It’s safe to say Red Sox Nation will be glad to bid farewell to July.
The club entered the month having won four of its previous five in June, then turned around and won the first four games of July.
Since taking series wins vs. Toronto and Texas, though, Boston hasn’t won a single series — settling for splits with the Yankees and the Blue Jays and outright losing series again the Angels, Mariners and Royals.
It hasn’t been pretty. The offense has been punchless (with the exception of Dustin Pedroia and a couple big, timely blasts from Hanley Ramirez), the bullpen has been shaky and the starting rotation has been inconsistent at best (with the exception of Chris Sale).
All the while, a self-inflicted circus of a media sideshow has plagued the perception of the team and the Yankees have retaken first place, making the splashiest moves of the trade season in the process.
Boston, on the other hand, has gone 12-14.
It’s OK, though.
Wipe the names off the trades for a second.
Dave Dombrowski has made good, surgical moves. They aren’t the moves everyone is talking about, but they improved the team in crucial areas at little cost.
Consider: Frazier has batted .212 in 11 games since joining the Yankees, driving in two runs and hitting one home run.
By comparison, the Red Sox newest bat – Eduardo Nunez – hit two home runs and drove in three in three games since joining the club on Friday, batting .417 in the process.
Granted, it’s a small sample size — and there’s no saying those players will hold to those production lines — but the point is, big names aren’t everything.
Eduardo Nunez obviously read the Cliff's Notes on "How to Endear Yourself To Your New Fan Base" on the plane ride over to Boston #RedSox
— West Of Fenway (@westoffenway) July 30, 2017
Boston’s bullpen is not at full strength, and it hasn’t been at any point this season.
Help, though, is on the way.
This morning, Dombrowski landed Mets reliever Addison Reed, who has been one of the best relievers in all of baseball this year with a 2.09 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 49 innings.
Reports are that Reed and Nunez will be the entirety of Boston’s acquisitions prior to the deadline (which expires in about 20 minutes as I write this, so those reports are likely spot on).
That’s a bit of a hard pill to swallow — watching all of the other contenders land the big names and watching Boston, in the midst of a season-worst struggle, settling without a major shakeup.
Here’s what that says to me, though: The front office believes in this team as it is currently constructed.
They believe in it enough, despite a not-so-subtle “Win Now” subtext, to not over-chase and over-pay for names that may, or may not help in the long run.
There’s no argument, the club is scuffling right now.
But if – and when – it get things figured out, it is a contender.
Baseball is a game of constant adjustment. As opponents adjust, new struggles arise, and then more adjustments are needed to solve the new struggles. It’s a give-and-take, but it is also a sign of progression.
Personally, I’d rather see a team struggle near the midpoint of the year than late in the season — or (worse) in the postseason.
A team that can see its own weaknesses earlier on has time to strengthen those areas and solve those problems.
Take the Yankees, who lost 18 of 25 games heading into the All-Star Break (a stretch worse than what the Red Sox are experiencing right now), and rebounded to win 11 of their last 17 to reclaim the division lead.
The 2013 Red Sox had a month-long stretch where they went 14-16. The 2007 Sox had a 14-15 stretch. The 2004 Red Sox had an 11-17 stretch and were a full 10.5 games out of the division lead in MID-AUGUST.
Bad stretches happen to good teams. That’s just baseball.
A team that breezes through a regular season, on the other hand, is more susceptible to a postseason collapse and likely has benefitted from a weaker division schedule (something I’m keeping a leery eye on the Dodgers about) — and that’s true of any sport.
Adversity matters, as much as it isn’t any fun to watch.
A championship ballclub needs to be aware of its own mortality, so to speak.
It needs to be well-acquainted with its shortcomings.
As much as it would’ve been nice for us fans to see some marquee names coming to the rescue, this approach — the let’s-get-better-with-what-we-have approach — is better.
As hard as it is to see in light of this past month, this is a good ballclub.
They have a winning record against every current division leader they’ve played, except New York. They’re 9-3 in 12 extra-inning games. 14-12 in one-run ballgames. 11-4 against the National League.
Despite all the struggles, they’re a half-game back.
And let’s not forget that one of Boston’s biggest moves of the year wasn’t a trade at all — Rafael Devers was called up last week and he made an immediate impact, batting .300 in five games with a pair of home runs and three RBIs (incidentally, also outperforming Frazier’s stay in NY so far).
New York added four substantial pieces (at a substantial cost — and it should be noted Gray is having a terrific season but he has been hit hard by AL East clubs during his career) and Boston added two valuable pieces at a somewhat negligible cost and called up one of the brightest prospects in the game at no cost to the future.
We’ll see which formula translates to success — both this season and beyond.