After having their five-game winning streak snapped in what turned out to be a pitchers-duel, the Red Sox will try to salvage a split from the AL East leading Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday. Right after the game they’ll charter their way to the city of brotherly love where they’ll play the Phillies for three before trekking over to Baltimore for three against the upstart Orioles. The point I’m trying to make is that this current road trip will determine if the Red Sox are pretenders or contenders.
While the road trip will only comprise of 8-games, it’s a chance for the Old Towne Team to make up some ground in the division and more importantly try and stall the two teams that are currently leading the AL East.
Entering Thursday night’s game the Sox are 8-8 on the road and have a +10 run differential. But the offense will be tested throughout the road trip with excellent starting pitching set to take the mound for the opposition. After watching Jeremy Hellickson mow down 6 Red Sox batters by way of the K, it’s the phenom Matt Moore on the hill Thursday before seeing Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and Cliff Lee in Philadelphia. Not exactly a list of up and comers but rather a list of who’s who that have some major accomplishments in their career.
While the starters for the Baltimore series are not listed yet, the way the schedule works it could be Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta. All three young arms have shown excellent stuff this year including a brilliant outing from Arrieta back in early May when he shutout the Yankees through eight innings while only allowing five hits and striking out nine. The Orioles are playing great baseball and are begging to be considered a real contender this year. Suffice to say entering Camden Yards will be a stiff test for the Sox.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Sox when they return home after this road trip. Waiting for them at Fenway Park will be the Rays and Tigers, both three game series. Home hasn’t been where the heart is for this club, but a better outing before hitting the road has to make them feel better about playing in front of the Fenway Faithful.
If the Sox can get through this road trip and take 5 out of 8, then call it a success given the quality of pitching they will see. If they can beat some of those pitchers listed above then this club could be considered a contender. Should they struggle and finish up with only 2 or 3 wins on the road, suddenly we’ll be nearing the end of May and .500 will still be miles away. At that point, with a difficult schedule at home, the Red Sox could be considered pretenders and then the questions will start flying around about what to do with this team.
Optimism is the key, so for the record let’s say this road trip ends well for the Boston crew. They are playing better baseball lately and it was two costly mistakes that resulted in the loss last night. In that game the Red Sox showed that they can not only play with the Rays but beat them, given they took three out of four earlier this year. They now need to prove that this club has the tools to compete against the top clubs and it starts with this road trip.