The Red Sox currently stand at 43-43 and are 9.5 games behind the New York Yankees in the American League East and 2.5 games back in the wild-card hunt. They played 28 series in the first half and only won 13. They split a two-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays in the middle of May.
What all of the boils down to is—they just weren’t good enough. Okay, obvious enough. But what is striking is just how mediocre they were.
Every team slumps; it’s just part of the game. One of the strange things about the Red Sox, though, is they never seemed to get going enough to have a slump. They lived in a grey area where they never quite swam and never quite drowned.
They were mired in that dull hue called mediocrity.
The mediocrity is clear when you look at the first-half splits:
If they are to make the playoffs, the second half of the season must be a completely different story. They must take off full force—no more treading water for Bobby V’s boys.
It is true: A win is a win. Every win counts whether you’re playing New York or Kansas City. But there are 10 second-half series for the Red Sox that stand out from all the rest. They seem bigger, more important somehow, than the others.
There are 24 series in the second half—let’s take a look the 10 biggest ones.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com
The Red Sox are 5-4 against Tampa Bay this year.
The Red Sox have to get off to a flying start in the second half this season. That means taking the first series of the second half. This series could have been against the Toledo Mud Hens for all I care—they simply have to take the first series after the All-Star break.
The fact that it comes against an AL East rival only makes it that much more meaningful. With so much time left in the season, there is still actually a shot (don’t laugh) at the Red Sox making a run for first place in the East.
Tampa Bay is two games ahead of Boston in the East. Boston and Tampa will battle the rest of the season for a shot at first in the East or a piece of the wild-card pie.
But you have to crawl before you walk and walk before you run. Taking at least two out three against Tampa Bay will propel the Red Sox in the right direction in the second half of the season.
The Red Sox are 1-5 against New York this season.
The Red Sox will not have to wait long to for a chance to exorcise the demons of the first half of the season. The sixth series of the second half comes against New York in New York.
The wounds of the final series of the first half will still be fresh for Boston. This is a chance for payback. Boston was absolutely embarrassed at Fenway at the hands of the Yankees in an early July four-game series. The Yankees took three out of four from Boston and made it look easy.
They Yankees made quick work of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Franklin Morales during that series. What is so frightening for Red Sox fans is the games were at home and those would be the pitchers you would want in that situation.
Sweeping this series would do more than the obvious help in the standings. It would help to heal a wounded psyche. Make no mistake, the Red Sox are a damaged team—not just health-wise, but psychologically. Winning this series would be the best therapy money could buy.
The Red Sox are 3-4 against the Detroit Tigers this year.
There are multiple reasons why this is a huge series for Boston. Let’s speculate for a moment that the Red Sox sweep the Yankees in the series prior to this one. The Sox would be feeling pretty good; the world would start feeling right again. They would even be going home to Friendly Fenway to face Detroit in a three-game series.
But Fenway has not been all friendly this season. It also has not been all that bad. This takes us back to the Red Sox mired in the sludge of mediocrity.
The Red Sox are 22-24 at Fenway this season—disappointing for sure, but with still plenty of time to turn that record around. If they want any true shot at the playoffs, that number has to improve, and improve fast.
A great start would be to take three from Detroit. This would keep up any momentum they had going and would help to deflate a Detroit team that currently sits at 44-42, a team the Red Sox will most likely be at war with for a wild-card spot.
The Red Sox are 3-0 against Minnesota this season.
While beating teams like New York, Tampa Bay and Detroit has the benefit of beating teams ahead of them in the standings, the Red Sox have to take care of business against teams like the Minnesota Twins.
Minnesota is in last place in the AL Central with a record of 36-49. They are 10th in home runs with 73 (only better than Seattle and Kansas City). They are 10th in runs scored with 354 (only better than Baltimore, Kansas City, Seattle and Oakland).
In short, this is a team the Red Sox pitching staff should be able to take care of.
The Red Sox did take care of Minnesota in late April by sweeping a three-game series in Minnesota. The Red Sox have them at home this time for a four-game series.
The Red Sox can’t afford to lose many more home games, especially home games against bad teams. This really is a series the Sox should sweep.
The Red Sox are 3-6 against Baltimore this season.
Baltimore has had the Red Sox's number this season. The Sox have only been able to squeak out three wins in nine games against the Orioles. Baltimore always gives the Red Sox a run for their money—but for two teams who normally play each other fairly evenly, Baltimore has had the distinct advantage this season.
The Red Sox went 10-8 against Baltimore in 2011 and went 9-9 against Baltimore in 2010.
It is time for the Red Sox skew those numbers more in their favor.
Baltimore is currently in second place in the AL East. They are 2.5 games ahead of Boston. The mid-August three-game series against Baltimore gives Boston a golden opportunity to tie the season series and perhaps even leap frog over Baltimore in the standings.
The Red Sox will get their first look at the Albert Pujols-led Angels on August 21 at Fenway.
The Angels are 48-38 on the season and sit in second place in the AL West. There is a distinct possibility that the Texas Rangers could run away with the West, leaving the Angels in a battle for one of the wild-card spots.
The Angels are yet another team the Red Sox may have to battle for one of those cherished wild-card spots.
The Red Sox can make a huge statement to the rest of the American League by sweeping the Angels at home. Even taking three out of four would go a long way for the Red Sox playoff hopes.
This is also another psyche series for the Sox. The Angels are 10 games over .500, have a nice 23-20 record on the road and have proven to be one of the best teams in the AL. This series comes smack in the middle of the second half of the season.
If the second-half opener against the Yankees is the series that could propel the Red Sox in the right direction, this series against the Angels is the second-half checkpoint to see if the Sox are still on the right course.
The Red Sox are 4-2 against Seattle this season.
This falls under the Minnesota Twins category: Take care of business against bad teams. The Red Sox fly out to Seattle on September 3 for a three-game series. By the beginning of September, the playoff races will have taken on a clear picture.
If the Red Sox want to be in that picture, they must find ways to beat bad teams.
This could be a huge three game set for the Red Sox. Remember how last season came down to one game? One game. That was the difference between a playoff berth and an offseason full of drama that really still has not left.
The Red Sox cannot afford to give away games to teams like Seattle late in the season. Seattle is 25th in runs scored with 337 on the season. They are 24th in home runs with 73. They are 24th in RBI with 317. They are 29th in batting average with a woeful .230 percentage. (h/t ESPN)
What does all of that mean? It means Seattle is a team the Red Sox should beat up on. Even their 4-2 record in the first half of the season is not good enough. Unless King Felix is on the mound, the Red Sox should take all three games in this early September series.
Every series against the Yankees has the potential to be huge. A September series against the Yankees is magnified that much more. If the Red Sox take care of the previous seven series I wrote about, they should be in strong contention for at least a wild-card spot.
By this time, all of the soul searching should be done, and the business of baseball (hopefully) will be firmly on display.
Last season, the Red Sox lost two out of three against the Yankees late in September when the Sox desperately needed wins. In fact, the Yankees outscored the Red Sox 15-3 in the first two games of that series. The September collapse was in full force after that Yankee beatdown.
Every September game will be scrutinized more than normal this season after last season’s disastrous September.
This series could prove to be one of the biggest of the season for the Red Sox. Last season, the Red Sox were in New York for their September series. This season, the Sox get the Yankees at Fenway. If there is ever a time for Fenway to be friendly, it will be during this series.
Last season, at home, the Red Sox lost three out of four to the Tampa Bay Rays in a mid-September series. This year, the Red Sox could offer a little pay back.
This series could be big on two levels.
Either the Red Sox and the Rays are battling for a wild-card spot, or they are actually battling for first in the AL East. It’s a long shot, I know—but still a possibility.
If the Red Sox can pull off back-to-back series wins against the Yankees and the Rays, the ghosts of last September will finally start to fade.
As far the regular season goes, does it get any bigger than Boston vs. New York in October?
The Red Sox missed out on the playoffs on the last day of the season in 2011. If that happens again, the Red Sox may part ways with Valentine. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated said as much when he was asked by Tony Massoritti of 98.5 The Sports Hub if Valentine would be back next year:
Not if they don’t make the playoffs. There’s too much invested in this team financially to say, "Hey, a manager deserves more than one year." So I don’t think the fact that it’s his first season will give him a pass.
I think it should be a playoff team based on the roster, based on the financial investment and based on the expectations quite frankly. He knew what he was getting into
The Red Sox end the regular season with this three-game series against the Yankees. The Red Sox always show a flair for the dramatic. I would expect nothing less from this series.
Valentine’s job could literally come down to this series. If the Red Sox lose it again in September, get ready for all of the old ghosts to come roaring back.