The baseball season is quite a long one, but oh how things can change in the course of a week. For example, seven days ago the Boston Red Sox were attempting to bounce back from a series loss to the Baltimore Orioles — one of the worst teams in baseball — and fingernails were put on notice as they stared down a pivotal stretch leading up to the trade deadline.
It seemed like a make-or-break week for the Red Sox as they began a run of 14 consecutive games against the Yankees and Rays — both teams above Boston in the standings. A bad week and the Sox were potentially being looked at as sellers at the deadline. On the other hand, a good week and they were right back in the hunt, possibly as deadline buyers trying to make a strong second half push.
They had a pretty damn good week.
Not only did the Red Sox take two out of three against the Rays in Tampa, but they actually managed to find a rare case of sustained success by taking three straight against the Yankees at Fenway. Boston thoroughly outclassed the Yanks in the first three games of that series before dropping the Sunday night finale, and it was enough to keep this season’s hopes alive — at least for another week.
Let’s take a look back at the incredibly important week that was.
Then: July 30, 2018: 75-33, 1st in AL East, 6.0 game lead | Now: July 23, 2019: 59-48, 3rd in AL East, 9.0 games back
A bad week to be the Yankees
The only thing better than a very successful week for the Red Sox is a very successful week for the Red Sox that also happens to be a very bad week for the Yankees.
That was certainly the case over the last seven days.
It wasn’t just that the Yankees lost games, it’s how they lost them. The first three games of the Boston series contributed to a seven-game stretch in which the Yanks surrendered 73 runs — the most ever through a seven-game span in the history of the franchise.
The Red Sox accounted for 38 of those runs over the first three games, including 19 plated in the series opener on Thursday night. The Sox lineup absolutely took it to Masahiro Tanaka in that contest, tagging him for 12 earned runs on 12 hits, including two home runs, in 3 1/3 innings of work.
New York’s rotation isn’t exactly inspiring a ton of confidence at this point, but nobody has looked worse than Tanaka against the Red Sox. Boston’s offense has had a field day with the Japanese right-hander this year, putting 18 runs up against him in just four innings of work over two starts.
It’s contributed to what has looked like a familiar problem for the Yankees recently: Bad starting pitching, an imperfect bullpen and an offense that hasn’t been able to successfully climb out of the hole.
To make matters worse for the Yankees, they had to deal with losing out in the Marcus Stroman sweepstakes, and doing so to…the Mets? Stroman got his wish to return home to New York, though not to his preferred destination in the Bronx. He was not thrilled ( ), and it feels safe to assume many Yankees fans were in the same boat.
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom in New York, as they were able to escape a series sweep with a win against Boston on Sunday, and they still hold a nine-game lead over the Sox in the division. Not to mention there’s still time for New York to bolster their pitching staff prior to Wednesday’s trade deadline and they’ve been linked to a number of big names that could help soften the blow of losing out on Stroman.
With that being said, it feels like the collective confidence level in the Yankees is slipping, and for the first time all season it seems as though there’s less negativity surrounding the Red Sox than their arch-rivals. Maybe it’s an emotional overreaction after a tough series for the Bombers, but maybe it’s not actually crazy to feel better about the Red Sox chances down the stretch even if they don’t win the division.
The seed of doubt has been planted, now the Red Sox have the chance to water it with another pivotal week against the division rivals underway.
Chris Sale takes a step back
One of the few negative aspects of this past week was the rough outing from Chris Sale during Sunday’s finale against the Yankees. It snapped a streak (streak?) of two straight quality starts with 10-plus strikeouts from Sale, who had been struggling mightily before appearing to regain his ace form.
That top-of-the-rotation form disappeared once again on Sunday as Sale gave up six runs over 5 1/3 innings, putting Boston in a hole and earning him his 10th loss of the season — the first time he’s hit double-digit losses in three seasons with the Red Sox.
It’s possible this was just a hiccup for Sale and he’ll bounce back in his quest for a second-half turnaround, but there’s certainly reason to be worried that it’s just more of the same issues with consistency that we saw plague him during the first half. At the very least, Sale’s yearlong struggles against the Yankees are a point of concern. In three starts vs. New York this year, Sale is 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA.
Obviously, if the Red Sox are going to make a surge and find consistency in the second half, Sale could help them out in a big way by doing the same. At this point, though, there still seems to be a lot of uncertainty when it comes to which Sale you’re going to get on any given start.
The offense has been on a tear of late, so here are some statistical notes courtesy of the Red Sox.
- Mookie Betts: Betts hit three home runs against the Yankees on Friday night. He’s currently tops in the MLB in runs and is on pace to join Ted Williams as the only Red Sox player ever to score 140+ runs in a season. Betts is approaching his 750th career game this week and his 575 career runs ranks second-most ever by a Red Sox player in their first 750 games — only Williams (690) has more. The most recent players to reach 575 runs in their first 750 games: Albert Pujols (601), Derek Jeter (580), Alex Rodriguez (598), Kenny Lofton (592), and Bobby Bonds (582).
- Andrew Benintendi: Benintendi is 15-for-31 (.484) with 9 RBI, 9 runs, and 7 extra base hits (four doubles and three homers) in his last seven games.
- Rafael Devers: Devers has a nine-game hit streak and is batting .390 with 11 extra base hits (eight doubles, one triple and two home runs) over that stretch. He leads the MLB in hits and the AL in extra base hits. Devers, Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich are the only players batting at least .320 with 20 home runs and 75 RBI this season.
- This is the just the second time the Red Sox have ever had as many as nine players with at least 10 home runs in a season. The 2003 Red Sox were the only other team to do it.
Highlights of the week
The aforementioned three-dinger game from Betts on Friday was the fifth three-homer game of his career. That seems like an absurd stat for a guy who’s still just 26 years old, but he successfully becomes the eighth player in league history to achieve that feat five times, joining Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Carlos Delgado, Johnny Mize, Dave Kingman and Joe Carter.
Making that big day even more special for Betts was the fact that it fulfilled a request from Nico Sapienza, a 10-year-old from Make-A-Wish foundation who met with the Red Sox outfielder before the game. (Sapienza only requested one home run. This wasn’t a Paul O’Neill “Seinfeld” situation.)
Xander Bogaerts also had a multi-homer game with a neat story on Thursday. Bogaerts hit the longest home run of his career in the first inning of the series opener against the Yankees but realized that his mother, who was set to be in attendance for the game, hadn’t arrived in time to see it. With the Red Sox up big in the eighth inning, he tried to hit another one for his mom to see…and he did it.
How many times do we have to tell you? Another big week against the Rays and Yankees. After a three-game set against the Rays in Boston, the Sox play four games in three days — including a Saturday doubleheader — against the Yankees in New York.