Addressing a topic brought up by poster JCL (YF) in a thread earlier today, I would like to hash out how the Sox might respond to the return of their stars. Let’s clear one thing up, though: In no way are the Red Sox better off without these players in their lineup. When and if they are healthy enough to play, and let’s assume that they will be at least 85% of their old selves when they do (and that isn’t asking a ton), they should be inserted immediately. I don’t believe the question “should they play?” is even an issue, and don’t really want to enter any debate on that – I can’t imagine either YF or his lackeys disagree.
Now, on to potential results, and this is where the issue gets a tiny bit dicier. Because the Red Sox should be a noticeably better club with Nixon and Garciaparra in their lineup, it makes any lapse in performance following their return fodder for the critics. If the Sox go on a five game skid the moment Nomar and Trot return to the lineup, inevitable questions will arise – from the Boston media, from the posters at SoSH, from the New York haters: were the Sox better off without these guys? Is the team complacent because they have their stars back? Do the pitchers feel less pressure, therefore are less sharp and focused on game day? Next, questions will arise about the actual health of these players – are they 100%? Is Mark Bellhorn at 100% better than Nomar at 75%? Third – questions will arise about whether Nomar and Trot are suffering from Dizzy Dean Syndrome, that is, have they altered their game to deal with injury? Is Nomar’s range limited because of the Achilles problem? Is his swing less powerful? Does Trot cover less ground because of his back pain? Why won’t he dive for balls? Games will be deconstructed, at-bat by at-bat, chance-by-chance.
Many of these supposed questions are legitimate, should such a scenario play out. Players do compensate because of injury. Pitchers might relax knowing they have a loaded offense behind them. An earlier comment speculates on the timing of the Red Sox “swoon”, and for me the pertinent question is: do the Sox have a roster that can withstand such a lull, should it happen? The answer, as far as I can tell, is yes. The Red Sox are made up in a very smart way, and it’s a makeup that I have touted since Curt Schilling arrived on the scene, since A-Rod arrived on the scene as an answer. Pitching is king. Pitching will carry the Red Sox through soft spots in a way that it could not in the past. The Red Sox, as every team, will suffer through rough patches. They have done this already – one 5 game losing streak down the tubes, another short skid started fresh this Sunday, though ended in rousing fashion tonight. However, it is unlikely that they will suffer through any really prolonged horrors this season, assuming health of the pitching staff and a full, reasonably healthy lineup. An obvious reason is their starting rotation. With Martinez, Schilling, Lowe, and Wakefield, it is unlikely that they will go several games without at least a pair of solid efforts from these guys. But that’s obvious. A bit less obvious is the trickle-down effect of Keith Foulke. Foulke allows Embree to specialize. He allows Timlin to not close. He allows Williamson to be Mariano Rivera to Keith Foulke’s Wetteland (or at least a slightly poorer-man’s version of that). He makes the ‘pen a 2 or 3 inning per night beast and this allows the starters some comfort. Additionally, it allows the Red Sox to come back in games when down early. Witness the Yankees’ comeback this weekend and you see the value of a strong bullpen. In the Sox’ case, the bullpen allows them to deal with hiccups from the starters as well as any imminent struggles by Nomar and Trot.
So when Trot and Nomar return I expect the inevitable questions – how healthy are they? How long will it take to get them 100%? Who plays second base? But I don’t expect to ask why the Red Sox are worse off. Come back soon, guys, and come back healthy – We can wait for your best.