- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2008

The antics finally subsided - or at least got shipped out to a time zone where much of the country is asleep when teams finish their games. Now, the on-field effects of the Manny Ramirez trade actually can be considered.

Even though the enigmatic left fielder’s westward move from Boston to Los Angeles last week seemed to have nothing to do with results, the three-team trade could alter two division races.

Ramirez’s protracted falling-out with the Boston Red Sox finally ended Thursday with the trade that sent him to the Dodgers and moved Pittsburgh outfielder Jason Bay to the Red Sox. It paired Ramirez with longtime nemesis Joe Torre, of all people, and had Boston reshaping its lineup with its playoff prospects as tenuous as ever.

With the Dodgers now boasting the middle-of-the-order presence they have lacked all year and the Red Sox clubhouse a happier (if slightly less talented) one, the last two months in the NL West and the AL East should be interesting.

The Dodgers batted Ramirez cleanup in his first game Friday night, and with Matt Kemp, Casey Blake and Russell Martin hitting in front of him, their lineup immediately looked more imposing.

It might not stay in that configuration, but he and Blake (Los Angeles’ other new acquisition) give the Dodgers what might be the division’s best lineup. A team that has been lurking just behind the Arizona Diamondbacks all season might have the push it needs to overtake them, and Ramirez’s typical postseason heroics could play themselves out against a league that now has two months to solve one of the smartest hitters of his generation.

The unknown in all this, of course, is how all the things that got Ramirez shipped out of Boston - his antics - will play with the Dodgers. But if there’s one manager accustomed to dealing with distractions, it’s Torre.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, had enough of them, which is why they decided to part with Ramirez. It’s a calculated gamble; Bay, though a former All-Star, is no Ramirez, and Boston’s executives easily could have held their noses for three more months, made another playoff run with Ramirez and let him depart in free agency.

Now the Red Sox instead will find out how much a serene clubhouse is worth. They still have a lineup with few holes but no player other than David Ortiz who’s capable of Ramirez’s level of production.

Their division is more complicated than usual, too. The Rays didn’t make any moves at the deadline but have stretched their lead over Boston to three games. And right behind the Red Sox are the Yankees, who bolstered their lineup and at least stabilized their bullpen with a flurry of moves that looked like a remote possibility when the team was floundering at the beginning of last month.

The Red Sox also could get wild card heat from whichever team doesn’t win the AL Central title, meaning their new lineup will have to be sharp over the last two months to hold a playoff spot.

At this point, the trajectory of Ramirez’s new team and that of his old one are tough to define. Both teams could miss the playoffs - or they could wind up facing each other in the World Series. It should be fun to watch.

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