Friday, June 27, 2008

Re-Entering the Atmosphere

Apologies for the little mini-vacation around here. Call it a prolonged case of Celtic euphoria, combined with catching up on some sleep after the endurance test of watching the 9 p.m. start times on the East Coast. Who was the brilliant one who thought that was a great idea?

All the green and white confetti is gone from last week's parade, the draft was held this week, and the big question for hoops fans around here now is whether the Celtics will be able to sign free agent James Posey, who came up huge in the Finals. In other words, it's time to think about next year for the Celts, which means it's time to think about this year and the (ho-hum) 2-time World Champion Boston Red Sox.

As they hit the official mid-point of the season tonight, the amazing thing about the Red Sox so far in 2008 has been their ability to stay on top of the division despite suffering some key injuries. The most suprising thing by far has been the play of the Tampa Bay Rays, who have solidified themselves as a serious postseason contender on the backs of some extraordinarily talented youngsters.

The Sox entered tonight's game with the Astros with a 1/2 game lead over the Rays, which is all the more impressive when you realize the rash of adversity we've dealt with so far this year. Schilling out for the season. Papi and Dice-K out for extended periods. A hamstrug Manny playing at half-speed, which when you think about it, is really half-half speed.

But instead of fading, the Sox have shown the incredibe organizational depth that young Theo Epstein promised during his introductory press conference in 2002. J.D. Drew has picked up the slack big-time on offense, and is in line for AL Player of the Month honors after slugging his 11th homer in June last night in Houston. If you're keeping score at home, he hit 11 all of last year. On the mound, Justin Masterson has supplied some spackle, Jon Lester has shown why Theo was so reluctant to trade him, and the Sox seem to have settled into a good bullpen rotation after some shaky periods. Biggest surprise in the pen has been David Aardsma. Chris Smith has been solid, as have Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen.

Hopefully the boys can sweep three in Houston, because next week they get into the brunt of the AL East, with a series against the Rays and then a Fourth of July series at Yankee Stadium. Here's a current look at the AL East standings:

Boston 50-32 .610 -
TB 48-31 .608 .5
NYY 43-37 .538 6
Balt 40-38 .513 8
Tor 38-43 .469 11.5

As you no doubt remember, there were some fisticuffs the last time the Sox and Rays met at Fenway - when Coco Crisp charged James Shields after getting beaned and an all-out brawl ensued. Multiple players on both sides received suspensions. Coco just had his suspension reduced from 7 games to 5, and not surprisingly, he'll be out for the Rays series coming up this week. As our own Nuke LaLoosh - Jonathan Papelbon put it - the Soxwon't soon forget the sight of several Rays (hello Jonny Gomes) pounding away on a restrained Coco. My best guess is you won't see any hostilities this coming week at the Trop, but you'll see something the next time they meet at Fenway. There's too much focus on the brawl right now and what may happen next so the umps will be extra-aggressive. It wil be interesting, though, to see if Jonny Gomes steps foot in the batter's box. If I'm a Sox pitcher, it would be very hard to abide by an ump's warning in favor of plunking that derelict in the earhole.

The bottom line with the Sox' first half is all things considered, we're in a pretty good place. And the team should really take off with a healthy Papi back and a healthier Manny.

Idle thought: Anyone heard from Roger Clemens lately?

no ....but debbie gives her regards....down baby down
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