The Sox are heading into New York for the final three games of a 10-game road trip that seems to have lasted much longer than that. Despite what you may have heard, they are not out of the playoff picture yet.
That said, they are dangerously close to being out of it. They would probably need to win 30 of their final 43 games to make it to a one-game wild card playoff. They haven't shown signs of being able to go on such a run.
There's still a lot of baseball left. What should we watch for as they try to get back to .500? Here are nine questions that could be answered over the last month and a half, nine story lines worth watching no matter how the season plays out.
1. Will David Ortiz return?
He says he's been told he won't be pain-free this season, so you have to wonder if he decides to shut it down if the Sox fall much further off the pace. He won't do it if they nudge their way to the back edge of the wild card pack, but why risk further injury on the Achilles if the Sox are done?
2. How does Dustin Pedroia reclaim his spot as the team's heart and soul?
For the first time in his big-league career, the former American League MVP has seen his image start to get tarnished. His role in the now-infamous July 26th meeting in New York has put him in a bad light. Yet Sox fans know he plays the game the right way — giving it his all on every at bat and every play in the field. He needs to continue to do that — and stay out of any discussion about the manager — to once again become the player we've all admired since he got here.
3. Will Carl Crawford make it to the end of the season?
Crawford says he needs Tommy John surgery, and his wrist has been acting up again. He has hit well, and has not complained about either injury, but there are still nearly seven long weeks to go and he is definitely hurting.
4. What type of big-league catcher will Ryan Lavarnway be?
Kelly Shoppach is gone, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the No. 1 catcher. But Lavarnway now has a spot on the roster, and will get a decent amount of playing time down the stretch. Some think he, and not Saltalamacchia, is the catcher of the future. He could further that belief with a strong showing now.
5. What will we get from Andrew Bailey?
This was the key offseason acquisition for Ben Cherington, and the reliever was unable to make his Red Sox debut until the team's 117th game. The Red Sox will ease him back into late-game situations, but we'll see Bailey close before the season's over. And we'll have a better idea about the team's closing situation going forward.
6. Will Cody Ross remain a Red Sox outfielder?
Actually, we won't know that until the offseason, but we'll continue to watch the man who was Cherington's best free-agent signing. He wants to stay here, he gives the Sox pop from the right side of the plate and has become one of the team's most popular players.
7. Is Josh Beckett done?
He is 24-23 with a 4.36 ERA since the start of the 2010 season. That's a long slide into mediocrity. Most fans want him gone this offseason… but are there many teams out there willing to roll the dice on him? A good finish would help him find a landing spot for 2013.
8. Does Franklin Morales have a future as a starter?
He has held opponents to a .179 batting average since June 3, the lowest mark in the majors by a pitcher with at least 50 innings in that span. He will start the first game in New York on Friday, and a few good starts will put him right in the middle of a conversation about putting him in the rotation next season. He's only 26, so his best pitching years could be ahead of him.
9. Is Pedro Ciriaco for real?
He entered Thursday night's game in Baltimore hitting .326. He could be earning a role on the 2013 team.
Of course, we'd much rather watch them win every series the rest of the way and make this interesting. You can decide for yourself if you think that's going to happen.
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