ST. PETERSBURG -- The Red Sox fought the good fight on Friday night, but in the end, Boston’s playoff fate was out of its control.
Cleveland’s success was all the more frustrating given that Boston came from behind to tie the Rays in the ninth inning on a two-run home run from Moreland -- his second of the game. Moreland’s late homer came right after the Indians’ game was done, the latter rendering the excitement from the former moot.
It was, however, fairly indicative of the way this season has played out for a team that has fought the good fight, only to repeatedly come up on the wrong side of the fence.
“Disappointed. It wasn’t a great season,” Boston manager Alex Cora said. “We’re going to learn from it and we’re going to get better; that’s the bottom line. We were inconsistent from the get-go.”
This time last year, the Red Sox were readying to ride a month-long wave to more hardware, championship rings and a Halloween-day parade through downtown Boston. While Boston’s 2018 squad seemed to have a load of lucky breaks to match its talent, the team that followed seemed just as destined to dodge good fortune this time around.
Here’s a look at four elements that hurt Boston’s postseason hopes this season:
It’s no secret that the Red Sox’s season-starting funk caused some alarm. 0-1 on March 28 wasn’t so bad, but when Boston’s record fell to 1-5, 3-8 and then 6-13 by April 17, things looked bleak.
Of course, the team and its fans expected more after coming off a 119-win season and a fourth championship in 15 years. Despite taking its lumps early, Boston remained confident it could work its way back.
Except the Red Sox never really did, giving the Yankees and Rays a head start in the division and thus having to play catch-up the remainder of the season. Boston stepped one game over the .500 watermark on May 10 for the first time in 2019 but could never seem to keep pace in the American League East.
“Obviously it’s tough,” Moreland said. “You kind of fight all year to put yourselves in a good position, but it’s just been an uphill battle. We kind of got off to a tough start there and it just seemed like it kind of snowballed on us.”
Rotation, rotation, rotation
The arms who follow in the rotation, however, haven’t been so fortunate. For -- ahem -- starters, there’s been little consistency on the hill which led, at times, to extra pressure on the bullpen and the offense. Rodriguez is the lone Red Sox pitcher with more than one start and a sub-4.00 ERA, and after him Porcello is the only other pitcher with at least 30 starts this season (31).
The closest to him are Chris Sale (25) and David Price (22), both victims of season-ending injuries. The duo wasn’t at its best even prior to that: Sale finished with a 4.40 ERA, his worst in his 10-year career. Price’s 4.28 mark was the second highest in his 12-year career (he had a 4.42 ERA as a rookie in 2009).
“It’s been coming for a while now … but it’s tough. We put a lot of work into it, had high expectations and came up short,” said Porcello who, despite six scoreless innings on Friday still has a career-high 5.56 ERA.
The Red Sox have put up some pretty strong overall offensive numbers this season, with six players hitting 20 or more home runs, four with 40 or more doubles and 233 team homers. But grand stats shouldn’t overshadow the overall result with things like situational hitting, which has plagued Boston at crucial points throughout the year.
“I don’t know what else to say; it’s been a tough year,” Porcello said. “It’s not for a lack of effort. The guys that are on the field right now are grinding their tails off until the end, there’s definitely something to be said for that.”
Mounting late comebacks was also not Boston’s strong suit in 2019, a marked difference from the comeback kings of last season. They are 3-57 when trailing after six innings, 3-60 after seven and 3-62 after eight.
The natural assumption that a team plays better in front of its home crowd flew out the window this season in Boston, where the Red Sox are 37-39 at Fenway compared to 43-32 away from it. This number includes bizarre trends such as their home record against the Rays (1-8) as opposed to their 5-2 mark at Tropicana Field.
Tough breaks aside, the Red Sox still sit at 80-73. While it wasn’t a good enough mark to help them defend their crown this year, it’s definitely enough to inspire them to keep working. First task is playing spoiler to the Rays’ playoff hopes. Tampa Bay is tied with the Indians for the second American League Wild Card spot and Boston has three more games in St. Petersburg to change that.
“Somebody asked me that yesterday, if we have to [beat the Rays] for the A’s and the Indians,” Cora said before Friday’s game. “They have to take care of their business; we don’t owe them anything. But we owe it to our fan base, to the organization, to go out there and play.
"We can come in here, win three out of four, even sweep them. I mean, it’s not going to save our season, ya know? But just go out there and compete against them and see what happens.”