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

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Tomase: Are the Red Sox actually the worst team in the AL East? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Here's a sobering question with long-term implications: are the Red Sox the worst team in the American League East?

The timing of the question matters, because once the cavalry returns in the form of Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Whitlock, and Trevor Story -- not to mention Michael Wacha and Rich Hill -- the answer had better be no.

But until then, the Red Sox risk losing possession of a wild card spot, which could impact what chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom does at the MLB trade deadline. And in the bigger picture, the struggles of today could provide a glimpse into an unpleasant tomorrow, when the team faces a future without some combination of Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, Christian Vazquez, and/or Eovaldi.

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Put another way: If the margin for error is so thin that suddenly the Red Sox only lead the surging Orioles by two games, then how can we view them as realistic contenders?

"We're not playing good baseball right now," Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters in Tampa on Wednesday following a third straight loss to the Rays. "It's a lot of mistakes and it's costing us games. We need to start playing better baseball if we want to be the team we envisioned in Spring Training."

The Red Sox showed real fight this past weekend vs. the Yankees to salvage a split against the best team in baseball, but those two games represent the outlier in a rotten month. The Red Sox fell to 4-9 in July after Wednesday's 4-1 loss, but how they're losing is more discouraging than the results alone.

On Wednesday, outfielder Rob Refsnyder lazed after a single to right, struggled to find a cutoff man, and then lobbed indecisively towards Bogaerts at shortstop. The ball bounced away, Tampa's Josh Lowe never stopped running, and the Rays' final run came all the way around to score from first on a single. The word "inexcusable" comes to mind.

But there's been a lot of that over the past week. Earlier on Wednesday, Devers ran into a terrible out at third on a wild pitch that didn't roll far enough away from catcher Francisco Mejía. Devers has been moving poorly while playing through back soreness, but even at 100 percent it wasn't worth the risk.

Before that, the Red Sox lost a game when Alex Verdugo allowed himself to be picked off third after Franchy Cordero failed to lay down a bunt. That same night, the tying and winning runs scored on the same play, which featured throwing errors by reliever Matt Strahm and Cordero.

"We had a great weekend, I'm not going to blast them," Cora told reporters, including Ian Browne of MLB.com. "But you have to keep playing. Like I said, nobody is going to feel sorry for your injuries or whatever. You have to show up every day and we've been very sloppy lately and we've got to get better."

And that brings us to the 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're 11-23 in the division and now must also deal with the rampaging Orioles, who have won 10 straight since getting walked off on back-to-back nights to open the month in Minnesota.

Baltimore has lost at least 108 games in each of the last three full seasons, but behind an unheralded bullpen and a couple of decent young sluggers, 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 could be buyers and sellers at the deadline and they've got absolutely nothing to lose. It's scary that they're no longer an automatic win.

The Yankees aren't unbeatable, but they're on a 114-win pace and will almost certainly improve at the deadline. The Red Sox would be massive underdogs in a postseason series, even after showing they can get to New York's vaunted bullpen.

The possibility of being in last place at the All-Star break is very much on the table, and if they keep playing like this, it's where they'll belong.

John Tomase on the Red Sox

That leaves the Rays and Jays. Tampa is playing through as many injuries as the Red Sox -- superstar-in-waiting Wander Franco could miss the next two months after wrist surgery -- and hasn't missed a beat. Its ability to consistently find a way stands in stark contrast to the bumbling nature of the last week for Boston.

The Jays could receive a boost after firing manager Charlie Montoyo, who oversaw a gross underperformance last year. The Jays were a 99-win team on paper but only a 91-win team in reality and have stumbled once again this season as overwhelming preseason favorites. If Toronto plays to its considerable capabilities, there will only be two wild card berths to fight over.

So where does that leave the Red Sox? In the unenviable position of hoping that enough players return from injury to jolt the team back to life. That's not a great place to be with the dog days looming and the toughest division in baseball tougher than ever.

The possibility of being in last place at the All-Star break is very much on the table, and if they keep playing like this, it's where they'll belong.