It’s hard to believe an August series against the Baltimore Orioles is so important for the Boston Red Sox.
But baseball is weird.
It’s not just the upcoming weekend series that holds a lot of weight for the future of the Red Sox and their standing in the American League wild-card race. It’s the two that follow, as well. After they wrap up in Baltimore, the Red Sox will return home to welcome the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays — two teams Boston has yet to beat in a series this season — to Fenway Park.
Struggles have followed Boston all season, but they have been most prevalent against AL East opponents. The Red Sox did win their series against the New York Yankees last weekend, and technically they won their “series” against the Orioles on Aug. 11 even though it was just one game. But they now have three games against Baltimore and a chance to cover ground in the playoff chase.
If the 2022 Major League Baseball season ended Aug. 19, the Red Sox would be on the outside looking in at the postseason. Boston dropped to five games below the third wild-card spot after Thursday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, only amplifying the importance of the next three series.
What the Red Sox can’t do, however, is play like they did Thursday. They quickly fell behind 2-0 to the Pirates and kind of trudged the rest of the way through the game, not amassing back-to-back hits until the eighth inning.
“We didn’t make adjustments. We didn’t put pressure on (JT Brubaker). From pitch one, he was on the attack and we kept swinging,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters after the loss, as seen on NESN’s postgame coverage. ” … We’re better than this. We didn’t swing at strikes. That’s the bottom line.”
The biggest example of “we didn’t swing at strikes” came when the Red Sox had the bases loaded in the eighth inning with Alex Verdugo at the plate. The outfielder, who’s been hot for Boston all summer, swung at a slider that was off the plate on a 3-2 count to end the inning.
With teams like the Blue Jays and the Rays on the schedule next week, the Red Sox will need to make adjustments when they see fit and not fall right into panic mode.
The Blue Jays, who were 4-8 against the Yankees this season going into the first of a four-game set Thursday, beat New York handily 9-2. The Bronx Bombers are in a bit of a slump, going 3-7 in their last 10.
Some bad news for the Red Sox, though, is that even though Toronto has struggled against teams in the AL East this year, it’s made easy work of Boston, going 10-3 against its rival.
Of course, the Red Sox could surprise everyone and sweep the Jays out of Fenway, but the offense will need to not play desperate baseball like we saw Thursday. J.D. Martinez will need to break out of his slump, while Verdugo and Christian Arroyo will need to continue seeing the ball well.
The Red Sox have to hope Nathan Eovaldi doesn’t get skipped in the rotation again after missing Thursday’s start with a sore trap muscle, Josh Winckowski needs to find his groove again, Nick Pivetta needs to pitch how he did Wednesday and the bullpen needs to continue to hold onto slim leads.
It’s not a big ask.
While these series are important to the Blue Jays and the Rays, who have identical 63-54 records and are just 2 1/2 games ahead of the Orioles, thee next three series really could make or break the Red Sox’s season. It could be the difference between giving fans hope for baseball beyond the regular season or digging themselves into a near-impossible hole to get out of.
A lot of things need to go right for Boston, and it’s up to the players to make sure that happens. At the end of the day, the Red Sox certainly have their work cut out for them.
We’ll see if Boston can put Thursday’s game behind it and begin this stretch on a high note. Friday’s first pitch from Camden Yards is set for 7:05 p.m. ET, and you can catch all the action beginning at 6 p.m. on NESN.