Despite rough month, Red Sox stay confident
Wild Card lead down to two as club drops to 4-13 in September
BOSTON -- On paper, this isn't the same Red Sox team that carried the American League's best record for much of the summer.
Since September, Boston (4-13) has been the worst team in baseball next to the Twins (2-13), whose starting lineup on Sunday included eight players who have spent time in the Minor Leagues this year. And it isn't that the Red Sox offense has been silenced -- their 90 runs scored is most in the AL East. They've allowed 108, second-most in the Majors since September began.
But six of their 13 losses have been by two runs or fewer, including a 4-3 defeat to the Rays on Saturday. And entering Monday's day-night doubleheader against the Orioles, the Red Sox's AL Wild Card lead over the Rays is down to just two games.
"I think we know the situation we're in," said Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "We know what type of team we have. It just seems like this series no breaks really went our way."
Statistics show that the Red Sox have been an offense-first team this season. When they haven't scored at least five runs, they're 28-52. They lead the Majors in run production, but their team ERA of 4.12 is ranked 21st.
And against the Orioles, who have won six of 10, the Sox will ask Kyle Weiland (7.58 ERA) and John Lackey (6.19 ERA) to take the mound in what's sure to be an important day.
"We've got to figure out a way to turn it around," said manager Terry Francona. "I guess I choose to believe, knowing the guys down in the clubhouse like I do, we'll meet this challenge and it will make us stronger. I guess that's our best way to go about this."
While the Red Sox can be excited about Josh Beckett's promising return on Friday, Erik Bedard (lined up to start Tuesday) hasn't pitched since Sept. 3 with a lat strain, Jon Lester has taken the loss in two straight and Tim Wakefield has one win in his last 10 starts.
"Something -- it's got to click," Wakefield said. "I don't know what it is. We've just got to get some confidence ... It's kind of a similar skid that we were in to start the season. We started [poorly] and then everything clicked for us and turned everything around. We're running out of time now, we need to do a better job both me personally pitching and everything else."
The Red Sox don't think they've done much of anything well lately, from hitting to pitching to defense. But different than when they started the season 2-10, there is at least the blueprint of success from earlier in the year. They know how to win, it's just a matter of execution.
"Yeah, I think at the beginning of the season we weren't there," Saltalamacchia said. "We weren't in the groove of things. Whereas now, we're feeling good. We're putting good swings on the ball."
Players were asked if it was time to panic after Sunday's loss, when their lead in the Wild Card dwindled to two after holding an 11-game lead over the Rays in early August. But the fact that the Sox still have a lead, despite the way they've played recently, has the players feeling good.
"We're happy as [anything]," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "We've got a two-game lead with 10 to go. We're ready to go. We just haven't played real good. We're not going to sit back and feel sorry for ourselves because we're playing like crap. Nobody's going to give us anything."
"Anytime you're up, you're up," said Mike Aviles, one of the few bright spots lately, having hit nearly .500 in September. "We're not down. We haven't played the best of ball, but we're not down. We're still up. Anytime you have a lead, you should be in that driver's seat. You shouldn't be in the back seat."
With seven games left against the Orioles and three against the Yankees, the Red Sox will be playing a last-place team with nothing to lose and a first-place club that is still fighting for the division title. The Rays, though, have seven left against the Yankees and three with the Blue Jays.
"They have to root for the Yankees," Tampa Bay outfielder Johnny Damon said of the Red Sox. "You can't say that too often."
Jason Mastrodonato is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.