With 56 games remaining in the regular season, obviously anything can happen. The Red Sox learned that first-hand in 2011 when, at this point, they were widely viewed as contenders. The thought of them falling out of the postseason altogether literally did not exist.
Two years later, in a season filled with far more ups than downs, the expectations are still a mystery for everyone, including Boston’s baseball operations department.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, and that’s a compliment. The Sox were about as likely to lead Major League Baseball in wins on July 29 as they were to lose three relievers for the season by this time. If you’d like to lump distanced hurler Alfredo Aceves into that group, that makes four.
Sure, the team has hit a bit of a lull with a 9-9 record dating back to July 6, but that may very well be as much of an aberration as that 2-9 stretch in May or 5-8 run in June. Call the Sox streaky, call them bipolar; just don’t call them uninteresting.
How attention-grabbing they could be come October, though, may depend on the makeup of their roster on Wednesday evening, once baseball’s trade deadline has passed and the league’s buyers are boasting about their new toys for the stretch run.
General manager Ben Cherington and his overachieving Sox have been quiet as they undoubtedly wrestle with whether or not now is the right time to mortgage choice prospects for a chance at speeding up their transformation, an endeavor that has no guarantees. They’ve traded for one reliever – lefty specialist Matt Thornton, formerly of the White Sox – but that was in many ways a reactionary move to the loss of Andrew Miller, even if the club was already targeting him.
Can you count out the Yankees? I say yes, but it depends who you ask. GM Brian Cashman didn’t want to trade for Alfonso Soriano, but owner Hal Steinbrenner, just like good ol' dad, seems poised to give a late run a shot. Derek Jeter’s back and already contributing, and Curtis Granderson is rehabbing. Of course, Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis are out, and Alex Rodriguez is … an organizational enigma. Unless Bug Selig really does step in and suspend A-Rod, he’s bound to be back in their lineup eventually, even if the Yanks don’t want him. If he does return, can he still produce?
The Central-favorite Tigers, West-leading Athletics, and optimistic Indians have all remained inactive with a few days of potential dealing left. Detroit’s been involved in countless rumors and will likely get something done, given its win-now mentality and depth. Oakland doesn’t tend to spend, so it may look to win with what’s gotten it here. Cleveland is unlikely to be a buyer or seller, though the Tribe is still very much in the Wild Card hunt.
The Rangers, the Wild Card’s second entrant if the season ended today, landed Cubs hurler Matt Garza and they’re even hoping – however delusional it may be – to get a little offensive firepower from Manny Ramirez.
While the trade deadline (and perhaps the subsequent August 31 waiver trade cut-off date) will better shape our expectations for the postseason, I have a hard time envisioning the Red Sox missing the playoffs, as tight as the race sits.
Last season marked the start of the “Second Wild Card Era,” which required 93 wins from both the Orioles and Rangers. Generally, that’s high. Let’s pretend this playoff format had existed for the last decade. In that scenario, it would have taken those who realistically fell short an average of 90 wins to qualify for that newly-coveted fifth spot in the American League. If you’re wondering, that number is 88 in the Senior Circuit.
This year expects to be no different and may actually be less so with the Red Sox projected to claim the East with 93 victories, matched in the Central by the Tigers, and two wins ahead of the A’s in the West. For the Wild Card spots, the Rays would check in with 93 wins, followed by the Rangers with 88.
So, say the Sox need 88 wins to make the playoffs. That means a record of 25-31 the rest of the way. Despite all of their injuries, uncertainties, and offensive inconsistencies, I find it hard to believe they’ll be that bad.
Do they need help to, dare I say, win a World Series? Absolutely! In my dream-scenario, they’d acquire one starter (mid-rotation), two relievers (set-up and long-relief), and a right-handed hitting infielder with the ability to play multiple positions. That’s a pipe dream, but they need to do something more in order to really contend. The emphasis must be on pitching, as some of their competitors have already started to address.
By the same token, you have to give in order to receive. Xander Bogaerts is untouchable, no matter the deal. Will Middlebrooks should be available, but only in the right scenario. Concerning the pitching prospects, those are the toughest decisions of all. The Red Sox know as well as anyone the price of hanging on to perceived top talent too long, but they'd hate to choose incorrectly.
In the end, does Boston need to make another move to get into the postseason? No.
The real question facing Cherington surrounds how far he truly believes his team can go this season, and I don’t think he knows yet.
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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