The Boston scramble

Updated: September 16, 2011, 10:36 AM ET
By Buster Olney

The simple fact is that right now, the Rays are a better team than Boston, and it's really not even close. This is Tampa Bay's rotation: James Shields, tonight's starter, who is probably running a strong third in the race for the Cy Young Award; David Price, who can be as good as any pitcher on a given day; Jeremy Hellickson, who has the second-lowest ERA in the AL in the second half of the season, behind Ervin Santana; and Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann, who are strong and healthy and have combined for 300 innings.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox front office and coaching staff has been scrambling for pitching, stacking up arms like sandbags against a flood of runs. Six of the seven pitchers who worked for Boston on Thursday night were not with the team at the outset of the season.

As old pal Jayson Stark has noted, the Red Sox have two quality starts in the first half of September, and the Rays have 10. With Boston's lead over Tampa Bay reduced to three games after the Rays' 9-2 victory over the Sox on Thursday, all that stands between the Red Sox and full-blown fan panic tonight is Josh Beckett. The ace hasn't pitched in 10 days and will be taking the mound with some sort of wrap or brace on his injured ankle.

Boston's lead over the Rays was 11 games on Aug. 7, and now it's possible that by Monday morning the Red Sox could be in a tie that will have everybody in New England recalling '49 and '74 and '78. If not for the championships of 2004 and 2007, the Red Sox might be convinced that the crazy broken-bat play that was pivotal in the Rays' first rally Thursday was the latest sign that the baseball gods are angry at the Red Sox.