After a sweep of the Orioles, and a three-game set at Yankee Stadium on the horizon, let's reflect ...
- The Red Sox are three games in back of the Rays for first-place in the American League East. It's a team they play seven more times, three of which will be at Fenway Park.
- Alex Cora's club is currently deadlocked with the A's, with both teams currently qualifying for a Wild Card berth. The better record will get a chance to host the Wild Card showdown.
- The Yankees sit 2 1/2 games in back of Boston and Oakland, with the Blue Jays residing 4 1/2 out of the equation and Seattle in a hole by 5 1/2 games.
So, after seemingly dropping to the depths of their 2021 season over the first couple of weeks in August, the Red Sox are still very much alive and semi-well. In fact, their existence is becoming more and more intriguing by the day.
A case can certainly be made that the slow-play when it came to fixing things while the Red Sox trudged through St. Petersburg, Detroit, and Toronto before returning home for another series against the Rays will come back to bite this team. But what's done is done.
At least there is the current growing wave of optimism. And within those feel-good pieces of the puzzle reside a growing reality: This team actually might thrive in the postseason if it can get there.
The postseason premise is vaulted forward by a starting rotation that actually appears as if can hang with the big boys. Start with the Eduardo Rodriguez we saw Sunday (6 IP, R, 3 H). He has now allowed just two earned runs in 16 1/3 August innings and has a 3.12 ERA in his last nine starts. That alone has gone a long way to changing the narrative.
You roll out this version of Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Sale and potentially Nick Pivetta in a series, that can potentially compete in any postseason series. And that's a premise that wasn't in play a month ago.
And while it still feels the Red Sox might be an arm short when it comes to high-leverage relieving for the final stretch of the regular season, Tanner Houck helps change the equation in the playoffs. Remember, Cora was in a similar spot in 2018 and bobbed and weaved his way through it thanks to the eighth-inning implementation of Rick Porcello, Eovaldi and Sale.
There are also the relief-pitching wild cards that exist in the form of Garrett Richards, Martin Perez and Ryan Brasier. If one or two step up and siphon some October confidence from Cora it will go a long way.
It also feels like Garret Whitlock might be leap-frogging Adam Ottavino for the primary bridge to Matt Barnes, which wouldn't be a terrible idea.
"He usually gives us five innings a week in two or three outings, so people might be like well, you’re not going to use him as much innings-wise, but I think if we start using him in certain situations and more frequently, he’s going to give us one big inning in four games a week," said Cora after Whitlock retired all five batters he faced Sunday, striking out three of them. "It’s that balance. We have to be smart about it, but at the same time, we know where we’re at. The value of getting 27 is getting bigger and bigger and he’s a big part of it.”
The hitting? With Kyle Schwarber and the return of Christian Arroyo, it should be enough. (The Red Sox have the third-best OPS in baseball this month.) And remember, when it comes to mixing and matching in the postseason, the memories of Ian Kinsler/Brock Holt, Rafael Devers/Eduardo Nunez, Steve Pearce/Mitch Moreland and Christian Vazquez/Sandy Leon should offer some solace.
There is a long way to before we start constructing postseason rosters -- 42 games, to be exact. But the changing reality for the Red Sox is worth a different kind of conversation, one which might bring their fan base some much-needed warm-and-fuzzies heading into the Bronx.