Keeping the Faith
Nomah is a Red Sox no more. Like everyone else, I've known since last winter that the possibility existed he'd be traded. Nonetheless, I have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Was Nomar unhappy here as reports have stated? He says no, but I wonder. That isn't the most important question, though. Would he have been willing to take less money in the off-season than he was offered and turned down last off-season? I can't imagine he would, and that's the rub. If we were going to lose him anyway, why not get major leaguers in exchange rather than just the compensatory draft pick?
For that reason alone, the trade makes good business sense. Orlando Cabrera is better than most people realize, having received almost no national attention while languishing in Montreal. Doug Mientkiewicz is a gold glove-caliber player at a position where we desperately need improved defense. Nomar himself has been beset by injuries this season, and even his current status is uncertain. Whatever we're losing offensively can be made up for by fewer errors and consequent unearned runs. By every objective measure, Theo did well with this trade.
But seeing a franchise player, a product of our own farm system who has achieved such great success and is loved by the fans, leave to continue his career elsewhere just doesn't feel good. As a fan, I can afford myself the luxury of wallowing awhile in that feeling.
Went to the Red Sox-Yankees game on Friday night. Wow, we came so close to winning that one, in spite of some of the general sloppiness of play. At the beginning of the night, Kevin Millar was booed by a substantial minority of the crowd. Nine innings and three homers over the wall later, he was everybody's hero. Honestly, could we fans be more fickle?
Just for the record, let me say that I do not believe it is appropriate under any circumstances to boo your own players.
I didn't see most of Saturday's game at Fenway, as I was in Pawtucket for the PawSox-Lynx game. Mid-game we found out about Billy Mueller's dramatic walk-off homer. The PawSox also won on a 3-run homer, though not a walk-off, by Kelly Shoppach. It was the PawSox' ninth win in their last ten games.
There is a thread over on the RedSox.com message board called the "Positivity Train." It was started last year by some fans who thought they could help the team by staying positive as fans and acting positively at games.
There is no question that a positive attitude on the part of a team helps them win. If they truly believe they can play well, they are less likely to get discouraged when the chips are down and fall into a rut. But what good does positivity by the fans do?
Quite simply, if the fans stay positive, don't boo at the park, and don't whine on sports radio (which players listen to even if they don't admit it), it helps keep the players pumped up. The support of the fans is a big reason why so many sports teams have a home field or home court advantage.
The trading deadline looms large, but I for one don't expect any big deals by Theo. There just isn't enough available on the trade market, and this management doesn't seem likely to make a deal just for the sake of it.
This team still has some issues to address, but it's nice to take the series from New York.
If the 2003 Red Sox overachieved, then I think we're at the point where we can safely say that this year's team is doing the opposite.
Let me be clear that I am not contending that last year's team lucked into anything. Sure, Bill Mueller had a career year winning the batting title. But contrary to rhetoric popular among non-thinking sports radio callers, Kevin Millar didn'tdespite slight increases in hits, homers, and RBI, his offensive averages were all below his career mark. As for another big '03 producer, David Ortiz, his power numbers were better, but not by leaps and bounds.
The point is that what made the 2003 team successful was the sum of the parts. I don't know whether more of the credit belongs to the players, who have to interact with one another on and off the field, or to the manager, who has to create (or at least not disrupt) the environment where that will happen. But I think we can all agree that for whatever reason, last season was a good one.
So what's going on this year? Whereas the 2003 Red Sox won 95 games, this year's club is on a pace to win only 90. And that's in spite of significant off-season improvements to the roster, such as the acquisition of Curt Schilling and Pokey Reese and the shedding of lesser performers like Todd Walker and (by circumstance if not design) Byung-Hyun Kim.
The 2004 Red Sox certainly had their share of hard luck early on, with significant injuries to key players like Nomar, Trot, and later, Mueller. But if you look at the results over the course of the season, the club actually did better when many of the key pieces were missing, and not because those guys haven't produced since coming back. On the contrary, it has been the healthier players who have been the problem, guys like D-Lowe and the recently slumping Jason Varitek (though I do expect Tek to snap out of it).
At the risk of placing too much emphasis on the nebulous "intangibles," I wonder if that is what this very talented collection of athletes is lacking. How much of the cohesiveness and team spirit of last year's group is lacking with this bunch? Are free-agents-to-be Nomar, Lowe, Tek, Pedro, et al., so distracted by thoughts of their next contract that they are, however unintentionally, somewhat more removed from the fabric of the team than they were last year? Are "pluses" like the new and improved Manny being negated by new influences like the heavy presence of Schilling and Nomar's hurt feelings? And finally, is the influence of our self-described "players' manager" turning into more of a liability than an asset?
These are tough questions, all of them, for which I admit I have no answers. This is just what I see. I am loathe to assign blame, for such things are never clear-cut and there is probably more than enough blame to go around. Perhaps what this team needs is an event, something like last season's benching of Manny, to send a certain message to the team and serve as a rallying point. And I suppose if that is to happen, it has to come from the top, either the front office or the field manager. I am not going to blame them for the problems, but I think they need to do something to shake things up a bit and get everyone re-focused. The season is nearly two-thirds over, and time is running out.
For reasons I can't identify or explain, I feel much more optimistic after last night's Sox win than I have about the other recent (thought rare) wins. Time will tell if this is the beginning of better and more consistent things, but there are a couple hopeful signs, such as:
I remain concerned about Tito's insistence on making late-game substitutions for no apparent reason, but if he must do it once in awhile to keep bench players fresh or whatever, at least an 11-run lead is a more appropriate situation for it.
Nonetheless, I maintain my seat aboard the positivity train. Now let's keep it going for the second half.
About twenty minutes ago, I decided to drive down to Pawtucket and catch the 6:05 PawSox game, with Independence Day fireworks afterward. When I got on the phone to pull together a group to go with me, the BoSox were leading the Braves 4-1. Three calls and a group of five later, Derek Lowe had given up the lead on a walk and a string of hits6-4 with only one out.
I wish I could say I am surprised, but I'm not. This has been Lowe's modus operandi in 2004. He cruises along until something goes awry, then instead of working through or around it, he comes unglued.
This is it, as far as I'm concerned. We're one week from the all-star break and four weeks from the trading deadline. Can we trade Lowe for a fielder and/or some prospects? Whom do we have at AAA to come up and start? These must be questions the front office is asking at this moment. In any event, I think we can safely say that D-Lowe is history on this team, the only mystery being if he'll be dealt or simply allowed to depart via free agency in November.
And on that note (score now 10-4, with 2 out and Jimmy Anderson on in relief and doing his best Lowe imitation) I'm off to Pawtucket. Let's hope for better things down on the farm. And if not, at least we'll have fireworks.