Monday, April 09, 2007

I don't know how I missed the trend, but when did Easter become a big deal again? I understand the religious aspects of the day, but as the Christian population of this country becomes incrementally less Christian with each passing year, you'd think that Easter would come and go with little notice. And then last night as I watched that travesty in Arlington, Texas, I noticed two fat guys in Red Sox jerseys sitting in the crowd wearing bunny ears.

Maybe that's what Easter is in the process of becoming, spring's answer to Halloween - a day which once had religious significance but has become an excuse for adults to act like children and for children to act like even bigger morons than they are on any given weekday. Unfortunately, thinking about Easter more as a day for masquerading than as a day for rebirth might take a little of the bloom of yesterday's impressive triumph over a very mediocre Texas Rangers team.

If you read Curt Schilling's blog post on the win, you'll believe that it was a tremendous performance by Jonathan Papelbon. Of course if you remember the press coverage of the decision to return Papelbon to the bullpen, you might recall that the team was to make a concerted effort to limit him to one inning appearances to protect his shoulder. Morgan and Miller pointed out that Francona is also talking about pitching Papelbon in the 8th and bringing in another pitcher to throw the 9th.

Of course, last night Papelbon pitched an inning and two-thirds. He came in with runners at the corners and only one out. He faced Michael Young and Mark Teixiera in that situation and put the kibosh on the Ranger rally. And somewhere between the Bronx and Minneapolis, Joe Torre would have started preparing his explanation for The Boss when the Red Sox win their first AL East crown of the millennium had he not been so utterly traumatized by the supremely dominant Papelbon.

As Curt Schilling astutely pointed out, the Red Sox return to Fenway for their home opener after having gone .500 on the trip. Things could be worse. And they should be a hell of a lot better. The Red Sox payroll for 2007 is higher than the combined payrolls for the Rangers and Royals. Perhaps I'm being unfair. After all, Larry Lucchino has said that he doesn't like talking about payroll, since it could put the Red Sox at a competitive disadvantage, and I wouldn't want to do anything to hurt the team. So I'll just remind you that neither the Rangers nor the Royals finished last season with a winning record.

I must say, I am not as worried about Papelbon's performance as Red Sox Nation should hope. First, I am not impressed with Mark Teixeira. After his 0 for in the World Baseball Classic (I remember how often I have disparaged that farce, which is why not even getting a hit in it is doubly pathetic) and his slow start last season, I just don't think he's as good as advertised. To be fair, he is currently hitting a very impressive .211 with an RBI to date this season.

Also, I don't think the Rangers lineup is as good as some have said. The entire world may love Michael Young, but it doesn't change the fact that he's hitting .154 at the moment. The team is currently struggling to find timely hitting. Let's not forget that the Rangers came into the Boston series reeling after being swept by the Angels.

So yes, the Red Sox bounced back in a big way yesterday. Schilling looked a million times better than he did against Kansas City. Papelbon slammed the door on the Rangers with authority. Ortiz came alive offensively, hitting his first two home runs of the season. And Manny hit the ball pretty well, even though he had little to show for it but some loud outs.

And yet I think this team ought to be more than a little concerned going forward. Big Schill may have had his groove back, but is the 7 inning 102 pitch performance an indication of great pitching or bad hitting? I would say a bit of both, but I'm an incurable pessimist.

Papelbon slammed the door shut, but he did so against two boppers who might have a little trouble hitting the floor if they fell out of bed at this point in the year. Plus, would Francona have gone to his fragile closer for five outs in the eighth inning of a game on the road in April if he had anything but warm bodies in his bullpen? I think not.

As well as one can hope Schilling, Beckett and Matsuzaka will pitch, I just can't see Red Sox Nation feeling confident in Tim Wakefield and Julian Tavarez at the end of the rotation. JD Drew is 9-23, and hitting .391 in his six games in right field. But what happens if he should slump? Julio Lugo is only hitting .261 at this point. Kevin Youkilis is due to turn back into a pumpkin any day now.

I am aware that the Yankees had a bigger advantage in terms of payroll disparity over their two opponents. And their starters have yet to see the sixth inning. And their defense looks pathetic. But I'm not a Yankee fan, I only root for them because every win for the Yanks is bad for Red Sox Nation. As long as things look bad for the Red Sox, I'm happy. And I get the feeling that things aren't going to go well against the Mariners.

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