As usual, a lot has happened in Red Sox Nation since last I wrote – some good, some bad, and in one case, very bad.
On Tuesday, August 3, before the second of four games against the lowly Cleveland Indians, Mike Lowell was activated from the DL and put in the starting lineup. That’s the good news. The bad? First baseman Kevin Youkilis was placed on the DL and is now done for the year with a torn muscle/ligament in his right hand thumb.
The Return of Mike Lowell
This is no doubt a huge loss, but if it wasn’t for the fact that Lowell, a World Series MVP just a few years back is still here, with something to prove to the organization, I would say this is a blow the Sox would not be able to overcome. I’m not saying Lowell will put up Youk-like power numbers (though he did hit three bombs in one game while rehabbing recently), but he’ll at least give you some power, a good batting average and good defense. His very presence in the lineup and at first base means that weak-hitting Kevin Cash stays on the bench, so Victor Martinez can catch, instead of V-Mart starting at first base and Cash catching when Lowell isn’t in the lineup.
Tuesday night was pretty special. Not only was it the only Red Sox game I bought tickets to and attended this season, it was the night Lowell got his first start coming off the DL at first base. And what did he do? After the first standing ovation as he came to bat, he took the first pitch he saw out of the yard to give the Sox a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. He got two more standing ovations in his next two at-bats, and cracked a big smile after making a diving play at first base later in the game.
With starter Josh Beckett looking like his old self, fooling Indians hitters for eight innings with mid-90s fastballs, sharp curve balls on 103 pitches and earning his third win of the year and first at Fenway Park this season, it was a perfect night to be at Fenway as the Sox won the game, 3-1.
Weak Showing Against The Weaklings of the AL
But before and after that night was a mixed bag of excitement and disappointment. Yes, the Red Sox won its homestand against the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians, four games to three, but they split the Indians series at two games apiece. Thus, it should have been better than that, given the AL East and AL Wild Card playoff picture, which at 5.0 games back of the Yankees and 4.5 games back of the Rays is looking better now (through August 6) than at this time last week, but still isn’t anything to get excited about yet.
True, it is impressive that Boston has won eight of its last 11 games after beating the New York Yankees last night 6-3 behind brand new dad Clay Buchholz’s team-leading 12th win in the first of four crucial games at Yankee Stadium this weekend and Monday (where the Sox need to win at least two tilts). But the following comparison of the AL East divisional rivals’ records is telling on why the Sox fell so far behind in the two AL playoff races.
The Sox have a 15-14 record against the American League’s worst teams (the Orioles, Indians, Mariners and Royals), while the Rays are 21-7 and the Yankees are 23-8 against them. That’s a difference (and deficit in the standings) of 6.5 and 7.0 games, respectively, right there. If the Sox had a somewhat similar record against those lousy teams (say, 20-9), we’d be talking about a tight three-team battle for supremacy in the AL East and in the American League overall instead of this weekly talk of whether or not the Sox can hang in the playoff races as they keep adding and losing key players.
Where’s The Relief?
What the Sox needed to do at last Saturday’s non-waiver trade deadline was add a veteran bullpen arm. And GM Theo Epstein failed to do that. Maybe the asking price of relievers like Toronto’s Scott Downs was too high, but all he did was trade away disappointing righty reliever Ramon Ramirez to the Giants for a minor leaguer, trade for an overrated catcher (Jarrod Saltalamacchia of the Rangers) and designate outfielder Jeremy Hermida (.203 BA) for assignment.
At least the latter move paved the way for another new and productive minor league call-up, outfielder and top prospect Ryan Kalish, who a week ago today in his big league debut got his first hit, RBI and run scored in a nationally televised game against the Tigers, which the Sox won on a David Ortiz game-winning three-run double in the ninth, by a score of 5-4. Ortiz, by the way, along with new AL MVP candidate Adrian Beltre, carried the Sox offense in its seven-game homestand, as they drove in 62% of Boston’s runs in that span, eight of them coming from grand slams by each player, Ortiz against Detroit (July 30) and Beltre against the Indians (August 5).
As for bullpen help, Felix Doubront has been converted from starter to reliever and is with the BoSox in New York now that struggling lefty reliever Hideki Okajima (ERA 5.86) is out with a calf strain (which IMO is really just an excuse to get him off the roster and add fresh help). Thus, Epstein still has plenty of work to do to right this bullpen, as Sox starters can’t go seven and even eight innings deep every night. Last year after the deadline, he got veteran Billy Wagner to come to Boston. Who will it be this August? Your guess is as good as mine.
By the way, with Okajima on the DL – not a big loss – and Mike Cameron (semi-big loss) back on it, that gives the Red Sox 16 players who have been out of action this year. That’s a lot, but with Jacoby Ellsbury now back, Dustin Pedroia due back after the current 10-game road trip ends, Jason Varitek still on the mend and newly signed veteran bat Carlos Delgado signing a minor league deal this weekend and getting ready to help the big club down the stretch, it’s still too early to throw in the towel on the season.
This isn’t 2006, where the formerly playoff-bound and healthy Red Sox lost key player after key player once the calendar turned to August, and never recovered. Not yet.
Photo credit to bostonsports.mlblogs.com.