1. Evan Longoria will return to action on Tuesday. Is he the missing piece for the Rays to make a run? Or is there something else that needs fixing?
Eric Karabell (@karabellespn), Fantasy: The Rays have other issues on offense, as the team's .220 batting average and .640 OPS since the All-Star break show, but getting Longoria back will really help. If only it could help Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton and others. One Rays regular is slugging .400 since the break, and it's Jeff Keppinger. Still, this team is absolutely in the wild-card race, and Longoria hit 17 home runs the final two months last year. Watch out.
Diane Firstman, Value Over Replacement Grit: The Rays compiled a .223 BA/.304 OBP/.351 SLG line during Longoria's absence, yet managed to go 41-44 thanks to a 3.28 staff ERA. His bat was missed. A timely hit or two would be nice, as the Rays are last in the AL with a .234 average with runners in scoring position. There is no help for the lineup down at Triple-A Durham.
Matt Meyers (@mtmeyers), ESPN.com: As the Rays proved last year, you can never count them out, and they sit just two games out of the wild card despite not having Longoria, their best position player, for much of the season. I don't think they can make up their current seven-game deficit on the Yankees, but they are as good a bet as any team to win the wild card now that they are at full strength.
2. Bobby Valentine received public support from the Red Sox's front office. It's your call: Has he or any other skipper earned a pink slip? If so, why?
Karabell: Valentine has certainly struggled this season, and he wasn't a good fit in Boston to start with, but plenty of this Red Sox mess isn't his fault. He should get another season. And while I never root for others to lose their jobs, it's a bit surprising that Ned Yost (Royals) and Jim Tracy (Rockies) are still managing. Perhaps these teams shouldn't have been World Series-bound, but to be in last place is disappointing.
Firstman: Valentine's hire was fraught with danger from the get-go. Everyone knew he was tactically sound, but a bit loose-lipped and ego-driven. He earns a reprieve for this year due to the hospital ward of a roster. The three-year slide and now collapse of the Rockies should have earned Jim Tracy his walking papers, but he just received an "indefinite" contract extension.
Meyers: Valentine has brought a lot of heat upon himself with some bizarre public comments this year, but when you consider that the Red Sox are at .500 and are just four games out of the wild-card lead while playing in baseball's toughest division despite a remarkable rash of injuries, it's hard to say he's done a bad job. I'd let him ride out the season.
3. Can the Red Sox make everyone in Boston happy down the stretch: Win a wild-card slot and trade Josh Beckett this month?
Karabell: The AL wild-card spots are absolutely there for the taking, but the Red Sox would need health and much better starting pitching to stick around, and Beckett would need to play a large role in that. I don't see it. Beckett's been terrible since the All-Star break, so why would another contender want him? Remember when Clay Buchholz was unusable? He now has the best ERA (4.48) among the pitchers in the Red Sox's rotation. This isn't a playoff team.
Firstman: The Red Sox are only four games out of the last wild-card slot, but they haven't been able to sustain a long winning streak at any point, and the injuries have led to a patchwork staff and bullpen. Beckett's strikeouts per nine innings has dropped this season, but his other peripherals are fine. If you deal him, you better get some major league ready starting pitching in return.
Meyers: I don't think the Red Sox will win a wild card because three teams ahead of them (Rays, Angels and Tigers) are at least as good and already have an edge, but it wouldn't shock me if they did. As for Beckett, I've always thought he was bit overrated based on one postseason series nine years ago, but he's better than he's shown this year, and trading him while his value is this low doesn't make much sense to me.