Angels might try to steal ALDS

September, 26, 2009

There were several minutes Friday night when it seemed as if Jon Lester's season might be over and his career threatened. As it turned out, Melky Cabrera's line drive came an inch from the bone in Lester's knee. An inch.

It was a reminder of how fragile sports can be, and that at any time in any place it can snap. Herb Score. Tony Conigliaro. Dick Pole.

When the Yankees were in Seattle last week, it almost happened to CC Sabathia. A line drive hit him in the upper body and many in the stands thought it hit his cheek. As it turned out, Sabathia was hit in the chest and kept pitching, but trainer Gene Monahan told Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi the line drive was barely an inch from causing a serious injury.

In Zack Greinke's start against Detroit on Sept. 17, he got hit in the elbow by a line drive. "It swelled right up, and the stitch marks were deep in the elbow," says Royals pitching coach Bob McClure. "But he insisted on staying in the game." Greinke pitched two more innings, striking out three of the last six batters he faced, but the swelling got so bad, the Royals sent him for X-rays.

Trey Hillman and McClure didn't want him to make his next start against Boston. "I told him we'd see on his throw day," says McClure. "He was bound and determined. He went out there against Boston [on Tuesday] with the stitch marks still in his elbow, there was still some swelling, he couldn't really throw his slider, but he shut them out for six innings using that changeup he learned this spring. He's unbelievable."

But Greinke's elbow could have been shattered, and a brilliant season and career jeopardized. And how different would this October be without Sabathia and Lester?

But while the Red Sox believe they dodged a serious injury to Lester, Friday's loss to the Yankees raised serious concerns. At one point Friday night -- and it might have been Robinson Cano stealing standing up -- the thought occurred that maybe what the Red Sox ought to do is bring minor league catcher Tim Federowicz up, catch him all week and see if he can stop the Angels from turning the ALDS into a track meet.

The Rangers stole eight bases on the Red Sox in a game in August. Then when the Yankees essentially laughed their way around the bases Friday night, with seven steals, the blueprint was laid out for the Angels to go ahead and try to drive Josh Beckett, Lester and Clay Buchholz crazy by running on everyone's first move.

Scouts following the Red Sox have timed Jason Varitek's throws to second base at 2.2 seconds, which is at best well below average. This is a difficult problem for Terry Francona, a loyal man who knows what Varitek's character and work ethic have meant to the Red Sox's two world championships this decade. But at 37, caring and trying as hard as he has, Varitek's defense has become a greater issue than his offense -- and he's hitting .120 since July 30.

Oh, the starting pitchers can dominate the Angels because they are that good. The pitchers can undoubtedly do a better job slowing opponents down by holding balls, throwing to first more and using step offs. Maybe rest in the final week will help Varitek, but right now 2.2 seconds to second base isn't going to be more than a flashing yellow light to the Angels. The fact is that Varitek has allowed 114 steals this season -- by far the most in the American League -- and has thrown out just 15. Victor Martinez, who wasn't catching very much in Cleveland because of injuries and throwing issues, has thrown out just nine of 63. Boston catchers combined have thrown out 22 of 170 base stealers.

The postseason exposes the smallest of vulnerabilities. Lester, like Sabathia and Greinke, is OK. But stopping the Angels from running is an issue that the Red Sox have 10 days to address.



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