Boston Red Sox: How Much Hope Will There Be After the All-Star Break?
The state of the Boston Red Sox is, appropriately enough, defined by a motif of “half.”
They enter the All-Star break having won only half of their 86 games to date. One more than half of the remaining 76 games are against division rivals, while only one fewer than half are against the five teams currently in the American League playoff picture.
Between that taxing schedule and the prospect of players returning to the lineup and/or returning to form, the “half full or half empty?” debate is inevitable. The half-empty glass is currently in the slippery hands of starting pitchers, the half-full version functioning as an injury ice pack.
Still without Jacoby Ellsbury or Carl Crawford and having to bring up Pedro Ciriaco to fill in for a newly wounded Dustin Pedroia, the Sox dropped three out of four to the New York Yankees over the weekend.
Ciriaco, whose only prior MLB experience consisted of 31 appearances with the Pittsburgh Pirates over the previous two seasons, was one of the least of the liabilities. After batting 0-for-4 in his Boston debut Saturday afternoon, he broke out with 4-for-5 and 3-for-4 with two runs scored in each of those games.
Yet his surprising output was good for only one win, a come-from-behind 9-5 triumph in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader.
On Sunday, Ciriaco scored two of Boston’s three runs in a 7-3 drawback, one that docked the Sox back to a tie with Toronto for last in the AL East with matching 43-43 records.
The Sox, Blue Jays and Oakland Athletics are in a three-way knot for near-irrelevance in the wild-card derby. Four other teams are ahead of them for that newly-added fifth postseason passport, currently occupied by the Baltimore Orioles.
With the season just a little more than halfway over, it is easy enough to conclude that there are simply too many competitors to hurdle over. Nor does it help to know that there are 39 games still to come against A.L. East cohabitants and 37 against projected playoff teams.
That would include a dozen dates with the league-leading Yankees, who will host nine of those in the Bronx, where they are 25-16 on the year.
On the other hand, the bigger and tougher half of the remaining schedule could spell an opportunity for the Red Sox to take control of their own destiny and salvage their October aspirations.
Of course, that will require an unhesitant inclination to take advantage of a replenished roster, to cross collective fingers on the health of recently missing players and to ensure that those who have been healthy play accordingly.
While that tentatively spells improvement in the outfield and batting order, there are still doubts about the pitching rotation, especially with one-time aces Josh Beckett and Jon Lester performing more like jokers most of the time.
Not even the New York matchup over the weekend could reignite their competitive flames, as the two bookended the weekend with losing decisions.
Beckett entered his Friday start with Boston’s best ERA at 4.06, then gave way to Lester, who boasted a less-than-flattering 4.33 before taking the mound on Sunday.
Both have since taken a backseat to Felix Doubront, whose 4.41 ERA, 97 strikeouts and nine wins over 17 starts lead the rotation. The latest refinement of Doubront’s stat line happened to be a victorious decision in Saturday’s sweep-averting victory over the Yanks.
Since Beckett was last credited for a win (May 20 versus the Phillies), Doubront has gone 5-3 and the team 6-3 in his nine starts. The Sox have lost each of Beckett’s last five starts and five of Lester’s last seven.
It will simply be on the two holdovers from the 2007 World Championship staff to revamp two-fifths of the rotation. Otherwise, the Sox will need to repeatedly bank on Ellsbury’s characteristic baserunning and a whole host of timely hitting to bail out the underachieving pitching staff.
But Doubront can soon find refreshing company in Clay Buchholz, who hopes to return this weekend from a recent illness and pick up where he left off on a personal four-game winning streak.
With the 9-4 Doubront and 8-2 Buchholz the standard-bearers on the mound and David Ortiz playing the same role in the batter’s box, the Sox will have an outside shot to pole-vault one adversary this weekend.
They will return from the All-Star break, a genuine break for everyone but Ortiz, with a three-night stay in Tampa, whose Rays sit two games ahead of them in the standings.
Of the 13 games to follow that, three will be against the Jays, while the other 10 will be tests from the A.L.’s three division leaders from Chicago, Texas and New York.
Without much of an improved stature through those games, it would all but require a multitude of opposing collapses to grant the Red Sox any extra baseball beyond Oct. 3.
Nothing less than a four-game split with the White Sox and taking the better half of every other series would be ideal for legitimately emboldening Boston’s outlook by the dusk of July.
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