Not more than a week ago did I proclaim that nearly all the division races over and done with. In fact, I said that this is probably the least competitive second half in MLB history. And now the Red Sox are messing up my universe.
The Wild Card leader Red Sox have gone onto lose 10 out of their last 13, including the last 5 straight to their Wild Card runner-up Tampa Bay. The lead was 7 games on Friday. It's 3.5 on Monday.
Could this happen? Could we perhaps be witnessing an epic Mets-ian collapse from the Sox? 3.5 games with 16 to play, including 4 against the Rays at Fenway Park? It's no longer out of the question. Had the Sox taken one out of the four games at the Trop this past weekend, I'd say it's a long shot. But the deficit is mountable.
Scarily enough, this matchup isn't going to come down to starting pitching; I'd set the bar at relatively even. The Red Sox have a Lackey-Wakefield-Bedard crap salad appetizer in front of the Jon Lester and the ailing Josh Becket entree (that sounded way too NSFW for my tastes, but I really wanted to fit "crap salad" into a post today), while Tampa throws out the young vets in Price and Shields, but followed with Hellickson (who is 18 innings over his previous career high already), Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann and Matt Moore, who have the four of which have a combined 8 innings of postseason pressure-filled innings. The matchup isn't about offense either; the Sox have a definite edge, but it doesn't matter if you score 6 runs a game when John Lackey is giving up 7 per start. Also, with Desmond Jennings playing like we always thought BJ Upton should have, BJ Upton playing like he knows Desmond Jennings is taking his job, and the rest of the Rays offense waking up at the right time, the deficit between Tampa and Boston isn't nearly as pronounced as a month ago. What's left? The pen.
It might come down to Kyle effing Farnsworth and a 35-year old journeyman named Joel Peralta. Tampa's pen was absolutely decimated by free agency last year, and with the genius of Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey, have taken the otherwise lifeless and witless corpses from the scrap pile and made them into respectable baseball players. All things considered equal at this point, it's basically if the Red Sox offense can trump the Tampa Bay pen. I know it's much more complicated than this, but to distill the argument down to it's basic elements, it's David Ortiz vs. Kyle Farnsworth. I'm obviously picking the Sox to win the Wild Card. But not by much.
- Jose Valverde somehow has somehow saved 45 consecutive games, dating back to the end of last season. He is 9 away from tying Tom Gordon's consecutive saves record of 54, but still 30 away from touching Eric Gagne's completely clean and steroid-bereft consecutive saves record of 84 games.
- Which one of these lines would you take if you had to pick a Cy Young winner based on numbers alone?
A. 17-5, 204 K, 29 BB, 1.05 WHIP, .243 Batting Avg Against, 9 HR, 210.2 innings pitched
B. 18-5, 231 K, 51 BB, 1.00 WHIP, .210 Batting Avg Against, 13 HR, 213.2 innings pitched
C. 16-7, 211 K, 42 BB, 1.03 WHIP, .227 Batting Avg Against, 15 HR, 210.2 innings pitched
Pretty even all around. Incredible seasons. You made your choice?
A is Roy Halladay, C is Cliff Lee and B is Clayton Kershaw. I had B. Not just because I am a homer. I'm an incredible homer. But the choice is Clayton. Handle it.
- Speaking of homer-ism, I've covered the unbelievable season from the Dodgers (1 game below .500 today), who have somehow stayed decent despite incredible odds against them, both on the trainer's table and in the front office. But what about the Mets? The Yankees' toothless, red-headed, leper of a step brother (I'm not sorry for the Mets cheap shots today. I'd do it over again) has somehow overcome a similarly ridiculous rash of disabling injuries, front office mayhem and payroll cuts. Both these teams should have lost 90 to 100 games. They'll both end up around .500, or above it. Amazing.
- Nyjer Morgan is the Deshawn Stevenson of Major League Baseball. Which is to say he's an idiot.