SEATTLE – The calendar still says it’s mid – September, but for all intents and purposes, the Red Sox play baseball in October.
One loss – at least for a couple of weeks – will not end Boston’s season. But with 16 games left and the five teams now within two games of each other in the American League wild-card race, every game for the Red Sox should be seen as a must-win from now on.
In his first term, Sox manager Alex Cora failed to make many meaningful September appearances. In 2018, the Red Sox entered September with a massive lead in the division and finally got it on the 20th. In 2019, the most notable Sox moment was Dave Dombrowski’s midnight shooting after all hopes of a playoff game were lost in late August.
In 2021, things are different. In the last seven games – all against competitors after the season – the Red Sox have played six singles matches, including five in a row. High, energetic crowds have greeted them in both Seattle and Chicago, where they are 1-3 so far on the season’s most important road trip.
“It’s the same feeling on a daily basis,” Cora said. “You try to maximize your roster, you make moves you feel like (putting) the team in a position to succeed. There are certain times it works, and others, it has not worked. It’s the same feeling. Apparently without a full house and 8000 TV members around here. But it’s the same way.
“Obviously you still have two weeks,” he continued. “It’s not like you’re all-in, all-in for a day. But you try to win every possible match, and at the same time you take certain chances in certain situations when we feel we can achieve it. ”
Cora, once a baseball fan, admitted that he does a lot of scoreboard viewing these days. When the Red Sox played a late game on the West Coast, Cora was able to watch the Rays beat the Blue Jays and the Yankees took a big lead on the Orioles before the first course at T-Mobile Park. He even sent a message to Tampa Bay boss Kevin Cash on Monday to wish him luck. Suddenly, after chasing the rays all season, the Red Sox rotate after them.
“It’s the fun part of it, just to see who’s where and who’s playing who,” Cora said. “We know for sure that there are a lot of teams around us that will be beating heads in the next couple of weeks.”
The urgency of the moment has also been reflected in Cora’s leadership style. On Sunday, despite using Garrett Whitlock in two innings the night before, Cora took off his gloves and used the novice in the ninth inning in a draw because he knew the White Sox lacked relievers. It did not work, when Leury García hit a walk-off homer, but still was not a move Cora would have made in, say, June.
Soon, the Red Sox will begin to aggressively manipulate the rotation as well. With four days off in a 12-day period from September 16 to 27, the Sox are discussing ways to maximize their pitching staff. When we read between the lines, it seems that Nathan Eovaldi (from Tuesday) and Chris Sale (who returns from the COVID-19 injury list on Friday) will be lined up to start as much as possible. The holidays allow Boston to have either Sale or Eovaldi eight of the last 16 games of the regular season while lining up Eovaldi for a potential Wild Card game on October 5th.
“You want certain guys to face certain teams, or you want certain guys to field as many guys as possible,” Cora said. “I think we lean towards (the latter).”
The Red Sox will get some reinforcements soon, as Sale, Matt Barnes and others should be back by the weekend, and the schedule will also be much easier. After a brutal stretch of nine games against the Rays, the White Sox and Mariners end, the Sox end with a fairly easy last two weeks. Eleven of Boston’s last 14 games are against teams that are under. 500, including six against the humble Orioles and three more against the impoverished citizens. A crucial home series against the Yankees also awaits next weekend.
Cora believes that when the Red Sox return to full strength and start playing lighter opponents, a road to the post-season will open.
“We have not had our hot stretch yet,” Cora said. “We got a little hot, but we’ve been a .500 team for a while. We still have one more race. ”