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Red Sox still have a say in playoff race

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  July 19, 2010 12:17 PM

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You get the sense that some folks around here are just waiting for these Red Sox to fail. They have been since the season started. Anticipating the moment they could say, "I told you so..." about a team they never wanted to embrace.

Even before they were decimated by injuries and trotting out lineups with Daniel Nava batting sixth, as he did on Friday, a lot of doubt was expressed about the composition of the Red Sox and their ability to compete in the American League East. Some of the nabobs of negativity in the Nation were underwhelmed by the off-season acquisitions, skeptical about run prevention, which has turned out to be a red herring for a run-producing team, and ready to jump off the bridge year before it began.

So, with the Sox sputtering as losers of eight of their last 11 and trailing the Yankees by 6.5 games in the American League East and the Tampa Bay Rays by 3.5 in the wild card chase it seems as good a time as any to sound the overdue death knell for the 2010 Red Sox. Suddenly the 10-day, 10-game road trip out West against the .500 Oakland A's, the 20-games sub-.500 Seattle Mariners and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, one of just two teams in major league baseball with a winning record and a negative run differential, is baseball's version of the Trail of Tears.

I'm not buying it -- yet. The Red Sox may very well miss the playoffs, and perhaps, even without the rash of injuries and the awful start in April and May, they weren't a playoff team. However, it's tough to come to the conclusion in late July with 70 games to play that Boston's playoff chase is reaching its conclusion, especially when the Yankees just lost Andy Pettitte for at least the next month and are replacing him in their rotation with Sergio Mitre.

The Epstein Nine were written off once already this season. How did that turn out? Back on May 17, after a Jonathan Papelbon blown save and a crushing defeat in the Bronx against the Yankees, the Red Sox were 19-20, 8.5 games back of first place Tampa Bay and 6.5 games behind the second-place Pinstripes.

The season was over, David Ortiz's career was over and so was Boston's baseball summer before it had even really begun. Fast forward to the exact mid-way point of the season and the start of play on July 4th and the Sox were 49-32, a half-game out of first place and Ortiz was about to be named an All-Star.

The narrative of a baseball season has a lot of unforeseen twists and turns and the book on these Red Sox hasn't been authored yet because there is still a lot of baseball left to be played. The season doesn't end in East Bay, Seattle, or Southern California.

While that is a bromide as tired and worn as that tattered, pine tar-coated cap Trot Nixon used to wear it's also true. When the Red Sox return from their West Coast trip to take on the Detroit Tigers at home on July 30, the Rays and Yankees will be playing each other at the Trop. Tampa Bay and New York have 10 games remaining against each other. The Red Sox have 10 games to play against the Yankees and six with the Maddon Men.

There remains time and opportunity to make up the six games they ceded in the last two weeks in the AL East standings.

While this road trip is not the Red Sox' Rubicon, there is no question it is a crucial stretch. A 2-8 trip would be disastrous, and the Yankees and Rays certainly have easier schedules over their next 10 games than the Red Sox. However, the Red Sox have been a solid road team this season. They're 22-20 away from Friendly Fenway, tied with Texas, for the third-best road record in the majors behind the Rays and Yanks.

They simply have to tread water until the July 31 trading deadline and give general manager Theo Epstein, who has a pretty good in-season trading track record, a chance to find some help and the team's injured players a chance to heal. Then they can give it their best shot over the season's final two months and let the chips fall where they may.

The reinforcements can't return fast enough.

The Red Sox scored just 11 runs while losing three of four to the Texas Rangers, who, oh, by the way happen to be a pretty good team. It's not like they lost three of four to Baltimore at the Fens. One large problem for Boston is that the bottom of the order has become a barren wasteland. Against Texas the No. 7, No. 8 and No. 9 spots in the lineup were 4 for 41 with a home run, an RBI and six walks. It's tough to win in the American League with two-thirds of a lineup and near automatic outs like Kevin Cash and Dusty Brown.

There are some good signs among the walking -- or hobbling -- wounded. Pitchers Clay Buchholz, who will start Wednesday in Oakland, and Josh Beckett, who takes the mound Friday in Seattle, are back this week, and catcher Victor Martinez was able to gingerly play catch yesterday and squeeze his broken thumb into a mitt.

At the end of the day the demise of the Red Sox might not have anything to do with injuries or road trips or slow starts, it might simply be a matter of geography. Unfortunately for Boston they share a division with the two teams that have the top two records in baseball. Maybe the Sox are just not good enough.

But if they're still in the playoff race a month from now then the race to eulogize them will have been premature and the Red Sox will have every right to say, "I told you so..."

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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