The Red Sox opened the season with three losses against the tanking Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park.
“Can’t lose sight of their many issues,” said the headline over the column Globe colleague Alex Speier wrote after the game that detailed how poorly the Sox had played in every facet of the game.
Nobody at the time would have dared suggest the Sox would be in possession of a wild-card spot four months later and four games out of first place in the division.
But here they are and it’s actually terrible news after a 9-8 loss against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday.
The Sox kicked away a five-run lead as their overworked bullpen allowed five runs over three innings. The final three came in the eighth inning when Matt Barnes walked No. 9 hitter Reese McGuire and allowed a 442-foot home run by George Springer.
Springer, who played with Barnes at UConn, crushed a two-strike fastball to the far reaches of the Rogers Centre.
The Sox finished 2-8 on their road trip and have lost 11 of 13 over the last 12 days. A team once firmly in first place could be in fourth before the week is out.
“We’re still in a good spot,” manager Alex Cora said. “But let’s be honest, it was a tough road trip.”
The three-city trip has seen Cora go from optimistic, to angry and now just numb. As the team collapses on the field, the Sox also are dealing with the effects of being one of the few teams left not to have 85 percent of their players, coaches and staffers vaccinated.
The Sox had three players land on the COVID-19 related injured list during this series and lost two coaches who tested positive. First base coach Tom Goodwin and bench coach Will Venable are now stuck in Toronto indefinitely.
Cora, who has been a public advocate for vaccines in Boston and Puerto Rico, is clearly aggravated this has happened, but can’t do much about it.
But even with all that, the Sox led 7-2 after four innings on Sunday and had knocked Hyun Jin Ryu out of the game with a flurry of hits.
Garrett Richards allowed four runs (three earned) over five innings, better than expected given his recent struggles. That Richards turned a 7-4 lead over to the bullpen is what counted.
But four relievers gave up five runs on four hits, four walks and two wild pitches. It’s hard to be surprised given the Sox have only four games since July 26 when their starter went at least five innings.
“It’s part of it, right? They’ve been so good for so long,” Cora said. “It’s one of those, we’ve got to find guys.”
The Blue Jays addressed the hole in their rotation by obtaining a front-line starter in José Berríos, who has allowed one run in 10 innings over two starts since.
The Yankees got a spark from Anthony Rizzo and the Rays from Nelson Cruz. They saw their needs and filled them.
As their competition improved, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom added middling relievers Austin Davis and Hansel Robles and injured outfielder Kyle Schwarber, whom the Sox plan to convert into a first baseman once he’s ready to play.
Robles, who was pitching poorly for the Twins before the trade, has allowed five runs on eight hits over 3⅓ innings for the Sox. Davis has given up eight hits in 4⅓ innings.
Toronto, New York, and Tampa Bay are 24-6 since the trade deadline. The Sox are 2-8. That’s not a coincidence.
In April, the Sox appeared to be a quasi-interesting placeholder while Bloom focused on building up the organizational depth he fervently believes will fuel a series of contending teams.
Maybe that will happen someday. But the 2021 Sox, the team fans can watch right now, outplayed modest expectations and became legitimate contenders.
“The first half wasn’t a joke,” Richards said.
But Bloom hedged his bet as others were bold.
Chris Sale makes his first start Saturday, a welcome development. But even that feels like more about next season at this point. The lefty made his last minor-league start on six days’ rest and the same will be true for his return to the majors.
The Sox are being ultra-careful with Sale, as they should be. But that only underlines how much they needed a starter at the deadline.
There are 48 games remaining starting with Tampa Bay on Tuesday; it’s not too late. But the Sox are 15-18 since July 1 and this feels like who they are.