The good news: The Red Sox are 16-4 this month.
The somewhat sobering news: They have also played but one team (Tampa) over .500. They won’t play another one until Monday (Cleveland). Then, finally, next weekend, the Yankees come to town for a true test to see how good each club really is.
The news nobody wants to hear: As of now, the Red Sox have Andrew Miller, John Lackey, and Josh Beckett in line to pitch that series.
In June, the Sox were 9-6 against teams currently above .500, but that’s probably not a fair assessment since, you know, a host were against the National League and the Red Sox were at an unfair disadvantage. In May, they were 12-4 against teams currently above .500. Both months, of course, included three-game sweeps over the Yankees.
If they can do it again next weekend, they can probably clinch a playoff spot by the time the Patriots’ third preseason game comes around. It’s probably a foregone conclusion at this point that they’re in the dance anyway, 10 games up on the Angels in the loss column.
So, to answer the question du week, what do they need before Sunday’s trading deadline?
Sure, they need pieces, namely a righthanded bat, maybe another arm for the ‘pen unless you’re counting on the miraculous return of Bobby Jenks. No? OK then, another arm for the ‘pen. But those are really both acquisitions you can make prior to the waiver deadline. So is it necessary to make sure both are in place by Sunday afternoon? It’d be nice, but not necessary by any stretch.
Another starter? Why, exactly? The Red Sox are going to be in the playoffs, where they’ll employ a fifth starter about as frequently as J.D. Drew will get a standing ovation. Clay Buchholz will be back mid-August, giving him six weeks to stretch out for the postseason. Jon Lester showed no aftershocks Monday night from his DL stint. Josh Beckett may or may not get the debilitating fortnight flu again, but as of right now, he’s your ALDS Game 1 starter. There’s even good news from Lackey, who is 3-1 this month, and only two of the wins came against the worst teams in baseball. And only one of those is currently on a 17-game losing streak. Scorching.
The Red Sox aren’t fighting for a playoff spot. It’s July 27 and they’re getting ready for the playoffs. Unless you’re banking on another injury to a starter, why bring in the likes of Hideki Kuroda or Ubaldo Jiminez? Rich Harden? A team that’s just getting its starting staff intact is going to acquire one of the most injury-prone in the game? That would be fruitful.
Jiminez has been much better on the road (2.83 ERA, .994 WHIP) than at Coors Field (5.55, 1.670) this season, so you can understand the trade market interest in him, perhaps the one name we’ll hear the most other than B.J. Upton and Carlos Beltran leading up to Sunday. His contract comes with a pair of team options – at relatively cheap dollars – and he’s been decent against the American League (6-4, 4.08 ERA).
But you know someone better than that signed through 2015? Clay Buchholz.
Truly, Buchholz is the key to everything, which is why it was encouraging to see him throw off the mound at Fenway on Monday. With Buchholz in the rotation, the Red Sox have a 1-2-3 playoff punch that can go toe-to-toe with the Yankees, Rangers, and Phillies, but with an offense that none of those teams can match. Without him, they throw Andrew Miller out there and have to slug their way back. Whatever it takes.
Unless Felix Hernandez is on the market, in which case you toss the farm in Seattle’s direction, there’s nothing on the market better than what the Red Sox will reap with the return of Buchholz. You could argue the fact that each starter had a bit of down time this summer may help them stay strong down the stretch. But the stretch is really sort of just that this season, a period to stay healthy, get strong, and tinker with your bench in order to get ready for the postseason, which is a virtual formality on Boston’s part. Maybe there will be a fight for first place in the East, but if you want a pennant race, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
No denying that the Sox could use a starter right now, particularly after watching Tim Wakefield and Miller the last few days. But they hardly need one in October. And really, that’s all that matters now.