BOSTON (CBS) — To say this weekend’s series at Fenway Park is a make-or-break moment for the Red Sox would be a little inaccurate. At 42-40, sitting a half-game out of last place in the division, there’s really not much the Red Sox can “make” in this four-game series. But there’s a whole lot that can break.
As the first-place Yankees (49-32) head to Fenway Park for the second time this season, the Red Sox are teetering. Just as things were looking up last week, when they had won 11 of 14 games and sat at 40-35, things soured rather rapidly on the West Coast, where they went 2-5 against the Mariners (who have the worst record in the American League) and the A’s (41-42).
So it goes with the Red Sox this season, who have matched each step forward with one backward stumble.
Of course, it’s not been entirely due to underwhelming performances from big stars (though Adrian Gonzalez will tell you that has played a large part), as the Sox have been victim to injuries to several key players. The latest is Dustin Pedroia, who is reportedly headed to the disabled list after jamming his thumb in Oakland this week. That move will likely put Nick Punto and his .180 batting average at second base, and if Will Middlebrooks’ hamstring is still giving him issues, it’ll put 27-year-old rookie Mauro Gomez and his .843 minor league fielding percentage at third base.
That’s hardly the superstar lineup you’d expect to sweep a four-game series against the first-place Yankees, but that’s the hand dealt to the Red Sox in this final series before the break. While a sweep may be far too optimistic for most, Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox really have to be hoping to at least earn a split, so they can keep their heads above water and use the next four days to rest, regroup and let injuries heal.
“It was a pretty disappointing road trip,” Valentine said of his team’s trek to Seattle and Oakland. “We battled the whole way but we just didn’t get those hits. I really believe we will.”
They’re going to have to get them quickly, because the Yankees bring in an MLB-best .454 slugging percentage, along with the league’s hottest hitter in Robinson Cano (.381 with 12 homers since June 5). The Sox get a bit of a break with CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte on the DL, but they’ll need some of the best work of the season out of Josh Beckett, Franklin Morales, Felix Doubront and Jon Lester to be able to keep pace all weekend.
The outlook is not overwhelmingly bright, but there are still positives. For one, the Red Sox are in a much better position this time around than they were the last time the Yankees visited Fenway. Then, in April, Boston celebrated the ballpark’s 100th birthday, but the party was subdued thanks to the Sox’ 4-8 record. They lost that Friday afternoon 6-2 before blowing a 9-0 lead the next day in a nationally televised 15-9 loss. Fortunately for Boston, the Sunday night game was rained out, but it was clear the Sox had hit rock bottom.
This time around, the picture’s not quite as bleak. Losing three of four (or worse) would change that, so the mission this weekend isn’t for the Red Sox to make or break their season. The mission is simply to try to stay afloat.