Are the Red Sox really the worst team in the American League East?

Here’s a realistic question with long-term ramifications: Are the Red Sox the worst team in the American League East?

The timing of the question is important, because once the Cavaliers returned in the form of Nathan Ivaldi, Garrett Whitlock, and Trevor Storey — not to mention Michael Wacha and Rich Hill — the answer had better be no.

But even then, the Red Sox risk losing possession of a wild card spot, which could affect what Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom does at the MLB trade deadline. And in the bigger picture, today’s struggles could offer a glimpse into an unpleasant tomorrow, when the team faces a future without the combination of Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, JD Martinez, Christian Vazquez, and/or Eovaldi.

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In other words: If the margin of error is so thin that the Red Sox suddenly lead the up-and-coming Orioles by two games, how can we view them as realistic competitors?

“We’re not playing good baseball right now,” Red Sox coach Alex Cora told reporters in Tampa on Wednesday after the third straight loss to the Rays. “There are a lot of mistakes and it cost us games. We need to start playing better baseball if we’re going to be the team we envisioned in spring training.”

The Red Sox showed a real fight this past weekend against the Yankees to save the split against the best team in baseball, but those two games marked the outsiders in a rotten month. The Red Sox are down to 4-9 in July after losing Wednesday 4-1, but the way they are losing is more disappointing than the results alone.

On Wednesday, Rob Refefsnyder slackened after a single shot to the right, struggled to find a man cut, then indecisively lunged at Bogaerts on shortstop. The ball bounced wide, Tampa’s Josh Lowe wouldn’t stop running, and the Rays’ final run came all the way to score from first on one. The word “unforgivable” comes to mind.

But there has been a lot of that over the past week. Earlier Wednesday, Devers had a terrible walk out in the third on a wild pitch that didn’t roll far enough off catcher Francisco Mejia. Devers was moving poorly while playing through a sore back, but even at 100 percent it wasn’t worth the risk.

Prior to that, the Red Sox lost a game when Alex Verdugo allowed himself to be picked off at third after Franchy Cordero failed to throw a hit. That same night, the tying and winning points were scored on the same play, which included throwing errors by reliever Matt Strahm and Cordero.

“We had a great weekend, and I’m not going to bash them,” Cora told reporters, including MLB.com’s Ian Brown. “But you have to keep playing. Like I said, no one will feel sorry for your injuries or anything. You have to come every day and we’ve been really easy lately and we have to get better.”

This leads us to division. The Red Sox have yet to win a series in the AL East, falling to 0-9-1 with a visit to New York looming this weekend before the All-Star break. They are 11-23 in the division and now have to deal with the raging Orioles, who have won 10 straight since they were out on consecutive nights to open the month in Minnesota.

Baltimore has lost at least 108 games in each of its last three full seasons, but behind an unheralded bullpen and a couple of respected young players, the O’s have won 15 of 20 to move a game over . 500. With one of the best farm systems in baseball, the O’s can be deadline buyers and sellers with absolutely nothing to lose. It’s scary that they are no longer an automatic win.

The Yankees are unbeatable, but they’re marching to an average of 114 wins and will definitely improve at the deadline. The Red Sox will be massive underdogs in the postseason series, even after showing they can make it to the bullpen in New York.

The possibility of being last in the All-Star break is up for a lot, and if they keep playing that way, that’s where they belong.

John Tomasi Red Sox

This leaves Rays and Jays. Tampa has as many injuries as the Red Sox – star prospect Wanderer Franco could miss the next two months after wrist surgery – and haven’t missed a beat. Her ability to consistently find a way stands in stark contrast to the stumbling nature of Boston last week.

The Jays could receive a boost after the firing of manager Charlie Montoyo, who oversaw an overall poor performance last year. The Jays were a 99-win team on paper, but a team with only 91 in reality, and they’ve stumbled again this season as overwhelming preseason favorites. If Toronto plays to its great potential, there will only be two berths to fight for.

So where does that leave the Red Sox? In the unenviable position of hoping enough players will return from injury to bring the team back to life. This isn’t a great place to be when dog days are looming and baseball’s toughest teams are tougher than ever.

The possibility of being last in the All-Star break is up for a lot, and if they keep playing that way, that’s where they belong.

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