After being swept by both the Orioles and Blue Jays, the Red Sox sit at 27-37, now a full ten games below .500. That leaves them eight games out of first place, but the situation within the division is even worse than that would suggest.
Not long back, the Yankees were atop the division at .500, but anyone paying attention to the run differentials knew that four of the five teams were playing better than that. Now the standings have changed to reflect that. New York is on top at 34-28, with Tampa Bay trailing behind only on percentage (and actually not even that, since it's .547 to .548). Toronto is back just one game and on an 11-run tear, with Baltimore sitting a little further behind at .500.
The run differential story remains the same too. The Red Sox are the only ones in the red, only now they're the worst in the American League at -60. In all of baseball, only Philadelphia and Milwaukee are worse. Compare that to Toronto at +71, and it's clear that this race isn't close to getting close. In fact, calling it a race when viewed from the Red Sox perspective is hilarious. The American League's worst team would have to play better than it's best has over the rest of the year to even stand a chance.
It does seem to happen often enough that a team will struggle through the first half of the season, then finally right the ship and go on a triumphant march to the postseason. The 2012 Athletics and Tigers, or the Dodgers of 2008 and 2013. But the signs were never as bad for those teams. They were playing with tons of injuries with massive reinforcements on the way, or playing in weak divisions, or at least had run differentials which suggested better things to come.
What do the Red Sox have coming? Maybe Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval are playing hurt. Otherwise they stand to get back Shane Victorino--right up until he hits the DL again--and Ryan Hanigan. There's no Yasiel Puig walking through that door, and the Red Sox are certainly not just waiting on a Pythagorean correction. In fact, believe it or not, their expected W-L record at a -60 run differential through 54 games is 26-38, one below their actual mark.
Even the playoff odds that shrugged off some of their earlier struggles have finally started to catch up. The models will always be a little sticky given the relatively positive take they had on the Sox before the season started, but even with that boost, the Sox' playoff odds stand at 11.5% on Baseball Prospectus right now. Their chances to win the World Series at 1.2%. With how those numbers have dropped lately, it seems like we're on the precipice. Another week could see them pushing towards 0.
All this is a far-too-involved way to say what most of you already know: this is a bad Red Sox team. A very bad Red Sox team. And one that's not going anywhere in 2015.
Still, there are 98 games left to play, and the league frowns on forfeiting your entire schedule, even if it would be the merciful move. And that means the Red Sox are obligated to make use of them however they can. There are a few out there, I'm sure, who still think the best thing to do is push first for one win, then a sweep, then .500, then beyond. But for my money, it's time to think about 2016.
This is not unfamiliar territory for Red Sox fans. After all, we were here this time last year, more-or-less. Unfortunately for the Sox, this time their changes seem to be less about trading away assets for real returns. The players who are set to depart after 2015, after all, are just not particularly valuable. Mike Napoli's brief renaissance has ended, with a sub-.500 OPS in June making him once again look like a hitter whose best days are behind him. Shane Victorino can't stay healthy. Not even the Red Sox want Justin Masterson, and while there may be a conversation to have about the future of David Ortiz' career (loathe though I am to admit it) depending on how the rest of his season goes, there's almost no chance he ever plays baseball in another uniform.
Frankly their best trade chip might be...Clay Buchholz. He's had his ups and his downs, but there are plenty of teams that might be interested in a pitcher who has even managed serviceability playing in front of one of the league's least effective defenses, particularly with his two team options in mind. The real question is whether the Red Sox are even looking to move on from Buchholz in the first place.
Whatever the case, the takeaway is that the rest of 2015 isn't so much about bringing in the new as it is clearing out the old, and making space for to give a few last chances. We know that Dustin Pedroia will be back. The Sox will hardly be looking to give up on the likes of Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo. The Sandoval and Ramirez situations are slightly depressing, but the Sox can't do much about that except perhaps consider a position change for Ramirez, and perhaps place both on the disabled list to deal with whatever might be ailing them--particularly Hanley.
In the meantime, with the here-today, gone-tomorrow crowd out, they may as well get another look at Jackie Bradley Jr., Allen Craig, and anyone else who merits one. And not an 11 at-bat look, or one that stretched out 52 at bats over 24 games over 40 days. Stick them in the starting lineup and see if, given the playing time they've enjoyed in the minors, they can reproduce the success they've had there. There's a certain level of "won't get fooled again" that should probably be in play here, but at least if they fail to do so, the Sox can erase them from the 2016 equation.
There's plenty of individual suggestions to be made, and we'll surely hit on some of them in the days to come. But for now, at least, it's just time to acknowledge that a change in course needs to be made. Not to save 2015, but to see what can be done when its ugliness is behind us.