Boston Red Sox Have Grueling Stretch Ahead

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Red Sox head out west coming off a 5-2 homestand — and based off the pitching they got, should’ve been 7-0 — staying afloat in the race, 4 1/2 games out of a playoff spot.

The Sox will now embark on a grueling 10-game stretch, where they will face the Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, and New York Yankees on the road. It is a stretch that will prove Boston’s meddle as a playoff contender, and could make or break the 2014 season for the team.

When the Red Sox return to Fenway Park on June 30, we could be talking about a team in the thick of things in the playoff race. Or we could be talking about a team ready to sell off assets.

It begins with the trip out to the left coast, where the Red Sox are just 51-74 going back to the 2005 season. Between the long travel and the changing time zones, it’s a region that hasn’t been kind to past Red Sox teams.

It doesn’t help that the first Red Sox opponent on the west coast is Oakland, arguably the best team in baseball. Owners of the best record in baseball at 44-28, the A’s lead the MLB in both ERA (3.03) and runs scored (373). Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, and Yoenis Cespedes have given the A’s a formidable middle of the order, set up by former Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp (.379 OBP, 12 steals) atop the lineup.

On the mound, Oakland has been led by the revival of Scott Kazmir (8-2, 2.05 ERA), the blossoming of 24-year-old Sonny Gray (7-3, 2.91) and the emergence of 30-year-old longtime reliever Jesse Chavez (6-4, 2.93). Meanwhile the bullpen has been as good as any.

The Red Sox will see Kazmir, Chavez, as well as Tommy Milone, who is 5-3 with a 3.56 ERA in 13 starts in 2014, in the four-game set this weekend.

The Mariners aren’t nearly as good as AL West counterpart Oakland, but they sit just one game out of a playoff spot at 37-35. Prized free-agent signing Robinson Cano has given the lineup a legitimate bat in the middle of the order, while the pitching has once again delivered. Felix Hernandez is putting together another Cy Young-caliber season, 8-2 with a 2.22 ERA and a league-leading 122 strikeouts over a league-leading 113 1/3 innings pitched. The Sox will see him Monday night at Safeco Field.

If the seven games in seven days out west wasn’t enough, the Red Sox return to the east coast for a weekend series in the Bronx with the Yankees, following a day off for a travel.

The series proves crucial for Boston in the Wildcard race with the Yanks currently being tied for the second spot with a 37-33 record. Masahiro Tanaka — set to face the Sox bats in the middle game of the three-game series — has been the best pitcher in the bigs in 2014, sporting an 11-1 record with a 1.99 ERA, 0.953 WHIP, and 113 strikeouts to just 16 walks in 14 starts.

New York has been a pesky little team once again in 2014; a team that refuses to go away. Much like we’ve credited recent NBA champion San Antonio Spurs of being over the past week, the Yankees are just that in major league baseball. Always in the mix no matter what. The culture is ingrained.

It’s as grueling a 10-game stretch as you can give a Red Sox team; a west coast swing followed by a weekend series in New York. It will either be what we look back on and say was what got the team back in it; the catalyst to a run. Or it will be what we look back on and say what the final knockout blow.

Either way, we’ll find out what this team is made of.

Pat O’Rourke is a Red Sox writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter or join his network on Google.

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