The Red Sox (59-51) will try to right the ship tonight against the blood rival New York Yankees (68-39) and shake off a three game sweep at Fenway at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox now find themselves 3.5 games back of the Rays for the second wild card spot, and 10.5 games back in the East. But I’m here to tell you to keep the faith. Not only is the season still alive – the Red Sox organization has been here, close to very spot, in fact, before – but given historical precedent, the playoffs, and yes, a championship run, remain well within the realm of possibility. All they gotta do is get there.
I mean, I expected it – not the sweep at home, mind. A three game sweep at home is, like the inquisition, something you never quite expect – but the reaction? Sure. From the comments section of the Red Sox facebook page to this piece from Michael Hurley of CBS Boston and it’s rather overwrought title, the message is clear: the 2019 Red Sox season is slipping, or has slipped, away. Turn off the tube, take the kids to the beach, and get ready for Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots.
But if you hitch a ride back in the day with the Ghost of Baseball Seasons past, things start to looik a bit different. And if you tell that Ghost to take you back to 2004, you see that the Red Sox, as an organization, at least, have been here before.
Like this year’s team, the 2004 Red Sox featured an immensely talented lineup that scored runs in bunches – 949 total on that season, good for tops int he league and 5.86 runs per game. Like this year’s team, the pitching staff, as a whole, wasn’t close to the top of the league, allowing 4.74 runs per game, good for only 14th in the league. And finally, like this year’s version, the 2004 Red Sox were a team that entered the season loaded with sky-high expectations, but who, as of early August, were still stuck in the doldrums. What did that team do at the trading deadline? Oh, nothing much, except ship one of the team’s preeminent stars out of town.
And so, on August 2nd, 2004, that Red Sox team was in second place at 57-47, 9 games in back of the Yankees. All, the hype of the previous season looked like so much overachieving – their tantalizing proximity to a title fading ever more quickly in the rearview mirror. But then, that night, they won, beating Tampa Bay. And though they proceeded to drop 3 of their next 6, starting on August 10th, something incredible happened. They started winning. And winning. And winning some more. In short, they caught fire, stacking 38 wins against only 14 losses the rest of the way, including a 20-4 stretch that itself included a 10 game winning streak from August 24th through September 3rd. They finished with 98 wins and captured the American League Wild Card. Suddenly all those dreams born out of the crucible of 2003 seemed like they just might come true.
You know what happened after that. You know how it happened.
So can this team do it? Of course. Though this staff doesn’t pitch to the level of its 2004 counterpart, and likely won’t the rest of the way, the 2019 lineup is every bit as good as the 2014 version, and that’s saying something.
But will they do it? Will they come back from the dead to make the playoffs and go on another championship run? Who knows. But they’ve got the talent to get it done.
So tonight, with ERod (13-4) against James Paxton (5-6), is this the beginning of the rest of the season? I sure hope so – even the Yankees don’t seem to know what they’re going to get out of Paxton from start to start, and if the Red Sox pitch well, this Yankees team is vulnerable this weekend. But the broader point is this – it’s possible – playoffs, another run at a title, all of it – all of it’s possible. But if it’s gonna happen, it needs to happen soon. Let’s hope their series in the Bronx this weekend is the start of something magical.