Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dice-K Dominates

As you know by now, the Sox took 2 of 3 from the Yankees in their finale at the original Yankee Stadium - unable to complete the sweep thanks to a titanic home run by Jason Giambi - and then came home and Dice-ected the White Sox last night at Fenway.

Matsuzaka was masterful - easily his best performance of '08 - as he shut out a hot-hitting team, held them to two measly hits, struck out 7 and walked - get this - two. He was backed by the normal offensive suspects, including the incredible duo of Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, and Everyday Jason Bay. Meanwhile, Sox hitters feasted on Javier Vazquez and a succession of mediocre relievers. Final score was 8-zip.

While the Sox were running roughshod over their hosiery counterparts, those friggin' Rays continued to win, this time drubbing the Orioles 14-3 and in the process ensuring the first winning season in team history. As for the current standings, the Sox are 4.5 games behind Tampa, and the Yanks are 10.5 out. The Sox have a 2.5-game lead on Minnesota for the wild-card, and a six-game cushion on the Spanks (hard to believe they're still kicking - Carl Pavano came back last night and won a game - that's $25 million per win for the Yanks)

Personnel-wise, there's been lots of movement for the Sox over the past week. The biggest story revolved around Josh Beckett, who traveled to Alabama Friday to meet with Dr. James Andrews, who may as well be the Jack Kevorkian for major league pitchers. Beckett and the team wanted to get some peace of mind that his right elbow was okay, and they got that yesterday when Andrews gave the all-clear. The Sox could not have withstood a major injury to Beckett - particularly in October. They're already beat up, with J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell, and now Beckett on the DL.

What I like about this year's team, though, is that they've been able to mix in new pieces along the way during an otherwise tumultuous season. In fact, this may be the best job Terry Francona has done during his Boston tenure, which is saying quite a bit. It seems like there's a new player in the lineup every night, and tonight is no different. Because the Sox had to DL Beckett, they called up promising righty Michael Bowden from Pawtucket and he'll go tonight against Mark Buehrle and the Sox. I've said it before and I'll say it again: a rookie pitcher debut is one of the coolest things to watch in baseball.

Two more quick Sox observations. It's been beyond fun to watch the breakout seasons Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia are having this year. They've become the de facto leaders of this team. Every time you look up, one of them's lining a ball somewhere for a hit. Second, I want to introduce a new statistical category, On-Field Intelligence (OFI). It's hard not to notice that Theo has gone after anti-Manny guys - that is, smart baseball players who show up every day and contribute in many different ways to winning ballgames. Bay, Paul Byrd, and Mark Kotsay are all talented in their own ways, and they score highly in OFI. These things matter when the leaves start to turn colors.

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