Baseball is hard. You can lose 5 1/2 games in the standings and first place at the drop of a hat -- it just happened to the Red Sox.
Since returning from the All Star break, Boston has lost 10 of 18 while the Yankees have won 14 of 19. There hasn't been
What should be troubling them as they prepare for four games in Yankee Stadium is just how few ways there are for them to improve. Usually the easiest way for a team to get better fast is for it to improve its bullpen or defense, because relievers and glove men are cheap and relatively easy to use in ways that get the most of what they have to offer. The Red Sox, though, aren't likely to improve much in either of those areas.
Boston has had the best bullpen in the AL by far, with a 3.22 ERA -- that's almost a third of a run better than Tampa Bay, which has had the next-best. And while their defense, at least
That leaves the lineup and the starting rotation. Even with the acquisition of
By process of elimination, then, the most viable remaining route for improvement in Boston is the rotation. (Now you know why general manager
Take as a given that
The big question is whether some combination of Smoltz, Buchholz,
If Smoltz and Buchholz are the most important players on the Red Sox right now, it's only fitting that they'll be tested in the Yankees series. Smoltz matches up with
Even if they get thrashed, though, the Red Sox faithful shouldn't worry too much. All talk about key players aside, the worst spin you can put on Boston's odds of making the playoffs is that they're at about 60 percent. Texas and Tampa Bay would take those any day.