Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Today was a bad day in Sedition in Red Sox Nation. Nick Cafardo beat me to a punch. And I take very little consolation from the fact that that puts me in a very, very, very small fraternity of people who have been beaten to a punch by a writer notorious for being slow to the punch. I imagine the Red Sox ownership did their very best to conceal the fact that JD Drew is in a persistent offensive funk from keen, penetrating minds like Cafardo's, but the scribe got wise.

Unfortunately for Nick Cafardo, living in the era of Google means that I can simply type his name and JD Drew's name in a search window. Within seconds, almost by magic, I can read articles like this one where Cafardo wrote in December that JD Drew has gotten a bad rap over the years. It would be ironic if it weren't so pathetic.

For my part, I have been reluctant to point out the fact that JD Drew is underperforming in a big way. In part, I have been hoping his offensive woes would get worse before I posted on the subject. I have also been waiting patiently for the team to reverse field and come back to the pack in the American League. To this point, I have been disappointed in that simple ambition. But cliches tell me that sooner or later all good things come to an end and what goes up must come down, so I have yet to panic.

This team simply isn't good enough to keep winning at this pace over the course of a 162 game season. Drew is hitting .250, and may have hurt his back in an effort to look sublimely ridiculous whilst breaking his back on the right field wall last night. Coco Crisp is hitting a stately .231, and begging the question why aren't Red Sox fans demanding his immediate departure with his performance (or total lack thereof) on a daily basis. Manny has come alive, but we all expected that.

JD Drew needs to be a productive player for the Red Sox to maintain any kind of momentum through the dog days of summer. At some point, the teams in the AL East are going to get better. Everything that could have gone right to this point has gone right for the Red Sox. They haven't had any injuries to speak of, the Yankees are ravaged by injuries and their offense is apparently wrapped up in the graduation season (they've hit four homers in the last ten games, and two of them came today).

The Red Sox can afford to harbor a .250 hitter with 2 home runs and 13 RBI right now, but what will things look like for the Nation if their #5 hitter is putting up numbers like that in August and September. I imagine that Red Sox fans will stick out their chests and boast that they will have clinched by then, so a slight statistical correction won't make a difference. Of course, there isn't a group of people in the world that can front-run with Red Sox Nation.

The real question is can Red Sox Nation afford to pay a guy to bat in the five hole where they desperately need protection for Ramirez and Ortiz $12 million to hit .250 without producing solid power numbers? It will make it all the harder to sustain the pleasant fiction that the Red Sox are the victim of the Evil Empire's spending sprees.

I think the problem here is that the Red Sox expect JD Drew to play like a guy worth $12 million a year. If they really wanted him to play as though he were worth $12 million, then John Henry should have signed him for $18 million a year. When this situation becomes a problem, and it will because another hitter is due to go into a slump any minute now or a pitcher will lose his mojo (maybe Beckett has with his litte finger issue), I won't enjoy it as much as I ought.

Red Sox fans have a way of passing their misery on to the rest of humanity. As soon as I get my first "I told you so" post up, I'm sure I'll have comments from Red Sox fans saying they knew this was going to happen because they went to one of the dozen websites that enable baseball superfans to find the statistics they use to bore normal humans into submission and were able to calculate the minute disparities in WHIP and OPS to the 35th decimal place which explains why the team flopped down the stretch.

Speaking of flops, so much attention has been paid to the incredibly harsh suspensions of the two Phoenix Suns following the incident in Game 5 of their series against the Spurs that the underlying hypocrisy of the situation has been overlooked. I think that the one game suspension should have been extended once the Suns tried to sell the fact that their players had left the bench area because of offense-defense substitution patterns to people who should have been too intelligent to buy it.

That was one of the more ridiculous statements I have heard in a long time. First, unless there are some special rules for Phoenix, no one could have come into the game until a stoppage. Considering that there were fewer than 24 seconds to play and the Spurs were over the foul limit, how was the clock going to stop? Unless magical elves intervened, the only way the clock was stopping was a foul by San Antonio.

Once that foul was committed, Phoenix would have two free throws, which is ample time to insert players. In the time it took for all of the players to line up at the other end of the court, two healthy men who are ostensibly world-class athletes should be able to walk the thirty feet to the scorer's table in time to be admitted to the game between the first and second free throws. It happens all the time, in every game and it could have happened there.

A more interesting question is that Phoenix knew, because Mike D'Antoni is the brilliantest mind in basketball (so brilliant that any effort to describe it in one word requires the writer to resort to expressions that are grammatically and syntactically impossible as I just did), that San Antonio would foul trailing by 3 with fewer than 24 seconds on the clock if they wanted any chance at winning the game. So if San Antonio is going to foul and said foul will end any offensive possession and transition immediately to defense, were the Suns really going to substitute two players in an offense-defense pattern?

I don't like it when teams lie to me. Phoenix players left the bench for one reason, and one reason only - to get after some member of the Spurs. I don't want to have to examine their case as if I were Lt. Caffey trying to find out from Colonel Jessup why Private Santiago didn't pack his gear or make any telephone calls prior to his 0600 flight out of Gitmo. If Phoenix didn't try to weasel their way out of the suspensions with such a blatant fabrication that ought to insult the intelligence of any person who has ever watched a basketball game, maybe I'd be a little more sympathetic to their plight.

However, the real travesty of the unpleasantness at the end of Game 5 is that we are expected to treat a small, gutless overachiever from Canada as though he were the victim in all of this. Steve Nash took a step before he went down, he flopped. If I were the type of person that believed that sort of gamesmanship had any place in civilized competition, I would offer kudos to him for that kind of initiative. Unfortunately, I find it reprehensible and I am not amused.

As a point of comparison, I don't know if you remember when Chad Clifton was crushed by Warren Sapp. I tried to find the video on youtube, but it wasn't available. The site was doing routine maintenance, which might have been part of the problem. Chad Clifton, who was slightly bigger than Sapp, went down immediately. But Steve Nash, who was a good deal smaller than Robert Horry, managed to take a step in the process of his collision? It doesn't make sense to me.

As I've mentioned in this space before, there is a serious problem in the NBA right now. Some one needs to step in and put an end to the culture of flopping. Surely I am not the only basketball fan who is horrified that flop artists and hacks like Raja Bell, Bruce Bowen and Shane Battier are considered top-flight defenders? Michael Cooper, whom I hated as a kid, would be rolling over in his grave to see that, provided, of course, that he were in fact dead.

No one seems to have the guts to say this, but the problem in the NBA begins at the top. David Stern is the problem. I have been reluctant to say this because I thoroughly enjoy it when he oppresses Mark Cuban. But he has let the product be debased. He was given a mulligan when the experiment of expansion into Canada proved so disastrous that Vancouver relocated to Memphis (a city that has a claim to fame other than Elvis???) in just a few years of existence. The closest thing to a proactive policy he has instituted is a dress code for players, which hasn't exactly been a smashing success.

Chicago fans, especially, ought to be griping about this situation more than I am. That nice layover between the series with Miami and the second round killed the momentum for the Bulls. Absolutely murdered it. Plowed it under and sowed salt in the furrows. It's been amazing to see the Bulls claw their way back to force a Game 6. But it makes you wonder what this series would have been like had the Bulls with limited playoff experience not had to deal with a week of downtime between playoff games. If it's any consolation, at least TNT had the convenience of running forty games in forty nights promos.

No comments: