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Red Sox' Make-Or-Break Stretch Has Been An Utter Failure

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- Through almost four full months, the 2019 Red Sox season was a massive disappointment. Still, entering a 14-game stretch playing exclusively against the Rays and Yankees, the team had a chance to salvage the season.

All the Red Sox needed to do was to rediscover whatever it was that allowed them to be World Series champions just 10 months ago, harness that energy and ability, and put together the best fortnight of the season. A 10-4 or 11-3 run, and the Red Sox would surely recapture a wild-card spot and even start to flirt with a run at the division. With the trade deadline smack dab in the middle of that stretch, the team could also see a much-needed reinforcement or two brought in to help with the push.

It was all there for the Red Sox, laid out in front of them.

They've responded thus far by going 5-5.

In a way, the events of the past 10 games paints a perfect picture of this year's Red Sox team. Any time they start to inspire hope in the region, every time they give you a reason to believe, they always come crashing back down to earth, often in spectacular fashion. This time around, it came about by winning two of three in Tampa before kicking off a four-game set against the Yankees with three straight wins. Those victories over New York came with an average score of 13-4 -- thorough beatings from a team that looked ready to pick itself up off the mat and make the final two months of the season interesting.

But then, on Sunday Night Baseball, Chris Sale was knocked all around the ballpark, the Red Sox were beaten, and Boston fans had to watch a birthday celebration for Alex Rodriguez on the telecast. Talk about a low point.

Still, with a 5-2 record in the first week of this critical stretch, the Red Sox had an off day on Monday to assess their situation. They were well on their way to reestablishing their place in the playoff race, even if the division crown remained unrealistic.

Since then, it's just been a series of body blows.

The Rays beat the Red Sox 6-5 on Tuesday, a game which the Red Sox led multiple times.

Wednesday brought the trade deadline, and after making exactly zero trades to enhance this ballclub, team president Dave Dombrowski more or less said the current players on the roster are going to have to fight their way out of their problems if they want to make something of this season.

The players took the field a few hours later; it didn't go so well. Rick Porcello, in between smashing video monitors in the dugout, was dreadful. The Rays drubbed the Red Sox 8-5 -- and it wasn't even as close as the score might suggest.

After losing yet another game in the standings to the Rays -- a team spending, oh, roughly $164 million fewer dollars on payroll this year -- the Red Sox had a chance to salvage something on Thursday night. Instead they fell behind in the first inning, coughed up a lead in the second inning and watched as the Rays ran away with another win at Fenway Park.

Thus ended what can only be described as an utterly disastrous five days at Fenway Park. All that restored hope that was present prior to first pitch on Sunday night had been wiped away entirely, drained by an ugly loss to the Yankees and a rare sweep by the Rays. The 2019 Rays became the first team to win eight games in one season at Fenway Park since ... the 1966 Orioles. The Red Sox have been historically bad against the Rays this season, and as a result, they're now sitting 3.5 games behind the Rays for the second wild card spot, with Oakland nestled between them.

That the Red Sox -- with the top payroll in baseball and (on paper) maybe the best starting rotation in the league -- can perform with such consistent mediocrity is confounding. That they are being outperformed by the Rays and A's -- teams that rank 30th and 25th in payroll, respectively -- makes it all the more maddening.

Technically, the Red Sox can still conclude this stretch by sweeping the Yankees in all four games and coming out of the two-week run with a 9-5 record. But, well, that won't happen. And even if it were to happen, it would hardly matter.

Over the course of four months, the Red Sox have simply not displayed the qualities necessary for a team to contend for a championship. The faces were all basically the same as the ones that celebrated on the field in L.A. last October, making the issues all the more mystifying. Yet it was that resume and that recent history that made everybody wary of officially writing them off this season. Surely, they were and are too good to limp their way along for the entire season, right?

The Red Sox had the opportunity to answer that question with a resounding yes during this current stretch. They've gone 5-5 -- a perfectly mediocre showing from a perfectly mediocre team. Dombrowski admitted that he was hesitant to make any trades because of the team's current position in the playoff race, a tacit acknowledgment that this team was not worth believing in. Since then, instead of showing some level of pride, the team has only proven him to have been correct.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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