First pitch: Nothing a trade or two can fix

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First pitch: Nothing a trade or two can fix

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Even now, after four straight losses that have dropped them beneath the .500 mark and destroyed whatever momentum was built a week ago, the Red Sox cannot be counted out of the playoff race in the American League.

Thanks to the addition of the second wild card, few teams are out of contention and won't be for be for some time. If you're anywhere near the break-even point, you're not too far from a spot in the post-season.

Of course, much of it illusory. There's nothing necessarily distinguished about a .500 record that offers the empty promise of a one-game playoff against a superior opponent.

But the second wild card provides false hope.

The Red Sox' 9-1 thumping at the hands of the Texas Rangers Monday night may have represented a new low in an already disappointment-filled season. The Sox were flat, as their sloppy play in the field demonstrated. A wild throwing error by second baseman Dustin Pedroia and a careless overrun by outfielder Carl Crawford contributed to
three of the nine runs.

More to the point, what does it say that the Red Sox sent out their winningest pitcher Monday night while the Rangers sent out a spot starter who hadn't pitched in the second half -- and the Rangers won by eight runs?

Pitting the Sox against the Rangers, head-to-head, only shows the yawning gap that exists between the Sox and honest-to-goodness contenders.

Things could get worse, too. There are two more games left with the Rangers here, leading to a three-game set in New York, with the Detroit Tigers waiting for the Sox when they return home to Fenway Monday, a day before the non-waiver trading deadline.

If the Sox fall further behind -- as seems almost inevitable given the rut they're currently in -- then management might subtly shift gears into "sell'' mode as the deadline nears. Why invest in a club that has little chance of making an impact in October?

After all, the Sox have done little to convince Ben Cherginton and ownership that they are only a player or two from becoming legitimate threats to reach the World Series.

Dustin Pedroia, for one, hasn't given up and hopes management feels the same way.

"We hope not,'' said Pedroia. "That second wild card could come down to the last week of the season. I was talking to (bullpen coach) Gary Tuck on the bus and he tells me every year, 'Look at the standings Sept. 15 and see where you're at.' I remember 2010, we had half of our starters hurt and you loom up on Sept. 15 and we were still there.

"So, we've got to keep fighting. That's our mindset.''

No one is making the case for giving up, of course. But doubling down is another matter altogether.

Is there a case to be made that this team deserves the benefit of the doubt? Surrendering anything in the way of prospects for a (relative) short-term boost would seem foolish.

If the Sox were truly a player away -- as they've been at past deadlines -- a deal would make sense. But with a good half-dozen teams standing in between the Sox and a ticket to October, there's far more work to be done and pulling the trigger on a deal before next Tuesday afternoon would seem shortsighted and could actually derail the effort in the big picture.

Sacrificing a future building block for the reward of a cross-country flight to Anaheim and a one-game win-or-go-home match sounds like little incentive.

Not even a sudden unexpected winning streak in the next week should distract the Sox from the task at hand. There's more that ails the Sox than a simple trade or two in the next week, a point that shouldn't be lost regardless of the outcome of the next six games.

Red Sox-Indians ALDS matchup becoming increasingly likely

Red Sox-Indians ALDS matchup becoming increasingly likely

BOSTON - The Red Sox knew they'd be in the playoffs last weekend when they clinched a postseason berth for the first time since 2013.

On Wednesday, they became division champs and knew they'd avoided the dreaded wild-card game.

ANALYSIS: Nick Friar looks at potential Red Sox-Indians matchup

They still don't know their first-round opponent, though it's becoming increasingly likely that it will be the Cleveland Indians.

Here's why: the Red Sox' loss to the Yankees on Thursday night leaves them with a 92-67 record with three games remaining, the second-best mark -- for now -- among the three A.L. division winners.

The Texas Rangers, at 94-65, retain the best record, with the Indians, at 91-67, a half-game behind the Sox.

The team with the best record of the three will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, and will be matched against the winner of Tuesday's A.L. wild-card matchup.

To finish with the A.L.'s best record and host the wild-card winner, the Red Sox essentially need to sweep the Toronto Blue Jays on the final weekend and hope that the Rangers get swept by Tampa Bay.

That's because a tie between the Red Sox and Rangers in the standings would make the Rangers the top seed by virtue of the second tie-breaker: intra-division play.

(The first tie-breaker is head-to-head play; the Sox and Rangers split the season series, sending them to the second tie-breaker).

In other words, the Rangers have a magic number of one to clinch the best record in the A.L. and gain home-field advantage throughout the postseason. One more Red Sox loss or one more Rangers win would get the Rangers locked into the top spot.

Again, barring a sweep by the Sox and the Rangers getting swept, a matchup in the Division Series with Cleveland seems almost inevitable.

What's not known is where that series will begin, and here's where it gets tricky.

Because the Indians and Detroit Tigers were rained out Thursday, the Tribe will have played only 161 games by the time the regular season ends early Sunday evening.

That could force the Indians and Tigers to play a makeup game on Monday, since the game could have playoff seeding implications for the Indians and Tigers. Detroit is still in the running for the A.L. wild card spot, currently a game-and-a-half behind the Orioles and Jays.

Since the Red Sox won the season series against the Indians 4-2, the Sox can clinch home field by winning two-of-three games from Toronto this weekend.

Should the Sox win two from the Jays, it would wipe out the need for Monday's makeup -- at least as far as the Indians are concerned. It's possible that it would still need to be played to determine the one of the wild card spots.

No matter who wins home field in a likely Red Sox-Indians matchup, the Division Series between the two will start with games next Thursday and Friday. After a travel day, the series would resume Sunday and Monday, Oct. 9-10.

Should the Sox win home field and host the first two games, Game 3 would be played Sunday Oct. 9 in Cleveland -- on the same day and in the same city where Tom Brady will make his return to the Patriots.