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The Race to the MLB Playoffs: Week 1

In this new feature, each Friday I’ll be taking a look at the race to win the division as well as the wild card and offer an outlook on the fast-approaching playoffs. Now that August is starting to wind down and Septemeber is looming ahead, the Red Sox still find themselves in second place in the AL East.

Currently, the Tampa Bay Rays have a three game lead in the East with the Sox catching up slowly and the Yankees falling further back steadily. With 40 games remaining for the Red Sox, I see some potential changing of the standings.

Jason Bay’s effect on the Red Sox

The Red Sox have been playing great baseball ever since the arrival of Jason Bay. He really seemed to ignite some kind of spark to the team and all of a sudden the bats woke up. The Red Sox are 10-3 since Bay’s arrival and look to improve even more with a changed pitching staff.

The loss of Tim Wakefield to the disabled list may have set them back, but acquiring veteran Paul Byrd for the Indians should keep the Sox right in this division race. Let’s take a look at who they are chasing: the Tampa Bay Rays.

Do the Rays have enough to hold the AL East lead?

Who would have thought that just last year the Rays were never a concern and we were never asking, “How did the Rays do tonight?” Well, times have changed and the Rays still maintain a three-game lead in the AL East. However, Tampa has fallen on some tough times.

Left fielder and speedster Carl Crawford just hit the disabled list along with Rookie of the Year candidate Evan Longoria. The loss of these two power players for the Rays should give the Sox a chance to catch them. Now, Crawford’s injury seems like one that he could return to just fine. He had a minor operation on his right middle finger tendon that was already successful, but there is no timetable on his return just yet. Evan Longoria has a fractured wrist and the Rays expect him back in just two weeks.

Now I do not know much about hitting, but I really think that his wrist is a major part of it and damage like that should take longer than two weeks to fully repair. In the end, the Rays are 3-1 since the loss of Crawford and Longoria. We will see how they do with a more difficult schedule ahead of them involving the Angels, Red Sox, Yankees, and Twins.

Are the Yankees done?

Speaking of the Yankees, they always seem to be a pain no matter where they are in the standings. Just before the trade deadline the Yankees were as close as one game within the Red Sox for second place in the division. Today, the Yankees currently stand nine and a half games out of first and six and a half games back of the Red Sox.

The loss of starting pitcher Joba Chamberlain to the disabled list is also cause for concern for the “Evil Empire.” Their starting rotation has faced problems all year with the losses of their young starters Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy and then-ace, Chien-Ming Wang. Now with Chamberlain on the DL, the Yankees look to go into the home stretch with basically just a three man rotation with Andy Pettite, Mike Mussina, and Sidney Ponson.

Wild Card Chase

Now as for the wild card, the Red Sox currently are in first place with a three game lead over the Minnesota Twins (currently 2nd in the AL Central behind the Chicago White Sox by just a game). These standings will probably flip flop quite a bit due to the Twins getting back a revitalized Francisco Liriano and the White Sox losing Jose Contreas to the disabled list.

The Injury Factor

Injuries, on other teams, have helped the Red Sox out in this final stretch. The Sox lost third baseman Mike Lowell to the disabled list, but with rookie Jed Lowrie playing like a veteran and a back-up like Sean Casey, the disabled Mike Lowell is not a large concern for the Sox. This protection gives him a chance to get back to 100% for when it really matters.

The Sox also look to get shortstop Julio Lugo back soon and with Lowrie playing the way he is, it will give the Sox some speed off the bench in Lugo. The outlook looks pretty good for Boston with the Rays and Yankees handling multiple injuries. Now is the time for the Sox to jump and put their name at the top of the standings.

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