First Pitch: When losing is winning

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First Pitch: When losing is winning

ARLINGTON, Texas - It's a given that there's no such thing as a meaningless series between the Red Sox and Yankees, and the weekend set that begins Friday night at Yankee Stadium is further proof.

The Red Sox trail the Yankees by 10 12 games in the standings, so to suggest that the outcome of these three games will have some bearing on the divisional race is a stretch.

Even if the Yankees have been stung by a string of recent injuries, topped by Alez Rodriguez's broken hand in Seattle, it seems far more likely that a team other than the Red Sox will be the beneficiary of the Yanks' ill fortune.

The Sox, having lost six of their last seven, have other, more modest goals in their sights. The second wild card would seem to be their best path to the postseason, and for now even that seems unattainable.

But that doesn't render these games meaningless. For the Red Sox, they're indeed critical -- but for reasons that have little to do with their seemingly hopeless pursuit of their archrivals.

Instead, how the Red Sox fare this weekend will have a significant impact on the team's approach to the non-waiver trading deadline, which arrives soon after the Red Sox return to Boston early Monday morning.

Multiple baseball sources indicated Wednesday that general manager Ben Cherington was eyeing the team's play carefully as he decides how to handle the deadline.

Had the Sox won Wednesday's game -- rather than losing, 5-3, at they did to Texas -- and won the series from the first-place Rangers, and followed that with a series win in the Bronx, Cherington might have been motivated to more aggressively pursue help for the season's final two months.

If the Sox had hinted that they were worth investing in, then Cherington would have acted accordingly and gone about the business of looking for starting pitching reinforcements to augment the current rotation.

But dropping the series to the Rangers, followed with the prospect of a rough weekend against the Yankees, could push Cherington into full-on sell mode.

After all, what's the sense of packaging valauble prospects for pitching help to push the Red Sox across the playoff finish line when there's every chance that the team's stay in the postseason might not last more than a single game in the new winner-take-all, wild-card format?

As it is, a short-term rental such as Zack Greinke or Ryan Demptster is already virtually out of the question, especially considering the changes in the new collective bargaining agreement which make rentals more problematic than ever.

It's hard to justify shipping off two upper-tier prospects for the sake of a one-game playoff, especially given that teams can no longer recoup draft picks by offering newly-acquired free-agents-to-be arbitration.

Landing a player who isn't eligible for free agency until after 2013 -- such as Matt Garza -- might make somewhat more sense, since such a player would be under the team's control for all of next season, too. And unlike rentals, players with more than this year remaining can return draft picks if they sign elsewhere.

Left in limbo, at least until after this weekend at least, are such spare parts as Kelly Shoppach and Ryan Sweeney, both of whom have value and could be dealt for some return if the Sox determine by Tuesday that all hope is essentially lost.

In that sense, as counterintuitive as it may be, the Sox might be better off losing the series and cashing in on what has all the appearances of a lost season.

At nearly 100 games in, the Sox are below .500 and can't seem to gain any traction. They're like a overheated car in stop-and-go beach traffic, lurching forward for a short while, only to just as quickly stall and sputter.

Putting competitive pride aside, the Sox might benefit by some losses, since it will give them the go-ahead to pull the plug on 2012 and begin the process of getting ready for 2013 months ahead of schedule.

Shoppach, Sweeney and perhaps a bullpen arm can be auctioned to the highest bidders and prospects won't be needless sacrificed for the illusion of short-term gain.

For once, then, Red Sox and Yankee fans might agree on something, with both sets -- one silently and full of shame, of course -- rooting for the same team and the same result starting Friday night.

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.

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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.