Since September 1, when the Red Sox were in sole possession of first in the AL East, they have engineered a historic collapse that has seen them go 6-19 and waste a 9-game lead over Tampa.
The division title is out of reach, claimed by New York, and now they have to win their final two games to ensure at least a one-game playoff in Tampa.
This comes after pundits nationwide had the Sox as a World Series lock back in March, with their starting rotation and everyday lineup both boasting multiple former All-Stars.
So... what happened?
In short, the Sox' depth in these areas were mirages. From the beginning of the season, there have been whispers about some of general manager Theo Epstein's recent investments.
John Lackey, who had an ERA under 3.44 exactly once in his career in Anaheim, signed for five years and $82.5 million.
Carl Crawford, who has never hit 20 home runs or accumulated 100 RBIs, signed for seven years and $142 million.
Daisuke Matsuzaka and J.D. Drew have combined to eat up $24 million of payroll this year alone. Neither of them start for the club anymore. In fact, they both may have played their last games for the team.
This never would have happened seven or eight years ago. Back then, Theo and his front office helped to take Moneyball mainstream.
They picked up Kevin Millar, David Ortiz, Bill Mueller and Orlando Cabrera on the cheap when every other team undervalued them, and the resulting group of misfits and odd personalities turned into an on-base machine and won a world title. Ortiz set the team's single-season home run record. Mueller won a batting title.
But then the money started rolling in, and the organization's culture changed.
Fenway Park was renovated, and the nightly sellouts have turned it into a virtual money-printing machine. Boston went from being a sort of younger brother to the free-spending Yankees to an aspiring equal with virtually unlimited cash to spend. Theo no longer needed to hunt for bargains and undervalued players with huge upside. He could set the market price on the most-coveted veteran free agents in the game.
Lackey had never been the lockdown ace he was once portrayed to be, and he had always pitched horribly in Boston. Theo bit anyway because everyone else wanted him. Now he's statistically the worst pitcher in team history.
Crawford had a game built on athleticism that was sure to deteriorate as he progressed into his 30s. Theo bit anyway, because he was a big name. Now he's setting career lows in batting average and OBP, while looking slow at the plate and lost defensively in left field.
Matsuzaka had proven exactly nothing against major leaguers before coming to Boston, and his famed "gyroball" was a complete myth. Theo bit anyway because the Yankees wanted him, too. He was in danger of being moved to the bullpen before he was almost mercifully injured, and now he may never play in the majors again.
Now these pricey veterans around whom Theo built the team are crumbling after the grind of a long season, while a bunch of young, undervalued misfits in Tampa threaten to send them home for the winter—despite an unholy $121,651,167 difference in the Opening Day payrolls of the two teams.
The young Rays bear an uncanny resemblance to the '04 Sox, while Boston has become a bloated giant built on a core of overpriced veterans who passed their prime years ago.
If Boston completes their epic collapse, or even if they manage to squeeze into the postseason, a change in organizational philosophy is desperately needed. The Sox still aren't the Yankees in terms of spending power, and they need innovative thinkers in their front office again who can do more than throw money at former All-Stars showing clear signs of decline.
Until then, the Sox will remain one step behind the game's best, brightest and young teams, while remaining 121 million steps ahead in payroll.
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