Mastrodonato: Three ways the Red Sox could get back in the playoff race

  • Michael Dwyer / AP

  • Tommy Pham of the Boston Red Sox is doused by a teammate after his game-winning RBI single against the New York Yankees during the 10th inning at Fenway Park on Aug. 12. Winslow Townson / Getty Images / TNS

  • Boston Red Sox’s Kutter Crawford pitches against the New York Yankees during the first inning of a game on Aug. 13 in Boston. Michael Dwyer / AP

  • Michael Wacha (52) of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Fenway Park on Aug. 14. Brian Fluharty / Getty Images / TNS

  • Jim Mahoney / Boston Herald / TNS

  • Boston Red Sox starter Nick Pivetta delivers the strikeout pitch to Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s 5-3 Boston win in Pittsburgh, the Sox’ fourth in their last five starts. Keith Srakocic / ap

Boston Herald
Published: 8/17/2022 7:56:40 PM
Modified: 8/17/2022 7:53:25 PM

If one were making a guess on whether or not the Boston Red Sox are a playoff team this year solely based on the decibel level of the “Yankees suck” chant on Sunday night, the answer would be unanimous.

Sox fans were as rowdy and confident as ever following a Sox’ 3-0 shutout of the Yankees that was played in 2 hours, 15 minutes, tying the fastest ox-Yanks game this millennium.

Michael Wacha threw seven dominant innings that were as good as any thrown by a Red Sox pitcher this year.

The Red Sox are back in the playoff race, perhaps?

Not so fast.

Entering the off day on Monday, Baseball-Reference gave them a 4% chance at making the postseason, though the FanGraphs odds were a bit more generous at 17%.

Manager Alex Cora feels differently, largely because he feels like the starting rotation is as rock-solid as it’s been all year.

With Wacha, Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Kutter Crawford and a piggy-back combination of lefty Rich Hill and righty Josh Winckowski, the Sox should at least have a chance on most nights.

“We just have to keep getting better,” Cora said Sunday. “We’re getting healthy, which is important, and it’s important obviously in the rotation.

“You saw Nate, you saw Kutter and Michael; more strikes, less walks. That’s always important. Hopefully this is the beginning of something good, but we have to go Tuesday and play the same way.”

Unfortunately, the Red Sox (57-59) haven’t played well enough this year to get back into the playoff race without getting hot-hot. As of Monday morning, the Red Sox had six teams ahead of them for three Wild Card spots. They were 4½ games back of the Rays, who are holding down the third spot, and 5½ back of the Blue Jays, who have the top spot.

Not only do the Red Sox need some magic, they need help.

The Jays, Mariners, Rays, O’s, Twins and White Sox are all capable of keeping pace.

But if you’re desperate for a silver lining, there are a few:

Wacha looks as good as he ever has: There’s one advantage to having a team loaded with guys on expiring contracts: They’re playing hard for new ones.

Wacha was signed to a one-year, $7 million deal this offseason but looks poised to make a whole lot more this winter. It’s possible he’ll get a qualifying offer from the Red Sox, who would be happy to commit about $20 million to him for a one-year deal in 2022 if he keeps pitching like this.

He’s allowing a .157 average on his changeup, a career low, and while his 94 mph average fastball velocity and spin rate on his pitches rank near the bottom of the league, he’s pitching with poise, confidence and craftiness, using three different fastballs (four-seam, two-seam, cut fastball) and throwing a ton of changeups to keep hitters guessing.

Wacha in this form is an ace, and he alone is enough to think they can stay in contention.

Devers, Bogaerts and Martinez are due: Since the second half began on July 21, Devers (.200, four home runs), Bogaerts (.244, two home runs) and Martinez (.174, no home runs) have hardly contributed. Because of it, the Sox are scoring just 3.7 runs per game, 20th in MLB in that span.

“The offense, at one point, we’re gonna get going,” Cora said. “Those guys are gonna hit. Xander is gonna hit. J.D. is gonna hit. They’re gonna do their part. Those guys carried us for a while and they can get hot, too, right now and do the same thing.”

Devers had a big night (2-for-4, two-run homer) on Sunday, and the Sox believe he found his fastball timing last weekend, as evident by his turning on a 97 mph heater painted on the upper-inside corner and smoking it over the right-field bullpens.

“He’s been missing pitches in the zone, popping them up,” Cora said. “(Sunday) he was on time. His takes were a lot better. So hopefully it’s the beginning of something great for that guy.”

The Sox are getting healthy: Outfielders Kiké Hernandez and Rob Refsnyder rejoined the Red Sox in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, giving them an outfield squad that includes Tommy Pham, Jarren Duran and Alex Verdugo. Expect Pham, Hernandez and Verdugo in the outfield on most nights, with Duran (against righties) and Refsnyder (against lefties) getting some playing time as well.

If Trevor Story ever makes it back from his hand injury, the Sox could have legitimate depth on their bench.

And Cora’s go-to left-handed reliever, Matt Strahm, could also be joining the team this week. Since Jake Diekman was traded to the White Sox, Cora has struggled to find a lefty he can count on. Darwinzon Hernandez and Austin Davis haven’t been effective, but Strahm’s presence changes the shape of the bullpen.

Right-hander Tyler Danish is also nearing a return.

The big question mark is Tanner Houck, who saw a spine specialist Monday for his injured back.

Without him, the Sox bullpen is capable. With him, it could be an actual weapon.




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