First Pitch: Friday, September 16

143385.jpg

First Pitch: Friday, September 16

By ArtMartone
CSNNE.com

Welcome to First Pitch, aquick spin around the world of Major League Baseball . . . or at leastthe corner of it that most concerns the Red Sox. For a complete wrapupof Thursday's action, check out Craig Calcaterra's AndThatHappened(hardballtalk.nbcsports.com).

NO MORA! All of a sudden, Terry Francona's little joke (csnne.com) doesn't seem so funny anymore, does it?

The Red Sox' lead in the wild-card race is down to three games after last night's 9-2 pounding at the hands of the Rays. (csnne.com) Ken Rosenthal of Foxsports.com still believes in the Sox -- mostly -- but the situation is dire enough that the Boston Herald's Steve Buckley is making Kyle Weiland-to-Bobby Sprowl comparisons. (And if you're not old enough to remember Bobby Sprowl, trust me, it ain't good.)

The good news is, Josh Beckett is no Kyle Weiland and he takes the mound for the Sox tonight. (csnne.com) But Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says these Rays aren't going away and this race will probably go right down to the wire.

If that's the case, no more Jim Mora impersonations, okay Tito? Cuts a little close to home.

OH, THE PAIN: Whenever I look at Kevin Youkilis these days, I see Mike Lowell. (csnne.com)

SPEAKING OF PAIN . . . Old friend Chad Finn makes the case that Carl Crawford has been "one of the least valuable everyday players in baseball this season". (boston.com)

SILVER LINING: Maybe it was a bad night for the Red Sox, but it was a "perfect night" for the Massive Tie Scenario. (baseballmusings.com)

SOMETHING'S IN THE AIR: A few days after Ozzie Guillen accused his White Sox of quitting, Terry Collins said the same thing about his Mets. (newyork.cbslocal.com)

WHEN YOU'RE RIGHT, YOU'RE RIGHT: Francisco Rodriguez is raining on what should be a joyful parade in Milwaukee . . . but Rob Neyer thinks he might have a point. (sbnation.com)

R.I.P.: Terry Belle, the twin brother of Albert and his frequent defender during Belle's stormy major-league career, was killed in a car crash in Arizona. (nola.com)

OLD FRIENDS: Nice comeback for Coco Crisp (rotoworld.com) . . . The Marlins expect Hanley Ramirez to be ready for Opening Day 2011, even though the shoulder surgery he underwent Thursday has a recovery period of 4-8 months. (Miami Herald)

AND FINALLY . . . Thank God the Tigers' winning streak ended last night. (mlive.com)

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Despite still being owed more than $42 million after this year, Pablo Sandoval's days with the Red Sox appear numbered. So, it's no surprise that landing a third baseman at the trade deadline is a priority.

That's among the "major upgrades" the Sox are seeking by the July 31 deadline, MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand reports.

With Sandoval now on his second disabled list stint of the season - this time with an ear infection - after turning into what Feinsand calls "a horror tale for the Red Sox," and with fill-ins Josh Rutledge and Deven Marrero holding down third, it's apparent that the position is a glaring need.

"Sandoval is basically a non-entity at this point," a source told Feinsand. "They need to make a move there."

Feinsand mentions the usual suspects - Mike Moustakas of the Royals and Todd Frazier of the White Sox - as possibilities. Also, he wonders if former MVP Josh Donaldson could be pried away from the Blue Jays (if "Dave Dombrowski knocks their socks off") with an offer and if Toronto is still sputtering at the deadline?

Those other upgrades? "Boston is also looking for pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen," Feinsand writes. Again, no surprise there.

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

A look under the hood is not encouraging. A look at the performance is.

The sideshows for the Red Sox have been numerous. What the team’s success to this point has reinforced is how much talent and performance can outweigh everything else. Hitting and pitching can drown out a word that rhymes with pitching — as long as the wins keep coming.

MORE RED SOX

At 40-32, the Sox have the seventh-best win percentage (.556) in the majors. What they lack, by their own admission, is an intangible. Manager John Farrell told reporters Wednesday in Kansas City his club was still searching for its identity.

“A team needs to forge their own identity every year,” Farrell said. “That’s going to be dependent upon the changes on your roster, the personalities that exist, and certainly the style of game that you play. So, with [David Ortiz’s] departure, his retirement, yeah, that was going to happen naturally with him not being here. And I think, honestly, we’re still kind of forming it.”

To this observer, the vibe in the Red Sox clubhouse is not the merriest. 

Perhaps, in the mess hall, the players are a unified group of 25 (or so), living for one another with every pitch. What the media sees is only a small slice of the day. 

But it does not feel like Farrell has bred an easygoing, cohesive environment.

Farrell and big boss Dave Dombrowski appeared unaligned in their view of Pablo Sandoval’s place on the roster, at least until Sandoval landed on the disabled list. 

Hanley Ramirez and first base may go together like Craig Kimbrel and the eighth inning. Which is to say, selfless enthusiasm for the ultimate goal of winning does not appear constant with either.

Dustin Pedroia looked like the spokesperson of a fractured group when he told Manny Machado, in front of all the cameras, “It’s not me, it’s them,” as the Orioles and Red Sox carried forth a prolonged drama of drillings. 

Yet, when you note the Sox are just a half-game behind the Yankees for the American League East lead; when you consider the Sox have won 19 of their past 30 games, you need to make sure everything is kept in proportion.

How much are the Sox really hurt by a lack of identity? By any other issue off the field?

Undoubtedly, the Sox would be better positioned if there were no sideshows. But it’s hard to say they’d have ‘X’ more wins.

The Sox would have had a better chance of winning Wednesday’s game if Kimbrel pitched at any point in the eighth inning, that’s for sure. 

Kimbrel is available for one inning at this point, the ninth, Farrell has said.

A determination to keep Kimbrel out of the eighth because that’s not what a closer traditionally does seems like a stance bent on keeping Kimbrel happy rather than doing what is best for the team. The achievement of a save has been prioritized over the achievement of a team win, a state of affairs that exists elsewhere, but is nonetheless far from ideal — a state of affairs that does not reflect an identity of all for one and one for all.

Maybe the Sox will find that identity uniformly. Maybe they’re so good, they can win the division without it.