BOSTON - Nobody seems to have a good read on this Red Sox team. There's a wide range of what people expect, from "They'll get swept in the first round" to "This team can win another World Series."
Nobody seems to have a good read on this Red Sox team. There's a wide range of what people expect, from "They'll get swept in the first round" to "This team can win another World Series." Know what? It even feels funny typing "win another World Series," like they've won a ton of them since 1918.
Early memories of the season? How the Red Sox left the gate like they were going to win 120 games or something. Meanwhile, the Yankees couldn't get out of their own way. If the Yankees couldn't hang with Boston, then the division was already over. The Blue Jays turned out to be disappointing again and the Devil Rays and Orioles played like the Devil Rays and Orioles - not a pretty sight.
But there were chinks in Boston's armor, too. They became more noticeable when the Yankees crawled back from the grave. They were 14 games behind, then 10, eight, five, 1 1/2. Head-to-head they handled the Red Sox pretty good.
Now, they're both going to the playoffs. When we last saw them engaged in October, it was an ALCS like none before. Maybe there's another best-of-seven ahead of them in mid-October, but that's jumping the gun.
Red Sox Nation not only wonders how the team will do in the postseason, it's waiting to find out who'll be on the roster. And how manager Terry Francona will use his players when it all begins.
The Game 1 starter is not even worth discussing. It's Josh Beckett. Let's move on. As it stands, Daisuke Matsuzaka is the Game 2 starter. That scares a lot of Red Sox fans. No. 1: he's struggled, on balance, for over a month. His ERA is 4.48. No. 2: this is his first time on baseball's ultimate stage.
But does Francona have a choice? Curt Schilling, no stranger to October genius, has built a case for himself the last few starts (3.38 ERA in five outings). You just know he'd love to start the second game. Shoot, he'd love to take the ball in the first game.
Schilling shrugged off questions relating to that issue following his strong six-inning showing against the Athletics Tuesday night. In the playoffs, "every game is a Game 1," he said. Francona countered with there was still wiggle room for the postseason. Could that mean a Dice-K Schilling switchero?
Tim Wakefield will make the roster, but Jon Lester is no sure bet. His performance last night against Oakland did his chances no favors.
Meanwhile, in the 'pen
Picking the bullpen is going to be interesting. After Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Mike Timlin and Manny Delcarmen, it's a scramble. If I'm Kyle Snyder, I'm making other plans. Julian Tavarez, don't hold your breath. You too, Bryan Corey, although the skipper kinda likes you.
Javier Lopez may have a foot in the door because he's a lefty, but that role could be taken by Lester. Eric Gagne? My guess is that the Sox are going to risk it. If he makes the postseason roster, it's on reputation, not merit. He's been a disaster.
There is an X-factor. That would be Clay Buchholz. How would Francona use him? Any way he wishes. No use holding this kid back. He can help you win a World Series. Buchholz doesn't look like the type who'll be spooked by postseason pressure. He sees it as part of his magic carpet ride. Ah, youth.
Now batting ...
No changes. Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Julio Lugo and Mike Lowell have been your summer, and will be your October, infield. Lowell and Pedroia - have had terrific (and surprising) seasons. Yes, Hanley Ramirez is going to be a fine player for many years. But you get 20-game winner Beckett and 116 RBI and counting from Lowell. Do the Red Sox re-sign the third baseman? Oh yeah, unless A-Rod is more possibility than pipe dream.
Once again, Youkilis tailed off in the second half. Can he get his stroke back in the playoffs? Give him credit for his Gold Glove first base play. His persistent wrist injury is something to worry about. Lugo just hasn't caught on. He never could crawl out of an early-season slump, and his defense has been just adequate.
Jason Varitek is The Man behind the plate. He has had to adjust to the language and the quirks of Matsuzaka and Okajima and work with Schilling as he's reinvented himself. There is a lot on the captain's big shoulders. If he hits, it's a bonus. The problem is, he comes up a lot with men on base, so he has to deliver now and then.
Manny Ramirez (307 at bats) is October-seasoned. J.D. Drew has been in seven postseason series. Coco Crisp, none.
Ramirez hasn't had a Manny-type year. He's only played in 128 games. Maybe it's a telltale sign; he's 35. The fragile Crisp has been a wonder with the glove but hasn't hit like they thought he would. No use beating Drew's season to death. He can make up for a sea of sins in the postseason.
In A Pinch
Boston's bench isn't strong, but putting late edition Jacoby Ellsbury on the postseason roster makes sense, if just for pinch-running or defensive purposes. Alex Cora is a capable fill-in at a couple of positions. Eric Hinske has never come close to his 2002 Rookie of the Year numbers. Does Doug Mirabelli's health woes make Kevin Cash the backup catcher?
Yes the Red Sox could win the whole thing, especially if the starters can hold up. But any team could say that. If Boston loses in the ALCS, you can put any spin on the season you want. If they go out in the first round, and especially if Drew and Lugo flunk out, the unwanted spotlight will be on Theo Epstein. We've dissected his team enough this year.
And it is his team.
(Lenny Megliola is a Daily News columnist. His e-mail is email@example.com)