By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
BALTIMORE -- It's not over yet, not with the opportunity to win Wednesday night and assure themselves of no worse than a one-game play-in game on Thursday at Tropicana Field, a winner-take-all showdown with the team which finally caught them from behind Monday night.
But the Red Sox' 6-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles Monday night at Camden Yards was, in many ways, the most damaging loss of this hideous skid they're experiencing -- and not because it finally wiped out their ever-shrinking lead over Tampa Bay, and not because it was suffered at the hands of a team with absolutely nothing for which to play.
No, Monday's loss was horrific for a more basic reason: it set in motion a truly unappetizing set of scenarios for the rest of the week.
Thanks to the loss, the Red Sox now will have to, one way or another, win Wednesday night, the final game of the season. That means they'll need to pitch Jon Lester in the final game, instead of, say, Kyle Weiland, or Tim Wakefield or Andrew Miller or some combination thereof.
No longer is Wednesday a tuneup game, a chance to rest the the regulars and properly arrange the pitching staff for the Division Series.
In turn, it also means that should the Red Sox get to that play-in game Thursday in St. Petersburg, they'll need to start John Lackey to win the most important game of the season.
(In that sense, this is becoming, more and more, like 1978, when the Sox had no choice but to start Mike Torrez, a similarly disappointing free agent acquisition, who, like Lackey, seemed ill-suited for Boston almost from the beginning. And Red Sox fans remember how that turned out.)
If Lackey could give them a start like he offered Sunday night -- three runs in six-plus innings -- that would be one thing. But given how inconsistent he's been and how poor most of his starts have been, that's hardly assured.
Sunday's start, in fact, was only the ninth quality start that Lackey has provided this season. And it's been a while since he pitched two in a row.
Finally, though, the fallout from Monday means that, should the Red Sox win the play-in game and advance to the Division Series, they would have limited options for the series opener.
Assuming that the Sox don't want to have Josh Beckett come back on short (three days) rest, they'll have to choose from among Wakefield and others to start the first game.
In that way, this whole playoff run is beginning to resemble 2005, when the Sox had to go to the final day of the season before clincing the wild card.
Then, because they had to fight to the finish, the rotation was in shambles and the Sox were left with no one else than Matt Clement to open the Division Series with the White Sox.
The Red Sox were summarily swept from the postseason that year without winning so much as a game. Curt Schilling, their best starter, never started a game.
Under that scenario, Beckett wouldn't be available to pitch until Game 2 and Lester held out until Game 3.
Of course, the way Beckett and Lester have pitched in the last month, that may not be as catastrophic as it seems. Together, the Red Sox' Big Two have compiled a 2-5 mark with an ERA of 5.73.
The Sox have won just once in the last six games starter by either.
Piece by piece, the whole Red Sox' blueprint has been rendered obsolete by the performance of the rotation.
Back in June, recall, the Red Sox were going to be a tough out in October because they could trot out three front-line starters: Beckett, Lester and Clay Buchholz.
Then Buchholz was taken out of the equation because of the lower back stress fracture. And eventually, Beckett and Lester stumbled so much down the stretch that it became difficult to imagine the two carrying the team in the postseason.
And, now thanks to the team's unending downward spiral, it all may be moot anyway. The team which hasn't won two games in a row since the last week of August now might have to win three straight just to reach the playoffs -- only to find they're not equipped to survive should they get there.