One month ago, we took a look at what the "point of no return" was for the Boston Red Sox, the point where the season would have gone so terribly wrong that we could consider it dead barring a miracle.
To the team's credit, they have at least met the absolute minimum necessary since then to keep the season alive: they have played better. As bad as we may feel about the team right now after the most recent bad run, the Sox were at 12-19 some 32 days ago. Projected out to this point, that's a 24-39 record. 29-32 looks a lot better given that frame of reference.
That said, were I writing just over a week ago, this would be a very different situation. For a few brief moments, the Sox managed to not only rise above .500, but give themselves a three game cushion. It very nearly looked like they had turned it around for good.
But here we are, and there's no use looking at the hypotheticals, so let's see where the Sox stand now.
By the time the trade deadline rolls around, the Sox will have played 103 games. It's on the basis of those 103 games that the Red Sox will have to make a decision on whether to buy, sell, or stand pat. That leaves 42 games left to make a statement that this team deserves further investment, both in terms of cash and prospects.
While .500 would have looked beautiful a month ago, and even three games shy better than nothing, the fact is that we also probably expected more from the composition of the team by now. That entire piece from a month ago was predicated on the idea that:
[the Red Sox] 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
Unfortunately, that has not come to pass. Ellsbury and Crawford have yet to begin rehab assignments, the rotation is still a jumble despite a resurgent Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett. The bullpen has started to waiver of late, too, and it doesn't help that one of the bright spots that had helped to keep the team afloat in Daniel Nava is suddenly missing games with a sore hand.
The good news for those hoping for a playoff push, however, is that to hold the line the Sox don't need to do any better than they've done over the last month: just recover another four games playing .567 ball and hit the trade deadline at 52-51. It's something that this team can do in its current iteration if they manage to wake up from this prolonged slump before it puts them back in a deep hole.
Still, the question has to be asked: is .500 good enough?
Even going into this season with everyone presumed healthy there wasn't really any expectation of hitting 100 wins. In the one year spanning March 2011 to March 2012, Red Sox fans had been dissuaded from expecting anything big out of Carl Crawford, John Lackey had gone from having the potential to surprise to out for the season, and the bullpen had gone from one of the best in the American League to the single largest question mark on the team. Even removing all the injuries and the slumps that have left the Sox in their current state, nobody saw this team as a world beater.
So how can we expect them to be after the trade deadline?
61 games into the season, there are only four teams in the American League on pace for 90+ wins. Still, with none of them coming from the central, that would be enough to force the Red Sox to win at least 40 of their last 59 games after reaching the trade deadline at 52-51. That's not a particularly likely scenario (it would be a 110-win pace), and certainly not one I would be comfortable betting anything on, be it the prospects needed to make trades for a final push, or the opportunity cost of keeping any pieces the team could sell.
Even if we imagine that the Orioles are not a team to fear (sorry, Baltimore fans, but it's something that would come up if I didn't mention it), the Angels are suddenly back in the picture, living up to some of their preseason hype and not far from that 90-win pace themselves.
It's not over yet, but it's basically do or die time, and it's not simply about playing winning baseball. If the team plays .600 ball starting now until the deadline, they'll arrive at 54-49 or 55-48. These are records which seem likely to have the Red Sox firmly in the race.
If they can't pull that off, however--if they even just keep rolling at .567 for another month--then the team will have to rely on some really good baseball teams falling off just to stay in the picture.