The last time the Boston Red Sox missed the playoffs was in 2006. Much like this season, 2006 was an injury-riddled year that most fans considered a write-off. The organization would never admit it, but it felt the same way as this year.

It was worth it though, because the very next season the Red Sox would be crowned World Series champions. However, the rings wouldn’t come without a little pain and suffering.

The Sox won just 86 games in 2006 and allowed more runs (825) than they scored (820). Outside of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, who combined to hit 89 home runs, the offense was absolutely atrocious. Curt Schilling held the pitching staff’s lowest ERA at 3.97. Could this team do anything right?

2006 wasn’t a completely horrible year though. Sox fans got a glimpse of the future.

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia would make his debut on August 22nd. After winning the Rookie of the Year Award (2007) and the MVP Award (2008), Pedroia became a fan favorite in Boston. He is without question the team leader and spokesman. Perhaps Ryan Kalish can be the 2010 version of Dustin Pedroia?

2006 would also be the breakout year for the future career saves leader, Jonathan Papelbon. As a 25-year-old rookie, Papelbon posted a 0.92 ERA and saved 35 games. Since then, he has saved 178 games.

While there were certainly bright spots such as Papelbon and Pedroia, 2006 was an extremely depressing season. Papelbon, Jason Varitek, Manny Ramirez, and Keith Foulke were each out for an extended period due to injury. As if this wasn’t bad enough, Jon Lester was diagnosed with cancer in August.

This was the worst news of all. Lester was a promising young pitcher who pitched solidly up until a few weeks before the diagnosis. Oh, and it was cancer. Nobody ever would wish that upon another human being.

The injuries to the 2006 team don’t compare to the 2010 team in the sense of number of games missed. It was more the timing of the injuries; most of them happened in August or September. The team won nine games in August and that was pretty much the end of that.

On this date in 2006, the Red Sox had a 65-45 record and were only two games behind the New York Yankees. All of a sudden, once August came and went, the season was gone.

The problem for this year’s team is that the injuries all came at once and the Red Sox were left with a AAA lineup for most of the season. The list of players who have been on the DL is so extensive, it’s laughable.

Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis (out for the rest of the season), Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, Jason Varitek, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Mike Cameron, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Lowell, Jeremy Hermida, and Daisuke Matsuzaka. This year’s team still has a fighting chance despite all the injuries and bullpen struggles in the first four-plus months.

Six players have practically carried the team on their backs through this injury-riddled season: Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Daniel Bard. Unfortunately, Kevin Youkilis is out for the rest of the season. Somebody is going to have to step up.

Terry Francona has to be given an enormous amount of credit. He has been forced to make adjustments to the lineup every day and, for the most part, it appears that he’s pressed all the right buttons.

The Red Sox are currently just five games out of first place in the American League East, with 12 games against the Rays and Yankees to wrap up the season. The Rays and Yankees are practically neck and neck atop the East, only a half game apart. Any win over either of them is a step in the right direction.

The biggest contrast regarding the complexion of the AL East now and four years ago is that the Rays were still mediocre back then. It was pretty much just the Red Sox and the Yankees. The Blue Jays finished ahead of the Sox in the final standings, but they were no better than they are now. The Sox were just that bad and had that much bad luck as far as injuries were concerned.

The Sox have actually had a lot more injury problems this year. Another key difference has been the strength of this year’s pitching staff compared to the mediocrity four years ago.

In 2006, the rotation was Josh Beckett (5.01 ERA), Curt Schilling (3.97 ERA), Tim Wakefield (4.63 ERA), Jon Lester (4.76 ERA), and Matt Clement (6.61 ERA). Julian Tavarez was also slotted as the “spot starter” who filled in because of injuries. He wasn’t very impressive either, carrying a 4.47 ERA.

This year’s regular starters have been much better. I would take a staff consisting of Jon Lester (3.07 ERA), Clay Buchholz (2.66 ERA), John Lackey (4.48 ERA), Daisuke Matsuzaka (3.96 ERA), and Tim Wakefield (5.54 ERA) over the 2006 staff any day of the week.

This year’s team has done considerably well if you take into account all the injuries. Only five games out of first place and 4.5 games out of the wild-card spot, the Red Sox have a chance to surprise everybody. If they win the division, Adrian Beltre has to be considered a favorite to win the MVP Award.

All in all, after closely analyzing both seasons, it doesn’t look like this is anything like 2006. While 2006 had a lot of key injuries, their mediocrity was more because of the players they put onto the field not performing.

The injuries the 2010 team has faced have no comparison. There have just been so many more key injuries to key players all throughout the season. There hasn’t been a day since the first week of the season that the Opening Day lineup has all been on the field.

It would seem logical to give up on this team now, but with a strong August, it’s in the playoffs. I’m not going to give up on this team but I’m not going to hold my breath. All fans have been saying is “Once this team is healthy…”

The thing is, it never will be. Maybe it’s a problem with the medical staff. The Red Sox just can’t stay healthy.

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