After breezing through the first three months of the season, Boston has skidded monumentally through July and August. The pitching staff can't string together good performances when anyone not named Josh Beckett or Jon Lester is on the hill. The offense alternates between jacking three home runs per night to struggling to advance anyone past first base.
Inconsistency is not the formula for success — especially in the AL East, where the Yankees have seized a seemingly insurmountable lead and the Rays are sneaking up. And then there are the suddenly resurgent Rangers, who were one out away from sweeping the Red Sox in a critical series before a freak-accident, ninth-inning bullpen collapse.
The next week will be a huge test for the Red Sox. They will face off against Toronto and then New York, and if they can escape out the other end with a winning record (or maybe they'll just settle for 3-3), there's a good possibility they'll be back in the lead for the wild-card race.
In the meantime, at least one member of the Nation is keeping things in perspective: After Sunday's loss to Texas, Jason Bay told Boston.com, "We should probably just pack up the season and call it a year, huh. Half-game back, might as well fold the tent."
AL East: New York Yankees (74-45)
AL Central: Detroit Tigers (62-55)
AL West: Los Angeles Angels (71-45)
AL Wild Card: Texas Rangers (67-50)
Breakdown: Right now, it's unclear whether the Yankees will be crowned the winners of the division come September. After this weekend, it will be very clear. If the Red Sox want to stay in the hunt for the East — or for any sort of playoff berth — they need to take this weekend's series.
NL East: Philadelphia Philles (66-49)
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals (68-52)
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers (70-49)
NL Wild Card: Colorado Rockies (65-53)
Breakdown: The Dodgers, who were prematurely crowned the best team in baseball before July, are still struggling. They've gone 3-6 over their last nine games and went 3-3 against the Giants and the Diamondbacks this week. Plus, they lost pitcher Hiroki Kuroda when he took a line drive off his head on Saturday. Somehow, though, they still hold a five-game lead over the Rockies in the West.
American League: Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
It took a while, but Teixeira's name is finally popping up in the MVP discussion. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are stiff competition, but the simple truth is that the Yankees wouldn't be the run-producing machine they've become in 2009 without Teixeira. He's well on his way to earning his pinstripes with his .285 average, 30 homers and 86 RBIs, and Mike Silva of New York Baseball Digest points out that the AL East-leading Yanks are scoring 15 percent more runs with him in the lineup as opposed to Jason Giambi. Plus, his ninth-inning homer on Friday night against Seattle propelled New York to its fourth-straight win.
National League: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are cruising toward October right now, and they're doing it on Howard's back. After struggling through the first week of August, he's coming back in a big way: Since turning in a four-hit performance against Florida on Aug. 8, Howard is hitting .429 with four homers and 12 RBIs in eight games against the Cubs and the Braves. He hit three homers in three games against Atlanta this weekend and registered six RBIs.
American League: Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox
In his first two starts in August, Beckett pitched 14 innings and allowed zero runs. Last time out wasn't his best performance: He allowed two runs and struck out six over seven innings against the Tigers. Two runs, three hits, and it wasn't his best performance — these are the standards for Beckett these days. In his last three starts, he's racked up 18 strikeouts and just five walks and two homers. He leads the league in wins (14), and his ERA has been steadily falling for two months. All he needs to do is pull away from Roy Halladay, and the award is his.
National League: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
There really isn't anybody in the NL who's on Lincecum's level this year. He leads the majors in strikeouts (205) and in ERA (2.19). The only reason he's 12-3 instead of 14-3, like Beckett and Halladay, is because he's gone seven innings and 8 2/3 innings in his last two starts and he's only allowed two runs each time, but his offense couldn't help him out at all. His line for the week: 0-0, 15 2/3 innings, four earned runs, 14 strikeouts, two walks.
Rookie of the Year
American League: Andrew Bailey, Oakland Athletics
Granted, there isn't a ton of competition in the AL right now, so it's anyone's game at this point. But Bailey has been impressive on a team known for developing stud pitchers and little else. The 25-year-old closer owns a 2.05 ERA this season with 17 saves and 74 strikeouts in 66 innings. He hasn't allowed a run since July 29, and he's converted seven straight saves dating back to July 25. Since June 10, he hasn't allowed more than one run in any game he has pitched. The good news for the rest of the league? Considering Billy Beane's track record, the rest of the majors will probably have a shot at landing Bailey via trade this winter.
National League: Tommy Hanson, Atlanta Braves
Hanson has been a resplendent bright spot on a team desperately in need of young, impressive pitchers. The 22-year-old made his first start on June 7, and save for a rough July, he's been virtually unbeatable. In three starts in August, he's 3-0 with 21 strikeouts, three walks and just five earned runs in 18 2/3 innings.
Was there something in the MLB water on Saturday night? Why was everyone getting hit in the head? Ian Kinsler suffered the least amount of bodily harm after a Ramon Ramirez offering beaned him in the helmet. The same night, David Wright took a Matt Cain fastball right off his head, and now manager Jerry Manuel is saying Wright could miss the rest of the season. Then, Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda took a Rusty Ryal line drive off the head and was carted off the field in a stretcher. Both Wright and Kuroda have since been released from the hospital.