Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
The Red Sox have finished the first half at .500.
You can take your 2-10, your 4-10, your September collapse, and your three-year playoff win drought.
This? This is the mark of mediocrity.
The win Saturday night was good, but it was only a start. One that had to be completed by a win tonight to change it from a blip on the radar to a sign of change. Instead of having split a series with the Yankees, and gone into the All-Star break a winning team on a winning run, the Sox are simply three-for-their-last-eleven; a team that enjoyed a good run against average competition, and then were shown their place by not just their betters, but their arch-rivals in Fenway Park.
Could it have happened in any more fitting a fashion? Jon Lester, the one-time ace, let them once again take an early hit, falling behind 2-0 in the first, ultimately leaving in the fifth with five runs to his name. Meanwhile, Ivan Nova, the very sort of acceptable solid pitching product the Sox have not managed to find from their farm system for the last few years shut them down. There was more fun from Pedro Ciriaco, David Ortiz had a big hit, and Nick Punto even came through reasonably well after being thrust into the cleanup spot by Adrian Gonzalez' illness. But in the end they just couldn't get the job doen.
I placed some fair importance on this series coming into it. The All-Star Break--the traditional if not mathematical halfway point--is always a decent milestone for judging a team. It's true, these Red Sox are physically battered, and could be a better team the next time they play. But right now they seem defeated, struggling against bad competition and then getting well-and-truly beaten down by a good team in the Yankees.
This is not the sort of position from which you expect a team to be able to build momentum. There were no real signs on the field of good things to come. And given the month to come, with games against Tampa, Chicago, Toronto, Texas, New York, and Detroit, they need to be more than simply better. They need to be on fire to do what they need to do right now, which is to not simply hold ground, but gain it. The Sox need a 13-5 finish to July, and right now 8-10 would seem a vast improvement.
It's technically too soon to say it's over, but in some ways it isn't. The Red Sox need a miracle run just to justify spending in prospects and money at a level to keep up with teams like Baltimore and Cleveland, who are entirely likely to be chasing this playoff spot like bats out of hell given their history in recent years. Because if they choose to spend without signs of real life coming over the next two weeks, factoring in both the standard cost and the opportunity cost of not selling, it seems likely to hurt their chances of winning a World Series in the near future rather than help it.