Waving the White Flag: Game Over for the Red Sox
The Season is Over, and the Dream of Repeating Remains a Distant Fantasy
When the Red Sox won the World Series last year, they cemented their status as the greatest team of the decade, and one of the top three teams of the last 20 years. Only the 1998 Yankees and 2001 Mariners boasted better records in the Wild Card Era, and only the Yankees went on to win a championship. The Red Sox had posted the best season in franchise history.
As the dust settled, they began to look to the future. No team has successfully defended its title since the Yankees did it in 2000. The 2018 Red Sox, already the greatest team in franchise history, had the chance to cement themselves as one of the greatest teams in baseball history.
Fast-forward 10 months later, and those dreams of greatness seem like a hollow fantasy. The Red Sox, with a record of 60-56, stand at 3rd place in the American League East. While there are still two months left in the season, it’s almost certain that Boston will not win the division. This would be the first year in the Dombrowski era that the Red Sox did not win the AL East.
A Wild Card berth, the aim for the last couple months, also seems out of reach. The only way this team makes the postseason is if everything, and I mean everything, suddenly goes right for them. And with less than two months left in the season, a season in which consistency has eluded them almost every step of the way, it seems like a tall order.
Do or Die
In an article written two weeks ago, I outlined an incredibly important 14 game stretch faced by the Red Sox. That stretch saw Boston play, in order: The Rays, the Yankees, the Rays, and the Yankees again. It was a golden opportunity to knock down Boston’s division rivals, both of which lead Boston in the AL East. It was, however, a double-edged sword. If the team couldn’t rise to the occasion, they risked being knocked out of the division race altogether.
The crucial stretch started well, with the Red Sox taking 2 out of 3 against Tampa Bay. The Rays’ only win came on a strong performance by Cy Young candidate Charlie Morton. Boston left the Trop in decent spirits, and flew back to Fenway for a “Greatest Rivalry” series against the Yankees.
That series went even better. For three straight days, the Red Sox annihilated Yankee pitching. The final score of Game 1 was 19-3, which set multiple baseball records. Boston then won the next two by comfortable margins, but was unable to complete the sweep. Still, they were 5-2 against tough divisional opponents. The Red Sox, it seemed, had finally found their footing.
Then, just when it felt like the team was finally playing to expectations, it all came crashing down. The Rays swept Boston at Fenway, killing any momentum the club had built. When the team went to Yankee Stadium, it was a disaster. The Yankees, like the Rays, swept. The Red Sox had lost eight straight, the club’s worst loss streak since 2015. Boston’s season-deciding divisional stretch, which started 5-2, ended 5-9. When the Red Sox left New York, they had fallen to 6.5 games out of the second Wild Card. They were just four games above .500.
Trades? What trades?
To make matters worse, the trade deadline happened. While it was heavily expected the Red Sox would send for pitching help, they instead chose to do nothing. Dave Dombrowski explained that he might’ve been more open to trading if the team had been performing better. Go figure. Is it a coincidence that after their general manager publicly gave up on them, the club lost 6 straight and has gone 1-7? We may never know.
Dombrowski’s decision to do nothing, as well as the club’s overwhelming mediocrity, has effectively ended their season. The stretch against the AL East was the best chance the club had to reinsert themselves into the playoff race. Now, that goal seems hopelessly unattainable. The Yankees have cruised to a laughable 14.5 game lead over the Red Sox. Their playoff hopes therefore hinged on grabbing a wild card spot. While that’s still entirely possible, it just doesn’t seem likely. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Red Sox have just an 8 percent chance of making the postseason. Missing out on October would make them, statistically, one of the best teams to miss the playoffs since 2012.
When the season started, fans were high on the idea of going back to back. They had the talent to do it. Last year’s team was so incredible, that even if there was some regression, they would still be an excellent, 90 to 95 win club. Everyone knows how difficult it is to repeat. Some regression was expected. Maybe they wouldn’t make it back to the World Series. Maybe they’d be eliminated in the ALCS. But surely, with so much talent, they’d at least make it to the postseason, right? It’d be impossible not to! Well, it’s mid-August, and the club is no closer to securing a playoff spot than it was two months ago.
The Season is Over: A Toast to 2019
As I wrote this, I found the perfect analogy to describe this season. The Red Sox just completed a series against the rebuilding Kansas City Royals. Boston won the first game on Monday, snapping their eight game losing streak. Kansas City won on Tuesday, a night in which the pitching was bad and the offense couldn’t deliver the clutch hit.
The tiebreaker looked like a wrap. Kansas City took the lead early, but a 2-run homerun by JD Martinez and a clutch 2 run double by Xander Bogaerts gave Boston a 4-2 lead. Eduardo Rodriguez threw five innings of struggleball, punctuated by a ton of walks, but managed to hold the Royals to just two runs. It looked like the Red Sox would win the series, and go home happy.
But then, as they so often do, things went bad. The Royals took a run back, then Nathan Eovaldi blew the save in the 8th. It was tied. Brand new ballgame. The 21st blown save of the year. And with a bad storm closing in, there would almost certainly be a rain delay if the game went to extras. Wonderful.
But no worries! Leadoff man Mookie Betts got on base in the top of the 9th. All the Red Sox had to do was get Betts across the plate, and they could walk it off before the storm ruined things. But, wouldn’t you know it, the Royals got the next three outs. The game went to extras. Minutes later, the delay was called. The game was suspended just before 1 AM Thursday morning. Go figure. The makeup is due in a few weeks.
Having a golden chance to win, only to mess it up with mediocre baseball. Here’s to the 2019 Red Sox.
Red Sox Tom is a Sox and Patriots fan. He’s a Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and Tom Brady enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter @PrimeJD.
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