Of course, the How to Make the Postseason Without an Ulcer handbook doesn’t advise getting swept by the Rays and Yankees to open a stretch of 33 games against first- or second-place AL teams. But nobody said being a champion would be easy.
Instead of focusing on everything the Red Sox did bad the last week, look at the possibilities.
They were up 2-0 on the Rays in the bottom of the seventh inning of the series opener at Tropicana Field and seven outs from getting off on the right foot. Tampa Bay is a strong club, but perhaps if Boston takes Game 1, the Red Sox sweep the two-game set and arrive in the Bronx with a different mindset.
The only game they had no right to win in Gotham was the 13-6 shellacking at Yankee Stadium. Had the Red Sox forgone their best San Diego Padres imitation and remembered to pack their bats, it was a winnable series – or at the very least, a splittable one.
Right now, the pinstripes are playing like the best team in baseball. However, a lot can change in eight weeks. On June 15, the Red Sox were two games up on the Yankees in the AL East and the favorites to win the World Series in many debates. With six head-to-head games against the pinstripes remaining, it’s too soon to concede anything. Combine a big Red Sox winning streak with a long Yankees losing streak, and Boston is right back in business.
Daniel Bard needs a good case of amnesia to regain his confidence. Three forgettable outings is not the end of the world. Even Hall of Famers have brief bad stretches, and pitching in playoff-like-pressure situations can only serve Bard well the rest of the way (don’t be surprised if that peach fuzz grows into a thick beard by the time he takes the mound again). The 24-year-old reliever still has electric stuff and should continue to be trusted out of the bullpen. As long as he paints corners and keeps hitters guessing, he will be racking more zeroes than crooked numbers.
The offense will come around. Hitting is contagious. All it takes is for the lineup (Nos. 1-9) to start grinding out at-bats, taking good hacks and not letting pitchers off the hook by swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. Remember the approach that helped put all those runs on the board in the first half, and soon, all those balls getting caught will start to fall and find the gaps.
A little bit of run support goes a long way for starting pitchers. Every little psychological edge counts, and nothing makes a pitcher’s job easier than a lead. Aside from Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, the staff has some questions marks, but the Red Sox should be able to find six quality innings per outing among Clay Buchholz, Brad Penny, Junichi Tazawa, Tim Wakefield, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Paul Byrd.
Theo Epstein is not done working the phones. Until that Sept. 1 waiver trade deadline hits, roster reinforcements could be coming.
Keep hope alive. One awful week in August doesn’t mean the season is over.
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