The race heats up
After watching the Red Sox lose two of three to the Kansas City Royals, Red Sox Nation has begun to feel the first real panic of the 2007 season. On Wednesday night, Boston's lead in the East was the smallest it's been in more than two months.
We all knew the Yankees would make a run at some point, and this could be that run. Looking at the upcoming schedule for the two teams over the next few weeks, that run might not be over next.
Both teams play the majority of their games against teams with sub-.500 records in the coming weeks, but a comparison makes it clear that the Yankees have the easier record between now and Aug. 9 (a mutual day off):
BOSTON RED SOX
7/19-7/20 White Sox
7/23-7/26 at Cleveland
7/27-7/29 at Tampa Bay
8/3-8/5 at Seattle
8/6-8/8 at Anaheim
NEW YORK YANKEES
7/20-7/22 Devil Rays
7/23-7/26 at Kansas City
7/27-7/29 at Baltimore
7/31-8/2 White Sox
8/6-8/8 at Toronto
Both teams play the White Sox, Devil Rays, and Orioles, but while the Sox play tough road series in Cleveland, Seattle, and Anaheim, the Yankees will be playing two series with Kansas City and another with Toronto.
(I realize the Royals just took a series at Fenway, but there's no question you'd rather be facing Kansas City than the Indians, Mariners, or Angels.)
After that, the strength of schedule turns in Boston's favor. In the 12 days before the Yankees host Boston for a three-game set beginning Aug. 28, they will play a stunning eight games with the Detroit Tigers and three with the Angels. The Sox will also play the Angels in that stretch, but will face the Devil Rays and White Sox in the other two series.
Will those three days at the end of August mean anything in the AL East? We're a long way from finding out. What we know right now is that the Yankees have hit better, pitched better, and won more games than the Red Sox over the past two weeks.
There will be changes in the coming weeks. The Sox appear to be looking for an outfielder that can spark the offense and re-energize the lineup. Both teams will be in the market for the top players available.
In New York, Phillip Hughes is close to making a return. Last time he was on the mound for the Yankees he was throwing a no hitter. He left that game with an injury, and has been trying to work his way back ever since.
In Boston, Curt Schilling will begin a rehab assignment in Pawtucket this weekend. He could wind up being the biggest single difference in all of this. If he returns anything close to the pitcher we know he can be, the Sox will once again have the best rotation in baseball.
Last July, the Red Sox chose not to make any moves of consequence at the trade deadline. The injuries piled up shortly thereafter, and the 2006 season was lost. This year, team officials have been saying they will aggressively look for players that can improve this team.
It's clear there is room for improvement. The Sox are still in first place, but the race is heating up.
We never thought it could be any other way, did we?