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Cause for Hope

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It's hard to feel good about the Red Sox right now. They've blown two out of three against a very beatable Houston, and have never led in the Rays series. Tonight, they face a likely sweep by the division-leading Rays tonight; a loss would put them 3.5 games behind.

I look at this team and I see a supremely talented unit that is playing well below its head. Manny is slumping badly, nursing an injured hamstring. Varitek is a black hole, with only 3 hits over the last two weeks. Ellsbury has stopped walking; he has 3 BB in 102 June plate appearances, versus 13 in April and 14 in May. Okajima has fallen off a cliff (10 runs in 9.1 June innings). With Ortiz out until well after the All-Star Game, the offense seems underwhelming.

All this said, I take solace in a couple of facts:

1) The Red Sox are still pitching well.

The team had a 3.61 ERA in June. Opposing batters had only an 88 OPS+ against our team's pitchers - they turn into Brandon Moss / Julio Lugo at the plate. MDC and Hansen have both dialed up their games recently, partially making up for Oki's struggles. Delcarmen was quite good in June (12 IP, 3 BB, 3 R, 16 K), and Hansen was decent (12.1 IP, 2.91 ERA, 11 K).

2) The offense is under-performing, but it is still top-flight.

Most GMs would kill to have the Red Sox squad. The only AL team that has scored more runs is the Rangers. In June, with Papi unavailable, the team had its highest slugging percentage, at .473.

3) The Yankees are playing badly.

At 44-40, they are 5 games behind the Sox. The Red Sox are, at the very least, in a good position to win the Wild Card, which they hold currently. And even with a loss tonight, the Sox would be within striking distance of the Rays.

4) The Rays have been lucky.

Their Pythagorean record is 47-35 (not counting last night's game), which is three games worse than their actual record. Based on the number of runs scored and allowed, Pythagorean win expectancy is a better predictor of future success than actual record. The Red Sox Pythagorean record is the same as their actual record - they have been neither lucky nor unlucky in that regard.

5) The Rays have flaws.

Specifically, they have to play games away from St. Petersburg. To this point, they have played 45 at home and 38 away; their record at home is 31-13, but away they are 19-19. The team ERA jumps as they hit the road, from 2.90 to 4.64. The Sox also pitch worse on the road, but the split isn't as pronounced. The Rays have fewer home games left than the Sox, who have played more on the road than at home (41 to 45 away). While the Rays have won 5 straight against the Sox at home, they've dropped 6 in Boston.

In addition, the Rays offense is worse than the Sox offense. They trail the Sox in BA (.264 - .280), OBP (.340 - .354) and slugging (.419 - .451), and have scored substantially fewer runs. With Ortiz on the horizon, the Sox should be able to offset improvement in Rays scoring. Overall, I expect the Sox to win the division in a close race against the Rays.

What do you think? Will the Sox start winning again? Are the Rays for real? How worried are you about them? Speak your mind in the comments below, and answer the poll.