Red Sox Face Make-Or-Break Stretch To Begin Second Half Of 2014 Season

Jonny Gomes, Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, David OrtizBOSTON — It’s make-or-break time for the Red Sox.

The Red Sox enter the second half of the 2014 season facing a 9 1/2-game deficit in the American League East. Eight games separate Boston from the second wild card spot in the AL. While the Red Sox aren’t ready to wave the white flag on their World Series defense, the next two weeks will decide their fate.

The Red Sox kick off the second half with three games against the Kansas City Royals over the weekend at Fenway Park. After that, Boston’s next 13 games are against divisional opponents, meaning the Red Sox have a golden opportunity to make headway and jump back into playoff contention. They also could seal their status as a pretender rather than a contender.

“Given where we are right now, yes,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Thursday at Fenway Park when asked whether it’s fair to consider the upcoming stretch a make-or-break period. “That’s not to add pressure. That’s to say there’s some additional significance when you play the teams ahead of you. After we get through Kansas City, we’ve got the next 13 (games) or four consecutive series of teams ahead of us. Sixty-seven games remaining, each one has increasing significance as we go.”

The Red Sox will travel to Toronto on Monday for four games against the Blue Jays. They’ll then head to St. Petersburg for three games against the Tampa Bay Rays before returning home to host the Jays for three more games and the New York Yankees for three games. The July 31 trade deadline falls in the middle of the crucial stretch, and the Red Sox’s approach — whether they’re buyers or sellers — could be determined by how they respond to the heightened pressure coming out of the All-Star break.

“Look, I think this division is wide open. We’ve seen that,” Red Sox assistant general manager Mike Hazen said Thursday on WEEI’s “Trade Deadline Show.” “It’s been decimated with injuries to some level — not necessarily to us, by and large, but to our competitors — and this team is still a pretty talented team as far as I look at it. It hasn’t come together in the exact same way as it did last year. We didn’t do as good a job in the offseason to put all the people together to see this team go out there and perform the way we wanted it to. But you watch these guys prepare, you watch the staff go about it, getting these guys ready to go, it’s very much like it was in 2013. The attitude every day in the clubhouse is the same that it was in 2013.”

There was a certain level of frustration in the Red Sox’s clubhouse early last week, as Boston went 1-7 to begin a recent 10-game homestand. However, the Sox won four of their final five games before the break, including two in walk-off fashion. They’re showing life — even offensively — and it’s reasonable to think the Red Sox could jump back into the mix if they’re able to sustain the momentum.

“The second wild card is what’s changed everything,” Hazen said Thursday. “So many teams have avenues if they go on a run to get into the postseason, and getting into the postseason is the ultimate (goal). It’s all any of us want to do. If you see that avenue, and it’s available to you, even to get into the second wild card, which wasn’t available to us a couple of years ago, I think that’s changed the direction of the trading deadline more than anything else.”

The Red Sox (43-52) entered the All-Star break with their worst winning percentage (.453) since the 1997 club went 38-48 in the first half. Their 9 1/2-game hole in the AL East is the smallest margin among Major League Baseball’s last-place teams, though, and it soon could shrink if the Red Sox rise to the occasion over the next couple of weeks.

The Red Sox’s season currently hangs in the balance. But Boston won’t be in limbo for much longer.

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