Athletes need little provocation to play the "no one believed in us" card, but typically their targets reside outside the organization. The Red Sox find themselves in the rare position of credibly being able to aim that ire at their owners in the wake of a trade deadline that suggested John Henry and Co. aren't buying this surprising run to contention.
Despite convenient reports to the contrary that ownership wanted to open the vault for right-hander Max Scherzer, the Red Sox largely sat out Friday's fireworks beyond acquiring an injured Kyle Schwarber and a couple of middling relievers.
The Red Sox have since played like a team with hurt feelings. They were swept by the Rays on Sunday night while running their losing streak to a season-high four games. A series that started with Boston a game and a half in front of Tampa Bay in the American League East ends with the Sox now a game and a half out in second.
It's fair to wonder where their confidence stands after watching every other contender in the American League load up while management appeared unwilling to exceed the luxury tax despite needing help all over the diamond.
One of baseball's most resilient clubs must overcome the possibility that management and ownership evaluated the roster and decided it wasn't worth sacrificing the long view, even as the team owned the best record in the American League.
Speaking to The Boston Globe before the deadline, shortstop Xander Bogaerts said the team was hoping for reinforcements. When they didn't arrive and the Red Sox dropped the first two in Tampa, he termed Sunday's finale a must-win.
Then the Red Sox went out and lost. So now what?
"We lost four in a row," said manager Alex Cora. "(The Rays are) playing good. Early in the season, we were playing good and they sucked. It's part of baseball. It's 162 games. You've got to stay the course. Right now we're in a position, we're in second place in the division, we don't like what happened this weekend, but it's part of it. They went on a roll for a month and a half, they won like 25 out of 28 games and we didn't play extremely well and we're still here. Obviously we don't like losing and we want to be more consistent, but it's just part of the season."
The Red Sox haven't faced a ton of adversity since starting the season 0-3, because they've been so good at overcoming deficits and avoiding losing streaks. But it's hard to shake the feeling that maybe management and ownership views them like the 2005 club, which won 95 games and reached the playoffs, but started Matt Clement in Game 1 of the Division Series vs. the White Sox and ended up getting its doors blown off in a sweep.
It was clear in the second half that the 2005 club lacked the pitching to repeat as World Series champs, and even with Chris Sale's return looming, these Red Sox look to be two or three starters short this year, too, thanks to the recent struggles of Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, and Martin Perez.
They're off Monday and visit Detroit on Tuesday for a three-game respite vs. the woeful Tigers before resuming their AL East gauntlet with four games at Toronto and then three at home vs. the Rays. They're 8-8 in the first 16 games of this stretch, but they're teetering.
In many ways, their greatest strength has been belief, and now that belief is being tested. How else to react when the Rays land slugger Nelson Cruz, the Yankees load up with Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, the Blue Jays acquire All-Star right-hander Jose Berrios, and the Red Sox respond with Schwarber, who probably won't be ready for at least a couple of weeks while he recovers from a serious hamstring strain?
Perez summed up what these Red Sox have been all about in May when he declared, "We're (bleeping) good." The Red Sox have carried that belief beyond the actual sum of their talent to a long run atop the AL East.
Now they find themselves looking up at the Rays for the first time since June, and they can't even be sure their own organization really buys their chances. Forget about proving everyone else wrong -- the search for doubters may start on page one of the media guide, at the very top of the masthead.