By Art Martone
BOSTON -- You could call it a 180-degree turnaround . . . but that might be understating it.
One start after he (almost literally) couldn't get anyone out against the Rays, Daisuke Matsuzaka was virtually untouchable Monday against the Blue Jays. The veteran right-hander pitched seven innings and allowed only two baserunners -- one on a first-inning single by Jose Bautista, the other on a second-inning walk to Travis Snider -- in leading the Red Sox to a homestanding-closing 9-1 rout of Toronto.
Dice-K retired the last 16 batters he faced in posting his first victory of the season.
Jed Lowrie continued his scalding start by going 4-for-5 with a home run and four RBI, and lifted his average back over .500 (to .516). Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury also homered for the Red Sox, who got at least one hit from every starter except Jason Varitek.
Boston took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a two-out, two-run single by Lowrie, increased it to 3-0 in the third on David Ortiz' RBI single, and the rout was on. Lowrie's two-run homer in the fifth made it 5-0, Youkilis' two-run homer in the sixth made it 7-0, and the Sox added additional runs in the sixth (RBI double by Carl Crawford) and seventh (homer by Ellsbury).
Art Martone can be reached at email@example.com.
Dave Dombrowski had the chance to back John Farrell to The Boston Herald.
Mike Giardi and Trenni Kusnierek debate whether or not John Farrell should be fired after a rough month of June.
Not long ago, the final homestand of the first half of the 2016 season looked like an opportunity for the Red Sox.
Now, however, it looks more like a survival test.
Are they contenders or pretenders?
Is this a month-long downturn or a preview of coming attractions?
The Red Sox still possess a winning record and are tied for one of the wild-card spots in the American League. The season isn't shot. Yet.
But it could be soon if the Red Sox don't execute a turnaround and thrust themselves back into the divisional race. At the precise moment the Red Sox are in freefall, the Baltimore Orioles are streaking, and doing what the Red Sox have failed to do: take advantage of some breaks in the schedule.
While the Red Sox dropped two of three to a Tampa Bay team which had lost 11 in a row -- four at the hands of the Orioles themselves, it should be noted -- the Orioles have steamrolled over lowly opponents to go 7-1 against a steady diet of nothing by the Rays and Padres.
That delivers some additional urgency to this upcoming homestand, which features three games each against the Los Angeles Angels, the Texas Rangers and the Rays again.
While Dave Dombrowski continues to hunt for pitching help, how the Red Sox play over the next nine games could either intensify his search or reduce it to unnecessary.
Should the Red Sox lose further ground while at home, it might result in Dombrowski refusing to mortgage any of his organization's future for a team that hasn't proven worthy of an upgrade.
Why sacrifice prospects in exchange for a starting pitcher or bullpen piece when the playoffs drift out of reach? And, yes, the Red Sox are going to need reinforcements to the rotation and the bullpen for next year either way, but if the Sox don't show signs of life soon, that effort can be put off until after the season.
Due to simple laws of supply and demand, the already exorbitant cost of pitching skyrockets before the trade deadline, since there are a handful of needy teams convinced that one additional arm could spell the difference between a trip to the World Series and missing the postseason altogether.
If a team isn't in need of immediate help, it's best to wait for November and December, when there's less of a sense of desperation to the whole exercise.
Beyond the matter of determining whether the Red Sox go all-in on 2016, there's the matter of job security for manager John Farrell.
Should the Sox continue to stumble, the All-Star break might give Dombrowski time and cause to evaluate whether it's time to make a change in the dugout.
If Dombrowski determines that the season can still be salvaged with a change of voice in the dugout, Farrell would be vulnerable. And if he decides that, regardless of playoff aspirations, he's seen enough in a half-season of observation that Farrell isn't his choice to lead the club going forward, the four-day break would be time to reflect, then act on that evaluation.
Farrell challenged his team in a postgame meeting Monday, exhorting them to play to their potential, to trust in their teammates and play hard.
If that push doesn't yield tangible results in the next 10 days, a dark uncertainty -- for himself and the team he manages -- lies ahead.
The All-Star break offers upper management and ownership a time to take stock in what they have. If they don't like what they see in the next week and a half, the consequences could be felt soon.