Alright, I'll admit it. I'm getting a little nervous.
The Red Sox lead in the AL East is now 5 games, as the Sox played badly in Anaheim last night, losing, 10-4 to the Angels. It's certainly not the way you want to see your first place team play like. Tim Wakefield got hit hard and gave up te lead in the fifth; Mike Lowell was thrown out at the plate as the Red Sox tried to get back in it in the sixth; the bullpen let the game get even more out of reach; Julio Lugo and Coco Crisp made costly errors; and Crisp had a home run stolen away by Gary Matthews.
The Boston Globe has a question on their web site today: Is this 1978 all over again?
I have a simple answer: it is not.
There are so many differences between the two seasons. Right now the Red Sox are playing good baseball, having won 12 of 18 since July 20. But they've been losing ground since the Yankees have been beating up on rotten teams and crappy pitching to get back into the race. (Thanks also to the Toronto Blue Jays for rolling over like dogs in this series.) They've gone 25-10 since July 1 to cut the Red Sox lead to five. Do you think they can realistically keep up that pace?
Do you know what the Red Sox longest losing streak of 2007 has been? Four games. Yes, four. It happened back in the first week in June (and was stopped by Curt Schilling's near no-hitter). The 1978 club had two prolonged losing skids, (a 9-out-of-10 one in July and a 14-of-17 one in September) which brought the Yankees back into the race, as they got hot at the same time as the first Sox losing streak. This Red Sox team has been amazingly consistent. Their longest winning streaks of the year has been 5 games, and they've done that three times.
They lost twice to the Angels this week, but they are one of baseball's better teams. If the Sox had lost 12 of 18 right now, or was dropping games to Kansas City right now, I'd be more concerned. But the schedule the rest of the way favors them. They do have to play the Angels five more times (once tonight and four times at Fenway next weekend), and the Yankees six more. But the rest of the schedule is against the AL's also-rans and borderline playoff teams.
The Red Sox also play 17 home games and 10 road games in September. They also have 12 games on the slate against Tampa Bay. They play their final game of the regular season outside the Eastern time zone in Chicago on August 26, so they at least don't have to travel much coming down the stretch.
So, really, it's all in the hands of the Red Sox. The schedule really favors them (and I don't believe in any "conspiracy theories" about how MLB and the TV networks "rigged" the schedule to allow the Yankees to get back in the race with a soft July schedule), and now the Yankees hit a tougher patch, as they have to play teams like Cleveland, Detroit, LA and the Red Sox the remainder of this month.
I said it back in late May when the Red Sox had the 11 1/2 game division lead: the race was not over. And it still isn't. The Yankees basically bashed their way back into the race. They have a great offensive team, and I'm not surprised they've made up ground. However, I also said something else back then, and I still stand by it: the team that pitches better the remainder of the way will win this division. And I believe the Red Sox have the advantage in that regard, both in starting and relief pitching.
It's OK to be a little nervous right now. Stay away from the window ledges and sharp objects right now. I still think the Red Sox will be fine.