Sox2018

This scene seems like a long, long time ago for Red Sox fans.

Two years ago, nearly to this date, the first-place Boston Red Sox welcomed the New York Yankees to Fenway Park for a four-game get-together. By the time the dust had settled, the Sox had swept the series, outscoring the Pinstripers 28-13 and improving their 2018 record to an astounding 79-34 in the midst of a stretch that saw Boston win 13 of 15.

Just over two months later, Boston vanquished New York in the ALDS in four quick games, including a 16-1 laugher in Game 3, en route to the Red Sox franchise’s fourth championship of the 2000s.

Two years later, in a time and place very much different from those halcyon days of early August 2018, Boston headed to Yankee Stadium for a three-game series and fell in the opener, 5-1. It dropped the Red Sox’ record to 3-5, which translates to a 23-37 finish in this year’s 60-game schedule. After the Sox’ 84-78 season in 2019 — a whopping drop of 24 victories from the juggernaut 2018 club’s 108-54 mark — a 23-37 record this year, should it continue on this path, could likely have resulted in a 62-100 record if MLB had played its typical 162-game season.

Folks, we’re talking about a two-year period, and the Red Sox have seemingly gone from the mountaintop to practically the valley, if not Death Valley. While the Sox’ playoff opponents in 2018 have remained remarkably consistent over the last three seasons — the Yankees (91, 100, and 103 wins since 2016), Astros (101, 103, 107), and Dodgers (104, 92, 106) — the Red Sox have shown an alarming pattern of dropping off significantly.

This should probably come as no surprise for fans of the team this decade. After all, Boston has won the AL East four times in the last 10 years, but also has finished dead last three times, including three cellar-dwelling performances in four years, wrapped around the 2013 World Series championship.

The mighty have indeed fallen, but how? The 2018 and 2019 Boston teams led the majors in payroll, the first time in history that the Red Sox had held this dubious title. It obviously paid off with the 2018 championship, but last year’s high-priced edition didn’t even make the playoffs, and finished third in the competitive AL East — even though they were cheating!

This year, while early, the team seems to be held together by Scotch tape and twine (particularly its so-called pitching staff), and fans of the local nine will likely be shielding their eyes this weekend when the Sox take on the high-powered Yankees, who are this (shortened) season’s highest-payroll team. LA is second, and Boston is third.

Part of the reason for Boston’s free-fall in the standings since 2018 is undoubtedly bad luck (injuries to Chris Sale, David Price, Steve Pearce, and Mitch Moreland were significant), and this year’s starting pitching staff is particularly pathetic because 19-game winner Eduardo Rodríguez is on the shelf because of virus-related issues, and Sale had season-ending Tommy John surgery on his 31st birthday, in March, but it’s fairly obvious why this 2020 Red Sox team looks so much different than that championship team of two years ago.

Gone are starters Rick Porcello (free agency), Price (traded to LA), and Drew Pomeranz (free agency), as well as bullpen stalwarts Craig Kimbrel (free agency, and currently getting lit up as a Chicago Cub to the tune of an 0-4 record with a 7.59 ERA in two partial seasons of ineptitude) and Joe Kelly (also a Dodger via free agency).

Among position players, 2018 MVP Mookie Betts was sent to the Dodgers along with Price in February; super-utilityman Brock Holt went unsigned and inked a free-agent deal with the Brewers this offseason; Sandy Leon, who split the catching duties with Christian Vázquez in 2018, was traded to Cleveland last December; infielder Eduardo Núñez was released last July; and Pearce and fill-in second baseman Ian Kinsler retired.

That explains why the 2020 Sox bear limited resemblance to the championship team, but how on earth did the team drop to an 84-win team last season, not even qualifying for the postseason — while cheating?

Well, it appears certain players either just had down years in 2019, or rested on their laurels and endured a post-championship hangover. That includes:

  • Betts’s MVP batting average of .346 dropped to .295 in 2019;
  • Slugger J.D. Martinez boasted a .330 BA, 43 HRs, and 130 RBIs in 2018, but dropped to .304, 36, and 105 a year later;
  • Andrew Benintendi went from .290, 16, and 87 to .266, 13, and 68;
  • Rick Porcello went from 17-7 W-L, 4.28 ERA to 14-12, 5.52; Price went from 16-7, 3.58 to 7-5, 4.28 in an injury-plagued campaign; and Sale went from ace to goat (probably hurt most of the time), posting numbers of 12-4, 2.11 ERA in 2018 before dropping to 6-11, 4.40 last season, and the lanky lefty was shut down for good in mid-August.
  • The bullpen’s ERA went from 3.72 in 2018 to 4.40 last season.

While eight 2020 games are hardly an accurate measuring stick, heading into Friday night’s matchup in the Bronx the Red Sox’ bats were off to dismal starts, including Martinez (.226), Michael Chavis (.214), Xander Bogaerts (.208), Rafael Devers (.185), and Benintendi (2-for-21, for an astounding .095 BA).

And three of those games were against the Baltimore Orioles, arguably the worst team in the majors.

I was going to say that this could be a long year, but that seems rather ludicrous given the 60-game slate, but if things continue the way that they’re going, this very short season will seem like an interminable one, and a season that will have Red Sox fans longing for the good ol’ days — of just two years ago, when the team may have cheated.

Chris Young’s column appears Saturdays in the Sun Chronicle’s Weekend Edition.

He can be reached at ballparkfigures@comcast.net.

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