Tonight the Red Sox commence a ten game road trip that starts on the West Coast for seven games and then a three game stop at Yankee Stadium before returning home. So far in 2014 the Red Sox are 14-19 on the road, .424 winning percentage.
If the Sox finish the trip around 5-5, then they may come home in the same condition as today. But if they could reel off a 8-2 trip or so ( they need a 7-3 to get back to .500, at 34-38 currently), the trip could be a "make it" trip that closes the gap in the AL East and wild card races. But a poor trip in the vicinity of 2-8 ( or god help us, worse) might seal the deal for 2014 before July.
Let's take a look at what lies ahead for the Sox. The trip begins without an off day in Oakland to begin a four games set. The A's will throw Scott Kazmir, 8-2 with a ERA of 2.05, on Thursday with Jesse Chavez and his 2.93 ERA in game two. In fact Oakland has the best ERA in the AL at 3.03. The second stop on the trip is Seattle for three, and the Mariners are second in the AL ERA race at 3.29. And Felix Hernandez is lined up to pitch the first game ( versus John Lackey which may be a gem). For what it is worth the Red Sox are third in AL ERA at 3.62. This may be one weapon for the Sox to compete. But it will be imperative for the Red Sox offense to come to life or these two top staffs could hurt the Red Sox badly. Oakland has the best record in baseball, but on the first weekend in May at Fenway, the Red Sox nearly swept Oakland, with 7-1 and 6-3 wins followed by a tough 3-2 ten inning loss to the A's. Boston has yet to play Seattle this season.
The offensive spark must come from the veteran heart of the order: Pedroia, Papi, and Napoli. A renewed hot streak from Xander Bogaerts would help as would players like Drew and Victorino shaking of the rust and pitching in.
On the 26th, Boston will have a day off as they fly to New York. This off day ends a stretch from May 20 through June 25 with only one day off (June 5). Will this fatigue also be an obstacle to overcome on this trip? Part of the reason the Red Sox are lagging 3 or 4 games behind the Yankees and Orioles for second is the Sox record versus New York back in April: 2-5. Masahiro Tanaka likely looms in one of the games.
While the Red Sox are on this trip the other AL East teams play a number of games within the division. The Yanks play four with Toronto and three with Baltimore before welcoming Boston: all AL East games for NewYork. The Orioles play three with the Rays and three with the White Sox. The front running Jays play in New York tonight, then go to Cincy for three this weekend, before heading home to play three more with the Yankees and host the Chisox for four. In other words, if the Sox can reel off a streak versus Oakland and Seattle, they will gain on at least one team in the AL East each night.
If the needle points strongly in one direction or the other on this trip, we may not only get an answer on any hope of the Red Sox 2014 playoff appearance, but some light may very well be shed on Ben Cherington's road map for the July 31 trade deadline. When the Red Sox finally return to play at Fenway Park( against the Cubs) it will be the last day of June, and one game over the half way mark, 80 games to play.
If the Red Sox happen to have a great trip and are coming home to a nine game home stand ( both Chicago teams and Orioles), with a three game set in Houston that will bring the team to the All Star break and up to July 18 on the calendar, then Ben will shop the market looking for a bat or two and likely another arm ( you can never have enough).
But if the Sox have a "break it "trip, Ben can put out the for sale signs and see what he can acquire for next year and beyond for the likes of Jake Peavy, AJ Pierzynski, Jonny Gomes, and maybe even Stephen Drew or if healthy, Shane Victorino. Also any of the Sox bullpen arms would be attractive to a contender. Or maybe even trade a bigger name...we will wait for July to discuss that subject.
Red Sox Nation hopes the Sox will not reach June 30 all ready out of the race, but this trip can potentially decide that question.