Sunday, April 20, 2014
The Major League Baseball playoffs begin six weeks from today. Between now and then, the Red Sox will have to battle tooth and nail to make it back to the postseason for the first time since 2009.
That battle includes this week's six-game trip to the West Coast. It's the culmination of a grinding stretch that has the Sox playing 16 of 19 games on the road.
It's been such an unusual stretch that Manager John Farrell took the extraordinary step of having the team sleep at home after Sunday night's game against the Yankees.
Upon arrival in San Francisco Monday, the Sox boarded a bus and departed directly to the ballpark. They didn't check into the hotel until after the game with the Giants.
From San Francisco, the trip continues south to Chavez Ravine where the Sox will play the Dodgers, who are on one of the greatest runs in the history of the sport.
A team needs to have its entire offense going strong for a series like that. Unfortunately, the Red Sox won't even have all their hitters available this week: These are interleague games, and since the Sox are on the road they must play under National League rules.
That means there will be no designated hitter in these games. Which means either David Ortiz or Mike Napoli will be kept out of the lineup.
So the Red Sox, who arrived in California holding onto the division lead, are understaffed as they try to nail down their playoff berth.
It'll be the same story at the end of the season when they travel to Colorado to face the Rockies on Sept. 24 and 25. The Red Sox will play eight of their final 36 games under National League rules, meaning one of their premier hitters will be on the bench for 22 percent of those games.
Saturday's disclosure that Napoli was battling plantar fasciitis -- a painful inflammatory process of the connective tissue or ligament on the sole of the foot -- means he could actually use some rest.
Yet the Sox surely don't want Ortiz playing first base every day for a week. He hasn't done that in years.
Overusing your leading home run hitter doesn't bode well for a September run -- or for October success.
The only good news is that the Sox have a remarkable number of days off down the stretch. They've got five of the next six Mondays off as well as the Thursday after that trip to Denver. Ortiz will get plenty of time to rest after taking some reps at first this week.
The bad news is they're going to have pitchers stepping up to the plate in moments that could be crucial to their playoff hopes. Or they will have to pinch hit for those pitchers, pulling them out of games earlier than they would otherwise.
It's time to get rid of the ridiculous rule differences between the leagues. Now that there is interleague play throughout the season, American League teams must be able to use their entire roster down the stretch. That means they should field a DH.
Baseball took a leap into the modern era with the announcement that instant replay will be expanded next season.
It's time for the other shoe to drop and stop acting like the AL and NL play different versions of the game.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.