Red Sox

Injured and insufficient, the Red Sox’ evolution just feels another week closer

The only teams to skid harder than the Red Sox and Pirates since the All-Star break are Detroit and Washington.

Josh Winckowski crouches as Pittsburgh's Ben Gamel rounds first base in the background.
Josh Winckowski is one of the pitchers the Red Sox have leaned heavily on as their injury troubles multiplied this summer. Philip G. Pavely/Associated Press

COMMENTARY

For more than a quarter of the season, the Boston Red Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates have been the same thing. Mercifully, not for more than that.

Watching the Red Sox limp through Thursday’s series-finale loss at PNC Park, denied a sweep and their first three-game winning streak since June 26, the feeling was lost opportunity. Pittsburgh, on a 100-loss track, is wiling away another forgetting summer amid decades of them. They should be swept. Add Thursday to the small pile of nights that will likely be what’s between Boston and playoff baseball come Oct. 6.

The Pirates are a poster child for so much broken in the majors, in a long line of organizations across the generations for which any winning was more happy accident. A franchise that has frequently spent less on payroll than it brings in on just tickets and concessions, leaving tens of millions from television and revenue sharing to be shoved into pockets.

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A franchise with a roster that, when Dennis Eckersley rightly called it a “hodgepodge of nothingness” on NESN, the criticism was largely limited to whining an employee of another team shouldn’t speak that way.

Tell me you’re unfamiliar with L’Affaire Yuck without telling me you’re unfamiliar . . .

The Pirates are not the Red Sox in any way, shape, or form. Sorry to any of you eagerly trying to compare Boston’s recent frugality, and let’s wait a couple years before deciding Chaim Bloom compares to Ben Cherington’s over reluctance to trade prospects.

However, if we can circle back: Since June 26, when the Red Sox finished their three-game sweep in Cleveland, both they and the Pittsburgh Pirates are 17-29.

It’s a small thing. A bookkeeping quirk, but it’s right there on the page all the same. Looking a little deeper, the Red Sox have easily allowed the most runs in that period, owing to Nick Pivetta being their one healthy, non-depth arm throughout.

There are very fair questions about the roster construction from the start — the Globe’s Alex Speier hit on a lot of them in his trade deadline postmortem. The injuries, however, up through Tanner Houck’s back, will have to be the first bullet point looking back on whatever 2022 ends up.

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Heck, the Sox couldn’t even avoid them in this little mini surge that’s left them with four teams to leapfrog, same as when it began.

Looking at those standings since that Cleveland series, which capped a 32-12 resurgence (built around the rotation) and had the Sox with the third-best record in the American League, we see the teams that have stepped forward this summer into contention.

Seattle, the AL’s best at 31-14, a half-game better than Houston. Baltimore, still winning despite their selloff. Atlanta. The big-money Mets. Philadelphia, third in the National League since firing Joe Girardi. St. Louis.

Meanwhile, the only ones to skid harder than the Red Sox and Pirates are Detroit, which fired general manager Al Avila two weeks ago, and Washington, which is gutted to the studs to likely help ease a transition into new ownership.

The Red Sox aren’t in either of those groups. They exist on the same razor’s edge they’ve played the entire season, with a roster almost assured of a major reshuffle. Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Nate Eovaldi, Kiké Hernández (perhaps poised for a strong finish) and Michael Wacha, not to mention Tommy Pham, could all easily be gone by next spring.

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Bloom, whose deadline last year proved unfairly criticized when the Sox jelled down the stretch, will unveil in the 2023 Red Sox arguably the first Boston team that is unquestionably his. Chris Sale will be the lone big-money player on a deal Bloom inherited. The plan will, by Year Four, be almost exclusively authored by him.

I can’t help but think about the Rangers after noting that.

Texas blew it up this week, firing manager Chris Woodward and longtime team architect Jon Daniels. Daniels was the GM for the Rangers’ AL championship teams in 2010-11, but it’s been six seasons since they sniffed a notable season.

In hindsight, they tried to hang on too long, then picked the wrong players to rebuild around. Woodward’s tenure was filled with myriad moves of potential contention pieces for prospects, building for a future that didn’t seem in line to arrive any earlier than 2023, despite the half-billion splash last winter with Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Jon Gray.

Neither Woodward nor Daniels will be there to see it through, though team ownership seems content to pivot just to Daniels’ deputy Chris Young. Speaking after the firings, Young spoke of continuing the vision their front-office team had built.

“I think there’s a natural tendency to want to please people and to not get people pissed off at you,” Theo Epstein said near the conclusion of ESPN’s congratulatory seven-part Derek Jeter epic. “You respect the organizations and the leaders who take a real point of view, and are willing to stand up for what they believe in.”

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The Pirates of this generation have done that, though their plan — make money and coast — is nothing to be admired. The Rangers did it, retooling in a way not dissimilar to what the Red Sox and others have tried to or are trying to. As here, baseball operations operated in concert with ownership, seeking the sort of sustainable contention nearly every team dreams of.

Not every plan works. Not every team gets there.

As we move another week closer to another big step in Boston’s evolution, it’s a simple conclusion, but a wise one to keep close.

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