It took the Red Sox 45 days to reach .500 for the first time in 2011. Not including their first two games, the Red Sox already had three opportunities to reach that mark, each time falling short, twice in extra innings.
And that's why the next two games are so important. How did the Red Sox get to this point? With a three-game sweep of the Yankees behind their top three pitchers in Buchholz, Beckett, and Lester. Which means now they've got Diasuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey going in their two-game set against the Orioles. If they can't take one of these two games, that means they're right back down to two under and relying on another sweep to get them back on top.
The good news is that these games will come against the Baltimore Orioles. The bad news is that these are still not quite your...well, these are not your slightly older sibling's Orioles. While their eight-game losing streak in April brought them down to earth, and a 2-6 start to May set them well behind, they're 5-1 in their last six games, including two rather convincing wins over the Rays, scoring 15 runs in those two games.
So now we're forced to turn to Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey to save us-not by any means an enviable position, regardless of how impressive the names may once have been. To Daisuke's credit, he has not been half the disaster Lackey has been. While he's having the worst year of his career peripherals-wise, he's had some more reasonable numbers over his last few starts, and other than the disaster against Tampa, he's kept his team in the game. Four earned in six innings, for instance, isn't good, but it's not all that difficult to overcome.
Against Chris Tillman, that sort of performance shouldn't be too major a problem. While the righty is capable of putting up a good few shutout innings, when it's come time to face off against the better offenses in the league-and by this point, the Sox are at the very least above average in that category-he's had some disaster games.
But if Tillman does pull through and have a big game, that's when the Sox are in trouble, because they'll be back under .500, and putting up John Lackey against Zach Britton.
John Lackey's struggles have been well documented. At the moment, he has some major distractions in his personal life, and in many ways they should soften the response to his performance on the field, but at the end of the day if he's going to keep taking the mound game after game, at some point he has to be better than this.
After allowing 17 earned runs in his first 11 innings of May, with as much pressure to win as there is in this game, it may not be crazy to think that Lackey is fighting for his spot in the rotation-at least for now. There have been many suggestions that if John Lackey can't separate his personal and professional lives, he should perhaps take a leave of absence. So far, Lackey hasn't taken that option, but if he can't get the job done against the Orioles on Tuesday, it might be time for the team to step in and insist.
Two-game home series against the Orioles in May are rarely circled on the schedule. But if only for the sanity of the Red Sox fans who had to watch this team fight so hard just to get this point, to fall back under so quickly would be something of a disaster. But it's not just about record-after the streak of incredible pitching in April that let the Sox fight their way back into contentions, Daisuke's last outing against the Twins is the only game started by the back of the rotation that the team has actually been able to win. This team just can't afford to have a back-end that can't win.