In order, we have Lester, Buchholz and Lackey against Price, Garza and Shields. Those are the matchups at the core of this weekend’s series between the Red Sox and Tampa Rays, a three-game set that may well determine whether or not the Red Sox will have life come Monday.
And make no mistake: barring a three-game sweep, the Red Sox have far more to lose this weekend than they do to gain.
The baseball season is 162 games long, of course, but we all know the mantra: they all count, and now more than ever. In the wake of Wednesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners, the Red Sox are 5 1/2 games behind the Rays (as well as the Yankees) in the American League East, six games behind in the loss column. Boston has 34 games to play. The Red Sox need to win at least two games of this weekend’s series to ensure that the games next week – and beyond – will have significance.
There is really no hyperbole there. By the time the Red Sox leave Tampa on Sunday, they will basically have a month of baseball left. While nothing is impossible, a seven-game deficit in the loss column is borderline insurmountable against teams like the Rays and Yankees during that short a period of time.Let’s quickly examine the possible outcomes and ramifications of this weekend’s series:
- Rays sweep. No need to get too detailed here. Unless the Yankees similarly get swept by the Chicago White Sox over the weekend, the Red Sox will be all but dead come Monday. Even then, Boston will trail the Yankees by six in the loss column with 31 to play. Tampa will have a nine-game advantage over Boston in the loss column.
- The obvious best-case scenario. If the Sox can win all three – as unlikely as that is, the Red Sox swept a three-game series at Tampa early this year – they will trail the Rays by three in the loss column. That would do a great deal to inspire interest in a Red Sox club that has been treading water for months. Game on, Garth.
- Rays win 2 of 3. Again, unless the Yankees get swept, the Red Sox will be in dire straits. Boston would trail Tampa by seven in the loss column and New York by at least six with five weeks of baseball to go. Remember that rosters expand to 40 players next week and teams like the Yankees and Rays will have minor leaguers to take the bullet – thereby resting their starters – in any blowouts over the final month.
- Red Sox win 2 of 3. While this sounds like a big series win, the gain for the Sox is relatively minimal. Again, there is always the chance the series could mean more depending on what happens with the Yankees. Still, winning 2 of 3 means the Sox would leave Tampa trailing by five games in the loss column, only magnifying the point that it can be hard to make up ground in head-to-head meetings unless you sweep. Simply put, too much time comes off the clock. The Rays really need to win just one game this weekend to ensure a five-game lead in the loss column with five weeks to play.
One other point: That nightcap loss to Seattle on Wednesday night was more costly than some would like to believe. Had the Red Sox won, they’d be five out in the loss column at the moment. Winning 2 of 3 this weekend then would have put them in position to leave with a four-game deficit by winning 2 of 3. Now the Red Sox have to sweep to do any real damage to the Rays.
With regard to the particulars of the Tampa series, the first game carries great importance – and not just because it swings the pendulum of momentum one way or the other. Price is the only lefthander the Rays will throw in the series and he defeated the Red Sox early this year. He has not allowed a home run to a lefthanded batter all year. Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis (.404 against lefties this year) are both sidelined, and Price will likely render David Ortiz, J.D. Drew and Ryan Kalish utterly useless.
In the first game, that means that Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, Marco Scutaro, Jed Lowrie, Bill Hall, Mike Lowell, and perhaps Darnell McDonald could be the key men to watch. Given Price’s dominance against lefthanded batters, the absence of Pedroia and Youkilis will hurt the Red Sox in tonight’s game as much as in any game this year.
Since the June 25 game in which Pedroia was injured, the Red Sox are 29-25 (including June 25). Since the Aug. 2 game in which Youkilis was injured, the Sox are 13-10. Both of those numbers reflect the team’s ability to tread water in the absence of perhaps their two best hitters, and the Red Sox deserve all the credit in the world for making it this far into the race.
Now, unfortunately, time is short.
There is little benefit in treading water.
The Red Sox either have to make their move or suffer the consequences.
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