Entering the 2020 campaign, the Boston Red Sox were at least a fringe playoff hopeful. Now, about two weeks into the season, they look like the worst team in the American League East.
For a club that won the World Series in 2018, that's a steep and alarming fall.
Yes, we're dealing with a small sample size. But none of the numbers bode well for Boston in the early going.
Through 11 games entering play Wednesday, the Sox own a 3-8 record and are already six games back of the first-place New York Yankees. They have a minus-15 run differential, the worst in the division. Their pitching staff ranks 28th in ERA (5.78) and 30th in WHIP (1.52). Nathan Eovaldi has surrendered 19 hits in 16 innings and is the ostensible staff ace. Their offense, meanwhile, has been middle-of-the-pack at best with a 16th-ranked .724 OPS.
Their three-game sweep at the hands of the Yanks and slugger Aaron Judge last weekend exposed the chasm between the two rivals.
As Alex Speier of the Boston Globe put it, "... in a short 60-game slate, every flaw is magnified, every small pothole feeling expansive. Within that context, the Red Sox feel as if they've fallen into a ravine, with no exit in sight."
Erstwhile ace Chris Sale is out following Tommy John surgery. Franchise right fielder Mookie Betts was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in February along with veteran left-hander David Price. Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez is lost for the season because of COVID-19.
The Yankees are the team to beat in the division. The Tampa Bay Rays, despite an uneven start, have the pitching and the depth to keep pace. The upstart Toronto Blue Jays are bursting with young talent. Even the lowly Baltimore Orioles, the presumed AL East doormats, have surprised with a 5-4 start.
And things aren't going to get easier for Boston. After an off day Thursday, the Red Sox will play eight of 11 against the Rays and Yankees. They could be buried well before September.
Painful as it may be for the Beantown faithful, it appears Boston's best option is to sell any bankable veterans and move toward a full-scale retool—if not an outright rebuild.
The Sox have a number of impending free agents who could draw interest ahead of the Aug. 31 trade deadline, including outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kevin Pillar, first baseman Mitch Moreland (club option) and closer Brandon Workman.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom should work the phones, unload what he can and restock a thin farm system we ranked No. 25 in June after the 2020 amateur draft. Most troublingly, with all of Boston's pitching woes at the MLB level, only one of its top five prospects is a pitcher (right-hander Bryan Mata at No. 4).
Speaking of Bloom, he's gone on quite a creaky carnival ride since taking the helm in Eastern Massachusetts.
In January, the Red Sox fired manager Alex Cora for his role in the 2017 Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal. In February, they traded Betts and Price. In April, they were punished by the league for their own sign-stealing shenanigans.
"I don't think anybody could have possibly imagined a lot of what has gone on over the last eight, nine months," Bloom said, per ESPN.com's Joon Lee. "I mean, I think a lot of the stuff that we went through as an organization, even prior to the pandemic shutting down our sport, would have seemed like a pretty remote possibility."
Clearly, it's time to reach for the reset button.
There is talent on the roster. Third baseman Rafael Devers and shortstop Xander Bogaerts are both All-Star-caliber building blocks. Outfielders Andrew Benintendi and Alex Verdugo (the latter acquired in the Betts trade) have considerable upside.
But the lack of pitching either at the big league or MiLB level is a glaring red flag. This club is not built to compete right now, even with the expanded 16-team playoff format.
Boston needs to acquire what young talent it can in what should be a seller's market and look to the future.
A last-place finish less than two years after hoisting a Commissioner's Trophy would be a tough look for a proud franchise. Here's what would be worse: the Sox clinging to illusions of contending and either standing pat or buying at the deadline.
The Red Sox have won four titles since they busted the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, more than any other team during that 16-season stretch.
Hold on to those happy memories, Boston fans. Because there are going to be some serious bumps in the road before the next one.
All statistics current as of Wednesday and courtesy of Baseball Reference.