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Health, deadline key issues for Sox

<p>The Red Sox return to action tonight at Fenway Park against the Rangers.</p>

The Red Sox return to action tonight at Fenway Park against the Rangers.


But whether or not the Sox will make the postseason for a franchise-record fourth consecutive season depends on exactly when all the key players return.


Injuries did not cripple Boston in the first half, as they still managed to post a 51-37 record, the fourth-best in the majors. But a continued absence of key personnel threatens to short-circuit the Sox in the second half.


Health, and a little late-July magic from GM Theo Epstein, is what will be needed to overtake either the Rays or Yankees for a postseason berth.


Some of the injury woes could soon be over. Manny Delcarmen (forearm) will make a rehab appearance for Double-A Portland tonight. That begins a series of rehab outings for injured pitchers, with Clay Buchholz (hamstring) and Josh Beckett (back) set to pitch Friday and Saturday for Triple-A Pawtucket.


Dustin Pedroia (foot), to the surprise of no one, is optimistic about an earlier-than-expected return, but Victor Martinez (thumb) is not as close. And that, coupled with Jason Varitek’s injury, could necessitate the first in a series of moves by Epstein to keep the team afloat.


Foremost on the trade manifest is middle relief. Before his injury, Delcarmen was enjoying arguably his best season. But outside of him and Daniel Bard, none of the setup men could make such a claim.


Epstein has had success pillaging the Pirates at trade-deadline time in the past. Could closer Octavio Dotel be the latest prize?

 
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