Stop me if you've heard this before. The defending World Series champions are fighting for the Wild Card against a rejuvenated Twins organization, while a surprisingly strong White Sox squad is leading the Central division. Boston's presumptive ace goes down with a serious injury, and the pen is a shambles. The team limps into the playoffs and is swept in the first round.
How about this one? The Red Sox, at one point playoff favorites, are beset by a biblical plague of injuries. They look for waiver wire help, but the replacements are ineffective. In the end, they miss the post-season entirely, finishing in third place behind the Jays.
That was the past, 2005 and 2006. But it doesn't seem distant at all. With Josh Beckett scratched again from his scheduled start (this time to see orthopaedist Dr. Andrews), the list of injured Red Sox grows longer. The team is almost as shorthanded as it was in 2006. We've lost Schilling and Lugo entirely, Drew, Casey and Lowell are all down, Matsuzaka and Ortiz both missed time, and now Beckett's health is in danger.
Beckett on the bench, via i196.photobucket.com
Watching the game yesterday, what shocked me was not that the Red Sox scored only two runs against Mussina. Rather, I was surprised that we had managed to win the first two games of the series, given the four holes in the lineup (Crisp, Ellsbury, Tek, Cora). Going forward, Mark Kotsay may improve our offense a bit - he had a solid double yesterday - but it's hardly enough.
This team really needs a healthy corner infielder back. Ideally Mike Lowell, but I'd settle for Sean Casey. With one of them, we can push Cora out of the lineup, where he really shouldn't be for an extended period, and replace him with Lowrie.
Resigning Lowell is looking like a bad move thus far - he's missed thirty games, and should have sat out far more. In the last twenty games before he hit the DL, he was hitting .207 / .278 / .280, playing through injury and hurting the team. Lowell has been complaining to the training staff about the slow pace of his recovery.
This season, like 2005 and 2006 before it, underscores how difficult it is to repeat a postseason run. While the 2008 Sox are not as beleaguered as either of those squad, they haven't had the carefree, largely injury-free season they did last year. Part of the problem, I think, is roster construction. Despite the youth movement, many important players are aging veterans (Ortiz, Drew, Lowell, Tek, Wake), many who have already been injured. The plague of injuries in 2006 seems less like a fluke than a consequence of how we build our teams. As Faulkner would say, "The Past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."
For the Sox to make the playoffs, it will take strong performances and some luck, but to succeed in them we need Drew and Lowell back, and Beckett healthy. Taking two of three against Chicago this weekend would be a good start, and that's certainly a possibility with Wake and Dice-K on the mound for us. Maybe Pauley will be surprisingly effective as well.
What are your thoughts? Are we playoff-bound, or just heading towards disappointment? Do these injuries stem from bad luck, or is it something else?