The Week Ahead: History stacked against Red Sox comeback

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Despite sitting in third place in the AL East, the Boston Red Sox appear to be in pretty good shape.

Riding a two-game winning streak, they enter the week just 6 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees, and 5 1/2 behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL wild card spot – with no teams in between.

In addition, Josh Beckett has pitched well since his return from a two-month stint on the disabled list, and Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek could all return within the next couple of weeks.

Add to that the possibility – if remote – of adding help in a post-deadline trade of Jeremy Hermida and/or Mike Lowell, and the Sox should be stocked up to make a run in the final six weeks of the season.

But despite all these positive signs, ESPN researcher Jeremy Lundblad writes that history shows it is likely too little, too late.

Can the Red Sox turn the tides? It will likely take a historic final two months – one that recalls the imagery of nicknamed seasons of the past.

Soon to be fully healthy for the first time in nearly four months, the real 2010 Red Sox have fewer than 60 games to catch fire. That is, if they manage to stay healthy.

According to Lundblad, the Red Sox have never made the playoffs when facing an Aug. 1 deficit of more than two games, and have only made the playoffs four times in their history when facing any deficit at all this late in the season.

The most recent was in 2004, when the Red Sox were one game behind Texas in the AL wild card race entering August. That team was aided by the trade of Nomar Garciaparra, which netted key components in Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz. This year, Boston’s big deadline move was to deal for once-promising catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who could realize his potential at some point in the future but for now will be stashed in Pawtucket.

Apparently, Theo Epstein is content to wait for the return of the players mentioned above, and he could be right. But that won’t solve the team’s bullpen woes, including the implosion of left-hander Hideki Okajima. Even Jonathan Papelbon has been less reliable than usual, having already blown five saves and sporting an ERA at a career-worst 3.05.

So the odds are against a Boston rally, but if they are going to make a run, this would be an excellent week to start it. The Red Sox host the lowly Cleveland Indians for four games to start the week, then head to the Bronx for four more against the Yankees, a perfect opportunity to make up ground.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Mets at Braves, Aug. 2-4:
The Mets aren’t out of it yet, but this week – with six games against the top two teams in the division – could just about do them in if they continue to struggle.

Twins at Rays, Aug. 2-5: A huge four-game series for both teams, as the Twins are 1/2-game back in the Central and the Rays just one game back in the East. Touted prospect Jeremy Hellickson makes his major league debut for the Rays on Monday against Carl Pavano.

Padres at Dodgers, Aug. 2-5: If the new-look Dodgers are going to make a run, this four-game series is a great place to start. Ted Lilly makes his first start in a Dodgers uniform on Tuesday.

Mets at Phillies, Aug. 6-8: Wouldn’t the Phillies love to simultaneously bury their rivals and gain some ground on the Braves? Wouldn’t the Mets love to play spoiler and act like they still have a chance? This could be a juicy one.

Red Sox at Yankees, Aug. 6-9: It’s the mother of all baseball rivalries, even if the Earth ceases to rotate and neither team is in first place by the time they meet for this four-game series. For Boston, it’s now or never.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Mets at Braves (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: White Sox at Tigers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Red Sox at Yankees (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Rangers at Athletics (FOX)
Sunday, 1:30 p.m.: Giants at Braves (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Red Sox at Yankees (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

We’ll see a leaner Yasiel Puig in 2017. Just like we did in 2016.

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Yasiel Puig #66 of the Los Angeles Dodgers tips his hat to Vin Scully as he announces his final home game for the Dodgers during the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Yasiel Puig made a public appearance today. He was a guest barista at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Los Angeles as part of a charity . . . thing. I dunno. I just hope that, after finishing the foam on someone’s latte he airmailed it past his fellow barista at the counter and got it to the customer on the fly 300 feet away, after which he flipped the espresso machine. Gotta stay on-brand.

After that he talked about baseball. Puig, who was demoted last season and then brought back up in a part-time role, said that it’s his goal to be a starter again, if not in Los Angeles than someplace else. As for the someplace else, the Dodgers explored a Puig trade last season and it was thought they’d try again this offseason, but it’s been all quiet on that front.

What is Puig, for his part, doing to become a starter again? Getting in shape. From MLB.com:

Puig has been working out at Dodger Stadium the last two weeks. He is conditioning his leaner body to avoid injuries that have plagued him and working with batting coaches in search of regaining the impact bat that once had him on the verge of superstardom . . . The 6-foot-2 Puig, who last year was listed at 240 pounds, now has a personal chef to prepare healthier foods.

A leaner Puig. That’ll certainly be a game-changer, right?

Yet as a new season dawns, the team still hopes he can recapture the form he displayed as a rookie in 2013. The organization asked Puig to slim down and focus on durability rather than musculature. Friedman sounded pleased with the result. Puig had suggested he weighed about 240 pounds, down 15 from his listed weight in 2015.

Oops. That was from January 30, 2016.

If he keeps getting leaner each offseason eventually he’ll just disappear, right?

Corey Dickerson has lost 25 pounds

PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 25:  Corey Dickerson #10 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a photo during the Rays' photo day on February 25, 2016 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Corey Dickerson of the Tampa Bay Rays wasn’t a super huge guy or anything, but he’s going to be smaller this year: he told reporters today that he’s lost 25 pounds. He attributes it to a new diet and a workout regimen and says it’ll help him with his running, swing and throwing.

Dickerson had a down year in 2016, so if losing 25 pounds is something he thinks will work for him he’s got nothing to lose. Of course the best way for him to improve his numbers is to convince the Rays to trade him back to Colorado, but that’s not likely.