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3 to Watch: The 'We're a playoff team' edition

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

Yes, Bobby Valentine said it.

I went and checked for myself. Valentine really did say this week on Boston radio: "I think we're a playoff team."

First reaction: What's he supposed to say?

Second reaction: Aren't the Red Sox still below .500? They've played 112 games, they've lost more than they've won, and they're a playoff team?

Everyone brings up the Cardinals from last year, but the Cardinals had a winning record from the third week of April on. They were 59-53 through 112 games, as were the Rays.

When you've played more than two-thirds of the season and you've still lost more games than you've won, you're not making the playoffs.

Right?

Well, unless you're the 2009 Twins, who were 54-58 through 112 games -- and 33-18 over the final 51, including their incredible one-game playoff win over the Tigers.

Or unless you're the 2004 Astros, who were 55-57 through 112 -- and somehow still won 92 games that year (by winning 36 of their final 46).

Or what about the 2006 Phillies, a 54-58 team that won 31 of the final 50 and under the current system, would have been the second wild-card team?

That's three times in just the last eight years that a team that was still sub-.500 this late in a season either went on to make the playoffs, or would have done so under the current system.

Yes, I know, the Red Sox (55-57 entering play Thursday night) would need to pass four of the five teams ahead of them in the wild-card race. Well, the 2004 Astros had to pass all five teams who were ahead of them in the wild-card race.

Yes, I know, the Red Sox don't look like they're headed for that kind of hot streak. Well, those Astros had just lost five of their last six, and would go on to lose three of the next four before really starting their run.

I'm not saying the Red Sox will make the playoffs. I did say that at the All-Star break. I'm not saying it now.

I'm not the Red Sox manager, so I don't have to say that.

But it wouldn't be as shocking -- or unprecedented -- as what they did last September.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The Marlins didn't trade Hanley Ramirez away simply because they were losing, or simply because he has a big contract. They traded him away because they were tired of him. "It was time," one Marlins official said, a sentiment that seemed to be widely held within the Marlins clubhouse, as well. So don't expect a warm homecoming when Reyes returns, in Dodgers at Marlins, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Marlins Park. Ramirez has had some big moments already with the Dodgers, including a walkoff hit, but he has hit just .226 in his first 14 games since leaving the Marlins.

2. Brandon McCarthy's biggest contribution to the A's this year was supposed to be the prospects they'd get back when they traded him. Even at the All-Star break, A's people were hoping McCarthy could get healthy soon -- so they could trade him. Who knew the A's would need McCarthy for their own pennant race? But they do, and they're happy to welcome him back in A's at White Sox, Friday night (8:10 ET) at U.S. Cellular Field. McCarthy, the A's opening day starter, returns just in time to take the spot of A.J. Griffin, who went on the disabled list. If he's healthy, McCarthy is a difference-maker. He was 6-0 with a 1.96 ERA in his last seven starts before going on the DL in June.

3. The craziest thing about the Red Sox season is that if you take out the games started by (theoretically) their top two starters, they do have a winning record. Not just a winning record, but a very good record. As Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe pointed out Thursday, if the Sox were simply .500 in games started by Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, they'd be 61-51 and leading the wild card. Instead, the Red Sox are 15-27 in games started by Lester and Beckett. If they really are a playoff team, you've got to believe that changes soon, perhaps when Lester starts in Red Sox at Indians, Sunday afternoon (1:05 ET) at Progressive Field. If the Red Sox really are a playoff team, they ought to start showing it against the struggling Indians. After this series, the Sox will play 33 of their remaining 46 games against teams with winning records.

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