The reality of the 2019 Red Sox season can be boiled down to one sentence: the starters never gave them a chance.
Forget about the bullpen, the struggles with runners in scoring position, the trade deadline letdown. This last turn through the rotation neatly encapsulates everything wrong with the starters, how they collectively failed at every turn, and why this remains such a massive concern moving forward, because news flash -- without changes, we'll be having the exact same conversation in 2020.
Want to know where this season went to seed? Let's take a stroll through the last six games, one starter at a time, and find some answers.
Rick Porcello: Rays 8, Red Sox 5
Hours after the trade deadline turned out to be a dud, Porcello delivered one.
After allowing a run in the first and smashing a pair of dugout monitors in frustration, Porcello went out in the second and served up a pair of homers -- a leadoff shot to Kevin Kiermaier and a three-run blast from Austin Meadows. It was one bad inning in a season full of them.
The former Cy Young Award winner suddenly looks like a pitcher whose low-90s stuff simply doesn't play anymore. He's 9-8 with a 5.74 ERA and trending in the wrong direction. The only reason he's 4-2 since June 23 is because the Red Sox seem to score 10 runs every time he starts. His 9.35 ERA in that span suggests he has needed every run.
Porcello is in the final year of his contract and loves Boston, which is no small thing. He's also a clubhouse leader. But intangibles mean nothing when his starts turn Fenway Park into the world's largest pinball machine.
The Red Sox already felt deflated because of the deadline. By the time Porcello was done, they were reeling.
Andrew Cashner: Rays 9, Red Sox 4
The Red Sox acquired in an acknowledgment that Nathan Eovaldi was done for the season. Eovaldi's absence has simply murdered the bullpen, thanks to three months of three-inning starts made by the likes of every Josh, Ryan, and Hector to roll through Pawtucket.
Cashner was supposed to provide stability, based on a breakout age-32 season that saw him go 9-3 for the woeful Orioles. Red-flag alert: he has posted only one other winning season in his 10-year career, and his stuff isn't exactly electric. Redder-flag alert: the Phillies reportedly passed on him over makeup concerns.
In four starts since joining the Red Sox, Cashner is 1-3 with a 6.94 ERA. The ERA would be worse except for a scoring change from this loss to Tampa Bay Cashner appeared ill-equipped to handle the bright lights of the pennant race, allowing seven hits and five walks in 5.2 innings. He botched a chopper in front of the plate that was generously ruled a single, forced in a run with a walk, and crossed up catcher Sandy Leon for a passed ball that scored another.
Say hello to the big deadline acquisition. It turns out he's no savior.
Eduardo Rodriguez: Yankees 4, Red Sox 2
On the list of disappointments, E-Rod rates as least objectionable. He leads the staff in wins (13), innings (135.1), and ERA (4.19). He has pitched into the seventh inning 10 times. He opened as the fifth starter, and were he still in that role, he'd be having a hell of a season.
Unfortunately, he's kinda sorta the ace at the moment, and it does not suit him. Case in point: Friday night in New York.
J.D. Martinez gave the Red Sox a 2-0 lead in the first with a two-run homer, sparking hopes that the offense would once again go nuclear on Yankees pitching. But first there was the little matter of the bottom of the frame, and Rodriguez imploded.
Two walks and a single loaded the bases with one out, and then Rodriguez badly missed with a fastball that was supposed to be up to Gleyber Torres. It caught too much of the plate and then all of Torres' barrel, sailing out to left for a back-breaking grand slam.
Rodriguez righted the ship, but the damage had been done. The demoralized and broken Red Sox never mounted a serious threat, and their lost weekend was off and stumbling.
Chris Sale: Yankees 9, Red Sox 2
If there's one person responsible for the travails of 2019, it's Sale. Signed to a $145 million extension to be the stopper, he has instead leaked like a sieve, with the Red Sox losing 15 of his 23 starts. He delivered his most embarrassing outing in Yankee Stadium in a performance that illustrated the futility and frustration of his season.
With two outs and two on in the fourth, Sale found himself just one pitch away from escaping with a 1-1 tie. That pitch never came. He allowed five consecutive hits, including a three-run homer to D.J. LeMahieu before being lifted. He ended up being charged with seven runs in the frame, and eight in the game.
Making matters worse, one of the most accountable players on the team finally lost it and blasted home plate ump Mike Estabrook for a blown strike three call on Gio Urshela earlier. Never mind the rockets that followed off the bats of hitters like Breyvic Valera and Brett Gardner, Sale blamed the umpire. He ended up being ejected before complaining some more in the postgame about how the umps must be held to a higher standard.
It was a terrible, terrible look for the guy who's so confident in his stuff, he never shakes the catcher: put down whatever sign you want and I'll blow the guy away.
Not anymore. Salvaging him will be the greatest task for 2020.
Brian Johnson: Yankees 6, Red Sox 4
What's there to say? The replacement starters stink. Pressed into service by a doubleheader, Johnson lasted just three innings in his return from the IL. He allowed eight hits and luckily only three runs. If he hadn't started, someone like Ryan Weber would've posted the exact same numbers. Let's just move on.
David Price: Yankees 7, Red Sox 4
While it's tempting to draw a line at Price's pointless resuscitation of his feud with broadcaster Dennis Eckersley, his struggles actually predate that stupidity by more than a month. Since beating Tampa, 5-1, on June 8 and striking out 10, Price has looked barely pedestrian.
He's 3-3 with a 6.55 ERA and has reached the seventh inning exactly zero times. And this from the guy we've been calling the ace all season. His struggles reached a nadir on Sunday night.
With two outs in the third and the Red Sox leading 1-0, Price collapsed like Sale the day before. The next seven batters went homer, double, double, single, double, single, walk, before manager Alex Cora made another long trudge to the mound to remove yet another starter who hadn't even give him three innings, let alone five, let alone seven or eight.
Price's ERA shot to 4.36 -- its highest point since April 6 -- and his record fell to 7-5. So much for holding all the cards. Now they're scattered to the wind and Price is trying to see if he can recover 52 for a full deck.
That's five days and six starts where the Red Sox never had a chance. Want to know why 2019 has unfolded in such a disappointing fashion?
There's your answer.
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