By Rich Levine
Some random thoughts after a sports-filled weekend (otherwise known as a weekend):
Red Sox, DOA?
On the heels of a mediocre Red Sox road trip at a time when "mediocre" just doesnt cut it brace yourself for the arrival of countless Sox obituaries on the shores of our precious Internet.
On one hand, there's no doubt the outlook looks less than sexy.
Theres nothing that the Sox can do to bring Youkilis back, and with Ellsbury's latest setback you have to assume he's done for the year (and, given his recovery speed, wonder if he'll ever play again). The injuries are killers. Then you've got the uncertainty at the end of bullpen (a nice way of saying Jonathan Papelbons arm is about as trustworthy as a BP exec), and the fact that while there are still 40-plus games left on the year, the Sox are at least beginning to run out of time.
But as we most recently learned with the Celtics, and so many other times before that: In sports, conventional wisdom and logic are only temporary. Theyre always day-to-day.
Sure, at the moment, the idea of the Sox catching Tampa feels Bay far-fetched. But what if Boston sweeps, or even takes two of three from, the fading Angels this week? How quickly will that tune change?
Or how about this: The Sox and Rays will play a three-game series at the Trop from August 27-30. In the meantime, the Sox play nine games (all at home) against the fading Angels, faded Mariners and the Blue Jays. Meanwhile, the Rays play 10 games three against the red-hot Rangers, and then a seven-game West Coast trip against LA and Oakland.
Advantage, Sox? Without question. Looking at that schedule, its completely reasonable to think that Boston, even in its current state, can make up a few games before Aug. 27, at which point, anything is possible.
If they don't, then, yeah, maybe theyre not good enough. Maybe they'll have run out of chances. Maybe its time to bump all the Pats pages to the front of your bookmarks bar.
But not yet. We just dont know. We cant know. Nobody does. It's too early to be pronouncing teams dead.
Fine, maybe I'll go out on a limb and say that the Orioles wont make the playoffs this year. But to use the term "dead" about a team thats only five out with 43 games left is reactionary insanity.
Am I about to run online and bet my rent check on the Sox winning the pennant (only 7-1 odds, by the way)? Of course not. But would I be shocked if they snuck into the Wild Card and stirred up a little chaos in the postseason? No way.
One mans take on the four players whom the Sox success most hinges on:
1. Josh Beckett (left)John Lackey
Ideally, both these former All-Stars will come around and make good on disappointing 2010 seasons, but if even one of them can turn back the clock over these next six weeks, and join Lester, Buchholz and, I guess, (man, this feels weird to type) Dice-K in the ranks of respectable Sox starters, the team will enter into a new echelon, at the perfect time.
2. Dustin Pedroia
In baseball, it's hard for one player especially a position player to dominate the ebb and flow of a game, but when Dustin Pedroia returns from injury on Tuesday he will have to be that guy. Obviously, his on-field production will be the greatest help, but Pedroia also needs to inject some life and emotion into the fray. He needs to put that contagious, sometimes overwhelming, attitude and energy and hope that it infects every single person in that clubhouse (yes, even J.D. Drew). He needs to be AugustSeptember 2008 Dustin Pedroia, and nothing less. Or the Sox will likely do nothing.
3. Jonathan Papelbon
Unless things get much, much worse for Papelbon let's say, at least two more blown saves I have a very hard time imagining the Sox moving him out of the closer role.
Seriously, if you had one word to describe Terry Francona's managerial style, what would it be?
Loyal, right? That's how Tito rolls. Sometimes to a fault and that's with guys he's only had for a couple months. You really think he'll have the nerve to pull the plug of one of his most accomplished and longest-tenured guys? Short of Paps morphing into 2007 Eric Gagne, I just don't see it. Not this season, at least.
That being the case, the Sox need Papelbon to just morph into 2007 Jonathan Papelbon. Hell, they'd even take the 2009 version.
The Sox future not to mention the extent of Paps' future earnings depends on it.
Wondering how long did it take the guys in Texas to come up with the name: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Did they even call a meeting for that one? Or maybe they were stuck in the world's longest meeting, couldn't come to a consensus, and after 11 hours just said, "Eff it, lets just call it what it is and make a tee time."
Either way. Well done, Texas.
The Big Ego
Im starting to get a bit more comfortable with the idea of Shaq wearing green next season. The expectations seem reasonable, Shaq seems committed, and the fact that KG broke off vacation in Hawaii to be in Waltham for the press conference says a lot for where he stands on the matter. For now, there's reason to err on the side of optimism
But what I still dont get is how or why everyone or at least a good handful of people have been so quick to anoint Shaq as this egoless and selfless saint who'll fit seamlessly into the Celtics locker room. What has he done in his career to predict this? He's had problems with that kind of thing since he came into the league.
I do believe he's committed, at this very moment, to putting everything aside for the greater good, but he's far from egoless. He may have accepted that hes no longer a threat to win the MVP, but he still thinks he can dominate; I guarantee you he believes he's the best the center on the Celtics roster. And at some point this year, that belief will be tested. Do you really think that Shaq who's been in the starting line-up for all but 9 of his 1,170 regular-season games will be comfortable coming off the bench in favor of Kendrick Perkins? Nope. And if that's a problem, what's Doc's other option? Relegating Perk to the bench, upsetting his already fragile confidence and psyche, and breaking up the starting five that still yet to lose a playoff series when healthy?
I'm not saying drama is unavoidable, but it should be pretty damn interesting.
Big Man Mystery
On the above note:
NBA Big Man A 2010 stats: 23.4 minutes, 12 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks
NBA Big Man B 2010 stats: 28.4 minutes, 13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks
NBA Big Man C 2010 stats: 29.9 minutes, 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, .8 blocks
So, what do you think? Even with the minute disparities, these three guys are pretty comparable, right? Wouldnt you look at these three stat lines and assume A, B and C are all playing at about the same level?
Anyway, to end the paralyzing suspense:
NBA Big Man A = Shaquille O'Neal
NBA Big Man B = Jermaine O'Neal
NBA Big Man C = Kevin Garnett
Yeah, I know. This doesnt account for defense blocks don't tell the whole story or the emotional intangibles that put KG in another level compared to the O'Neals, but the comparisons still interesting, considering all the "washed-up" talk thats surrounded Shaq and JO's arrivals in Boston.
Maybe it means that we've all been a little too quick to write off the careers of the two new guys, or maybe . . .
Nah, lets just go with that.
Dustin Johnson: Tough Break, Honest Mistake, or Ridiculous Rules
Ill go with a little of all three.
First things first (and obvious): You have to feel awful for Johnson (right). He was in prime position to win two Majors this season an achievement that would have thrust him into golf's elite and made him millions and millions in sponsorships. Hes had two shots, when most guys are lucky to even have one, and on both occasions, he's choked it away. Thats not to say Johnson is without the skills, going forward, to be in contention four times a year, but nothing's set in stone. Anything can happen. Ask David Duval. With two Majors, Johnson would have been on the path to greatness, but for now, hell have to settle for Greg Norman comparisons.
As for Bunker-gate (damn, it feels good to be able to use the played-out "-gate" phrase), I think the PGA got it right.
It's ridiculous they'd allow the crowd to occupy an area that qualifies as a bunker, but at the same time, they also went out of their way all week to hammer home the hazard rules, and considering the stakes, it was Johnson's (or his caddys) responsibility to know the story. When that kind of dough and prestige is on the line, ignorance cant be an excuse. You have to play it right. And even if the PGA might lose a few casual fans who'll cite the organization's rigidness as a reason to stop watching golf (along with the reason that Tiger stinks), not making the proper call would have caused more harm in the long term. It would have set a dangerous precedent.