Commentary

Red Sox face tough road ahead

Beleaguered team should get boost from Buchholz, Beckett

Updated: July 19, 2010, 2:47 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Ten things to know as the Red Sox leave Sunday's 4-2 loss to the Texas Rangers behind and head off for a 10-day, three-city trip to the West Coast that has no travel day ahead of it, no days off and three day games after night games, two starting at 12:35 p.m. local time:

1. This is just the second of three trips the Sox are making out west this season. They already went to San Francisco for an interleague series last month, and we all know what happened on that one: Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz and Victor Martinez were hurt on consecutive days, with Pedroia and Martinez both breaking bones and all three winding up on the disabled list.

The Sox head back to the Left Coast in September for a six-game trip to Oakland and Seattle.

2. The Sox have 16 games this season at Oakland, Seattle and Anaheim. They haven't played that many games in those three cities since the 2000 season.

3. The Sox have not had a winning record in AL games on the West Coast since 2004, when they went 8-7. Last season, they were 4-8. Before that: 6-8 in '08, 4-9 in '07, 5-10 in '06 and 4-6 in '05.

If past is prologue, watch for gale warnings on the coast. Oakland, trying to climb back into the race in the AL West, has won five in a row, and Dallas Braden, who threw a perfect game earlier this season, is expected to come off the disabled list and start against the Sox on Tuesday.

4. The Sox rotation should be back to normal starting this week, which could well mean a return to the bullpen for Tim Wakefield. Buchholz comes off the DL and will start Wednesday in Oakland. John Lackey opens the Seattle series on Thursday, Josh Beckett returns after nearly nine weeks on the DL to pitch on Friday, and Jon Lester will take his turn Saturday. Presumably, Daisuke Matsuzaka, who pitches Monday night in Oakland and will be followed by Wakefield on Tuesday, will take his turn next Sunday, with Wakefield back in the 'pen.

5. Martinez was able to play catch before Sunday's game with a catcher's mitt over his fractured left thumb, which the Sox had identified as a significant benchmark in his return. Sunday, however, manager Terry Francona said it was just a "baby step," and Martinez said the thumb was still sore. His return apparently is anything but imminent.

Without Martinez, Sox catchers Jason Varitek (who went on the DL three days after Martinez), Kevin Cash (languishing in Houston's minor league system until the Sox traded for him), Gustavo Molina (since designated for assignment) and Dusty Brown (promoted Saturday) have combined to bat .125 (6-for-48) with no home runs and two RBIs, both by Varitek, who probably is a month from coming back from his broken foot.

6. While the Sox are on the coast, the Rays are on the road against the Orioles and Indians -- against whom they are 10-2 -- then return home for four against the Tigers, whom they haven't played this season. The Yankees, meanwhile, are home against the Angels for two (they're 3-3 against them this season), home for four against the Royals (whom they haven't played), and play four at Cleveland (they're 3-1 against the Indians). The Yankees, who took two of three from the Rays this weekend, are 6½ games ahead of the Sox; the second-place Rays are 3½ ahead of Boston.

7. Jeremy Hermida, out since June 10 with fractured ribs, is expected to join the team in Seattle on Thursday after playing two more rehab games Monday and Tuesday in Pawtucket. With Hermida, Buchholz and Beckett all coming back, there will be some anxious nights in the coming days for Ryan Shealy, Dustin Richardson, Daniel Nava and Michael Bowden. Eric Patterson probably could be on that list too, but he is needed to back up Mike Cameron in center.

Nava's magical mystery tour began when Hermida went on the DL and the switch-hitting Nava hit a grand slam on the first pitch he saw. No magic Sunday, just some voodoo outfield play as Josh Hamilton's liner landed in front of him with two outs in the fourth, earning Nava a long stare from Lester.

Francona said he didn't know if Nava could have caught the ball. "I don't know if he was aggressive, the way he came off the ball," Francona said. "We want to try and get his first step more aggressive."

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
AP Photo/Michael DwyerDespite the Red Sox's recent struggles, Jon Lester, who fell to 11-4 Sunday, says his team has plenty of fight.

The next inning, Nava tried to comply but when he broke in, Julio Borbon's hit went over his head for a double. Those two plays led to three runs, though more shaky Sox defense also played a part. Nelson Cruz, who doubled home Hamilton, raced to third on the throw home and would have been erased, but he kicked Brown's throw to third out of Adrian Beltre's glove and scored as the ball rolled away; Beltre was charged with the error.

Then in the fifth, the Angels scored on Borbon's double, a popped-up bunt by Elvis Andrus that landed in no-man's-land, and a double steal. Brown momentarily double-clutched when shortstop Marco Scutaro didn't break in front of the bag as the catcher apparently expected, and Scutaro's throw back to the plate was late. The call came from the dugout, Francona confirmed, as the Rangers had been aggressive and frequently reckless on the basepaths all weekend, and probably should have ended in an inning-ending double play, since Michael Young struck out on the play. Instead, the lack of execution resulted in the third Texas run.

Asked if he thought Nava should have caught Hamilton's ball, Lester said: "You'll have to ask Nava. I think every ball is catchable. I'm a pitcher."

Andrus scored the final Texas run when he doubled and scored on Ian Kinsler's single to left, plate umpire Gary Darling ruling that Andrus was safe even though Darnell McDonald's throw clearly beat Andrus to the plate and the Rangers shortstop didn't really slide. (McDonald had shifted from right to left when J.D. Drew entered as a pinch hitter).

Darling evidently decided Andrus' foot touched the plate before Cash tagged him high.

"He said he was safe," said Francona, who came out to argue the play to spare a raging Lester from a possible ejection. "His explanation didn't seem to comply with what I saw."

8. The Sox, who had one hit off Rangers starter Cliff Lee from the end of the first inning Saturday to Scutaro's leadoff single in the ninth, had three hits and a run against another Texas lefty, C.J. Wilson, in 6 2/3 innings Sunday. Wilson and three Texas relievers combined to strike out 14 Sox batters, the most whiffs the Rangers have ever had in a nine-inning game against the Sox. David Ortiz struck out three times, twice against Wilson, who is holding lefties to an .093 average (9-for-97) this season.

9. The Sox, who have won just three of their last 11 games, should return home after midnight on the night of July 28. That's three days before the trading deadline. The bullpen remains the No. 1 need, and while it could be argued that the Sox also could use another outfielder, Jacoby Ellsbury is running, throwing and bunting in Fort Myers. Can the Sox afford to wait the three to four weeks before Ellsbury returns? The guess here is they will, but GM Theo Epstein has surprised before. Don't expect the luxury tax to be an inhibitor; as ESPN colleague Buster Olney wrote this weekend, the Sox won't let a couple of million dollars keep them from making a deal.

10. Make-or-break time? A collapse along the lines of 2-8 or 3-7 would be disastrous -- and unlikely, given the returning starters -- but Lester wasn't hearing of it.

"Every trip is important, every game is important," Lester said. "Doesn't matter where we're playing, what coast, what team. Every game's important this time of year. We've got to play good baseball.

"We've got to grind things out, just like we've done all year. We'll keep battling back and trying to win. That's one thing about that team down there. We'll fight to the end."

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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