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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Red Sox still dangerous once healthy

Justice: Red Sox still dangerous once healthy

Red Sox still dangerous once healthy
CHICAGO -- Carl Crawford will be back. The Red Sox feel fairly confident about that. They've got their fingers crossed about Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Beckett and Cody Ross. If they're all good to go in the second half of the season, this team looks dramatically different. At some point, they'll figure out what to do about their two third basemen.

"What are you going to do?" Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine asked. "It's all part of the game."

All he can do is attempt to keep his guys going in the right direction, focused on what they have instead of what they don't. And trust their professionalism.

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"I've seen no give-up," Valentine said. "I've seen no feeling sorry for themselves, any of that stuff. It's been pretty good, all things considered."

The Red Sox have spent every day of this season in fourth or fifth place in the American League East. Meanwhile, the Yankees have won 18 of 22 to open up a 7 1/2-game lead over the Red Sox.

Still, it's impossible to write off the Sox because they have too much talent, too much experience and too many players who've been through the wars.

But they're hanging on for dear life, decimated by injuries and disappointing performances.

If you're keeping score, the Red Sox have three of their four highest-paid players -- Crawford, Beckett and John Lackey -- on the disabled list. Throw in Ellsbury, Ross and Andrew Bailey, and that's $68 million of their $173 million payroll on the shelf. For you math whizzes, that's 39 percent.

Lackey is done for the year. As for the others, there's a chance.

"Can't worry about it," Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester said Saturday after going 6 2/3 innings in a 4-3 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Lester shrugs when asked about the injuries. He's not looking for a shoulder to cry on.

"Stuff we can't control," he said. "This game is full of stuff you can't control. If you let it eat at you, it just makes it a longer season. We just hope that those guys are going to come back shortly."

Before the game, someone asked Valentine if he believed the baseball gods would even things up in the second half of the season. "I believe they always do, as long as you stick with it," he said.

The Red Sox began the day having lost 706 games to injuries this season. As a result, Valentine has had a revolving-door lineup.

He has used seven cleanup hitters and six leadoff hitters. At one point, the Red Sox had seven outfielders on the disabled list. Valentine has started seven different players in center, six in right and five in left.

Some great stories have emerged. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, hitting cleanup for the first time in his career, delivered a two-run home run in the fourth inning Saturday night.

Meanwhile, Scott Podsednik, 36, was considering retirement after the Phillies sent him back to the Minor Leagues this spring.

The Red Sox talked him into accepting a Minor League assignment. He spent nine games at Triple-A Pawtucket before being summoned to the big leagues.

Valentine inserted him at the top of the lineup and in the outfield, and Podsednik got two more hits Saturday night to raise his average to .390.

Injuries have forced some other arrangements that haven't worked out as well. Adrian Gonzalez, a three-time Gold Glove winner at first, played right field on Friday and let a Ryan Dempster hit skip past him for a triple.

Valentine put him out there to get his best hitter, designated hitter David Ortiz, in the lineup at first. Now about those third baseman. Valentine has shuffled a three-time All-Star hitting .212 (Kevin Youkilis) with a rookie hitting .289 (Will Middlebrooks).

"It's very difficult to have a real plan for this stuff with Youk and Middle," Valentine said. "I just make sure I keep Middle relatively fresh."

General manager Ben Cherington could be open to trading Youkilis, but it's more challenging to deal a .212 hitter.

If you see the glass as half-full, you begin with that rotation. Despite the troubles, there's still the makings of a very solid group. Offensively, only the Rangers and Rockies have scored more runs than the Red Sox.

If you catch them on a certain day, the Red Sox do a good imitation of an aging club whose time has past. Catch them on another day, and they look plenty good enough. After all, they've still got eight players from the 2007 World Series champions.

To give up on them at this point would be silly. To believe in them would be, well, silly.

"We're going to keep showing up every day and trying to grind out games and see if we can't win some more," Lester said.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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