By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
With a four-game lead, and only six dates remaining on the Red Sox regular-season schedule, an AL East Division clinching party is pretty much a lock to take place at Fenway Park before the week is out. While the champagne is sure to be flowing in the clubhouse when the deed is done, what the Sox could really use now is some serious shots of 5-Hour Energy and a magical elixir, to cure what ails some of their most important parts headed into the post season next Thursday.
After his two-inning outing against the Blue Jays on Monday night, clearly you should add Drew Pomeranz’s name to the list of concerns for the Sox starting staff. The previously seemingly lock as the game two starter for the boys who call Fenway home, looked frazzled in his brief appearance. His fastball that was once clocking out at 94 MPH earlier this season, dipped into the high 80’s against Toronto. He is approaching his career high in innings pitched – he threw 170 2/3 between Oakland and Boston last year – and having currently logged 167 2/3 with one scheduled start remaining; it could be Pomeranz is simply running out of gas.
And the bad news didn’t stop there for the suddenly ragged Red Sox. Mookie Betts – who had already been dealing with soreness in his right wrist over the past couple of weeks – left Monday’s game with a left wrist injury, and won’t be in the lineup for the middle game of the three-game tilt on Tuesday night on account of his ailments.
Making his return from a right knee issue that kept him sidelined since September 9th, Eduardo Nunez re-aggravated the injury in his second at-bat in the third inning of Monday’s 6-4 loss to Toronto. Nunez – who had been one of Boston’s best bats after being acquired from the Giants at the trading deadline – crumpled to the ground after a swing, and needed to use his bat as a cane to get to his feet after falling.
Somehow, Sox manager John Farrell – who went to the plate to check on the obviously injured Nunez with the club’s trainer – let him finish the at bat before doing what any other MLB skipper would have done, and send him to the trainer’s room for treatment, and avoid making matters worse.
The Red Sox are in a precarious position right now. While they are almost assured of winning the division, they finish the season with four games against the Astros, who are currently trailing the Indians by only two games for the top spot in the American League. Should they sit, or sparingly use their starters who are gassed and the position players who are hurt – which is absolutely the right move – they could find themselves facing the Tribe in the first round, whom they would likely prefer to avoid.
Their struggles with Cleveland are widely known – including a three-game sweep last October – and the club has owned game one starter Sale over his career.
Should they choose to push on – and ignore the various maladies that several of their key players are currently dealing with – they could make a situation that is currently a concern, and turn it into a disaster.
Now is precisely the time that the Red Sox need a manager which is adroit in his decision making, something that Manager John has a lengthy history of being the polar opposite of. The latest instance of leaving a clearly lame Nunez in the game after he collapsed as if he’d been shot, is the perfect example of the poor judgement he has when it comes to handling his players. Sending an obviously fatigued Chris Sale back out to pitch in the 8th inning of a blowout win over Baltimore, so he could get his 300th strikeout on the season in his last start, is yet another.
No matter what happens in the standings – short of an almost impossible scenario that would put the division at risk – Farrell needs to finesse his way through the last week of the regular season. He needs to find a way to get his pitchers rested as much as possible; and his guys who are nursing injuries, as healthy as possible.
Nevertheless, given his track record, it’s doubtful he will do it.
In fact, in a scenario that is not that far-fetched, should Sale get close to Pedro Martinez’s club record of 313 strikeouts after his start on Tuesday night, I would bet my bottom dollar, he would give the fading Floridian the ball one more time this weekend against the Astros to break or tie it.
By qualifying for the playoffs, the Red Sox accomplished their first goal for this season. When they wrap up the division in a couple of days, they will have achieved their second. However, if they don’t do what they need to do in order to put some of the key contributors who made both possible, in the best position to succeed in the playoffs; their ultimate goal of winning a World Series could slip through their fingers before baseball’s second season even starts.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick always says he does what is best for the team. What is best for the Red Sox right now is to be as rested and healthy as they can be before they take on either the Astros or the Indians next Thursday. As recently as last night, Manager John has shown that he doesn’t always do so, when he left a clearly injured Eduardo Nunez in the game when he had no business being in the batter’s box.
With a week left in the season, and some tough decisions needed to be made, what makes you think he will start doing so now?