With health on their side, Sox can strike AL East

With health on their side, Sox can strike AL East
May 13, 2014, 12:15 pm

MINNEAPOLIS -- Somehow, the Red Sox haven't played themselves into any sort of early-season hole in the American League East, despite being just a game over .500, and despite not winning more than two games in a row.
      
For that, they can thank the rest of the division. And injuries.
      
As play begins Tuesday night, the Red Sox are, improbably, just a game and a half out of first. Not coincidentally, they're perhaps the healthiest club in the division.
      
Will Middlebrooks sat out the series finale in Texas Sunday, more as a precaution than anything else after being struck on the right hand by a pitch in Saturday night's game. The expectation is that, barring any further setback, Middlebrooks will be back in the lineup as the Red Sox begin a three-game set against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
      
Beyond that, the Red Sox are amazingly healthy and have been for much of the season. They're one of just three teams in the league to use just five starters through the first six weeks of the season.
      
The team missed outfielder Shane Victorino for the first three weeks, following a hamstring strain that took place two days before the season opener. Other than that, the Red Sox injuries have been minor in nature.
      
The same can't be said of their division rivals.
      
The Tampa Bay Rays have been stung by major injuries to their starting rotation. Lefty Matt Moore is done for the season, requiring Tommy John surgery. Alex Cobb is due back before the end of the month after an oblique strain and Jeremy Hellickson, who has yet to pitch, probably won't be available until after the All-Star break after undergoing spring elbow surgery.
      
That's 60 percent of Tampa's rotation sidelined, which helps to explain their position in the basement of the division.
      
Things aren't much better for the New York Yankees, for whom things got worse Monday. The Yankees are already without Michael Pineda (lat) and Ivan Nova is done, requiring Tommy John surgery. That's meant that old friend Alfredo Aceves and Vidal Nuno have stepped into the rotation.
      
On Monday night, Carlos Beltran had to come out of the game after he hyper-extended his elbow and a DL stint would seem to be looming. Meanwhile, both Ichiro Suzuki and Mark Teixeira are hobbled.
      
Then there's the division-leading Orioles, who recently welcomed back Manny Machado, who missed the first month recovering from knee surgery last fall. Chris David, their top power threat, just missed two weeks with an oblique strain and will have to managed carefully for the time being.
      
Then there's the issue of catcher Matt Wieters, who recently visited Dr. James Andrews to have his right elbow examined. The elbow wasn't bothering Wieters at the plate, but it was hampering his throwing. It's unclear how long Weiters will be out, but that's a big blow to the O's.
      
In the meantime, the Red Sox are healthy and, having won six of their last eight, hinting that they might finally be ready to play up to their capability. With three other East teams hobbled, now might be the perfect time to do so.