Not everyone is thinking about the future.
When the Red Sox gutted their veteran core at the trade deadline last month, it opened the door to use the final two months of the season as a sort of player evaluation trial for some of the team's prospects and new acquisitions. But that shift -- and its consequences -- put some of the veterans of last year's championship run in an uncomfortable place.
The Red Sox are spiraling toward what has a chance to be an even more embarrassing fate than the one they suffered in a 69-93 2012 campaign. With Sunday's 8-6 loss to the Mariners, the team is 54-76, on pace for a 70-92 finish, but even that mark is starting to seem unrealistic amidst an eight-game losing streak.
For the 10 players who were on last year's postseason roster, the one-year pivot from an existence where every game was critical to a point where losses mount with seeming inevitability has been difficult to digest.
"It’s not where you want to be. You always come in, every year, prepared to play, do your best and hopefully you keep competing for something," said David Ortiz. "It kind of sucks that you didn’t put up a good season and you’ve got to go home."
Perhaps the best illustration of the strain of losing on the team's veterans came on Saturday. Catcher David Ross, fresh off the disabled list after rupturing a tendon in his foot, tried to employ a sneak attack on the Mariners, dropping a bunt down the third-base line. It's a strategy he's used for what the veteran estimates to be 10-15 hits in his career, but at this stage of his career, it's a technique that is not without consequence, making it doubly painful when the attempt bounded foul. Ross, on the way back to the batter's box, doubled over, hands on knees, a concession to both the exhaustion and futility of what he'd attempted to do -- both in trying to secure a hit and a victory.
"I was literally getting in the box, like, am I really fixing to do this? But I did all the testing [before returning from the disabled list], did all the running they put me through before they activated me. I ran as hard as I could, so I said, 'Now is as good a time as any,' " said Ross. "It felt good. I felt it, but it never grabbed me or bit me too hard. Afterwards, I took a minute to catch my breath.
"It wasn't my foot hurts. It was more, just, daggummit, I saved up all the energy that I had for that one and used it and it didn't pay off. For it to be foul, it was kind of frustrating."
Ross cares, a point further reinforced later in the game when he got ejected for the first time in his career arguing about whether or not he'd held up on a check swing for a third strike. For Ross, the idea that the Sox' attentions now lie beyond 2014 -- the last year of his two-year deal -- is hard to accept. Losses have not become tolerable.
"It stinks," Ross said of the team's plight. "It's tough to come to work every day when you're going through something like this. You're out of it. You see the focus is just a little, it's just not as fun as it was last year, put it that way. I probably had the best time of my life in baseball last year, and this is the complete opposite of that when you lose like this and you're down so many runs. It's just one of those things we're trying to get through. You're trying to do your part. If I play as hard as I can and show the young guys, just do my part, try to lead by example, try to teach these guys and help them learn how to win, do the best I can, I think it will help the team.
"[But] at the end of the day, all I care about is winning. I think that's the hardest part when you've lost that many in a row and you're 18, 19 games out, whatever it is. I've never been in this position in my career. It's one of those things. I'm learning how, I would say. Some days I deal with it well and some days I don't."
Ross occupies a newly reformed corner of the Red Sox clubhouse in which he is adjacent to Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia. It is that corner, perhaps as much as any in the Sox clubhouse, that wears the team's current struggles, having proven central to last year's successes in a fashion that makes this year's reality almost incomprehensible.
These veterans remain hard-wired to win. They continue to measure success on a daily basis based on the outcome of games. That gauge of success is one of the primary distinctions between the big leagues and the minors, where individual player development and performance takes precedence over wins and losses.
But now, given the team's place in the standings and the fact that the roster is comprised primarily of recently called-up minor leaguers and recently acquired pieces at the trade deadline, there is a sentiment that the team-first priorities have shifted. The veterans find themselves trying to teach the younger players, trying to reassert the primacy of winning, but there are times when the enterprise seems Sisyphean.
"We talk about it all the time. Every day you go out there, you're playing that day to win -- that pitch, that inning, you're trying to win. So it's frustrating," said Napoli. "It's ingrained in a bunch of us in this clubhouse. We've been around for a while and we understand what's going on. It's not going to change until this season is over, but it's definitely frustrating not being able to get on a roll and win.
Napoli is one of the few Red Sox who can be characterized as having a strong year when on the field. His on-base percentage is up to .383, fourth in the American League and the second-best mark in his career (a mark that reflects in part other teams' willingness to pitch around him, resulting in lower power numbers). Yet his outlook on his personal performance is so entwined with what's happening for the team that he can take little satisfaction in his approach.
"Trust me, this has been frustrating getting up every day and coming here. We're on [an eight-game] losing streak. It bothers me. It bothers a lot of people in this clubhouse. We come out every game to win," said Napoli. "I do stuff on the field that hopefully [the young players are] watching to learn how to play the game the right way. You just try to lead by example.
"I don't feel better that I'm doing better on the field this season. All it comes out to is us winning ballgames. When I go out there, it's like, we've got a lot of young guys here. We're trying to show them the way, show them how a big leaguer is when they come up, how to act, how to play the game and do things on the field."
That task is not necessarily as simple as it sounds.
"[Teaching the young players] has to be both ways, too. These guys have to come in here and want to learn, play the game the right way. It's hard sometimes because guys get here and they want to do good for themselves to be able to stay in the big leagues," said Napoli. "It's human nature. But I think playing the game the right way and being a team player takes care of all that good stuff. You try to get them on your guys' page, show by example of being on the field, what you do on the field should click on a light and be like, this is the way you play."
Pedroia, of course, remains the embodiment of that notion, someone who runs with a sense of desperation toward first every time he puts a ball in play. He's been through this before -- in 2012, he memorably played the final games of the season despite a broken finger, suggesting that he wanted to be the catalyst for a culture change that helped the Sox move forward after a season of misery.
Now he is unexpectedly back in the position of trying to set a tone for the future, even as he refuses to resign himself to the inevitability of mounting losses in the present.
"I want our team to play the game the right way and learn and understand the game, especially our young guys. That's obviously the goal from here on out," said Pedroia. "You've got to play the game the right way at this level. If you do that better than the other team, you're going to win. It's not about individual statistics or things like that. The team that plays the game the right way more consistently, they're the team that, when you look up, they win the division and go on to win the World Series.
"I'm talking to [the young players] all the time," he added. "I'm showing up ready to win today's game. That's what winning players do. If there's a guy in here that doesn't want to win today's game, he shouldn't be here. You can probably tell if there is a guy like that by watching the game. Every day is a chance to get better and to try to find ways to help your team, be a good teammate, do the right thing. You find out more about a player when their team is losing than you do when they're winning. Winning, everything is going great. All the little things get pushed under. If you're losing, you find out what a real player is."
The Sox are losing -- in startling fashion, the defeats piling up almost daily. And so, presumably, that does afford a measuring stick for where the team is compared to where it needs to be, particularly for those players for whom the memory of the ultimate success in baseball remains so fresh, yet so painfully distant from the present.
The culture of winning that prevailed last year is no longer present. The veteran remnants of last year's championship run are uncomfortably aware of that fact.
"We've got a lot of work to do, plain and simple," said Pedroia. "The mindset, the way we approach every day -- we've got a lot of work to do."