DETROIT — The Red Sox have 55 games remaining and Chris Sale will start maybe nine or 10 of them once he comes off the injured list.
The Sox have been extraordinarily cautious with their surgically repaired 32-year-old ace and that’s not going to suddenly change.
Kyle Schwarber has been on the injured list for a month with a strained hamstring. He is moving closer to starting a minor league rehabilitation assignment but probably won’t be ready for a major league game for at least another 7-10 days.
Meanwhile Schwarber will be learning to play first base at the same time while also acclimating to a new team and a new league.
The prospect they hoped would give the team a spark, outfielder Jarren Duran, is 6 of 40 (.150) with 17 strikeouts.
Sale is one of best pitchers of his generation and will give the team a lift once he returns. Schwarber made the National League All-Star team and hit 12 home runs in 13 games before he was injured.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom wasn’t exaggerating when he said Schwarber was one of the most impactful hitters obtained at the trade deadline.
As the Yankees clear a spot in Monument Park for Anthony Rizzo, the Sox can look forward to what Schwarber will give them once he returns.
But the Sox can’t look over their shoulders waiting for a rescue. Their season has started to unravel and it’s the players who have been here from the start who must put it back together.
Their fans won’t help, either. The Sox still have seven games remaining on their road trip, starting Tuesday night against the Tigers. Then they have four games in Toronto against the surging Blue Jays.
“It’s a tough stretch for everybody,” manager Alex Cora said Sunday after the Sox ran their losing streak to four games with a 3-2 setback at Tampa Bay.
The Sox are a pedestrian 13-12 since July 1, allowing the Rays to overtake them with a three-game sweep at Tropicana Field that also let the Yankees and Blue Jays back in the American League East race.
Outside of Kiké Hernández and Rafael Devers, the lineup has been stagnant.
J.D. Martinez is hitting .203 with four RBIs in his last 18 games. Xander Bogaerts has a .607 OPS since the All-Star Game.
Hunter Renfroe, who looked like a steal for much of the season, has seen his numbers drop. Alex Verdugo and Christian Vazquez remain in what are now months-long funks.
The Sox have been patient with rookie first baseman Bobby Dalbec, but he has a .536 OPS since June 1.
It’s a pitching issue, too. The rotation is 7-10 with a 4.78 ERA since July 1. The Rays (3.52), Blue Jays (3.72) and Yankees (3.74) improved as the Sox dipped.
Cora was blunt when asked to assess the division race.
“They’re playing good. Early in the season we were playing good and they sucked,” he said. “It’s part of baseball. It’s 162 games and you’ve got to stay the course.
“Now we’re in a position, we’re in second place in the division. We didn’t like what happened [over the] weekend, but it’s part of it … We’re still here. Obviously, we don’t like losing and we want to be more consistent. But it’s just part of the season.”
The Sox lost three games at Fenway Park against the rebuilding Orioles to open the season then won nine in a row. Cora said he liked his team after that first series, and he still likes them now.
“We know we’re going to score runs,” he said. “We need to adjust a few things. It’s about swing decisions.”
The Sox have 33 come-from-behind victories this season, the most in the majors. When Martinez came to the plate in the ninth inning on Sunday with runners on the corners and two outs, it felt like a spot that in May or June surely would have resulted in at least a game-tying single.
Instead, he chased a slider down and away and popped up to end the game.
“I’m trying to figure it out,” Martinez said after the game.
He’s not alone there and it has to happen for the Sox soon. Sale and Schwarber are on the way, but the season is slipping away now.
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.