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christopher l. gasper

The schedule is there for the Red Sox to make up ground, but it’s very hard to be hopeful

It certainly feels as though the sun is setting on the Red Sox season.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

This homestand is the Red Sox’ last stand in a season being sucked into the gravitational pull of irrelevance. The six games starting Tuesday at Fenway Park against the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays represent the last chance to flip the switch and the script, to render September something more than academic around here.

What’s that? Many of you have already written off the Sox, signed their death certificate, and moved on to Patriots season. Rightfully so; the team hasn’t given you anything to believe in since June. There are zero indicators the Sox are suddenly going to salvage this Bridge Year, one marked by organizational ambivalence, stark underperformance, unacceptable roster shortcomings, and American League East futility.

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It feels as though chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and the baseball ops department channeled a high school graduate not ready for the rigors of college and took a gap year. The Sox simply took a year off from genuine contention to find themselves and sustainability.

The good news is if Boston bombs this homestand against the Jays and Rays, both of whom entered Monday six games ahead of the Sox as owners of the top two AL wild-card spots, we can finally take this season off life support, and put it out of its — and our collective — misery. We can cease with the team-proffered pretense of playoff contention.

That conceit, fueled by the addition of the overkill third wild-card berth, has been propping up a season on its last legs. It’s one spouted by players who politicked to keep the team intact at the trade deadline like J.D. Martinez, reinforced by always-upbeat manager Alex Cora, and sold by Bloom, who revealed his true assessment of this team when he traded away starting catcher Christian Vázquez for prospects.

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The Sox’ playoff hopes are a longer shot than Ted Williams’s famed red-seat blast. Fangraphs pegged the Red Sox with a 6.4 percent chance of making the playoffs Monday.

Following Sunday night’s 5-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles in the delightful MLB Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa., the last-place Sox stand at 60-62 with 40 games to go. That’s essentially a fourth of the season unwritten, so as tempting as it is to say it’s already over, technically, it’s a bit premature.

The “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?” Sox still have some say in the requiem for this season.

Thirty-one of their final 40 are against teams ahead of them in the standings. After Sunday’s loss, in which the team’s most reliable reliever all year, John Schreiber, melted down like a Little Leaguer’s ice cream cone left in the sun, the Sox sunk to 16-32 against AL East brethren. They’ll face AL East opponents in 28 of their final 40 games, or 70 percent.

Can Alex Cora and the Red Sox reach the postseason?Jim Davis/Globe Staff

So a marked turnaround will be required to reverse the course of an eminently disappointing campaign. There are no signs of that on the hardball horizon, not with Schreiber faltering at the most inopportune time and Nate Eovaldi (neck/shoulder) unable to make Tuesday’s key start against the Blue Jays.

All you have to do to look at where this team stands is witness the obvious frustration of classy shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who has played a season in limbo regarding his long-term status in Boston.

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The Baseball Bergeron uncharacteristically exploded Friday, getting tossed from a game for just the second time in his career. The ostensible cause was an errant strike call. But it felt like the buildup of a season’s worth of frustration with his play, his contract situation, and management’s half-hearted commitment to this version of the Sox.

Bogaerts basically admitted the ejection felt cathartic, and he confessed to the Globe’s Alex Speier that this frustrating and complicated season has worn on him.

Bogaerts blasted his first home run since Aug. 3 in Sunday night’s loss, No. 10 on the year. He’s on pace for his lowest home run total in a full season since 2017. He hit 11 in 56 games during the COVID-truncated 2020 season.

If the Sox are going to make a run, they’re going to need more production from the big-bopper bats that have gone silent. Martinez hasn’t homered since July 10. He’s batting .175 with a .519 OPS since July 11. In that same span, Rafael Devers is batting .188 with 12 runs batted in. A third of his 18 hits have been homers, but the team is just 9-16 in the 25 games he’s played.

None of it speaks to the Sox trending in a postseason direction. Their expected win-loss record is worse than their actual mark. Analytics calculations say the Sox, based on their performance and negative-37 run differential, should be three games worse (57-65) than they actually are.

However, the schedule provides them an opportunity to buck the odds and the analytics, and write an alternate ending. After the six games in the Fens, the Sox travel to Minnesota, another team ahead of them in the wild-card standings, for a three-game set that concludes Aug. 31.

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A power outage from mashers like J.D. Martinez has caused the Sox' offense to stall out at the worst possible time.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

By the time September rolls around, we’ll know if the Sox have anything left and anything left to play for.

If they don’t make up ground and make some hay, then they should make like the Kansas City Royals, who are creating a spreadsheet to make sure they give ample playing time to all the young players they’re auditioning while out of contention. That sounds right up the alley of Boston’s baseball ops department.

Either way, this spate of games is a win-win for fans. Either we can finally flush a season circling the drain or the Sox will breathe new life into a listless campaign.

We’ll get something lacking since Opening Day: Clear and definitive direction.


Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at christopher.gasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.