The Red Sox and a Season-Defining Stretch
The 2013 Red Sox season, no matter how it ends, will be described by many as improbable, unlikely, and even magical. It’s hard to disagree. This is the same franchise that answered the collapse and controversy of 2011 with Bobby Valentine. It’s the same organization that lost 93 ballgames in 2012.
This wasn’t supposed to happen.
The Red Sox will have at least an eight game lead with twelve to play in the American League East when they take on the Yankees Sunday Night at Fenway Park. They have the best record in the AL. If the season ended today, they would have home field advantage throughout the playoffs, including the World Series. Their first game of the postseason would be against the winner of the single elimination Wild Card game. The Red Sox have essentially played themselves into a position where they will likely be afforded every reasonable luxury–the ability to rest players, set up their pitching, and play more games at home than on the road (if necessary).
So how did this happen? How did we get here?
There are, of course, a myriad of answers. Good pitching, timely hitting, and Koji Uehara are just a few correct responses. However, when one takes a closer look at the season to date, it is impossible to ignore two separate stretches of games that are particularly responsible for the Red Sox ascension to the top of the American League.
(Disclaimer: This is not to overlook the importance of the team’s scorching hot start to the season. 20-8 is a heck of a way to begin the year. But, because of its obviousness, it will not be discussed at length here.)
The first one followed a 2-9 stretch in early May. The credibility of the team was being called into question. Maybe April was just a fluke, a good month in a long season that received too much attention because it happened to occur at the beginning. Like the quality team we now know they are, the Red Sox responded. I discussed the importance of their ability to right the proverbial shift back in June.
Since then, the Red Sox have piled up wins while avoiding extended losing streaks. Despite playing good baseball for four and a half months, they hadn’t separated themselves from the Tampa Bay Rays. On August 24, the Red Sox and Rays were all knotted up. Just 18 days the later, the Sox possessed a 9.5 game lead over their division rival.
For Joe Maddon and his team, it must have felt like a two-and-a-half week nightmare. But it wasn’t. The Red Sox turned into an absolute wagon, and the Rays couldn’t get out of the way of it.
Since August 19, the Red Sox have gone 18-6 over 24 games. They played the Giants, Dodgers, Orioles, White Sox, Tigers, Yankees, and Rays. During that same stretch, the Rays went 11-14 over 25 games. They played the Orioles, Yankees, Royals, Angels (seven times), A’s, Mariners, Red Sox, and Twins. The Red Sox beat teams that are regarded as being the best in baseball in the Dodgers and Tigers. They took care of business against the teams they should beat like the lowly White Sox. Meanwhile, the Rays simply couldn’t tread water during a difficult West Coast road trip.
If it seems like just a few weeks ago that the Red Sox and Rays were in a dogfight in the AL East, that’s because they were. The Red Sox applied pressure by winning tough games against good teams. The Rays simply didn’t respond. Consequently, Tampa Bay is relegated to fighting for their postseason lives for the next two weeks while the Red Sox have their eye on capturing the best record in the American League.
Should Boston make a deep run in the playoffs, there will be more than a handful of people looking back to this late season stretch that has helped identify the Red Sox as one of the best teams in baseball.