They were two quotes Red Sox fans should carry around on cheat sheets for the next few weeks.
“My take is that maybe it isn’t the best thing in the world to bring back the same team in its entirety every time. You don’t want to break a team down. But maybe a few changes wouldn’t hurt. But the feeling is always different after you win, apparently.”
“We’re not going to be looking to add a lot of payroll. And it’s hard to imagine fielding a better team. If we play up to our capabilities we’ll be fine. That’s the question: Will we? We’re halfway through and we haven’t. … It’s a worthy team because we invested. Two years in a row we have the highest payroll. It’s not a matter of investment, it’s a matter of playing well. If we play up to our capabilities we will easily make the playoffs. That’s how I see it.”
Both comments were made by the Red Sox principal owner John Henry to WEEI.com just prior to the first game in London. Nearly two weeks later the words still represent the foundation of what the Sox are dealing with.
In a nutshell: Dave Dombrowski and Alex Cora believed that virtually the same group that won the World Series could do it again. Now it’s time to prove it.
There will most likely be some pre-trade deadline tweaks and additions in the next few weeks, but the heart of the conversation remains the same. The Red Sox are banking that these guys who proved to be the best of the best in 2018 can be placed in the same conversation this time around.
Ask the manager, coaches and the players and they will tell you — even without proof throughout the season’s first 3 1/2 months — it is still the right path.
“I just think we got out of the gate a little slow. As a whole, we had a tough time finding a rhythm,” Chris Sale told WEEI.com on the team’s final day in England. “It’s baseball. It’s sports. You can lay the blueprint all you want but at the end of the day, it’s all about execution. It was one of those things where we in it together because there wasn’t one overwhelming aspect of this team that was crushing us. We would score eight runs and give up nine. We’d give up two runs and score one. Defense. Baserunning. Pitching. We got in this rut together so we were all bonded to get out of it together. That’s how it is. Obviously, we’re going to see this thing through, get a breather and basically start from scratch. … I think we all had higher expectations and we had every reason to. We had basically the same group coming back, all the confidence in the world, trust and faith in each other. It was about execution. We had all the same guys in the same spots but we didn’t execute.”
Maybe it is simply about finding the right rhythm. Perhaps Nathan Eovaldi will be just what the doctor ordered in the bullpen, and those starting pitchers the whole plan was built on will turn into the dominant group Dombrowski was banking on.
But to this point, it hasn’t been a good look. It’s not as though the Red Sox’ season has been a complete disaster. They head into the post-All Star portion of the season two games out of a Wild Card spot while winning their last four, having gone 15-7 in the last month. Still, there seems to be a very real divide when it comes to pitting Cora’s team up against the iron, as the 17-25 record against teams better than .500 would suggest.
Here comes the last chance to prove that this wasn’t the wrong path. Sure, the 100-win Yankees might have been proactive in adding free agents D.J. LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino, while bringing back Zack Britton and trading for Edwin Encarnacion. And perhaps the other American League team the Red Sox bested in the postseason, the Astros, brought on key contributors Michael Brantley and Wade Miley. Also don’t forget there was also the tweaking done by the Rays, who stole Charlie Morton in the free-agent market.
The Red Sox? As Henry pointed out, they have seemingly made their most substantial financial and strategic moves.
Starting with the Dodgers, the truest test is upon the Sox. And it shouldn’t be long until we know how this whole thing worked out, with Cora’s club getting ready to experience 13 straight games against the Rays and Yankees starting July 22.
Running with this group is what the Red Sox wanted. They still believe it is still the answer. We’re about to find out how right or wrong they were.
“We can win the World Series,” Cora said emphatically after his team’s most recent loss to the Yankees. “We just need to play better. We need to get better in every aspect. We can talk about the bullpen or we can talk about the outfielders, or we can talk about the defense or baserunning. We have the talent to win the World Series but we have to play better. I’ve been saying it since Day 1. It better happen sooner rather than later. It’s not that we’re running out of time but the lead is huge. It’s a huge lead and there are other teams around us that are playing good baseball. They’re trending up and we’re not doing that.”