The Red Sox will make the playoffs. Sitting seven games ahead in the wild card race, Boston's offense is simply too good for a nuclear meltdown in the coming weeks.
But as of this morning, the chances of a deep October run hang precariously by the tendons in Josh Beckett's right ankle. Beckett is back in Boston to be evaluated, but until the results come back, Red Sox Nation will keep its finger firmly on the panic button. Beckett was able to walk last night in Toronto, and there was minimal, if any, swelling in the ankle. If he had simply rolled the ankle, these would be great signs--a tweak, a missed start. However, Beckett felt an ominous pop in the ankle, reminiscent of Curt Schilling's torn tendon sheath in 2004.
Of course, it is entirely possible that the media is jumping to extreme conclusions regarding Beckett's mysterious injury. It may be a strain, maybe something insignificant that we've never heard of. But if the damage to Josh's ankle matches the severity of Schilling's, there will be no groundbreaking, season-saving procedures. Beckett will be shelved for the year, a devastating end to a season in which he has bounced back to 2007 form.
Without Beckett, Jon Lester would become the only reliable Red Sox starter, leaving Terry Francona to dig through the carnage and assemble a playoff rotation from a group that includes Lester, Erik Bedard (who will miss his next start due to a sore knee), John Lackey, Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller and Alfredo Aceves.
Of these, only a healthy Bedard is a viable option. Lackey is about as useful as spam, owning the MLB's worst qualifying ERA. Miller surely couldn't handle the lineups in Texas or New York. Aceves could be alright, but he's proven to be far more valuable in a relief role. And Wakefield, as we all know, is an enormous risk in playoff games.
Provided that the offense can avoid a repeat of its recent slump, the Red Sox do have the firepower tocompete with anyone in the American League field, but it would be asking a lot of the bats to put up at least six runs in practically every game. In a World Series match-up with the Phillies, it would be impossible.
For a realistic shot at this year's title, the team needs some good news about Josh Beckett's ankle. Until then, Boston can only hold its breath.