I mentioned in my Yankees-Red Sox series preview on Friday here at Doc’s that it probably wasn’t a make-or-break series for Boston unless the Red Sox got swept. Well, after watching all four games, I now think it’s officially time to pull the plug on those Red Sox futures.
The Sox lost three of four to their hated rivals to fall back to.500 and into last place in the AL East, 9.5 games behind the Yankees. That race is over – New York is at -333 to win the division at Bovada and the Sox now +750. But I’m not even sure Boston will be able to claim one of the AL’s two wild-card spots. Boston is 2.5 games out of that second spot, which is currently held by Baltimore.
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It’s pretty much a lock that one of the wild-card spots is going to the AL West runner-up between the Angels and Rangers. So that means the Sox would essentially have to outplay Tampa Bay as well as two of the runners-up in the AL Central among the White Sox, Tigers and Indians. I’m not even including the Orioles because I think they fade (only team in AL East with a negative run differential), the A’s (not enough offense) or the Blue Jays (too many injured pitchers).
On the bright side, Boston is expecting outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury for this weekend’s series at the Rays, but the news on Carl Crawford isn’t as good. Crawford has been out all season with a ligament issue in his elbow and ultimately will have to have Tommy John Surgery. If he doesn’t have that surgery soon, the first chunk of the 2013 season is in jeopardy. Crawford is going to try and play through it for “right now” but he didn’t sound overly confident. Crawford said he expects to resume his rehab assignment Thursday after it was interrupted because he "tweaked" his groin during a minor-league game last week.
The Red Sox also have major issues in their rotation. Presumed ace Jon Lester was roughed up by the Yanks and has just two wins in his last nine starts and finished the first half with a 4.49 ERA, the worst first-half ERA of his career. Josh Beckett allowed six runs on eight hits over five innings in a loss to the Yanks on Friday and is 4-7 with a 4.43 ERA. Boston has lost the past five times he has taken the mound. The Sox are just 12-20 overall in games started by either Lester or Beckett so far. Clay Buchholz will return from injury on Saturday at Tampa Bay, but he has a 5.53 ERA this season. Daisuke Matsuzaka returned to the rotation last month, less than a year after having Tommy John surgery on June 10, 2011. But he was 0-3 with a 6.65 ERA in five starts before he was placed on the disabled list with a shoulder strain on July 3.
If GM Ben Cherington isn’t able to get the Cubs’ Ryan Dempster or Matt Garza from his former boss, then Boston isn’t going anywhere. The Sox play 40 of their remaining 76 games on the road and 59 of their games left are against teams with records over .500. Boston's final six games are on the road, with three in Baltimore and three in Yankee Stadium. Only the Oakland Athletics schedule is tougher in the AL.
Another vastly disappointing team has been the Miami Marlins, and they enter the break at 41-44, nine games out of first in the NL East and five games out of the second wild-card spot. The Marlins just lost stud slugger Giancarlo Stanton for likely six weeks to knee surgery. Even with Stanton (.284, 19 HRs, 50 RBI), who obviously is out of the All-Star Game (the Marlins will now have no players in the game), the Marlins ranked 13th in the NL in runs and 15th in hitting. Carlos Lee has been a disappointment since coming over from Houston in a trade and Hanley Ramirez is lucky he didn’t slice off his hand while punching a cooling fan in the dugout Sunday. He needed a few stitches but is fine.
And the Fish have a big problem at closer. Heath Bell suffered his sixth blown save (most in MLB) in Miami's 5-4 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday. He had just fives blown saves all of last season with the Padres. In addition, teams are hitting .307 against Bell this season, compared to a .223 average in 2011, and he has been handed a lead a handful of other times this season and has failed to protect it (but not gotten a blown save). Manager Ozzie Guillen has hinted at a change there. Earlier this season, Guillen removed Bell from the closer's role when he was struggling; three other pitchers -- Steve Cishek, Randy Choate and Edward Mujica -- have recorded saves.
Meanwhile, Miami has the toughest second-half schedule among NL playoff contenders. Of the Marlins’ 77 remaining games, 50 are against teams over .500. The division title now is a pipe dream as Miami (12/1 on Bovada to win the East) has 18 games against the division-rival Nationals, Braves and Mets between now and Aug. 9 and won’t have Stanton for any of them. The Nats, by comparison, have just 35 games left vs. teams with a winning record. They open a four-game set in Miami on Friday.
I worry about Washington’s futures, however. Bovada lists the Nats at 10/13 to win the East and 9/2 co-favorites to win the NL pennant, but remember that the team will shut ace Stephen Strasburg down when he reaches around 160 innings. Right now he’s at 99, so that likely means about 10 more starts at best. Maybe Strasburg is already tiring as the Nats have lost his past three starts, and he has allowed three runs in each. The Nationals have yet to determine where Strasburg will fit into the rotation coming out of the break, and they will decide based on his workload in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. I would take Atlanta at 9/4 to win that division.
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