It's now or never time for Alex Cora's crew

Rob Bradford
August 02, 2019 - 7:31 am

Alex Cora talked before Thursday night's game about having a team meeting prior to the Yankees series. The idea was to make sure the Red Sox knew what-was-what when it came to post-trade deadline home stretch.

Well, after the Rays' punctuated their Fenway Park sweep the Red Sox manager decided he wasn't going to wait any longer to get his message across. (For a complete recap of the Red Sox' fourth straight loss, click here.) That came courtesy Cora's postgame meeting with the media:

Salvo No. 1

"It is concerning. 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 (Hernandez), 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."

Salvo No. 2

"Went to Tampa and played great and won the first three games against the Yankees. 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 beat us eight of nine. We’ve got to be better at home, we’ve got to better in these conditions, we’ve got to be better against everybody. And we’re not doing that right now."

Salvo No. 3

"We didn't execute. I always say, that offense is the one that brings energy. We score a few, they came back, got ahead, we score, they came back. It’s one of those it didnt look good. I think there were a few plays that we don’t play that way. You saw it throughout the week, throughout the series. We’ll talk to them. We’ll address it because that can’t happen. We’ve got to be better. It’s not that we have to fake energy because you’re still in the big leagues and there’s not too many people in the world that are playing the big leagues right now. It’s only like 750 of them and I think the effort has to be there every day. You’re going to go through slumps, through struggles, but there’s a few things you can control and it’s the effort. There are a few things that effort wise it didnt look good."

And about that team meeting ...

"I might wait for that one. I'll think about it tonight." 

There is a reason for Cora's tone. He understands it is desperation time. 

The Red Sox have come out of the other side of their three-game series with the Rays closer to the team in back of them in the Wild Card race (the Angels) than the spot they are trying to attain, sitting 3 1/2 games out. They have also exited the second-to-last series of the make-or-break 14-game stretch feeling like a beaten-down group.

Not only did Tampa Bay absolutely take it to the Red Sox, but the optics along the way couldn't have been worse. In the previous two nights, the Sox looked like a team running in mud while the spring-in-their-step Rays gleefully cruised into the pennant race.

It was if those words from Dave Dombrowski Wednesday afternoon were planted in a big thought bubble over Fenway.

It's nice that they have a chance at making their World Series run via a Wild Card berth, but since it's not going to be by the way of a division title than why get too excited? Sure, the Rays are in the same boat. And perhaps they made all kinds of moves at the trade deadline to offer a front office pat on the back -- as was evident when Jesus Aguilar dented the left-field wall or while reliever Nick Anderson was lighting up the radar gun in the eighth inning. But the Red Sox' expectations are different. They can't be bothered with the excitement that comes with any sort of hope to extend their season if it involves (gasp) having to play a one-game play-in.

Oh, we forgot, they made their move. Andrew Cashner. Well, after Thursday night's loss the pitcher who was supposed to help the Red Sox hold their own during these most pivotal times carries a 7.33 ERA in four starts, with the Red Sox having lost three of outings.

Cora has experienced similar circumstances before. He was there during that mid-August four-game series against the Yankees at Fenway Park back in 2006. The Sox entered the stretch 1 1/2 games in back of New York. When it was over "Taps" had replaced "Sweet Caroline." A five-game sweep in which the Red Sox were outscored 49-26 had officially buried what was a hopeful Terry Francona-led club.

There is a chance the Red Sox can use these games a springboard, particularly if they get difference-making outings from Chris Sale and David Price on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. But if that is going to be the case a flip of the script is going to be needed. That blueprint presented by Dombrowski when explaining how the Red Sox can win without any deadline moves will need to be surfaced.

It might only be the first few days of August, but it certainly feels like it is now or never.

"We’re not in April or May. You can lose a couple and, ‘Aw, we’re going to go on a nice run later on.’ Later on is almost there," said Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts. "The more games we keep losing, the other teams we keep winning, I don’t think that’s a good way to do it. Obviously, these guys are ahead of us. They just swept us. I won’t be looking at the standings for a little bit now. Just focus day by day. We need a win. We know we’re going to play the Yankees. I just think we have to take it day by day."

Bogaerts hit two more home runs, giving a career-high 25 for the season.