Red Sox in position to hang with Yanks


Favorable schedule, return of key players should help


July 14, 2002|By Joe Christensen

Even if it feels inevitable in Boston that the New York Yankees will run away with another American League East title, the Red Sox have several reasons for hope.

Sure, the Yankees can add Raul Mondesi and Jeff Weaver at the drop of a hat, and raise their payroll toward the $140 million range. Sure, comparisons are being drawn between this Yankees team and the one that won 125 games -- World Series included -- in 1998.

Red Sox fans still have a right to think this is their year.

Start with the schedule.

Boston entered the second half knowing it would play 50 of its final 77 games against teams that entered the All-Star break with losing records. That includes 10 games with the Orioles, against whom the Red Sox are 6-3 this season.

The Red Sox are 17-3 against Toronto and Tampa Bay and still have 18 games remaining with those two clubs. The first eight games of the second half include three with Toronto, three with Tampa Bay and two with Detroit.

"We've gotten ourselves in a position where a lot of things can happen," said Red Sox manager Grady Little. "We've gotten ourselves in a position to win 90-95 games if we keep playing the way we're playing."

Trouble is, the Yankees might win 105. The other day, Yankees manager Joe Torre was asked to name a weakness about his current club, and it took Torre a full five seconds before responding, "Ummm."

The Red Sox have been hit harder with injuries, but the benefit is knowing how much stronger they'll be when the players come back. Manny Ramirez missed most of May and June with a broken left index finger, but he homered on Thursday night for the first time since May 1.

While Ramirez was injured, Little kept saying how much the team also missed second baseman Rey Sanchez, who had been out since June 3 with a hamstring injury.

With Sanchez in the starting lineup, the Red Sox are 31-16. Without him starting, they are 22-19.

What's more, the Red Sox expect to have Dustin Hermanson and Rolando Arrojo back from the disabled list within two weeks, which means they can focus on finding a bat instead of an arm before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Boston still has eight games remaining with the Yankees, with the next series starting Friday in New York, so the Red Sox aren't conceding anything yet.

Toronto starts over

If the Orioles hold onto third place this season, after four consecutive fourth-place finishes, it will have as much to do with Toronto's shortcomings as their own strengths. The Orioles will play their first of 19 games against the Blue Jays on Wednesday in Toronto, and they'll find a team that is basically trying to start over under first-year general manager J.P. Ricciardi.

The Blue Jays started the season with a $76.5 million payroll and are trying to slash it down to between $40 million and $50 million for 2003.

"I have a challenge of rebuilding the Jays," said Ricciardi, who cut his teeth with the Oakland Athletics. "We're not an expansion club. We were going through the same things in 1993 with Oakland. We made the World Series [1988, '89 and '90] and, after that, tried to hold on, keep the team together. Finally, we bit the bullet in 1993 and slowly became a better club.

"We're going to do it the old-fashioned way -- the amateur draft, signing six-year, minor-league free agents and making trades."

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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