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A Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Cities
"Realistically, I think it's a stretch to think that we're going to be there in '07. I think probably right now, it's going to take longer than that.” -- Phillies GM Pat Gillick after the Bobby Abreu trade.
“Our goal is to put ourselves in a position to win 95-plus games and make the playoffs every single year. That's always been our goal for this year and for next year and for the year after that. We still have a chance to do it." -- Red Sox GM Theo Epstein after the Yankees' five-game sweep of Boston this weekend.
Clearly, one general manager was greatly underrating his team while the other is overrating his.
The Abreu trade has had a major impact on both the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies, as it sent them heading in opposite directions. Abreu is turning out to be the most impactful trade deadline acquisition (although Greg Maddux for the Dodgers is pretty close). What was seemingly an even race between two flawed teams in the AL East is now in danger of turning into a Yankee route.
Abreu drove in the winning run in the fifth game of the Yankees’ sweep of the Red Sox. Abreu finished the series with 10 hits in 20 at-bats. He drew seven walks, scored five runs, knocked in three runs and hit four doubles. In 21 games with the Yankees, Abreu has hit .395. His presence in the New York lineup has made the Yankees almost impossible to pitch to. Their lineup is now filled with players who know how to work the count and make a pitcher work. While it remains to be seen if they have the pitching to compete with some of the other AL playoff teams, it is clear that the Red Sox are now just pretenders.
As Curt Schilling said after the sweep, “What weaknesses weren’t exposed?” The Red Sox have had some bad luck with injuries to Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon and Tim Wakefield coming at the worst time. Some of the key acquisitions the club made in the offseason have yet to play up to expectations, including Josh Beckett and Coco Crisp. Beckett, in particular, has struggled more than anybody would have expected. The bullpen has been a disaster with even Jonathan Papelbon struggling of late. The pen gave up 46 runs in 38 1/3 innings vs. the Yankees this weekend.
The Red Sox's schedule does not generate optimism. They are just starting a nine-game road trip vs. the AL West, and their road record is 30-32 after dropping Tuesday's opener in Anaheim. Series vs. the White Sox and Twins still remain as does a visit to the Bronx. Sorry, Theo, it just isn’t your year.
A strange thing is happening in Philadelphia. Even though it appears the Phillies were positively fleeced by the Yankees, they have played their best ball of the season, making Gillick’s concession speech seem woefully premature. In fact, the Phils are 13-7 since the trade and have actually turned into buyers, having obtained veteran pitcher Jamie Moyer last week.
Jon Lieber, whom the Phillies tried to dump at the trade deadline, has posted a 1.76 ERA in his past four starts. Cole Hamels is 3-1 with a 1.35 ERA in August and is looking like the ace many projected him to be. The offense has been producing, and with a September schedule that contains only one team with a winning record, the previously underachieving Phillies may actually steal the wild card despite Aaron Rowand’s injury.
How is it possible that a team that gave up a player capable of having the impact Abreu is having with the Yankees is playing better without him? The Phillies are a team that needed to change the mix. Once they got rid of Abreu, they firmly entered the Ryan Howard/Chase Utley era, which allowed them to turn the page on their past and move forward with a fresh start. This is actually similar to what has happened to the Mets, who were energized this year when they officially converted from the Mike Piazza era to the David Wright/Jose Reyes era.
There is little reason to believe the Red Sox and Phillies won’t continue on the same paths they are on now. Look to bet the Phillies, particularly when Hamels is on the mound, and look for opportunities to bet against the Red Sox when they face good hitting teams on the road and have anyone not named Schilling on the mound.
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