The headlines are negative this morning, as "Rangers take AL wild-card lead" is one of the lead stories on all the national sites. Rightly so, as Texas' continued surprising play and overtaking one of MLB's financial heavyweights midway through August is a major story. But if the issue is just focusing on the Red Sox making the playoffs, I think this past week was pretty good. We came into it reeling, having lost all six games on the road trip to Tampa and New York. The fifth spot in the rotation was completely up for graps. And two strong opponents, in the Tigers and Rangers were on the docket. The possibility for the meltdown spiraling out of control was very real.
Yet Boston posted a winning record for the week, going 4-3. The new fifth starter, Junichi Tawaza, was at least competent in a win against Detroit and a loss against Texas. I'm not saying I'd want him on the mound in a game with the season on the line, but in a world where a #5 guy is necessary, he at least gives us a chance to win. The only problem was that Texas went 4-2 and slipped ahead of us. However, the Sox have five more home games than do the Rangers down the stretch. Given that both teams have big gaps in home and road performance, and the margin is razor-thin, that's a big advantage. The Red Sox did what they had to do this week and stopped the bleeding. Now they can move forward and see if they can get a little hot streak going.
The major personnel move of the week was picking up Alex Gonzalez to play shortstop. I absolutely love this move. Gonzo plays the best defense of any shortstop the Sox have had--indeed, he is arguably the rangiest one in in the major leagues. He was with the team in 2006, but cut loose for two reasons. The first being that Theo Epstein believed that in the AL East, a shortstop had to hit. While that's ideal, it's not necessary when you defend as well as this guy does. The other reason is that the Reds threw a hefty three-year contract at Gonzalez, a ridiculously overpriced deal that would have only been worth it if he could hit a lick. Boston gets him for the last two months of that bad contract, and I'm hoping we can ink him to a reasonable offer in the offseason. In the meantime, a position that has given us nothing all season now at least gives great defense. And in a race that will be decided by a fraction of an inch one way or another, that means Gonzo can be a difference-maker.
Boston heads into a Week 20 that sees us go up to Toronto and then back home for the Yanks on the weekend. A 4-2 week would be a success, setting us up for what hopefully can be a Week 21 push against the White Sox and Jays in Fenway. The Rangers open the week at home with four games against the Twins, while the Rays visit the collapsing Orioles. Our two rivals in the wild-card race play each other in Tropicana this weekend.
As long as the focus of The Bos-Wash Corridor is on the state of Texas, let's take a look at the Dallas Cowboys as the check-in on NFC East rivals continue. The Cowboys are an organization in turmoil since the departure of Bill Parcells. Discipline continues to decline under Wade Phillips as the division's most talented team underachieved its way out of the playoffs a year ago. Dallas has a strong offensive line and a good running game. Jason Witten gives them one of the best TE targets in the game. For all the criticism Tony Romo gets, can you name a quarterback outside of Brady and Peyton who is indisputably better? The team has a strong defensive front seven and can pressure the quarterback, led by DeMarcus Ware. The receivers and the secondary are problem areas, but give that 95 percent of the teams in the league have problems, they shouldn't be insurmountable. The talent, combined with Phillips' track record of leading teams in decline suggest that the 'Boys will be a tough out on any given Sunday, but will stub their toe just enough to play themselves out of Super Bowl contention.
The positional look at the Redskins continues at wide receiver. Fans who are hard-core about preseason games aren't going to be in a good mood about the offense after Thursday's 23-0 shutout against the Ravens. I'm not hard-core about these August exhibitions, although living in working in the Baltimore area, I do find Ravens fans to be phenomenally annoying and made a point of wearing my 'Skins polo shirt to work on Friday and inviting the heckling.
One can be cavalier about one preseason game, but we can't be cavalier about the lack of depth at the wideouts. How much longer can Santana Moss carry the load? I like Antwaan Randle-El, but I never liked the money Washington paid for him. We paid him like a #1 receiver, but in reality he's a #3 guy who can return punts. Pittsburgh knew it and cut him loose. It didn't stop them from just plugging Santonio Holmes in his place and winning another Super Bowl. I never liked the draft choice of Devin Thomas, who was nothing special at Michigan State. I'm a little bit more hopeful about Malcolm Kelly, but on balance, this is a group very much like the running backs--way too dependent on one star who's taken a lot of hits over the years and is in need of some help.