Mason: Red Sox earn high marks during first exam week

Associated PressAgainst the best competition in the AL East, the Red Sox took five of seven over the past week.

BOSTON — The Red Sox may have answered the final question wrong on Sunday Night Baseball, but make no mistake, over the past week Alex Cora’s club passed a major test for the first time this season. 

With a series in Tampa Bay followed by four games with the Yankees, the Red Sox needed to prove what they were investing in before Wednesday’s trading deadline. 

Alex Cora’s club absolutely did that. 

Boston took five of seven against their divisional opponents, winning both series, and flexed their muscles in doing so. The Sox averaged 11 runs per game against the Yankees, hanging 44 runs on their rivals this weekend. They squashed the notion that they can’t beat quality opponents.

“Another good series,” Cora said. “Back to back.” 

Chris Sale struggled in a sloppy series finale, so the Sox don’t get a perfect A, but with two more dates with the Rays and Yankees next week, they’ll have a chance to build upon a solid B+ mark. 

“Other than myself today, this team had an unbelievable series against a tough opponent,” Sale said. “Obviously, we like where we’re at. We’re building steam. We get to play the two teams that are in front of us over the next two series. So it should make for some good baseball and a chance for us to make up some ground and separate ourselves a little bit.”

Though Sale struggled in the finale, the most encouraging development of the week was in the rotation. They strung five straight quality starts together for the first time all season. 

“Everything starts with pitching,” Cora said. “It’s given our offense a chance to get going. Also shut-down innings, we score, they don’t score, we come back and we add on. Been saying all along, it starts with the rotation.”

With the July 31 deadline looming later this week, Dave Dombrowski has a chance to bolster Boston’s bullpen, their greatest need all season long. He and Cora have been keeping in touch on the topic of trades. 

“There’s communication between Dave and myself is on a daily basis,” Cora said. “We know where we’re at with the club and we know what we have to do to make it better.”

Does Cora believe the Sox need reinforcements?

“Every team does,” Cora replied diplomatically.

At this point it’s unclear whether the Rays, one of their chief Wild Card foes, are going to buy or sell. If Sunday is any indication, maybe both? They acquired a solid bat in Toronto’s Eric Sogard, but dealt a quality reliever, Hunter Wood, for a prospect. 

It’s always hard to tell with Tampa Bay, but Boston’s recent surge could certainly have something to do with their murky deadline status. 

After making up ground their 5-2 week, the Red Sox sit a game back in the Wild Card race. They trail the Yanks by nine in the AL East.

Though they’d like to take a crack at the division, the Sox are optimistic that they can do damage in the postseason no matter the path. 

“We just want to dance, man,” Cora said. “We just want to get there. Obviously you want to avoid that (Wild Card) game, that’s the most important thing, that’s the goal of every team in the playoff hunt, you don’t want to play that game. But if that’s the way and we find a way to October and win that game and go on the road, we really don’t care.”

This weekend at Fenway Park proved that not only can the Sox hang with the Yanks, but punch them in the nose and take three of four.

There’s no longer a doubt that this ‘19 team team is worth adding to. 

Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for the Gloucester Daily Times and CNHI Sports Boston. Email him at cmason@northofboston.com, and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason.