Sunday, May 19, 2013
I have never been a big fan of interleague play. I've always thought it was a little too contrived, and much too long.
A couple series a year -- say three games home and three away -- would be enough to punch up the schedule. Eighteen games -- including the current 15-game, 17-day stretch -- were far too much of a not-so-good thing.
But the current season is changing my mind.
I like Boston's interleague schedule this year. We get to see an electrifying Nationals team, a new Marlins ballpark, and the late-day confines of Wrigley Field.
Trouble is, interleague play has not been good to the Red Sox. They were swept at home by Washington, the first National League team to do that to the Sox since the Braves in 2002.
That was also the last time Boston posted a losing interleague record.
It was a frustrating weekend for the Sox, their manager and their fans.
The Sox have scored the second-most runs in the AL, but could do very little against a Nationals pitching staff that has the lowest ERA in the majors. Boston hit .208 over the weekend (.115 with runners in scoring position) and struck out 30 times while scoring an average of three runs a game.
Suddenly, the Sox were in a tailspin as they took their talents to South Beach. They lost three games in the standings over the weekend to both the Rays and Yankees, and after another loss Monday in Miami, they trail both teams by 6½ games.
Monday's game was the first Miami visit for the Sox since 2006, long before Ozzie Guillen and the strangest outfield sculpture in big-league history.
After watching the Miami Heat construct a team to contend for an NBA championship, the Marlins decided to try the same thing, grabbing Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell in the offseason.
Despite all that, the Marlins began the series with a six-game losing streak and a five-game deficit in the NL East.
That didn't stop the Florida front office from talking trash about the Sox series. The Marlins posted the following note on the team's official Twitter feed Monday morning:
"One Boston sports team was sent home packing for the season. Now it's time for the Fish to send another home packing! Red Sox in town for 3!"
It was a not-so-subtle reference to Saturday night's crushing Celtics loss in Miami. That one will sting around here for a long time to come.
With that memorable basketball run now over, many fans are turning their full attention to the Sox for the first time in a while.
They'll see an offense that's been trying to tread water without Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Cody Ross. Kevin Youkilis recently returned to the lineup, but is 0 for 11 with four strikeouts in the last four games.
They'll also see a bullpen that has gone from one of the worst (statistically) in baseball over the first two weeks of the season to one of the best in the past month and a half.
That bullpen has started to show cracks, however. Rich Hill was placed on the disabled list Monday, and Alfredo Aceves is 0-3 with a 7.00 ERA in his last eight games.
Aceves has done an admirable job filling in for the injured Andrew Bailey. Scott Atchison, Vicente Padilla, Matt Albers and Franklin Morales have all done a better job than anyone expected. But can you really lean on those arms all season?
The Sox may not have to. Bailey is throwing, Mark Melancon is back after posting a 0.83 ERA in 21 innings with Pawtucket, and Mark Prior is striking out batters at an incredible pace in Triple-A.
Daniel Bard is trying to rebuild his mechanics -- and his confidence -- and will most likely end up in the bullpen.
The Red Sox fully expect to be a much better team in a month, when outfielders and relief pitchers are back and ready to go. Until now, no one was running away with the division, so the Sox were within striking distance.
But with Tampa Bay and New York coming together, the Sox can't let the slide continue for long if they want to stay in the playoff hunt.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears Tuesdays in the Press Herald