The Sox were riding high after taking three of four from the first-place White Sox earlier this week, but those good times seem like a distant memory after the Blue Jays came in and bludgoened Boston this weekend.
The Red Sox aren't out of it yet, but they'll be running out of time before too long.
Onto this week's 6-4-3.
Six Red Sox Thoughts
1. This team is in trouble
At what point do you start to panic? Has that point already passed? It's pretty incredible how quickly the mood surrounding a team — especially the Red Sox — can change in just a matter of days. After Cody Ross' walk-off home run on Thursday night, Sox fans were starting to see how this team could get back in the race. Then the Blue Jays come into town and sweep a three-game series. There are now five teams that stand between them and a playoff spot. They have a six-game road trip against Texas and New York. It doesn't look good. It doesn't look good at all.
2. Aces wild
As you may have heard, the Red Sox are now 13-23 in games started by Josh Beckett and Jon Lester this season. That's just nowhere near good enough. I think it would be a bit silly to think that those two aren't trying to make things better, but the results would certainly back up the notion otherwise. That 13-23 mark is staggering. If they could just win five games between the two of them — which would still only make that record 18-18 — the Red Sox would be in first place for one of the two wild cards. It's unfathomable at this point. Dating back to last September, the Red Sox are 15-31 in games started by Beckett or Lester. That doesn't tell the whole story about this team's struggles over that time, but it sure does explain a lot.
It was oddly captivating to watch Lester's start on Sunday afternoon against Toronto. It's not often that a pitcher's first and last pitches in a start are home runs. In a stretch that continues to defy logic, Lester hit what has to be rock bottom on Sunday. I tend to believe him when he says that he's fine physically. This is just a horribly timed case of the yips. There are those who think it's just a mechanical flaw or two that is causing Lester's downfall right now, but it might not be as easy as that. It's one thing to identify and correct a mechanical flaw, but you have to wonder how much psychological damage will be done before it can be fixed. Whatever is really going on, it's been ugly, and it doesn't take a baseball scholar to know that this team will never win anything with Lester pitching the way he is right now. To his credit, though, he knows that and at the very least, his accountability has been commendable. Unfortunately, accountability alone doesn't win baseball games.
4. Going, going Gonzo
It's not all gloom and doom right now, though. Adrian Gonzalez is starting to look like the hitter that was the AL MVP favorite at the All-Star break last season. The first baseman is hitting .391 since June 20 with four of his nine home runs coming in that time. He's doing it in a multitude of ways, too. He's starting to go the other way more, and he's taking what is given to him and not trying to do too much. When he's given a cookie — like the 0-2 fastball Henderson Alvarez grooved down the heart of the plate on Sunday afternoon — he's taking care of it, too. That was a picture-perfect swing from Gonzalez, and the result was a mammoth home run over the Boston bullpen. The Sox need all the help they can get right now, and Gonzalez is doing his part.
Has there been a bigger bargain this season than Ross? The outfielder has been one of the few bright spots, and all at the incredibly low price of $3 million. He's going to get paid this offseason, and he's earned it after putting on a good showing in one of baseball's toughest markets. He's bounced around to this point in his career, but it may make sense for the Red Sox to sign him to a multiyear deal, especially given how suited his swing is for Fenway Park and how good of a teammate he seems to be. Of course, it's probably going to cost them a little more than $3 million per season, if they decide to go that route.
6. Carl, good to see you
Another positive this week was the play of Carl Crawford. The outfielder has been through a lot in the last year, so it was good to see him return and play some really good baseball. It was a small reminder of how potentially good he could be for the Red Sox. He still has the talent, as we saw this week, it's just a matter of putting it together again. Maybe with some confidence and some stability, Crawford will once again became the player that terrorized the Red Sox when he played in Tampa.
Four Observations Around Baseball
1. No signs of slowing in Oakland
We touched on this last week, and the A's keep getting better. They are by far the hottest team in the majors right now, with a 14-2 record in July. That record was improved upon by a four-game sweep of the Yankees over the weekend. That capped a pretty loud statement from the A's, who also split a two-game series with the Rangers this week. You look at the Red Sox, and it's clear that their biggest problem right now is starting pitching. Then you look at the A's — who have given up 2.75 runs per game in July — and it's easy to see why they're right in the middle of the playoff race.
2. Central shake-up
You'd be hard-pressed to find too many people who saw the AL Central being won by anyone but the Detroit Tigers. They probably expected them to have a much easier time doing so, though. While the Tigers are a long way from wrapping up the division crown, but Detroit is now back in first place in the Central for the first time since May 1. The Tigers are 14-4 this month after sweeping the previously first-place White Sox. Unsurprisingly, their turnaround has coincided with another fantastic stretch from Justin Verlander. He's 6-1 in his last seven starts, averaging a hair under eight innings per start while sporting a tidy 1.96 ERA over that time.
3. Trout for MVP?
Can we go back in time and take back all of the things we said when declaring the MVP race over in May in favor of Josh Hamilton? Because Mike Trout has played his way into the conversation, and he may be the current favorite. He's hitting .392 with 10 home runs, 31 RBIs and 23 stolen bases since June 1. He's also played some sparkling defense in center field, too. It's paying dividends, with the Halos going 26-18 in that stretch, allowing them to get back into the AL West and wild card races. He's arguably the best player in the game right now, and he's definitely one of the most exciting.
4. Touching tribute
The Hall of Fame welcomed its new members this weekend, and the late Ron Santo was inducted posthumously. His wife Vicki gave a speech in his honor, and it was tremendous. Here a few highlights.
Three Things to Watch This Week
1. Do or die
This is it for the Red Sox, isn't it? After a disappointing weekend sweep, the Sox didn't get much time to think about things, boarding a plane and heading to Texas for their biggest road trip of the season. It's just a six-game roadie, but Boston will be tested by the Rangers and then the Yankees. The Red Sox have to be hoping they can do what the A's did last week, and if they don't, this season might be lost.
2. Harvey Time
The Mets have started their annual free fall down the NL East standings, but the future will become the present for one prospect on Thursday. The club announced that Matt Harvey will make his debut this week. The right-hander pitcher is one of the club's can't-miss pitching prospects, along with Zack Wheeler, and he's ready to make his debut, just two years after being drafted in 2010. The Connecticut native features a big league fastball in the mid- to upper-90s, and he also brings a devastating curveball to the table. He's averaged more than a strikeout per inning after each level he's been at, and with the Mets falling fast and Johan Santana hitting the disabled list, he gives Mets fans a reason to care right now.
3. Where will Hamels end up?
The trade deadline is a week from Tuesday, so expect the rumors to heat up. Many will be keeping an eye on what happens with Cole Hamels. The Phillies are just about out of it, and Hamels will be a free agent at the end of this season, so there's reason to believe that they could make deal the left-hander. However, all reports indicate that the Phils are doing all they can to lock him up to a long-term deal. Expect those conversations to heat up as well, but if they can't get a deal done, Hamels may end up being the biggest named moved at the deadline.