NEW YORK -- There are any number of people who will tell you the Red Sox are done.
"They're dead," one rival scout said Tuesday.
Boston Red Sox
Recap: Red Sox 7, Yankees 6
The Run Prevention slogan has become a joke, now that the Red Sox have allowed more runs than any team in the American League. The clubhouse includes too many newcomers who don't yet seem to fit in ("It's not the same Red Sox persona," another scout said), and too many veterans who aren't happy with their roles or non-roles. The rotation that was billed as baseball's best is a distant third-best in its own division.
Even Tuesday, when the story should have been a second successive five-run comeback against the Yankees -- and this time a somewhat encouraging 7-6 victory -- there was Mike Lowell basically begging to be traded, a meeting to make sure that catcher Victor Martinez can coexist with pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett leaving yet another start with questions about his back and J.D. Drew leaving with a variety of ailments.
Oh, and the Rays won yet again, so the Red Sox are still 8½ games out of first place, even as they inched back to within 5½ games of the wild-card-leading Yanks.
Dead? There are a lot of times when it feels that way, yes there are.
And yet, history tells us that each of the past 10 years, at least one team that was below .500 at the 39-game mark recovered to make the playoffs. History tells us that some of the teams we write off in May, we end up writing about in October.
The 2009 Rockies looked dead, didn't they? The 2007 Rockies, too, and the 2005 Astros. Even the 2007 Yankees.
No, it's too early to call the Red Sox dead, no matter how dreadful they can look, no matter how good the two teams ahead of them look, and no matter how hard it is to convince yourself it's going to happen.
But let's just say it could happen, and let's just say that if it's going to happen, here's how it does:
1. Beckett starts pitching like an ace: He's winless in six consecutive starts for the first time since 2004. He left Tuesday's game with tightness in his lower back, after another not-good performance that actually lowered his ERA to 7.29. Among all the full-time starting pitchers in baseball, only Seattle's Ryan Rowland-Smith (who declared "I'm lost" after his last start) has a higher ERA.
|A healthier Josh Beckett can do wonders for the flagging Red Sox on the field and in the clubhouse. (Getty Images)|
Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell said Tuesday it's not all about Beckett.
"He's one of 12 that have to pitch well," Farrell said.
But manager Terry Francona acknowledged that Beckett is the leader, the ace the others look to and follow. People who have spoken to the Red Sox say club officials want him to step forward and become even more of a leader.
And, of course, he needs to pitch a whole lot better.
Assuming the back isn't a major problem (UPDATE: The Red Sox placed Beckett on the disabled list Wednesday afternoon), it's quite possible he could.
For the Red Sox to win, it's imperative that he does.
Without them, Boston's outfield defense is costing the Red Sox runs and games. Without Ellsbury, the top of the batting order is ordinary.
"They need to get more athletic," one scout said.
And they can't afford more injuries. Even in Tuesday's victory, Beckett left with the back problem, and Drew left with what Francona described as a left calf and right hamstring (and also cold weather) problems.
3. The veterans stop complaining, and the newcomers fit in: Lowell's "I don't have a role on this team" speech was ill-timed, coming the day after a devastating loss. The Red Sox don't have the right feel to them right now, and they don't have the right look.
"They've got to have internal problems," a scout said, after simply watching the Red Sox play.
The Red Sox need a swagger, which leads into ...
4. They own Fenway: The good Red Sox teams dominate at home. Last year's team wasn't even that good, and it was still 56-25 at Fenway.
This year? They're 12-11 so far, with two series losses to the Yankees and a four-game sweep at the hands of the Rays.
"They're not even that fun to watch at home," said one official who has been there this year. "There was always energy there [in the past]."
5. The Yankees or Rays stumble: It might take an injury. It might take several injuries.
But as Dustin Pedroia said this week, "It's a pretty big hole. We need to start winning games, that's for sure."
At 20-20, Boston's record after their comeback Tuesday, the Red Sox need to go 75-47 to match the 95 victories they needed to take the wild card last year. And they would still lose out, if the Rays and Yankees are as good as they appear to be.
In other words, even if the Red Sox get themselves straightened out, there's still a real chance it won't be enough.
Are they dead? Yeah, it's possible they already are.