Early September Twists- Red Sox Plummeting, Rays Streaking and Giants Are "Awful"

Wanted to take a quick look back at our piece discussing the best storylines heading into September... that was ten days ago and a lot has happened in ten days so a few updates are necessary.

The Red Sox Demise...

When I wrote that piece, the Red Sox were leading the AL East and the Yankees were 8.5 games up in the Wild Card race.  At that time, I declared that the race for the Wild Card was over but it appears as though the Red Sox have fallen flat on their face.  The Sawks need to find their mojo again if they they hope to avoid would be one of the greatest collapses in MLB history.

Here are the facts: the Red Sox were 9 games up on the Rays at the start of September.  Since that point, they have gone 2-9 and have found themselves trying to deflect the notion that they're in all-out panic mode. Make no mistake, things have gotten uncomfortably close in the AL Wild Card race (the Sox own a 3.5 game advantage over the Rays) while the Yankees are in position to build a cushion (currently 3.5 games).  The Red Sox have spent the better part of this season in first place but an untimely slump could leave them on the outside looking in and they have no one else to blame for that but themselves.  They have dropped each of their last four series' losing to the Yankees, Rangers, Blue Jays and, finally, a demoralizing sweep by the Rays.  What's concerning them the most right now is that things might get worse before they get better because Josh Beckett, their ace and best candidate to be the stopper, left Monday's game in the fourth inning with a sprained ankle.  They'll have to wait for him to heal (they're hoping he'll be ready to go Thursday - starter listed as TBD) but the next two games will feature Tim Wakefield and John Lackey who have a combined ERA of 5.69... yikes. 

Rays Taking Full Advantage of the Opportunity to Get Back Into the Race

The Rays were supposed to be too young and inexperienced to compete this year.  Evan Longoria spent too much time on the DL early on and the Red Sox and Yankees were just too strong but those assertions appear to be cracking at the foundation.  The Rays starting rotation has been rock solid, and lately, they have received tremendous contributions from rookie Desmond Jennings and steady production from some undervalued players like Johnny Damon and B.J. Upton.  While the Red Sox will be hosting the Blue Jays in Boston, the Rays will be traveling to Baltimore to take on the Orioles, with a few new faces on their squad including top pitching prospect Matt Moore, who will work out of the bullpen.  If the Red Sox drop their next two games against the Blue Jays, it will set up a huge four-game series between the Red Sox and Rays. 

Justin Verlander Continues to Shine

Won his 21st and 22nd games of the year, striking out 14 batters in two games.  Verlander's play is also elevating the status of those around him; the trio of Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister is widely regarded as the strongest in the AL, right now.  While Verlander has continued his dominance, three contenders (Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury) have watched their chances fade with every mention of an epic Red Sox collapse.  It will be interesting to see what happens down the stretch but the AL MVP award is still up for grabs.

Halos Gaining Confidence

The LA Angels have gained a game on the Rangers... it's only a game but that's not the big story, here.  The big story is that they have navigated through the roughest patch of their September schedule, winning series' against the Twins, Mariners and finally, the Yankees and STILL gained a game on the Rangers.  That is what you call a momentum builder.  They're trying to avoid looking ahead but with the teams left on their schedule (A's, Orioles, Blue Jays, A's) before the final showdown at home against the Rangers, it's hard not to look ahead a little bit (I'm sure glad that we can do it). 

Giants Bochy Calls His Team "Awful" and Rightfully So... Well, At Least Their Bats

Look, I'm not being mean, the Giants have scored a total of 492 runs, worst in all of major league baseball by a wide margin (the next lowest total - the SD Padres with 549) and when a manager calls out his team, you know it's bad.  But remarkably, awful is not an understatement in this case.  If the Giants were to turn things around and repeat as NL champs, their lack of run scoring would indeed be historically bad.  The least runs scored in a single season by a NL pennant winner is 590, set in 1915 by the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Giants are on pace to score 579 total runs.  They also currently maintain the lowest batting average of any team in major league baseball but as bad as their hitting has been, their pitching has kept them afloat and will undoubtedly continue to do so.  Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner have been great and their defense is good enough that they'll be in it if the Diamondbacks decide to misstep.  Unfortunately for the Giants, it doesn't look like the Diamondbacks have any plans of letting them creep back in the race for the NL West.  The D'Backs are 7-3 over their last 10 games and maintain a comfortable 8.5 game advantage over the Giants.

Braves Crumbling at the Foundation

At the onset of this season, many people believed that the Braves had a rotation built to contend with the Phillies and, for a while, those predictions appeared to be accurate.  But the marathon-like season often wears teams down and, for the Braves, it seems as though they're doing their best to avoid that defining their 2011 season. Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens have both spent time on the DL (Hanson is still there) and they've turned to a 6 man rotation to avoid over-using the young arms that have been forced to compliment Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe down the stretch.  They've relied on Brian Beachy and Mike Minor for most of the year but have spot started Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran in recent weeks, just to get by.  Fredi Gonzalez (perhaps at the urge of his GM) has also imposed a strict "no Venters, O'Flaherty, Kimbrel" rule in any situation that the Braves do not have a lead.  Can you say, "overused?"  Despite their recent pitching woes, the Braves still maintain a 4.5 game lead in the Wild Card race over the Cardinals but the Cardinals just swept the Braves in St. Louis this past weekend, a big blow to the spirits of the Braves and perhaps some extra momentum for the streaking Cardinals (who are 7-3 over their past 10 games).

The races are on!  Gotta love September baseball...


Copyright © 2012 FOR BASEBALL JUNKIES.