BOSTON – Red Sox baseball boss Dave Dombrowski gave up on a fourth straight AL East title when he decided not to make a move at the trade deadline.
The players bowed out of the postseason race soon after.
One year after their record-setting run to their fourth World Series in 15 seasons, the Red Sox are on their way toward missing the playoffs for the first time since 2015. After taking five of six leading up to the July 31 deadline from New York and Tampa Bay – the two teams Boston is chasing in the AL East – the defending champions won just three of their next 15 games.
Alex Cora, who led Boston to a franchise-record 108 wins in his first year as a major league manager, acknowledges there’s no more time to waste.
“It actually did feel like a playoff game,” he said after beating Cleveland this week to slow the slide. “If we want to make it, we’ve got to start our playoffs before anyone else.”
It may already be too late.
The Red Sox are closer to fourth than first, 17 1/2 games out in the division and 7 1/2 back in the wild-card race. They have just four more games against each the Yankees and Rays, and none against Cleveland or Oakland, who are also ahead of Boston in the wild-card standings.
Dombrowski conceded at the deadline that this team wasn’t going to catch the Yankees, and he said he didn’t want to give up a lot for a spare part that would get them into the one-game coin toss that is the wild-card round.
“If we were closer to first place, I would’ve been more open-minded,” he said. “I think if we’re going to make it, it’s going to be the guys that are in the clubhouse.”
The response from the clubhouse: losses in the next six games – eight straight in all – including a four-game sweep by the Yankees that all-but eliminated Boston from the postseason race.
Here are some other things that went wrong this season:
Last year’s moves all seemed to work out: Dombrowski acquired J.D. Martinez during spring training, added Steve Pearce in June and, as the deadline approached, Nathan Eovaldi and Ian Kinsler. Martinez finished fourth in AL MVP voting, Pearce was the World Series MVP, and Eovaldi was the Game 3 star who pitched six innings of relief in an 18-inning loss, a performance widely credited with keeping the rest of the staff fresh for victories in Games 4 and 5.
This year, Eovaldi and Pearce got rewarded as free agents. Pearce batted .180 in just 29 games while spending most of the season on the injured list; Eovaldi missed two months with an elbow injury and was slotted into the bullpen when he came back.
And the big midseason acquisition: Andrew Cashner, who went 1-4 with an 8.01 ERA in six starts after coming from Baltimore early in July; he has since been demoted to the bullpen.
Cashner was supposed to boost the back end of a star-studded staff that has been the biggest disappointment for the team this year.
Chris Sale (6-11, 4.40 ERA) is headed for the worst season of his career. Rick Porcello (10-9, 5.67 ERA), who won the 2016 AL Cy Young Award, is last in the AL with 84 earned runs allowed. David Price, the 2012 Cy Young winner, is 7-5 with a 4.36 ERA that is his worst in a decade.
“Some guys haven’t performed,” Dombrowski said in his post trade deadline news conference. “Where are we going to get starting pitchers that are more talented than the group that we have? They’re very talented, we just need to pitch better in some cases.”
After letting closer Craig Kimbrel and top setup man Joe Kelly leave as free agents, the Red Sox are the worst team in baseball at converting save opportunities, with 22 blown saves in 46 chances through Wednesday. But Dombrowski insists that when the starters provided quality outings, the bullpen was fine.
Leading up to the trade deadline, the rotation turned in six straight outings of six innings or longer. During an eight-game losing streak that knocked them from wild-card contention, only one starter finished the sixth.
“Where most clubs get exposed in their bullpen is when you get short starts. Our club is built to get longer starts than four or five innings,” Dombrowski said, explaining why he didn’t go all-out to add a reliever. “When we start pitching six innings, I think you could see it.”
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