Gut check time equals stomach punch for Sox

By Mark Haskell | Jul 27, 2010

This is a big week for the Boston Red Sox.

I know, as a Red Sox fan, every week is a big week. Many of us live and die with every pitch, every out, every game. I tend to be in the majority here.

Like many of us, I watch nearly every single game. I'm excited when I take a road trip so I can listen to the game on the radio, thus making the trip go quicker. Chances are when the BoSox are playing on the West Coast, as they have been this week, I am watching the game in the eighth inning at around 1:10 a.m. in bed, usually leading to some variation of the following exchange with my wife.

Her: "Are you still watching TV?"
Me: "Yeah, the game is still on."
Her: "Don't forget to turn the sleep timer on."
Me: "I am the sleep timer."

Regardless, with the date being July 27 and the Sox record being 55-44, eight games out of first place in the American League East and five games back in the wild card, the Red Sox have reached a fork in the road.

The trade deadline is just a few days away, and how the next few games play out for Boston will likely decide which direction they will go as we continue through the dog days of summer.

Will the Sox be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline? Will they be looking for bullpen help or another body to bolster their depleted outfield, or will they begin a fire sale in the coming days on expiring contracts as they begin to shape the team for next year and for years to come?

What do I think? I'm a Red Sox fan, what do you think? That glass is not half full, it's half empty.

The Red Sox were an intriguing team heading into the All-Star Break. No matter who went down with injuries, we kept swinging and we kept on winning. The likes of Darnell McDonald, Bill Hall and Daniel Nava helped stop the bleeding that were the injuries to Victor Martinez, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Varitek, helping provide enough offense that they could weather the storm without pitching ace Josh Beckett and any reminiscence of a bullpen (See Delcarmen, Manny).

Since the all-star break, however, the Sox are looking much more like a team of underachievers. A team of underachievers that recently lost a series to Oakland and split a four-game set with Seattle.

If the Sox can somehow take two-out-of-three from Anaheim this week, Boston will finish their extensive West Coast road trip with a .500 record. Just enough to keep them relevant and in the chase for both the division and the wild card.

And yet, that's what worries me.

Afraid of winning? No. Afraid of making the playoffs? Hardly.

What I'm afraid of is that Red Sox management will see the likes of Martinez, Pedroia and Ellsbury as the saviors when they return, expecting them to put up huge numbers and go on another tear down the stretch to reach the playoffs. And that very well may happen.

But what if they don't?

What if the team continues to slump and Pedroia goes 2-for-20 in his first five games back?

What if Ellsbury returns for four games and his ribs flare up again, forcing him to be shut down for the season?

What if the entire league remembers they can run on V-Mart anytime they want?

Even worse still, what if the Red Sox sit on their hands and watch the trade deadline go by, certain everything will come together when the team returns to the lineup only to see those three horses stumble out of the gate?

I'd like to paint a picture that shows Boston clicking on all cylinders down the stretch, winning close games and finding a way — as they have every year since 2006 and six of the past seven years — to get into the postseason. However in a year where the Yankees and the Rays are the two best teams in baseball and it's all the Red Sox can do to stay healthy and keep pace, it seems that they are running out of brushes.

The Sox bullpen is in shambles, with no real upgrades on the market or the free agent pool to speak of. Boston is constantly being linked to Toronto's Scott Downs, but do they really want to give up 1-2 prospects for him? It reminds me of the 2003 season when we were supposed to be excited when Boston traded for relief pitchers Scott Sauerbeck and Jeff Suppan. Or relief pitching's pu-pu platter as I'm calling it. Or Eric Gagne back in 2007. How did that turn out again?

The outfield of Ellsbury, Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew we were sold on quickly become McDonald, Drew, and Nava. Which let's be honest, sounds more like a lawfirm than an outfield. They have played admirably through Ellsbury and Cameron's injuries and even won the Red Sox a few games with their bats, but its not realistic to expect those three to help carry you to the playoffs.

And, all the while with Dan Haren's recent trade to Los Angeles, Cliff Lee off to Texas and the Yankees and Rays looking as if they will make a few deals to legitimately bolster their teams before the deadline, at what point do we just sit back and take what's coming? This would probably be an opportune time to remind everyone that six of Boston's final 10 games of the year are against the Yankees.

I'm not saying it can't be done. I'm just saying I think Lindsey Lohan has a better chance of serving her entire sentence in the pokey than the Red Sox do of making the playoffs.

Not winning two key series against Oakland and Seattle? Two teams with a one-way ticket to nowhere? There's no way New York or Tampa Bay let athose two opponents snake them like Boston did. And that's why the Yanks and Rays are going to the playoffs this year and the Red Sox are not.

So what would I like to see them do?

1) Acquire Philadelphia outfielder Jayson Werth and sign him to an extension, while trading away anyone of value (Adrian Beltre, Mike Lowell, Cameron, McDonald or even David Ortiz) that they don't plan to keep after this season for prospects or younger talent. Let Werth adjust to right field at Fenway for a few months and have him ready for opening day next year. Deal Drew to a contending team that can use him either now or next year's trade deadline.

2) Bring up some of your younger arms for September call-ups, including Michael Bowden, and give them a shot to break into the bullpen.

3) Address the bullpen in the offseason.

This season hasn't gone right from the start. It seems the Red Sox are banking on a lot of things going right in the second half, especially given the fact the starting nine from opening day haven't even played 10 games together all year and it doesn't appear they will play many, if any, this season.

It just doesn't feel like Boston's year. And the sooner the front office realizes that, the better of they're going to be.

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