There have been portions of the recent Red Sox schedule that have stood as "defining" stretches, times when optimists hope the club can prove that it remains relevant. Each one ends with little fanfare and more ammunition for the growing legion of pessimists. The six-game road trip that concluded Sunday in the Bronx was one such stretch, again doing little to turn around an increasingly awkward and lackluster campaign.
If there are any optimists left (there was a recent sighting of one in Saugus), they must be gearing up for the 10-game homestand that begins tonight, the next, and perhaps last, of those "defining" stretches.
The homestand, including visits from Detroit, Minnesota and Texas, is the longest this season. Once complete, the Sox play 32 of their last 50 games on the road, including two trips to New York and a nine-gamer on the West Coast.
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Here are three things that must occur to restore hope:
1. David must dominate. Entering last night the Sox were 4-7 since David Ortiz went down with an Achilles injury. They've scored five runs or less in eight of those 11 games, six times scoring three or fewer. Boston is a top-notch offense with Ortiz in the lineup. Without him, it is pedestrian. All signs point to Ortiz returning Wednesday night when he is eligible to come off the disabled list.
2. Buch(holz) the trend. Raise your hand if you are sick of hearing that the Red Sox need Jon Lester and Josh Beckett to pitch better. As true as it is, it's a tired statement. Too obvious. What they need almost as much is for Clay Buchholz to stay on fire. The righty is 4-1 with a 2.47 ERA in his last eight starts. He can set a tone for the homestand tonight in the series-opener against Detroit -- and perhaps continue to support an exceptionally average staff.
3. Survive the deadline. It seems likely that general manager Ben Cherington will stand pat at the trade deadline. Perhaps he will make a cosmetic move, but once the deadline comes and goes tomorrow, maybe those still left in the clubhouse can look at one another, realize this is their team and begin to play with a chip on their shoulders. The value in trading a big name will likely not be there throughout MLB and bringing in a big name would take a boatload of valuable prospects.