It's crunch time in Boston. And not just for the Bruins and Celtics. The city's NHL and NBA teams are both on television tonight in the playoffs (Versus and TNT respectively), but while the urgency might not be as do-or-die for the Red Sox, the city's main sports love has played itself into a corner after being swept by lowly Baltimore this past weekend in Camden Yards, the Saturday night affair of which I witnessed in person and watched nine combined home runs fly out of the park, including Luke Scott's bomb onto the Eutaw Street sidewalk. Boston now trails Tampa by seven games for the AL East lead, and is 5.5 back of New York in the wild-card race. Tonight they start a four-game home series with the Angels which will be ESPN's Monday night game at 7 EST. After LAA leaves town, New York comes in for a three-game weekend set.
How do you approach this
week if you're Terry Francona? Perhaps the signature challenge for a manager, short of dealing with contentious egos, is finding the right level of urgency to establish for a baseball team, especially early in the year. And even though the calendar now says May, to me the season is still in its "taking shape" form until the middle of Week 7 when the first round of interleague play starts up. And given the caliber of their opponents and how far they've fallen behind, Boston isn't going to make it all up with one good week. Nor are they built that way, with the emphasis on pitching being something that takes its greatest hold by mid-to-late summer. Nevertheless, while it would be a mistake to see this as Turnaround Week in the Hub, it better at least be Stop The Bleeding Week. Because the Red Sox are faced with one of those weeks that a team either survives and lives to fight another day, or digs itself an insurmountable hole.
Boston's problems can
at least be partially attributed to injuries. The loss of Jacoby Ellsbury is significant and losing Mike Cameron doesn't help. Certainly, a team with a $140 million payroll doesn't expect Darnell McDonald to be its centerfielder or Bill Hall to be at a corner outfield spot. To make the news worse, Kevin Youkilis has a groin problem. While not long-term, it's left him uncertain for the series against the Angels. The Red Sox have been hit with more health problems than either Tampa or New York to this point, but we have to also point out that it's the type of nagging injuries that every team will deal with eventually. It's a reason for Boston to be trailing at this point, but not to be buried and put away quickly.
The Red Sox have also had a problem not customarily associated with veteran teams and that is the complete meltdowns. Experienced teams and players generally find a way to mitigate damage, while younger ones spiral out of control. A vet
pitcher who doesn't have a good night might still go six innings and give up five runs, giving his team a chance to bail him out. The younger one gives up seven runs in four innings and turns it into a rout. In the overall team picture, the vet team steals a win in what's otherwise a bummer series. The young one gets swept. Boston is not being outmatched on a series-by-series basis. In the eight series they've played so far, they are 4-4. But they've suffered two sweeps, a four-gamer to Tampa and this past weekend in Baltimore. If they even pull one win out of each series, they're right on New York's heels and still in striking distance of Tampa. Why is a team with this many vets not able to find a way to put a tourniquet on a wound? Whatever the answer is, it has to be found tonight. When we check the standings at this time next week, Boston doesn't have to be magically turned around. But they better have put a stop to the bloodletting, especially
given that they've yet to play any of their 18 combined road games at the Bronx or Tropicana.
Elsewhere around baseball, Kansas City is the only team not to have won a series thus far, and they play the struggling White Sox to start the week. In the National League, Milwaukee might not have had Red Sox-like expectations, but they did expect to contend and have fallen seven games back of the Cardinals. It's Stop The Bleeding Week for the Brewers too, as a week that takes them west to Arizona and Los Angeles could get the conversation turned to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers even sooner than normal.
Tomorrow is the Notebook's Tuesday off. On Wednesday and Thursday we're going to zoom in on an expected NL West contenders San Francisco and Colorado. And in closing, as a native-born Wisconsinte, can I tell you how strange it feels to type "Aaron Rodgers and the Packers", instead of using Brett Favre's name?