John Tomase

Three moves Red Sox can make to take their shot at wild card

Boston is only two games out of the final wild card spot to start the second half.

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The Red Sox have crept back to the outskirts of the mosh pit known as the American League playoff race, but if they really want to start throwing elbows and stomping in circles, they're going to have to keep pushing toward the front of the stage.

With wins in five straight games and eight of nine, they sit just two games out of the final wild card spot. There's an opening to make a move, because the Yankees reek of weakness, in such disarray that they tabbed broadcaster Sean Casey as hitting coach to kickstart their moribund Aaron Judge-less offense.

That's called an opportunity, and the Red Sox need to take it. They're currently an absurd 12-1 vs. the Yankees and Jays. Finish ahead of both of them, and a playoff spot is almost certainly theirs. So how do they do it? Here are three moves that need to happen.

1. Move on from Kiké Hernández

He was a postseason hero in 2021, but that's pretty much when his contributions ended. By any statistical measure, not to mention the eye test, Hernández has been one of the worst everyday players in baseball.

His minus-0.7 WAR ranks 615th out of 644 players to swing a bat, and he's failing in every facet of the game. He leads all shortstops in errors (14), he's hitting just .221, and his .602 OPS ranks last among the team's regulars.

The Red Sox treated him like a centerpiece player when marketing the team this winter, and the folly of that decision becomes more glaring by the day. Trade him, bench him, DFA him, but get him out of the lineup. He's a lesser defender than Yu Chang at short, a lesser hitter than Christian Arroyo at second, and forget about playing him in the outfield over Jarren Duran.

Simply removing Hernández from the equation will be a net positive.

2. Find a starting pitcher

The Red Sox have held up remarkably well in the absence of Chris Sale (shoulder blade), Garrett Whitlock (elbow soreness), and Tanner Houck (line drive to face). But they can't realistically expect to keep winning with openers and five shutout innings of relief from Nick Pivetta.

They need reinforcements and the minors are tapped dry. In a perfect world, the arrival of another starter would allow someone like right-hander Kutter Crawford to reinforce the bullpen alongside the expected return of setup man John Schreiber.

So who's potentially available? Lots of names. Assuming that Shohei Ohtani stays put, the biggest prize could be Guardians right-hander Shane Bieber, the 2020 Cy Young Award winner who remains arbitration-eligible through 2024, meaning the Red Sox would be acquiring him as more than just a rental.

But there could also be former Cy Young contenders like Lucas Giolito of the White Sox or old friend Eduardo Rodriguez of the Tigers. E-Rod looked like an All-Star before being sidelined by a finger injury. He still owns a 2.64 ERA in 12 starts. Giolito, meanwhile, would be a straight rental.

Whichever way Bloom decides to go, the rotation needs reinforcements.

3. Keep riding the youth movement

Duran has sneakily become a five-tool standout and he needs to play every day, even if it means trading productive outfielder Adam Duvall to find bullpen or rotation help. Brayan Bello already looks like a stopper atop the rotation, and Triston Casas has been hammering the ball for more than a month, even if it's not yet reflected in his stats.

Perhaps another piece of the future will arrive sometime down the stretch in the form of versatile standout Ceddanne Rafaela, a highlight-reel defender in center and potentially at short, too. He recently earned a promotion to Triple-A Worcester, where he has homered four times in 11 games.

Bloom believes he's laying the groundwork to build a sustained winner, and Rafaela is a part of that. Perhaps their youngsters will lead them down the stretch.

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