Happy July 4 - Red Sox and Israel - ??

This post is a nice excuse for an expat to say Happy July 4 - at least what's left of it. Perhaps more importantly, it's half-time for the Red Sox. I've been meaning to post about them for ages, and you may be wondering what Israel has to do with this. Read on.

I sure was nervous about the Sox after Opening Day, but the ship quickly righted itself. I've hardly written about them since, but they're pretty much on course to play .600 ball, and if this keeps up, they should crack the 100 win mark, which should be enough to finally topple the Yanks from their 11 year stranglehold of the AL East.

For a while, I wanted to post about the "Youklis Factor", and by now, it's pretty clear that Kevin Youklis is a major league talent. He's arguably the key difference from last year to explain how the Red Sox have been able put so much distance between themselves and NYY. When you go up and down the rosters, and compare players on a positional basis, the Yankees have it all over the Sox - at least on paper. The only spot where the Sox have a clear advantage is 1B, where Youklis usually plays. Last year, Ortiz was their only clear-cut advantage, but his mojo is somewhere else right now.

Pitching, of course, is the other big difference, and no doubt, the Sox have the edge on the Yankees, pretty much across the board. I think Papelbon/Rivera is a toss-up - most people would say Papelbon hands-down, but Rivera has had so few chances to close this year. It's not that he's lost it - he just hasn't been needed very much since the Yankees have been losing so often, and worse, blowing leads late in the game.

When they're all healthy - and that includes Timlin, Donnelly, Lester, and even Clement - I'd say the Red Sox have the strongest pitching staff in baseball, and that alone should be able to carry them to win it all. I really think so.

I digress. Back to Youklis. The media often says he's Greek, but he's not. He's Jewish - really! He's definitely in the minority as a ballplayer, but there are a handful of others - such as Shawn Green, Brad Ausmus, and until last year, Gabe Kapler. Anyhow, that was my original tie-in to a Red Sox/Jewishness post.

It's a thin connection, I know, and it harkens back to an old post from 2005, where I drew some parallels to the Green Monster and the Wailing Wall. It may sound strange, but it's clear as mud to me, although I've yet to see anyone else make this connection. Check out the photos for yourself.....

Let's zoom back to the present. I recently read an article in the Globe & Mail about the newly-formed Israel Baseball League. I'm not kidding! It's a great article, and that was going to be the basis for my tie-in to an updated post on the Red Sox, and would be a great theme to build on the "Jew-klis" factor. That all ties together nicely, don't you think?

Anyhow, the online version of the article is only accessible on a paid basis, so I can't link it here. That's too bad, as it had some additional Red Sox/New England/Jewish threads that would have made this post even better. Dang.

I'll have to leave that one to your imagination, but here's a pretty good Plan B. How about this for another believe-it-or-not citing? You ready ---- a writeup of the launch of the Israel Baseball League in Al Jazeera. Who'd-a-thunk? Not a source one would normally attribute to a story about a decadent Western past time, let alone a league that's based in Israel. I could have cited many other sources telling this story, but when I saw this, I just had to share it. Mainly because it's really well written, and it's 100% objective. Straight-up reporting, with no agendas or political or religious slants. It's really nice to see, given how readily this source is slammed by the Western media. Of course, their op-ed section may be a different story, but hey, this post is about baseball, not the Middle East. How's that for a nice twist to tie all this together?

Just to conclude, some thoughts on what the second half of the season holds for the Sox. The Red Sox are a streaky team, and that's the only thing I can see that will do them in --- barring major injuries. They've had contributions at various times up and down the lineup. That's a big plus from last year where they leaned so much on Papi to win games for them, and occasionally Manny. If they get this balance, they'll win 100 games. Plus, it's a lineup that's well below its potential. The heart of the order is at half-production - Ortiz/Ramirez/Drew. If/when they play where they're supposed to be, they'll truly be a dominant team that can easily afford to carry the lightweight bats of Lugo and Crisp. We'll see.

On the mound, if Beckett doesn't revert to NL form in the second half, the Sox should have 2 20 game winners, and possibly 3 if Schilling comes back healthy and pitches at peak performance. I don't think he will, but it's nice to dream. If Lester can pitch at a major league level, they'll have the best starting 5 in team history, plus having a lefty in the mix. Tavarez has been very effective in his place, he'll help make their middle relief a very strong bridge to the best setup/closer tandem in baseball - Okajima and Papelbon.

Overall, I just don't see any big holes here. Do you? Well - one. I mentioned their offense is streaky. They've lost a lot of low scoring games by 1 run lately, and this doesn't happen when they're hitting. When their bats go into a collective funk, they choke - leaving men on base constantly - especially with Manny up, popping out on 3-1 counts, striking out, hitting weak rollers on the first pitch, etc. The Red Sox psyche is very fragile, and when it's not happening, they seem to go on autopilot, and get beat by very ordinary pitchers. Even worse when it's Rivera time. Enough about that - let's stay positive.

Here are 3 very strong positives to take away going into the All Star break...

1. Only 6 games left to play with the Yankees. Barring another massacre, there aren't enough head-to-head games for NY to make up lost ground.

2. Incredibly, no games yet with Tampa Bay until yesterday. How could this happen - playing half a season without facing this team at all? Sure, these are the "pesky" Devil Rays, but it's comforting to know that 1 in 5 of your remaining games will be against one of the worst teams in baseball. Gotta like that. It's ours to lose, right?

3. Only 1 more West coast trip, coming in early August. They had 2 of these trips bunched together in June, and came out of it ok - not great, but ok. In fact, aside from this August swing, they only travel outside EST for 1 other series - 4 games in Chicago. Actually, their remaining Western trip will be a real test. They have 3 in Seattle, where they've lost 7 straight, including a 3 game sweep out there last week - the last 2 being 1-run losses. Seattle is very hot right now, but with their manager quitting on them out of the blue, I suspect they won't be so lucky next time around. After Seattle, they have 3 in Anaheim. The Sox handled them very well early in the season at home, but the Angels always start slow, and right now, they're on par with the Sox, and many feel they are a more dangerous and better balanced team. This series could well be a preview of the ALCS. Looking forward to it.

Better stop now - I think I've covered everything. If you're still with me here, then you must be a Red Sox fan, and I'm thrilled you're along for the ride. Go Sox!

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