Thursday, September 29, 2005

Dark Clouds & Silver Linings

Well, the Red Sox squandered a chance to take a one game lead in the AL East when the blew the second half of a day-night double header Tuesday. I when I say "they" I could be referring to the pitching staff collectively, but I'm not. I'm talking about Curt Schilling. For all the talking this guy does, he really should be playing better than a fifth starter on the Royals. But he's not. And now, he's got people in his own locker room calling him out for getting a free pass.

I don't care about the fact that he gets a free pass from the fans -- I certainly didn't give him one -- and in fact, I've spent a lot of time imploring him to quit calling out competitors, stop calling sports talk on his way to work, and maybe worry about things like not throwing pitches right down the middle of the plate for guys like my arch nemesis, Greg Zaun, to launch out of the yard.

I can't speak for other fans -- especially those allegedly giving him a free pass -- but I wasn't really bothered by the fact that Monday's rain delay meant that Schilling's start would be moved back a day, to Sunday, potentially when the season could already be decided. Here's a thought: If Schilling didn't give up four runs in his previous start against the Devil Rays, or blow a 5-2 lead Tuesday, it probably wouldn't have mattered what happened this Sunday.

Talking about Red Sox pitching more generally, I vacillate on Bronson Arroyo's ability literally every outing. He usually starts off just slow enough that I have to wonder aloud why the Sox didn't trade him for Burnett when they had the chance in July. By the fifth inning, Arroyo's rolling, striking out righties with that ridiculous curveball, and actually getting lefties out with anything but said curveball (which certainly wasn't the case earlier in the season; it was all curveballs, all the time, and usually resulted in a lot of tough outings, especially against teams that stocked their lineup with left-handed batters), and I've convinced myself (at least for now) that the Sox were wise to keep him.

That said, Arroyo got rocked Wednesday night, giving three jacks while the Sox, once again, struggled to get on base against Ted Lilly. This is the same Ted Lilly who's sporting something like a 800 ERA against the rest of the league, but looks like Sandy Koufax against the Red Sox. It's one thing to watch Rodrigo Lopez handcuff the Sox start after start, but Lopez also fares well against most teams he faces. Not the case with Lilly. He routinely gets the hook after two or three innings when the Jays are playing any time not located in New England. It's inexplicable the success this guy has had against Boston, and it used to be infuriating, but now that I'm focusing all my frustrations on Greg Zaun, there's really no room left for Lilly.

But here's the good news. Even if the Sox lose three of four against the Jays, and the Yankees win out against the O's, Boston will be down two games with three to go. And in case you just got back from Mars, those three games are in Fenway against the Yankees.

The bad news? If the Red Sox are down two games with the Yankees coming into town for the final three games, I honestly don't feel all that confident that the Sox can win two games, much less sweep New York. And if I'm completely forthright, I wouldn't be altogether surprised if Boston got swept.

It's a confluence of several things that leads me to this feeling. First, Boston basically gave New York a big F.U. last October during the ALCS, and given the Sox' track record with bad luck, you get the impression that the Grim Reaper and Steinbrenner were finally able to hammer out a new deal (after GR's contract expired before the end of the 2004 season), and the Sox will resume their position of getting donkey punched on an annual basis. While that sounds about as rational as a Skip Bayless article, I do have a more sensible reason. The Yankees have been playing really good baseball the last month or so. And when you have retreads like Aaron Small and "What's his name" Chacon winning regularly, it makes things a lot harder for a Boston team who's best starter is either 42-year-old David Wells, or 39-year-old Tim Wakefield. And when you couple the managerial genius of Terry Francona ('I love Millar!") with The Derek Jeter Effect, it doesn't make me feel any better.

But hey, part of the reason I'm writing this is because I'm naturally predisposed to think the worse (especially when it comes to sports), and then be pleasantly surprised when things happen to work out. I certainly hope that's the case here, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little skeptical. But much like the Steelers have a secret weapon in Chad Scott, I still think the curse of the A-Rod is strong with this one.