BOSTON — Outfielder Cody Ross talked about the Red Sox and their playoff hopes in a way that a regular at Suffolk Downs would appreciate.
“You can compare it to a horse in a horse race,” Ross said Wednesday. “Kind of stay in the pack and not let yourself get too far down and then hopefully hit your stride late and then keep that rolling.”
Entering play last night, the Boston Red Sox were 3 1/2 games behind Oakland for the second of two AL Wild Card spots.
The only problem: they are in a pack of five horses (along with Tampa, Baltimore, Detroit, Toronto) all within striking distance of Oakland. And three teams (Tampa, Baltimore, Detroit) are closer to the A’s, each within 1.5 games.
Boston GM Ben Cherington considered the pack when making decisions at the non-waiver deadline earlier this week.
“As good as we feel about our players, you need to do the math and sort of figure out the cluster of teams ahead of you and what you need to do to actually pass all of them,” Cherington said Tuesday.
“We have to weigh that against sort of the desire to make the team better. It was an additional layer in the decision-making process this year as opposed to the past where we’ve been more clearly buyers.”
If you do that math Cherington is talking about, you’ll understand the Sox’ playoff hopes aren’t great.
Say it takes 90 wins to win the second Wild Card. Well, Boston, with a .505 winning percentage in 105 games (53-52), must post a .650 winning percentage in the final 57 games (37-20) to reach 90 wins. That will be difficult.
And leapfrogging four teams won’t be easy either. It never is. Compared to Boston, the Athletics, for example, need to play just .586 baseball to win 90 games, and they have posted a .760 winning percentage since July 1.
Quality starting pitching separates playoff teams from non-playoff teams in close races in August and September.
Because Boston didn’t add a top-of-the-rotation caliber starter before the non-waiver deadline, it is at a major disadvantage in this Kentucky Derby of a Wild Card race.
The Angels were the biggest winner at the trade deadline, adding 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke to an already talented and deep starting rotation. Los Angeles should pass the Rangers in the AL West and it has become the favorite to win the AL pennant with a powerful lineup, too, that includes rookie sensation Mike Trout and slugger Albert Pujols.
Texas, though, also was a deadline winner, adding All-Star starter Ryan Dempster (2.25 ERA).
The Tigers and White Sox were winners, too. Detroit added the reliable Anibal Sanchez (3.78 career ERA). Chicago traded for lefty Francisco Liriano who hasn’t pitched great this year but has struck out 9.9 batters per nine innings and certainly has potential to give Chicago a second-half boost.
Boston, Oakland and Baltimore all failed to add a starter and are the three deadline losers among AL Wild Card contenders.
Oakland has received sensational starting pitching, especially from Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and Bartolo Colon but lacks some experienced depth beyond those three. And Parker and Milone are just rookies. Parker only pitched 136.1 innings last year.
Baltimore also lacks some starting pitching depth beyond Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen. But haven’t we been waiting for the Orioles to drop in the standings all season for that very reason? They haven’t.
The Rays didn’t make any moves, but watch out for them. Ace David Price is having his best season, righty Jeremy Hellickson drips of talent and rookie southpaw Matt Moore has been awesome since May 28 after a rough start to his season.
The key for the Red Sox down the stretch is for the talented players, especially Nos. 1 and 2 starters Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, to finally pitch to their capabilities.
The Red Sox don’t lack talent. That’s why it is so surprising they are a .505 team.
“The talent is, no question, there,” Ross said. “This is the most talented team I’ve ever been on. Absolutely. And we just have to be more consistent and play together.”
Heck, Ross thinks this group has more talented than the 2010 Giants, with whom he won a World Series.
“The team I was on when we won the World Series, we were talented, but it when came crunch time, we played together,” Ross said. “And we got hot at the right time.”
It’s time for thoroughbred Boston to make its move. The finish line is within view.
“We’re just going out and trying to play like every day is a crucial game — like this is it,” Ross said.