5 Burning Questions for the Boston Red Sox Heading Towards Playoff Baseball
After an abysmal 0-6 to start the year, the Red Sox have turned the season around to be on pace for one of the best records in the long history of the franchise.
As good as that sounds, they go into this weekend fighting for the number one spot in the AL East.
The Red Sox had an interesting offseason by trading for two of the league's biggest stars in Carl Crawford and MVP front-runner Adrian Gonzalez. Maybe it was stealing a page out of the Yankees' playbook, but the new-look Red Sox have become the World Series favorites in many experts' eyes.
Boston might have the best statistical lineup in baseball right now, but there are a few questions that need to be addressed.
Let's take a look at them.
Who Is the Third Starter in a Three-Man Rotation?
Boston has a solid one-two punch with Jon Lester and the revived Josh Beckett. But with Clay Buchholz unlikely to return this season, it leaves a major hole in a possible three-man rotation come playoff time.
Let's take a look at some possibilities:
Andrew Miller—Miller has been a bust so far in his career, but he is showing signs of potential with Boston.
However, Miller has not pitched past six innings of baseball all year long. Throw in the fact that he shows an inability to strikeout batters and he would be a shaky option for the Sox.
Miller has walked the exact same amount of batters as he has struck out at 25, which will be a concern as far as giving up easy runs.
Look for Miller to provide some bullpen help.
Tim Wakefield—Being one of the most serviceable starters in Red Sox history, Wakefield could receive the nod to pitch a pivotal game.
Statistically he is terrible, having only seven quality starts out of 24 appearances. After turning 45 this week, Wakefield could be a valuable reliever, bringing his knuckleball out of the bullpen for a change of pace.
John Lackey—What can I say about Lackey to sum up his tenure in Boston? I think the correct term would be failure.
He was a questionable signing in the first place, but game by game he continues to be a liability to the team's success.
Posting an ERA above 6.00 should be a major sign of concern, but if they want to get their money's worth from the overpaid Lackey, they may let him toe the rubber in Game 3.
Erik Bedard—Boston traded for Bedard in hopes that he can fill this role. If he can get comfortable in a Sox uniform he will be the odds-on favorite.
Bedard is posting an ERA well under 4.00 and has the potential to be an asset as a third starter come playoff time. Consider him the best option.
Who Will Be the Third Starting Outfielder?
Has Josh Reddick solidified his starting position in right field?
If you answer yes, you are right.
J.D. Drew has been a terrible acquisition for Boston as he once again is plagued by injuries in 2011. Playing in only 77 games thus far, Drew would be much better suited as a possible pinch hitter or to start an occasional game when needed.
Drew has put together a less-than-stellar statistical season as well, batting just .219 with only four long balls.
Josh Reddick has shined for Boston in his brief stint. He has been a major boost in the bottom of the order, providing a batting average over .340.
Reddick could also be the safer choice for fielding purposes, as he can play any position in the outfield and has more mobility than Drew at this point.
Does Carl Crawford Turn His Season Around?
So far the Carl Crawford signing has been a dud for Boston. Crawford is on pace to have career lows in batting average, steals, and RBI.
The good thing for Crawford is the team's success doesn't rely heavily on his shoulders. However, if he can turn things around and hit to his potential, he can make Boston that much more dangerous.
Most teams would love to have Crawford as a top three hitter in their lineup. Boston has the luxury of flexibility. Carl Crawford has been hitting in the lower half of the Boston lineup since returning from the DL, but if a major injury hampers a Red Sox star, Crawford can fill in as a leadoff or even three-hole hitter.
Being one of the most versatile offensive forces on the team should be an asset, but when struggling it can easily become a liability.
While maybe it's a comfort issue or nagging injuries, the fact is Boston should do what's needed to have the former all-star ready for the playoffs.
Can Boston Continue to Dominate the Yankees?
Through three series so far, Boston has an 8-1 record over the New York Yankees. Not only is this impressive against any team, but when you are doing it against your biggest nemesis, it's a statement.
It's very possible that these teams will once again meet in the playoffs, providing us with another story-filled series. Fighting for home field should be considered a major factor for these two clubs.
Maybe the most interesting stat this year is that Boston has put three losses on CC Sabathia's 16-5 record.
While CC is once again in the running for the Cy Young award, if he cannot beat Boston his team could be headed for another playoff exit.
While looking on paper, New York has put together a rotation that looks like a bunch of over-the-hill stars in Freddy Garcia, AJ Burnett, and Bartolo Colon. But for the most part, this has been one of the better pitching staffs in baseball.
Whenever these teams meet, you can expect a slugfest. But with the Yankees having a more stable rotation at this point, could that be the deciding factor?
This weekend both teams will look to issue a major statement. Either Boston is the dominant team or New York can handle the Red Sox.
Any way you put it, the winner of the series takes the lead in the AL East.
Who Steps Up Big for Boston Come October?
This question isn't really a concern, but instead a playoff preview (if Boston doesn't have a monumental season letdown). It will be interesting to see who steps up big for the refueled Red Sox.
Maybe the best thing going for Boston is the fact that they could have a different star step up any given night.
While Gonzo has easily been the MVP for the Red Sox, he only has four games of playoff experience in his career. This most likely won't affect the slugger, but knowing that you have a lot of players with playoff experience behind you always helps.
Ellsbury, Youkilis, and Pedroia have all bounced back in a big way from injury-plagued campaigns in 2010.
Ellsbury has put his name in MVP talks, Pedroia had the best July of any hitter in the majors, and while Youkilis hasn't had his best career year at the plate, he has proven to be one of the best fielders in baseball.
Boston will need solid games from Jon Lester and Josh Beckett to carry the rest of the shaky rotation. Papelbon will have to continue to be clutch in the playoffs, along with upcoming star Daniel Bard putting in some important innings.
If this team continues to stay hot, expect no team to derail them on their way to bringing another World Series Championship back to Beantown.
But if no one steps up big, it could be a long offseason for the favored Red Sox.