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The first month of the season is complete, the Red Sox are in first, and are into a week at home in divisional play. These happen to be three-game sets against the Blue Jays and Rays, both up-and-coming teams in the division, but these aren’t the Yankees, right?
While the Sox have an early 3-2 edge against the Bombers (with 13 to go, but who’s counting?), they were WINLESS against both of these teams heading into this week, suffering a pair of three game road sweeps, including the first ever (just completed) sweep by the Tampa Bay franchise, making five consecutive losses overall.
So, does the Nation have reason to worry? Well, while divisions are never won in April, they can be lost, so a better showing is imperative, despite the division lead. The Blue Jays losses were a little easier to take as that series completed the Sox’ three-country season-opening tour of duty, leading into the Fenway opener. The team clearly looked a little dragged out, which seemed to be expected, given the experience of the Yankees when they made the trip to Japan in 2004. To the Blue Jays credit, they are an improved team with raised expectations and had come off a tough series with the Yankees, so they had something to prove against another of the East’s top teams.
The Rays are also an improved team, primarily riding their young arms (and Scott Kazmir will return to make his 2008 debut in the final game of the upcoming series on Sunday). They certainly set the tone for the series, allowing the hometown nine a mere five runs over the three games. Furthermore, the Sox had only one extra base hit in the series (a Game 1 double by Manny) and struck out 20 times to only ten walks, very uncharacteristic for a team with such high plate discipline. The final game of that series was a masterful 99-pitch complete-game performance by Shields (7K to 1BB). He threw a lot of strikes, which is a key to beating the Red Sox, but the Sox certainly didn’t appear to have the patience needed to get some baserunners, frustrate the pitcher, and eventually get into the bullpen.
For the Red Sox to see some success in this homestand, they need to maintain that discipline, take a lot of pitches, and drive their pitches for extra base hits. The Sox are a mature team and have shown an ability to shake losses off in recent years, so I wouldn’t expect to see any carryover effect weigh on this team. We know the Fenway crowd will show in force and despite the fact that we have high expectations of this team and these players, they don’t crack under the pressure we put on them, and in fact, seem to thrive. Let’s hope May will start out better than April.