Red Sox

When it comes to the Red Sox, we’ve all lost our edge

An edge that made Boston one of the great baseball towns in America is at least temporarily absent.

Fans in the front row at Fenway Park sing 'Sweet Caroline.'
The Red Sox have averaged nearly 33,000 fans per game this season — well down from their title-chasing peak, but still in the top half of baseball. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff


Fenway Park rang out in the middle of the eighth inning on Monday night. And it was not merely ringing in the ears after the home team was punched in the face by a genuine article like the Astros.

It was ‘Sweet Caroline,’ naturally. With the score freshly 13-4, Houston, runs nine and 10 just in off poor Kyle Barraclough. As clear a statement, for one, that the Sox will never stop playing the song in that spot so you should probably save your pining that one day they will.

And also a clear statement that things have fundamentally changed here. An edge that made this one of the great baseball towns in America is at least temporarily absent, something that more or less all of us must consider and answer for.


To whatever degree the flawed 2023 Red Sox were in the American League wild card hunt was put to bed by the Dodgers and Astros, but mostly by the Red Sox themselves. They made seven errors in the seven games against Houston, exacerbating their anemic starting pitching to the point that hitting .294 with 58 runs against Houston and LA — fifth-best in the majors in that span — was nowhere near enough.

Chaim Bloom not adding a starter at the trade deadline was discussed ad nauseam, but it ignores something that feels obvious to me: These Red Sox aren’t one arm short. They are multiple, and that solution wasn’t out there until this week, when the Angels decided everything must go.

I wonder if Bloom, who doesn’t seem like much of a look-back guy, ever catches himself daydreaming about how close he came to adding Zach Eflin, he of the 3.40 ERA across 26 starts for his hometown Rays.

Bloom has built a team with some pieces that point to a better future. But he has also built one where three of its tentpoles — Rafael Devers, Triston Casas, and Masataka Yoshida — are net negatives in all the major defensive metrics, and the team’s best defender (Alex Verdugo) is an incomplete player.


Which brings us, the 2023 team definitively exposed as playoff posers, to a fundamental question. Are the Red Sox close to genuine contention? Is 2024 a realistic expectation?

And if it’s not, why would a single person give this braintrust another second of its time?

I can hear some of you shouting at your screens, wondering why I’m so late to the party. I know multiple people, some who were genuinely diehard fans, who packed it in with the Betts trade. Looking at ratings and ticket sales and general buzz, their numbers have only grown in the intervening years of mediocrity around that flash run to the 2021 ALCS.

What can I say? It just hit me Monday, when Fenway was at full throat in the lowest moment of another middling season. I thought immediately of the pre-championship Cubs, where the litany of day games and the cheap party in the bleachers rendered the quality of the baseball almost secondary. And were often cited as part of the reason their title drought ran past a century.

I’m hardly pining for the pre-2004 days, when seasons were yearlong tension conventions, but that edge was a constant push to excel. It forced action. It forced a yearly push to contend that, frankly, has not existed here since Dave Dombrowski was escorted out with ownership scoffing at the idea of explaining themselves.


We talk almost weekly about the valid reasons for a pullback, given baseball has turned its postseason into a 12-team crapshoot where we genuinely have to wonder whether Atlanta and the Dodgers — easily the two best teams in the National League — will actually get to meet in an NLCS.

But it doesn’t change how clearly the foot is off the gas in Boston. A franchise that sported a top five payroll annually for 15 years is 13th in 2023 (per Spotrac). Teams can win that way, and even now it’s hard not to wonder what if Tanner Houck didn’t get hit in the face, or Adam Duvall didn’t bust his wrist, or Corey Kluber had anything left, or . . .

It should never come to that here. The Red Sox can build from within while still flexing their largesse — the Dodgers have. Of course, the Dodgers have one title since 1988; they’re still chasing. As are the Phillies, the Mets, the Padres, the Yankees, the Braves . . .

They are not content. They are not coddled. Mediocrity doesn’t have them breaking into song, just happy to be there.

The fundamental change to the Red Sox since 2018 didn’t happen in a vacuum in the same way it didn’t happen entirely illogically. It happened right in front of us, broadcasters and writers and fans. It has had many low points, but none lower than Monday, when the team entered a series against the team it was chasing for October with exactly four available pitchers.

A real moment of clarity. A moment everyone who cares about this team, for whatever reason, deserves better than.


Even the ones content to sing their way past the season’s graveyard.


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