Believe it or not, I’ll be paying attention to the Red Sox in September.
No, I’m not watching for the latest silly, mindless drama or to see if the team can reverse last September and go 20-7.
I’m actually watching because there are -- believe it or not -- many compelling storylines that may give insight to what the Red Sox look like in 2013 and going forward.
For the first time since 1997, September baseball will have no impact on the Sox' chances for winning a World Series.
They are out of it. Kaput. Done. Finito.
We all know the news out of the clubhouse and the front offices on Yawkey Way keeps getting worse and worse. This is an organization perceived to be in complete disarray with no idea how to solve its most critical problems.
But I come to bring a ray of sunshine on an otherwise gloomy front.
There are very positive stories and relevant storylines that merit very close attention in the final month while other teams are making a final push for the postseason.
In between covering the Patriots day-in and day-out and keeping my eye on the looming Sept. 15 NHL CBA deadline, I've come up with 10 Red Sox storylines that bear close monitoring.
Scott Podsednik -- He has come to Boston and done nothing but impress with his work ethic, professionalism in the clubhouse and production on the field. He went 2-for-4 in Thursday’s 10-inning loss and now has hit safely in nine of his 10 starts with the Red Sox.
"I don't know where it came from,” Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said Thursday when asked about Podsednik's remarkable conditioning and speed at 36 years of age. “Reports on him were so-so about how he was doing before here. He's really been a producer, very determined. A real gentleman, much more so than I remember him years ago.
"A little surprised, until you watch him. He practices running. A lot of guys just run. He actually works at running properly. He doesn't want to lose it."
In 12 home games, the fans have seen the best of him, as he's gone 17-for-38 (.447). He has hits in 21 of 25 starts for the Red Sox, going 36-for-91 (.396). Will he come back to Boston in 2013 as a bench player? Here’s something to keep in mind: He has a .386 career average at Fenway. Carl Crawford likely is not going to be at full strength in spring training and at the start of next season after Tommy John surgery, so Podsednik could be a very safe -- and reliable -- choice to fill in. Yes, he’ll be 37 next Opening Day, but if he keeps himself in the incredible shape he’s in, there’s no reason not to take a chance on him if another team doesn’t first.
Prediction: He’ll be offered a better deal somewhere else and leave.
Jacoby Ellsbury -- This is a fascinating one. Could this be the last month we see him in a Red Sox uniform? Might the Red Sox consider trading him this offseason if the return is good enough? Ellsbury will hit free agency after 2013, and a good September might increase his value just enough to remind people of his 2011 potential when he was runner-up in MVP voting behind Justin Verlander. So far this year, he’s struggling badly to regain that form after separating his right shoulder in the home opener against the Rays on April 13. He’s batting .257 in 45 games with just one home run and seven steals. His OPS has slipped to .660 after posting a career-best .928 in 2011.
"He's not feeling for it," Valentine said. "He's due to get really hot. The timing's so close, I think, that it's going to happen."
Added Valentine: "I talked to [hitting coach Dave Magadan] about it, he said in the past they put him at a different spot and it seemed to work. He's taking full swings and either hitting just below the ball and it's going up, or just a little off the end of the bat and it's going on the ground. That's a mega-second. It's not like check swings or jam shots or swings and misses by a lot. He's taking full swings, hitting the ball, advancing it forward in a kind of non-productive way."
A good September could show scouts that he’s ready to return to that form in 2013 and increase his trade value. A bad one and scouts and GMs are likely to think 2011 was just an aberration.
"He's a good player,” Valentine said. “He'll be good."
Prediction: Red Sox will ride out his talent one more year in Boston.
Pedro Ciriaco -- He's one of the true feel-good stories of the 2012 Red Sox. It started in spring training when the 26-year-old late bloomer caught everyone’s eyes with a .419 average in 26 games. Then came the chants of "Pedro, Pedro" in the nightcap of the day-night doubleheader with the Yankees at Fenway Park on July 7. Ciriaco has impressed with his versatility as he can play second, short and third and has a rifle arm. He can even play the outfield in a pinch. He has batted all over the lineup for Valentine and is batting .344 with an OPS of .822. Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at. He still strikes out a lot -- 23 times with just two walks in 126 plate appearances. But he certainly has done enough to show he deserves a shot at the big league roster out of camp in 2013. If he continues to play hard in September, he’ll get that chance.
Prediction: Red Sox keep him and he’s the starting shortstop in 2013.
David Ortiz -- No one has less to prove and more to lose than David Ortiz in September. He is coming off a right Achilles injury suffered on July 16. He’s missed 35 games. Before the injury, he was regarded -- without question -- as the most feared hitter in the Sox lineup with 23 homers and 58 RBIs and a .316 average in 89 games. His OPS was a remarkable 1.023. No one would blame him if he sat out the rest of the season to heal his injury so that he’s full strength for next season. If he hurts himself again, the likelihood of a major payday in free agency is out the window. He has been frustrated with the Red Sox and their unwillingness to pay him as the team’s most productive hitter for the last 10 seasons. He turns 37 in November. Is there one more big payday left? He must smile when he sees what Derek Jeter has done at 38.
Prediction: Ortiz goes out on top with a great September and bids Boston farewell as the organization at a crossroads decides to move on. He’ll be a Yankee in 2013.
Josh Beckett -- Either Josh Beckett is hurt or he’s washed up. September is a four-letter word to Beckett. The numbers are well-documented since the debacle of last September. He is 6-13 in 26 starts since Sept. 1, 2011. He is 5-11 this season with a 5.23 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 127 1/3 innings. He has been on the disabled list with right shoulder fatigue. Scouts who have watched him agree that he has lost command of his best pitch -- the hammer curve -- and the radar gun reveals he’s lost 4-5 mph off his fastball. That’s a pretty deadly combination for a pitcher who used to strike fear into the hearts of batters. That fear is gone. Will he spend September trying to -- if nothing else -- fight to find it again?
Prediction: The organization knows how unhappy Beckett is and will make every effort to move him before pitchers and catchers report in February. He’s gone.
Andrew Bailey -- This was the big move of the offseason last winter for Ben Cherington in his effort to rebuild the bullpen without Jonathan Papelbon. UCL surgery on his right thumb set him back to the point where he’s an afterthought, coming into situations like Thursday in the seventh inning. His slider and sinker haven’t returned to form, but the Red Sox will give him the chance to regain that form in 2013. He starts laying the groundwork in September as the team gets more of a look at what he can do.
Prediction: He’s back in 2013 and will unseat Alfredo Aceves as the team’s closer.
Clayton Mortensen -- Throw out Thursday’s four-batter, no-out effort and this has been an eye-opening season for the lanky right-hander. He is 1-1 with a 2.30 ERA in 18 appearances. He figures to get a chance in September to start once or twice to see if he can handle the load of starting. He is 6-foot-4 and throws overhand much in the same way Clay Buchholz does. He has 24 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings. This is a 24-year-old pitcher who’s earned the shot of a very close look in September, and the Red Sox will give it to him.
Prediction: Mortensen comes out of spring training as the fifth starter for the 2013 Red Sox.
Ryan Lavarnway -- The question about the 25-year-old catching prospect never has been his offense. He batted .295 with eight homers and an .815 OPS this year with Triple-A Pawtucket. The bigger issue is: Can he handle the rigors of catching and handling a big league staff? Asked to do so in Boston, his offense has dropped substantially, as he is batting just .135 in 12 games. He bears very close watching in September to see if he can mesh his offensive and catching skills together to show he’s ready to begin next season with the big league club.
Prediction: Lavarnway shows enough in September that the Red Sox believe he’ll make the 2013 big league team out of camp.
Jon Lester -- In the same boat as Beckett, Lester has had a miserable year. As a matter of fact, by far, 2012 has been the worst of his career. He’s 7-10 with a 5.03 ERA in 25 starts. But unlike Beckett, there are promising signs. After his hideous 11-run outing against the Blue Jays on July 22, the one that prompted the now-infamous text, Lester and then pitching coach Bob McClure looked at the tape and found that he had been opening up too soon, tipping his pitches and throwing fastballs right down Broadway. Since then, he’s 2-2 in five starts and his last two outings have been much more like the old Lester, allowing one run in six innings against the Indians and one run in seven against the Yankees, both wins. Against the Indians, he struck out 12 in six innings. Will it continue in September? He figures to be a keeper at the top of the rotation with Buchholz.
Prediction: Too much talent for Lester to be going anywhere. You can blow up many parts of the roster, but starting pitching like Lester isn’t one place to do it. He’ll rebound in 2013.
Bobby Valentine -- Privately, the man from Stamford, Conn., had serious second thoughts about taking the job as early as April. Those doubts in his mind really surfaced after he experienced the backlash about his public comments over Kevin Youkilis on April 15 on WHDH-TV. He honestly thought he’d done nothing wrong but got a rude awakening to just how much things are blown out of proportion in Boston. Now, after “textgate” and the Johnny Pesky funeral furor, his second thoughts have been more than reinforced. Management talked him through every step to make sure he wouldn’t step down in midseason. Now, Valentine finally can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it will be interesting to see how he handles September, when he must realize his tenure in Boston -- little of his own doing -- is drawing to a close.
Prediction: Valentine gave an honest effort for one year, but there will be a new manager in place in 2013.
These are just 10 of the questions on a long, long list of issues the Red Sox face heading into an offseason in which they've lost a lot of the reserve of goodwill built up over two World Series championships. Let Ben Cherington get to work, and he and the baseball ops people will do just fine. The Red Sox made critical errors last winter in not addressing the problems inside the organization. This year, they have a month head start on not repeating those same mistakes.
To the Trags Bag for what fans feel were the feel-good stories of a miserable season so far.
@shelley1005 I think that feel good story ended the moment [Will Middlebrooks] broke his wrist. Before yes....now....not so feel good....just another story of the bad luck bad news sox.
@nesports247 Buchholz could've been a 20 game winner if he hadn't been hurt and spent time on the DL.
@soxanddawgs [Middlebrooks] still a great story before the injury
@ct_smoke could you see AGon being traded and Middlebrooks shifted to first to make room for [Xavier Bogaerts] at 3rd? Dodgers seemed to not be worried about the contract...and we all know [Dustin Pedroia is] begging to get [Andre] Ethier here. No way [Bogaerts] stays at SS and the kid from AZ is a 6 foot Pedey clone, and [Jose] Iglesias is still around too.
@paultys18 no wonder pitching is in trouble. With the offense we have at moment if we have 3 runs scored against, we simply can't win!! FACT