Recently, all eyes in Red Sox land had been on the team?s difficult schedule to end the month of May. There were seven straight opponents with winning records. The run featured three division leaders. It was billed as the true test for an up-and-down Boston ball club.
At a glance, the series in Detroit midway through the stretch was the one which many glossed over. Not only were the Yankees, Twins, Phillies and Rays on the horizon (four teams a combined 43 games above .500 entering Sunday?s action), but the Tigers were throwing three pitchers who wouldn?t strike fear into the PawSox, much less one of the best offenses in the majors.
But after a bullpen collapse Saturday, the Boston bats were put to rest in a 5-1 loss in Detroit on Sunday and the club limps into the Bronx to face the Yankees and early Cy Young Award frontrunner Phil Hughes, who dominated the Sox at Fenway Park last weekend.
It was another lost weekend in Motown, as Boston dropped to 4-5 since the strenuous stretch began, fell back to .500 and finds itself now 7 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East.
While the gauntlet technically began over a week ago, it takes on a more challenging route beginning in the Bronx. New York has already won four of six against Boston in 2010 and claimed the last seven meetings in Yankee Stadium last year.
And while the Yankees have the red-hot Hughes and CC Sabathia on the mound, the Sox counter with Daisuke Matsuzaka?s 6.35 ERA and Josh Beckett, who carries a 7.46 mark, is returning from back spasms which robbed him of a start and has given up 22 runs in 18 innings in his last three outings against New York.
Not the best of odds.
Hughes allowed two runs and struck out seven in seven innings of a 10-3 win in Boston on May 7. He is tied for the American League lead in wins and tops the junior circuit in ERA (1.38), WHIP (0.92) and opponents? batting average (.165). In addition, he will face a Red Sox lineup that scored one run in its last 16 innings over the weekend against Triple-A call-up Armando Galarraga and a host of Tigers relievers.
The Boston lineup Sunday against Galarraga was one which nobody could have foreseen when the season began. With Dustin Pedroia out with a sore left knee, Jeremy Hermida was batting second and Bill Hall was at second base for just the 15th time since 2005. Mike Lowell was at third base for the fourth time all year and the bottom third of the lineup consisted of the not-so-daunting trio of Jason Varitek, Hall and Jonathan Van Every.
With John Lackey struggling for the second straight start, the offense was in catch-up mode from the beginning. Another non-quality start in a season which has seen plenty.
It all adds up to a tenuous feeling as the team heads to New York to continue what many felt was the toughest test of the season. After the troublesome weekend in Detroit, a passing grade may be hard to come by.