As time runs short on Red Sox, an impossible weekend not to reflect on the past

Red Sox

The Dodgers were built the way the Red Sox used to build, before Boston chose a more sustainable — and cheaper — option.

Player facing away from camera sliding into second base as second baseman's throw goes over his head.
Freddie Freeman is an MVP who is starring for the Dodgers out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Pablo Reyes was a player the Red Sox acquired after he was waived by worst-in-the-majors Oakland. Tanner Pearson for The Boston Globe


I’ve taken to thinking about the 2023 Red Sox as I do Wile E. Coyote — unaware, at least momentarily, he has run off the edge of a cliff. It’s the final week of August, and their flawed, foundering roster remains on the fringes of the playoff hunt.

For as much as the Dodgers outclass them in nearly every way, Boston hung tough for three games this weekend. Friday was a fight until Nick Pivetta caved in, Saturday was a gutty victory in which Mookie Betts came up just short, and Sunday . . . Sunday was reality.

Betts and Freddie Freeman combined for six hits at the top of the order. James Outman, a solid homegrown talent in his first full season, homered. Max Muncy, an All-Star nabbed off the scrap heap six years ago, built the lead with one of eight LA extra-base hits. Gavin Stone, one of the franchise’s top pitching prospects, gritted through six innings.

They are a complete roster. Not without flaws, but talent laden and built to win both now and in the future. It’s a formula that has produced 10 division titles in 11 years — we can safely assume LA’s 12-game lead is going to hold — albeit without the postseason success that ultimately matters most.

Your Red Sox? They’re trying to get there on the cheap, to be blunt. And the thing is? They are, sort of. Being waylaid by injuries and a constant need to shuffle the lineup has obscured that there are parts of a successful franchise in place. They are seventh in runs this season. Their farm system, weak on the pitching side like the parent club, is gaining some plaudits. There is something here.

In the now, however, there isn’t enough. Tanner Houck, in his second start back after his long layoff, was pulled after four innings Sunday. The bullpen, which has thrown the fourth-most innings of any since the All-Star break, had to lean on pregame callup Chris Murphy for 90 pitches despite LA mashing him for nine hits and six runs.

The 2-3-4 of the lineup managed three home runs, but everyone not named Justin Turner, Adam Duvall, or Triston Casas went 2 for 24 without a walk.

“Just keep going,” Alex Cora told reporters Sunday afternoon. “We know who we get [Monday]. . . . Just go out there and play good baseball.”

Who they get is Houston, 4.5 games ahead in the chase for the last rung on the playoff ladder. The nicest thing to be said about Boston’s postseason hopes is increasingly those they’re chasing aren’t racing toward the horizon, with the Astros and Blue Jays essentially playing .500 for the last month. (Toronto specifically is leaking all sorts of oil.)

Colleague Chad Finn, however, rightfully pointed out last week that there feels an inevitability looming in all of this. Maybe Houston, which looked so good for a couple games last week, takes two more at Fenway this week. Maybe the Sox play down to the execrable Royals in Kansas City, their annual summer wilt at Kauffman Stadium finishing them off. Maybe they linger into the latter part of September, when division play finally just runs out their clock.

Could they put together the 21-10 run they need to reach 90 wins, which is what it feels like it’ll take to make October? It’d be their best baseball of the year by a couple games — they went 19-12 at their best in late June and July, a run when their pitching was a full run better than it has been in August.

We will watch that unfold together, at least those of us who haven’t already moved on to the Patriots. This weekend, however, was an unavoidable moment to imagine what was, and what could have been. Not just because of Betts, who went 7 for 15 and was every bit the generational superstar we remember him as (outside of the ninth inning Saturday).

But because the Dodgers represent what was. They were built the way the Red Sox used to build, before the team made a conscious decision to focus on a more sustainable, consistent, cheaper future for reasons entirely logical and impossibly disappointing.

They’ve achieved it, if you think about it. Outside of the two weeks in October 2021 in which they nearly sprinted into the World Series, they have been consistently mediocre, waiting for a better future, hanging their hats on their four deepest postseason runs all resulting in a trophy.

Said future may still arrive. Chaim Bloom may alter course, though considering the degree to which he has refused to deviate up to now, perhaps we should stop wasting our time thinking he ever will. The 2023 Red Sox are a starting staff away from being a lot more interesting than they have been, and a far more legitimate contender than they are with Houston coming to town.

Were it only that simple. And were the gap between the haves in Dodger blue who are cruising back into October, and the have nots in red — when they’re not in their hope yellow — roiling around the long grass just short of it, not such a difficult one to leap.