Tuesday, September 30, 2008

ALDS Preview: Angels vs. Red Sox

Initial Thoughts: As a Red Sox fan, this meeting is one I’ve been expecting since the Angels acquired Mark Teixeira. Quite frankly, these Angels are loaded and scare the hell out of me. Their pitching is deep and they have a closer coming off a record season in K-Rod. Combine that with a patient, strong lineup and it looks as though Boston is in trouble. The Red Sox are having injury issues (i.e. Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell) and couldn’t close in on the Rays with an easy September schedule and Tampa Bay among the walking wounded. In many respects, there’s the potential for this to be a short series for Los Angeles.

All this being said, I like the Sox chances. Call me a homer or whatever you need to do but hear me out:

Angels Strengths:

ESPN has gone on and on about how the ’04 and ’07 versions of the Angels didn’t have that big bat to protect Vladimir Guerrero (who is among my favorite players of all time). Now they have Teixeira and Torii Hunter, both of whom have changed the culture of the lineup. In seasons past, once Sox pitching got around Guerrero, there was no one else they feared in the lineup. As the Globe’s Nick Cafardo noted in yesterday’s sports section, Teixeira has also helped free swingers like Hunter and Guerrero swing at better pitches, not necessarily walk more. In the postseason, that difference in the lineup can’t be understated.

Prior to a game I went to in July between these two teams, a common belief was that John Lackey couldn't beat the Red Sox. After watching Lackey come within three outs of no-hitting the Sox, he made a believer out of me. Those who know me have heard me say he's an ace for years. He's a guy who shut down the Giants in game 7 of the World Series in 2002 and ever since has been a quality pitcher who suffers from being under the radar with the Angels. Having a horse like him is important in these games, evidenced by Beckett's run with the Sox last year.


The Angels' concerns will lead to why I think the Sox have a chance to win this series. First off, I'm not a huge fan of Earvin Santana or Joe Saunders. I think Santana is similar to Dice-K in that he can be extremely erratic. Great stuff, not sure how successful he can be in the post season. Saunders, simply put, is winning with smoke and mirrors. The man had to have watched a lot of Jamie Moyer growing up because his stuff doesn't intimidate hitters in any manner. I realize he had success in the regular season but to go back to my earlier point, soft throwing starters don't win often in October.

I used to think of Chone Figgins as one of the most underrated players in the game. What happened? His OBP went from .393 to .367 and he only hit .276. This may not have been a concern for the Angels in the regular season but it could be a bigger deal in tight games such as these.

Red Sox Strengths:

I'm not sure if the casual fan realizes how good John Lester has been this year. He was the stopper on an inconsistent team and had a 3.21 ERA in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. I wasn't that high on him when he was coming up a few years ago but he has added a few mph to his fastball and his curve ball has far more bite to it now. After I just talked about how I think Lackey is great, it speaks even more to how much I think of Lester in that I firmly believe he will shut down the Angels in Game 1.

As sad as the Manny saga was, Jason Bay has been everything I expected him to be and he has provided a needed spark to this team. Now for the obvious: After MVP-type seasons, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia are looking for another ring and both looked impressive down the stretch. Pedroia in particular needs to have a big series for the Sox to win and I see him coming up with a big hit or two. Something I've noticed and my friend Josh has pointed out to me is how hot Jacoby Ellsbury is right now. Having his bat hot in the post season changes the whole dynamic of this lineup. When he's wreaking havoc on the basepaths, pitchers worry about him and the hitters see better pitches to hit.

We've all heard the talk of how David Ortiz won't be pitched to but there will come a time where they have to pitch to him and damaged wrist or not, there's no one I'd rather have in an important moment than Ortiz. He's the one player in the post season that teams game plan against because of his knack for devastating hits in October.

The combination of Jonathan Papelbon and Justin Masterson is quickly becoming one of the most potent in baseball. Masterson's slider is almost unhittable and the sinking motion of his fastball can give the Sox double play opportunities.


Dice-K and Beckett scare me for different reasons. Any injury to a Sox pitcher concerns me but when our ace's oblique is hurt, I'm worried. Dice-K was an 18-game winner but had trouble going past the 6 inning mark. Not good for post season baseball. He's going to have to give in more and let these hitters make contact so he can give the bullpen a break.

Speaking of the bullpen, the likes of Manny Delcarmen and David Aardsma worry me greatly. Niether have proven they can come up big in important spots with any sort of consistency.

Jason Varitek is not only the lone player in this lineup I have no confidence in, he's one of the only sure outs in the eight teams remaining. I hope to God he's not up in any key situations.

X-Factors: Angels reliever Jose Arredondo has had a great year (1.62 ERA) and will make an impact in this series....Hideki Okajima has been much better for the Sox down the stretch and how successful he is in bridging the gap to Masterson/Papelbon duo in the 8th and 9th innings could determine the series.

Who Will Win: The Red Sox will expose Santana and Saunders and Lester will win a pair of games. Pedroia and Bay both have a huge series while Hunter and Guerrero's bats go silent as Boston takes the series in 5.

ALDS Preview: Rays vs. White Sox

Initial Thoughts: I’m going to start this off by heaping more praise upon these feisty Rays. In late August/early September the Red Sox were charging hard and looked to take a stranglehold on the AL East. They had Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett coming back as well as David Ortiz rounding into form while the Rays were without Carl Crawford and (for the most part) Troy Percival. The way they not only hung in there in September but managed to add to their lead. The events of September lead me to believe this team very well could be in line with the 2001 Patriots or ’69 Mets as a team of pure destiny. The White Sox had to use their ace in John Danks to sneak in to the playoffs with a 1-0 win last night over the Twins. They’re going into this series with Javier Vasquez (4.67 ERA) as their opening game starter. When you’re as big of an underdog as the White Sox are, game 1 is crucial and Vasquez’s maddening inconsistency doesn’t bode well for their chances in this series.

White Sox Strengths:

One area the White Sox trump the Rays is at the end of the game. Having a healthy Bobby Jenks to close games is a major asset….Post season experience will help too; Mark Buehrle pitched very well in those tight September games and has gone through this before.

Jim Thome in the post season is always scary because of his ability to draw walks and, oh yeah, hit some prodigious homeruns. The amount of production he and Jermaine Dye give the South Siders will help decide how long this series will go.

Ozzie Guillen: The man can obviously coach but the way he motivates players is his calling card. If he can get this team to the ALCS, it’ll be his greatest triumph yet.


Tiring starters. Unlike ’05 when their pitching was rested and ready to run through the playoffs, their pitching is tired from trying to hold off the Twins down the stretch. Gavin Floyd was great all year (unlike Freddy Garcia) but this was his first full major league season. He wore out in September to a degree and Chicago won’t have Danks going until game 3 at the earliest.

(They’ll Always Be Devil to Me) Rays Strengths:

Destiny: As I said before, this team also reminds me of the ’99 Red Sox in that the whole team is greater than the sum of its parts. There is no rhyme or reason as to why they won this division. Curt Schilling’s favorite night club dancer might be on the Rays’ side this post season.

A healthy Carl Crawford will make this team even better. He fielding, energy and what he can do on the base paths will make things easier for the rest of the lineup.

Kazmir, Shields and Garza. I’m not as high on Garza as I am the other two but having three quality, hard-throwing starters at this time of year is huge. Past those three, they have Andy Sonnanstine, a soft thrower who somehow baffles the Red Sox every time he faces them. The once pitching-depleted Rays now have a rotation that is talented, young and not going away.

I know Carlos Pena didn’t quite have the year he did last season but he’s locked in for a big series. Mark it down.


Closing games out. The Rays had Dan Wheeler as their closer at the end of the year due to Troy Percival’s health concerns. To go back to my earlier point about Jenks, having an established closer is important and the Rays don’t have a healthy, reliable reliever to finish off games right now.

X-Factors: Eighth inning guys can be as important as closer sometimes. Grant Balfour has had an amazing year but his name doesn’t pop up too often on ESPN; it will after this post season because everyone outside of Tampa will now see how filthy his stuff is…The White Sox really need a contribution from Griffey to have a shot at this series. He doesn’t need to hit 5 home runs and act as though it’s 1995 but they definitely need him to be productive.

Who Will Win: Shields throws a gem in game 1 while Kazmir and Garza pitch well enough to hold early leads .Rays have an easy time with this veteran, tired White Sox team and sweep them as Ozzie Guillen blows a gasket and starts throwing bats at reporters.

NLDS Preview: Cubs vs. Dodgers

Initial Thoughts: I’ll be honest…my real feelings going into this series are that I want nothing but bad things to happen to Manny Ramirez. His words the past few days have pissed me off but I’ll dive right into this without bias and every intention of keeping things even.

On paper, this is a mismatch that was proven by the two teams’ regular season records. The Cubs dominated the National League with a rotation that was four deep, a stud closer and a solid lineup. The Dodgers snuck in due to the fact that someone needs to represent the lowly NL West. Can we discuss how neither the Dodgers nor Diamondbacks wanted to win this? Anyway, Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley give them a chance to steal a game at Wrigley but Hiroki Kuroda wouldn’t inspire a load of confidence in me if I were heading into Chavez Ravine wearing Dodger Blue. At the All-Star break I thought the Cubs are the most balanced team in baseball (even more than the :::gasp::: Angels!) and I stand by that tonight.

Dodgers Strengths:

I already mentioned Lowe and Billingsley but what I think gives this team a legitimate shot at winning the series is its bullpen. Jonathan Broxton, Takashi Saito (health permitting) and Joe Beimel have been very good all year. If Los Angeles has a lead past the eighth, Joe Torre’s palms will be fairly dry (not that the man shows emotion anyway).

We all know Manny has set the world on fire since arriving in LA. It’s who’s around him that will matter in short series such as this. Andruw Jones will need to…..ahhh just kidding. The likes of Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Casey Blake, James Loney and Russell Martin are all 15-20 homerun, 75-90 RBI type hitters in what has become a deep lineup. At least one of them is going to have to take the load off Manny’s shoulders at some point and provide a hit in a key situation after Manny is walked or pitched around.


I’m going to reiterate my earlier point: the Dodgers lack rotation depth behind their top two. That’s not even mentioning the fact that neither of them are considered aces. They are relying on Kuroda (who’s even more enigmatic than Dice-K) and Greg Maddux to win playoff games? I’m sorry, I just don’t see it. This was a weakness in the regular season and will be exposed in this series.

Cubs Strengths:

Having four quality starters is the biggest luxury in baseball and the Cubs will benefit greatly this postseason from having Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden and Ted Lilly on their side. When you hear the term “built for the playoffs”, this is the type of rotation they’re referring to. This is the best rotation to enter October since their South Side brethren in 2005.

The middle of the Cubs’ order has a great deal of power and is well known for its timely hitting. Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto and Derek Lee should strike fear into any opposing manager.


Kerry Wood’s health is always going to be a concern. The man is an DL trip waiting to happen. He’s going into the playoffs healthy but he’s someone to keep an eye on.

One of the Cubs’ Big Four is a bit temperamental. He’s Venezuelan and beat the crap out of Michael Barrett. I’ll give you one guess. Ding Ding! Zambrano! His attitude toward being No. 2 in this rotation bears mentioning. Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN broke it down in yesterday’s column

This is also Jeff Samardzija’s first taste of October baseball. He’s passed every test thus far but keep in mind he’s still young.

X-Factors: Rafael Furcal is back in the Dodger lineup and getting on base for Manny and his pack of decent hitters will be crucial to the Dodgers having any chance of scoring runs this series….Mark Derosa has long been one of the most underrated players in baseball and I think this post season will be his platform to show the national audience what he can do.

Who Will Win: The Dodgers’ playoff victory will remain at 1 since 1988 as Manny has a big series but has little help from around him and D-Lowe’s sinker hangs a few times as the Cubs romp in Game 1 on their way to a sweep.

NLDS Preview: Phillies vs. Brewers

Initial Thoughts: After years of wallowing in the depths of NL Central (and formerly the AL Central and East for those of you who go back that far), CC Sabathia has carried the Brew-Crew to a post season birth. They didn’t play particularly well down the stretch, just better than the shell-shocked Mets. They will face another rejuvenated franchise in the Phillies, who are fresh off their second consecutive division title. A huge September from Ryan Howard (.342 average, .848 slugging, 10 homers and 28 RBIs) helped lift this team to the top of the NL East. As you will see, these teams have similar strengths and weaknesses.

Brewers Strengths:

Lineup: Led by the new Mash Brothers (Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder), the Brewers have a balanced attack that features solid contributors like Corey Hart (20 homers, 91 RBI) and JJ Hardy (24 and 74). I also like the veteran leadership and steady play Ray Durham has provided this lineup. Hitting will not be a problem for Milwaukee.


Pitching Depth: This is not your Harvey’s Wallbanger’s that won the AL Pennant in 1982 with hitting and very little pitching behind it (ace Pete Vuckovich and Rollie Fingers aside). These Brewers have some pitching. We know all about Sabathia’s heroics but those who follow him in the rotation will have more to say about this series than him.

Ben Sheets’ health and toughness is being called into question and rightly so. The reason a guy who should be winning 18-20 games every years and striking out 250 is beyond any of us but the Brewers needed him for this series and he’ll be watching it from the bench due to an elbow injury. In order to pick up his slack, the Brewers are going to need big performances from Yovani Gallardo, Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan (I really hope there’s a situation where he’s on third base with the tying run and the third base coach yells GO!).

Phillies Strengths:

Ryan Howard and Chase Utley: These two might be the only better 1-2 combination in the NL than Milwaukee’s dynamic duo. I’ve already mentioned Howard’s huge September and his hot hitting couldn’t be at a better time for this team. As Colorado proved last year, the best team may not always win the series, the hottest team with the hottest players can as well. I’m looking for a Manny-Ortiz type series from these two.

Brad Lidge: Could prove to be the difference in the series. I’ll take the closer who went 41-41 in save chances over the not-so-perfect Solomon Torres any day.

Anyone starting a game except Cole Hamels: It’s pretty amazing how far the Phillies have come with such little pitching depth behind their ace. OK, I’m aware Jamie Moyer went 16-7 this year with a solid 3.71 ERA. However, haven’t we learned junk ball pitchers generally don’t have a great amount of success in the post season? Case and point: Moyer’s 2001 Seattle Mariners, who had a staff led by Freddy Garcia, John Halama and himself. Good in the regular season, not great come October.

Brett Myers has been great in stretches this year and been awful in others (such as his two most recent ones in which he gave up 14 earned runs). Wasn’t he supposed to be the next Curt Schilling? This is his chance to show the national stage what he can do….Joe Blanton has gone 4-0 with the Phils but with a pedestrian 4.20 ERA. Not a bad No. 3 starter but the jury is still out on him against good lineups.

X-Factors: If the name Yovani Gallardo doesn’t ring a bell right away, it’s because he’s had one start since May. Funny thing is, he might be carrying the Brewers hopes on his shoulders. I’ve been following him since he was in the minors and, as proven by his successful rookie year last year, he has No. 1 stuff. Had he been healthy all year, I firmly believe the Brewers would’ve been right there with the Cubs. The national media will know who he is after game one….For a reigning MVP, Jimmy Rollins wasn’t very valuable this year. If he wasn’t going to hit over 30 hr again, I would’ve like to have seen a higher OBP than .349 (which, sadly enough, represents a career high for him). He’s going to need to be on base often and steal bases to create RBI opportunities for Howard and Utley.

Who Will Win: I’m calling the upset. Brewers in 5. Gallardo steals game one and the Brewers go back to Milwaukee up 2-0 after Sabathia outpitches Myers. The Phils get two back in The Land of Beer and Sausages before Gallardo outduels Hamels in game 5 at Philly.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I'm Gonna Miss Troy Brown

In my mind, the litmus test for the popularity of an athlete is: Would I root for him while he was on another team? The first time I faced this question was in 1996 when that Clemens Guy headed north for a fat (re: steroid-inflated) pay day. I will say that Dan Duquette didn't help things by saying Clemens was in the twilight of his career but the way Clemens left as well as his me-first demeanor throughout his time here caused me to criticize him and not cheer for him in a Blue Jays uniform.

Mo Vaughn's departure was similar all the way up to his "Stupid Boston fans" and "It's not about the money" quotes. Didn't feel all that bad when he fell down those stairs at the start of the '99 season and hurt his ankle.

I could go down the list of greedy ex-Boston athletes (see: Nomar) but you get the picture. The two players I can think of that I openly rooted for while they were on opposing teams were Drew Bledsoe and Pedro Martinez. Two very different athletes with very different careers. Bledsoe could be characterized as a disappointment or a tough athlete who saved football in New England. I'd choose the latter. Pedro was the most dominating pitcher of an era that was defined by syringe-plunging hitters who hit in bandbox stadiums. I don't need to go on about what they did for New England, but the quality that each had was that they were "ours". Pedro may have played in Los Angeles and Montreal but he is on a short list of the greatest Boston athletes ever. Even after every mind-numbing, costly interception, Bledsoe was our guy. They gave their hearts when they played and I rooted for Bledsoe in Buffalo and Dallas and I honestly wanted nothing but success for Pedro in the Big Apple.

There are obviously players like Bill Mueller who spent a short amount of time here who I respected greatly and would watch anywhere. But, in terms of a player spending a significant amount of time here and supporting them on other teams, the list is filled with Patriots. Right at the top of the list is #80.

When Troy Brown announced his retirement yesterday morning, in some ways I was happy because I now know he'll never wear anything but the red, white and blue that he adorned his whole career. I still would've cheered and followed him in a Jets uniform but it's good to know he's a lifetime Patriot. The greatest Patriot receiver of all time retired as a Patriot with the same dignity and class that he displayed since he was drafted 198th overall out of Marshall in 1993.

All day on WEEI, callers have been reminiscing about favorite Brown moments and it made me feel a bit nostalgic as well. The first play that comes to mind was Brown picking up the blocked field goal in the 2001 AFC Title game and lateraling it to Antwan Harris for a touchdown. No play could define a player more than that one.

Everyone remembers Adam Vinetieri's game-winning field goal in the Super Bowl that year but it was Brown's reception with seconds remaining that even gave him a chance for the kick. That's Troy Brown, unnoticed but unbelievably important. Who remembers his fourth-down catch at midfield against Tennessee in the third quarter in the Divisional Playoff in 2003? Stuff like that sticks with me.

I consider his late transition into a nickel back in 2004 to be more impressive than his 101-catch season in 2001. He did what the team needed him to do and performed admirably. In a time when we have the likes of "Ocho Cinco" going on ESPN to talk about himself, a team-first player like Brown becomes even more special. I'll take 50 catches and great leadership over 80 catches and a detriment to your team any day. His productivity may have declined toward the end of the Patriots run but he was a rock from day one until now. We're not going to realize how important he was until 5 or 6 years from now if Foxboro is filled with underachieving, malcontent receivers. This isn't going to last forever, folks.

He'll never make the Hall of Fame but I will say this: the Patriots don't win 3 Super Bowls without him. We'll miss you Troy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Thoughts on the Pats

I have yet to write about the Patriots since the unfortunate Brady injury. This is more out of neglect for this blog than not wanting to discuss the painful subject.

After two nail-biter wins against the Chiefs and Jets that were defined by the way the Pats defense controlled the game while Matt Cassel played (for the most part) mistake-free football. The hinges finally came off this week and I wasn't all that surprised. It's going to take some time for Cassel and Patriot receivers to click and this is going to be a process but the extent to which the Dolphins took it to the Pats was shocking.

Even when Cassel threw the touchdown to Gaffney late in the third quarter to make it 28-13, the Pats were never in this game. Cassel missed open receivers on more than a few occasions and that's OK. At this point, what I'm looking for from him is progress. I've heard more than a few comparisons between a young Tom Brady and Cassel but I'm going to go back to what I was talking about with my friend the other day.

First off, Brady had more physical gifts than Cassel. He was far more adept at the touch pass and was extremely efficient with screen passes as well as the slants (often to Troy Brown). Next, Brady worked the whole off season to memorize the playbook and seemed to grasp what Belichick would implement into the system as the season progressed. Early on, it was Brady's brain that outweighed his abilities but he was still effective enough to keep his team in games. He wasn't perfect by any means but as soon as Mo Lewis changed our lives forever by pounding Drew Bledsoe into the turf, he was ready to take the reigns. I'm not sure I could say the same of Cassel.

Even more than the stagnant offense, the defense lost this game for the Patriots. Trick plays aside, the Dolphins dominated every aspect of this game. Belichick and his staff have been widely known known as having the ability to make defensive changes during a game. The Patriot defense not only wasn't able to adjust to the tempo of the game but by the fourth quarter seemed disinterested and tired. The age of this defense concerned me going into the season but they played worse than I ever could have imagined.

It's clear that with the lack of offensive firepower this team is going to have to play almost a perfect game to even compete with a good team like the Cowboys or Colts. With Brady at the helm, the same could have been said for the Patriots' opponent. Sad, sad times in Patriot Land.

Side note: For all of those fans who left the game early, for shame. Not only are you ditching a game that wasn't out of hand yet but you're providing fodder for national pundits who claim we're a bunch of bandwagon fans. I thought I had left all the early-goers in LA when I flew back to the east coast but apparently not.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wow...been a while. Sox Clinch!

To start, my apologies to the three people that glance at this blog every once in a while. I was in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for a week and prior to that I was either too busy or just too damn lazy. No more of that. I plan on writing at least four or five times a week from here on out.

Watching Jonathan Papelbon pound Bud Lights and dance around Fenway Park has become a sight of both pure beauty and entertainment for Sox fans every where and it doesn't seem like we'll be missing his yearly performance anytime soon.

The Sox clinched a playoff berth tonight in impressive fashion. A 5-4 win over a team in the Indians that was only two games over .500 prior to the game doesn't seem all that spectacular on the surface. However, I think the Sox have gotten away from what had made them a successful team all season the past couple weeks. The team has lacked timely hitting and consistent performances from Papelbon. A home run from Kevin Youkilis early in the game and a big RBI single from Jason Bay proved to be all the Sox bullpen needed. The Sox' playoff hopes could hinge on Bay's production in October and thus far he has been up to the task of playing important games late in the season.

Papelbon's stats read 40-45 in save chances coming into the game but to anyone who watches the Sox with any regularity will tell you he hasn't been himself of late. His saves have been sloppy and he blew what may have been the game that cost the Sox the division a few weeks ago when he gave up the bomb to Dan Johnson right after Bay's home run to put Boston in the lead in the bottom of the eighth. Tonight Papelbon used his 95-97 mph fastball with confidence instead of messing around with his slider or curve ball. The 1-2-3 inning was great but it was the way he did that caught my attention. He obviously never lacks confidence but tonight I think he finally regained confidence in his fastball.

The Sox are back to October for the fifth time in six years. Sustained success was Theo Epstein's plan when he took over back in 2002 and the team's performance speaks for itself. The Sox have adopted the theme of "We're the Champs and until you knock us off, we're not going anywhere." The Yankees of the late '90s always had that state of mind and that's where I feel this team is at.

Three quality starting pitchers. A scorching bullpen. Pedroia-Ortiz-Youkilis-Bay. Bring on the playoffs.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Random Thoughts 9/4

Is it really September? I can't believe we're already here in the heat of the pennant race. The first few months of the Red Sox season was overshadowed by the Celtics' championship run and it seems as though this team has floated along all season. There have been the ups (Jon Lester's no-hitter and remarkable season as well as the play of Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis) and the downs (David Ortiz's injury, Josh Beckett's uneven pitching and the whole Manny situation). Unlike last year, when the Sox were trying to hold off the surging Yankees, the team is attempting to catch the upstart (don't call me Devil) Rays.

I must say, the Rays' August success was extremely impressive. Not only are these young players dealing with their first playoff chase, they were bit with a rather large injury bug at the wrong time. First Troy Percival (the key to their revamped bullpen) goes down. Then, their longest tenured player and star center fielder in Carl Crawford ruptures the tendon in his middle finger. The only thing that could be worse would be losing rookie sensation and their hottest hitter, Evan Longoria, right? A fractured wrist later, the Rays had the look of a team about to meet their inevitable slide. As a baseball fan, I'm ecstatic about a story like this but the Boston blood in me was hoping the Sox would gain ground in their absence (despite injuries to J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell and Beckett). As we learned in 2006 when the Yankees lost Hideki Matsui and Gary Shefield for the season and the Yankees had barely missed a beat by season's end, this don't always work out that way.

The Sox have crawled to within 3 1/2 games with a little more than three weeks to play and I agree with many fans and writers that this team is peaking at the right time. I'm not going to restate the obvious and tell you we have the likes of Beckett and Lowell returning soon. Beyond their health, I like the way this team has played since Jed Lowrie became the starting short stop. This version of the Sox high-scoring offense relies less on the Earl Weaver philosophy (i.e. the three-run bomb from Ortiz) and has gained its identity as a doubles-hitting, well-rounded squad that gets on base on a regular basis. As my confidence in Manny Delcarmen has waned, hope has grown into a shaky trust that Hideki Okajima will be himself come October (Giambi's blast off him last week notwithstanding. This team is ready to prove its invaluable championship mettle it earned last October.