I started writing about baseball at the start of the 2011 season. Granted, I was lucky to get about five page views a day back then, but I still followed the team in a way I never had before. We all know how that season ended, and it was the kind of run that, as a sports fan, you hope to only live through once. It wasn’t the same kind of sharp pain as 2003, but in a way it was worse because of the long, dragged out nature.
What we’re witnessing right now, to be clear, is not totally analogous. This team was never supposed to be the “Best team ever” as that 2011 one was crowned before any games were played. This team hasn’t held the kind of large, late lead that the 2011 club did either, nor are we expected to see the end of an era for a manager pushed out in shameless fashion by ownership. The comparison is not perfect. But there’s that similar feeling being instilled with each passing game, this sense of drawn out dread, and knowledge of impending doom with nothing you can do to stop it. It’s only sports, but it’s as helpless as you can feel in a sports context, seeing a season go up in flames before your very eyes.
Now, as it says at the top, this is a space to vent. Thinking rationally, or at least more rationally than I am right this moment, the morning after the worst loss in a never-ending pit of bad losses, I would point to reasons for optimism. And they exist. The Red Sox would be in the postseason had the regular season ended yesterday, and they hold a 2.5-game cushion on that playoff spot. Their four-game deficit in the division feels insurmountable, but with three games coming up against the Rays that can change quickly. FanGraphs, as of this writing, gives Boston just under a 71 percent chance at making the postseason, and just under a 27 percent chance of still winning the division. They’re getting Chris Sale back this weekend, and hopefully Kyle Schwarber will join the fold shortly thereafter. The Red Sox are not, literally speaking, done.
But good lord does it feel like it. And while I keep trying to avoid writing anything like it, because it feels like whining or sad-assing or complaining or however you’d like to phrase it, this is a safe space for venting. And it’s impossible to just not keep pointing back at the trade deadline. We all know what happened, or didn’t happen, and we don’t know how much, if at all, that has played into this horrible stretch.
What we do know is that the Red Sox just played 10 games on the road, with the first coming just hours after the final tick of the deadline, and they lost eight of those games. One of them was, frankly, a gift of a win, too. And yes, we do have to point out that basically no one they would have acquired could have stopped this avalanche. Maybe they go 3-7 on the trip if they get an upgrade in the rotation, or at first base, or wherever, but this team is playing all-around terrible baseball. Each piece of the roster has had its moments during this run, but they’ve also each had many, many more failures. It’s been a mess that one or two players wasn’t going to solve.
Of course, at the same time, we can’t just ignore the possibility that the trade deadline was exactly the catalyst for the roster to start playing so poorly. At least publicly, the players wanted this team to acquire help. They said so on the record. Xander Bogaerts said in that piece, “Hopefully we do something, get that sense that we want to be better.” It’s hard to imagine they got that sense from what the front office ended up doing. I’ve never been on a team at a higher level than high school locker, but I can imagine it’s a sinking feeling to believe your front office doesn’t believe you’re good enough to invest in.
And I do want to be careful about letting the players off the hook here. I was disappointed too, and I can certainly sympathize with the feelings of the players if that is indeed what is happening here. But at the same time, they are professionals. They need to play better, full stop, end of story. Whatever their feelings may be, it’s not an excuse for the listless at bats and constant failures with runners on base. It’s not an excuse for missing the plate in key situations on the mound. It’s not an excuse to walk the nine hitter then throw two straight center-cut fastballs to one of the best hitters on planet Earth in arguably the most important at bat of the season. The players certainly deserve blame here, and probably the lion’s share.
But this roster needed help. It was clear in the days leading up to the deadline that they had to do something. Whether it was Chaim Bloom’s call on the inactivity because he didn’t want to give up prospects, or it was ownership’s call to not exceed the luxury tax, I don’t really care. If this run continues — not a sure thing at all, to be fair! — it is an organizational failure at every level. The prices being too high is not an excuse. Good front offices find a way to pay those prices by giving up prospects who are overvalued by the baseball community. This was Dave Dombrowski’s most underrated characteristic, finding the right players to trade away at the right time. The only alternative is that none of the Red Sox prospects are being overvalued and everyone should pan out, in which case we better see multiple titles later this decade.
Not believing this team is worth investing in is not an excuse, either. They were worth investing in, because they had a chance to win the division. Those wins were banked. Even if they were playing over their head, they could anticipate where they’d come back down to Earth and fill those holes before they came. And, if the team really wasn’t worth investing in, we need to take back all the praise we had for the front office in the first half of the season. They can’t have it both ways. Either Bloom and company built a complete team full of players they saw more potential in than anyone else that was a legitimate AL East contender as they looked for most of the year, and still decided they weren’t worth an investment, or they got lucky and actually just put together another mediocre roster and recognized that fact, in which case that’s not all that impressive, no more so than a Quad-A player singling his way to a .400 average over a three-week stretch. Personally, I’m in the first boat, but I don’t see how anyone can be in both.
Honestly, I’m as annoyed writing this as people are annoyed hearing about the trade deadline. What’s done is done. But unfortunately for the Red Sox, what wasn’t done isn’t done. Right now, what wasn’t done is undoing everything, or at least that’s how it feels from where I’m sitting. Like I said, this is a space for venting. The reality still exists that the team has more than six weeks to turn around a bad 11 games. That’s far from impossible. I’m hoping I look back at this post in a month and laugh about the dramatics from myself and other fans. It wouldn’t be the first time. But for now, I just keep thinking about that first season I wrote about this team, and I can’t shake the similar aura, even amid all of the other differences.