By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Will the Red Sox be active buyers at this year’s trade deadline? Might the team sit out the festivities and stand pat? Or might the team sell off a player or two in a year where a championship seems to be out of reach?

The answers to those questions may depend on the the way the Red Sox play over the next two weeks, a stretch that will likely be looked back upon as the defining moment of the 2019 Boston Red Sox. It’s up to the players to determine exactly how it will be remembered.

Coming off an embarrassing showing in Baltimore, where they lost two of three and got one-hit by the worst team in baseball, the Red Sox are still in moderately decent position with regard to the race for the second wild card spot. They’re three games behind the A’s for that spot, with Tampa (1 game back) ahead of them. They’re smack dab in the middle of a six-team race for the two spots, with all six of those teams currently sitting within 7.5 games of each other.

The Red Sox could make some serious headway in that race in the coming weeks, and that’s where their upcoming schedule comes into play. As has been highly publicized by this point, the Red Sox will play 14 consecutive games against either the Rays or the Yankees, beginning on Monday night in St. Petersburg. With the AL East crown more or less already sitting atop the head of the Yankees, the wild card remains the only realistic chance of the defending champs reaching the postseason.

And with the trade deadline falling right in the middle of this 14-game stretch, the Red Sox are going to have to act fast if they want to convince managment that this is a year worth investing in.

RED SOX UPCOMING SCHEDULE
July 22, @ Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.
July 23, @ Tampa Bay, 7:10 p.m.
July 24, @ Tampa Bay, 12:10 p.m.

July 25, vs. New York Yankees, 7:10 p.m.
July 26, vs. New York Yankees, 7:10 p.m.
July 27, vs. New York Yankees, 4:05 p.m.
July 28, vs. New York Yankees, 7 p.m.

July 30, vs. Tampa Bay, 7:10 p.m.
July 31, TRADE DEADLINE, 4 p.m.
July 31, vs. Tampa Bay, 7:10 p.m.
Aug. 1, vs. Tampa Bay, 7:10 p.m.

Aug. 2, @ New York Yankees, 7:05 p.m.
Aug. 3, @ New York Yankees, 1:05 p.m.
Aug. 3, @ New York Yankees, 7:05 p.m.
Aug. 4, @ New York Yankees, 7 p.m.

They’re also going to need to reverse a trend that has not shown much promise this season. The Red Sox are 4-5 against Tampa this year and they’re 1-6 against the Yankees. If those results continue over the next week-plus, then the Red Sox could find themselves out of legitimate contention before the deadline hits. If they flip those results on their head, though, and go 6-2 over their next eight games, then hope could be restored to this season.

That, though, still looks like a big “if” at this venture in time. As previously stated, the Red Sox just lost a series to the worst team in baseball, an Orioles team that is now an inexplicable 5-8 against Boston this season. If the Red Sox had been able to sweep the worst team in baseball instead of losing 11-2 on Friday and 5-0 on Sunday, then they’d be entering this critical stretch neck-and-neck with the Rays. Instead, they enter in a place they’ve grown accustomed to being this year — at a deficit.

With a disappointing 54-46 record, the Red Sox have not offered tremendous signs for optimism, but there has been plenty to like about their offensive production. Mookie Betts has crossed the plate nine times more than anybody else in Major League Baseball this season. The Red Sox as a team have scored the most runs in baseball. Xander Bogaerts ranks second in the AL in OPS, behind only Mike Trout. Rafael Devers ranks one spot behind Bogaerts, while Betts and J.D. Martinez also rank in the top 20. Some unexpected pop from the likes of Christian Vazquez and Michael Chavis has helped the Red Sox establish the fourth-best slugging percentage in the American League.

Where the Red Sox have faltered most, though, has been on the mound. As a team, they rank seventh in the AL in ERA, though at 4.68 they are well behind the sixth-ranked A’s (3.99). Opponents are hitting .252 against them, which likewise ranks middle-of-the-pack in the AL, and they’re tied for the AL lead in blown saves with 18. The ERA of their starters sits at 4.79, unsurprisingly worse than the five teams currently holding playoff spots, and their bullpen ERA isn’t much better at 4.53.

What this means going forward might depend on one’s outlook on life and baseball. An optimist might note that Chris Sale and Rick Porcello are much better pitchers than what they’ve been in 2019, and they are thus due for a turnaround. Sale’s start last week vs. the Blue Jays could be seen as a positive step in that development. On the other hand, a realist may simply accept that these are down years for Red Sox starters, and the evidence from April through July suggests that things will stay the same.

Ultimately, though, the outlooks and expectations and plans and everything else will all mean very little compared to the results of the upcoming 14 games for the Red Sox. A strong showing against the iron of the AL East, and the Red Sox could put themselves in a strong position to lock down a playoff spot. A continuation of the dreadful weekend in Baltimore, and playoff hopes could officially be extinguished before the calendar turns to August. A middling, mediocre showing, and a season defined by collective shrugs and inexplainable underperformances will continue on without an end in sight.

In a 162-game season, every game counts the same. Yet it’s how these Red Sox respond to this present challenge that will come to define their 2019 season.

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

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