With 45 games left in the season, the Red Sox find themselves in an unexpected position — fighting for a playoff spot.
Once possessing the best record in the AL, the Red Sox have hit the skids and are now one game behind the Rangers in the Wild Card hunt.
At the All Star break, the Sox were 20 games over .500 and held a three-game lead over the Yankees. As recently as July 19, they were still in first place.
However, the Sox have fallen flat and appear out of gas. Boston is 6-9 this month, and 12-17 since the break. Once viewed as the premier team in the AL, the Sox suddenly find themselves fighting for respectability.
Having dropped two of three against the Rangers this weekend, the Sox are now 2-7 against Texas this season, giving them a decided disadvantage in any tie-breaker. The two teams do not play each other again this season.
After rallying to score six runs in the ninth against Texas on Friday night for an 8-4 victory, the Sox combined for just five runs over the next two games. Most futilely, the Sox were 0-10 with runners in scoring position in those two contests. It was hardly a surprise; in fact it was part of a trend.
Before the All-Star break the Red Sox were hitting .281 with runners in scoring position (third-best in the AL). But since the break, they're hitting .233 (13th in the AL).
On any given day, at least half of the Red Sox lineup looks completely impotent. David Ortiz is batting .221, Jason Varitek .223, Nick Green .233, Brian Anderson .236, JD Drew .254, and Alex Gonzalez, the newest Red Sox, was bating just .210 before joining the team.
There are automatic outs all over the Boston lineup and it's killing them. After producing the third-most runs in baseball during the first half, the Sox lineup is tied for 16th since the break.
The Sox offense benefits from playing at Fenway, scoring 5.66 runs per game at home, third best in the majors. But away from home their production falls by more than a full run, scoring 4.57 runs per game, 13th best.
The starting rotation, once the envy of the AL, is full of question marks once they get past Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.
John Smoltz was a bust, and the same can be said of Brad Penny. The burly right-hander has won just once in his past 10 starts and is now 7-7 with a 5.22 ERA. He has not made it through the seventh inning in any of his 23 starts this season, the most in the Majors. It is a level of ineptitude not experienced by a Red Sox pitcher since 1954.
Clay Buchholz is 1-3 with a 4.45 ERA. He has allowed 59 base runners in just 32.1 innings. Buchholz is unproven in the regular season, much less the playoffs.
Junichi Tazawa has made just two starts and has a 5.40 ERA. Could anybody realistically expect him to perform in October if the Sox somehow turn things around and extend their season? Not likely.
Tim Wakefield is 43 and on the DL for the third consecutive season during the stretch drive. Due to sciatica, Wakefield is now walking with a limp and it is unclear if he can even field his position. Don't count on him being the solution, much less the savior for the Sox rotation.
Daisuke Matsuzaka is expected back sometime next month. But he hasn't pitched since June 19 and is 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA this season. Matsuzaka averaged just 4.4 innings per start before going on the DL The Japanese righty never made a quality start this season, and lasted six innings just once in his eight starts. He can't be expected to pitch meaningful innings down the stretch and is not a playoff-caliber pitcher at this time.
Paul Byrd is Paul Byrd and hasn't pitched in the Majors since last October. Enough said.
What is evident is that the Red Sox rotation is not playoff-caliber, and is largely staffed with a combination of old, injured, ineffective, and unproven pitchers.
As a whole, the Red Sox have fared well in the familiar confines of Fenway Park, going 38-18 there this season. But on the road, it's another story entirely. The Sox are a below average team away from home, compiling an uninspiring 28-33 record.
That's not good enough to get them into the playoffs, much less through the playoffs.
On July 1, the Sox were 23-20 on the road, which was the fifth best road mark in baseball. Since the All-Star break, the Sox are 5-13 on the road, compared to 7-4 at home.
If only they could play all their games at Fenway.
The ugly truth for the Red Sox and their fans is that this is not a great team, and probably not even a playoff team. That's a bitter pill to swallow since the Red Sox and their fans expect to see October baseball in Boston each and every year.
That isn't likely this time around.