Friday, December 6, 2013
BOSTON - The Red Sox get back to work Tuesday night in Baltimore with 7½ weeks left in a season that has been slipping away from them since it began.
Boston is two games under .500 with a list of injured players growing by the week. And a list of questions that have gone unanswered since April:
• How can a pitcher like Jon Lester suddenly have an ERA that is 1.60 higher than his career average? How does he have just one win in July and August? How has his team won just two of his last eight starts?
• Is Josh Beckett done? In the past three seasons, he is 24-22 with a 4.29 ERA. Not the numbers from an ace, or even a top-of-the-rotation guy. He has a 7.39 ERA since the start of July, and has one win since May 20 (11 starts.)
• How can a team rank second in run scoring yet look so inept so often?
While the Sox try to figure out what went wrong, and discussions swirl over what needs to be done going forward, the Orioles have undergone a rejuvenation in Dan Duquette's first year as general manager.
The former Sox GM has been out of the game for the past 10 years but is clearly enjoying his role in turning around a team that hasn't had a winning record since Mike Bordick and the O's went wire-to-wire to win the division in 1997.
Last season, the Orioles gave their fans a glimpse of coming together, hovering around the .500 mark as late as mid-June.
They gave Red Sox fans a slap in the face in September, going 5-2 against Boston in the final 10 days of the season -- a stretch punctuated by the ninth-inning, season-ending walkoff comeback on Jonathan Papelbon's final pitch with the Sox.
Now, the Orioles are standing nine games over .500 and holding onto one of the AL's wild-card spots.
Camden Yards is buzzing over the potential of 20-year-old Manny Machado, who has three home runs and seven RBI in his first four big-league games.
"Machado is a natural player who can do everything," said Duquette. "He is fun to watch."
Players like Machado don't come around very often. Players like Nate McLouth and Omar Quintanilla do.
They are the type of players that Duquette has added to give the O's much-needed roster depth and helped them rebound from a sub-.500 July.
Baltimore has won seven of nine and hasn't shown signs of going away.
Duquette was never given enough credit for his role in building the 2004 championship Red Sox, and he's not going to take too much credit for building this team.
When asked about signings like McLouth (hitting .333 with Baltimore) and Quintanilla (.328), Duquette says they "have been very helpful."
He also says there could be more activity in the next two weeks, when players who have cleared waivers can be traded and are eligible for playoff rosters.
Playoff rosters? It's been a long time since the Orioles have had to think about such things. Yet that's exactly what they're doing right now.
It's hard for O's fans not to get giddy after 14 consecutive losing seasons.
That's exactly how many consecutive winning seasons we've had in Boston.
And, right now, getting above .500 is the goal for a Red Sox team that has already lost six of nine games to Baltimore this season.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.