Monday, August 24, 2009

Red Sox still leading "another race"

It wasn't what Jason Bay said about the Red Sox's chances to catch the Yankees in the East. It was what he didn't say.

"There's still time left," said Bay with just a little bit of bite to his voice. "But if that doesn't happen, what goes unnoticed around here is that we are in first place for the other remaining playoff spot. It obviously goes unnoticed when you're playing New York, and people want to make a huge deal out of it. But we won the wild card last year and made it to Game 7 of the ALCS. It's getting a little further away and we're running out of time, no question, and you've got to be realistic. But, at the same time, the goal is to get into the playoffs. Whatever way you do that, at least you're in."

Yes, the "other remaining playoff spot." Here's how the standings break down as of Monday morning:

1. Boston, 70-53
2. Texas, 69-54
3. Tampa Bay, 67-56
t-4. Chicago, 63-61
t-4. Seattle, 63-61

The Red Sox do have pitching -- thanks in large part to the steps forward taken by Clay Buchholz and Junichi Tazawa, now pretty much the No. 3 and No. 4 starters in the Red Sox rotation. They might even have pitching on the way if a deal for Billy Wagner is consummated in the next 24 hours or so. (That seems unlikely now, according to reports, but there's still time.)

The Red Sox also have a ferocious lineup, and if you're still worried about their .264 lineup since the All-Star break, consider this: Of the first 17 hitters that stepped to the plate against CC Sabathia on Sunday night, every single one either saw at least four pitches or wound up with a hit -- or both. The only first-pitch hackers were Mike Lowell, who doubled off the Green Monster, and Rocco Baldelli, who shot a ground ball up the middle for a run-scoring single.

Bay then swung at the first pitch in the bottom of the fourth and blooped a single over second base. Lowell and Baldelli followed with seven- and eight-pitch at-bats, respectively.

(Here's a fun stat for you: The Red Sox have the highest slugging percentage -- .683 -- of any American League team when swinging at the first pitch.)

Oh, and the team's .793 OPS in the second half is third-best in the American League -- behind only the Yankees and the Angels.

Things didn't work out against Sabathia, a horse who has thrown more pitches (2,859) than any other pitcher in the American League this season. But it's going to work quite a bit against some of the teams the Red Sox will face down the stretch.

"What needs maybe to be focused on is that we're a game up on the Rangers for the other playoff spot," Bay said. "I know a ton gets made around here about the Yankees and the Red Sox and that we're so far behind, but, ultimately, it's about getting to the playoffs and winning there. We're starting to run out of a little bit of time, and 7 1/2 games is a pretty large deficit. But at the same time, it helps to try to focus on the fact that we're not really chasing anybody else in another race. In some regards, we control our own destiny."

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