The sweep is complete. The Chicago Cubs entered Fenway at 34-46 as one of the worst teams in the majors, and now they're leaving at 37-46 with clear superiority over at least one team: the Boston Red Sox. How can we argue after Wednesday night's marathon 16-9 massacre?
This game felt over when Brandon Workman came to the mound with nothing. It felt over when the thus-far batless Cubs came up with yet another homer in that first inning, taking a 2-0 lead, and then proceeded to tack on a third for good measure. This, after all, was a Red Sox team that had scored a single time in the first 18 innings of this series, and while an entirely impressive Jake Arrieta had started the first game, the second was authored by Edwin Jackson, who hasn't looked like much of a pitcher for three years now.
But oh, of course, after dropping game after game due to inept offense, it was today that they managed to score nine--the highest total we've seen out of them in nearly three weeks--in a game where they allowed the Cubs to put up sixteen. This from a team that averaged just 3.7 a game coming into tonight.
It was a depressingly bad showing from Workman, who gave up three more runs in the fourth before the Red Sox turned to Felix Doubront out of the pen. The lefty, however, showed no more velocity out of the pen than he had in the rotation, and quickly met the same fate, coughing up three more between the fifth and sixth innings.
This left the Red Sox consistently behind. As little as a step, as much as a mile, but always behind, behind, behind. They put up runs, but only enough to keep the glimmer of hope alive to be crushed so completely at the end, when Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa--yes, Tazawa was forced into this mess--surrendered six runs in the ninth. In a final inning where the Red Sox needed miracle-levels of offense, it was the Cubs putting up a six spot.
There is a lone bright spot to be found in Mookie Betts hitting his first career home run. It was a beauty up into the back rows on the Monster, and well deserved given the tough outs he's hit into early in his professional career. It even brought the lead to one of its three-run nadirs. Those were the moments where we maybe started dreaming up stories of heroics from Mookie and Xander, or even the more traditional route with David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. That's the cruel nature of games like these which linger just barely within reach for so long. That the Red Sox squandered so many opportunities, stranding fourteen runners, just makes it worse.
But if this game was a long, torturous death, on a larger scale it may prove a mercy. The Red Sox are now 38-47, trailing the A.L. East leading Blue Jays by 8.5 games, just one game out of the cellar currently occupied by the Rays. They are actually even further back in the Wild Card race, needing to make up nine games on the Mariners with some six other teams in he way to boot.
The American League has been uninspiring this season, to say the least. And as such it was hard to ever nail the coffin shut on these 2014 Red Sox. Maybe they needed miracles, but those miracles at least needed only to come at the expense of so many other mediocre teams.
But the Red Sox were just swept by the Cubs. We can't shrug off a four-game deficit against the Yankees because the Yankees are vulnerable when the Cubs are taking three in Fenway Park. And seven against the Orioles? Eight against the Jays? Forget about it.
Let's call tonight what it was. This was the death rattle of the 2014 season in its full brutal glory. Sixteen runs to the Cubs, three games in Fenway Park, July 31st four weeks away. When the Red Sox needed to rise, or at least to tread water, they sank to the furthest possible depths. Talking about "shaking things up," "going on a run," or really making any move with real consideration to its impact on the 2014 standings just rings at best false, at worst delusional and desperate.
For all intents and purposes, tonight was the last night of 2014, and tomorrow is the 2015 preseason. That's not necessarily a bad thing, either. Bad years are part of the life cycle of any baseball team, and it's no coincidence that they tend to coincide with periods of significant transition as we're seeing now with the arrival of Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, et al. Rather than looking at this as the death of the last great Red Sox team, let's look at it as the birth of the next one. Let's have some fun with these last few months with less focus on the games themselves and more on the arrival and growth of the next wave.