In the next week and a half, the Red Sox can make the AL East officially a 2-team race

As of now, the Yankees find themselves out of first by 7.5 games while Baltimore sits 6.5 off the pace. A series win this week vs. Baltimore and a split with the surging Yankees in New York should – for all intents and purposes – put both teams away in so far as the division is concerned. While both remain very much in the hunt with regards to the wild card, the Red Sox have a chance to thin out the field entirely, and focus in on their colossal series with Tampa that starts on September 10th.

Mike Napoli is starting to get his groove back.

I can’t say that I’m completely surprised to see Napoli miraculously rediscovering his swing out of nowhere. After all, he is a high K%/power hitter and those players as a group, tend to be streak, peak and valley more than most. Still, Napoli might even be on the fringe of THAT scale because he strikes out SO MUCH and hits baseballs SO FAR. Still, looking at his SLG month to month, it’s kind of amusing:

April/May: .483
June: .316
July: .530
August: .375

How did he get himself into this mess to begin with? To me – it looks like his leg kick, which has historically had a tendency to get a little on the high side. Of course, the residual effect of his leg tick is that his load gets thrown off and as a result – his swing gets a little long instead of more compact. He made a statement about his slump last week to WEEI’s Rob Bradford that he had fixed the issue and well, let’s just say that so far it looks like he was right. Over the last week, he’s hitting an eye-popping .500/.545/.900. In recent weeks his batting average is slowly climbing back up again while simultaneously re-discovering his power. This can only be good news heading into a crucial September stretch for the Red Sox.

Re-signing Jarrod Saltalamacchia seems like it’s a pretty good idea.

With Stephen Drew’s being a quality player finally catching on with fans just in time for Xander Bogaerts to get called up, it’s inevitable that Sox nerds on the Internet will have to find another unsung hero to take his place, and as such, I present to you Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

I feel like I say it every week now, but if there’s anything in baseball that drives me nuts, it’s that fans, reporters and most analysts are way too hung up on what players can’t do instead of what they can do – and Salty might just be one of the best examples of that in baseball – and certainly on the Red Sox.

For the sake of it, let’s just get the bad out of the way so we don’t have to harp on it anymore. He strikes out a lot. He doesn’t throw out base runners and his blocking leaves much to be desired. There, that’s done.

Now the things he does well, relative to the rest of the catchers in MLB with at least 300 PA’s:

• He’s 9th among MLB catchers in BB% (9.8%). Yes, that’s the truth.
• He’s 8th in wOBA and over the course of the last month, he’s been climbing.
• He’s 10th in OBP.
• He’s 8th in w/RC+
• He’s 9th in batting average
• He’s 8th in SLG

As an offensive catcher, he’s well above average to good. And yes, before you start in on his BABIP, I’d direct you to his noticeable increase in LD%, which suggests that his current performance is closer to who he is as opposed to a deep regression that would hypothetically occur next year next year. And the kicker? He’s really that that bad defensively, either. He’s certainly flawed, but he’s still only 16th in FLD runs this season. That’s exactly average.

Would I give him the $14 million-ish dollars he’s been worth this year? Definitely not, but he is certainly worth in the ballpark of what the Pittsburgh Pirates paid Russell Martin (2/$17 million). With Ryan Lavarnway’s lack of development and Christian Vasquez and Blake Swihart still a ways off, the Red Sox could do a whole heck of a lot worse to retain Salty’s services for the next few years, flaws and all.

Thinking about playoff matchups

Yeah, jinxes and stuff, I get it – but seriously. If you had a choice, who would you want to face in the divisional round of the playoffs?

Would it be the Tigers with their offense, strikeouts and BABIP overlord Jose Iglesias?

The A’s with their platooning sorcery, silly pitchers park/dump and good pitching?

The Rangers with their versatility and President Bush sitting behind home plate wondering how he could deploy Xander Bogaerts to help spread freedom? It isn’t free, you know.

The Rays perhaps? We have beaten them in the season series, after all. But then again, it’s the Rays.

These are the things that I’m thinking about now. What’s the rotation look like and how do the Red Sox line their rotation up for the best possible outcomes? Who starts? More importantly – who sits? Lackey’s a shoe-in, but what to do with Peavy/Doubront/Lester – ESPECIALLY if Buchholz is back? If it’s a one game playoff – who are you giving the ball to?

Yes that’s right, I’m talking post season and I’m not afraid to do it. I smell the playoffs, and they smell delicious. Bring them to me now, Red Sox.