Congratulations Boston. Your baseball team just completed the greatest collapse in baseball history.
After seemingly escaping the doldrums of an 86-year curse which was exorcised in 2004, the Red Sox are back to being the old Sox.
In three of the last four seasons, the Red Sox failed to meet expectations.
In 2008 they failed to win Game 7 of the ALCS in Tampa Bay with their ace Jon Lester on the mound.
The following year, up 5-3 in Game 3 of the ALDS against Los Angeles, Jonathan Papelbon blew a save and the series ended prematurely.
Last year a mulligan was given because of the numerous injuries.
But this year there were no excuses. The Red Sox were stacked offensively and had faith in their pitching staff with guys like Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz and Lester.
Yet they were able to somehow blow a nine-game lead in dramatic fashion. So dramatic that if the Red Sox hadn't won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, it might've been the worst Boston choke ever.
Worse than Aaron "Bleeping" Boone.
Worse than Billy Buckner.
Worse than Bucky "Bleeping" Dent.
Nevertheless, the Sox season is over and now it's finger pointing time. Everyone wants to point the blame on Terry Francona and Theo Epstein, but that is absolutely irrational.
Fact of the matter is Tito and Epstein threw a combined zero pitches this year and had a combined zero at-bats. The team Epstein had assembled and Francona had managed was obviously stellar because of the performance they had in the first five months of the season. The Red Sox may not have won the AL East, but they were absolutely headed to October for the first time since 2009.
Then, the pitching collapsed.
At first it was inconsistent guys who had bad outings like Tim Wakefield, Erik Bedard and John Lackey. That's expected from them. Red Sox Nation knows that at times these pitchers aren't going to give their best stuff. The Red Sox aren't relying on them to win.
The Red Sox bullpen was slowing down, too. On six separate occasions, the Sox held a lead or were tied after five innings and blew the game.
In these situations in the past, Beckett and Lester have been called upon to stop the bleeding. They are the supposed aces of the squad. They are supposed to rise above the occasion and show the opponent who is boss.
Lester went 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in September.
Beckett wasn't any better. He went 1-2 with a 5.48 ERA.
That's not what ace pitchers do. CC Sabathia wouldn't do that. Justin Verlander wouldn't. The Pedro Martinez of old most definitely wouldn't.
It's unheard of for the ace of a division-leading team to shrink by magnificent proportions when he is called upon to stop the bleeding.
Don't those two stat lines say everything?
If Beckett and Lester each had just one more strong outing in their last 10 combined starts, the Red Sox would be in the postseason right now.
Most importantly, a strong start from them in times of crisis would set the tone for the team. It would give everyone else more confidence.
Part of the problem for the Sox was that they lost all belief in themselves after they started having losing streaks. It was evident from the body language of players on the field and in the clubhouse. Things seemed like they would always go from bad to worse.
It was the starting aces' job to make sure they stopped losing streaks, and they didn't. They let the bleeding continue and set a tone for the rest of the Red Sox that, if our best pitchers can't stop the bleeding, who can?
That's the reason the Red Sox won't be playing this fall. It's not the offense. The offense was fine despite being riddled with injuries.
Jacoby Ellsbury had eight home runs, 21 RBI and hit .358 in September. Dustin Pedroia had a productive month, hitting .304 and driving in 19 runs. Adrian Gonzalez hit .318 with four jacks. Ortiz dipped from his stellar August but still hit .287. Marco Scutaro had the best month of the year, hitting .387 and driving in 21. And you can't really blame Carl Crawford because the Red Sox were in first place with him struggling all season anyway.
The blame must fall on the pitching staff—most notably Lester and Beckett. In fact, the Red Sox starters had an ERA of 7.08 in the month of September. Boston absolutely needs to address this in the offseason. Lester and Beckett are good pitchers, but they're not aces who lead.
Beckett is past his prime and Lester has shown on numerous occasions that he shrinks when the pressure increases. Both should stay on the rotation, but the Red Sox absolutely need to go after a big-fish starter in his prime.
Other than that, the team is fine. Let's not overreact. Firing Francona is not going to change anything. The Red Sox will still be great even if Francona manages the team again. It's the starting pitching in clutch situations and the bullpen that need to be addressed.
Epstein addressed the offense last offseason. Time to address the defense.
Until then, Sox fans should be grateful for 2004 and 2007. Championships are hard to come by.