After struggling to find an offensive spark against the Oakland A’s, the Red Sox have fallen two games below .500 and currently sit six games out of first in the highly competitive AL East. While the deficit is not a mountain to overcome, there are three other teams that the Red Sox have to surpass before they can lay claim to second in the division and threaten for the division lead. While only 15% of the season is over, it’s worth asking the question; is this Red Sox club a playoff team?
Jayson Stark of ESPN.com wrote a column in late April where he asked MLB scouts and executives for help in determining which clubs are contenders and which are pretenders. The Red Sox to many scouts are seen as a pretender. The reasons being according to Stark, are the lack of quality relievers and a week outfield.
That certainly holds true, but there is an argument to be made. If you were to ask me right now I would agree with the scouts that the Sox don’t resemble a postseason contending team, but only the way they are playing. When you drill down into a couple of areas it’s worth noting that the Sox horizon looks promising and here’s why.
First let’s address the bullpen. Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon are no where to be seen and after a stomach turning start, Alfredo Aceves and company have settled down. So much in fact that they are now the ones preventing the runs and giving the Sox a chance to win when the starters struggle. Case in point, Wednesday night’s game when Daniel Bard left in the sixth handing over a 4-1 deficit to the bullpen with runners on base. The relievers did their job, the offense did not.
Keep in mind that there is still a slight possibility that either Felix Doubront or Daniel Bard could join the pen before the summer months hit. With Aaron Cook pushing hard for a permanent starter position, Bard struggling of late and Dice-K close to returning, the bullpen could be the beneficiaries of having too many starters. Bailey will be back around the all-star break and having him healthy for half of a season can only be a good thing.
Next, the outfield. Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford should return this season and will take a mediocre outfield to an outfield most clubs would dream of. The problem then will be finding enough playing time for Ryan Sweeny, Cody Ross and Marlon Byrd. Not to forget Ryan Kalish and Jason Repko will be available this season at some point as well.
The offense is going to be fine and we’ve already seen it when the bats produce double digits in runs on multiple nights, sometimes on back-to-back nights. Adrian Gonzalez will not hit .260 for the rest of the year and Dustin Pedroia will catch fire to the tune of two-run doubles at clutch moments of the game.
The starting pitching is an interesting cog to the Red Sox wheel. Clay Buchholz is now raising as many questions as John Lackey did a year ago and with a soon to be plethora of starters, there will be options. If guys like Buchholz continue to struggle, Dice-K can’t perform and Cook fails to meet the requirements a trade in July will be necessary. Kevin Youkilis is one name that is surely to float around the trading block from now until July 31 and if Ellsbury and Crawford return from injury and can produce, the guys like Cody Ross or Marlon Byrd will become potential trade bait. A package of legitimate roster players will certainly draw interest and may be enough to lure a Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd or Matt Garza. I’m not suggesting these named players would do the trick, but a Youk, Ross and a prospect or two has to catch Theo’s attention, would it not?
It’s early May and things are far from perfect in Beantown with the beloved Red Sox. On paper right now they don’t resemble a postseason club, but in a month or two when some injuries heal and potential deals start to surface, this club could go from pretender to contender real quickly.
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Tags: Aaron Cook Adrian Gonzalez Alfredo Aceves Andrew Bailey Boston Red Sox Carl Crawford Clay Buchholz Cody Ross Daniel Bard Dustin Pedroia Felix Doubront Gavin Floyd Jacoby Ellsbury Jake Peavy Jason Repko John Lackey Kevin Youkilis Mark Melancon Marlon Byrd Matt Garza Oakland A's Ryan Kalish Theo Epstein