And when I say "they" I mean the Boston Red Sox.
For a little over 40 days the Sox have been in first place, but the lead has never been iron-clad. The reason? Boston has simply not been able to pull away from a beaten-up, star-struck New York Yankees teams. Once the Sox' lead got large, they would begin to play terribly and the Yankees would start playing great.
While each bullpen has been terrible (save for Mariano Rivera) it all begins with the starting rotation. If your starters pitch better, your relievers don't have to pitch as much and thus can be saved. For a textbook example of this look at last year's New York Yankees whose bullpen was completely cooked in September and October.
This year, the Yanks have a starting rotation that is headed by the rotting corpse of Randy Johnson, the wildly inconsistent Mike Mussina, the immortal Aaron Small, Shawn Chacon and Jaret "Get me back to Atlanta and Leo Mazzone" Wright. Yet, as of this entry, they are 1.5 games behind the Sox for first place.
Not that the Red Sox starting staff is much better, Curt Schilling has been an absolute mess, David Wells has had his good days and his bad (and if it sounds as if I'm talking about someone's grandfather, check out the age of Boomer some time), guitar strumming Bronson Arroyo, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and Matt Clement. Of the five, only Clement has been considered "good" and I doubt that you'd find a Sox fan who has a lot of confidence in him.
So there's the problem: starting pitching. Neither the Red Sox or the Yankees have a very good staff. What is so disappointing about this turn of events is that the Red Sox won last year's World Series due to a great starting staff. They had a number one and one-A starters at the top of their rotation, two decent number three guys (Wakefield and Arroyo). The only stiff was Derek Lowe, but he was tremendous in the post season, so that wipes away his crappy year.
The question remains, did Sox GM Theo Epstein honestly feel that this year's staff was as good as last year's starting five? You have to say no, but what could he do? His prime off season target, Carl Pavano, has completely sucked in New York and could be done for the season with an injury. Clement and Wells were expected to be the solid two and three starters with Wake and Arroyo backing them up. There really wasn't any one else on the free agent or trade markets, so he made crap lemonade out of some crappy lemons.
The biggest problem for Boston is that one injury bug has ripped chunks of the Sox' staff to hell. Schilling has made a total of seven starts this year (also, he's worked some not-so-dominant innings in the bullpen) which had to be unseen. As you may recall, and how could you forget, Schilling was superhuman last October as doctors manueved parts of his ankle so the man could pitch without pain. Those sutures and maneuvers are a large part of why the Sox are floundering today.
This leads us to the inevitable question: would you trade the greatness of yesterday for the mediocrity of today? At the time every Sox fan made the same Faustian bargain, "As long as Boston wins the Series, I don't care if Schilling ever pitches another inning again." It looks like we may have gotten our wish as Curt Schilling has been pitching like Curt Young. While infuriating now, I would not go back on that "deal".
Yes, it sucks that the Sox are so damn inconsistent, but last year was magical and will never be topped. No one is saying that the Sox are done, but I'm beginning to sweat a bit. The one saving grace for the Sox (and the Yanks as well) has been their offense.
What do they say about great offenses and the post season?