The dog days have come early to Red Sox Nation. In a week that saw record temperatures around New England, the Boston Nine had fans hot under the collar.

It began with Monday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline. In the hours preceding 4 p.m., the Yankees loaded up, adding a top-tier outfielder (Bobby Abreu) a starting pitcher (Corey Lidle) and a versatile reserve player (Craig Wilson.)

The Red Sox, as you know, added nothing.

General Manager Theo Epstein stuck to his long-term plan and hung onto his core of young pitchers like Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, and Craig Hansen. At the time of the deadline, his team was holding onto first place.

By the time they hit the road Friday, they were in second. They had also lost four players in the course of the week – Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, Mike Lowell and Doug Mirabelli. Nixon and Varitek are on the D.L., and neither is expected back for at least a month

Injuries have taken their toll. The schedule is vowing to take its toll, too.

This season, August comes in like a lamb, and goes out like a lion. The Sox began the month (and the week) with a four-game series against Cleveland, before heading off on this six-game road trip to Tampa Bay and Kansas City. After that, it’s a three-game series with Baltimore.

The Indians, Devil Rays, Royals and Orioles are a combined 177-253, a winning percentage of .412.

All four teams have good young talent, and all will battle to win each game. Still, all are bad teams. At least this season.

If the Red Sox have playoff aspirations, they must win the bulk of these games. They split the four games against the Indians, and winning the rest of these three series is a necessity. Anything less than a 9-4 run through this two-week stretch would be a major disappointment.

Adding to the importance of this run is what lies ahead. That noise you hear is the approaching rapids, the white water the Sox must navigate beginning Aug. 14.

That’s when they open up a three-game series with the Detroit Tigers, the best team (record-wise) in baseball. After that, they face the Yankees, Angels, Mariners, A’s, Blue Jays, and White Sox.

Those seven teams have a combined record of 420-326, a .563 winning percentage. Six of the seven teams are within 3.5 games of a playoff spot. The seventh, Toronto, has won seven of 11 games against Boston this season.

We’ve been talking about this stretch – 22 games in 21 days beginning with a Fenway Park doubleheader against the Yankees – for months. We’ve still got two weeks before it starts, making this prelude vital to Boston’s post-season hopes.

If not for a pair of ninth-inning meltdowns by Fausto Carmoda, the Sox could easily have been swept by Cleveland. In fact, the Sox came to the plate trailing in the bottom of the eighth in all three wins on the homestand. Each time, they needed to rally to tie the game, ultimately winning it with walk-off heroics.

Imagine if this team went 0-7 on the homestand and hit the road trailing the Yankees by three games in the East? Fortunately, we don’t have to ponder that reality.

We do, however, need to ponder the reality of the schedule. There are no pushovers in the big leagues. There are, however, contenders and basement-dwellers. These first four opponents of August are all closer to last place than to first, and the Sox need to take advantage of them.

Lewiston native Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox telecasts on NESN.


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