McAdam: Sox want health over playoff positioning

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McAdam: Sox want health over playoff positioning

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
TORONTO -- All things considered -- and frankly, there isn't much to go on yet except the team's say-so -- the Red Sox emerged from the Josh Beckett vigil pretty well.

Team doctors determined that Beckett is merely suffering from an ankle sprain, and not, as had been feared in a worst-case scenario, some tendon or ligament damage.

The hope in the organization is that this is all relatively minor and that Beckett will miss only one start. Given that the Red Sox had already planned to give him an extra day between his next two scheduled starts, that's a relatively rosy scenario.

(Disclaimer: the Red Sox issued no statements about the severity of the sprain itself. A minor sprain would mean being sidelined for a week or so. A more significant sprain could end up costing Beckett more time, as it has for San Francisco lefty Jonathan Sanchez.)

Again, though, let's assume that Beckett's sprain is relatively minor in nature and that he'll return to the rotation well before the post-season.

Under that scenario, the Red Sox will have their top two starters available for the Division Series. The prospect of trying to win a World Series with Jon Lester, augemented by the likes of Erik Bedard and John Lackey, was not promising.

But it's possible that the uncertaintly surrounding Beckett, the team's desire to manage his return with caution, and the fact that just 21 games remain on the schedule that the team's hope of overtaking the New York Yankees for the A.L. East crown is in serious jeopardy.

At least twice in the next week, the Red Sox will send out lesser starting pitchers when Beckett's and Bedard's turn come around.

Kyle Weiland will be plugged in for a spot start Saturday and it's likely that Tim Wakefield -- who goes for elusive career win No. 200 Wednesday night -- will get another turn that he might not have received otherwise when the Sox return home from their current six-game homestand.

The Sox trail the Yankees by 2 12 games in the East with 21 games (22 for the Yankees), and though a tie (record) would go to the Sox, by virtue of winning the season series between the two, the chase is decidedly uphill for the Sox.

The three remaining games between the clubs are in New York, where the Sox are 5-1 this year. Still, that's an advantage for the Yankees.

It's quite possible that the dropoff from Bedard and Beckett to Weiland and Wakefield (or Alfredo Aceves or anyone else the Sox choose for those spot starts) could mean the difference of a game or two in the standings.

The Sox have, all along, professed a strong preference for getting their pitching staff in order over finishing first in the division, so don't expect them to be re-arranging the rotation in final week to win games and edge out the Yankees.

Moreover, it's likely that the matter of playoff seeding could be entirely up in the air in the final week. For much of the season, it was widely assumed that Texas would finish with a better record than Detroit, and thus, host the wild-card entry in the ALDS.

But heading into Wednesday's games, the Rangers' lead over the Tigers were just a half-game. So while the Red Sox' half-hearted quest for first could well go down to the final days, so, too, could the identity of their first-round opponent. It's tough to devise a strategy to face a certain team over the other when the other teams in question are involved in some jockeying of their own.

Opening on the road may not be as problematic for the Red Sox at it could be for others. The Sox own the best road record in the majors.

Now, like it or not, it would seem they're going to put that success to the test, starting in the Division Series.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

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