Red Sox inching up wild-card standings, pushing front office into buyer's market

BOSTON — A month ago this week, the Red Sox hosted the Philadelphia Phillies for a three-game series in what may end up as the turning point of their season. At the very least, it’s been the turning point of their first half.

In 23 games since then, the Red Sox have gone 17-6, moving themselves from solidly outside the wild-card picture to solidly in the mix. Over the weekend, they inched further up the standings, taking two of three from the Yankees in New York. They added another game on Tuesday when they beat the Oakland A’s 12-9, while the Yankees fell 5-3 in Tampa Bay. The Red Sox now sit within 3 1/2 games behind New York for the top wild-card spot.

“We talked about being greedy a few weeks ago, we saw a window, but I think the window is getting bigger, it’s actually a door,” manager Alex Cora said of the team’s opportunity to climb the standings. “We can actually accomplish this. We’re going to keep looking up there and keep playing good baseball and let’s see where it takes us.”

The win also marked Cora’s 490th as Red Sox manager, moving him into fourth place all-time for the club. Cora’s longevity with the team and experience managing in many ways has helped him navigate a tricky season with so many young players on the roster and so many injuries early on.

That the win on Tuesday moved the Red Sox to 10 games over .500 for the first time in two years, dating back to July 4, 2022, was all the more noteworthy. The Red Sox can’t let up now, and they haven’t.

“It took us a while, but now we’ve got to go to the next step,” Cora said. “We’ve still got this series and the next one and if we keep doing that, like I’ve been saying all along, there’s gonna be some meaningful games here at Fenway Park.”

On Tuesday night, the Red Sox faced an early deficit, but easily erased it as they’ve done so frequently over this stretch.

After falling behind 2-0 to the A’s in the first inning, the Red Sox offense blitzed A’s starter Joey Estes for three runs on 12 pitches in the bottom of the first. The next half inning, they unleashed an even fiercer attack, scoring eight more runs, the most they’d scored in a single inning this season.

The rally started with a Dom Smith walk. Ceddanne Rafaela drove him in after tripling to right. And instead of wasting the rally after two quick outs, the Red Sox strung together five more hits, including a Wilyer Abreu three-run homer and a Smith solo shot as the team batted around.

On the mound, Brayan Bello had a peculiar outing. On one hand, the first 10 outs he recorded all came via the strikeout, a Red Sox record in the Expansion Era (since 1961). But he also allowed two runs on three hits in the first inning and then gave up a three-run homer in the sixth, knocking him out of the game at 5 2/3 innings. He finished with five runs allowed on nine hits and two walks along with a career-high 11 strikeouts.

“I think all in all, it was a good day for me,” Bello said through a translator. “Yeah the runs are one thing, but I think I gave our team a really good chance to win. It was good to get those strikeouts. I think today was a positive.”

The 11 early runs allowed the Red Sox to ease up the remainder of the game even as the A’s crept back with runs off relievers Greg Weissert and newcomer Trey Wingenter.

The Red Sox could have relaxed at the plate knowing they were hosting the struggling A’s this week, but they didn’t. The Red Sox have played well against teams with a sub-.500 record, moving to 34-14 after Tuesday’s win. They’ve been determined not to get distracted.

“You play the Yankees and you have the Sunday Night Baseball game, and everybody gets excited,” Cora said. “But you know what happens the next day? You play. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job this year, kind of like turning the page from a series and getting to the next one.”

The Red Sox have put themselves in a good position over the past month to force the front office’s into the buyer’s market to add to an exciting team that seems to have potential many didn’t anticipate.

Chief baseball officer Craig Breslow told The Athletic two weeks ago he hadn’t determined a buy-or-sell direction yet — “It’s incredibly hard to do both” he said. He reiterated similar sentiments on Tuesday on NESN’s pre-game show, noting the team’s success continues to play a factor.

“The thing the team can do to help with this ‘lane-picking’ is win as many games as possible,” Breslow said on NESN.

If that’s the barometer for adding, the Red Sox can’t do much more than they’ve done over the last month, but maintaining this pace heading into the break and on the other side will be key.

(Photo of Smith: Brian Fluharty / Getty Images)

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