Thursday marks the start of the second half of the baseball season as the hardball schedule starts its collision course with the dog days of summer. This is where we find out if the surprise teams that not many had on their radar at the beginning of the season (we’re looking at you, San Diego) can hang on when the games start to mean more and more.
As for the Red Sox, you may have heard something about their injury problems in the first half. The second half marks a new start, and luckily for the Red Sox, it’s starting to look like they’re going to slowly but surely start to get some help as players start to come back. General manager Theo Epstein may or may not make a deal at the July 31 trading deadline. Either way, the Red Sox will have players on their roster in the second half that they didn’t for most of the first half.
The schedule for the second half isn’t going to be easy. Of the 17 teams in baseball right now with winning records, ESPN.com claims that the Red Sox have the eighth-toughest schedule the rest of the way. They have 39 games left with teams that have .500 records or better. That means that even more than usual, the second half of the season is going to see its share of important games.
Here are the top 10 most important series for the Red Sox in the season’s second half.
Sept. 20-22, Orioles at Red SoxChances are, this three-game set at Fenway isn’t going to decide the division, the wild card or anything playoff-related, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an important series. Among others, this is the type of series the Red Sox have to win — even sweep — to stay in the AL East and wild card races.
This series becomes even more important when you factor in the Red Sox’ success — or lack thereof — against the O’s this season. The Red Sox have a pedestrian 6-6 record this year against the Orioles, a team that the Sox have notoriously beaten up on.
This series marks the last time the two teams will meet and it precedes a 10-game stretch to end the season in which the Red Sox face the White Sox and Yankees — but more on that later.
July 30-Aug. 1, Tigers at Red SoxThe Red Sox and the Tigers met back in May and the Tigers took the series, winning two of three at Comerica Park. That included a 12-inning game that the Tigers were able to win. But this series is more important for its playoff implications than for settling scores.
The Tigers are right behind the White Sox in the AL Central standings, but more importantly, they’re right on the heels of the Red Sox in the wild card standings.
Of course, as of right now, the Red Sox will have to go through the Yankees (AL East leaders) and the Rays (wild card leaders), but if either of them drops off the pace at all, a series with the playoff-contending Tigers could loom large.
Aug. 2-5, Indians at Red SoxAgain, like the Orioles series, this one isn’t a real attention-grabber when you look at the second-half schedule. However’ there’s more than meets the eye.
This could potentially be a huge series for the Sox. Outside of the Orioles, the Indians have the worst record in the AL, and a four-game series at home could be what the Red Sox need to start some sort of hot streak.
Also adding to the intrigue of this series is the actual date. Early August is a crucial time for teams across baseball. If the Red Sox are able to make a deal at the trading deadline, the early part of this month is where the new players will get their feet wet with the team in time for the stretch run.
Aug. 27-29, Red Sox at RaysFinally, the big boys. The implications of this series speak for themselves. The AL East is wide open, just like the wild card. And chances are, when the Red Sox and Rays meet for a three-game series in late August at Tropicana Field, it’s going to mean something.
For the Sox, this series marks their last trip to Tampa of the season. They’ve lost eight of 12 to the Rays already this season, so these games will be that much more important. And if the Red Sox are still looking up at the Rays in either race — division or wild card — there’s no better way to make up ground than to beat the teams you’re chasing.
Aug. 13-15, Red Sox at RangersThe Red Sox will welcome the Rangers to Fenway Park for a four-game series to start the second half, but this series in the heart of Texas and in the middle of August will be a real test for the Red Sox.
The Red Sox took two of the three between these two teams in late April, but this is a much-improved Rangers team. In fact, since that series, the Rangers are 44-29. They lead the AL West right now and made a sizable splash when they acquired Cliff Lee last week.
The three-game set will mark the end of a crucial 10-game trip in which the Red Sox go to New York, Toronto and of course Texas. This trip and this series could decide a lot.
Sept. 24-26, Red Sox at YankeesThe Yankees’ first appearance on this list won’t be their last. When the Red Sox and the Yankees meet, it’s always a big deal, but when they meet at the end of the year, it’s even bigger. This three-game set in the Bronx in late September marks the Red Sox’ last trip of the regular season to Yankee Stadium.
More importantly though, it begins a pivotal 10-game stretch to end the season. After finishing off the three in New York, the Red Sox head straight to Chicago to meet the White Sox before returning home to finish the season with the Yankees.
Like they have against the Rays, the Sox have struggled with the Yankees this season. They’re only 3-5 against the Bombers, but they’ve got 10 games to redeem themselves in the second half, including this series.
It’s a huge stretch for the Red Sox and they can set the tone for the last week or so of the season with a strong series in New York.
Sept. 27-30, Red Sox at White SoxThis series is part of that potentially killer 10-game stretch to end the season.This four-game trip to the South Side of Chicago is important for many reasons.
First, the White Sox are actually a pretty good team. They went to the All-Star break with a slight lead in the AL Central over the Tigers and they’ve positioned themselves to at least be around for a while in the hunt for the playoffs. The loss of Jake Peavy, though, could really hurt, but they’re certainly not a team to sleep on.
Because this series is sandwiched between six games with the Yankees, it could be a trap series. For the Red Sox’ sake, you’ve got to hope the six games with the Yankees will mean something in the playoff situation, and if that’s the case, these three with the White Sox become that much more important. The six showdowns with the Yanks will be important, but it’d be a shame if the Red Sox let their guard down in Chicago and it cost them a trip to the playoffs.
Aug. 6-9, Red Sox at YankeesIf the Red Sox want the regular season games in late September and the first weekend of October to truly matter, they’re going to have to do well in series like this one. This four-game set in the Bronx could decide what direction the Red Sox will be heading in for the final two months.
Again, with this series starting a week after the trading deadline, it will be a good opportunity for any new acquisitions to come in and prove their worth with no better place to do so than against the Yankees in New York.
Additionally, this series may mark the first time in a long time that the Red Sox have the roster they envisioned they’d have for the entire year. Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek are hopeful they can return by early August, and what better time to do so than right before a huge four-game series with the Bombers?
Sept. 6-8, Rays at Red SoxPlain and simple, the Yankees look good again this year. Real good. So let’s say they run away with the AL East. The team left, posing the biggest threat to the Red Sox’ chance at the playoffs? It’s got to be the Rays.
The Sox will get their last crack at the Rays in the first full week of September. If the Red Sox are playing for the wild card and can keep the distance close between the Rays and themselves, this could be a huge series for the Red Sox to grab the lead and run with it.
Oct. 1-3, Yankees at Red SoxSurprise, surprise. A lot of things can change between now and October, but as it stands right now, this series could be huge. If the Red Sox are trailing the Yankees in the division by fewer than three games, these games are obviously that much more important. Also, the Red Sox could get hot at some point in the second half, a la 2004, and have the division lead when the Yankees come to town with a chance to clinch against their rivals.
This series also marks the end of that potentially make-or-break 10-game stretch with the Yankees and White Sox. The two teams will end the year in the same place they started it — Fenway Park — and there could be an awful lot riding on those three games.