Around this time of year, Red Sox fans are used to reading a different set of stories. The contributions of the star acquired at the trade deadline or the useful waiver wire pickup; potential playoff opponents; maybe a division race that's more about bragging rights than anything else.
Instead, there's ... Well, not a whole lot right now.
With one month to go in the season, there may be no greater reminder as to where the Red Sox stand this season then the relative quiet. Sure, there was the little Damon uproar a few days ago, but that's been about it. Jed Lowrie has been on fire, Felix Doubront has been a strong contributor out of the desperate bullpen, and of course the incredible run of injuries has continued with Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury returning to the DL almost immediately after rejoining the team.
But with the playoffs all-but-out-of-reach, these successes are no longer a matter of a season-saving contributions, nor the losses particularly season-threatening. They just are. We got our injury bemoaning out of the way in June, and our backup/call-up contribution surprise done even earlier. Sure, we can still be excited by a Ryan Kalish home run, but for many there's a feeling that this isn't a contribution to a larger goal -- just an isolated datum that maybe gives us a fuzzy feeling about the future.
This isn't to say that everyone has given up hope. There are still those who think anything could happen going into Tampa this weekend. That we just need to put together one big run. But they are becoming more and more rare in a world of disinterest and decreasing television ratings.
This is not a brave new world for Red Sox fans, to be sure. It wasn't long ago that "wait till next year" was the city motto and "just once before I die" the wish of entire generations. But with six years separating us from those dark days, it can be hard to remember what we're supposed to do now, even with 2006 in the middle. When are we allowed to call it quits? To start watching baseball games more for signs of future success than to hope to survive just one more day? When are we allowed to "grieve" and move on?
In many ways, this series against the Rays will give Boston fans their answer. A series loss, and resignation will finally set in in full force. A sweep of Tampa, on the other hand, and the answer becomes, clearly, "not yet." It's the 2-1 series win that I truly dread. An outcome not positive enough to really reassert the Sox as playoff contenders, but also not negative enough to convince the holdouts and start talking about next year, extending the Red Sox' trip through purgatory for another night.