The Red Sox enter the fourth-quarter of 2013 this week in Toronto with a precarious hold on first-place in the American League East.
Last season couldn't end soon enough.
This season has flown by, thanks in part to the Bruins keeping most of us pre-occupied until the end of June.
The Red Sox have 42 games remaining after Sunday's 4-3 loss in Kansas City. They have amassed the second-best record in the American League [behind only Detroit] despite the lack of a firm No. 1 starter since the time Bruins were playing Pittsburgh and with a closer who had not recorded a save since 2009 before this season.
Talk about a balancing act, even David Ortiz [at right] had trouble finding his footing in Kansas City.
Seven weeks from today, the Red Sox will either be trying to figure their postseason rotation, hoping Jake Peavy [just a hunch] can deliver in a one-game playoff or be shifting through the rubble of a season that had rekindled much of the passion for this team that had been flushed down the toilet over the previous 20 months.
As Bill Parcells would say: "The Red Sox are what they are." They've played 120 games already - again, hard to believe - and it defies logic to expect any major transformation one way or another. But that's what everyone thought in 2011, when "the greatest team of all time" had a nine-game lead over Tampa Bay in the wild-card race on Sept. 3 and a 99.6 percent chance of making the postseason.
The Red Sox have left us in an interesting position. You can either look at this team as its own entity - and say they're pretty much where they're going to be - in the thick of the pennant race. They're not good enough to completely pull away from Tampa Bay but they won't implode either.
And before we point out any shortcomings, and you know we will, remember this team is 71-49. And if you want to measure progress, just click on this link to see where things stood a year-ago Wednesday.
Plenty of people can only see the Red Sox through the prism of what happened during the Great Fall of 2011 and the Game of Thrones-like Winter of 2012. Why not? This team violated its fan base so badly in the previous two seasons that the only way to winning back the public trust by winning some "October baseball."
My Red Sox DNA would point me toward that later perception about 99.6 percent of the time. There's nothing we love to do more than bring back the ghost of Red Sox season's past whenever it's time to worry about what's going to happen once the Patriots begin the preseason.
September collapses and October nightmares were the storyline of my youth, not only in what I witnessed, but what was taught to me by my Red Sox Elders.
The Red Sox dominated the first decade of this millennium. But was that an aberration or the new normal? The identity of this team has morphed back into a more racially diverse version of "Our Father's Red Sox" in the past five years.
The most damning piece of evidence is that the fact that the Red Sox have not won a playoff game in.....drum-roll please: 1759 days. That drought has arrived despite a flood of cash.
Factoring in 2013 thus far, John Henry and Friends have spent about $750 million since that Game 6 win over the Rays in the 2008 ALCS [give or take a few per diems] for all that futility and frustration.
Xander Bogaerts will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, finish with a career .521 batting average, be baseball's greatest shortstop since Honus Wagner and its best third baseman this side of Mike Schmidt, or so I've been told. But he can't pitch out of the bullpen or anchor the rotation. That is where the biggest weakness of this team remains and will be its eventual downfall or greatest overcome obstacle, depending on how things go.
The Red Sox are what we think they are this season after 120 games. This isn't 2011 and there's no reason to expect any sort of dynamic disaster come September. If we're to believe the hype - the best ever player in the history of the Red Sox yet to play for the Red Sox [Bogaerts] isn't even playing. And best pitcher on the roster through the first two months of the season, Clay Buchholz, hasn't pitched since June 8. So help indeed may be on the way.
Buchholz should be with the team by sometime in September - of 2018 - or when A-Rod comes clean, whatever comes first.
Even with Mike Napoli on pace to strikeout 352,857,912 times this season [actually it's only 209], the glass is more than half-full for the Red Sox, especially given the competition in the A.L. East. The fact that Napoli's original three-year, $39 million deal was voided after he failed a physical was karma's way of helping to negate Jack Clark's deal.
Boston is getting help from the most unexpected places this season, as well. Over the weekend, Gonzalez belted a two-run homer Saturday and drove in a pair of runs Sunday to power the Dodgers past Tampa Bay both days, allowing the Red Sox to leave Kansas City witha three-game lead despite losing three of four to the Sons of George Brett. He may end up helping the Red Sox as a team more in 2013 from Los Angeles than he ever did Boston or in the MLB Fan Cave in 2011.
Today, we'll take a look at 10 key games to watch over the final seven weeks of this season:
1. Friday, vs. Yankees: Nineteen of Boston's final 39 games are against either the Yankees or Orioles, starting with this one. A-Rod comes to town. There will be plenty of roid rage - at least in the stands at Fenway. The most sickening part of the A-Fraud fiasco thus far was this paragraph via ESPN.COM describing his solo shot in Sunday's 5-4 win over Detroit:
It was Rodriguez's 648th career homer; he's now just 12 homers shy of tying Willie Mays on the all-time list. If Rodriguez ties Mays, he will get a $6 million bonus.
It's not so much the $6 million bonus that's depressing to read rather it's the fact that A-Rod's name is now being used in the same sentence as "Willie Mays" without the words "could not hold his jock."
Many fans in New York cheered A-Rod Sunday, why are we not surprised?
2. Monday, Aug 19, at San Francisco: After wrapping up a three-game series against the Yankees with a Sunday night affair, the Red Sox will head straight to AT&T Park for three games against the Giants. The tattered rotation will be put to the test with a stretch of nine games in nine days. Who knows, maybe Tim Wakefield might be back by then. Don't forget - no DH, either.
3. Friday, Aug. 23, at Los Angeles: Both Gonzalez and Crawford are finally producing for the Dodgers. Will it be payback time for them against their former team? Given their past history of wilting under pressure when the Red Sox are on the field, expect a three-game sweep by Boston unless they have to face Clayton Kershaw during that series. Right now, it appears they may luck out.
4. Thursday, Aug. 29, vs. Baltimore: This will be the third game in a three-game series against their toughest opponents of late. If the Red Sox can manage to win at least two of three against Baltimore and Chris Davis doesn't single-handedly demolish the Green Monster or Boston's pitching staff, they will have plenty of confidence heading into September,
5. Monday, Sept, 2, vs. Detroit: Jose Iglesias comes back to town on Labor Day in perhaps a preview of the ALCS. Hopefully, his glove will be adjusted by then. The Tigers' lineup should provide the toughest test for Boston's rotation for the rest of the season. He'll likely match up against Peavy during this series so we'll be able to determine once and for all if the Red Sox made the right move in the three-team deal sent Iggy packing. By this time, rosters would have been expanded and Bogearts should be with the team unless Class AAA Pawtucket makes a run and makes the International League playoffs.
6. Sunday, Sept. 8, at Yankees: The Red Sox play their final game in the Bronx in 2013. By this time, the Yankees should be an afterthought in the pennant race and the Red Sox should be leaving New York in much better shape than they were when they left New York for the final time in 2012 - a season-capping 14-2 loss.
7. Tuesday, Sept 10, at Tampa Bay: It will be Boston's first visit to Tropicana Field since they lost 2-1 to the Rays two weeks ago. The victory briefly put Tampa Bay in first place and trigged this Twitter spat between the two clubs:
27 34 Rays fans joined in the fun on Twitter. The jab prompted a slew of comebacks from Red Sox fans across social media, in addition to this response from the official @RedSox feed:
Don't worry @raysbaseball we look forward to seeing you in Tampa in September for our home games at the Trop.— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) July 30, 2013
Of course the Rays play in St. Petersburg and not Tampa, but the Red Sox made their point. We'll see if they can back it up.
8. Friday, Sept. 20, vs. Blue Jays: John Farrell gets one final last laugh against his former team, which was a consensus pick by many to win the A.L. East. By the time this three-game series rolls around, the Jays will be close to mathematical elimination, if not already on the wrong side of it. A three-game series with "trap games" written all over it.
9 Tuesday, Sept, 24 at Colorado: WTF is up with this one? Thank you, interleague play. Amid a run of games against A.L. East opponents, the Red Sox take an off-day after a three-game series at home against Toronto, travel across two time zones to play a pair of games in Denver, then head to Baltimore to close out the season. The weather in Denver in late September offers a wide-range of options, from snow flurries to 80-plus degree temperatures. Expect plenty of built-in excuses if they drop these two.
10. Saturday, Sept. 28 at Baltimore: The last time the Red Sox played a game in Baltimore on Sept. 28, it dragged into Sept. 29, eventually capping a collapse rivaled in this century only by the 2008 stock market crash, Tiger Woods' marriage or Lindsay Lohan's career. This game may be their chance to exorcise the Curse of the Andino. The season ends on Sept. 29, but hopefully that game won't mean anything for all the right reasons.
Get your popcorn ready and pass the clicker.
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