There are 54 games remaining on the Red Sox’ 2008 schedule, precisely one-third of the 162-game slate yet to be played.
To win 95 games, give or take what might be necessary to beat out the Yankees and Rays for the AL East title, 61-47 Boston needs to go 34-20 (a .629 winning percentage) the rest of the way, while the Rays need to go 33-22 and the Yankees 37-19 to accomplish the same goal.
A 34-20 mark shouldn’t seem some insurmountable task for the defending World Series champions, but the way they’ve been playing lately it could be. The Red Sox have done themselves no favors of late, sporting a 4-7 post-All-Star break record that has some fans doubting the prospect of another title run. Consider that last season, Boston hadn’t lost its 47th game of the season until Aug. 12, when it was 70-47, a nine-game differential in the win column.
Perhaps the most concerning record is that Tampa Bay is the only team of the three with a winning record within the division (27-19). So while plenty of pundits expect them to fail down the stretch with pivotal late-season showdowns against Boston and New York on tap, so far they have proven otherwise.
But back in Boston, there are more pressing concerns than worrying about what the Rays do on a nightly basis. Manny Ramirez could be gone by tomorrow (unlikely) or the end of the season (count on it). Clay Buchholz has looked more like the next Jeff Sellers than the next Roger Clemens. And Jason Varitek’s bat is now so pathetic that he’s due to be introduced to Mr. Mendoza within days.
They can't win on the road, a sweep against the pathetic Mariners their only saving face of late. They can't beat the just-got-better best team in baseball, 0-5 now against the Angels in the second half, and losers of their last seven against Arte Moreno's crew. Heck, the Sox are 1-4 since David Ortiz returned to the lineup, but he's hardly been the problem this month.
All-Star MVP J.D. Drew has hit .233 in July. Mike Lowell -- no longer in a contract year -- has apparently reverted to his former ways of second-half woes, batting .213 for the month with one home run and a whopping .287 on-base percentage. Jacoby Ellsbury's .544 OPS for the month is better than just five other AL batters. One of them is, of course, Varitek (.539).
And yet, the deadline looms and all the scuttlebutt revolves around the Sox doing nothing, or picking up 41-year-old Doug Brocail. Talk about going for it.
Bottom line, this isn't as talented a team as it was in 2007. There's no Curt Schilling to bank on come October, and while you can feel confident in doing so for Josh Beckett, the man has gotten a total of six runs of support in the last four games that he's started and the team has lost, including Friday night's showdown vs. Joba Chamberlain. Former Golden Boy Jacoby is at this point a better option than Coco Crisp and not much more. Then there is the Manny affair, which if he isn't traded by tomorrow's deadline, promises to rear its ugly head again at some point between now and the end of September.
But if they can somehow get Brocail, well darn it all, watch out...
Just because this team has far more issues than the edition of a year ago, which, of course, had its own share of problems -- remember some boneheads declared them nowhere near fit for a title at the end of August -- doesn't mean it can't make a charge at the division and catch lightning come October. It's just that so many issues seem to pop up on daily basis you half expect Jason Johnson to take the ball for them tonight.
Basically, it comes down to this: Are we on the verge of a repeat of 2006 or 2007?
At the deadline two years ago, Theo Epstein decided not to make a deal that would sacrifice future talent for the likes of Bobby Abreu and the late Cory Lidle, who both ended up on the Yankees. Despite the aggravation displayed by many Sox fans, it was the right move. The '06 Sox were a sinking ship, injuries eventually sealing the fate of the first playoff-less season since 2002.
Last season, Epstein went out and got Eric Gagne, which was an unmitigated disaster. Still, the GM showed confidence that his team was among the best in the league, and good enough to win a World Series. He was right.
In 2008, the bullpen is a deadline day concern, what with the unpredictable performances of guys like Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen, but so too is the offense with bottom feeders like Ellsbury, Varitek, Crisp, and ... wait, Alex Cora is still here? While Ramirez, Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis continue to smoke anything tossed in their direction, the lineup is becoming top-heavy. Post All-Star break, here are the batting averages of the rest of the regulars:
Should we be surprised John Lackey nearly no-hit these guys last night?
The big bat is off the market in Mark Teixeira, who makes the Angels the most formidable team in the majors, yada, yada and so forth. He wasn't a reality here, with Youkilis likely the demand in return, but that's the sort of guy the Red Sox have been missing in this little bump, and really, despite the underperforming bats, where would you most assume they get a big bat? You've got Lowell contractually wrapped up, for better or worse. Ditto Drew. The Varitek situation is one that isn't easy to solve, the two-headed monster of Golden Boy and Coco only confounds solving that matter, and despite what we've enjoyed from Jed Lowrie, the incumbent Julio Lugo is here for two more years and $18 million. It almost makes watching Lowrie a bit depressing, because you know he can't be long for the spot thanks to the team's commitment to Lugo.
Of course, hovering over all the trade talk is Manny Ramirez, whom it seems the team would be rash to trade just over a dare and some misbehavior. From a baseball standpoint, at least. From a team standpoint in proving to the rest of the guys that that sort of behavior won't stand, he'd ideally be gone by 3 p.m.
But really, Manny is the least of this team's problems. His situation just makes it all the more difficult for the team to solve most of them.