The Red Sox are lucky they aren't using this off-day to reflect upon a sweep at the hands of the Rangers. Their ninth-inning comeback on Friday swung the wild-card race two games in their favor, but after dropping the final two games of the series, the Red Sox are now sitting a half-game out in the wild card.
On Aug. 4, the Red Sox began a 32-game gauntlet that would decide whether the Patriots and Bruins would be the only Boston sports teams playing in October. And over the last 13 days, the Red Sox have done little to prove that Fenway Park will be open after Game 162.
Since the start of the 32-game stretch, the Red Sox are 4-9 and 1-8 against teams not named the Detroit Tigers. Just one hitter on the team (Jason Bay) is hitting .300 or better, and the pitching staff has pitched to a 4.56 ERA.
Just one win and no losses now separates the Red Sox and Rangers for the wild-card lead, but the teams have taken two different paths to get so close in the standings.
The Red Sox backed into their position by losing 17 of 29 since the All-Star break. The Rangers got to where they are by taking 18 of 29 over the same stretch. Two teams so close in the standings, but going in completely different directions.
The Red Sox have entered scoreboard watching mode, and now need to keep close tabs on the Rangers and the Rays. If the Red Sox are playing baseball in October, it's because they beat out those two teams for the wild card.
Sitting 7 1/2 games back of the Yankees in the East, the division race is over as far as the Red Sox are concerned. The Bombers need to play just .500 ball the rest of the way to finish with 96 wins, and who really sees the Yankees (winners of 12 of their last 14) playing at a .500 clip over the last 44 games?
After the Yankees swept the Red Sox a week ago, Bostonians needed to be talked off the Tobin Bridge with the division turning from a race to a rout. The four-game series win of the Tigers looked like it had instilled some confidence back into the Nation, but the Rangers quickly extinguished that fire, proving once against the Red Sox can't win on the road.
Playing against four straight contenders over the last 13 days, all of the Red Sox' weaknesses have been exposed. Theo Epstein's roster looks like a bad fantasy team, auto-picked by the computer after missing the draft. Too many first baseman, not enough starting pitchers, a strange array of outfielders and some players without a set position.
Before taking three of four from the Tigers, the last time the Red Sox won a series against a team with a winning record was June 26-28 against the Braves. And the last time they won a series against an AL team with a winning record was June 9-11 against the Yankees.
That presents a bit of a problem for Terry Francona's club, considering 14 of their next 20 games come against teams with winning records. And those other six games are against the Blue Jays, who have Roy Halladay, whom the Red Sox will face twice.
This week alone, the Red Sox will see Ricky Romero (10-5, 3.70), Halladay (13-5, 2.65), Brett Cecil (5-1, 4.35), Andy Pettitte (9-6, 4.09), A.J. Burnett (10-5, 3.71) and CC Sabathia (13-7, 3.64). Boston will oppose those six with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and pray for rain.
If the Red Sox can stay afloat until Sept. 8, when they play the Orioles and Royals a combined nine times in 15 games, they should be in decent postseason position for the final two weeks of the season. And if they can't, they will miss out on the playoffs for the second time in four seasons.
One month ago to the day, the Red Sox had a three-game lead in the AL East. That seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?
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