This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com
When a team faces life without two of their five starting pitchers, their everyday second baseman, center fielder, left fielder, catcher and backup infielder and outfielder for any amount of time, the last thing you expect is for a team to charge forward towards first place in arguably the toughest division in major league baseball.
That being said, the Boston Red Sox are doing just that.
The Red Sox first lost Josh Beckett to the disabled list in late May, ushering the displaced Tim Wakefield back into the once overflowing starting rotation. The need for Wakefield was coupled with Daisuke Matsuzaka starting the season on the disabled list and returning once again to the sidelines this month with a strained forearm.
Though the Red Sox have motored on despite significant injuries to outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron, the latest collection of injuries pose a much more serious threat to the Red Sox resurgence.
In less than a week, the Red Sox lost Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez to the disabled list. Pedroia’s timetable to return from breaking his foot is much longer(6 weeks) than Martinez’s return from fracturing his thumb(possible return post-All Star break). For a team that has only featured Mike Cameron in 30 games and Ellsbury in less than 10 all season, it’s a tough pill to swallow when you consider Pedroia and Martinez have scored nearly a fourth of the entire teams runs.
For the Red Sox to keep their stride, they will lean even more heavily on the emergency group of players that have already put in significant time. It’s been joked that Nava, McDonald and Hall sounds more like a law firm than the starting outfield(when Drew isn’t in there) for the surging Boston Red Sox. If the Red Sox have any serious hopes of staying afloat until the injured return, they’ll need McDonald and Nava to keep pace with their current production, and Bill Hall will need to rise to the occasion.
After a hot start to his major league career, Danial Nava has cooled off slightly as he’s currently hitting just over .200 in the last week. If he figures out the opposition before the league learns his weaknesses, he could rebound. By comparison, Darnell McDonald has shown a remarkable sense of consistency with the bat, hitting .278 in his last month with the Red Sox.
The biggest concern for the Red Sox might be Bill Hall filling the shoes of Dustin Pedroia at second base. Though he has hit .286 in the last month, Hall’s numbers slumped quite a bit during the last week in limited play. Hall producing even a fraction of Pedroia’s number may b considered being hopeful.
The loss of Pedroia effects the entire lineup. Kevin Youkilis is one of the best hitters in the league, and that has a lot to do with the fact that he had Dustin Pedroia hitting behind him. Shuffling the lineup will put a hole of sorts somewhere, and that’s not even considering the reality that the Red Sox now have two holes in their lineup, rather than one.
Jason Varitek has played splendidly in his new role as the backup catcher to Victor Martinez. With additional rest, Tek has rediscovered his stroke that hasn’t been seen since 2007 at the earliest. Being reinserted into the everyday role of catching may result in a slight decline of production from Varitek that the team has benefited from so far this season.
Though the recent injuries have potentially sapped the team of their offensive power, it has not prevented them from winning four of their last five games, pushing them to within a single game in the standings of the American League East leading New York Yankees.
This is largely due to the pitching by the entire rotation. Even Tim Wakefield, despite a 2-6 record with an ERA north of 5.00, has pitched well enough to keep his team in games he’s pitched.
The Red Sox have many questions remaining that haven’t been touched upon, like their faulty relief and recently imploding closer, but they’re still positioned to where they find themselves near the top of the AL East, and even near the top of all of MLB with one of the best records in baseball. As of right now, only the New York Yankees have a better record in all of baseball, and both New York and Boston are tied with 47 wins.
Thanks in part, to a free falling Tampa Bay Rays squad and a great run through inter-league play, the Red Sox have made up a lot of ground that seemed insurmountable to many just a month ago. Keeping an eye on the developments of the Phil Hughes Rules and the status of A.J. Burnett should make the next several weeks very interesting, as the Red Sox try to fill their own gaps that might look much larger if they suddenly find themselves losing steam.