Saturday, September 24, 2011

If Wishes Were Third Starters, the Royals Would Make the Playoffs, Too

When a man is whistling past a graveyard, the identity of the tune he's chosen doesn't matter much. Still, one could have hoped for a little more originality from Theo Epstein than that uneasy listening ballad, "the playoffs are a whole new season."

No kidding. The general manager of the Boston Red Sox is hanging his hat on the fact that nine game leads are hard to blow in one month no matter how poorly you play, and that somehow, someway, the Red Sox will wake up the morning of the first game of the ALDS in possession of their former identity as baseball's best team as viewed by sportswriters and anonymous scouts in notes columns.

"No one will remember April," Epstein, "No one will remember what happened the last two weeks. What people will remember is what happens next." He went on to say just a win or two, and the Sox would again be a "dangerous team."

Well, Epstein had to say something, and "boy, we've really stunk lately" would not have been les mots juste. General managers have the same duty to spin as Presidential press secretaries. I have enough respect for Epstein to believe he didn't believe a word he said. Spin's OK, as long as the spinner doesn't think it's true. What that happens, the organization in question is doomed.

The problem with Epstein's cliche is that it's not absolutely true. Yes, what happens in the playoffs will determine how Boston fans recall 2011 come November. But the memory of the Sox' slump will stick in many minds when the playoffs are going on. Most of those minds will belong to American League ballplayers, most especially including those in Red Sox uniforms.

Videotape never forgets. Reruns of the Orioles series are almost surely the highest-rated program in the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers clubhouses. And since players are human beings, albeit unusual ones, failure tends to stick in their minds longer than success. That's how slumps get created in the first place. If Epstein thinks the Sox are going to enter the playoffs full of vim and swagger because they pick off a few wins from Triple A Yankee squads this weekend, he's delusional. At best, the Sox will enter the postseason in a mood of grim, frustrated desperation. I'm not sure that's the best frame of mind in which to pick up Justin Verlander's fastball or to try and slip one past Josh Hamilton.

As noted, spin is spin. But spin can't be all cliche and bluster. It needs the icing of facts on top to taste good. About the only facts the Sox have on their spin now are arithmetical. The numbers say there's not enough time for them to be caught in the wild card race. The payroll says they can't be this bad for too much longer.

Of course, that last argument has a hole in it. The Sox don't have to be bad for too much longer, do they?


Post a Comment

<< Home