What’s the modern day equivalent of a broken record cliché?
Well, it’s back. Hope. Whether you like it or not.
We’ve had this before, of course, at multiple points between when the Red Sox handed out World Series bling on the Fenway lawn, and Jon Lester’s latest episode of “Jackpot!” on Sunday. The Red Sox, winners of seven out of their last games have momentum coming off a three-game weekend sweep of the Kansas City Royals, Boston’s first series sweep since taking care of the Twins, June 16-18. You might recall, there was momentum at that point as well, with the Sox sitting at 34-38, 6 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East and five games in back of a wild card spot.
Alas, the Red Sox’ disastrous West Coast trip (2-5) followed, which took care of most of the goodwill. But then, the Sox went and took two of three in New York, and there was, once again, momentum on their side. And Mookie Betts!
Then the Cubs came to Fenway and everybody involved just sort of gave up.
It was less than two weeks ago that the Red Sox hit Rock Bottom, Part Onze, 9 1/2 games behind Baltimore, nine games back in the wild card hunt. It’s been 13 days since the team designated its starting catcher, A.J. Pierzynzki, for assignment. They’ve lost once since, a 3-2 game in Houston that was decided in the eighth inning.
It’s far too elementary to tie the current stretch to Pierzynski’s departure, and if it is the reason the Red Sox woke up, winning in spite of their former, unpopular teammate, that speaks just as much volume about their character as does any sort of resolve they’ve finally decided to put together as we hurdle toward the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline. It took that to finally get it together?
“I feel like if we can just do what we’ve been doing and play well, I know we’ve been playing some teams that maybe aren’t up to par, but if we can get the confidence that we have in that way we’re playing right now, I think that’s important,’’ said catcher David Ross, who hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning Sunday to help spark Boston’s 6-0 win.
Indeed though, the Royals came into the series “up to par,” 48-46 and right in the wild card mix, only 2 1/2 games out. In that same regard, Boston gained a pair of games with its sweep of the Royals, and leapfrogged Minnesota in the wild card standings. They head into play on Monday six games behind the Mariners, with rumors of Seattle acquiring Tampa ace David Price still swirling.
That’s still a ton of ground for the Red Sox to make up, and the threat of the Mariners landing Price to go along with Felix Hernandez has to be a scary proposition for every team looking up at Seattle in the race for the second wild card. For Boston, the last fortnight has indeed injected yet another spark of optimism, but these instances have normally petered out like a defeating balloon this season.
Still, could this, finally, maybe, be the run we’ve all been waiting for with this band of underachieving enigmas?
“There’s a lot of confidence going on right now,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after watching free-agent- to-be Lester toss eight shutout innings on Sunday. Confidence in Lester has never waned this season, in which the lefty is now 10-7 with a 2.50 ERA. He’s now fourth in the league in ERA, fourth in innings pitched (137), sixth in strikeouts (142), and eighth in WHIP (1.12). He’s having a monster season with the Yankees already preparing their financial package to bring him to the Bronx, but at least Farrell can rest comfortable in the fact that he has Lester for 10 more starts or so before he departs.
Or, perhaps, 10 more days.
Confidence or not, what the Red Sox are doing can likely be tossed into the too little, too late pile of unfulfilled promises. How much ground do the Red Sox need to make up before next Thursday in order for Ben Cherington to adopt an about-face and not surrender the likes of Lester, Koji Uehara, and Jonny Gomes in order to promptly look ahead to 2015? The Sox gained two games in the wild card hunt over three days. Can they chop off, say three more between now and the beginning of next week? Start trading pieces when you’re three games out of a playoff spot, and people start invoking Jerry Reinsdorf’s name.
It’s encouraging that the Red Sox have found some semblance of their non-existent offense to combine with their bona fide pitching this month, hitting .291 in the current stretch of winning eight of nine, and outscoring their opponents by 25 runs (43-18). But if that sounds familiar, it should. During their seven-game winning streak, May 26-June 1, the Sox outscored opponents by 21 runs (36-15), only to slip back into a five-game losing streak to bookend the 10-game drought that directly preceded what seemed to finally be a turning point in the season. Why should we expect anything different now?
They have about a week to prove otherwise, that they’re not, in fact, a rotting corpse that has managed to resurrect itself for a short period; four games in Toronto against the reeling Blue Jays, three in Tampa Bay against the Rays, winners of five in a row who are also making a push to vacate the basement in the AL East. At that point, Cherington will ultimately have to decide which way to work the phones in advance of Thursday; buy or sell, with one, large lingering query left unanswered in regard to each avenue.
Are the players trying to save the team, or their own behinds, with new zip codes for many of them lingering over the next 10 days?