In retrospect, maybe this homestand isn’t going to be such a cakewalk after all. With six games to go until the All-Star break, the Red Sox suddenly seem to be holding on for dear life.
Meanwhile, the American League playoff races are starting to get interesting again.
True confession: When the Red Sox left Baltimore last week following Wednesday’s dramatic come-from-behind victory, some of us -- foolishly, in hindsight -- thought the final homestand before the All-Star break would be tantamount to senior week. The Sox could show up drunk on Sunday and still graduate. All that stood between the Sox and, say, a 55-33 record at intermission was a 7-3 stroll through the mudroom that contained the Mariners, A’s, and Royals.
Of course, that was before the Sox dropped 2 of 3 to Seattle -- Boston’s first series loss since June 5-7 against Texas -- and lost last night’s series opener to Koufaxian lefthander Brett Anderson. Minus Dustin Pedroia, Mike Lowell, and even Jeff Bailey -- who ever thought we’d be saying that -- the Sox managed just two hits and struck out nine times with a lineup that featured Julio Lugo, Nick Green, Rocco Baldelli, and Aaron Bates.
Not exactly the names Theo Epstein had on his menu last winter, eh?
Entering tonight’s affair behind ace Josh Beckett, the Sox are a completely illogical 6-13 against the AL West this season, going winless in six series pending the outcome of the current three-game set against the A’s. (They are 15-4-2 in series against everyone else.) Peerless gunslingers against most everyone in baseball, the Sox turn into the gang that couldn’t shoot straight when venturing into the new West.
So what is it? Are the Sox simply banged up? Are they looking ahead to a well-deserved vacation? Are they bored?
All of the above?
"I don’t see that happening here,’’ Francona said when asked if the Sox might have been taking anything for granted of late. "I think guys get excited having a few days off, but I don’t see that as a problem.’’
Nor should he. Nothing in recent history suggests that the Red Sox are the type of team to suffer worrisome lapses. Generally speaking, the Sox show up for work every day and take care of business against both the good teams and bad ones. Before last night’s game, despite an obvious need for a righthanded hitter -- this was true even before Bates checked in -- the Sox had an 18-10 record against lefthanded starters, the best record in the American League.
Nonetheless, with regard to the games against the AL West, offense has been the single greatest issue. In the 19 games against AL West clubs this year, the Sox have batted a woeful .225 and managed just 4.1 runs per game; the rest of the time, they’ve hit .280 and put up an average of 5.5 runs per contest. Were every AL club like the Seattle Mariners, who entered last night leading the league in pitching, such a discrepancy would be entirely understandable. But of the A’s, Rangers, and Angels, not a single one of them ranks in the top half of the league in pitching.
For those of us watching from the outside, at a time like this, nothing could be more maddening.
Whether there will be any long-term ramifications from all of this is unlikely, but in the interim, know this: a Red Sox division lead that sat at a spongy 5 games two weeks ago has been whittled to 1. Meanwhile, Boston’s lead over the AL wild-card leader has shrunk from 6 games to 3 1/2. As things stand, the Angels, Rangers, or Mariners could end up in the thick of wild-card contention, and the Sox are 5-10 against those clubs this season with six games remaining against the Rangers (all in Texas) and only three more against the Angels (in Boston).
Obviously, there is still a great deal of baseball to be played this season, and we have learned in recent years (and in other sports) that the toughest part of any season can be that time surrounding the All-Star break and the trading deadline, when routines and rosters are inevitably disrupted. It happened to the Bruins this year. It happened to the Red Sox last year. It can happen to most any team that has something to play for every night, particularly clubs with leads in the standings and that may be devoid of any urgency.
In the end, is there anything wrong with the Red Sox at the moment, beyond a couple of injuries?
But what could have and should have been an easy week-and-a-half has become a surprising grind, and the Red Sox need to remind themselves that there are still six games to go.
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