Random Red Sox thoughts while wondering if this is really it for a once-promising season . . .
* Is it time to brawl? The 2004 Red Sox memorably came alive after Jason Varitek introduced his catcher's mitt to Alex Rodriguez's face, thereby unleashing a month's worth of pent-up anger and frustration.
The 2021 Red Sox find themselves playing lifeless baseball, seemingly trapped inside their own heads as the walls collapse. Perhaps a scuffle is in order to snap them out of the doldrums. The only rule is that it can't be precipitated by a newcomer like reliever Hansel Robles, who recently challenged the Blue Jays, but hardly had teammates rallying to his defense.
It needs to be someone who has been invested in the club's success from the start. Nick Pivetta is a decent nominee, because he throws hard, he pitches with an edge, he'd probably accept his mission with gusto.
I'm not normally one to advocate violence, but the Red Sox need to wake the bleep up.
* Failing fisticuffs, an overhaul of the offensive approach appears to be in order. The Red Sox have been swinging at some turrrrrible pitches over the last couple of weeks, with J.D. Martinez and Hunter Renfroe submitting their personal nominees for worst hack of the year in Wednesday's series finale vs. the Yankees alone.
The Red Sox have swung themselves out of recent potential rallies, with Kiké Hernández turning a 3-0 count into a punchout in the opener of Tuesday's doubleheader, and Rafael Devers hacking at the first two pitches from an erratic Aroldis Chapman in the finale.
Manager Alex Cora calls them "empty at-bats" and the Red Sox have produced too many of them. The trajectory of their entire season could change if they'd simply embrace the art of taking a walk and handing off the baton.
* Speaking of offense, the team's struggles seem particularly mystifying considering the timing, coinciding roughly with MLB's decision in late June to start enforcing the rule banning grip-enhancing substances.
The Red Sox ranked third in baseball in runs in the first half, but are just 14th in the second. Their team batting average is only up a point, vs. an average gain of nine points across the league.
If pitchers have gotten worse, why haven't the Red Sox gotten better?
* My daughter is 11 and not remotely a baseball fan. She's unfamiliar with the travails of the Red Sox, partly because she's got her own problems, namely a broken ankle. That didn't stop her, however, from crutching in front of the TV during Tuesday's doubleheader sweep to ask who was standing at top of the Red Sox dugout.
"Alex Cora," I told her. "He's the manager."
"He looks depressed," she replied.
When even disinterested children can see it . . .
* While some of us have argued the Red Sox whiffed by not acquiring Anthony Rizzo at the trade deadline, the counter-argument says that five years of Bobby Dalbec are more valuable than two months of Rizzo.
That's a false choice, however. The Red Sox could've benched or demoted Dalbec for the two months that Rizzo was in town and hoped the former returned in 2022 more like the hitter we saw last year.
The five-year argument is pretty irrelevant anyway, since Dalbec is merely keeping the job warm for top prospect Triston Casas and will soon be expendable regardless.
* Casas headlines a prospect group that was just named No. 9 overall by industry bible Baseball America, a ranking that feels high, frankly. Rival evaluators still don't see a ton of top-tier talent in the system beyond Casas and No. 1 draft pick Marcelo Mayer, who probably boosted the Red Sox into the top 10 by himself.
Injuries to a number of top pitching prospects and the regression of bats like Jeter Downs and Gilberto Jimenez leave the Sox more middle of the pack, at least from here.
* The Red Sox hoarded their prospects at the trade deadline, and that's defensible if you're trying to build a sustained winner. Harder to stomach is the idea that Red Sox ownership put the kibosh on any spending that would take the club past the luxury tax threshold, a belief that received a boost on Thursday from a report in The Athletic that baseball's owners want to trade a $100 million salary floor for a $180 million luxury tax threshold.
This proposal has zero chance of passing muster with the players, but it does show what owners are thinking. They recognize that the luxury tax has become a de facto salary cap, and the lower they can push that number, the better.
A cynic might argue that if this is MLB's approach, then it should be no surprise that John Henry didn't want to open the purse strings on July 30, giving us another reason to feel miserable about that day.
* We'll know whether the Red Sox have any shot at reaching the playoffs by the start of September. They're about to embark on the easiest remaining portion of their schedule, a concentrated run of games against the Rangers, Twins, and Indians. If they make noise here, they'll effectively be holding serve, but at least then they enter September with a chance.
Struggle against these teams, however, and I'll reach the same conclusion that many of my peers have been trumpeting for weeks -- they're not that good, and this isn't their year.