ARLINGTON, Texas -- Even now, after four straight losses that have dropped them beneath the .500 mark and destroyed whatever momentum was built a week ago, the Red Sox cannot be counted out of the playoff race in the American League.
Thanks to the addition of the second wild card, few teams are out of contention and won't be for be for some time. If you're anywhere near the break-even point, you're not too far from a spot in the post-season.
Of course, much of it illusory. There's nothing necessarily distinguished about a .500 record that offers the empty promise of a one-game playoff against a superior opponent.
But the second wild card provides false hope.
The Red Sox' 9-1 thumping at the hands of the Texas Rangers Monday night may have represented a new low in an already disappointment-filled season. The Sox were flat, as their sloppy play in the field demonstrated. A wild throwing error by second baseman Dustin Pedroia and a careless overrun by outfielder Carl Crawford contributed to
three of the nine runs.
More to the point, what does it say that the Red Sox sent out their winningest pitcher Monday night while the Rangers sent out a spot starter who hadn't pitched in the second half -- and the Rangers won by eight runs?
Pitting the Sox against the Rangers, head-to-head, only shows the yawning gap that exists between the Sox and honest-to-goodness contenders.
Things could get worse, too. There are two more games left with the Rangers here, leading to a three-game set in New York, with the Detroit Tigers waiting for the Sox when they return home to Fenway Monday, a day before the non-waiver trading deadline.
If the Sox fall further behind -- as seems almost inevitable given the rut they're currently in -- then management might subtly shift gears into "sell'' mode as the deadline nears. Why invest in a club that has little chance of making an impact in October?
After all, the Sox have done little to convince Ben Cherginton and ownership that they are only a player or two from becoming legitimate threats to reach the World Series.
Dustin Pedroia, for one, hasn't given up and hopes management feels the same way.
"We hope not,'' said Pedroia. "That second wild card could come down to the last week of the season. I was talking to (bullpen coach) Gary Tuck on the bus and he tells me every year, 'Look at the standings Sept. 15 and see where you're at.' I remember 2010, we had half of our starters hurt and you loom up on Sept. 15 and we were still there.
"So, we've got to keep fighting. That's our mindset.''
No one is making the case for giving up, of course. But doubling down is another matter altogether.
Is there a case to be made that this team deserves the benefit of the doubt? Surrendering anything in the way of prospects for a (relative) short-term boost would seem foolish.
If the Sox were truly a player away -- as they've been at past deadlines -- a deal would make sense. But with a good half-dozen teams standing in between the Sox and a ticket to October, there's far more work to be done and pulling the trigger on a deal before next Tuesday afternoon would seem shortsighted and could actually derail the effort in the big picture.
Sacrificing a future building block for the reward of a cross-country flight to Anaheim and a one-game win-or-go-home match sounds like little incentive.
Not even a sudden unexpected winning streak in the next week should distract the Sox from the task at hand. There's more that ails the Sox than a simple trade or two in the next week, a point that shouldn't be lost regardless of the outcome of the next six games.