Mazz: Are the Red Sox for real?
As we approach another potential Red Sox playoffs season, this is not a question about believing, not believing, keeping receipts or collecting debts. It’s really not even about Chaim Bloom. At the end of the day, it’s really about one thing and one thing only: winning.
And so maybe it’s time to ask:
Are the Red Sox for real?
In case you missed it, the Red came back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the Atlanta Braves last night, 5-3, completing a two-game miniseries sweep and further fueling the notion that Boston will be a buyer as we approach the Aug.1 trade deadline. The Sox have won four straight and are now 12-4 in their last 16 games, building one of their longer, better surges during a season that is rapidly becoming more interesting by the day. And oh, did we mention that the Sox did all this against Atlanta right-hander Spencer Strider, one of the best pitchers in baseball?
So we’ll ask it again:
Are the Red Sox for real? And must we now seriously consider the viability of the phrase Red Sox playoffs?
“We just played a really good team. They’re coming together at the right time,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said of the Red Sox. “We typically score more than four runs in two games, but Spencer had a really solid outing. Just couldn’t seal the deal.”
Hey now. That’s no small praise. The Braves are the 2021 World Series champions and the best team in the game. In fact, they might be the model organization for the sport. The Atlanta lineup and roster looks like something from a McDonald’s All-America game, packed with real, young talent. The Braves have already won a World Series and they’re coming for more. Since June 3, entering this series, the Braves were 31-10 over their last 41 games.
Let’s make an analogy
Remember the regular season game during the 2001 NFL season in which the Patriots smashed heads with the measuring-stick St. Louis Rams before losing 24-17? In recent Boston sports history, it was the most meaningful of all losses. Three months later, the Patriots beat the Rams to win their first Super Bowl, launching a new era in New England sports. (Yes, you have permission to play with and mock that analogy.)
Get the picture?
“They have a great team. We respect the way they go about it. They’re relentless,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “Hopefully, we can play them again. That’s the goal here, but we’ve got work to do.”
How’s that for foreshadowing?
Something old, something new
Look, we’ve all had our doubts. Some of us (ahem) still do. But if you want to compare the Sox today with the Sox from earlier in the season, here’s a suggestion: don’t. With young, developing teams, it doesn’t always work. As utterly inept and clownish as the Sox looked earlier in the season, even amid winning streaks during which we rightfully asked the same question – “Are the Red Sox for real?” – the vibe didn’t feel quite like this. (Admittedly, the Red Sox have run the bases as if their hair were on fire multiple times even in the last few days.) Boston’s young players are blossoming if not, well, Blooming, which changes the equation. When the Red Sox are going through the kind of overhaul they’ve been going through over the last few years, a season can change, as it did in 2015, when the last-place-but developing Sox ended the season playing much, much better. In 2016, they were back in the playoffs. In 2018, well … you get the idea.
What if this team is just maturing a month or two earlier?
Can the Red Sox make the playoffs now?
As Exhibit A for the Sox’ current transformation, look no further than Triston Casas, the first-round selection (primary credit: Dave Dombrowski) who is now rounding into the kind of middle-of-the-order bat that can change a lineup – and that the Sox projected him to be. The possessor of a .128 batting average on May 1, Casas is now up to .253 for the season, which is not small feat. Among 24 qualifying major league first baseman, Casas ranks ninth in OPS, and his solo homer off Strider in a key seventh-inning rally last night trimmed a Red Sox deficit from 3-1 to 3-2. Justin Turner eventually followed with a two-run double that gave the Sox a 4-3 lead during a which the Sox got contributions from the old and new, all while wearing their trendy, relatively new yellow and blue.
The fans at Fenway Park even engaged in what felt like a Red Sox revival.
So what does all this mean?
Say the words as if you’re clicking your ruby slippers together, a la Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”: Red Sox playoffs. Red Sox playoffs. Do you believe them? Probably not. But you want to. As things stand, the Sox are a mere one game behind the Toronto Blue Jays (against whom the Sox are 7-0 this year) for the final playoff spot in the American League. The trading deadline is Aug. 1. Bloom has indicated that the Red Sox would ideally like to add a player (or players) who could help the Sox this year and beyond, which means the team isn’t interested in a rental. That suggests Bloom is ready to make a significant trade. Meanwhile, the Red Sox now anticipate, potentially, the returns of Trevor Story, Chris Sale, Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock, which means the roster could look considerably different – read: better – than it does now.
So we’ll ask the questions we’ve all been asking for weeks and months:
Should the Red Sox and Chaim Bloom add at the trade deadline?
Could we actually be headed toward another Red Sox playoffs experience?
And most importantly, could it be … might it be … that the Red Sox are for real?