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July 20. 2013 9:25PM

Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Red Sox need to trade for help in the bullpen

BOSTON -- Friday began like many days have for the Red Sox this season, with manager John Farrell discussing an injury to one of his players - and divulging bad news. In this case it concerned Andrew Bailey and his shoulder, which requires surgery that'll keep him out a calendar year.

But, hours later, Friday ended like so many days have for the Red Sox this season, too. With a Boston win.

It was their 59th of this season, this one maintaining their 2.5-game lead over the sizzling Rays, and ensuring that the Sox will still be in first place when Tampa Bay arrives at Fenway Park on Monday to start a four-game series. It was a good start to the second half, and to a weekend set with the rival Yankees.

It was a reminder that something special is afoot on Yawkey Way. And that the players responsible for getting the team to this point - where they'd won more games than any team in baseball before the All-Star break - deserve every chance their front office can give them to finish the job and chase a championship in 2013.

There's a popular school of thought that because of the original expectations for this season, because of the injuries the club has been (and still is) dealing with, and because of where the team is in its on-the-fly retooling plan, Ben Cherington shouldn't mortgage the future by aggressively dealing away major long-term assets in order to make a hard run at a title this October. And that's right. He shouldn't.

But he shouldn't be passive about in his efforts to improve this team, either - because to do so would be to ignore all the good that's taken place to this point, as well as the opportunity that is in front of his Red Sox. It's an honest-to-goodness opportunity to win a World Series, which don't come around too often, and which therefore must be pursued when presented.

Yes, they're flawed. Yes, they're beaten up. Yes, they're alarmingly thin in the bullpen. But they've won the most games in the big leagues. They've scored more runs than any team in baseball. And they've got a starting rotation with the second-best earned run average in the American League, even without having had their ace for most of the past two months.

They may not on the level of the star-studded teams so fondly remembered in these parts, but relative to the major leagues in 2013 they've now got 99 games of evidence that suggests they're among the best. And look around at some of the other teams that are in contention; there's not an elite team in the bunch, and none are clearly better than Boston.

The Sox' players know this, too. They know where they are, and they know what they need - and so failing to at least make an honest effort to acquire it would be an insult to the work they've done both on the field and behind the scenes.

A significant part of resetting the atmosphere of the clubhouse and reestablishing a productive culture has been proving that the players, the coaches and upper management are all pulling in the same direction, with the common goal of winning. And so to do nothing in this situation would send a bad message in that respect.

After all, if you're not going to go for it when you reach July 20 with the AL's best record, during a season in which you've invested about $160 million in payroll, just when are you going to go for it?

"We have an obligation as a front office to do what we can to help the guys in the clubhouse who are working hard every day trying to win games," recently acknowledged Cherington, whose job it'll be to balance the present and the future, and who has in that respect preached discipline since gaining some financial freedom through last August's megadeal with the Dodgers.

That approach has served the GM from Meriden well - and he doesn't need to depart from it now in order to help his team. According to various prospect forecasters, the Sox are stocked with as many as eight players who project to make a major-league impact in their careers. There's then another level with several players who have a chance to reach that level.

So if others in baseball agree, the Sox should be able to declare guys like Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens untouchable and still have the resources to make a deal. Especially considering that their greatest need is relievers, and the price on those shouldn't be quite as high as it would be for an everyday player or an above-average starting pitcher.

Even when they're unsexy on the surface, trades this time of year can be difference makers. It was for the Giants last year with Marco Scutaro. It was for the Cardinals the year before when they exchanged their promising center fielder for pitching depth. Heck, in 2010, even getting Ramon Ramirez from Boston proved a crucial move for San Francisco.

This year, the Red Sox front office should do everything it can to be on the other side of a deal like that, and add to a group that's proven its resilience, its character, its ability to compete with anyone. The players have done their part.

Now it's time for the front office to do the same - not at the cost of dooming the future, but with enough consequence to properly acknowledge there's an opportunity to end this season as good as it began.

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How badly is the bullpen in need of fortifying? When Craig Breslow put the tying run aboard in the eighth inning Friday night, Brandon Workman was warming. He was Tuesday's scheduled starter, and had made just two relief appearances as a pro - but aside from closer Koji Uehara, the other options were Matt Thornton (who's better saved for lefties), Pedro Beato and Jose De La Torre (both of whom have appeared only in blowouts), or Drake Britton (who was a minor-league starter and hadn't yet pitched in the majors).

Workman was probably indeed the best option. And that's a blatant sign Boston need relievers. Plural.
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Stat of the week: Entering tonight's start against the Yankees, many of Jon Lester's numbers over his last 11 starts are similar to those of the Royals' James Shields in terms of everything from innings to hits to walks to strikeouts. Yet Lester's ERA is 6.18 over that time, and his team is 5-6 in his appearances. Shields has a 3.89 and Kansas City is 8-3.The difference has been that against Lester, opponents are hitting .295 with two outs, and .306 with two outs and runners in scoring position. Against Shields, they're hitting .196 and .188 in the respective situations.

Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com.


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