(Posted: 9/20/13; e-mail update 9/21)
Last Sunday night, buy John (“Theeeeeee Yankeeeeees WIN!) Sterling hailed the Red Sox on WCBS as “the best team in baseball.” He was particularly admiring of their balance: “They can field a lefty-hitting team, generic or a righty-hitting team, both good…They’ve got excellent starters and a terrific bullpen.” It was a glowing tribute to GM Ben Cherington, (without mentioning his name) and to Skipper John Farrell’s leadership. The Red Sox, doormats a year ago, are today, we know, a smooth-running machine with the best record in both leagues.
The contrast between The Nation’s Sox and Chicago’s last-place White Sox is remarkable. Nothing has gone right for Robin Ventura’s South-Siders. Eerily, the Chisox’s most prominent fan has had a parallel problem, some are calling a “September slump.” Skipper Obama’s foreign policy team bollixed its little-ball plan for Syria. Even the friendly NY Times joined the press box critique that, on Syria, Team Obama is “in disarray.” In defending the changeable strategy of threatening, then delegating, and finally putting his “unbelievably small” attack plan on hold, the Skipper suggested to us a baseball analogy: “Had we been like the Red Sox,” he might have said for starters, then added what he actually said: “and rolled out something that was very smooth and disciplined…(the press would have) graded it well.”
The Skipper’s defensiveness and his coach John Kerry’s bellicose bench-jockeying have prompted many lefty (and other) fans to disappear into the upper deck when either of them sound forth on the field. “At some point people make a collective decision and they don’t listen to the president anymore. That’s what happened to both Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush,” says presidential biographer Lou Cannon . “I don’t think Obama has quite gone off the diving board yet… but he’s close to the edge. He needs to have some successes…”
The Skipper’s fans worry that his slump will continue into October, when the playoffs and debt-limit noise will cause many to tune him out more than they already have.
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Wild AL Outlook: If the pressbox consensus proves to be correct, the AL wild cards will go to the Indians, and either the Rangers or Rays. The reason: strength (or lack) of schedule. Cleveland has three games left with last-place Houston, two with the last-place White Sox and four with next-to-last-place Minnesota. The Rangers and Rays have similar-strength skeds: Texas plays Kansas City, Houston and the LA Angels, while the Rays battle Baltimore, the Yankees and Toronto. The Orioles face an uphill climb against the Rays, Toronto and the Red Sox. KC, if it gets by Texas, finishes with Seattle and the White Sox, so has an outside shot.
In the NL…The Cardinals play three with the Brewers, Nationals and Cubs. Unless the Nats make trouble – a legitimate possibility – the Cards must be considered favorites in the division. The Pirates and Reds go mano-a-mano six times, a sandwich that has the Bucs playing the Cubs, the Reds the Mets, in between those two crucial series. Barring a sweep by either team – which might open the door for the Nats – Pittsburgh and Cincinnati should be meeting in the NL’s play-in game the week after next.
Naysayer: Most baseball fans are thrilled with the wild card scramble just games from season’s end; most, but not all. Dennis Eckersley, on NESN the other night, called the tight races “lame.” At least one of the contending teams, he said, should break away and “show it deserves to make the playoffs.” As it is, he suggested, it’s hard to think any of the 10 or so clubs are of playoff-caliber.
O, Those Orioles: Despite losing the finale, Baltimore left Boston Thursday night with a sixth series win in its past seven trips to Fenway. The O’s have won 14 of their past 20 games at the Sox’s home park.
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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as requests for e-mail updates, are welcome. Note that only e-mailed comments can be addressed by the skipper. PreviousNubs may be found by scrolling below.)