This is a scene that cannot continue. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Through 31 games of the season, the Red Sox are at 12-19. Because of that, I'll get this reaction out of the way:
To make it to 90 wins--a point where we can be reasonably assured of a spot in these expanded playoffs--the Sox will need to play .595 ball over the rest of the season. It's not actually all that unreasonable a proposition considering the sort of talent on the team. Or at least it wouldn't be if the talent were looking very, well, talented.
Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz are the most obvious problems right now, providing neither quality results, nor even looking particularly good when they pitch (unlike Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront, who at least give off an impression of good pitching before something goes terribly wrong), but not long ago there were plenty of other areas of greater concern--ones that could quickly re-emerge. Is Mark Melancon going to collapse the second he returns to the majors? Is the bullpen actually decent, or are they just riding high on some overperforming players (Atchison, Mortensen, MIller)?
And, as those bullpen problems iron themselves out, some of the guys who have been riding high have fallen off. Mike Aviles, while still adequate at short, has certainly not kept up his early hot streak. Cody Ross isn't terribly impressive anymore, either, and Marlon Byrd has gone from acceptable backup to worst player ever to take the field. Ryan Sweeney and Will Middlebrooks are still reasons for hope (though Middlebrooks is now 1-for-9 in the last couple of games), but on the whole this team has dropped from mediocre to just plain bad over the last week.
There is some measure of hope on the horizon. Between Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Andrew Bailey, there is a good deal of talent on the disabled list, which is to say nothing of the likes of the recently departed Cook and Youkilis. Obviously not all of that talent has performed up to expected levels in their time with the Sox, but there is the potential for each player to provide a significant upgrade over the motley crew currently assembled in the outfield, or, y'know, Clay Buchholz.
Still, that help is a ways away, and the Red Sox are not doing a good enough job of sticking with the pack so far to give them a shot of recovering should the team put together a run like the 2011 Red Sox did. Through this point last season, the Sox sat at 14-17, two games better than the '12 Red Sox can claim. What's more, they already had the talent assembled by that time, as evidenced by the 16-5 run they would rattle off over the next 21 games.
Even if you give this team the benefit of the doubt and say that they are a month away from getting back Ellsbury, figuring out the rotation to some extent, and putting it all together to play strong (say, .600) baseball for an extended period of time, will they even be in a position to make a run at this thing?
In one month's time, the Sox will have played 61 games. If we simply project their current winning percentage, that leaves the Sox at a terrible 24-37. From there, the Sox would need to play .650 ball just to reach 90 wins on the season. .650 ball over the course of a full season is a remarkable 105 wins--a feat that nobody really even expected of the 2011 Red Sox back when they were preseason World Series favorites.
Even if we again give the Sox the benefit of the doubt and say they're a better team right now than they've showed, and can play at least .500 ball, that leaves them at 27-34. They'd still need to play like a 100-win team to reach 90 on the season, and that again seems simply above the level of talent of even a healthy Red Sox team.
To look even further down the line, the Sox will have played some 106 games by the time the trade deadline rolls around. To get to .500 by the trade deadline, the team would need to play .547 ball between now and then, .578 ball from a theoretical 27-34 record through 61, and .644 ball from 24-37.
That raises the question of what record the team will sell at, but it's hard to justify not looking very seriously into trades for the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury when you're under .500 at the deadline. Especially since, to make a realistic run, the team would likely have to add to keep pace with other teams making a playoff push.
Of course, the possibility exists that the Sox will just start winning sometime soon, and manage reach 61 games with a winning record. But what's clear is that the Sox are going to have to stary playing better now, because if they let it get any worse, the hole can quickly become too big to climb out of.