, but there were no flashes of Mickey Mantle in this kids short Yankee career.  Young pitching prospects, Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino head to the Braves, Boone Logan (a young left handed reliever with little MLB success) comes to the Yankees.  Vizcaino is the only prospect I’ve heard of, and the price tag for Vazquez is still validated.  I’ll miss Melky but the potential for a return of Johnny Damon into the Outfield mix (or perhaps another upgrade over current uber-sub Brett Gardner) has to loom over the holidays.
One through five, this rotation combines power, experience, multiple right and left handers, big game credentials a little youth on the back end.  I love/hate the Sox one through three and would not want to face them in a short divisional series (which as fate would have it, is impossible as the Yankees and Sox are divisional foes)…but as a five man unit, you cannot beat the Yankees.
Follow me on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/todd11ny
Todd Price

Advertisements

Yankees kick off winter meetings in GRAND fashion!

The Yankees kicked off the winter meetings with a bang this year, shipping out Ian Kennedy, Austin Jackson and Phil Coke for 28 year old Centrefielder, Curtis Granderson. Pending medicals, this three-team deal should be completed over the next day or so and an All-star will be patrolling Centre in the Bronx for the first time since Bernie left. The price tag has been hashed over in the media for the past couple days (pulling Dunn out of the deal makes this well worth it in my eyes).

Granderson struggled last year, hitting .249 but has posted a three year average of .275, 30 doubles, 15 triples, 25 home runs, 100 runs, 20 stolen bases. I’d take that line in the Bronx out of our one or two spot any day, especially considering the home/road splits of a guy in his prime (did I mention he’s 28) playing in Comerica Park, which is as close to the old time park dimensions as you can get (and when I write Old Time, I mean Yellowstone). Granderson struggled at home, hitting .230, .388 slugging, 10 home runs, but on the road he put up close to a .270 average (good but not where he’ll be in 2010), slugged .516 and popped 20 home runs in 322 at bats. Here’s figuring his road split resembles similar figures in 2010 and that short Stadium porch pulls in a better home resume than 2009’s road numbers.

Granderson also brings a couple key ingredients to the Yankees mix. He’s a solid defensive centerfielder, which allows Girardi to move Melky into left (more on Damon in a minute) giving the Bombers two above average defenders and one solid right fielder in Swisher. Granderson may not win a gold glove in 2010, but the defense just got a huge upgrade from this time last year. He also slots right into the number one or two spot in the Yankees line up.

Outgoing Yankees are top prospect Austin Jackson (22), lefty reliever Phil Coke and Ian “I’m not trading this guy for Johan Santana” Kennedy. Yes we are a couple years removed from Kennedy (and Hughes) being kept over Santana, but he’s the same guy. Yankees fans have grown tired of waiting for this control specialist to actually show case in the Big Leagues (and stay up, or even pitch well for a spell). I’ve read countless articles on five tool stud, Austin Jackson, but have yet to see that 5th tool (we’ll call it power) show up in the box score. 4 Home runs in the minors seems a little less powerful than I was hoping. I’m sure Jackson’s a solid Outfielder for the Tigers for years to come, but straight up, I’d take Granderson in a heart beat. Let’s also give credit where credit is due, the resurgence of Damsco Marte in this year’s off season made Phil Coke a little more expendable than he was in mid August as the only lefty in the Yankees pen. Kennedy will put up some good numbers in Comerica, but Detroit Rock City aint the Bronx and those numbers do not translate into Yankee Stadium’s dimensions. I like this deal for Detroit and the Bombers. Arizona, well, we’ll leave that to the writers in Phoenix to dissect.

Parting thoughts on some immediate intangibles; Granderson is coming in at a reasonable $23-$24M over the next three years, with a club option for 2013 at $13M (quite a discount compared to Damon). Granderson also will love the spotlight and should not have any issues with the NYC media. He’s personable, extroverted and carries a huge personality. All traits only add to his value. Speaking of Damon, this immediately puts negotiations with Satan himself (Boras, not Johnny who we all love) on Yankee terms. While I’d love to see Damon back in pinstripes in 2010, I have to take a couple points into consideration. No one saw him leaving Fenway following the season of Idiots and yet he did, and Boras has his sites set on 4 years, $12-14M per. Granderson puts all the cards in Cashman’s hands right now. Offer up a one (or two) year deal that includes a huge chunk of DH time at $8-10M. You have two shots at this one, Damon or Matsui would make a great DH for 2010. Granderson now gives you that option. Finally, BoSox, Marco Scuttaro just is not going to cut it. The desperate need for a Roy Halladay type deal just increased in the eyes of Sox fans. Last time I checked, Jason Bay was also waivering over a Fenway return. As usual, next year arrived a little early in the AL East.

Did I mention the Karma impacts of Granderson’s number 28…we’ll put uni negotiatons on Girardi’s to do list for spring training.

follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/todd11ny
 

Todd Price

Kazmir heads west

Scott Kazmir has a new home. Well, lets correct that, he is in the market for a new home. One a little closer to Disney Land as he head west, joining the the Los Angeles/Anaheim/California Angels of the AL West. While some will come out claiming that Tampa has officially thrown in the towel, this may not be the dagger the Sox are hoping for. Kazmir has been hot and cold all season posting an 8-7 record and 5.92 ERA (although its headed south of 4 since the all-star break going 4-2 with big wins against the Yankees and Rangers. Kazmir is a 25 year old left handed strike out pitcher with play off experience and with the exception of this year a sub 4.00 ERA in the AL East with a strike out an inning average. The issue for TB is the boat loads of money he’s required to be paid over the next couple years ($33.5M). This trade came out on paper yesterday and the Angels ending up being the location where Kazmir landed, but the combination of he and Pat Burrell struggling made this inevitable. Let me explain.

Last post season, Pat Burrell signed a two year $16M deal in January as the Rays looked to bolster their offence in hopes to defend their AL Pennant. Questions abound hit the blogo-sphere as to why a small market young up and coming team would dump 16 large on 32 year old .250 something hitting DH? They have gone relatively unanswered as Burrell has been terrible and the Rays are stuck batting him somewhere in the later half of their order on a night by night basis. To be honest, the only Pat Burrell high light I can recall all season is the trip to Philly he made to pick up his World Series Ring. With the recession hitting the MLBPA members a little hard in the off season, there were deals to be had from an ownership stand point as the Angels found as the Free Agency season neared its end (and here we thought there were only four seasons in the year – two in Canada). Pat Burrell is hitting .241 with 12 Home Runs, 38 runs and 50 RBI’s in a line up that has Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, BJ Upton, Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett in it. He has only played 92 games and will finish the season with about 400 at bats and maybe 100 hits (or $80K a hit). For a franchise that HAS to spend its money wisely, signing Burrell was the equivalent of contracting syphilis on your trip to Thailand. You want to swing lose and run in the Fast lane Andrew Friedman, better carry some penicillin and advil to take away the pain. While I definitely do not question your approach, I do question your execution. You have to wonder, was there a better option out there?

Enter Bobby Abreu – $5M price tag, AL East and oodles of Playoff Experience (albeit without the recent World Series glitter, and inflationary price tag). Abreu is hitting .302 with a .397 OBP. He’s taught patience and approach to the entire Angels line up (look top to bottom, the on base percentage and total walks is up one through nine. He’s stolen 27 bases knocked in 85 RBI’s while scoring 80, and has actually taken his turn in the field. Does Pat even own a glove? Abreu has embraced the Latin players on the Angels and has the entire team sitting a top the AL West despite a shaky rotation and the pre-season tragedy. Judging by the numbers, I have to make a conservative estimate that Abreu’s impact on the Angels is worth about 5-6 games more than Burrell’s impact on the Rays. Check the standings, do the math and ask yourself this. Where would Scott Kazmir be playing if the Rays would have spent their money wisely. As fate would have it, he’d be toeing the rubber with Bobby Abreu knocking in runs and playing some pretty solid D (well as long he’s not running towards the wall) as they chased a post season spot. Sadly for those sitting on St. Pete’s beach sipping Land Shark beer and chomping down Key Lime Pie at Frenchy’s its just taking place 2500 miles from the Trop. Trust me on the beer, the location and the desert…add in a Buffalo Grouper Sandwich and tell them Todd sent you.

 

follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/todd11ny

Todd Price

www.wayoverpriced.com

 

Random thoughts on the week that was

Let’s make it two – The Yankees went out on Friday night in Boston and ended Brad Penny’s Boston Red Sox career.  For the second time in back-to-back series (first in NYC) the Yankees have pounded one of the Sox off season acquisitions and sent him reeling to who knows where.  On Friday the Yankees lit up Penny for 10 hits and 8 runs at Fenway Park – the Sox would have their revenge on Jeckle and Hyde Burnett on Saturday afternoon.  Penny was relegated to the bullpen and ultimately released.  It was not that long ago (August 6th to be precise) that the Bombers took a little BP at the expense of John Smoltz (9 hits, 4 walks and 8 runs in 3.1 IP) following which he was subsequently released.  Of Note, if you want to see the last start for Dice-K or Wakefield in a Sox uniform, the Sox head to New York on the weekend of September 25th.  U2 is apparently in town playing at Giants Stadium if Sox-Yankees does not entice you enough.  Considering the Giants lack of Wide Receivers (well number one and number two quality ones…they do have a mitt full of them) and the Jets lack of pretty much everything other than a defence, this could be the most exciting event played in New Jersey this year.

 

Jim Rice – In case you were wondering why it took this man 14 years to get into the Hall of Fame after the career stats line he posted in Boston, enter Jim Rice speaking to Little Leaguers.  Fashionista Rice took a rip at baggy uniforms, dread locks, PEDs and over paid ball players.  He grouped arguably one of the classiest baseball players of all time in with A-rod and Manny (and Jimbo, if you are going to give fashion advice to A-rod, please instruct him not to care so much, have you not seen this pretty boy on GQ enough).  My recollection of Rice and those wonderful years in the 70’s reek of Cocaine, the invention of Free Agency, Afro’s and plaid polyester.  If I can offer you any advice whatsoever, its keep your mouth shut and let the kids play ball.  If you want to wear your hair corn rowed and bash out hits, by all means, keep playing.

 

Texas – Sox – Wild card implications had Red Sox fans cheering for the Yankees (and on par with history the Yankees ended up hurting the play off chances by dropping two of three to the Rangers – Sox fans were cursing New York again this week).  This race should come down to the end but fans are missing out on a great Sox-Rangers show down later in September as these two teams can only meet in a one game play off.  The Rangers offer a line up that is almost never out of a game and with the new approach to pitching and defence, this team will be tough throughout September.

 

Roy Halladay – Toronto fans may disagree, but Roy Halladay’s bid for the Cy Young ended over his last two starts.  A 9.00 ERA over 11 innings of inter-divisional play does not a Cy Young make.  Halladay was roughed up by the Rays and the Sox and finished August with a 2-3 record and a 4.50 ERA (his other loss was to the Yankees).  This Sunday Halladay takes the hill against the Sox, thus ending a six start month all against divisional rivals.  Jon Lester has not lost in his last seven decisions, and while Halladay still sits a 13-7 with a solid ERA and oodles of K’s, this weekend can definitively remove Halladay from the Cy Young running.  Personally I’ve written him off, but for argument sake, you can have one more kick at the can.  As I watch with definitive interest, Cliff Lee ring up win after win after win for the Phillies, I have to question the sheer magnitude of JP Riccardi’s trade demands.  Maybe the off season will bring something in return.

 

Tampa Bay Rays – I’m still on record as having the Rays as my wild card spot, and while they are not moving up quickly and making it easy on me, they are still in the hunt.  Starting a tough weekend series with the Central leading Tigers tonight, the Rays sit 3.5 games down of the Sox.  Matt Garza has come up big time and time again in these pressure situations and his next two starts could not be more meaningful.  Tigers tonight, Sox on Wednesday; this team has played solid baseball but we are at a point in the season where they need to make a meaningful run.  Two of three against the Tigers and Sox can kick start that.  Carlos Pena is hitting home runs, Evan Longoria is a future MVP and Upton, Crawford and Bartlett just get on base and run.  With a four man rotation of Shields, Garza, Kazmir and Price, there has to be a run in there some where.  The Rays play the Tigers, Sox, Tigers, Yankees, Sox over the next fifteen games.  We will know two things come September 14th when they roll into Baltimore.  Are they a playoff team and how will they fair against the best teams in the AL.  At this point in the season, you want to control your own destiny and with six games against Boston and three in Texas, the Rays have every opportunity to return to October baseball.

 

Baltimore Orioles – I’ve officially given up on my prediction that the O’s would catch the Jays.  They’re 7.5 back and going no where fast.  To be honest, if this team is not playing the Rays, Sox or Yankees I do not even check the box score to see what’s happening.  Even Mark Weiters (.263, 5 HRs, 22 RBI’s) is not at the point I’d tune in regularly.  My only question is what did Nick Markakis do in a previous life to deserve this penance?

 

Big Pappi – Ortiz is back crushing Home Runs and stroking key base hits for the Sox.  His power numbers have been good the past three months.  I’d insert a PED joke here but what’s the point.  He’d show up hiding behind the biggest sunglasses on the planet, offer up a no comment and then hide from the press for 9 days before struggling with English for the first time in his career as he wonders how this all happened.  So what’s the point really?

 

 follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/todd11ny

 

Todd Price

www.wayoverpriced.com

 

Let’s re-load and do it all again

Welcome to Red Sox – Yankees. I know you are just returning to normal from less than two weeks ago, but why not do it all again. This time there’s a different feel and it is created by a 7 game buffer. Saving from a sweep by either team, the AL East landscape will look the same on Monday morning as it does today. Sox are fighting with the Rangers and the Yankees have a big cushion. Kudos to Girardi who is going for the jugular this weekend, shuffling the rotation while out west to line up Pettitte, Burnett, Sabathia for the weekend series. I’ve blogged in the past about the benefits of this approach…Terry Francona, is obviously not a reader. Neither Penny nor Tazawa qualify to carry Jon Lester’s rosin bag out to the mound, yet they take the mound in Fenway while Lester is wasted on a reeling Jays squad who could not muster a win with Halladay on the mound last night. Brett Cecil, give me a break. Friday night and Saturday afternoon have a definite Yankee flavour when you are picking your front runners.

Sunday night’s match up though, should bring the same level of excitement as two weeks ago in the Bronx. If you are looking for a showcase of two of the 2009 Cy Young front runners, enter Josh Beckett vs. CC Sabathia. Before all the Halladay worshippers from Bloor West Village start jumping down my throat as they did in May when I suggested Sabathia would be in the mix. Let’s look at some numbers. Since the first week of May

Player A – 13-4, 139.1 IP, 116K’s and an ERA slightly under 3.25
Player B – 8-5, 136 IP, 112K’s and an ERA slightly under 2.50
Player C – 11-2, 127.1 IP, 113K’s and an ERA slightly under 2.50

Giving away that we’re dismissing Verlander, Felix and Weaver from the mix (for now) you are staring down the stat lines for Sabathia, Halladay and Beckett and of the three, Halladay’s win totals are holding him back. Sure the Jays do not compare offensively to the Sox or Yankees but with 7-8 starts remaining for all three, Sabathia or Beckett could ride a prime time win on Sunday night combined with a playoff birth into a Cy Young award…well if a certain closer who’s rattled off 30 saves in 30 chances (36 of 37 total to date), a 1-2 record, 1.90 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP does not swoop in and take this award. Of all three games, Sunday’s match up on paper should be far and away the most exciting.

Couple items to watch for: Penny’s hit A-rod in the past and is all for throwing inside. In the event of an HBP on Friday night, I do not expect to see any retaliation from Pettitte’s cutter. If Penny’s tosses to his potential; this game is a 6-1 laugher for the Yankees with an upset A-rod starring down the Sox walking down to first base in the fourth inning…If I were Youkilis, I’d be rushing the mound from my spot at third/first base because you know what’s coming Saturday afternoon with AJ on the mound. I’m growing kinder as the gap grows, so I’m predicting two of three for the bombers (I can see another sweep with the pitching match ups) with tempers flaring, a couple hits batters, a brawl and Youk/Burnett taking a ten game holiday. Should be a zoo. Sox only chance could be a hurricane touching down Saturday afternoon.

 

Todd Price

follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/todd11ny

www.wayoverpriced.com

 

What Happened?

At one point the AL East was competitive, unpredictable, and worth writing about. Well, in a span of four days, the Yankees swept the Red Sox under the rug like yesterday’s garbage and the AL East was pretty much decided. Now the Yankees are on cruise control, and the Red Sox are scrambling to hold off the Rangers and Rays for the wildcard. The Red Sox could potentially jump back into the race with a sweep of the Yankees this weekend, but based on what was seen two weeks ago, that is unlikely. So what happened? Here are a few reasons why the Yankees were able to turn the tide.

1) Off-Season Acquisitions

The New York Yankees ultimately ended John Smoltz’ career as a Boston Red Sox in the opening game of their four game series (something I called for a week earlier). Brad Penny has been a scary proposition on the mound for the Red Sox and Rocco Baldelli has been one category above useless. The Red Sox were praisedfor their shrewd spending this pastoff-season, netting these three players for under 15 million. Well, when none of them produce, it is still a waste of money even if they were acquired at a discount. Meanwhile, CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett have been the best pitchers on the Yankees’ staff, which is exactly what they paid for, and Mark Teixera is an MVP candidate. He also hit the game winning home run in the 4th game of the sweep against Boston. Sure, the Yankees spent 4 billion dollars this offseason, but they can afford it and none of their fans are complaining.

2) Changing Approaches

The Yankees had a lethal top four in their starting rotation during their World Series run from 1996-2001; including Roger Clemens, David Cone, David Wells, Andy Pettitte, Orlando Hernandez, Jimmy Key, and of course, Kenny Rogers/Sterling Hitchcok. Ok, so the last two were a stretch, but the Yankees could throw the ball and get to their effective late inning relievers. In recent years, the Yankees have decided to bash the ball around and throw Sidney Ponson, Aaron Small, Shaun Chacon, and Kevin Brown’s corpse at opposing lineups. Needless to say, it didn’t work. Fast forward to 2009, and the Yankees have the recipe for success back in place with AJ, CC, Joba Chmaberlain, and a scorching Andy Pettitte poised to anchor their playoff rotation and lead the Yankees to the promise land. They spent the trade deadline trying to find a fifth starter at a low price. I don’t think they’ve finished looking, but it will depend on how they make out against Boston this weekend. If they cruise, they will probably ride out Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre to a division title. The Red Sox, meanwhile, have an unproven Clay Bucholtz, an unproven Junichi Tazawa, and an ineffective Brad Penny manning the 3-5 spots on their roster. Dice-K is out with Chien Ming Wang Disorder, and John Smoltz is working as a Walmart greeter. Instead of finding a pitcher at the deadline, the Sox decided to “shore up” their immobile corner infielder spot in their infield by adding Victor Martinez. Granted, Martinez is a great bat, but when he was playing first base against the Yankees, Lowell was at 3rd, and Youkilis was in left field, the Red Sox were a disaster in the field. Not a great recipe for success.

3) Phil Hughes

Where did he come from? After struggling as a starter, Hughes was moved to the bullpen and has taken over the 8th inning role. He has been outstanding in this role and the Yankees do not have any desire to move him out of it. They have been searching for a reliable 8th inning guy since they lost Jeff Nelson. Now, opposing teams need to build a lead on the Yankees in the first seven innings or they are in serious trouble. This 8-9 inning combo has been lethal for the Yankees in past post-seasons.

4) Timely Hitting

A-Rod, Tex, and Johnny Damon all had clutch home runs against the Red Sox during their weekend serious. The Old Yankee Stadium magic was in the air on Sunday night, when Damon/Tex went back-to-back for a record setting time this season to beat the Sox and their invincible right handed reliever, Josh Bard. That had to shake the youngsters confidence, and it capped off a series that could not have been written better for the Bronx Bombers. The swagger is back.

5) Team Chemistry

For the past few years it has seemed quite stressful in the Yankees locker room. Every second article written about the team resorted to the shared dislike between A-Rod and Jeter. The other article would be about firing Joe Torre. Now that jokesters AJ Burnett and Nick Swisher have been brought in to join Robinson Cano, the team seems more lighthearted and they appear to actually like each other. No longer are we reading about Jeter’s disgust with A-Rod. I’m sure most of the team still thinks A-Rod is a twit, but as long as he is hitting and the Yankees are winning, it isn’t that difficult to deal with. The Yankees are loose in the clubhouse and it translates to the field.

At this point in the season, the Yankees have to be considered the favourite to represent the AL in the World Series and win the whole thing. Meanwhile the Red Sox are scrambling to make the dance. Would I have predicted this in March? Negative. Am I happy about it? You bet.

Ryan Price

www.wayoverpriced.com

 

Panic time in Boston?

The Sox escaped slipping from a playoff spot Friday night with a miraculous six run rally in the ninth to defeat a charging Texas Rangers team, last night they were not so fortunate. The combination of Julio Borbon and Elvis Andrus took complete advantage of the Veritek/Penny battery, reeling off seven of the Rangers eight stolen bases. Ian Kinsler returned for the Rangers, going 2 for 3 with a home run and a stolen base as Derek Holland rattled off his third straight victory. Here’s figuring that shot to the head will just add to the fire. Sunday’s rubber game has Junichi Tazawa facing Dustin Nippert and while I do not want to throw around the “must win” label just yet, here’s a game that will decide who is sitting in the wild card spot Monday morning.

The Sox head to Toronto for a set with the Jays (who seem to always play Boston tough), before heading home for three games against a Yankees team that is as hot as any team has ever been in baseball. The trip to Toronto includes starts against Ricky Romero and Roy Halladay but the saving grace may be the Bombers throwing out a combination of Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin and perhaps Joba Chamberlain. Assuming the seven and a half game lead is enough of a cushion, I do not expect the Bombers to shuffle their rotation, so seeing the Sox take two of three from this shortened rotation may put them off in the right direction. If they run into the broom again, well, at least Tom Brady’s back in town for this fall.

Theo Epstein failed to recognize and respond to this team’s achillies heal, starting pitching. The bullpen has been lights out for the majority of the season (take these past three weeks out of the equation) and if you take the Yankees a line up featuring Dustin Pedroia (the only MVP who can not hit the high inside fastball), Youkilis, Jason Bay, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Lowell and what we thought would be a menacing Big Pappi, should have been good enough to ensure a play off spot and a long fight with the Yankees (and last year’s Cinderella story Rays) through to the end of the season. Issue is, once you are past Lester and Beckett, the rotation is not dependable. The John Smoltz experiment has ended badly, Brad Penny has his starts, but expect to see some offense if you are at the ball park (seem to me he’s in a lot of 6-5 and 7-6 games). Wakefield was a sentimental All-star, but that knuckler is some teams best friend every day, no one, including Wakefield, knows which team is going to consistently love that pitch. Tazawa could turn into a nice story, but where is Dice-K. Last I heard he was fighting with the Sox head office about a throwing program. Here’s figuring Japan’s super star stud with ten years of professional experience knew how to take care of his own arm. The World Baseball Classic will be blamed of course.

Theo though seems to be in full on panic mode to make THE move. V-mart was a great addition, if you had glaring holes at First, Third, Catcher or DH. While Martinez is an upgrade over everyone at those positions with the possible exception of Youk, this was not the gap that needed closing. With the Sox sputtering since the All-star break and still feeling the effects of an 0-4 trip to the Bronx, Epstein brought in a career .250 hitter who once had a little pop back in those loosey-goosey summers of 2003 and 2004 to man the short stop position. Enter Alex Gonzalez. While none of these moves will be colossal failures in Boston (or I believe the new term is he did not “pull a Riccardi”), Epstein is clearly not thinking straight.

Today the Sox take the hill in Texas with their sights re-adjusted to a head to head wild card battle with the Texas Rangers. Texas has recently brought back Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler to their line up. Sox fans are scoreboard watching more than just the Yankee scores of late and this Ranger team is the real deal. Nolan Ryan has his young pitching staff stretched out and performing and the Rangers line up continues to pound the long ball as it has in years past. If the Sox can rebound from a disastrous month this will go down to the wire. If last month’s history repeats itself, you have to wonder if Theo will be calling around looking for work.

Follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/todd11ny

Todd Price

www.wayoverpriced.com