With a split of a day-night doubleheader against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, the Red Sox qualified for the playoffs. They begin pursuit of their third World Series crown in seven years Friday night in Tampa Bay.
OK, so it’s not do-or-die yet, at least not mathematically. But a month of treading water and staying within striking distance, or whatever cliché you want to attach to a third-place team, has sent Boston to Florida with a chance to finally make a move without having to rely on the assistance of others.
Consider that the Red Sox just won all three series of a lengthy homestand and failed to make up any ground in the loss column. In fact, while going 14-10 in August, the club has endured an inordinately stationary stance in the standings.
Here is Boston’s daily deficit in the loss column behind Tampa Bay and/or New York (whichever was in the AL East lead) beginning Aug. 1:
6, 7, 6, 7, 6, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6.
Not a lot of movement there. It certainly does not appear as if the rest of the pack is going to fall to the Red Sox. At some point, they have to make waves themselves. Now’s their chance.
"We have to go to Tampa and at least win the series," said third baseman Adrian Beltre, who is batting .395 (17-for-43) against the Rays this year. "We are trying to go in there and maybe looking for a sweep so we can get a better chance."
A sweep means the Red Sox leave town 2 1/2 games out with 31 to play. Winning two of three leaves them 4 1/2 out heading to Baltimore. Dropping two of three would put Boston 6 1/2 back. Losing three straight would cause the fat lady to practice her Do-Re-Mi’s.
With an assist from Daisuke Matsuzaka’s creaky lower back, the pitching matchups simply add to the playoff atmosphere. If the postseason began today and Terry Francona was tasked with creating a three-man rotation, nobody would fault him for going with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey, in that order. Rays manager Joe Maddon might elect for a rotation of David Price, Matt Garza and James Shields.
As if the baseball gods wanted to ensure that everyone understood the importance of the series, we are treated with those exact trios for both teams, beginning with the Lester-Price duel that has Game 1 written all over it.
Francona, as always, is simply treating it as game one, or rather one game.
When asked what his team needed to accomplish this weekend following Wednesday’s doubleheader, Francona said: "Play good Friday."
There’s no looking beyond the game in front of him for Francona. If the Red Sox don’t do some damage in Tampa Bay, there may not be much looking beyond the regular season.
Powered by WordPress.com VIP