BOSTON -- A two-game winning streak, by virtue of a pair of walk-off wins, does not make the cellar dwellers of the AL East sudden contenders.
At 41-51, 9½ games back in the AL East, the Boston Red Sox still have a long way to go to get back in contention. General manager Ben Cherington realizes he'll need to make changes, and to some extent, he's already begun that process.
The Red Sox concluded their homestand with a 3-7 record, but walk-off wins in the last two games have boosted morale in the clubhouse. On Thursday, Mike Carp delivered a pinch-hit RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Red Sox a 4-3 win over the Chicago White Sox.
In the clubhouse, the Red Sox believe there's plenty of baseball remaining to make a serious push, and maybe, just maybe, these last two games will give them the confidence they seem to desperately need.
After Thursday's win, Red Sox manager John Farrell maintained that there's a lot more bite left in this club.
"Hopefully it gives us some momentum going into the final series before the break," Farrell said. "Again, I want to reiterate as much as possible that this is a team that is still highly competitive and we've got some things we're working with and getting guys established. Our goal and our intent is the same every day and that's to go out and hopefully finish off a game like we have the last two days."
The Red Sox travel to Houston to face the lowly Astros in a three-game set before the All-Star break. If the Red Sox can finish strong before the break, potentially with a sweep and five-game winning streak, they could find themselves feeling good about their chances to make a push in the second half. After winning the World Series in 2013, the Red Sox expected to deal with certain challenges this season, but not to this extent.
"It can be hard for people to understand, because it's such a slow game, I think it deceives people, but it's such a momentum-based game," said Jon Lester, who pitched seven innings of one-run ball Thursday. "You get a couple of guys feeling good about themselves and you build on that momentum."
"Then it starts to snowball and guys start to feel good up at the plate and you start scoring some runs and we start winning those one-run games," Lester said. "Then, the rotation gets on a five-man roll and everybody starts feeling good, and you look up and all of a sudden, in this division, you're three games out and who knows what can happen."
But does this roster, as currently constituted, have the ability to make that push in the second half?
On Wednesday, the Red Sox started five rookies, and that youthful spark helped Boston erase a four-run deficit and finish with a 5-4 walk-off win. Brock Holt delivered the winning punch with an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning. On Thursday morning, he spoke about how energetic the team was and how different the atmosphere in the ballpark felt after the Sox's victory.
Maybe the youth movement will help rescue this year's club, as it did back in 2007.
"The past month or so we've had a bunch of new guys filter in, young guys, and maybe they can be dumb enough and naive enough to just say, 'Yeah, screw it. Let's go,'" Lester said. "And maybe give us that little bit of spark."
Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes, who has a flair for the dramatic, agrees with Lester's observations.
"Every Hall of Famer, every superstar in our game was young at one point," Gomes said. "No one came out of the womb running. As far as experience, it's a little different on that end, but those guys are fitting in pretty well and if they keep playing exciting [baseball] we'll be all right."
When Cherington and Farrell began to build the team that eventually won the World Series in 2013, they wanted to fill the clubhouse with character players. That philosophy worked and it translated onto the field. Lester believes the cohesiveness remains this season, despite the club's sub-.500 record.
"As far as the clubhouse stuff, I don't think any of that has changed," he said. "Our performance on the field, for whatever reason, hasn't translated this year like it did last year. I feel like last year was one of those years that everything went right -- no matter what we did."
Living in the AL East basement is not fun. Many players on this team learned that during 2012 and rebounded with a vengeance in 2013. The clubhouse culture, which has been dissected time and again over the last few seasons, is different again this year, too. Winning breeds good chemistry, and the Red Sox are hoping they can find that harmony again in the second half.
"No one ever came out of Game 162 in last place and they're like, 'Man, this was so fun. This was a blast. I love these guys.' When you're talking about team chemistry it always goes to winning," Gomes said. "The game is peaks and valleys, so when you are in those valleys clubhouses can separate, clubhouses can divide, but the good-chemistry teams come out of those valleys faster than not."
For all the magic of 2013, when trailing in the ninth inning was no big deal and Boston always seemed to find a way to win the close games, it hasn't happened like that this season.
The Red Sox have 19 one-run losses, which is the most in the American League and second in the majors. In fact, Boston has played 36 games this season that have been decided by one run, with a 17-19 record.
"That's the biggest thing that stands out to me," Lester said. "Unfortunately, we've been on the other side of those games and hopefully in the second half we can win some of those games and that will definitely put us further up in the standings."
This season, the Red Sox have dealt with turnover in personnel, both before and during the season. As in hockey, it appears the Red Sox are continually changing on the fly. On Wednesday, the Red Sox designated veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski for assignment. The trade deadline is only a few weeks away and it's a safe bet Cherington will do something before the end of the month.
Despite the past two victories, it remains difficult to believe this team can turn things around. Maybe, just maybe, that skepticism is exactly the motivation the Red Sox need.