At first I was going to write that this was a Red Sox season defined by peaks and valleys, but then I remembered it was sort of one long plateau at high altitude all the way until August, at which point the team hit the edge of a metaphorical Grand Canyon and began to tumble in. The good news? After six weeks of scraping to get back out, they seem to find themselves, if not quite at the top, close enough for comfort. The Blue Jays, so near the top just a week ago, are now beneath them, with the Yankees having climbed over Toronto on Wednesday.
Now, the Yankees are set to come to Boston tomorrow and maybe have their season effectively ended after August’s 14-game winning streak and concomitant, albeit brief, resuscitation of Yankees fan shit talk, with which I was bombarded for a few days, the ultimate shock and awe of which is just how short it was. No matter what happens with the Sox for the rest of the year, finishing ahead of a playoff-missing Yankees team is both an incredible possible accomplishment, given their respective rosters and expectations, and moral one, given that the Yankees are Bad.
Of course, making the one-game playoff could last exactly nine innings and the we’d still be sad. Despite my column last week saying I’d start Chris Sale over Nathan Eovaldi in that game all things being equal, it’s clear that all things are not equal, with Sale a little wobbly on the mound in his second to last time out following his second COVID bout, though fine last night. Meanwhile, Eovaldi is shoving, and with Sale lined up to potentially start the last game of the regular season, I’d just slot in Nate and have Sale ready to piggyback him if they have the luxury of keeping Sale out of said final start. (Beating the Yankees this weekend would be a good way to lock that down.)
What has become especially clear to me in the last week or so is that, if the Sox are going to win anything at all this year, the bats will lead them there. Fortunately, these bats seem to be coming alive again at just the right time, the post-All Star break lull being acceptable in retrospect after the lofty highs of the first half. The pitching was never the strength of this team and remains, even after Sale’s return and especially after Garrett Whitlock’s injury, a decidedly patchwork affair. The Sox really do have the talent to make a run for the title, but almost all of that talent is in at the plate. Their hitting will take them wherever they’re going.
This is pretty scary for a team staring down a potential one-game playoff with Toronto, and (I can’t believe I’m writing this, so please bear with me) potential AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray, but it’s possible and likely that just as the Sox won’t really get the chance to set things up exactly as they want before a playoff game, neither would the Jays. Ironically, a Sox sweep of the Yankees this weekend would make it far more likely that the Jays would be able to hold Ray back for the game, but you only play the team in front of you and you play to win the game.
The bottom line is it’s nice to finally feel good about this season again now that a playoff berth is likely, the minor leagues have become good-to-great, and the future looks bright. But the present is still pretty good, and any progress into and through the playoffs would truly be a gift.