The Red Sox, winners of seven straight games, 19 of their last 23, and 32 of 44, find themselves on one of those delightful prolonged rolls where victory becomes a familiar ritual and everyone but the most cynical fans begin expecting them to win every day.
The cynics feel pretty good about their daily chances, too, of course. They just don’t want to admit it. If they’re not the exact same people who were saying “Be careful what you wish for” in October 2004, then they at least have direct lineage.
The state of the Sox here in late June is rather remarkable considering that they were nine games under .500 (11-20) as recently as May 11. They were 42-31 entering an American League East gauntlet in which they will play 20 of their next 23 games against division rivals Toronto, Tampa Bay, and New York, beginning with a three-game set against the Blue Jays that started Monday night.
It’s not a perfect parallel, but after taking two of three from the Cardinals and sweeping the Indians in their past two series, this feels somewhat similar to that pivotal point in the Celtics schedule in early February when they went from beating lousy teams to convincing us they were for real by beating good ones.
Honest answers, now. Back on, oh, April 27, did you expect the Red Sox to turn it around this fast and to this degree? I did not. I figured they’d be on the fringes of the wild-card race, because pretty much everyone who doesn’t play their home games in Oakland or Kansas City is on the fringes of the wild-card race.
But I did not expect this — an opportunity to be a team that not only makes the playoffs but has a chance to stick around for a while, provided they have decent luck with injuries and get the proper support/enhancements from the front office.
No, I did not expect the Red Sox to be in this position. But I do believe it’s obvious what needs to happen for them to continue to thrive and ultimately seize one of the three wild-card spots with relative ease.
(Yes, we must think wild card. The Yankees, who entered Monday with an 11-game lead over the second-place Red Sox, probably are not catchable. But, for the sake of looking mildly prescient if a miracle somehow does occur, I will note that on June 27, 1978, the Red Sox led the Yankees by 9½ games, and built that lead to 14 games by July 19. Turned out the only thing the Red Sox would be champions of that season was heartbreak. So you never know.)
As I see it, there are two ways for the Red Sox to maintain this momentum no matter who is pitching, how hot the hitters are, or whom they happen to be playing.
1. Acquire at least one quality, established righthanded arm for the bullpen well before the Aug. 2 trading deadline.
2. Sign Xander Bogaerts and/or Rafael Devers to a long-term extension.
If you believe the former seems more likely than the latter, I’m with you there. The Red Sox are actually in a compelling place with their pitching right now. If everything falls right — if Chris Sale returns and looks like a decent replica of his ace self, if Nate Eovaldi, Garrett Whitlock, and Josh Taylor come back from their injuries in good form, if Tanner Houck settles into the closer role, if Nick Pivetta continues pitching like vintage Jake Peavy, if Michael Wacha continues to look like his St. Louis self, if Josh Winckowski makes people forget about Andrew Benintendi, if James Paxton gives them something, if John Schreiber and Matt Strahm continue to thrive, if Brayan Bello comes up and lights up Fenway with his electric stuff, if, if, if, and a half-dozen more ifs — the Red Sox might actually look like they have a surplus of quality pitching.
We know better. Nothing ever falls exactly right with pitching, and there is no such thing as a surplus, a lesson the Red Sox learned most harshly when they traded “extra” starter Bronson Arroyo for Wily Mo Pena at the end of spring training 2006 and ended up needing 52 combined starts from Kyle Snyder, Matt Clement, Julian Tavarez, Lenny DiNardo, Kason Gabbard, David Pauley, Kevin Jarvis, Jason Johnson, and the legendary Devern Hansack.
The Red Sox need that one more stable righthanded reliever to be able to get important outs against those deep AL East lineups in meaningful games, especially if Houck remains unvaccinated and can’t pitch in Toronto late in the season. (Here’s hoping Houck and Jarren Duran have a research breakthrough in their lab while their teammates are north of the border.)
There should be plenty of pitchers available that qualify for the job — a Daniel Bard return would be a welcome chapter to his redemption story — and Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has an abundance of quasi-interesting midlevel prospects to make such a deal possible. If he can be preemptive about it, all the better.
The Red Sox players were frustrated after the deadline last year when the only acquisitions were Kyle Schwarber (who ended up being exactly what they needed once he got healthy, three weeks after the trade) and reliever Hansel Robles. They got back into this playoff race after a terrible start. They deserve to be rewarded with reinforcements.
As for that other surefire momentum- and morale-builder, it certainly does not appear that the Red Sox are motivated to extend Bogaerts (who can opt out of his team-friendly deal after this season) or Devers (who is hitting like a David Ortiz/Manny Ramírez amalgam this season). The Red Sox’ success has muted the frustration over the unwillingness to pay the superstar rate for superb, popular players, but it will be a shame if nothing is ever worked out with the dynamic duo.
Say, how about this? How about signing Bogaerts, who obviously wants to stay here, to an extension while the Red Sox are in New York over the next few weeks? Collect some good karma at the site of Bogaerts’s first big league home run back in September 2013, and show the Yankees and Aaron Judge how finding common financial ground with your franchise cornerstone is done.
This Red Sox season feels pretty darned good right now. Ensuring that their best players stay around — and getting them a proper reinforcement or two along the way — would make it even better.