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.

Monday's Red Sox vs. Orioles lineups: Ortiz back from sore foot

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Monday's Red Sox vs. Orioles lineups: Ortiz back from sore foot

David Ortiz makes his return to the Red Sox lineup after being a late scratch on Sunday due to a sore left foot is sore after getting hit by a pitch Saturday. However, Hanley Ramirez is getting the day off, with Travis Shaw getting the start at first.

The lineups:

ORIOLES:
Adam Jones CF
Hyun Soo Kim LF
Manny Machado SS
Chris Davis 1B
Mark Trumbo DH
Jonathan Schoop 2B
Nolan Reimold RF
Ryan Flaherty 3B
Caleb Joseph C
--
Tyler Wilson P

RED SOX:
Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Travis Shaw 1B
Blake Swihart LF
Ryan Hanigan C
Marco Hernandez 3B
---
Steven Wright P

Red Sox haven't allowed opponents to break out the brooms

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Red Sox haven't allowed opponents to break out the brooms

Through the first sixteen series of the season, the Red Sox are 9-5-3 (two ties coming from two-game sets) en route to their AL East leading 30-20 record.

Boston’s only mustered up two series sweeps -- taking two in Atlanta and three from the Yankees at Fenway -- but they’ve avoided the dreaded broom in each of their five series losses.

In fact, in four of their five series losses the Red Sox earned their lone victory in the final game, with Sunday being the most recent instance.

None of the series finale, sweep-defying wins were cakewalks either. Three of the four were decided by three runs or less -- the other being decided by four.

Boston’s MLB-leading 5.9 runs per game offense scored below its average each time -- so Red Sox pitching didn’t have the same gigantic cushion it’s used to.

Prior to his injury, Joe Kelly was the first savior, chucking five innings allowing two earned runs against a Baltimore Orioles team that was undefeated at that point in the season’s youth. Fast forward to the series at Yankee Stadium and Steven Wright nearly through a shutout, holding the Yankees to one run through nine innings.

In the two most recent cases, David Price’s turn came in the lineup -- and he’s answered the call. Boston’s ace held down both the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays -- on the road -- limiting both offenses to two runs each. Both starts have come the day after one-run losses, too.

So while Price’s “stuff” hasn’t been at its best, admitting Sunday it usually isn’t against the Blue Jays, he’s displayed the intangible aces are supposed to have – guts.

Now on any other team, they might be in trouble given Boston’s offense is the best in baseball. Because a bad scoring day for the Red Sox is better than almost half the league’s average day. But they aren’t on any other team, so that’s not the issue.

For all the struggles the Red Sox’ starting pitchers have dealt with, they’ve managed to get the job done when they’ve needed it.

Those wins add up, too.

If the Red Sox are swept in these four series, they sit at 26-24 right in the middle of the AL East -- and this season has an entirely different feel to it.

In an age where numbers have become the central focus of the game, Boston’s starting pitchers have managed to lock-in when the club needs it most -- and must continue to do so.

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter @ngfriar.