By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
A's recently as 10 days ago, the biggest question surrounding the Red Sox revolved around who should start Game 3 of the Division Series.
Now, in the aftermath of their disastrous 1-6 road trip, the focus has shifted: Will the Red Sox reach the Division Series?
In the last week, they've morphed from playoff locks to post-season suspects, their Wild Card lead trimmed to just three games in the loss column.
"Now we've put the pressure on them," said Tampa starter James Shields Sunday after limiting the Sox to a single run over 8 13 innings. "Now they have to win games. That's it. They could have swept us here and cruised on to the end and now they're not."
So, can the Red Sox hold on? Two opposing views:
YES, THEY CAN
1) True, the Sox have put themselves in this predicament. But it's the result of a bad 10 days, not a longer statistical sample.
Losing streaks are inevitable over a 162-game season. No one knows this better than the Sox, who stumbled out of the gate at 2-10 only to right themselves and play .700 ball for the next two months.
There's plenty of time left for the Red Sox to pull out of their nosedive, get healthy and get their pitching lined up for the playoffs.
2) The schedule is in their favor. Of the 16 games remaining, almost half (seven) are against Baltimore, owners of the worst record in the American League.
Beating the Orioles five times in seven tries -- surely not much of a feat -- would get the Sox to 90 wins and force the Rays to go 10-7 in their final 17 games to finish ahead -- and that's assuming the Sox lose every other game remaining.
Remember, too, that the Rays have 11 games remaining with both the Sox (four) and Yankees (seven). That's a tall order for a pitching staff and a team looking to play catch-up.
3) Reinforcements are on the way.
Having been stung by injuries the last month, the Sox are getting healthier.
Kevin Youkilis could return to the lineup Tuesday night. Josh Beckett could start as soon as Thursday, just in time for the first game of the four-game set with the Rays. Erik Bedard could pitch by the weekend.
When a team gets its cleanup hitter and 40 percent of its rotation back, that has to be a positive.
NO, THEY CAN'T
1) The biggest issue during the recent losing streak has been starting pitching. Only twice in the last 11 games have the Red Sox had a starting pitcher go longer than five innings. Not coincidentally, they are 2-9 in those 11 games.
And even with Monday's off-day, the next two scheduled starters for the Sox are Tim Wakefield, who hasn't won since the last week of July, and John Lackey, who has the worst ERA of any qualifying starter in either league.
2) Momentum is a hard thing to break late in the season.
The Sox haven't played well for nearly two weeks. There's been sloppy play -- Carl Crawford threw to the wrong base twice over the weekend -- and a general lethargy to their play.
While the bullpen has given away games late -- blowing a two-run lead with six outs to go last Wednesday; allowing a walk-off win in extra innings Saturday night -- the lineup hasn't been able to overcome early deficits.
3) This isn't an isolated slump -- almost everybody has been impacted.
In addition to the poor work by the starters, the offense has sputtered. In their six losses, the Red Sox scored 22 runs, or an average of about 3.7 per game. Take away an 11-10 slugfest loss to Toronto, however, and the average dips to just over two runs scored per loss.
Toss on some bullpen issues -- the continuing search for a trustworthy option for the seventh inning; two straight losses from Daniel Bard -- and the problems are many and unlikely to all be rectified at once.