Wanted: Healthy Pitching for October
|09.22.08 at 7:19 am ET|
The Red Sox are on the threshold of their fifth playoff appearance in six years. With a magic number of one, the only question is whether the team will enter October as the A.L. East winner (resulting in a likely first-round matchup with the White Sox, barring an incredible comeback by the Twins) or the wild card (Angels).
The Angels are obviously a better team than either of the clubs in the Central, and the Sox improve their odds ever so slightly if they have an extra game at Fenway (where they enjoy a robust 52-22 record, .702) as opposed to on the road (39-42, .481). Even so, there is little question that the identity of the Sox’ opponent is less important than the issue of the shape of the club–particularly the pitching staff–when it enters the postseason.
The Sox seem likely to spend much of this week giving their pitchers just enough work to allow them to maintain their feel for their pitches, while limiting their workloads to ensure that the members of the staff will feel as strong as possible as they enter the season’s seventh month (more accurately, given this year’s trip to Japan, the eighth month).
All teams, of course, understand the importance of setting up their pitching staffs for the postseason. But the Sox consider their ability to keep their pitchers healthy for the long term a crucial competitive advantage.
Under the current front office, the team has worked closely with Dr. James Andrews to do everything in its power to keep pitchers healthy and productive for the long term. The team employs Mike Reinold, a highly regarded Andrews protegee, as its assistant trainer.
This article offers some tantalizing details (to the degree possible for team practices that are guarded more closely than nuclear codes) about some of the work that the Red Sox and Reinold are doing to keep their pitchers at a peak performance level. The most interesting morsel comes in the mention of the team’s emphasis on “pathomechanics.” (I could try to explain, but would do a worse job than article author Chuck Salter, so I’ll encourage you to read the story.)
At any rate, given the team’s emphasis on pitcher health, it seems unlikely that the Sox would place a greater value on a potentially futile run at a division crown than on the fitness of their hurlers for the start of the postseason next week. That will render much of the following week, as the Sox wrap up their regular season, a formality.
But not all of it. There will, of course, be the matter of a celebratory shower at Fenway this week.
Of course, that may raise its own dilemmas. A year ago, Jonathan Papelbon introduced his dancing ambitions to the world with his “Riverdance” on the day that the Sox clinched the A.L. East. Now, in a season when their closer has made clear his ambitions to one day hit the celebrity dancing circuit, the Sox will no doubt need to monitor Papelbon’s festivity as closely as they do his shoulder strength.
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