On June 8, the Boston Red Sox ran their record to 38-25 after splitting a doubleheader with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Bruins were celebrating their 1-0 triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins the previous evening, setting up a date in the Stanley Cup Finals. Rafael Nadal was headed to the French Open final after beating Novak Djokovic in the semis. “The Internship” played in theaters, and nobody saw it.
It was also the last time we saw Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz.
The Bruins are already deep into their offseason, Nadal couldn’t ride his French Open victory into anything at Wimbledon, and Gru and his minions now rule the box office.
Oh, and the Red Sox are also 20-14 over that same stretch, lack of an ace be damned.
Even considering Sunday’s frustrating, if not wildly entertaining, 3-2, 11-inning loss in Oakland Sunday, the Red Sox, at 58-39, remain 19 games over .500, a pace even better than the 13 games over that they were when the 9-0 Buchholz went down. Once a Cy Young Award frontrunner, Buchholz’s rehab keeps getting pushed back further and further to the point that it’s becoming a farcical exercise to pinpoint his return. As we hit the All-Star break, Buchholz has pitched in only 12 games this season, four fewer than staff….(sigh) ace John Lackey, who spent time on the disabled list himself earlier this season.
Essentially, Buchholz makes Rich Harden look like Cal Ripken Jr.
Who needs him anyway?
Well, if the Red Sox want to go from cute story of redemption to serious World Series contenders, they most notably need Buchholz, out for more than month now for sleeping the wrong way while holding his daughter, or whatever other “dog ate my homework” story you want to buy. Boston may have ended the first half with the most wins in the American League, and it may be on pace for a 94-win season, which would be the Red Sox’ first since the 95-win season of 2009, but without Buchholz, they are depending on Lackey, Felix Doubront, Ryan Dempster, and the shell of Jon Lester to be enough to sustain the white-hot Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles. It’s been a good stretch, but let’s not get carried away.
Over the last 30 days, Lackey is 4-1 with a 2.30 ERA. Doubront is 2-0 with a dazzling 1.91 ERA. Dempster is Dempster, 1-1, 4.33, and Lester is 2-3 with a 5.75 ERA. Heck, even Brandon Workman appeared to be delivering his first major league win in epic fashion, taking a no-hitter into the seventh against the A’s Sunday. On the other hand, Allen Webster.
The Sox’ rotation is floating without a staff ace, but in order to fight off the onslaught in the second half, when teams race to the trading deadline to improve, they’re going to need a healthy Buchholz. And frankly, predicting when that will occur is like forecasting the weather on Mars. The hurler threw a bullpen session Sunday, and the hope is that he can do the same this week in New York, where he’ll join David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia for the All-Star Game in Queens. If that goes well, a simulated game and rehab start will be on the horizon, but that’s also pretty much the same story we heard two weeks ago.
Darned kids and those pillows.
In a best-case scenario, Buchholz won’t be back until near the trading deadline, which is of note if only because the Red Sox have been mentioned as possibly being among the suitors for the Cubs’ Matt Garza, an intriguing scenario until you consider the prospect level it would take to snatch him from Theo Epstein, who probably still knows a thing or two about what Boston has in its farm system. But it seems likely that someone is going to pick up Garza, a Red Sox-killer (7-4, 3.83 ERA) over his years with the Rays. If the Rays or Orioles pick him up, that makes the East that much more difficult, not that you’re going to sacrifice the franchise for Garza just for that matter alone. The Tigers could eventually land Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, which might make them World Series favorites. The Red Sox? As good as they’ve been in 2013, they could use a shot in the arm that can convince that they’re at the level of winning it all, and without Buchholz, they are simply a satisfactory, first-half surprise. Depending on which Buchholz they get back, they might just be good enough to win it all.
But we’re a long way from making such proclamations. At the All-Star break your Red Sox are back in first place and are waiting for their aces to return. One (Lester) is pitching, but missing. The other continues on his summer of rehab and side sessions, with a return promised and never fulfilled. Let’s hope he’s worth the maddening wait.