How long will Dave Dombrowski let this go on?
The narrative that Wednesday’s Bruins loss cleared the decks for the Red Sox is already well worn, to the point Alex Cora referenced it to reporters before Thursday’s victorious series finale with Texas — “And here we go. It’s our stage.” — before downplaying it.
So I’ll instead look forward with a more specific purpose.
It’s nearly the third week of June. Cora’s defending champions have played 70 games and 22 series. They’ve won just seven of the latter, the only ones since May 1 coming against the White Sox, Baltimore, Seattle, Toronto, and Kansas City — three teams on pace to lose 100, a fourth on pace for 97, and a Chicago team muddling through another lost season.
The Red Sox (36-34) are .500 at home. They only rose to that the last two nights, which included winning despite an 11th blown save on Wednesday, then winning despite David Price only getting four outs and the Rangers stranding 14 runners in a four-hour, six-minute slog.
“Found a way to win today,” Cora said on Thursday, “instead of finding a way to lose it.”
“Bullpen came in, did an unbelievable job getting the last 23 outs of that ballgame,” said Price, the stopper of recent losing skids, who put the first four hitters of the game on and left down 6-1 after 49 pitches. “Offense bailed me out, helped us win that game and that’s the type of game we can rally around and get stuff going.”
A fair point, and one which comes with all the caveats we’ve tucked in our recent pieces. With three and a half months to go in a top-heavy American League, the 2019 Red Sox are still likely a 90-win team and a wild card. They can do nothing major, get to October, and let chance perhaps carry them to something memorable.
After which Rick Porcello’s more than $20 million comes off the books this winter, as does more than $13 million owed Pablo Sandoval, the $13 million for the Mitch Moreland/Steve Pearce platoon, and $5 million to Eduardo Nunez. (To say nothing of Dustin Pedroia, whose remaining $27-odd million for 2020-21 could theoretically be freed.)
It is a situation that, to a degree, will naturally reset itself from what it is at the moment: Underperforming at a cost of about $3 million below the third luxury tax threshold, with a good deal of minor-league resources already called up or otherwise spent. Certainly something to be said for that, especially as we sit here, six-plus weeks from the trade deadline with 119-win talent all over the roster and Rafael Devers — who broke an 0-for-20 skid in Tuesday’s umpiring fiasco loss and leads the team in RBI — establishing himself as a star.
They have four-fifths of a starting rotation through 2021, and three-fifths through 2022. They have their catcher. They have pre-arbitration and arbitration pieces at both corners, left field, closer (such as Matt Barnes is), and a few other spots. There’ll be no full teardown here.
There can, however, be a proactive jump start.
The Red Sox can see October contention in this MLB, with as many as six potential 100-loss teams, as just a sliver of the goal, especially for a franchise coming off three division titles and a 119-win exultation a year ago. Few teams in baseball have the goodwill this one does at the moment, even accounting for our regional delusions of title-or-bust.
Since May 1, they’ve lost series to Houston, Houston again, Cleveland, the Yankees, and Tampa. They needed to buck the odds to split four at home with Texas. Not a positive statement made in the bunch. Say it continues. Say it becomes clear they’re not in that league this season, due to complacency or relief or whatever.
Do they do something with J.D. Martinez, a free-agent-to-be this winter if he wishes? Do something with the biggest lure: Mookie Betts, under Red Sox control just until the end of next season and looking eager to test his worth on the open market?
These are hard decisions. Franchise-changing decisions, in both directions. The sort that the current president of baseball operations was brought here to make, though in that case it was to disperse a previously stocked prospect cupboard.
And so, I ask again. How long will Dave Dombrowski let this go on?
Their modest two-game win streak, each of the comeback variety, has a great shot at becoming five as the Sox head to Baltimore this weekend. Big deal. Then, another real test: Three at AL-leading Minnesota. A Toronto/White Sox homestand, two with the Yankees in London, and we’re into July.
The first half of that month is modest, with only a three-game home set with the Dodgers all that notable. It ends, however, with a real measuring stick. The Red Sox play Game No. 100 on July 21 at Baltimore, then race to the July 31 deadline with three at Tampa, four home with the Yankees, and three home to the Rays.
Who will they be on that Monday, nine days before the cutoff? What will the market be? What can they get for those resources and others, their value depreciating by the day?
If the Red Sox are still then the team they are this morning, painting a couple comeback wins against a mediocre club as potentially the start of something, is that worth trying to supplement with those scant few million before more draft penalties? Or is it time for a soft reset like the Yankees made back in 2016, getting Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman and Clint Frazier for Andrew Miller?
“We have a club that has a chance to win. We haven’t played that way on a consistent basis, but I still think we have the capabilities to do that,” Dombrowski told the Globe on Thursday. “There are a lot of unanswered questions still that are going to take over the next time period really, until the All-Star break.”
It’s fine and prudent to punt now, when Nathan Eovaldi still isn’t back and there remain signs of real life. It may even prove prudent come the end of next month.
Barnes squandered another Chris Sale gem on Monday, the offense failing to support him again. On Tuesday, they walked eight batters — better than the nine on Thursday — while again needing to rely on a cavalcade of pitching fill-ins. How this series started is at least as notable as how it ended, given the Red Sox sit in the same spot they did four days ago.
They’re the sixth-best team in the American League. They’ve played 22 series, and exactly one — the April sweep at Tampa Bay — gets your attention in a good way. They’re probably better than this.
At what point do they run out of time to prove it?