Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sox Stumble in September

Two weeks ago, the Red Sox were on a roll, having just swept a doubleheader from the Oakland A's at Fenway and capping a late August run of eight wins in eleven games.  They seemed primed for a nice September run that, knock on wood, would culminate with their first AL East flag since 2007 and first 100 win season since 1946.

John Lackey was turning his season around,
then lost all three of his starts during Boston's recent swoon
Then Hurricane Irene blew through town, and apparently took some of the baseball team's mojo with it because since then, the Sox have simply not played well.  Maybe the two-day break messed with their rhythm, cooled their momentum, took some of the wind out of their sails.

Whatever happened, it wasn't good.  Granted, they've been pretty banged up lately, but now the Wild Card is suddenly in danger and 100 wins are pretty much impossible with only two and a half weeks of games left.

Let's start at the beginning of the swoon, when the Yankees showed up at the Fens for a midweek series and took two of three from the (at the time) division leaders after winning just two of their first ten matchups.  But in all fairness, the Bronx Bombers defeated John Lackey and Alfredo Aceves; not exactly the A-Team.  C.C. Sabathia was bound to beat the Red Sox in 2011 at some point, and his breakthrough in the first game was key.

Then the hard-hitting Rangers arrived and beat up Boston pitching for 28 runs in three games.  They feasted off Andrew Miller and Lackey in Friday and Sunday's games, a pair of blowouts sandwiched around a 12-7 slugfest on Saturday in which Boston emerged victorious.  Still, a homestand that began with so much promise against the Athletics ended with just four Red Sox wins against five losses.  The brief bump in the road was also disappointing because the Sox always play well in America's oldest ballpark, but the Rangers had essentially used its cozy dimensions for batting practice.

Maybe the Red Sox just needed to get away, like in those commercials, but so far the road trip hasn't exactly been a vacation.  Boston kicked off its series north of the border by dropping a 1-0 extra-inning nailbiter in Toronto when red-hot Brett Lawrie belted a walk-off home run.  They bounced back with a 14-0 blowout, but that was quickly forgotten the following night when the bullpen (mostly Daniel Bard) coughed up the lead in Tim Wakefield's seventh bid for career win number 200 and blew the game.  Ricky Romero kept Boston's bats in check during the final game to take the series and bump the Blue Jays' record up to .500.

So the Bosox couldn't wait to get out of Canada, but a change of scenery didn't help last night either, as Boston lost in Tampa Bay when Wade Davis outdueled Lackey in a 7-2 Rays win.  That makes eight losses in their past eleven games, an exact 180 from the streak that preceded this slump.  Their two game lead in the AL East has turned into a two and a half game deficit, and if they can't steal a win in Florida this weekend (no easy task against Jeremy Hellickson and "Big Game" James Shields) their once secure Wild Card lead will be in serious jeopardy.  No matter what happens they will have more games against the Rays since Boston doesn't play anyone outside their division for the rest of the season, meaning their last month of regular season baseball in 2011 consisted entirely of intra-divsion games except for the Texas series.

A week ago this race was over, but Boston has let Tampa Bay climb back into it.  All they really need is a split this weekend, and throwing Jon Lester on Sunday should help.  According to, we still have a 96.1 percent chance of making the postseason (Tampa has a slightly slimmer 3.9 percent chance).  But the way they've been playing lately, all bets are off.

Editor's Note; Another devastating extra-inning loss tonight after Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury tied the game in the top of the ninth with back to back missiles into the right field bleachers off Kyle Farnsworth.  Tomorrow is a must win.

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