Touching All the Bases

LA story

First, let me say there would have been little shame in getting no-hit by John Lackey. The guy's a legitimate ace. It's not like he's some stiff such as, say . . . Clay Buchholz.

Annnnnnnnnd with that obligatory cheap shot out of the way, go ahead and count me among the consensus this morning: the Los Angeles Angels are officially the team to beat.

Mike Scioscia's deep and versatile ball club was making a compelling case that it was the class of the American League, if not the entire big leagues, even before acquiring slugger Mark Teixeira Tuesday afternoon from Atlanta.

And now? They don't have a flaw. If the Angels had one weakness before Tuesday's deal, it's that they lacked the middle-of-the-order firepower that the other supposed AL powers possess. Not even Maicer Izturis can possibly think Maicer Izturis is a No. 3 hitter.

But with Teixeira, a 28-year-old, prime-of-his-career switch-hitter with a career 132 OPS+, joining Torii Hunter and a declining but still formidable Vladimir Guerrero, the Angels should be able to keep pace on the scoreboard with anyone, and with their stellar pitching and defense, they should continue to be as adept at run prevention as any team in the league.

Teixeira is a great hitter, the one player I hope the front office pursues in the offseason. (Yes, I'm a charter member of the Youks Can Play Left brigade.) The Angels got exactly what and who they needed today.

Now it's up to the Red Sox to do the same, yet Theo Epstein's task is decidedly more complicated. While the Angels' entire shopping list consisted of acquiring a big bopper, the Red Sox are still prioritizing their various needs as the trade deadline closes in.

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Yes, they need a bridge to Jonathan Papelbon . . . yet encouragingly, Hideki Okajima has flashed his '07 form lately, so perhaps the solution is already in a Red Sox uniform.

David Ortiz is shaking the rust off and beginning to look like his fearsome pre-injury self . . . but one awkward swing followed by an uncomfortable twinge in his wrist would send the Sox scrambling for a No. 3 hitter.

Jed Lowrie has handled the shortstop position with impressive confidence and skill . . . but it's hard to believe the Miguel Tejada rumors are entirely fictional.

Truthfully, it's difficult to identify exactly what Theo should do, because even now, 108 games and exactly two-thirds of the way into the season, we aren't really sure of this team's true identity. This current sluggish midsummer vibe is reminscent of other recent Sox teams, but right now it's hard to pinpoint exactly which one.

Are these Sox like the '04 crew, which slogged through June, stunned us all with the gutsy trade of the iconic Nomar Garciaparra at the July 31 deadline, then found its stride a few weeks later en route to providing us some of our most precious memories as Boston sports fans?

Are they similar to the '05 team, which scratched and clawed its way to the playoffs, then was promptly dismissed by a superior team?

Or, heaven forbid, are they are like the '06 club, which was overwhelmed by injuries and controversy and ultimately unraveled before the schedule was complete?

We'll find out for sure over the next 54 games and hopefully beyond, but at least a few truths have been confirmed during this stretch of four losses in five games against the Yankees and Angels:

Jon Lester, now 5-1 with a 1.28 after Red Sox losses, is a legitimate stopper, and perhaps even the ace. Justin Masterson is not ready to be the solution in the bullpen at the moment, and combustable Craig Hansen may never be. Jacoby Ellsbury still hasn't adjusted to the inside pitch. And Manny Ramirez will continue to rake, even in the eye of yet another self-inflicted storm.

And most alarmingly, we know this: the Red Sox are not, in their current form, among the truly elite teams. Right now, that's a list of one. And with one savvy and sensible trade Tuesday afternoon, those Los Angeles Angels got a whole lot better.

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