Last Call

The Red Sox open a 3 game set in New York tonight marking their last ever regular season visit to Yankee Stadium.

Of course it would have made far more sense to have flip-flopped the locations of the last 2 series meetings between Boston and New York (the 2008 regular season ends with New York at Boston), but some schedule maker was asleep at the wheel on that one.  No matter, we can all expect a barrage of images and memories of all the great games played between these two teams at Yankee Stadium.

Ok, enough on nostalgia, let’s talk baseball.

If the Red Sox want to hang on to their 1.5 game lead in the Wild Card, the starting pitching has to come around and get healthy.  Josh Beckett is hurt, Tim Wakefield is hurt, Clay Buchholz was banished to Caribou Maine, Daisuke Matsuzaka remains quite painful to watch while winning, Paul Byrd is doing what he always does (allowing plenty of base runners) and Jon Lester has been good.

As we head down the stretch, I feel comfortable with Lester, Matsuzaka and Byrd.  I say this only because those are the only health starters Boston has.  I’m worried about Beckett as any kind of tingling in the  hand makes me think of Tommy John.  Buchholz is no longer an option in 2008 and Wakefield had to miss a big chunk of the 2007 playoffs with the same injury he is battling now.

Not a good place to be in.  Bartolo Colon is doing well in his minor league rehab and should be an option in 7-10 days, but if the Red Sox want to lock down a post-season spot, they need Beckett healthy.

Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, Wakefield sounds much better than Lester, Matsuzaka, Bryd, Colon if the post-season were to start today.

As you’d expect, with these injuries creeping in, the Red Sox pitching has not been good over the past 28 days posting a 5.00 ERA, yet still going 14-10.  Over the past 14 days a 6.25 ERA, but 8-4 and over the past week, 6.00 ERA yet 4-2.  So while the pitching is not good, the offense is.  28 days, .283/.367/.462.  14 days, .297/.383/.507 and over the past week, .275/.361/.477.

A big contributor to the offense has been Jason Bay.  Since being acquired at the trade deadline, he has gone .333/.385/.529 scoring 20 runs, 4 HRs, 18 RBI and 3 SBs.  Bay hustles every play and seems to be actually thinking while playing baseball.  It is refreshing to see.  Add to it, he has played some good defense thus far.  His range is well below league average but that tends to happen in left at Fenway.

Notice few if any have talked about Julio Lugo’s return?  Jed Lowrie has done a much better job as his replacement and I don’t expect he’ll lose his job even if Lugo were to return today.

Jason Varitek has shown some life, going .265/.375/.559 over the past 14 days.  Good to see.

I have not given up on the Red Sox winning the AL East, but the Tampa Bay Rays need to lose a few now and again for that to happen.  Boston has 6 games remaining against the Rays after all and can make up all ground necessary in a matter of days if they play well.  With the injuries to Crawford, Longoria and Percival, I really expected them to falter a bit, but no such luck.  They are good.

Where the Rays are not good is at having good fans.  They drew just 19,157 for Sunday’s game against the LA Angels?  That is a joke.  Tampa ranks 26 out of 30 teams in attendance at 21,303 per game or 51.1 % of capacity.

Attendance ranks based on capacity from ESPN:

Boston – 37- 104.1% capacity

Detroit – 39,896 – 99.4%

Chicago (N) – 40,728 – 99.1%

Philadelphia - 42,325 – 97.3%

New York (A) – 52,869 – 92.0%

Los Angeles (A) – 41,204 – 91.5%

Much baseball to be played, but this time of year tends to go by in a flash.