Jon Lester’s Turnaround Likely Too Late and Other Thoughts From the Week in Baseball

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Jon Lester's Turnaround Likely Too Late and Other Thoughts From the Week in BaseballTime is running out, if it hasn’t already.

This shouldn’t come as news to any Red Sox fans, but after another disappointing road trip, the Sox return home sitting 7 1/2 games back in the wild card race, with a handful of teams left that they’d need to catapult to play October baseball.

There’s no doubt that it’s time to start keeping an eye on the future, and we do plenty of that in this week’s 6-4-3.

1. Lester showing signs

At the risk of getting too carried away, Jon Lester has looked much better in his last two starts. Last weekend in Cleveland he had his best stuff of the season, striking out 12 in six innings of work. This weekend in New York, he was able to slow down the Yankees, pitching Boston to its only win in the series with a gritty effort. In fact, Lester is having a very nice month, at least relatively speaking. He’s got a 2.93 ERA in August, holding the opposition to a .212 batting average. He’s done a much better job of pounding the strike zone, and his cutter looks like the pitch that has been his go-to offering in the past. Of course, this type of performance is a couple of months too late, as this season is quickly slipping away for the Sox.

2. Just play

Believe what you want to believe, but make no mistake — this team has underperformed all season long. Much has been made in the last week about unnamed sources, text messages and team meetings. These types of things, which are essentially no more than excuses, are being labeled as “distractions.” When push comes to shove, the Red Sox have not been able to perform to their expected ability. We would have heard none of this had it not been for the poor play. The poor play almost always precedes the mud-slinging stories. That was true last September, and it has carried over into this year. And while injuries have played a role, they haven’t decimated the season. That charge lays with the players who simply haven’t done their job well enough for the last 11 months.

3. Carl Club

It sure sounds like Carl Crawford is about to undergo his Tommy John surgery, and that has to be looked at as a good thing. Barring a miracle, there will be no comeback from this club, so it makes sense for Crawford to take care of this now. Crawford’s numbers are from spectacular, but he played better than the stats may show. He still strikes out a lot, but it did look like his pitch selection and plate discipline was at least a little bit better. Through this weekend’s series in New York, he was making good contact, with some loud outs mixed in with the base hits. This hardly tells the entire story, but here is what Crawford’s stat line would look like if he played a 162-game season at this pace:

.282 average, 173 hits, 53 doubles, 11 triples, 16 home runs, 100 RBI, 27 stolen bases

It’s pretty evident that Crawford is a player who thrives on confidence, so it’s probably the best move for him to get this surgery done now, while he’s feeling pretty good about himself and hope that carries over when he comes back early next season.

4. Weird week for Pedroia

Dustin Pedroia took some heat for his alleged role in Textgate, and if everything did happen the way the Yahoo! Sports story says it did, then it’s deserved criticism. However, it’s apparent that Pedroia has taken it upon himself to play his butt off the rest of the way. He’s looked like a man possessed this week, and he’s had the results to back it up. He had his 13-game hitting streak snapped on Sunday night, but he’s still hitting .338 for the month. We may never be sure of what Pedroia’s agenda is away from the diamond, but when he’s in between the lines there’s no questioning that he’s going to play hard. That likely won’t ever change.

5. Managing for the future?

There’s a boisterous group of Red Sox fans who want Bobby Valentine fired. While Valentine has made some questionable decisions both in games and in the media, it hasn’t been all his fault this season. Also, there’s reason to believe that he may still return next season. First of all, you don’t want to be going through managerial searches every winter. Secondly, if John Farrell is the manager that you really want, it’s extremely unlikely that he’s let out of his contract before 2014. So, if the plan is to fire and Valentine and go after Farrell, you’re going to have to have a placeholder manager at the helm for 2013. There’s no way that works. There are many, many things that can change in the next few months to affect all of that (like, say, Mike Scioscia being fired in Anaheim), so it’s way too early to tell. But don’t be totally shocked if Valentine is filling out the lineup card on Opening Day next season.

6. Gone Farming

It will be interesting to see what kind of moves the Red Sox make in the next month in terms of calling up players from the minor leagues. It’s not always as simple as calling someone like Jackie Bradley Jr. up, as once you do, you start their major league clock and maneuver your way around the 40-man roster. However, one player you have to expect to see in the next week or two is Jose Iglesias. This could be a very important month in terms of his future with this club. It seems like decision time is looming for the Sox in terms of the young prospect, especially given the continued development of Xander Bogaerts. The bat has always been what’s gotten in the way of Iglesias’ progression, and he’s got to prove that he’s making strides in that regard. At the very least, it could be one last chance for the Sox — and other clubs — to see what Iglesias brings to the table for a potential offseason trade.

Four Observations From Around Baseball

1. Wild race

We’re lined up to have one heck of a wild card race in the American League. The Rays and the Orioles enter this week holding on to the two wild card spots, but they’ve got company near the top. Oakland is only a half game out, Detroit is two back and the Angels are 4 1/2 back. The Rays are by far the hottest team right now (13-4 in August) and the Orioles don’t look like they’re ready to go away. Both the Tigers and Angels are deep enough to make a big run down the stretch. Will the A’s be able to hang around? Probably not, but until they start sliding, they have to be taken seriously. Last year’s wild card race was crazy, and this year could be even better.

2. Bravo

Speaking of last year, the Red Sox’ brothers in failure last season — the Braves — are hoping for an opposite run this year. Atlanta is surging, and there are only four teams in baseball with a better record right now. Chipper Jones is making his last stand a memorable one, and the Atlanta pitching staff is once again one of the best in the National League. It all adds up to the Braves playing .659 baseball since July 1. Then again, they played .623 ball in July and August last season, and we all know how that ended.

3. Poor Felix

Felix Hernandez is a beast. We all know that. We also know that the Mariners have stated over and over that Hernandez isn’t going anywhere. On one hand, that’s kind of cool, because it gives Mariners at least one thing to cheer about. On the other hand, it kind of sucks. Hernandez is so good, the latest proof being a perfect game last week. But man, don’t you feel like his awesomeness is kind of being wasted in Seattle? Hopefully for his case they get better — and fast — because it’s starting to seem like a Hall of Fame career is being wasted on a team that hasn’t been showing many signs of getting better any time soon.

4. Gio-Tracking

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has taken flack from some people (myself included) for decisions regarding Stephen Strasburg, but he deserves a standing ovation for one of his offseason pickups. The deal to land Gio Gonzalez from Oakland may be the single-biggest acquisition in terms of impact on the 2012 season. The left-hander has 16 wins this season after battling through 5 2/3 innings on Sunday against the Mets. Are the Nationals going to win the World Series without Strasburg? Probably not. But with Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann (leading the league in ERA), they can still do some damage in October.

Three Things to Watch This Week

1. Not So Heavenly

The Angels are in Boston for a three-game series starting Tuesday. That may be good news for the Red Sox. The Halos were supposed to be the cream of the crop this season in the American League after acquiring both C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols in the offseason. Add players of that caliber to an already solid club, call up wunderkind Mike Trout, and you have all of the ingredients for postseason glory. It hasn’t worked out that way, though, and barring a late-season run, it may cost Scioscia his job.

2. West Coast battle

One half of a game is all the separates the Dodgers and the Giants in the NL West right now. That’s about to change. The two clubs open a monumental three-game series this week in Los Angeles, a series that will mark the two teams’ last meetings this season. At the end of next month, there’s a chance that we look back at this series and say that it turned the tide of the division race one way or the other.

3. What about the kids?

The Little League World Series is in full swing, so that’s kind of cool, especially if you’re into watching children play baseball or whatever. But, if you haven’t seen this speech from the weekend, you definitely should. It will inspire you to be the best Little League player on the planet, or at the very least, to maybe try a little harder at your 9-to-5 job — for at least a day.

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