OAKLAND, Calif. -- They are 100 games into the schedule, four days from the trading deadline, and nine weeks from the end of the season.
A good day to take the temperature of your Boston Red Sox?
Not if you can't look beyond yesterday's dud, a 5-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics in which Frank Thomas demonstrated with two home runs off Kyle Snyder that while he may no longer qualify as the Big Hurt (the license plate on his black BMW still reads ``HRTIT"), he remains one dangerous dude.
But widen the angle of the camera lens a bit and you see a Red Sox team with the No. 2 winning percentage in baseball, trailing only Detroit, and one that hasn't had a better record through 100 games since 1979, when the Sox were 62-38.
Does this team need some tweaking? The general manager, Theo Epstein, is trying. He knows that any team is living on borrowed time when its rotation is forced to depend on waiver claims such as the oft-injured Snyder (2-2, 7.15 ERA) or an unheralded minor leaguer such as Kason Gabbard, who pitched creditably in his big league debut but after the game yesterday learned he was headed back to Triple A Pawtucket.
But the Sox are hardly alone in being shorthanded. Tuesday night, they beat up on an Oakland rookie making his second big league start, Jason Windsor, who after the game was sent back to the minors.
``There's still time for deals to materialize," Epstein said from Boston, where he remained while the club split six games on this West Coast trip to Seattle and Oakland, dropping two of three to the Mariners while winning two of three against the Athletics. ``But we're not close to anything right now."
Still, as the Sox return home this weekend to face the Angels, co-leaders of the American League West with the Athletics, they know that even if Epstein is unable to conjure up another arm for the rotation, David Wells is on the cusp of being activated, most likely for a start Monday night against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park.
``If he can come back and pitch like David Wells, the numbers speak for themselves," said Curt Schilling, who like teammate Josh Beckett collected win No. 13 during this visit to McAfee Coliseum, where yesterday's crowd of 35,077 could be called a sellout in a place that can easily hold 60,000 because the upper deck is covered with giant green tarps.
``That's huge, you know," Schilling said of Wells's impending return. ``We've got a bullpen that we're leaning on more than we probably want to. Our starters have to get us deeper into the game. If he's right, he's the guy who can do that."
Snyder, for one, has shown the tendency to hit the wall in the fifth. Of the 15 runs he has allowed in four starts for the Sox, 10 have come in the fifth inning.
``My location suffered a little bit the second time through the order," said Snyder.
He may soon have relocation issues to deal with if Epstein scores another pitcher, but otherwise figures to retain a tenuous grasp on his place in the rotation -- at least until Tim Wakefield makes it back from the stress fracture in his rib, a return that may still be three weeks away.
Thomas, 38, may not be able to run anymore, but there's nothing wrong with his home run trot, one he has now displayed on 22 occasions for Oakland, the first time when he took Randy Johnson deep in his first at-bat as an Athletic. Oakland signed him for the bargain price of $500,000 after the Chicago White Sox, Thomas's sole employer for the previous 16 seasons of what once looked like a certain Hall of Fame career, bought him out for $3.5 million, convinced the foot problems that kept him out of last October's World Series required an upgrade at designated hitter, which is why they went and signed Jim Thome.
Yesterday, Thomas homered to dead center field to lead off the fourth. The Athletics added another run in the inning on singles by Nick Swisher, the hobbled Eric Chavez (the slugger batting seventh because of tendinitis in both forearms), and Bobby Crosby, who hasn't been the same player since an injury-plagued 2005 (fractured ribs, fractured ankle) and was just 5 for his last 50 before beating out an infield hit up the middle.
Then in the fifth, after giving up a single to Jason Kendall and walking Milton Bradley, Snyder was schooled again by Thomas, who crushed a first-pitch fastball to left to make it 5-0.
Boston's only run came in the seventh off Dan Haren when Manny Ramírez doubled, extending his season-best hitting streak to a dozen games, and came across on Coco Crisp's single.
Haren gave up just four hits in seven innings before giving way to the Athletics' bullpen, Kiko Calero and Huston Street setting down the last six Sox batters in order. But while Haren shut down an offense that had scored a total of 20 runs the previous two nights, this day belonged to Thomas.
``He's a great ballplayer," Crisp said, when asked if he were surprised that Thomas was still capable of inflicting such damage. ``Those guys don't doubt themselves. You can never count anybody out, no matter who they are."
So now the Sox return home to face a hot team in the Angels, with the playoff picture complicated by the onrushing Twins, who are 34-8 since June 8 after sweeping the White Sox. Remember when people were already conceding the wild card to a team out of the Central Division? Well, the Yankees are right there with the White Sox and Twins.
``What did I tell you?" Sox manager Terry Francona said. ``You don't know. There's too much baseball left. It changes week to week, somebody gets hot. So you play, because it's up and down and if you get carried away with it one way or the other, you just get overwhelmed.
``So you just play and hope you're good enough. This is going to be a great race. The way Minnesota is playing, there's going to be some good baseball all the way. There are all kinds of good races all over. It's going to be fun."