Point of contention: 10 still in the hunt
Think back to mid-June.
The Boston Red Sox had just run their record against the AL East rival Yankees to 8-0. The Yankees were about to fall five games behind the Red Sox in the division standings. And the Red Sox were beating their chests over the depth of their rotation.
Guess that’s why they play the full schedule before making anything official — unfortunately for the Red Sox.
The stretch run has begun. Twenty-five days remain in the regular season.
The Red Sox are trying to hang on.
They have been blown away by the Yankees in the AL East, and their seemingly comfortable grasp on the AL wild card has crumbled. The Texas Rangers have become the gum on the bottom of the Red Sox cleats.
With the Rangers having rebounded from back-to-back losses in Baltimore to pile up three victories in a 24-hour span in Cleveland on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, the Red Sox woke up Thursday morning clinging to a two-game wild-card lead, the closest postseason battle in baseball.
So let’s handicap the top 10 postseason contenders:
So what if they are now crossing their fingers with Sergio Mitre in the fifth starter role where Phil Hughes, Chad Gaudin and Chien Ming Wang were given shots. Shoot, Alfredo Aceves even was asked to fill in for one start, but was quickly returned to the bullpen, where he has become a major factor, compiling a 10-1 record.
The Yankees are on cruise control, getting things put in place for the postseason, and even without an edge they have won 12 of their last 14.
The only team standing between the Yankees and another world championship is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
It was a year ago Thursday that the Angels clinched a division title, the earliest a division title had been wrapped up since Atlanta clinched the NL East on Sept. 9, 2002, and earliest the AL West had ever been clinched. But then a year ago the Angels rotation was so solid they only used seven starters in 162 games.
They have had to piece their way through 14 different starting pitchers this year, and it’s been a challenge. Within the last two weeks, however, Joe Saunders returned from the disabled list, Scott Kazmir arrived from Tampa, and the Angels have gone on a roll. The starting pitchers have allowed two or fewer runs in 12 of 14 games, the rotation has a 1.59 ERA over the last 11 games and their lead over the second-place Rangers stands at 4½ games.
“We played with the blahs for a couple of days,” admitted manager Jim Leyland.
But then the rest of the division has been down with a case of the blahs all season long. Second-place Minnesota climbed back above .500 on Wednesday night, just two games shy of its season-best three-game edge on break-even back on July 18. The three other AL Central teams — White Sox, Indians and Royals — were a combined 51 games below .500 going into Thursday.
Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was just given his third cortisone shot to mask his pain from a degenerated disk in his back, which has limited him to only two starts since July 8. The man expected to be the team’s No. 2 starter, Daisuke Matsuzaka, is pitching in the playoffs, all right, but it’s in the Class A Carolina League, where he is on a rehab assignment. He is only 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA in eight big-league starts. Can Jon Lester and Josh Beckett mask the rotation shortcomings in a short series this October?
Talk about not computing. Right-hander Scott Feldman has anchored the rotation, going 16-4. This is a guy who came into the season 7-13 in the big leagues. Kevin Millwood is the only other pitcher to start 20 games. Vicente Padilla ranked third on the team in wins with eight but was released because he was too big a distraction. The closer’s role has been a left-right tag team with lefty C.J. Wilson, who has converted 14 of 16 opportunities, and Frank Francisco, who has earned 22 of his 27 career saves this season.
“(Lidge is) one of the best closers in the game when he’s right,” said Manuel. “Right now, he’s going through a season where things haven’t gone very good for him. He’s had some struggles. This hasn’t been a big season for him. I definitely want to be loyal to him and things like that, but at the same time the game is the first priority.”
Lidge has a convenience store ERA (7.11), and after being perfect in save situations last season, has converted only 28 of 38 this season. But then Madson is only 6-for-11 when he has been asked to put away a victory. No wonder Brett Myers came off the disabled list and was quickly inserted in the bullpen, not the rotation.
They do have two big road tests. They travel to San Francisco on Monday for the middle series in a three-city road trip, and then visit Los Angeles for the final three games of the regular season.