Monday, July 03, 2006

A Different Sense of Urgency?

As the Sox settle back into an AL schedule this week and get ready for the All-Star break, the sense of urgency to win the division has never been greater - and it's encouraging that we saw some signs in the first half of the season that show Terry Francona agrees. There's a pretty good chance that the AL wild card entry this year will come from the AL Central.

The axis of power in the dominant American League (.620+ winning pct. this year vs NL teams)still very much revolves around Boston and New York, but the AL West - particularly the Angels and the Mariners - has lost a step to the AL Central, which features the Tigers, the White Sox, and the suddenly resurgent Twins, who are riding the two best lefty starters in the game in Santana and Liriano.

All of which means the Red Sox really need to win the division this year and make it easy on themselves. While the huge winning streak was a hell of a lot of fun to watch every night, the fact of the matter is that the Yankees - with their long list of key injuries - are still lurking. They're missing Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, and Robinson Cano and they're still hanging around. Hopefully, the Sox can spread the gap this week - they're in Tampa to face the D-Rays and the Yankees start four tonight in Cleveland. Sox then head to Chicago while the Yanks get a turn to beat up on Tampa.

If I'm Terry Francona, I'm managing this week like we're fighting for a playoff spot. No days off for anyone. Less exposure for Taverez and Seanez. Short leashes when a pitcher's getting banged around. I can remember a few occasions so far where he's pulled a starter early, which he didn't do a lot of last year. Hopefully, this sense of urgency continues. It's time to put some serious YAC (yards after catch) on the Yankees.

By the way, the Sox placed four players on the AL All-Star squad - Manny, Ortiz, Papelbon, and Loretta. Figured Varitek wouldn't make it, but Schilling should be there.

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