Last night, the Red Sox had the good fortune to put a sinkerballer on the mound against an offense apparently lifted from 1902. Aaron Cook needed only 81 pitches to shut out the Mariners, a number that still doesn't make sense to me even upon tenth reading. I should be used to seeing things that don't make sense this season, I suppose. More importantly even than the statistical improbability of Cook's game, the win put Boston 5.5 games back of New York in the AL East. They're tied with Tampa in third, 1.5 games behind LA and Baltimore for one of the wild-card spots, and Boston now has the best run differential in the East (yes, better than the Yankees).
It's taken a lot to get the Sox back into the playoff hunt. It's certainly taken a lot out of all of us mentally. But there they sit, playing well and ready to make up some ground. And as long as they don't have to face Felix Hernandez every day, they should be in good shape to make a run. Unfortunately, they'll be making that run without franchise fixture Kevin Youkilis, who's spent the last week weirding us all out by playing baseball in a White Sox jersey. They say time heals all wounds, and playoff runs doubly so. Here's hoping we have more exciting things to think about than Youk's departure in the coming months.
Pouring out a recap for #20 after the jump.
The trade of Kevin Youkilis was the central story of the week. So much so, in fact, that it came up in presidential politics, where it clearly would have been the major issue had it not been for something about mandatory broccoli and robed umpires. Do I have that right? Twitter gets weird about politics. Anyway, the man once described by Baseball Prospectus as "an ugly, sweaty man-beast [and] grade-A redass" is now on board with the Chicago White Sox. Marc discussed the return on Youk (Zach Stewart and Brent Lillibridge, neither likely to make the annals of Boston glory). lone1c raised a salute to Youk on his departure, while Matt Kory wondered if this might be the sort of trade we all wind up regretting.
With Youk gone, and the calendar about to flip into July, it's time to start wondering about other possible moves. Ben looked at some of the most crowded areas of the roster, and analyzed who might find themselves headed elsewhere. He also asked whether, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach playing well in the majors, and Ryan Lavarnway doing damage in Pawtucket, it might be time to trade a catcher. Finally, Matt Sullivan examined whether Boston's decision to commit to Middlebrooks (a more free-swinging, less patient hitter) reflects a change in how the organization views offense.
Injury time! Only one, really. Clay Buchholz missed his start on Sunday due to "illness." He was then swiftly placed on the DL when it turned out that his "illness" was in fact intestinal bleeding. This is one of those rare occasions that's legitimately scary, since whatever damage a frayed rotator cuff can do to a pitcher's career, it's almost universally non-fatal. Internal bleeding is pretty serious. Fortunately, he's out of the hospital and should be back in the rotation soon. Unfortunately, he drew the short straw, and became the latest target of hackery for an increasingly desperate Boston media. In far better injury news, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford are playing actual games in the Gulf Coast League, and Josh Beckett looks on track for a swift return to the rotation.
Speaking of that rotation, it's suddenly pretty crowded. Cook, obviously, pitched quite impressively last night. Daisuke Matsuzaka has been reasonably effective. Franklin Morales has been pretty fantastic. And, of course, both Beckett and Buchholz are set to return. Bobby Valentine has announced that Boston will go to a six-man rotation through the All-Star Break, which at least should help to showcase some of the more expendable starters should a trade scenario arise. They guy really making this complicated is Morales, who's been just phenomenal in his starts filling in for Beckett, most recently in trading zeroes with Seattle ace Felix Hernandez. Marc wondered if Morales should have been starting all along. As Matt Kory pointed out this week, you never know where productivity will come from.
Finally, a hearty welcome on board to our newest writer, Matt Collins, who in addition to this week's Daily Links pieces, wrote a terrific analysis of the surprisingly resilient Red Sox bullpen. Glad to have you aboard, man, the site was facing a serious Matt shortage of late. More importantly, it means I can hand off the new guy hazing hat to you. Enjoy!
Josh Beckett vs. Erasmo Ramirez at (ugh) 10 PM Eastern, looking for sole possession of third place. Happy weekend (and 4th of July), all.