So, at the risk of sounding over-dramatic, the Red Sox are about to open a big, big series.
The Sox limp home after dropping five out of seven on the West Coast, losing a handful of heartbreakers to the lowly Mariners and the A's, after leaving Boston with hopes of sustaining some momentum.
They headed out on the road trip a season-high five games over .500 and return just two games over. They lost just one game in the standings, but they still sit 7 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the AL East race.
Ah, the Yankees.
New York is in town for four starting on Friday night, with a day-night doubleheader mixed in there on Saturday. It will mark the final series of the unofficial first half, a three-and-a-half-month stretch of baseball that could be described as tumultuous at best.
Things haven't gone swimmingly for the Red Sox this season, not by a long shot, and that was only further proved over the last week. Yet, through all of the ups and downs and the undesirable position in the standings, the Sox could be looking at a springboard type of weekend.
Or, they could be look at a weekend where they plummet out of any sort of legitimate contention.
These are the types of series that you can often look back on at the end of the year and say, "That's where the season was made" or "That's where the season was broken."
It happened in 2004 for the Red Sox, against the Yankees no less. They took two out of three in a weekend series at Fenway, a series that will always be remembered as the weekend that Jason Varitek fed his catcher's mitt to Alex Rodriguez. A nasty brawl ensued, and a few hours later, Bill Mueller's walk-off home run changed the course of the season. The Sox went 45-20 from that point on, and you know what happened from there.
It also happened in August of 2006, but with a far different outcome. Again, it was the Yankees, and again it was at Fenway, but the results were much, much different. The Bombers came in and steamrolled the Red Sox, sweeping Boston away in a five-game series in which they pounded out 53 runs over the weekend series. That was the unoffical end to that season for the Red Sox.
It's weird that in a monotonous sport with a drawn-out schedule, one weekend can swing the momentum of a season, but it seems to happen every season. We could be looking at that type of series, against the Yankees again no less, for the Red Sox this weekend.
However, if that's going to happen, they're gonna have to turn things around. Right now, it all starts with the offense. Boston scored just 14 runs in their seven games out West.
If there's a silver lining when it comes to the offense, though, it's that they are returning home. One of the reasons you could start to feel better about this team was the offensive production they showed on the last homestand. The Sox lit up the scoreboard over their last homestand, scoring 67 runs over nine games. They've been uncharacteristically average at home this season, something that obviously needs to change if they're going to make this interesting.
It won't be easy to get the offense going, however. The Yankees, despite their depleted pitching staff, have found ways to get by recently. Hiroki Kuroda is finally starting to look like the pitcher the Yankees thought they were getting. Phil Hughes hasn't been dreadful, which is a nice change of pace for him. Ivan Nova continues to be rock solid. All three will pitch this weekend.
As it always seems to happen, this series comes in the middle of some volatile times for the Red Sox. The series will be on a national stage with FOX and ESPN broadcasts on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. No doubt David Ortiz's latest comments about his contract will be rehashed again and again. Terry Francona will be back at Fenway as part of the ESPN broadcast on Sunday night.
As is always the case when the Yankees come to town, Fenway Park will be the de facto big top for another three-ring circus.
There's a lot on the line. We're entering the make-or-break time of the year. Four more games, and we're at the All-Star break. From there, you're left to take stock of where you're at in the standings, deciding what the rest of the season will mean to your team.
It's only four games on the schedule, and the new playoff format means that a poor weekend doesn't necessarily mean the season is over.
But as the past has shown, it's often just one or two series that can go a long way in telling the story of a season. Don't be surprised if this weekend is one of those series for the 2012 Red Sox.