01 September 2006

Red Sox Deal Wells in Wake of Unforseen Collapse

Back in January, I suggested that the 2006 Red Sox may not have been the mortal lock to make the playoffs, or even overtake the Yankees in the AL East, that everyone thought. While the ways I suggested the team might fail may not have all materialized, it seems that my predictions (and Red Sox Nation's fears), are about to come true.

As I write this, the first of September looms large on the horizon for the Boston Red Sox, who for the first time since 2002 will not be in serious contention for a playoff spot as the year's ninth month dawns. Speaking of things that loom large, David Wells was just traded to the San Diego Padres for minor league catcher George Kottras. Normally, at this point in the year, the Red Sox would be stocking up for the stretch drive, getting that one last pice of the puzzle to help give the team a boost into October. Not this year. This year they're shipping off the only starting pitcher on the roster with an ERA for the month of August under 5.22. Wells may not be much anymore, but he's still somewhat effective when healthy, and he seems healthy, for now. Furthermore, he's 10-4 with a 3.16 ERA in 120 postseason innings through his career, and Boston won't much need him in that role this season, not being 6.5 games out of the Wild Card hunt and eight out of the AL East race with a month of games left to play.

In case you're interested, the Red Sox' chances of making the postseason at this point are almost nil, and they know it. Since the inception of the Wild Card, only one of the 88 teams to make it to the post-season were as far as 6.5 games out of a given playoff race at the end of play on August 31st. The 1995 Seattle Mariners, just 59-57 at that point, went 20-9 the rest of the way to overtake the LAnahfornia Angels for the AL West title, overcoming a 7.5 game defecit. But those Mariners had a healthy Randy Johnson, who went 5-0 with a 1.73 ERA down the stretch, including a complete game victory in the one-game divisional playoff against the Angels. They also had an excellent relief corps, with Jeff Nelson, Bobby Ayala and Norm Charlton, who went a combined 6-1 with a 2.72 ERA and 11 saves down the stretch. The team also had an impressive offense, averaging almost six runs per game for that month or so. Furthermore, those Mariners were chasing only one team, the Angels, for the division title.

The Red Sox, however, are chasing not one, but two teams, the White Sox and Twins, with the Angels not far behind. Their schedule in September is such that they have only three games remaining against those teams, when they host the Twins from the 19th to the 21st, so they can't make up direct ground on their rivals. That means that not only would the Red Sox need to win, but they would need both the Twins and the White Sox to lose, something the Twins especially have not done very much in the second half of the season. The 1995 Mariners had a healthy Edgar Martinez (who led the AL in all kinds of offensive stats that year), Jay Buhner, Tino Martinez, and Ken Griffey, who returned from a wrist injury to hit seven homers in September and drive in 20 runs that month.

The Sawx, on the other hand, have seen the staples of their offense dropping like flies. David Ortiz might not return to the lineup until after this weekend, having already missed four games with an irregular heartbeat, and who knows how this will affect him going forward? Manny Ramirez has played only once since August 23rd, as he nurses a gimpy knee. Wily Mo Pena hasn't played since 8/25, and having just received a cortisone shot, he won't be back for a couple of days at the earliest. Add this to the two weeks their starting shortstop, Alex Gonzalez, has missed, and the month that RF Trot Nixon and starting catcher/team captain Jason Varitek have missed, and you've got yourself a recipe for disaster.

The 1995 Mariners had Randy Johnson in his prime, who almost single-handedly carried that team to its first playoff series, whereas the 2006 Red Sox have no such horse to ride. Curt Schilling has certainly shown that he's capable of such performances in the past, but this year he's just 4-4 with a 5.15 ERA since the All-Star Break, so it doesn't look like he's going to do much. With three starting pitchers on the DL (Tim Wakefield, Matt Clement and now Jon Lester), Josh Beckett struggling (3-5, 5.75 since the Break) and not much else in their rotation, the Sawx had no choice but to become sellers.

Actually, though, that's not exactly true. Years ago, before the team was bought by John Henry and Tom Werner, the old Boston management might have gone out and tried to add a piece to make a push for the Wild Card. Dan Duquette was exactly the sort of General manager who would pick up a "proven veteran" at the trading deadline even though it looks like his team is out of contention. Current GM Theo Epstein, with the blessings of Henry, Werner and CEO Larry Luccino, knows better than that, and so in 2006, you won't see the Red Sox picking up aging, overpaid retreads in an effort to overcome the impossible. Besides, they already did that, in 2004, remember?

No, the kinder, gentler Red Sox will instead recognize their 2006 season for what it is, one rife with bad luck, but also full of lessons to be learned. Just a few of them here:

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

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