The Boston Red Sox have officially exterminated the New York Yankees’ 2023 season.
On the heels of the Boston sweep at Yankee Stadium this past weekend, the Yankees have called up minor leaguers Oswald Peraza and Everson Periera from Triple A, the first of several anticipated moves to add youngsters to the big league squad and begin auditions for the 2024 team. The Yankees have been dancing on a cliff’s edge for most of the second half of the season, and the Red Sox extending the Bombers’ current losing streak to eight games has plunged them over the side and into the briar patch below.
The smiting of one’s mortal enemy is typically a monumental accomplishment, but we can’t kid ourselves here. The Yankees had already been unofficially out of contention for quite awhile before Friday night. Does it feel good to put the Yankees down for the dirt nap? You’re damn right. But for this Red Sox team, delivering the coup de gras to Boone’s bumbling boobs is little more than a preamble to the serious work that has just begun.
And if the Red Sox don’t get the job done over the hellish schedule that looms ahead of them for the rest of the season, they will be following the Yankees straight down into the abyss.
As of today, the rest of the Red Sox schedule shakes out like this:
Three more games in Houston. Back home for six against the Dodgers and Houston, three in Kansas City, three in Tampa Bay, seven at home against Baltimore and the dead Bombers, three in Toronto, three in Texas, five at home against the White Sox and Rays, then four in Baltimore to close out the season.
That’s a whole bunch of lions to slay and only a few lambs to slaughter.
As far as 2023 goes, you could say this ballbuster of a remaining schedule is good news. After all, the Red Sox have excelled against good teams all season long. They’ve consistently risen to the occasion when facing intimidating opponents at the top of the league. If not for being swept by pushovers like the Pirates, Cardinals, and Angels and losing series to teams like the A’s, Rockies, White Sox, and Nationals, Boston could easily find themselves currently in possession of a playoff spot. If the script continues the way it has for most of this campaign, the Red Sox should be able to cut a swath through the iron of the league for these final six weeks and hurdle a couple of teams in the wild card race.
However, scripts can change. Just ask David Fincher.
On the bright side, the Red Sox roster is in a better position to face the best teams in the American League now than they have been all year. There are no more floundering quadruple-A pitchers (aside from garbage man Mauricio Llovera) to be leaned on in high-leverage spots. There are no more embarrassingly inept fielders (though there are a few weak ones) playing defense. There are no more black holes (though there are a couple struggling bats) in the regular starting lineup.
Best of all, the Red Sox now feature a five-man rotation of starting pitchers that have each had excellent runs this season. A couple are recovering from injuries. A couple lack big-game experience. All are weary from the grind of this season. But they have all shown that they can succeed at the big league level.
The Red Sox just went 9-4 during a stretch of 13 games against some of the weakest teams in the league. Call it the calm before the storm.
To their credit, they took care of business and beat the teams they should have beaten, something which has been in no way a foregone conclusion in 2023. Sweeping the Yankees, sticking a dagger into the belly of their 2023 season in the process, is a nice segue to walking into the buzzsaw of Minute Maid Park for a series that could ultimately decide the fate of their season.
The unfortunate part is that the Red Sox have gained virtually no ground in their plight to gain a playoff spot during their recent surge, now standing four games back of the final wild card spot. Toronto, Houston, and Seattle still stand between Boston and the playoffs, and the Red Sox will need to hurdle at least two of those teams if they wish to punch their ticket to October.
The Astros endured a lackluster start to the season the same way a world class marathoner lingers at the middle of the herd until finally making his move at the 18-mile mark. They knew they were better, and they knew it was only a matter of time before they would begin playing that way. Throw in a future Hall of Famer with two World Series rings in his back pocket and voila, here come those Astros we all know and hate.
The Mariners also looked pedestrian for much of the season until Julio Rodriguez finally woke up and started going all Jason Voorhees on Major League pitching. Now they can’t lose. And unlike the 2022 Mariners, this team has playoff experience and knows what they must do (and more importantly what they shouldn’t do) to play winning baseball in the late summer and fall. They also have Cal Raleigh, who has every Red Sox fan’s vote for AL MVP and Greatest Player in Baseball History.
The Blue Jays, as always, are flirting with underachievement. They have all the talent in the world, and they were my preseason pick to win the World Series. You can only see that talent during certain stretches though, and the Red Sox won the first seven meetings between the two teams before the ill-fated, post-deadline Fenway sweep. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has had a sleepy season, which has me worried that he may just explode from now through October. If that happens, the rest of the Blue Jays offense can just take a nap and coast into the postseason on his back.
Now we need to address the toughest adversary the Red Sox will face for the rest of this season. Their own defense.
After a year-and-a-half of Rafael Devers supposedly improving his defense, he now appears to have reached a state of brain-lock whenever a ball is hit in his direction. Half the time the ball is hit directly at him he doesn’t field it cleanly. If he does field it cleanly, there’s about a 50% chance of the throw veering off the mark. Then there are the occasions like Monday night, where he actually fielded a ball cleanly and then fell down as if taken out by a sniper before throwing it off the mark. Then he booted the very next ball that was hit to him.
It’s been six years. It feels like Raffy’s defense would have gotten much better than this by now even if he never practiced in-between games. Alas, it hasn’t, and we are all stuck with him at third base since Masataka Yoshida is burning out in his first year playing a MLB schedule and Justin Turner is now not just old, but also half-crippled.
Yoshida isn’t the greatest defender either, but I honestly haven’t even noticed any serious defensive issues with him. Triston Casas has been the big disappointment for me on the defensive side of the ball. I do expect his fielding to drastically improve over the next couple years, but that doesn’t do much good for the 2023 team. It feels like everything that is hit hard to him at this stage of his career is an adventure. A good first baseman can save an infield a lot of errors, but Casas is not that guy yet.
It doesn’t matter how well the Red Sox pitch or hit if they keep giving extra outs to quality teams like the ones they’ll be playing for the rest of the season. With Trevor Story back at shortstop and Kiké Hernandez back in the land of casual fans making third-inning entrances, the defense is adequate enough in most of the spots on the diamond. Those few weak spots, however, could very well be the critical choke points that cause this team’s ultimate downfall.
This is not a championship caliber team. If you can’t play good defense, you can’t beat good teams. At full strength, however, I do believe that this is a playoff team. The Red Sox have six weeks to prove me right, and there is no chance that they can back into a playoff berth in spite of a lackluster effort. When you sit four games out of the final wild card spot with a buzzsaw of a schedule standing between you and Game 162, you have to earn every bit of it.
It’s playoff fever, boys. Catch it!
No, seriously … catch it.
Catch the freaking ball.