By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s happened multiple times this season, this phenomenon where we’re all compelled to wonder aloud if the Red Sox are “back.” It happened in early May. It happened again just last week.
It should never happen again.
The Red Sox are not “back.” And they don’t appear capable of getting there.
That much is clear after the Red Sox dropped two of three at home against the decidedly-not-back Toronto Blue Jays, a team that sits 20 games under .500. The series came after the Red Sox had won seven of their last eight games, and it was a series that began with a walk-off win for Boston on Friday night. The next day, the Red Sox rode that momentum to take a 6-0 lead over the Blue Jays through three innings.
The Red Sox were back.
That was … until the seventh, when Mike Shawaryn served up back-to-back homers and when Marcus Walden uncorked a wild pitch to allow a fourth Blue Jay to cross the plate in that frame. In the eighth, Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier combined to give up three runs — the last two via bases-loaded walks — to officially let an easy win slip away. Xander Bogaerts delivered a horseshoe-aided ground-rule double to cut Toronto’s lead to one run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but J.D. Martinez struck out to end the game.
It became just one more brutal loss in a series where they’re really getting hard to track.
It could have been alleviated, though, with a victory on Sunday to at least give the Red Sox a series win. But that victory was never really within reach; Marcus Stroman kept the Red Sox off the board over his six innings of work, while Rick Porcello was tagged for five runs in his six innings on the mound. Boston didn’t score until the ninth inning, aided by an error by the pitcher, en route to losing 6-1.
The disappointing weekend leaves them eight games out of first place, and a game out of the second wild card spot, a race that currently involves six teams.
Given what this group — largely unchanged — did a year ago, the Red Sox should be considered favorites in that hunt. They should be plenty good enough to get themselves in gear, so to speak, rattle off 10 wins in 13 games a few times, and ride their way back to the postseason.
And, well, maybe they can pull it off. But they’ve done very little this season to show that they’re capable of doing anything with all of that potential.
After an 11-17 start to the season, the Red Sox got hot and won 11 of 13 games. Some foolhardy invididuals prematurely declared them to be back. They would then lose 10 of their next 17 games.
They recovered from that slide by sweeping a four-game set in Kansas City. They then lost three of four (at home) against Tampa, kicking off a 1-5 stretch.
But then … they were back. A pair of wins over the Rangers salvaged a split of that four-game series, before the Red Sox swept the Orioles in Baltimore and took two of three from the AL-leading Twins. That the rubber match of that series came rather decisively and after the pain of losing a 17-inning marathon a night before convinced even some doubters that the Red Sox were indeed back.
Alas, it only took two days for the 2019 Red Sox to revert back to the 2019 Red Sox, losing two of three to a Blue Jays team that entered the weekend with a 27-48 record.
At a certain point, it has to become clear that a team is what a team is. The realization must come that even if a majority of that team was good enough to be the very best team in baseball from start to finish a year prior, it can have almost no effect at all when it comes to winning baseball games this year.
We could get into the specifics as to why the Red Sox aren’t “back,” like the starters’ ERA jumping from 3.77 to 4.48 in 2019, or the bullpen already blowing 15 saves in half a season just one year after blowing 20 through a full season, or the MVP falling back to earth, and so on. But none of the specifics could properly capture the reality that this team is just unable to win like last year’s club could. File it under the unquantifiable, unscientific parts of the sport, but there’s just something missing with this year’s team, and nobody on the roster or the coaching staff has proven capable of figuring out exactly what that may be.
That’s not to say that the Red Sox’ season is completely doomed as it stands right now. They should be able to at least punch a ticket to the playoffs by the wild-card route, for whatever that may end up being worth.
But the 2018 Red Sox are gone, and they aren’t ever coming back. It’s time we all stopped waiting for the return.