It must feel like requiring two tanks of gas to complete your journey when your competitors require only one. Or needing two cans of Red Bull.
When you stagger out of the gate, fully righting yourself constitutes a very difficult task.
The Red Sox, who arrived at Yankee Stadium on Thursday as rain postponed this rivalry series opener, stood far better than when they last visited The Bronx. The defending World Series champions own a 29-27 record, giving them a piece of the second American League wild-card spot, a considerable jump from the 6-13 mark they held on April 17 after suffering a two-game sweep to the Yankees.
They’ve lost their past two series, however, with the Astros and Indians getting the better of them, and they still appear far away from the juggernaut that won 108 regular-season games last season and lost just three postseason contests en route to a duck-boat parade.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re there yet,” Alex Cora, the eminently quotable Red Sox manager, said Thursday afternoon. “We wanted to be somewhere else, of course, record-wise, but I think overall, the last month, we’ve been playing consistent baseball.”
Reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts and young third baseman Rafael Devers have woken up the most from that early stumble, and the Red Sox found a godsend in rookie second baseman Michael Chavis — the team’s first-round draft pick in 2014, who has hit (.269/.364/.507, with 10 homers) and fielded well to fill the void left by the injured Dustin Pedroia (who might never play again thanks to a bum left knee) and Brock Holt, as well as the underperforming Eduardo Nunez.
“He brought energy to the group,” Cora said. “It’s fun to watch [his] home runs, too. I don’t know that we need a fresh face, but we needed healthy bodies. He took advantage of his situation and he’s here now.”
“It’s been a dream since I’ve started playing baseball just to be up in the major leagues,” Chavis said, “but then to have the success I’ve had, it’s built some confidence. It’s helped make me more comfortable.”
The 23-year-old made his big-league debut on April 20, when the Bosox still lived well below .500.
“There’s never really been any doubt that I’ve seen or felt since I’ve been up here,” he said. “They stay positive, they stay confident. They know what we’re capable of.”
What intrigues me more is not the spirits, but rather the bodies. It’s just tough to power through after falling on a collective face. As the Associated Press noted after that Yankees mini-sweep last month, the last club to lose 12 or more of its first 18 games and reach the playoffs was the 2002 Angels, who started 6-14 before rebounding all the way to the championship.
And the Red Sox don’t anticipate getting any breaks from the current AL East leader, who began with a more manageable 6-9 crisis before the Red Sox series turned their fortunes.
Asked whether he thought the Yankees would struggle more than they have in light of their myriad injuries, Cora said, “That’s a story for you guys, but the way I look at it, [Gio] Urshela was a top prospect with Cleveland. It just didn’t happen there. Gleyber Torres, he’s a good shortstop. [DJ] LeMahieu, he’s a great second baseman.
“So the whole story about them not having good players, that’s for you guys. They have talent. And obviously, they have talent on the [injured list]. But the guys that are playing, they’re pretty good.”
Cora continued to shower praise on his former Indians and ESPN teammate Aaron Boone, saying of the Yankees’ manager: “He knows what he’s doing. He was very calm last year. He dealt with adversity, with the media. It just happened that last year, we won 108 games.
“If you tell me I’m going to win 100 games every season, I’ll take that. And most of the time, you’re not going to finish second. He was good last year. He’s been great this year.”
Can the Red Sox be great again this year? The odds oppose them. Nevertheless, it would behoove the Yankees to stomp on them this weekend, to damage their gas tanks and energy levels even more.
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