It's the time of the year in which we separate the contenders from the pretenders with the former looking to bulk up for the stretch run and the latter look to the future with hopes of stockpiling pieces and shedding payroll.
The 6-4-3 is busy keeping up with all of the rumors, and we also took this show on the road Monday night for Red Sox-Tigers, which is why we're a day late this week.
With that being said, let's get to this week's trade deadline version of the 6-4-3, full of terrible puns.
Six Red Sox Thoughts
1. Deal or no deal?
We'll know the answer to this question in a few hours, but it sure sounds like the Red Sox don't have something major up their sleeve. The big name that was bandied about was Josh Beckett, of course, but that's just too complicated to make happen. He simply makes too much money and hasn't pitched well enough this season for the Red Sox to move him, no matter how badly fans want to see him out of town right now. However, could that be a blessing in disguise? Beckett hasn't been as bad as the numbers may say this season, and those numbers seem even worse given all of the off-field shenanigans. But, if he can put together a month or two of strong performances while staying out of trouble, he would be a major reason Boston could get back into this. And if Beckett can turn things around and finish the season strongly, maybe that opens the door to move him in the offseason if the club so pleases.
2. Deal or no deal? Part deux
OK, so maybe moving Beckett isn't in the cards. Do the Red Sox make a move before the deadline? I don't see anything big happening before 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. The Sox are in a weird place right now. They still have a chance to make things real interesting, so they don't necessarily want to trade away any real difference makers like, say, Jacoby Ellsbury. Like Beckett, that's something you look at in the offseason. You also don't want to move someone like Jon Lester just for the heck of it unless you can get something really, really good in return. At the same time, however, you're not necessarily in position to make a Victor Martinez-like deal where you send a bushel of prospects to a team for a player who may not be in town for too long. It's sure to be a delicate balance for Ben Cherington and the baseball ops guys down on Yawkey Way. If the Sox do stand pat, there will be at least one man who won't mind, as Bobby Valentine indicated on more than one occasion Monday night that he's happy with the team he has right now, and he doesn't see any "gaping holes" on the roster as it sits right now.
3. Keep on Buchhin'
If the Red Sox do get back into this thing and even make the playoffs, we’ll look back at the run Clay Buchholz is on and say it played a huge part in the turnaround. The right-hander was fantastic on Monday night, and it was more about how handled adversity that was most impressive. The rest of the starting rotation should take notes. He's now 5-1 with a 2.44 ERA over his last nine starts, and the Red Sox are 7-1 in his starts since June 1. Buchholz's recent success has coincided with the increased use of a split-fingered fastball which he said he used more in Monday night's win than he did his changeup. The change has always been arguably Buchholz's best pitch, so it's a little odd to see him adding to the arsenal. He sounds confident in the pitch, though, and it's definitely working right now.
4. Concern for Big Papi?
It's probably too early to get concerned about David Ortiz's bum Achilles, but it doesn’t sound like he's progressing quite as well as the Sox would have hoped. The designated hitter has been out since July 18, and there was a hope that he’d return on Wednesday. Valentine revealed before Monday's game that he was unsure as to where that date came from, while essentially saying that Ortiz is still a little farther from returning than that. Boston is just 4-6 in his absence, scoring 40 runs in the nine games since Ortiz hit the disabled list.
5. Gonzalez heats up
One player who has stepped up in the absence of Ortiz has been first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. He had a disappointing first half, but has started to turn things around as of late. He added two more hits on Monday night against Detroit, his third straight and 17th in his last 31 games. Is the power there? It actually is, at least in the last 12 games. He has three home runs over that stretch, a pace that would give him about 40 home runs over the course of an entire season. Everyone says the pitching needs to be better down the stretch, and it certainly does. A red-hot, power-hitting Adrian Gonzalez certainly won't hurt, either.
6. Not Lesterrible
This is where we're at with Jon Lester. The big left-hander had a rather pedestrian start (although it was against the Yankees) on Saturday afternoon in the Bronx, and all of a sudden there's celebration in the streets. OK, so maybe not, but there was some reason for optimism following Lester's outing on Saturday. While Lester still doesn't have a quality start since July 3, his performance against the Yankees looked real good at times. He was starting to bury the ball down in the zone, and some of his cutters showed more life than they have in the last month or so. So that's the good news. He's going to need to continue to get better, though, as does just about every Red Sox starter.
Four Observations From Around Baseball
1. Seeing red
Joey Votto is one of the best hitters on the planet, perhaps the best. That fact alone makes what the Cincinnati Reds are doing right now even more impressive. With Votto on the disabled list, the Reds have been simply unbeatable. They entered Monday night's game with San Diego having won 10 in a row. Thanks to that they now have a somewhat comfortable three-game lead in the NL Central over a Pirates team that not everyone is convinced can sustain their success through September. If they can't and the Reds continue at the pace, they'll run away with the Central. A lot of the Reds' success right now is rooted in starting pitching, particularly Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo. The duo of right-handers is 7-2 with a 2.74 in July, a month in which Cincy has gone 18-6.
2. Not monkeying around
A week ago, the Angels had one of the best starting rotations in the American League. They somehow improved that staff in the last week by acquiring Zack Greinke from the Brewers. The Angels enter play on Tuesday sitting 3 1/2 games behind the Rangers, but you have to like their chances in running down Texas. The Rangers don't appear to be landing Cliff Lee, an acquisition that would have certainly helped their chances of getting back to yet another World Series, but it's not going to happen. Instead, it's the Angels who made the big splash and improved their already stellar roster. Greinke was fantastic, albeit in a losing effort, in his first start with L.A., and he could be the piece that puts the Halos over the top out west, despite their slow start to the season. The Angels sent a message on Monday night, opening a four-game series in Arlington with a 15-8 win over the Rangers.
3. Blue Fish
It's gotta be pretty awful to be a Miami Marlins fan. You have reason for optimism heading into the season with a new stadium opening up (a park built primarily on the taxpayer's dime no less) and a new roster to be run out there. Then the season start and your manager, Ozzie Guillen, insults one of your city's most influential groups by showing support for Fidel Castro of all people. That's a distant memory, however, thanks to the fact that the team has underachieved all season long, aside from a 21-8 month of May. That month actually makes things worse considering the Marlins are somehow eight games under .500 despite that 21-8 month. Now, they're selling off parts, sending one of the best players on the roster to the Dodgers for little in return, seemingly because the Dodgers were able to eat the remaining money left on the deal. But hey, at least you've got that reality show on Showtime and that home run thingy.
4. Wild, wild West
We already touched on the AL West race, but the race out in the NL West may be even better. The Dodgers and the Giants look ready to add the latest chapter to their storied rivalry down the stretch, as they entered Tuesday tied atop the division. The Dodgers made a statement over the weekend going into San Francisco and sweeping the Giants, and then followed that up by inching closer and closer to trading for Shane Victorino. Add that to the fact that they've already stolen Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins and still might add a pitcher, and it's clear to see that the Dodgers are not screwing around out there. Your move, Brian Sabean.
Three Things to Watch This Week
1. Deadline dealing
Who's going to be on the move? We'll know very shortly. Follow along with all of the happenings on deadline day with the NESN.com trade deadline live blog right here.
2. Central focus
With their win on Monday night, the Red Sox are now 17-9 against the AL Central. That's good news, of course, considering they still have two more with the Tigers this week before welcoming the Minnesota Twins to town for a four-game weekend series. The Red Sox need badly to take advantage of this stretch of games, especially with a series with the Rangers looming for next week.
3. Make or break time for the O's
The Orioles will get their latest test to prove whether or not they're for real this week when they face a couple of AL East rivals. They're in the midst of a series with the Yankees right now, and from there, they'll start a weekend series with the Rays, a team they're battling for the wild card. The O's need a big week, especially given the fact that Oakland and the Angels are playing very good baseball right now.
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