By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Red Sox are poised to wash away from the postseason field after just three games.
For the second straight afternoon in Houston, the Red Sox got nothing out of their starting pitcher and next to nothing out of their offense, ultimately leading to a pair of blowout victories for the Astros on their home field. As a result, Houston will have the opportunity to end Boston’s season on Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park.
And whether it ends Sunday, Monday or Wednesday, the overwhelming feeling after a second straight beatdown is that it will, undoubtedly, be ending soon.
It’s disappointing, sure, but it’s not altogether surprising. The Astros entered the series as the favorite, as they were the best team in the American League all year up until the Cleveland Indians went on that 22-game winning streak. They could match the Red Sox atop the rotation and hold an advantage from two through four. And in terms of lineup, the disparity was clear, with Houston posting an AL-best team OPS of .823 and the Red Sox ranking 11th with a .736 mark.
It’s still been a bit stunning to play out, as the Red Sox have not looked worthy of sharing a field with their opponent through two games. Chris Sale, who will either win the Cy Young this year or finish second, was tagged for seven runs over five innings, surrendering three home runs in the process in Game 1. The Boston bats managed to scrape across just two runs against starter Justin Verlander, and that would be it for their offensive output. They managed just eight hits on the day.
Game 2 — an 8-2 loss — was worse. Drew Pomeranz got the start, and he couldn’t even record an out in the third inning. Manager John Farrell had the hook for Pomeranz after he allowed four runs on five hits and a walk over two-plus innings.
David Price, the man with the most questions about his postseason ability entering October, settled things down, keeping the Houston offense at bay over 2.2 innings, in which he allowed just one hit and one walk while striking out two.
But during that time, Houston starter Dallas Keuchel was in the process of sending 13 consecutive Red Sox batters back to the dugout. Boston failed to get a runner on base from the time there was one out in the second until there were two outs in the sixth. Only two balls even left the infield during that span, which was broken by a Hanley Ramirez walk.
It was still a ballgame in the bottom of the sixth, with the score stuck at 4-1, when Houston blew things wide open. A run scored when Mookie Betts lost the grip on the ball after catching a shallow fly on the run, and Addison Reed then allowed a Carlos Correa double and a wall ball from Evan Gattis to let three more runs score. At 8-1, the game was over. And so was the Red Sox’ season.
Oh, of course, it’s baseball, and things can happen, and everything like that. But the Red Sox have shown absolutely nothing through two games in Houston that shows they can compete with the Astros.
On top of that, Houston hasn’t lost three out of four games too often this year. They did slump in a big way in August and, to a certain extent, in September. But when they were at their best this year, they looked unbeatable. After what we’ve seen through two afternoons of baseball in downtown Houston, it feels safe to say they’re at their best right now.
What’s most deflating for anyone hoping for something — anything — from this Red Sox team is that it appears to be a carbon copy of last year’s postseason flameout. They got nothing out of their Cy Young winner in Game 1, and their Game 2 starter recorded just 10 outs. They were outscored 11-4 in those two games, returning home to lose a tight Game 3 by a score of 4-3. This year through two games, they’ve been outscored 16-4.
The only question now is whether this year’s team can even piece together a competitive showing like last year’s team in what could very well be their only home playoff game of the year.
If the Red Sox do indeed suffer an ALDS sweep once again, then they will have gone four full seasons without winning a single playoff game. With their talent, their payroll, their fan base and their own expectations, that just should not be the case. And yet, that’s the reality awaiting the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park.
Even though the Red Sox led their division for the majority of the season, it seemed as though there was a distinctly low level of excitement surrounding the team. Whether it was the loss of David Ortiz or the lack of power or any other theory, people tried to put their finger on the lack of buzz surrounding the team that used to own Boston’s hearts and minds for 12 months of every year.
Speculation abounded, but really, it was likely as simple as the fan base tempering its excitement until the team proved it could win a playoff series. Through two grisly postseason performances, that unwillingness to fully buy in to this team as a contender appears to have been prudent.
The Sox will get one more chance on Sunday. But it feels like it’s already over.