MLB trade deadline

Five days, six starts, no wins -- how the Red Sox rotation has destroyed this season

Five days, six starts, no wins -- how the Red Sox rotation has destroyed this season

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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Going, going, gone? Red Sox in danger of losing every single one of us by September

Going, going, gone? Red Sox in danger of losing every single one of us by September

NEW YORK - The will to care about the 2019 Red Sox is slipping away as inexorably as a toddler's last lead-lidded blink before bedtime.

However encouraged Red Sox fans felt last weekend after watching their team take five of six from the Rays and Yankees, they're in grave danger of tumbling over the precipice and into an abyss of apathy.

Friday night brought more misery in the form of a perfunctory 4-2 loss to the Yankees that included one inning of action and eight innings of inevitability. The Red Sox raced to a 2-0 lead, watched Eduardo Rodriguez give it right back with a first-inning grand slam and that was the end of that.

Like one of those videos of slow-motion destruction when a car loses its brakes on an icy hill and just casually drifts into every mailbox, tree, and Toyota Celica until slamming into a parked dump truck, it feels like the Red Sox have begun their slide to irrelevance and there's nothing we can do to stop it except watch and hope no one gets hurt.

The team's fifth loss in a row just reinforced the notion that when the story of this season is written -- not that anyone will necessarily care to read it -- the tipping point will end up being the July 31 trade deadline and the too-honest press conference Dave Dombrowski conducted in its actionless aftermath.

If the jaws of fans and media dropped when he admitted that the Red Sox weren't close enough to contention to sacrifice pieces of the future for short-term fixes, imagine the reaction of the players. They had basically just been told they were on their own.

The ensuing uneasiness caused manager Alex Cora to make a rare public misstep of his own, when he said he'd be calling a meeting to address the final two months and the challenge that awaits. The meeting was news to his players, who still knew nothing of it on Friday afternoon beyond what they'd read in the media, which led to Cora backtracking more purposefully than Danny Torrance in The Shining and sounding considerably frazzled in the process.

Asked whether he was joking or had changed his mind, Cora said, "All of the above," and then laughed uncomfortably. He tried to explain that he had misspoken and didn't mean to imply he had called a formal meeting, but PR damage done.

Not that it really matters. Now that we know with 1,000 percent certainty that help isn't coming, it's hard to envision the 180 that would be required to salvage their season. What you see is what you get, and what we've seen to this point is hardly worth getting excited about.

And so, we dutifully chronicle a march to futility, just as we did in lost-cause seasons like 2006 and 2010, when the Sox simply never kicked it into gear. Both of those seasons ended shy of the playoffs, and it's worth noting that the Red Sox are now closer to the eighth-place Angels in the wild-card chase (three games) than to the Rays, whom they trail by four games.

That is not a recipe for an action-packed stretch run, and that's bad news for the marketing folks who care about buzz and virality. With the Patriots beginning the defense of yet another Super Bowl title next month and the Celtics and Bruins preparing for training camp, the Red Sox are in danger of being swallowed whole. Eyeballs and attention must be constantly earned in this City of Champions, and if the Red Sox aren't careful, they'll just be playing out the string.

Last year's title has never felt so distant. It's a new year, and it's slipping through our fingers like the last sands of summer.


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Alex Cora backtracks from holding team meeting in New York, offers muddy explanation

Alex Cora backtracks from holding team meeting in New York, offers muddy explanation

NEW YORK -- Let's just call it the team meeting that wasn't.

On Wednesday, the trade deadline passed without the Red Sox making a move. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski then very frankly acknowledged that he would've been more inclined to deal if the Red Sox were closer to first place.

Cora mentioned on Thursday he'd call a team meeting in New York to make sure everyone knew the stakes the rest of the season. Then he rethought the meeting after the Red Sox were swept by the Rays later that night.

On Friday in New York, he sounded flustered while describing his intentions, laughing nervously when asked if had changed his mind or was just kidding.

"All of the above," Cora said. "What I said two days ago is we might address where we're at after the trading deadline. Somebody asked me about the mood in the clubhouse and if they were down because we didn't add somebody that day. I said we might address it, we might not, I might talk to the guys about where we're at. They know where we're at. Then somebody asked me yesterday about the meeting and I said I might do it tomorrow, I might not. And now . . ."

On Thursday, Cora had said that calling such a meeting was "not common at all." On Friday, he clarified that what he had made sound like a formal meeting was actually nothing more than his normal day-to-day interactions.

"We always talk," he said. "The way I said it, yeah it sounded that way, but we always address stuff during the day. It can be in the food room, in the hitters' meeting, pitchers' meeting. We always try to find something positive we're doing, or if we're not doing something right, just address it. We do it on a daily basis. The way I said it was out of proportion.

"First of all, if we're going to have a team meeting, you guys are going to be the last people to know about it. And second, we communicate with the players on a daily basis. Different places. It can be at breakfast in the morning or lunch or in the clubhouse, the bus. That's the way I operate."

As for the over-arching issue -- did the lack of action at the trade deadline cause the team to play poorly on Wednesday and Thursday while Tampa was finishing a sweep? -- Cora shook his head.

"No. I just think we didn't execute pitches," he said. "Offensively we did a good job throughout the series against the Rays. If you look back, that first game we had bases loaded, two outs, with our best hitter at the plate. (Rafael Devers) hit a fly ball to left, we don't cash in. We had Christian [Vazquez] first and third, two outs, and hanging slider, and he missed it. If we put a good swing there and we score, probably the narrative would be different, like these guys are relentless and they don't care what happened on July 31 and now we go. But we didn't do it, so the narrative is going to be like, they're down and all that. But I don't think it's that."
 

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