Playoffs a miracle? Not for Red Sox

BOSTON -- Pressure? What pressure?

Two-thirds of the Red Sox's starting outfield was lost for the balance of the season on Wednesday: Mike Cameron for surgery to repair an abdominal tear, Jacoby Ellsbury with a fractured rib. They'd missed much of the season already, and now they join the cleanup hitter, Kevin Youkilis, as players not expected to appear on Terry Francona's lineup card again in 2010.

By the end of the season, the team will have missed more than 900 games -- the equivalent of 5 1/2 seasons -- to players on the disabled list.

The owner is on the record as saying it will take a miracle.

The call-in crowd gave up weeks ago. It has Brady and Shaq to occupy it now.

The television ratings are down.

The statistics analysts do their Monte Carlo simulation, playing out the season a million times. They give the Sox a 6 percent chance of winning the division and a 26 percent chance of making the playoffs, compared to around 85 percent for the Yankees and 83 percent for the Rays, according to baseballprospectus.com.

The center fielder is a rookie. The left fielder comes out of a hat. The bullpen is best approached on certain nights with a blindfold. The $150 million end of the rotation has paid nickel-and-dime dividends.

So where, do tell, is the pressure on these 2010 Sox? No one outside the walls of their clubhouse would bet the doghouse mortgage on this team.

Is it not more reasonable to assume the pressure is all on the Yankees and Rays not to succumb to this summer's improbable tale of tenacity and pluck?

"Probably,'' David Ortiz said. "I know that what happened to us is something I've never seen in my life. But that's good. Nobody's got their eyes on us. Sneak in, and boom!''

The Rays won Wednesday night to complete a three-game sweep of the Rangers, the leaders of the American League West, who just took two of three from the Red Sox. Tampa Bay has won five straight. The Yankees pounded the Tigers for the second straight night and remain tied with Tampa Bay for first place in the AL East with records of 74-46.

If both the Rays and Yankees play .500 ball the rest of the way, they finish with 95 wins. Figure them both to wind up closer to 100.

For the Sox to finish with 95 wins, they'd have to go 26-15 over their last 41 games. To get to 100 -- do you really want to know? Try 31-10, a .753 percentage.

That requires something a tad more substantial than a sneak attack.

And yet, just when you think they should stay down for the eight count, the Red Sox are at it again. John Lackey is smacked around for five runs, including two home runs, in the first five innings, and then somehow pulls it together to retire the last seven men he faces. On a night like so many others this summer that you figure he has no business winning, Lackey tacks another W beside his name. This was No. 11, matching the total he won for the Angels last season.

Bill Hall, the night's designated left fielder, hits a changeup far into the night, his 16th home run of the season, a number higher than just about any Red Sox part-timer ever. Adrian (the Annihilator) Beltre hits his 23rd, the remaining baseballs in plate umpire Chris Guccione's back pocket relieved they were spared the violence inflicted by Beltre's bat.

And Daniel Nava, the most famous alum of the independent Chico Outlaws, takes a pitch in the ribs with the bases loaded to force home the tying run, then makes a diving catch in left to preserve the lead. Never mind that he broke back on the ball at first. He got the job done, leaving it for Jonathan Papelbon to strike out the side in the ninth, an overpowering demonstration that people are misreading the expiration date on his status as Sox closer.

"When we do come back and win this thing, [the Yankees and Rays] probably are going to feel like they let a season they should have done better slip away,'' Hall said. "Inside this clubhouse, it's going to be way more gratifying -- way more everything -- when we do get in the playoffs.

"It's made us stronger as a team. We've had to bond, stick together way more and battle through all this stuff. We've done that; we've maintained. I don't think there's been any team in baseball that's been through what we've been through as a team and done what we've done. It's been unbelievable.''

Thursday night, the Sox send Josh Beckett to the mound to see whether they can run the table on the Angels this season, having won their first nine meetings by a combined score of 66-29. Only two games in the series have been decided by as few as two runs.

Beckett has been rocked for 21 hits and 13 runs over just 9 2/3 innings in his past two starts, with an ERA of 12.10. He has won just three games all season. But the hope remains that over his last eight starts, Beckett finds what he has been missing.

That is what this season has been -- a summer of hurt and hope. And hope has stubbornly dug in its heels on Yawkey Way.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.