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They’ve got a fighting chance

By Nick Cafardo
August 22, 2010

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Jed Lowrie’s walkoff home run last night was both exciting and a reminder to his teammates about what needs to happen the rest of the way.

The players on this roster must take it upon themselves to claw their way into contention, because it doesn’t appear that anyone of significance is walking through the clubhouse doors on Yawkey Way.

Whether it’s because management didn’t see anyone outside the organization worthy of expending money or prospects, or whether they simply believe the injuries are too much to overcome, the 2010 Red Sox will rise up or go down in flames based on the reinforcements provided by the development staff. The Felix Doubronts, Michael Bowdens, Yamaico Navarros, Ryan Kalishes, Daniel Navas, and yes, the Jed Lowries, must do the jobs of established veterans who would normally be manning those vital positions in mid-August.

The Sox are being kept in the hunt by the Yankees and the Rays, and up until now they have done very little to embrace the gifts they keep getting. The Sox lead the league in sympathy because of their vast injuries, and yes, it is a valid excuse for the team not to make the playoffs. It’s also easier not to make the playoffs if you don’t have adequate replacements.

But there’s opportunity still on the horizon. The Yankees have the majors’ RBI leader — Alex Rodriguez — on the disabled list for the next two weeks. Lefty Andy Pettitte is out. Their starting rotation is not in great shape, and even one of their trade deadline pickups, Lance Berkman, is on the shelf. The Rays just endured DL time for two of their young starters in Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, but haven’t been able to overtake the Yankees or ditch the Red Sox.

After the Red Sox’ 16-2 loss Friday — the same day Dustin Pedroia was placed on the disabled list — you wondered whether they were shutting down, but Lowrie’s walkoff homer was huge in perhaps telling the world they’re still alive. Maybe.

It came in the same inning he dropped a foul pop to extend catcher John Buck’s at-bat. Lucky for Lowrie that Jonathan Papelbon struck out Buck for the third out.

Lowrie is learning to play first base on the fly and his inexperience showed in the 10th when second baseman Bill Hall made an ill-advised throw that Lowrie tried to field while keeping his foot on the bag. The ball got by him and Travis Snider wound up on second base. Lowrie should have come off the bag to make sure Snider wouldn’t get an extra base. But this is what the Sox are willing to live with in lieu of a more experienced first baseman on the roster besides Mike Lowell. Obviously, Carlos Delgado, who was placed on the minor league DL because of hip and lower back soreness, is not likely to be the answer.

One place they won’t improve the team is the rotation, where five starters are locked in. Except for Clay Buchholz, it’s hard to depend on any of the other four, though Daisuke Matsuzaka did a good job of giving them length (eight innings) last night. He dropped the ball with a 4-1 lead, which included a big two-run homer by Lyle Overbay, a veteran who has cleared waivers, hits for power to left field, and would be a decent pickup for the Sox. He doesn’t appear to be walking through that door, he’s just knocking them all down at Fenway in this series.

The bullpen was solid last night with Daniel Bard giving them two strong innings and Papelbon solid for the 11th. It’s not always that smooth.

The injury situations have created great opportunity for the younger players. They can prove they belong in the big leagues, maybe even prove they should be under consideration for major league duty next season.

It just seems the veteran players who are still upright haven’t been given a fighting chance to win a playoff spot. Veterans see moves made as a sign there’s an effort to win. Maybe you save your arsenal of tradeable prospects for the offseason, regroup, and go for it next season, and if that’s what’s happening it will be met with some resistance from a fan base that has been extremely supportive and was recently voted the best fans by Forbes.

You can see, however, why TV and radio ratings are down significantly, because the team doesn’t have anything of note to capture your attention and keep you tuned in.

Lowrie made a counterpoint to that last night with his heroics. And good for him, for he has had a long and painful journey to get to this moment.

He endured all kinds of opinions from doctors who felt he shouldn’t have the wrist surgery, and finally he had it. It’s taken a long time to get his strength back. He was set back by mononucleosis this offseason and mentioned last night that for a while all he could do was report for duty in Fort Myers and then go back to the hotel and sleep. But the power he exhibited from the left side last night was a reminder that things are getting better with him, that he’s a very useful and good player who could become a force.

Is this the most rewarding way to win and make the playoffs? Absolutely. Everyone loves to watch young players develop and excel.

Is it the best way?

That’s what we’re going to find out.

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