The following is a look at where each member of the Red Sox (the same Red Sox who are now just three games ahead of the Rays in the Wild Card race) find themselves heading into the regular season's final 16 games:
There is little to complain about when it comes to the center fielder, other than maybe his inability to call off Darnell McDonald and catch Desmond Jennings' fly ball in the 11th inning Saturday night.
His memorable season got another dose of dominance with the road trip, with Ellsbury finishing the seven games hitting .406 with seven extra-base hits and an 1.191 OPS. And just for good measure, during the trip he was 4-for-7 against lefties, boosting his average in the last 17 games against southpaws to .391.
Analysis: While Ellsbury's march toward a possible American League MVP is impressive, what will truly be important in the stretch drive his the ability to set the tone. He currently leads all leadoff hitters with a .380 on base percentage in the top spot. It has to stay that way.
We know that Pedroia has hit a rough patch, going 3-for-31 on the road trip. But the question, and concern, should be revolving around why it is happening. Typically when the second baseman goes through such a stretch it's due to some sort of physical ailment. We don't know that to be the case, although it is understood that he has to continuously deal with his foot and knee.
Part of the answer might be simple over-anxiousness, as was suggested by Red Sox manager Terry Francona when noting that Pedroia might be trying to do too much in an attempt to solve what ails the Sox. On the road trip, according to BaseballAnalytics.org, Pedroia swung and missed 15 times, 11 of which were out of the strike zone.
Analysis: Unless one of the injury issues is cropping up again, the smart money is on Pedroia finding his stroke.
Gonzalez certainly couldn't be pointed to as one of the problems on the road trip, hitting .318 with two homers and an 1.172 OPS. He faced 98 pitches during the stretch, amazingly swinging at just nine which were out of the strike zone.
Perhaps most notably, in the final few games in St. Petersburg he appeared to be taking somewhat more of a leadership role. This is what he told the Boston Herald: "“At the end of the day, we’re going to win the wild card or the division. It might not be today, because we’ve still got a lot of games left. But maybe by the time we play them next week.” Definitive stuff.
Analysis: Gonzalez appears to be proactive these days, both at the plate and int he clubhouse. It is a presence the Red Sox will not be able to do without.
Like Gonzalez, Ortiz didn't appear to be the problem on the road trip, hitting .300 with an .820 OPS. It wasn't his best stretch, but it was certainly good enough. He also continued to establish his presence against left-handers, going 3-for-8, putting his average against southpaws to .346.
His production in the cleanup spot, however, hasn't been what it was when hitting fifth, totaling a .277 average and .975 OPS at No. 4 in the order. And he did go just 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position during the trip.
Analysis: Ortiz is going to have to continue what has been a remarkably consistent campaign, especially with the uncertainty regarding Kevin Youkilis' health. An important piece of at the puzzle has become even more important.
Youkilis has bursitis in his hip, and is on his way to a sports hernia. He is also just a few weeks off a back injury that put him on the 15-day disabled list. This we know.
What we don't know is that when he returns -- presumably Tuesday -- how good Youkilis can be. It would be unrealistic to believe the third baseman could produce at his normal level, which still has him with the top OPS among American League third baseman.
Analysis: The Red Sox will need Youkilis to be better than he was upon returning Sept. 2, after which he hit just .185 with a .572 OPS. If he isn't, the middle-of-the-order dyadic changes drastically, whether it's with the No. 4 or 5 spot, taking away one of the Sox' biggest strengths this season.
Lowrie's dip in production may be due to a shoulder ailment that won't go away, but, regardless, the Red Sox could need the infielder more than ever with the uncertainty of Youkilis' health.
He went 0-for-12 on the road trip, and is hitting just .214 from the left side since returning from the disabled list Aug. 8., totaling an overall OPS of .551. He was decent in August, hitting .271, but has begun September going 1-for-20.
Analysis: Lowrie can be a presence in a lineup, as was evidenced earlier in the season when he stormed through April (.368) and the beginning of May. That's what the Red Sox need again, both at the plate and in the field.
The outfielder actually has a five-game hit streak, going 5-for-23 with three doubles, two walks and an RBI on the road trip. But whether because of the lingering effects of the hamstring injury suffered earlier in the season, or not, Crawford simply isn't giving any hint of being the dynamic player the Red Sox signed.
The 30-year-old, who is on the verge of letting Ichiro Suzuki pass him for the second-most stolen bases among active players, hasn't swiped a bag since Aug. 18 (20 games). Also, only two players in baseball have more at-bats than Crawford and fewer than the left fielder's 21 walks.
Analysis: Red Sox need Crawford to show signs of the kind of life he still hasn't put on display.
The shortstop's right shoulder is clearly bothering him, but, as both he and Terry Francona recently pointed out, the ream and the player has been able to manage it. After suffering through a few eye-opening weak throws in Toronto, Scutaro has actually executed a few quality plays in the hole between third and short during the Tampa Bay series.
Offensively, he was the brightest spot on the recent road trip, hitting .464 with an 1.214 OPS and on-base percentage of .500. He also went 6-for-12 with runners in scoring position, continuing a trend. Since August 1, Scutaro is 18-for-36 with runners in scoring position, best in the major leagues.
Analysis: The way Scutaro is playing, the Red Sox desperately need the shortstop's shoulder -- and bat -- to stay healthy.
The outfielder has seemingly weathered the storm that regularly hits rookies at some point during their first full season. After hitting .208 with a .603 OPS in August, Reddick owns a .414 batting average and 1.088 OPS in September.
He has shown to be an asset in the outfield thanks to speed and hustle, although he occasionally experiences lapses (as was evidenced in the missed cut-off man Saturday night). Reddick still rarely plays against left-handed pitching, but did manage to go 1-for-3 in his only chance on the road trip against Toronto lefty Ricky Romero.
Analysis: Reddick certainly has entrenched himself as an asset heading into the final few weeks, even leap-frogging Crawford in the batting order, hitting .343 in his 12 games in the No. 5 spot.
The Red Sox' right field situation certainly isn't the best, as is evidenced by the fact they own the third-worst OPS at the position in the majors. But between Reddick's resurgence and McDonald's work of late, it could be a whole lot worse.
McDonald got over the Mendoza Line for the first time all season Sept. 6, hardly tearing it up -- hitting .262 against lefties since Aug. 1 -- but playing his role well enough. In each of the four games he appeared in on the road trip McDonald reached base.
Analysis: While the 33-year-old doesn't figure to emerge as a bat that will get hot enough to make too big a dent in the final few weeks, he has played well enough to suggest that there will be times for him to leave a positive impression.
The catcher is just 1-for-13 in September, but is coming off an August in which he hit a respectable .250 with a .852 OPS. Since August 27, Varitek also has as many home runs as any Red Sox player (3). A concern is the backstop's .207 average against right-handers.
Varitek had hit a rut in regards to throwing runners out, having allowed 23 straight successful stolen attempts before Jose Bautista was nabbed on Sept. 8.
Analysis: Varitek has remained a valuable piece of the puzzle, and not just because of his work with Josh Beckett. Jon Lester's ERA with the veteran backstop is 2.48, while Daniel Bard's ERA is 0.89.
Saltalamacchia has shown signs that he is ready to become an everyday catcher, as his .783 OPS -- the third-best among American League backstops -- would suggest.
But since August 1 the Red Sox are just 12-14 in games in which Saltalamacchia has appeared, with the 26-year-old hitting just .214 over that span. It is a stretch that has also seen his average drop to .167 (6-for-36) against left-handers.
Analysis: As many strides as he has made this season, Saltalamacchia can still be classified as a work in progress. He has shown, however, he is reliable enough to anchor the position for the stretch drive.
He has brought more to the table than the player he was traded for (Yamaico Navarro) would have, but two recent baserunning miscues have led to some raised eyebrows. He can be considered a pinch-running weapon, having stolen bases in 26 of his last 30 attempts, but after being thrown out to end last Wednesday's game in Toronto, and then being picked off in St. Petersburg that momentum has been slowed.
Since joining the Red Sox, he is hitting .333 (despite only seeing 2.97 pitches per plate appearance). He has somewhat surprisingly been more effective against right-handed pitching with with the Sox, hitting .357.
Analysis: Aviles has the potential to be a very valuable commodity down the stretch, having played five different positions with the Sox without having made an error. Baserunning mistakes aside, the utilityman continues to prove his worth.
Monday was a good day, by all accounts, with Beckett testing his injured right ankle in a bullpen session without incident. While it has yet to be determined, it would seem the Red Sox are eyeing the starter making his next appearance against the Rays later in the week. (A welcome thought for the Sox considering he has allowed just two hits in 17 innings against Tampa Bay this season.)
Since the beginning of August, Beckett hasn't been as dominant as he was in the first half, compiling a 3.54 ERA in his last seven starts, but the team has gone 5-2 during the stretch.
Analysis: When you have a pitcher who has allowed two or lease runs in 18 of his 27 starts, that suggests he is a key element to the team's success. In this case, he might be THE key element.
The lefty didn't step up when the Red Sox needed it the most, allowing four runs in four innings Sunday against Tampa Bay. But it shouldn't be forgotten that before that start Lester had gone on a 15-game run which saw him go 8-4 with a 2.14 ERA.
The good news for the Red Sox is that Lester has typically bounced back from his bad outings in fine fashion, only allowing more than three runs once after surrendering as many as four runs the start before.
Analysis: If Lester can solve his recent first inning problems (batters are hitting .301 against him in the first), the lefty should be OK. The Red Sox at least better hope that's the case.
Before being shut down with a knee and lat ailments, the lefty was heading down a road that would most likely land him with a start in Game 3 of any playoffs series. But, as it stands now, if the lefty doesn't find his way back to the rotation those sort of postseason options might not be a reality.
It has yet to be determined what the timetable is for Bedard, but considering his 3.66 ERA in the six outings with the Red Sox, the pitcher's presence is as valued as virtually anybody on the roster.
Analysis: The Red Sox not only need Bedard to return, they need him to return as the pitcher they had witnessed up until his last start. On September 3, his last outing before being shut down, the lefty didn't throw one pitch over 90 mph. Compare that to his August 22 outing, in which he threw 15 pitches at 92 mph, and it becomes evident how important health is to the equation.
You surely know that Lackey's 6.30 ERA is the highest for any Red Sox pitcher with at least 25 starts … ever. And that opponents are hitting .304 against him, while totaling 180 hits and 11 runs in eight innings over his last two starts.
The question is whether or not Lackey can rebound to vaguely resemble a playoff pitcher. He has allowed less than four runs just once since July 27, a stretch in which the Red Sox are 4-5 in his starts.
Analysis: Using July 22 as his best second-half start -- a seven-inning, one-run outing against Seattle -- it would seem Lackey's stuff hasn't taken a drastic downturn. In that outing he sat at 92 mph (15 times) and 93 mph (7 times). It was the same case in his two September outings, in which he lived at 92 mph (46 times), while hitting 93 mph 18 occasions.
The Red Sox need the knuckleballer to get on one of his runs, with or without the 200th win.
Wakefield has had trouble throwing strikes of late, throwing just 21 of 38 first-pitch strikes in his last two starts. What's fairly impressive is that opponents are hitting just .194 in those pair of games (one a relief outing).
Analysis: It should be noted that Wakefield has allowed three runs or less in 17 of his 30 appearances this season. The issue is that the last time he accomplished the feat as a starter was back on Aug. 3. A resurgence would go a long way.
There simply hasn't been a better closer in baseball in the second half. Papelbon is one of the best runs of his career, having given up a run in his first outing after the All-Star break but nothing since.
Since July 17, Papelbon has pitched in 19 games, allowing just four hits and no runs, while striking out 23 and walking two. Opponents batting average? Just .063. Here's something else: Of the 66 batters Papelbon has faced during that stretch, 48 of them have seen first-pitch strikes.
Analysis: The biggest question is how much Francona will start extending Papelbon. He has still only pitched the eighth inning three times this season, but we may see that changing.
Yes, the reliever has given up runs in three of his last four outings. But that shouldn't take away from the overall image portrayed by Bard. If the Red Sox are to do anything, it can't.
What should be a little disconcerting is that opponents are hitting .385 against the reliever's bread and butter -- the fastball this month.
Analysis: Bard's velocity is something to keep an eye on in the coming days considering he has hit 98 mph that one time this month. That number would seem like a luxury to most, but considering the righty hit it 86 times in July and August, it is worthy discussion.