Somebody got this into Fenway? Security team, I am deeply, deeply disappointed. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
This has actually been kind of a fun week. Two wins against Tampa Bay put a bit of swagger in all our steps, even if the series wound up a split. There weren't any giant media explosions. Boston lost its 82nd game for the first time since Sunnydale made its TV debut, but even that was sort of freeing. The Red Sox are officially a losing team, let's just roll with it and see how the rest of the season turns out.
We're in strategic Limbo around here these days, with Boston's entire remaining schedule coming against Tampa, Baltimore, and New York, all three of whom are fighting both for the AL East crown and the two wild-card spots. A few weeks of winning baseball could really wreak havoc upon the standings, and would provide a nice bit of vengeance for last season's collapse. At the same time, Boston's two-month freefall has left them in excellent position to claim a protected draft pick next year. Not only would this higher pick allow for (probably) a better first-rounder and a higher limit on draft spending, but it would let Boston wade into the free-agent pool this offseason without risking the loss of a pick. Satisfying as a bit of divisional destruction would be, the best long-term move is probably to let those wins go by.
Of course, the free agent market is itself fraught with potential pitfalls, as Ben went over this week. The last few years saw Boston make several pretty heavy mistakes on that front. With the flexibility created by the Punto trade, it's possible Boston could be pretty active this offseason, though their recent legacy of troubles suggests they'll be cautious. One clear target, though, will be current Sox right fielder Cody Ross, who made an excellent case for sticking around in a largely pants-themed interview. I recommended keeping Ross around, both for his production and his clear comfort with the Boston atmosphere. Ben pointed out that money, as ever, would be the key factor in whether he's staying.
Managerial speculation time! We heard that Bobby Valentine is sure to be out at season's end. Of course, this came from Jon Heyman, so might be best to snag a few boulders of salt. Still, a change is quite possible, so should it occur, is there a replacement in the wings? Matt Sullivan looked at one possibility down Pawtucket. Another oft-mentioned future manager is current bench coach Tim Bogar, who's currently being hotly pursued by the Houston Astros.
As things wind down this season, it's time to start analyzing the players on the roster and figuring out what went wrong and what went right. Matt Collins looked at Ryan Lavarnway's largely lost September. Marc broke down the Chekovian (the Cherry Orchard guy, not the nuclear wessels guy) season of Jon Lester. In slightly more complicated speculation, Boston's heading into next year with three shortstops. And none of them are exactly Nomar-level locks to start, so how should the Red Sox solve this? Also important: dreaming on the young guys. Marc looked at some of the under-the-radar arms in the Sox system. In addition, five Red Sox prospects made Baseball America's All-Star list. The future looks pretty good from here.
As for the past... Well, unlike in politics and reality, where it isn't dead, it isn't even past, the past tends to fly by and out of relevance pretty quickly in baseball. All we're left with is memories, some good, some bad. Memories, and, as Matt Kory wonderfully pointed out this week, a pile of outdated, unwearable, and occasionally embarrassing shirts. My own deepest shame shirt-wise: I finally, once he started to show a bit more power, took the plunge on an Adrian Gonzalez shirt in early August. The real kick in the giblets: it was one of the "Fenway 100" shirts, with the patch on the sleeve that bumped the price by $5. I feel real good about the Aceves model I'm buying on Sunday, though.
Boston hosts the Orioles again today, and we once more try to balance our loathing for the Showalter-led spoilers of last season with our understanding of draft position and our eternal hatred of everything affiliated with the Yankees. Why did no one tell us following a losing team was hard?