BOSTON -- Dave Dombrowski was merely speaking the unvarnished truth when he admitted the Red Sox would've acted more aggressively at the trade deadline were they fighting for a division title instead of a one-game wild card berth.
Across the diamond, the Tampa Bay Rays found themselves in effectively the same spot. Trailing the Yankees by seven games in the AL East and the Indians by three games in the loss column in the wild card race, the Rays nonetheless acted boldly and decisively, acquiring slugging first baseman Jesus Aguilar from the Brewers and flame-throwing reliever Nick Anderson from the Marlins.
On Wednesday night, both acquisitions played a role in leaving the Red Sox broken and perhaps finished. Aguilar went 2 for 3 with a pair of runs in Tampa's 9-4 victory that completed a back-breaking, spirit-crushing sweep. Anderson did exactly what he was acquired to do, bringing upper-90s heat while blowing away the Red Sox in the eighth.
It was hard to miss the difference between the two clubs. The Rays looked energized. The Red Sox looked as cooked as a frozen dinner after an extra 11 minutes in the microwave.
One club's front office stepped up. The other's did not. And now we must ask ourselves if these Red Sox have what it takes to overcome that lack of support and make a go of the final two months. Otherwise, baseball is going to become irrelevant in Boston mighty quick.
"I think it might be probably the most disappointing losses of the season so far," said All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts, one of the few Red Sox who has brought it every night this season. "It's a crucial time and a time when we need a win. It feels like one win is hard to come by right now. Try to find a way to forget these last few games, try to remember the good times and try to go on a run again."
The effort the Red Sox delivered on Wednesday was hard to watch. Right-hander Andrew Cashner, trumpeted by Dombrowski on Wednesday as a significant July acquisition, walked five while allowing seven runs, his Red Sox ERA soaring to 7.33. He butchered a chopper in front of the plate to allow one run to score, walked in another, and crossed up Sandy Leon to plate another with a passed ball. Reliever Darwinzon Hernandez later wild-pitched home a run. Disaster.
If the Red Sox feel deflated by the lack of deadline action, it's understandable, but also inexcusable. Manager Alex Cora hinted at as much in some pointed postgame comments that were directed at his pitchers, but really applied to the entire team.
"It is concerning," he said. "I've been talking about this the whole time. We need to get better and it sounds like I say the same thing for 100 days. We trust the group, we trust these guys, but we have to execute. We can talk about adjustments, attacking guys, but at the end we have to go out and do it.
"Today there was a lot of traffic. We battled through it and got a ground ball to turn a double play then Darwinzon, the wild pitches and all that. But I think it was seven or eight walks. Can't do that. We don't keep the ball in the ballpark. It's been, it was a rough one. It started as a great homestand and it didn't finish that way. We've got a big challenge coming up this weekend and if we're going to be involved in whatever talk for the playoffs, it better start tomorrow."
Now comes the make-or-break portion of the season. After starting this brutal stretch of 14 games vs. the Yankees and Rays with a 5-1 record, the Red Sox have lost four straight, each loss seemingly worse than the one that preceded it.
Time is running out on their season as they stand 3.5 games back of the Rays for the second wild card. Their title defense is fizzling and it's up to the players to display the same urgency that is currently carrying the Rays, even if the front office declined to find them any help.
"Went to Tampa and played great and won the first three games against the Yankees," Cora said. "So then we take three steps back. That can't happen. Can't happen. Obviously it's Aug. 1, 2 whatever it is and we don't like where we're at and it seems like right now the last few days it wasn't a great brand of baseball. They came here and beat us eight of nine. We've got to be better at home, we've got to be better in these conditions, we've got to be better against everybody. And we're not doing that right now."
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