It has been, in no uncertain terms, a brutal month of September for the Boston Red Sox. The team hasn’t won a series since taking two out of three against Oakland by sweeping a doubleheader on August 27th. Since that day, the Sox have seven victories against 19 losses. If you’re scoring at home, that’s a .269 winning percentage.
The 2011 Boston season has two horrific stretches as its bookends. April’s 2-10 start and the current September slide combine to form a 9-29 record (.237). In stark contrast, the team went 80-41 between April 16th and August 27th; it is that run of .661 baseball that has allowed the Sox to remain in the Wild Card race despite their historic near-collapse.
This club is on life support, nursing a wafer-thin one-game edge over Tampa courtesy of Jacoby Ellsbury’s 14th-inning bomb in the Bronx on Sunday. His three-run homer was the difference in a 7-4 win, the only win the Sox could muster in a critically important series.
Starter John Lackey posted his first quality start in what feels like years, and though it took them a few additional frames, the Sox fought out an absolutely pivotal win.
Lackey, who apparently received a distressing text message prior to the game (allegedly from the media), fought through his anger to deliver a semi-decent performance. He’s been the bane of the rotation this year, but when the club needed him the most he wasn’t terrible. That’s worth noting.
Now three games stand between Boston and the playoffs. One final set of games in Camden Yards to finish off 2011. And it’s gut check time.
Individually and as a team, the Red Sox need to take a long, hard look at themselves. Because one way or another, this season is about to be permanently recorded into the annals of MLB history. How will these Sox be remembered? As a powerful offense that overcame injuries and weaknesses to make the post-season? Or as choke artists who couldn’t buy a solid pitching performance when it mattered most?
With their September skid earning front and center attention from the media, it’s easy to forget what this team is all about. Offensively, Boston in the best in baseball in multiple categories:
861 runs scored
.348 on-base percentage
.459 slugging percentage
2,537 total bases
As of Monday morning, the Sox trailed Texas by one hit with a second-best 1,567 on the year. They’re also second in average behind the Rangers at .280. Yes, the pitching has been a major letdown, but the Red Sox have been among MLB’s most dominant teams for most of the season.
There has never been a more important time to remember that.
The club has taken some well-deserved criticism from the media and from fans, myself included. And regardless of what happens next, this letdown has taken the shine off of what was becoming a truly spectacular campaign. Ranking 10th in the AL in ERA (4.17) isn’t what any of us had hoped for. But none of us should forget the potential that these Sox have.
That goes for the players too.
It’s time for every man on the roster and coaching staff to decide how this story will end. Boston has watched its Wild Card lead all but evaporate, but it is still ahead. And with only the Orioles left to go, things aren’t all bad.
The O’s will have Tommy Hunter, Zach Britton, and Alfredo Simon on the bump. They will oppose Josh Beckett, Erik Bedard, and Jon Lester who are queued up to start the final trio, and the Sox could hardly have hoped for better. This order gives them the best chance of emerging from the regular season with their advantage intact. The proposition may not be easy, but it couldn’t be any simpler:
Win, and you’re in.
Forget the past three weeks. It’s time to look in the mirror and find what you’re made of, Boston.