By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Red Sox took two of three games from a very good Indians team in Cleveland last week. The Boston Red Sox then did what has proven to be so challenging all year long when they swept a bad Baltimore Orioles team at Fenway Park.

The Boston Red Sox have won five straight games.

Yet the Boston Red Sox have made very little progress in the wild-card standings.

That is the reality for a team that — at least publicly — still has aspirations to play for a World Series this coming October.

“We got a month and a half. I’m planning to be around here until like November 2nd,” manager Alex Cora said over the weekend.

Surely, any group of professional athletes will always keep hope alive until elimination becomes official. So there’s nothing at all wrong with Cora continuing to bang the optimism drum, even as an underwhelming Red Sox season continues to unfold.

Yet the lack of major progress in the standings amid this five-game winning streak really speaks to just how badly the underperformance from April through August has hurt this year’s team.

After the bullpen kicked away consecutive games last Sunday and Monday, the Red Sox sat at 62-59. They were 8.5 games behind the Rays for the second wild-card spot, with Oakland still sitting 6.5 games ahead of Boston, too.

After the Red Sox reeled off five straight wins over Cleveland and Baltimore, the Red Sox now sit at 67-59. Yet they’re still 6.5 games behind the Rays, and the A’s are still sitting five games ahead of them.

That’s progress, sure, but it still has to be disheartening in the clubhouse to have gone on a modest run without really taking tremendous steps forward in the wild-card race. Tampa Bay has gone 3-2 since Tuesday, while the A’s have gone 4-2.

The road ahead for the Red Sox won’t be too amendable to a continuation of a long winning streak. The Phillies (two games out of an NL wild-card spot) visit Fenway for two games, before the continuation of the suspended game vs. the Royals eliminated the day off for travel to the West Coast that the Red Sox had planned for Thursday. Upon landing in California, they’ll play three against the Padres, two in Colorado, and then three at Anaheim against an Angels team that just split a four-game series in Fenway.

For the Red Sox to really make progress to at least make things interesting in September, they’ll need to win at least seven of their next 11 games (well, 10 games plus the extra innings against Kansas City). They’ll also need some serious skids from two of the three teams ahead of them — Tampa, Oakland and Cleveland.

Losses are unlikely to be coming for the Rays, as they will be playing the Mariners and Orioles for their next seven games. The A’s have a heavy dose of Yankees in their near future, but also series against the Giants and Royals to balance things out. The Indians do have to deal with the Mets this week, but then they get the Royals and Tigers.

With so many bad teams around baseball, the likelihood of any of those teams ahead of the Red Sox suffering a major slide at this point in the season seems as unlikely as ever.

Nevertheless, the Red Sox will continue to try to do all they can to keep their heads above water in that playoff race. Every time they dip below the surface, though, they’ll likely see flashes of all the blown saves and the missed opportunities from April through August that put them in this position in the first place. And at this point, it’s hard to envision a way out.

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


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