The Boston Red Sox have lately been tantalizing fans like me. After another poor start to the season, an unbelievable string of injuries and uneven performances from the pitching staff, the Red Sox have quietly climbed back into the race in the American League East Division. As the month of May draws to a close, Boston is still in last place, but is less than three games out of first.
So the recent thumb injury to second baseman Dustin Pedroia comes at a critical time. With the Red Sox roster already depleted, the team just cannot afford to lose their fiery emotional leader and hope to remain in contention.
"It's not comfortable," says manager Bobby Valentine of the hole left in his lineup by Pedroia's absence. "If I make a move late and take one of my infielders out of the game, I'm really going to be painted into some corner. With Adrian (Gonzalez) playing right field, it's, well, whatever. We're going to get through it."
The Red Sox and Pedroia are hoping to avoid an extended trip to the disabled list. They hope that rest will allow Pedroia to get back on the field faster than the 15 days required with a stint on the DL. But the thumb injury may take 3-4 weeks to heal.
Already, the Red Sox have seen a parade of All Stars march into the trainer's room and onto the disabled list. Outfielders Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury are not expected back until at least mid-July. Third baseman Kevin Youkilis was sidelined for weeks with back problems. Outfielder Cody Ross was pounding the ball when he went down with a foot injury and is out until deep into the summer. Outfielders Ryan Sweeney and Darnell McDonald have also missed time on the DL. Of course, Boston was already without 40 percent of its starting rotation, as John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka rehab from Tommy John elbow surgery. Closer Andrew Bailey has yet to appear in a game this season either.
But Pedroia is perhaps the most irreplaceable player on the Red Sox. On the field, the Red Sox have no back up capable of playing every day for an extended period of time. Nick Punto, who is currently starting for Pedroia, is best as a utility substitute, and is hitting way below .200 for the season. Mike Aviles could move over to second, but back up shortstop Jose Iglesias hasn't been hitting in the minor leagues, and is currently hurt as well.
Pedroia's value is about more than hits and runs, however. The former MVP is the heart and soul of the Red Sox team. His never-quit attitude, his fearlessness at the plate and in the field and his leadership qualities are what the Red Sox would miss the most.
"We've got to get him healthy," admits Punto. "He's one of those superstars who's very unique. He wants to play through all injuries. I don't know how bad he's hurting. I know he wants to be back on that field. We've just got to get him healthy."
Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, is a lifelong Red Sox fan. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.