First Pitch: Phils show Sox just how bad things could be

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First Pitch: Phils show Sox just how bad things could be

SEATTLE - They have been without two lineup regulars, side-by-side in the field, since the start of the year, and then lost their most established starter to the disabled list.

They had hoped they could hold on, hold out, until the injured players returned. By midseason, they thought, the return of the injured regulars would serve as a second-half booster shot, the equivalent of adding two All-Stars around the trade deadline.

They sputtered for a while, but all along, the suspicion was they would hang around, figure it out somehow and remain on the periphery of a crowded division race, close enough so when they got healthy, they could make their move.

Now, it's time to acknowledge that this will not happen. So much for Plan B. So much for waiting for the calvary to arrive.

It's too late. They can't make progress in the standings and if help arrives, it will be too late for 2012.

The Red Sox?

Nope.

Try the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies lost again Sunday, dropping nine games under .500 and 11 12 games out of first place. They're lodged in last place in the National League East.

Ryan Howard and Chase Utley could return next week and play like it was 2008 all over again -- Howard recovered from his torn Achilles, Utley having overcome his now-chronic knee issues -- and it wouldn't matter.

The Phillies seem to be slowly acknowledging this basic fact. On Friday, they traded Jim Thome to Baltimore. Sunday, they shipped reliever Chad Qualls to the Yankees. And, in the surest sign yet that the Phils are readying the white flag, they are said to be open to offers on free-agent-to-be Cole Hamels.

All of which serves as a reminder that all is not lost for the Red Sox.

True, they are still without Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury -- for these purposes, Boston's equivalent of Howard and Utley -- but both are getting closer to returning.

Crawford is due in Boston Monday for a checkup, and is then scheduled to go somewhere other that Fort Myers to continue his rehab assignment. It's possible he could rejoin the lineup in Tampa Bay when the Sox open the second half of the season. Ellsbury should also be back later this month.

There are issues, still, to be sure. Over the weekend, the Red Sox needed extra innings to get a split against the lowly Mariners.

The pitching was superb for Boston, even if it did come against a lineup that has battled to hit .200 at Safeco Field this season. In the four games, the Red Sox allowed a grand total of five runs. The scores in the series looked like a Stanley Cup playoff series in which both teams were using the trap: 1-0; 5-0, 3-2; and 2-1.

But Boston's own offense wasn't much better, raising questions about the lineup's consistency. The Sox were a pitiful 3-for-27 with runners in scoring position in the four games. Of the nine runs the Sox scored, six were the result of homers, including all five runs in Friday's shutout victory.

The same offense that had arrived in Seattle averaging 5.29 runs per game this season was averaging just 1.75 runs through the first 36 innings.

Help is on the way, however, in the persons of Crawford, Ellsbury and, soon after, Andrew Bailey. At a time when Felix Doubront seems to be faltering, Franklin Morales and Aaron Cook have peaked, providing rotation depth.

As the fourth month of play gets underway and the exact halfway point in the schedule arrives Tuesday night, the Red Sox are a half-game out of both second place in their division and the second wild-card spot.

And unlike in Philadelphia, it is not too late.