With just under five weeks left until the August 1 trade deadline, the Red Sox reside on uncertain terrain.
“Interesting part of the season,” said Sox outfielder Adam Duvall.
The team has spent all year wobbling around the .500 axis, seemingly incapable of separating from the breakeven line in one direction or the other. An ugly 10-1 blowout loss at Fenway on Tuesday to the Marlins left the Sox 40-40, still in last place in the AL East while trailing five teams in the chase for a Wild Card berth.
“That’s where we’re at, bro,” manager Alex Cora said in reference to the standings. “The same way you guys feel, it feels that way. We’re not great. We’re not bad. We need to start playing better, consistently.”
The season of reversals has left the team without a clear direction as the trade deadline comes into ever more prominent view. Until the team moves decisively in one direction or another, the front office won’t define its approach to the trade deadline.
“[The deadline] is still far enough away that we need to see what we can do between now and then,” said chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “I don’t think this is a secret. How we play and where we’re positioned determines what we should do.
“Even more so than last year, I think the realities of the division may make this tough because you can play really well and still look at where you’re positioned in the division and be realistic about what that means. But it’s in our hands,” he added, noting that improvement would reflect steps forward by the young core that would bode well for the team’s long-term future. “If we’re able to play well, and that should make us more aggressive. We have to see what we’re able to accomplish and just be realistic about those circumstances. That frankly dictates how you go into the deadline and what you’re looking to accomplish.”
While the Sox’ inability to gain traction feels similar to what the club went through a year ago, there is a notable difference. Last year, the Sox got steamrolled by good teams and feasted on bad ones.
This year, the opposite is occurring. The Sox are 28-25 (.528) against teams that were at least .500 or better, the fifth-best mark in the majors. The team’s struggles have inexplicably come against teams with losing records (12-15, .444). What does that mean?
“It means we’ve got a good ballclub,” said reliever Chris Martin. “We’ve just got to be a little more consistent, obviously.”
Since the introduction of a second Wild Card team in 2013, there have been 52 teams that had at least a .525 winning percentage against teams that were .500 or better. Of those, 49 (94 percent) have reached the playoffs.
Based on that demonstrated ability to beat some of the better teams in baseball, both Martin and Duvall offered the opinion that the Sox are capable of moving beyond their hot-and-cold season. Both spoke from experience, having played for Atlanta in 2021, a team that was 44-45 at the All-Star break, improved on the strength of a few well-timed trades in July (Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, and Duvall himself), finished the regular season with 88 wins, then stormed through the postseason on the way to a title.
“This has a lot of feel like that,” said Martin. “It was a weird deal. It was almost like a joke. We were playing okay baseball, just a little inconsistent kind of like it’s been here. But you’d see flashes of what it could be.
“Obviously, it’s going to be probably tough to win the division, but luckily there’s a lot of playoff spots now and all it takes is getting in the playoffs and getting hot, obviously with the Braves [in 2021] and the Phillies last year. You see these teams get hot towards the end and they just kind of run with it. Those teams are dangerous.”
But will the Sox be afforded the chance to prove they can be dangerous? If the team slips further in the standings, it’s natural to imagine a selloff of virtually any player who isn’t under team control beyond 2023, a group that includes Duvall, James Paxton, Justin Turner, and Kiké Hernández.
Yet in both the standings and available talent, the Sox aren’t so far behind other flawed American League contenders as to make a run at the postseason unrealistic. The club continues to believe in what is possible.
“A lot of [what the Sox do at the trade deadline] is out of our control. We don’t know what’s going on in the minds of the people who make those decisions. It’s probably best that way. I don’t ever want to speculate because then you’re just throwing darts at the wall,” said Duvall, who’s been traded twice at the deadline.
“Obviously, me being a part of it, I believe in this team with my whole heart. I’ve seen the stretches that we’ve gone on. I’ve seen the type of baseball that we’re capable of. It’s just up to us to put that out there on a consistent basis.”
That hasn’t happened yet – and time is becoming increasingly scarce for the players to make a case that true contention is within reach.