The Week Ahead: History stacked against Red Sox comeback

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Despite sitting in third place in the AL East, the Boston Red Sox appear to be in pretty good shape.

Riding a two-game winning streak, they enter the week just 6 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees, and 5 1/2 behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL wild card spot – with no teams in between.

In addition, Josh Beckett has pitched well since his return from a two-month stint on the disabled list, and Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek could all return within the next couple of weeks.

Add to that the possibility – if remote – of adding help in a post-deadline trade of Jeremy Hermida and/or Mike Lowell, and the Sox should be stocked up to make a run in the final six weeks of the season.

But despite all these positive signs, ESPN researcher Jeremy Lundblad writes that history shows it is likely too little, too late.

Can the Red Sox turn the tides? It will likely take a historic final two months – one that recalls the imagery of nicknamed seasons of the past.

Soon to be fully healthy for the first time in nearly four months, the real 2010 Red Sox have fewer than 60 games to catch fire. That is, if they manage to stay healthy.

According to Lundblad, the Red Sox have never made the playoffs when facing an Aug. 1 deficit of more than two games, and have only made the playoffs four times in their history when facing any deficit at all this late in the season.

The most recent was in 2004, when the Red Sox were one game behind Texas in the AL wild card race entering August. That team was aided by the trade of Nomar Garciaparra, which netted key components in Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz. This year, Boston’s big deadline move was to deal for once-promising catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who could realize his potential at some point in the future but for now will be stashed in Pawtucket.

Apparently, Theo Epstein is content to wait for the return of the players mentioned above, and he could be right. But that won’t solve the team’s bullpen woes, including the implosion of left-hander Hideki Okajima. Even Jonathan Papelbon has been less reliable than usual, having already blown five saves and sporting an ERA at a career-worst 3.05.

So the odds are against a Boston rally, but if they are going to make a run, this would be an excellent week to start it. The Red Sox host the lowly Cleveland Indians for four games to start the week, then head to the Bronx for four more against the Yankees, a perfect opportunity to make up ground.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Mets at Braves, Aug. 2-4:
The Mets aren’t out of it yet, but this week – with six games against the top two teams in the division – could just about do them in if they continue to struggle.

Twins at Rays, Aug. 2-5: A huge four-game series for both teams, as the Twins are 1/2-game back in the Central and the Rays just one game back in the East. Touted prospect Jeremy Hellickson makes his major league debut for the Rays on Monday against Carl Pavano.

Padres at Dodgers, Aug. 2-5: If the new-look Dodgers are going to make a run, this four-game series is a great place to start. Ted Lilly makes his first start in a Dodgers uniform on Tuesday.

Mets at Phillies, Aug. 6-8: Wouldn’t the Phillies love to simultaneously bury their rivals and gain some ground on the Braves? Wouldn’t the Mets love to play spoiler and act like they still have a chance? This could be a juicy one.

Red Sox at Yankees, Aug. 6-9: It’s the mother of all baseball rivalries, even if the Earth ceases to rotate and neither team is in first place by the time they meet for this four-game series. For Boston, it’s now or never.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Mets at Braves (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: White Sox at Tigers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Red Sox at Yankees (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Rangers at Athletics (FOX)
Sunday, 1:30 p.m.: Giants at Braves (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Red Sox at Yankees (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

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Video: Kurt Suzuki breaks World Series Game 2 tie with long solo homer

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The postseason has a knack for finding unlikely heroes. Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki was 1-for-23 in the postseason entering Wednesday’s Game 2 of the World Series. The Nats and Astros each plated two runs in the first inning, then went otherwise scoreless through the sixth inning. In the top of the seventh, with Justin Verlander returning to the mound, Suzuki demolished a high, 1-0 fastball just below the train tracks in left field at Minute Maid Park, breaking the 2-2 tie.

Verlander proceeded to walk Victor Robles, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to take his veteran starter out of the game. Ryan Pressly came in to attempt to keep it a one-run game.

The underdog Nationals held on to defeat the Astros 5-4 in Game 1. Another victory by the Nats in Game 2 would put the Astros — heavy favorites according to oddsmakers — in a big hole.

Update: Pressly walked the first batter he faced, Trea Turner. Adam Eaton successfully sacrifice bunted both runners over. After Anthony Rendon flied out to shallow center field, Hinch decided to issue his team’s first intentional walk of the entire year to Juan Soto, loading the bases. Howie Kendrick then hit what appeared to be an inning-ending ground out, but Alex Bregman booted the ball as he moved to his left. Turner scored to make it 4-2. The floodgates opened when Asdrúbal Cabrera lined a single to center field, bringing home two more runs to pad the lead to 6-2. While pitching to Ryan Zimmerman, Pressly uncorked a wild pitch to allow the two base runners to advance. Zimmerman followed up with a slow roller down the third base line which Bregman barehanded and proceeded to throw away. Two more runs scored. 8-2. Yiiiikes, Astros.