The math tells you that the Red Sox’ so-called playoff hopes are tilting toward the hopeless.
The Red Sox, two wins from a World Series berth just a year ago but dreadfully constructed from the start this season, have won 60 games, lost 63, and are the lonesome bottom-dwellers in the American League East.
With 39 games remaining, they check in at seventh place in the wild-card race, 6½ games out of the third spot. The Rays, Blue Jays, and Mariners are claiming the three spots right now. The Orioles are 4½ games ahead of the Red Sox. The Twins are three games ahead and the White Sox two. Some Olympic-level leapfrogging would be required for the Red Sox to reach the postseason at this point.
If you’ve been paying any attention whatsoever to the team this season, you know that’s not happening. The math hasn’t fully dismissed the Red Sox’ chances yet; as of Tuesday morning, Fangraphs gave the Red Sox a 6.4 percent shot at making the postseason, while baseball-reference had their playoff chances at 3.3 percent.
But common sense and familiarity with their ways confirms something that the math will not, at least not quite yet.
The Red Sox are done. They’re not making the playoffs. They’re not even getting close.
Sure, they have had their moments of hope this season, most notably a 20-6 June against a weak schedule. But as we pan out and look at the season from a wider angle, it’s more apparent than ever that they weren’t good enough at the beginning of the season, when chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom neglected to bring in a righthanded-hitting corner outfielder and proven bullpen arms. And they are certainly not good enough now, having gone 17-30 with a minus-103 run differential since the start of July.
The Red Sox are 16-33 against their four AL East rivals. They’re 20-33 against the six teams ahead of them in the wild-card race, and that includes a 6-1 record against the Mariners. Their next eight games are against teams ahead of them (Toronto, Tampa Bay, Minnesota). Does anyone expect them to make headway? They’re just not capable of the kind of hot streak required.
Microcosms of this season’s broader frustrations could be found in Sunday’s loss to the Orioles at the Little League Classic. John Schreiber, the find of the season who is now running on fumes because Bloom didn’t find more competent bullpen help, hit a batter with his first pitch of the eighth inning, then walked Rougned Odor (a Shea Hillenbrand-esque 25 walks all season) with his next four.
Before you could blink, the Orioles scored three runs to take a 5-2 lead. Xander Bogaerts’s crushed home run off a 99-m.p.h. Félix Bautista fastball was small consolation in another loss that once seemed winnable. Bogaerts always puts up a fight. Why do I get the sense that a fan base in a different baseball city is going to adore the guy next season?
When ESPN showed footage of Red Sox manager Alex Cora careening out of control as he participated in the Williamsport tradition of sliding down the hill beyond the outfield fence with the Little League players, the only way the metaphor could have been more obvious is if all of the kids were wearing Bobby Dalbec and Franchy Cordero jerseys.
This is all such a drag. We’re most likely watching the final Red Sox days of certain players who were central figures on the 119-win machine that rolled to the 2018 World Series title. Bogaerts, perhaps. Probably, if we’re being honest. The ever-gutsy Nate Eovaldi. J.D. Martinez, the epitome of a professional hitter. The sturdy catcher, Christian Vázquez, is already gone, in a deadline deal to the Astros. At least he’ll be in the playoffs.
Who knows what happens with Rafael Devers, a gregarious personality who at his best shows us what a lefthanded-hitting Manny Ramirez would look like? He’s a free agent following next season, and the front office would be wise to go against its apparent instincts and make him an offer soon that doesn’t double as an insult.
If they don’t intend to sign him for what he’s worth, they’re going to have to explore trading him in the offseason. Do you trust Bloom to make a trade of that magnitude? I don’t. For Mookie Betts, he got back Alex Verdugo, Connor Wong, and Jeter Downs.
Go back and look at the Red Sox-Dodgers rumors when that deal was percolating in early 2020. Tony Gonsolin — he of the 25-6 career record and 2.51 ERA — was mentioned as someone who might be available. Instead, the Red Sox got a league-average outfielder, a potential backup catcher, and a marginal infield prospect named after Derek Jeter.
What would Bloom get for Devers — six magic beans, another utility infielder for the Sea Dogs, and a Quadruple A first baseman named after Tino Martinez? Fine, I’m being facetious. He’d get seven magic beans.
The Red Sox have been battered with injuries. But even if you assume that a healthy Trevor Story and Chris Sale would have made a difference, the roster is waif-thin. Devers and Bogaerts are 1-2 on the Red Sox in Wins Above Replacement. You know who is third? Michael Wacha, who has been excellent but has made just 15 starts.
Change — significant change — is coming in the offseason. But right now, all we can envision are the potential departures of players who have represented the franchise well. Bloom has to get it right, and there haven’t been many indications lately that he will.
But first, this flawed team must play out the string in irrelevance. The Red Sox are 6½ games out of a wild-card spot with 39 games to go. The math hasn’t eliminated them, but any rational fan sure has.