COMMENTARY | How does a top team in the midst of a pennant race manage to gag in the tail end of a season against lesser competition?
How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? There are no easy answers. Fatigue? Perhaps. Being on the road? Maybe. In any case, the Boston Red Sox's most recent road trip was a disaster. They have not had an uglier 10-game stretch all year.
The Red Sox were fortunate that the division lead they had prior to this road trip did not disappear, yet unfortunate that they did not take advantage of their foes' equally poor performances over this stretch.
How did it all go down?
On August 5, the Boston Red Sox began a 10-game road trip. They were a half-game ahead of the Rays and 6 games ahead of Baltimore in the AL East standings at the start of the day. Over the course of the next 10 days, the Red Sox were on the road against seemingly inferior teams: the Houston Astros (37-74 on Aug. 5) for 3 games, the Kansas City Royals (59-53 on Aug. 8) for 4 games, and the Toronto Blue Jays (54-65 on Aug. 13) for 3 games. Going 7-3 would have been a reasonable expectation, given the competition.
Meanwhile, the Rays were at the Arizona Diamondbacks (57-55 on Aug. 6) for 2 games, at the Los Angeles Dodgers (65-50 on Aug. 9) for 3 games, and home for 3 games facing the Seattle Mariners (55-63 on Aug. 13). A 4-4 record would have been a reasonable expectation. But they were even worse, posting a 2-6 record during this stretch.
Lastly, the Orioles were on an 8-game West Coast swing during this time with 2 games at the San Diego Padres (52-61 on Aug. 6), 3 at the San Francisco Giants (51-64 on Aug. 9), and 3 at the Arizona Diamondbacks (60-57 on Aug. 12). A worst-case expectation would have been 4-4, and that is just what they did.
Taking advantage of these lower-tier teams had to be on the radar of the Red Sox team. On the surface, a sweep in Houston, a split in Kansas City and winning 2 out of 3 in Toronto should have been the outcome. Yet, that's not how things turned out. Rather than 7-3, the Red Sox went 4-6 -- and they were lucky to be that good, squeezing out a late-inning win against Houston and an extra-inning win in Toronto. They could very well have been 2-8.
They scored 45 runs over 10 games, 22 of which came in two games against the worst team in the major leagues. In the remaining 8 games, they averaged fewer than 3 runs scored.
They left 32 runners on base against Toronto, 32 against Kansas City, and 28 against Houston. The king of the runners LOB and the strikeouts was Mike Napoli, who, in his 33 at-bats during the road trip, struck out 11 times and left 27 men on. Great going, Mike!
Had the Red Sox played to their expected level, they would be 4 games in front of Tampa Bay and 7.5 games ahead of Baltimore before tonight's matchup against the New York Yankees. Instead, as of August 16, the AL East is tighter than it should be. Rather than padding their lead, the Sox have created no wiggle room for the remaining 39 games.
And of those 39 games, nearly a third (12) are against Baltimore (9 games) and Tampa Bay (3 games). Additionally, that lurking nemesis, the New York Yankees, have 10 games remaining against the Red Sox. Laugh if you want, but the Yankees are only 8.5 games in back of Boston. They're still in it.
As I stated last week, Boston media discussing playoff rotations is very, very, very premature. Finding answers for slumps and men left on base is a matter in far more need of being immediately addressed.
Patrick Bernier is a freelance writer who has been following the Boston Red Sox for 25 years.
You can follow Patrick on Twitter @PatrickBern7.
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