January 18, 2022
Sports Column

Sox could make legit playoff run

Say what you want about the Boston Red Sox but, based on the first half, you certainly can’t call them dull.

The positive is that they are the wild-card leader in the American League by one game over Oakland and they are just two games behind the hated New York Yankees in the battle for the American League East.

They are 17 games above .500 despite a bullpen that was as combustible as a July 4 fireworks exhibition. No Red Sox lead was safe. Opponents figured if they could stay within four runs, they were still in it.

The Red Sox blew a seven-run lead with six outs left to get in a 10-9 loss to Florida. But this resilient team full of seasoned, blue-collar veterans won six games in which it was trailing after seven innings and posted 21 of its 55 wins in games in which it fell behind at one time or another.

The Red Sox lead the majors in 12 offensive categories including batting average (.294), runs (573), hits (992), extra-base hits (396), doubles (242), RBIs (551), total bases (1,666), on-base percentage (.360) and slugging percentage (.493).

And they are deep.

They have six players with 51 or more runs batted in and six with 10 or more homers. Eight Red Sox with at least 221 at-bats are hitting .290 or better.

When you have this kind of depth in your lineup, it means the primary catalysts (i.e. Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez) are going to get good pitches to hit.

But we all know the name of the game is pitching. And that will determine Boston’s fate.

Boston’s 4.57 ERA is just eighth best in the American League and they are tied for last in holds with 21.

Holds are awarded to a pitcher if he enters the game in a save situation, records at least one out and leaves the game having not relinquishing the lead.

Red Sox relievers have 22 saves in 35 chances. In other words, they have blown 13 saves.

But Byung-Hyun Kim’s recent insertion into the closer’s role may have solved that problem as he is 5-for-5 in save chances. The bullpen is finally moving toward adequacy.

Kim’s insertion into the closer’s role also took rookie Brandon Lyon out of the pressure-cooker that accompanies the closer role. He has pretty good stuff but not the dominant pitch or pitches most short men have. Now he can develop as a middle reliever and work on his off-speed pitch. This should make him even more effective.

The Red Sox have money available to pick up a pitcher from a non-contender before the trading deadline and expect them to go for a number three starter behind Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, a rubber-armed middle reliever who can pitch every day or a lefthanded reliever who is tough on lefties.

Lefty Alan Embree has pitched much better of late but because he throws over the top, lefties don’t bail out on him. It’s the same with Casey Fossum, who should be a reliever.

Manager Grady Little has done a good job altering his lineup to keep all of his players sharp. He seems more like sheriff Andy’s Griffith’s grandfather than a major league manager. He’s not fiery enough (or just plain fiery) for my tastes but as long as he wins…

The Red Sox have positioned themselves to make a legitimate run for the playoffs and if they do get in, they will be dangerous with Martinez, Lowe and either a recent acquisition or, perhaps, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on the mound in a short series.

Larry Mahoney can be reached at 990-8231, 1-800-310-8600 or by email at lmahoney@bangordailynews.net.

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