Generally speaking, when a .500 team puts together losing streaks of five and ten games in less than a month's time, it's pretty damning. Even a decent performance over the other, say, 12 games in that frame should see the team plummet 10+ games in the standings. There are few who could say with any conviction that such a squad still had hope to contend.
Somehow, though, the Red Sox spaced those losing streaks out with a seven-game winning streak. And so they find themselves not 10, 12, or 15 games below the line, but seven. Their record is bad, but it is not beyond the point of no return. To make their way back to .500 by the trade deadline, the Sox would only need to play 94-win baseball--a far cry better than what they've done so far, but not beyond the realm of possibility for any baseball team over a seven week period, really.
If that seven-game winning streak has kept some small flicker of life in this season, however, it has also put the Red Sox in a potentially dangerous situation. There are few more damaging scenarios in sports than a team that mistakes a lost cause as a chance to win. Teams that fall into this trap not only run the risk of trading important prospects for pieces that will never even see the postseason, but also suffer a hefty opportunity cost by not dealing their own assets away to contenders willing to pay a premium in July.
I'm not going to say that another seven-game winning streak would be bad for the Red Sox. But I will say that a seven-game winning streak followed by a six-game losing streak would be. What the Red Sox cannot afford right now is to tread water. Treading water gets them nowhere. It does not get them right back into the playoff race. It does not force them into the role of seller. All it does is keep a likely false hope alive while slowly draining value from the team.
It's time, then, for the Red Sox to break. One way or the other. If this team can go on a tear and turn this season around, then all the better. There are plenty of reasons to doubt, but if the Sox go on a 22-10 run and head into the All-Star break at 50-45, I would suggest we all pointedly avoid looking that particular gift horse in the mouth.
If, however, they do not, then we'd better hope they really blow it. 10-22 is better than 17-15 in this case. 10-22 would leave them at 38-57, dead as doorknobs and able to direct their full attention to 2015. That means the ability to get value from assets set to depart in the offseason. That means plenty of games to test minor leaguers and figure out what areas do and do not need to be addressed headed come the offseason.
If the 2014 Red Sox are not a good team, that does not mean there isn't value to the 2014 season. In fact, all told these are pretty ideal circumstances to have an unexpected losing season crop up in. The Red Sox have plenty of minor leaguers to call up. There are lots of players on expiring contracts who can be traded away for potentially significant returns. And let's not forget that they won the World Series last year, making all this quite a bit easier to stomach on the whole.
But for the Red Sox to actually take advantage of this situation as best they can, the front office has to know whether this is a decent team playing bad baseball, or a bad team that can be broken up without any real remorse. Red Sox fans need their team to break one way or another, even if that does mean losing plenty of games in the weeks to come.