Red Sox Record for the Week of August 24: 6-1
Sox fans will always have their worries and concerns. But as September comes upon us, a four-game lead in the Wild Card race (thanks to series wins versus the White Sox and Blue Bays last week) should feel pretty good right now.
Consider the Sox situation one month ago, when the team was in dire need of a boost offensively. Enter Victor Martinez. Mid-month, the Sox front office correctly decided infield defense needed improvement. Enter shortstop extraordinaire Alex Gonzalez. By its end, the Sox addressed pitching concerns at the back of the starting rotation and bullpen. Enter rookie Junichi Tazawa (up from the minors), 38-year-old veteran Paul Byrd (back from semi-retirement) and Billy Wagner (former closer acquired from the Mets last week). And with rosters expanding to 40 today, even more pitching depth is on its way to Boston.
GM Theo Epstein certainly made many other moves in August, of course (most of them temporary, to help an overtaxed bullpen and outfield). These moves are collectively paying off in terms of wins now â€“- the Sox have won 10 of its last 13 games going into September 1. And manager Terry Franconaâ€™s juggling of lineups and handling of the ever-changing pitching staff has been mostly successful to this point as well. In fact, the Sox offense, with all its regulars and quality backups — Casey Kotchman and Rocco Baldelli included — now healthy, ranks third in runs in all of baseball.
Perhaps just as important, Bostonâ€™s defense is playing as well now as it has all year long. The throw out at the plate of Torontoâ€™s Travis Snider at Fenway last Friday night on a relay in the rain from Jason Bay to Alex Gonzalez to Jason Varitek (who blocked the plate perfectly) to preserve a 5-5 tie is but one example. [The Sox eventually won 6-5 and went on to sweep the three-game series over the weekend.]
Sox pitching, on the other hand, has been shaky lately and to me, the physical condition of pitchers like Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka are the main concerns for the Red Sox as we head into September. Dice-K, who has been undergoing a second Spring Training, got roughed up Sunday in Double-A Portland (five runs, 58 pitches in two IP) but will be back soon (around September 9). If his shoulder and right arm are healthy and strong as it reportedly is, all the Sox can ask of him is to make it through at least five or six IP without walking the ballpark and giving up more than four to five earned runs. But time isnâ€™t on his side and if he canâ€™t do that in his first two or three starts this month, he might as well just call it a year.