Friday, December 13, 2013
BOSTON — The Red Sox have arrived at a make-or-break week in the schedule.
The Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline is one week from today. By then, teams will need to figure out what they need to make a run at a playoff spot.
First, they need to figure out if they can make a playoff run. Can the Red Sox?
It's hard to tell. For most of the season, they've been lurking at the edge of the AL wild card race. They creep back into the middle of the pack before falling to the back of it.
Sunday night they packed up their bags to head off on a pivotal road trip through Texas and New York, facing two teams with the best records in baseball.
They did it after one of the most discouraging losses of the season. Jon Lester, the man expected to be the ace of the Red Sox staff, suffered the most discouraging game of his career.
In the 15-7 loss to Toronto, Lester gave up a career-high 11 earned runs -- the most by a Red Sox pitcher since 33-year-old Doug Bird did it in 1983.
The Blue Jays hit four homers; the most Lester has ever given up in a game. He tied a career high by walking five batters. And he did it all in four-plus innings.
Toronto swept the Sox at Fenway Park, killing the momentum and ending the joy that was building after Cody Ross drilled a three-run walkoff homer into the Monster seats Thursday night.
At that point the Sox were 5-2 after the All-Star break, a game out of the wild card race, and were celebrating the return of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford to the top of the lineup.
Then they ran into a Blue Jays team that came to town having scored four runs in three games against the Yankees. A team that was playing without its best hitter, Jose Bautista. A team that made a 10-player deal on Friday in an effort to save the bullpen.
That Blue Jays team scored 28 runs in 27 innings at Fenway Park.
The Sox arrived in Texas in sole possession of the AL East basement for the first time since June 19th. They were 3.5 games out of the wild card chase, with six teams ahead of them.
Last week, Larry Lucchino, Boston's president and CEO, said General Manager Ben Cherington had been given ownership's approval to make a major deal at the deadline.
It's time for him to make a move. Fans are waiting to see if he will add to the team, or deal a veteran with an eye to the future.
Perhaps it's time to do both.
In 2004, Nomar Garciaparra was traded to the Cubs on July 31. The players who came to Boston were not as talented as Garciaparra. Yet they were integral parts of a team that became re-energized and won a World Series.
In 2012, the Red Sox badly need an infusion of energy. Trading Lester or Josh Beckett might help them find it.
Both have struggled, and Cherington would undoubtedly get a small percentage of either player's true value.
Yet moving one of the pitchers, the two who are supposed to sit at the top of the rotation, might clear the space to bring in another pitcher like Matt Garza or Ryan Dempster.
Or, it might just clear the space for another pitcher to make his move. The Red Sox began the week 10 games over .500 when anyone other than Beckett or Lester started a game.
It was hard not to notice Franklin Morales coming in for mop-up duty after Lester's disastrous start Sunday. Morales is 2-1 with a 3.42 ERA as a starter. The Sox have won three of his five starts; one of the losses was in a 1-0 game.
In a worst-case scenario, moving one of the team's established starters would give Morales a chance to return to the rotation. At best, it would allow Cherington to make another bold move and bring a new starter to town.
And some desperately needed fresh blood to a team that is staggering into the most important stretch of the 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.