The Red Sox understand the importance of these coming days. Listening to anybody in their clubhouse after that head-scratching, 5-0 loss to Asher Wojciechowski and Co. Sunday, you can soak in that vibe. (For a complete recap of the debacle in Baltimore, click here.)
"It’s a tough one, but we have to turn the page. It starts tomorrow," Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters. "We have to go there and keep on with the rhythm offensively. Don’t let up. It was a bad day today overall as a team, especially offensively. But we know we can hit. We know we can score. Just a matter of tomorrow. We have the tough schedule coming up and we’ll be ready for it."
"Tough situation we’re in. Every game is important," said Mookie Betts when meeting with the media after the game. "It’s just one of those things where we just have to turn the page and get ready for tomorrow."
The reality is, in the words of Apollo Creed, there is no tomorrow. This is it. Either the Red Sox weather the next week or the conversation will morph into something that that clubhouse is desperately trying to avoid.
This is a group that won a World Series together and were banking on getting another crack at it for one more season. The players were virtually the same, as was the approach. The results? That has been the problem. Now the Sox have one more chance to prove this original blueprint was the right one.
John Henry told WEEI.com if this collection played up to its potential it would "easily" make the playoffs. It is hard to argue. But the opportunity to prove that point would seem be down to these coming collection of games, starting with three in Tropicana Field.
With three wins against the Rays the Red Sox can move past Tampa Bay. With two, Cora's club draws within a game. And while this is going on in St. Petersburg, Fla. one of the two teams these pair are chasing, Oakland, has to battle the Astros in Houston. In other words, there is some opportunity on the horizon.
Then again, what it goes horribly wrong? This is a Rays team, after all, that has figured out Red Sox hitters better than any other club, holding the Sox to .212 batting average and .635 OPS over their nine meetings. If that trend continues you will have a floundering collection of World Series champions having to make their last stand against a team in the Yankees that it has beaten once in seven tries.
Normally, a team three games out of the final Wild Card spot with 62 games to play wouldn't be saddled with such desperation. But this is all about the calendar, most notably how many days until the end of July. Thanks to the trade deadline decisions will have to be made about which direction Dave Dombrowski is forced to steer his organization. It is a somewhat confusing predicament the Red Sox really haven't had to face in recent years.
Here is where the Red Sox sat on July 22 dating back to 2012:
2018: Five up in the division.
2017: Three and a half up in the division.
2016: Half-game back in the division; In the Wild Card.
2015: Eleven back in division (last place); 8.5 out of Wild Card.
2014: Eight and a half back in division (last place); Six out of Wild Card.
2013: Half-game up in the division.
2012: Nine and a half back in division; 3 1/2 out of Wild Card.
The only year that comes close to this current undefined existence is '12, with the Red Sox really doing little prior to giving the roster an enema a few weeks into August via the historic trade with the Dodgers. It should be noted that amount of teams sitting between the Sox and a playoff berth in late July that season was appreciably larger than what they are looking at now.
The Red Sox haven't sugarcoated this stretch against the Rays and Yankees, with Dombrowski surfacing the 14-game stretch vs. the two teams when explaining the impetus behind acquiring Andrew Cashner to fill one of the team's holes in the rotation's fifth spot. They have prioritized putting their best foot forward this week because the alternative his having a completely different pair of feet heading in August.
The idea that anything other than living life as a buyer before the end of the weeks is ridiculous. You don't invest this much in a collection of players without giving them every last chance to reward the faith put in them. So while it seems difficult to envision this version of the Red Sox evolving into the juggernaut that was 2018's edition, Dombrowski is undeniably going to proceed as if he knows better times are waiting a week or so from now.
That said, the idea of some kind of resurgence against the iron of the American League East might have seemed like nothing more than a pipe-dream a week from now, with the likes of free agents-to-be Brock Holt and Rick Porcello waiting to find out if their Red Sox tenure has come to a close.
It's fair to say, one way or another this is going to be a week we won't be forgetting any time soon.