So what's wrong with the Red Sox?

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As I type this the Red Sox are down 8-2 to the Rays, and are about to lose their fifth straight game and their sixth out of seven. In ATH this morning I wrote that we’d see a bunch of “what’s wrong with the Red Sox” articles today, but I didn’t see any. With this fresh debacle to the Rays, however, I’m sure we’ll see them tomorrow.

Ah, screw it. Let’s write one of our own!  So what is wrong with the Red Sox?

  • Cold bats: As I type this the Rays game is still happening so it may get worse or may get better, but currently they’re 1 for 30-something with runners in scoring position (that one came courtesy of a Bill Hall single a few minutes ago). They’ve scored nine runs in the past five games.  Dustin Pedroia is hitting so far this season. Youkilis is doing OK too. Everyone else is snoozing. At least one of the snoozers — David Ortiz — may never wake up.
  • Health: Two-thirds of the outfield is out, Cameron with kidney stones and Ellsbury with his bruised ribs. This has contributed to the cold bats, of course, as well as some recently shaky defense. When those other “what’s wrong” articles come tomorrow morning you just watch: they’re going to say that the whole run prevention/defense approach is a failure. They won’t acknowledge that it’s hard to play good defense when two of your best defensive players are on the shelf.
  • The Competition: Like I said this morning, part of the reason the Red Sox have looked so bad over the last week is because their competition has been so good. The Rays don’t look like world beaters simply because they’ve been playing the Sox. They’re really, really good in their own right (I picked them second this year). Same goes for the Twins, who could run away with the AL Central if they keep doing what they’ve been doing. Getting beat by good teams doesn’t mean you’re fatally-flawed. It just means you’re not as good as the other guys.

But you know what? We can sit here and talk about what specifically ails the Sox all afternoon, but ultimately it may not matter. As soon as this game ends the Sox will be six games back of the Rays and 5.5 back of the Yankees. That’s an awful big hole for this early in the season in a division like the AL East.

So can what’s wrong with the Red Sox be fixed? I don’t know, but it may already be a pretty irrelevant question.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.