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Reassessing our Red Sox playoff expectations

Posted by Adam Kaufman  August 1, 2013 03:42 AM

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When the Red Sox traded for White Sox starting pitcher Jake Peavy late Tuesday night, it answered one question above any other: the Sox are targeting a third World Series championship in a span of 10 years.

Considering where Fenway’s finest were roughly 10 months ago, many would have declared the 2013 season a success for merely being competitive and staying away from bad press. To say Boston has reached such plateaus would only begin to underscore its nightly carousel of achievements.

Fresh off their 10th walk-off win of the season to effectively begin the month of August – based on my clock, anyhow – the Red Sox have regained their position atop the American League East, and they hold the second-best record in all of baseball.

Wednesday brought more than just another resilient, exciting victory at the Fens, however; it also marked Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline.

General manager Ben Cherington and his staff diligently worked the phones but, in the end, decided there were no fish to reel in that justified using their top prospects as bait. Based on the general lack of movement across the game, they were not alone.

Still, a quiet Wednesday did not negate the Sox’ previous moves for Peavy and reliever Matt Thornton who, coincidentally, were both acquired from Chicago. The team also nabbed the hard-throwing, strike-zone-challenged Brayan Villarreal from Detroit in the Peavy deal.

As good as Boston’s starters have been this season, ranked second in the AL with a 3.77 earned-run-average, a team can never have enough starting pitching. Cherington saw why first-hand in 2011 when a team that expected to contend for a title imploded on the mound during the season’s final month to the tune of a 7-20 record. Add to that the fact that an expectation for Clay Buchholz’s return from lingering neck and shoulder issues – which have limited the All-Star ace to just two starts since May 22 – was termed recently by manager John Farrell as “very optimistic,” and a consolation plan was necessary.

Jake Peavy White Sox.jpg

In Peavy, the Red Sox have a 32-year-old former Cy Young Award winner – even if that was a lifetime ago – who will fit in nicely in mental make-up, for certain, and hopefully just as well every fifth day on the hill if he can stay healthy, admittedly a problem for the last handful of years. At this stage of his career, Peavy is no longer a top-of-the-rotation hurler, but his experience can certainly give his new mates something to be excited about down the stretch and into the postseason. We’ll just ignore for now that he struggled mightily in his only two career playoff outings with an ugly 12.10 ERA.

If Buchholz does return pain-free, the move allows the Sox to bolster their bullpen with Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront, and Brandon Workman, assuming Buchholz, Peavy, Jon Lester, and John Lackey (in whatever order) will make up their playoff rotation. For a team in need of back-end help, one would think that support coupled with the situational Thornton can’t hurt. If Villarreal gives them anything, that’s an unforeseen plus.

Sending Jose Iglesias away to the Tigers did not do the Red Sox any favors defensively, but his bat should not be difficult to replace and the step back in the field may not be substantial in the remaining months. It may even open the door to an earlier look at phenom Xander Bogaerts, and no one would complain about that.

So, how do the new-look Sox stack up against their competition?

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays went a ridiculous 21-5 in July to move a half-game behind the Sox in the AL East (after briefly holding the lead), and that’s a testament to their pitching. The staff compiled a 2.54 ERA, a stat aided by Matt Moore’s 4-0 record and 2.08 ERA over five starts. However, the All-Star was placed on the disabled list on Wednesday with left elbow soreness. Plus, Boston native and young star Alex Cobb hasn’t pitched since taking a liner off his head on June 15. Reports indicate there’s an outside chance that he could return, but he’ll otherwise represent a huge loss for the stretch-run.

The only move the Rays made was for White Sox reliever Jesse Crain. He’s 2-3 with a nearly-invisible 0.74 ERA in 36.2 innings, but he’s also another pitcher on the shelf with a shoulder problem. He may return in a few weeks. These injuries will be a growing concern.

Baltimore Orioles

Dan Duquette’s Orioles traded for starting pitchers Bud Norris (Astros) and Scott Feldman (Cubs), plus stud reliever Francisco Rodriguez (Brewers) last month.

Bud Norris Astros.jpg

Norris, in particular, is a good get for a team with starters that rank 12th in the league with a 4.67 ERA. The 28-year-old was 6-9 with a 3.93 ERA in 21 starts for a bad Houston team, and he’ll surely welcome the opportunity to flourish in a playoff race.

Feldman, however, put up even better numbers in Chicago before his July 2 trade, but he’s struggled with the O’s with a 5.12 ERA in five starts.

The Birds are hoping Norris arrives just in time, especially since Jason Hammel was placed on the DL Wednesday with a flexor mass strain in his right forearm, and he could be out for a while.

Detroit Tigers

Last year’s World Series runner-up is poised to return after dealing for Iglesias and former Astros closer Jose Veras.

It shows both how badly the Red Sox coveted Peavy and perhaps simultaneously how little they fear being hurt down the line by Iglesias that they would deal their once-perceived shortstop of the future to a team they may very well face in the postseason. The defensive wizard will be a perfect fit in Detroit, especially considering starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta is likely about to be suspended for his connection to baseball’s latest PED scandal. Iglesias can slide right into his spot, probably hit around .250 at the plate, and the Tigers won’t miss a beat.

Veras was an even better pull as the journeyman reliever is now setting up for closer Joaquin Benoit on a pitching staff that ranks third (3.69 ERA) in the AL but sits just 10th (3.94 ERA) as a bullpen.

Oakland Athletics

The West-leading A’s possess the league’s best pitching staff with a 3.60 ERA, so they focused their attention on offensive depth when they stayed within the division and traded for Angels infielder Alberto Callaspo. The 8-year pro is a career .273 hitter with a .334 on-base percentage. He’s a luxury pick-up on a team on the verge of pulling away in its division. The Athletics could have done more.

Texas Rangers

Matt Garza Rangers.jpg

The Rangers made some serious noise when they acquired starter Matt Garza from the Cubs on July 22, and he’s been great in two starts at 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA. However, Texas is just 4-5 since his arrival and sits ninth in the AL in runs scored. The Rangers desperately tried to obtain offensive help at the deadline, all the more so with a potential Biogenesis-related suspension about to fall upon Nelson Cruz, but they came up empty. Their best hope may rely on some guy named Manny Ramirez, who’s hitting .267 with 3 home runs, 12 RBI and a .737 OPS in 20 games for their Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock. Seriously.

Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees

As August begins, expect both the Indians and Yankees to become footnotes in the postseason chase.

Yes, Cleveland is riding a seven-game winning streak and would make the playoffs if they started today, but Terry Francona’s club did nothing to improve at the deadline and they’ll likely fade as the weeks go on. The Tribe could have used some assistance in the rotation, but instead dealt for Cardinals reliever Marc Rzepczynski, who has had some success in the past but shows a whopping 7.84 ERA in 11 big league appearances in 2013. Hardly a difference-maker.

As for New York, this could be the beginning of the end for this era's men in pinstripes. They’re old, they’re hurt, the team wants nothing to do with its highest-paid player (who is unlikely to see the field for the foreseeable future if commissioner Bud Selig has anything to say about it), and the addition of an aging Alfonso Soriano from the Cubs won’t be enough to get them over the hump. It’s remarkable what the Bombers have been able to do without so many key cogs for most of the year but, at this point, there are simply too many teams to chase. If this wasn’t being written in Boston, it would seem unjust for Mariano Rivera to go out this way.

Upcoming Schedules

To me, it’s a six-team race for five playoff spots. When considering each club’s weighted schedule, which factors in every individual match-up and not just overall team records averaged together, the Orioles have the toughest schedule the rest of the way, while the Rangers have the easiest.

  • Red Sox (65-44) will face opponents with a weighted winning percentage of .501. Potential playoff opponents if the season ended today include the Tigers, Rays, and Dodgers. They also have 10 match-ups scheduled with the Yankees.
  • Rays (64-44) opponents have a .505 winning percentage. The postseason-hopefuls on their schedule include the Red Sox, A’s, and Dodgers. They still have seven meetings apiece with the Orioles and Angels.
  • Orioles (59-49) foes have won at a .516 clip so far, including potential playoff teams, the Red Sox, Rays, A’s, and Indians. Baltimore will face Boston nine more times.
  • Tigers (61-45) will take on teams with a .478 winning percentage, highlighted by the Red Sox, A’s, and Indians. Of their 56 remaining games, 23 will be against the depleted White Sox (12) and streaking Royals (11).
  • Athletics (63-45) are set to match-up with squads with a .486 winning percentage. The group features the Tigers, Rays, Indians, and Reds. Nine meetings are set with the Rangers.
  • Rangers (59-49) have opponents with just a .473 winning percentage the rest of the way, including the Rays, A’s, and Pirates. They have 10 favorable showdowns versus each the Angels and Astros.

Predictions

The Red Sox will win the East, the Tigers will claim the Central, and the Athletics will win the West, with the Rays and Rangers advancing as Wild Card entrants. The Rays will then take the Wild Card playoff, before the Tigers ultimately return to the World Series after a championship series win over the Sox.

That’s my feeling today. Of course, baseball’s waiver trade deadline awaits on August 31, so we’ll revisit this again next month with an even clearer picture and perhaps more roster movement.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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