August 23, 2012

Playing out the season, with thoughts to the future

Just think: This time last year the Red Sox were actually tied for first place in the American League East -- and even led at the end of August.

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOSTON — Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans were among those throwing out the ceremonial first pitches Wednesday in an effort to raise money for the Jimmy Fund.

click image to enlarge

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz reacts after giving up a solo home run to Los Angeles Angels' Howard Kendrick during the sixth inning Wednesday.

AP

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Then Clay Buchholz threw out the official, yet meaningless first pitch at 7:11 p.m., taking another step toward finishing this season.

Yes, that might be a little harsh.

And sure, a lot can happen with six weeks left in the season. Just think: This time last year the Red Sox were actually tied for first place in the American League East -- and even led at the end of August.

You probably heard what happened last September.

There are those fans hoping for a "reverse ending" to this season, where the Red Sox finish with a flurry instead of having the bottom fall out.

But this year's race is far different from last year's, when the Tampa Bay Rays overcame a nine-game deficit at the end of August to overtake the Red Sox.

Unlike the Rays last year, this year's Boston team has to leapfrog more than one team. In the wild-card standings, where the top two teams qualify, Boston is in seventh place.

That's a lot of teams that need to fall apart to let Boston get back in it.

Plus, last year's Rays team was a good one. They were 74-61 at the end of August.

This Red Sox team has never been better than five games above .500, and that was on June 27 (40-35). They are currently in a losing battle to get back to a winning record.

In other words, this is not a good team.

But there is still baseball to be watched and moves to be made.

What can fans look for?

nWaiver deals. Boston can still make trades before this month ends. Catcher Kelly Shoppach has been shipped out. Others could similarly be dealt to get something back.

Reliever Vicente Padilla and shortstop Mike Aviles come to mind. Both veterans would be welcomed on a contending teams and may not figure in Boston's long-term plans.

Shortstop Jose Iglesias. In spring training, Aviles beat out Iglesias for the shortstop job. Iglesias was told he needed to get better offensively. He upped his average to .269 this season (.348 this month).

The Red Sox need to start making a commitment to the 22-year-old who signed for a $6 million bonus in 2008. Iglesias should be called up in September, and he should play.

Designated hitter David Ortiz. When Manager Bobby Valentine was asked Wednesday for an update on the injured Ortiz, Valentine shrugged and said he hadn't talked to him yet.

A casual response to a question about Boston's best hitter.

Ortiz, who turns 37 in November, is batting .316 with 23 home runs. But he's also been on the disabled list since July 18 with a strained right Achilles tendon.

Ortiz has had a good season, but his injury underscores a concern that his performance and health are destined to diminish.

Catcher Ryan Lavarnway. He is off to a slow start (normal for him) since his call-up to the majors, batting .129 in his first 10 games, although he walloped a double in the fourth inning Wednesday.

Beware of players' early statistics in the majors (Dustin Pedroia hit .191 in 31 games in 2006).

Lavarnway can be an offensive dynamo. And once considered a defensive work-in-progress, he was voted the best defensive catcher this year in the International League in a Baseball America survey of managers, coaches and scouts.

Franklin Morales. He gets the start Thursday and could be vying to stay in the rotation next year. In eight starts he is 3-3 with a 3.98 ERA, and has looked solid except for two bad outings against the Yankees.

Valentine said Morales has the stuff to start. He just needs experience and "right now he's going to get the opportunity to start."

The bullpen. The Red Sox relievers look pretty good, and Boston has some young arms under its control for a while -- Clay Mortensen (1.72 ERA) and Junichi Tazawa (1.61). They could be working their way to key roles in seasons to come.

And of course, Daniel Bard is expected to rejoin the Red Sox bullpen by next month.

The Red Sox tried Bard as a starter this year and he became one of many Boston disappointments this season.

Those disappointments have the Red Sox playing in late August, already with an eye to 2013.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

 

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