With 31 games left, the Red Sox have left themselves little margin for error as they embark on a series that might define what the rest of their season looks like.
After losing the rubber match of a three-game series with the red-hot Dodgers on Sunday afternoon, there was no time for reflection in the home clubhouse at Fenway Park.
This is because the Astros are coming to town. The same Astros who are currently in possession of the third American League Wild Card spot, leading the Blue Jays by 2 1/2 games and the Red Sox by 4 1/2 games.
On Aug. 1, the same day that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom called his team underdogs, Boston had a 30 percent chance to make the postseason per Fangraphs.
That percentage is down to 14.4 percent.
The math is straight-forward.
With a three-game sweep of the defending World Series champion Astros, the Sox would be right back in the heart of contention.
If they get swept, the Sox could be inclined to start looking ahead to 2024.
Winning two out of three would allow the Sox to keep thinking about a playoff run. Losing two out of three would be unsettling, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
A week ago, Boston faced a similarly big series in Houston. The Astros won the first two, and the Sox rallied to win the next two for a series split.
This time, the Red Sox, with Chris Sale on the mound on Monday night, need to be the tone-setters.
If Sale can lift his team to victory, the club’s emerging ace Brayan Bello will have the ball for the second game.
Kutter Crawford is likely to start the series finale against nasty Astros lefty Framber Valdez.
“It's going to be good to see Houston again, having seen them so recently,” said first baseman Triston Casas. “I think we're all going to have a better idea of what they're trying to do to us this time around. It’s going to be a fun last five weeks.”
This has been the definition of a roller-coaster season for the Red Sox, so just about any outcome seems possible. The one thing that hasn’t wavered is the club’s mindset.
And that goes from the veterans to the rookies.
“Every series the rest of the year is going to be big,” said Justin Turner. “So, like I said, we can't get too far ahead of ourselves. I think if you start looking ahead and trying to see who's coming up, that's a bad recipe for that, I've realized over my career.”
“I think the team is in a really good spot right now,” Casas said. “I think we're getting a lot of pitching back, Trevor Story is taking over at shortstop almost full time now. But we’ve got to keep playing good ball. I think that's been our Achilles' heel is just getting on these cold streaks.”
One more cold streak will likely spell the end of contention for the ’23 Sox.
Another hot streak could propel the Sox to a thrilling finish.