Red Sox feeling the pain but remain confident
September swoon has Boston facing a race for playoff berth
BOSTON -- When the Red Sox took a two-day break for Hurricane Irene, nearly everything but the weather seemed right in their world.
With an 82-51 record and .617 winning percentage, Boston led the Yankees by two games in the American League East and the Tampa Bay Rays were 8 1/2 back. Their postseason position hadn't been clinched, but it certainly seemed secure.
They came back to work on Aug. 30 and played 13 games in 13 days, and almost nothing went right.
So, as they took their next-to-last scheduled off-day Monday -- there was no hurricane this time -- the Sox were dealing with a different kind of storm.
Now, the pennant-race winds are swirling and the Sox are desperate not to get thrown off-course.
By losing 10 of their past 13, eight of 10, seven out of eight and five in a row, Boston is 85-61 (.582 winning percentage) and trails the Yankees by four games in the East while leading the Rays -- who swept them in three games this past weekend -- by a mere three games in the Wild Card standings.
Dustin Pedroia, the spiritual leader of the Red Sox, expressed confidence his team will get its momentum back. Why is he so sure?
"Because if we don't, we're going to go home -- that's basically it," Pedroia said. "If we don't play well, we go home."
With 16 games remaining, it's fair to wonder what is going on.
Did the Sox maybe feel a false sense of security? To a man, the players say no. They sure don't at this hour.
"No," Ortiz said. "A lot of things can happen. How many games do we have left? If we keep on playing like that, we'll be at home in October. How about that?"
That is something nobody in Boston's clubhouse wants to contemplate. So as the Red Sox prepared begin a 10-game homestand against the Blue Jays on Tuesday night, the expectation within the clubhouse was that things will be different.
"I think going back to the house will help us," Ortiz said. "We play better at the house. This road trip was pretty bad. We need to come back fresh on Tuesday and try to go back to where we were."
Injuries have played a role. Kevin Youkilis was still on the disabled list with back woes when it started, and returned for just seven games before developing a new injury -- a right hip ailment. His availability is day-to-day.
Jed Lowrie, who has played most of the games at third base in the absence of Youkilis, has hardly stepped up, hitting .179 over his past 28 at-bats and developing some recurring soreness in his left shoulder.
Most painful -- and playing no small role in the 1-6 road trip -- was ace Josh Beckett going down with a sprained ankle on Sept. 5. The right-hander threw a side session at Fenway Park on Monday and could return to the rotation before the week is through.
Much like Lowrie couldn't get hot with Youkilis out, Beckett's rotation-mates haven't picked him up. Over the 3-10 skid, the starters were 3-6 with a 6.43 ERA.
Nobody has struggled more of late than John Lackey (0-3, 9.00 ERA) or Andrew Miller (0-2, 15.63 ERA in his past two starts).
"Our starting pitching will be fine," said Ortiz. "Everybody has walked into that funk. They already know that. Hopefully everything will get back to better. We'll get J.B. back. Hopefully he gets back soon and the rest of us step up and do our thing."
Lefty Erik Bedard is another starter who is sidelined, with both left knee and lat discomfort.
Righty Clay Buchholz hasn't pitched since June 16 because of a stress fracture in his lower back, but he is working hard toward a return to action. Once thought as a possible bonus piece down the stretch, things might be to the point now where Buchholz is a necessity in some capacity, be it as a starter or reliever.
"We've just got to play better," Pedroia said. "I'm not really concerned. If we play good, we're going to win, that's basically it. We're a pretty [darn] good team. We've just hit a tough patch but we'll get a day off, rest up and go home and play well."
While the hitting has been better than the pitching during the slump, the offense has been inconsistent.
Pedroia is in a rare funk, batting .182 with a homer and six RBIs over the skid. Carl Crawford hasn't been able to get on a sustained hot streak all year.
The three hitters who have belted the baseball of late? Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Marco Scutaro.
But from those who are hot to those who aren't, everyone wants to do what they can to turn things around.
"To be honest with you, I think the intensity and the effort is right there," said Ortiz. "Everything is just kind of going in a different direction at once. The good thing is we know how to figure that out and put it back together all at once. It seems like everybody is in a funk right now, you know what I'm saying? There's nobody to blame but everybody, so hopefully on Tuesday we come back and play better."
Tim Wakefield, making what will be his eighth attempt as a starter at career win No. 200, is scheduled to face the Blue Jays on Tuesday. He'll be opposed by Brandon Morrow, who is 9-10 with a 5.12 ERA.
"I actually wish we were playing tonight," manager Terry Francona said after Sunday's 9-1 loss at Tropicana Field. "But we'll take advantage of [the off-day]. We could use it. Any time you get an off-day, especially at home, we'll take advantage of it and hopefully Wake's ball will be bouncing all over the place and he'll get 'em out."
The last time the Sox were in this bad a way was at the very start of the season, when they opened 0-6 and 2-10. They lived to tell about that one, playing inspired baseball for weeks afterward.
Now, they need another surge.
"We're trying to win," Pedroia said. "It's not like we're going out there trying to get beat. That's not the problem. We haven't executed anything. We haven't swung the bat good; we haven't pitched good; we haven't played good defense. When you don't do that, it doesn't matter what level you're playing at -- you're going to get beat."